Could Depression by Caused by an Immune System Imbalance?

Here’s a different way of looking at a challenging problem, and one that fits with what naturopathic doctors frequently see in practice.

In her new book, This is Depression, Dr. Diane McIntosh MD presents the idea that depression could be caused by an imbalance in the immune system.

Here’s the gist: 

There are cells in the brain called glial cells, which act as the brain’s caretakers. They supply neurons with nutrients, clean up any waste, and fight infection in the brain. They do a lot to keep the brain ticking along and doing its job.  

Now, enter cortisol.  

Cortisol is the hormone we produce when we experience high levels of stress. Whether that’s physical stress (like running a marathon), or mental stress (like studying for finals), or emotional stress (like dealing with a sick parent), cortisol is the hormone that we use to weather such storms.  

Too much cortisol, however, causes those caretaker glial cells to stop working properly. Instead, they start spitting out proteins called pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are the signallers of the immune system; they tell your immune system to make inflammation. Those cytokines damage the glial cells, which causes them to release more cytokines, causing an inflammatory cascade. That inflammation in the brain results, in turn, in the neurotransmitters not working properly. 

The end result? People feel brain fog, tired and low. They feel depressed.  

With this explanation in mind, the research linking changes in diet and lifestyle to improving depression makes even more sense. Inflammation is your immune system doing its work, but sometimes that work has side effects. Lifestyle changes reduce that inflammation, and the result can be an anti-depressive effect.

In fact, as research shows, the outcome of lifestyle interventions can be better than a pharmaceutical anti-depressant. For example:

Dr. McIntosh’s premise is still just a theory, but it’s one of those theories that we like, because there’s no real downside to the intervention. Healthy lifestyle changes are only going to make your life better–the side effects of reducing inflammation are all positive.

As the article in the Globe and Mail says:

Depression isn’t the only illness found to be caused by inflammation. Heart disease, HIV, lupus, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, chronic pain and several forms of cancer have also been called inflammatory disorders.

It makes a compelling case to take your fish oils, move your body outside, and eat well!

Grow a Mo, Save a Bro: The Crisis in Men’s Health

We spend a lot of time on women’s and children’s health issues here. At some level, that makes sense–after all, the general practitioners at StoneTree are women, so the health concerns of women are top of mind for us. We’re living them ourselves, and many of us are moms, too.

But there’s more to it than that. Men and women approach health care differently, and as a result, are served differently, too. Women are more likely to seek help from a care provider, and they are more likely to bring their children in for care. They are also more likely to come to a care provider earlier in the onset of their health complaint. 

In comparison, men tend to visit the doctor less often, and have shorter consultations when they do. They are more likely to see their health care provider later after the onset of their complaint, and they are less likely to report all of their symptoms.  

There is a persistent and troubling myth that men don’t care about their health but they do. The system is just not set up with male sensibilities in mind. This is part of the reason that men’s health is in crisis. Men die, on average, six years earlier than women, largely for preventable reasons. It’s a tragedy.

The organize that speaks to this issue best is the MOVEMBER movement, founded by two friends over a beer in a bar. Check out their origin story here. What began in 2003 with 30 “Mo Bros” has now seen more than 5 million participants.

The movement started with a focus on prostate cancer and has since incorporated testicular cancer and mental health and suicide prevention. Their goal by 2030 is to reduce the number of men dying prematurely by 25%.

How do they do it?

  • Give facts. Guys need data, info and facts to feel empowered and to take action. Did you know that when detected early, prostate cancer survival rates are better than 98%? Find it late, and those survival rates drop below 26%.
  • Give self-care resources. Guys want to take care of themselves. Teaching them self-care like the know thy nuts helps them feel in control.
  • Tell the truth. Mental health is a huge issue for men. Globally, every minute, for example, a man dies by suicide–in Canada, 75% of suicides are men. Men tend to keep to themselves and not talk. This website speaks to men about speaking out like a man would.
  • The Mo Movement. It’s Movember! Show your support. Grow a mo, attend an event, or contribute to the movement. You’ll find all the details here.

Hey! You don’t have to grow a Mo to support Movember! There are all kinds of ways to participate, including walking or running 60km over the month! Learn more here.

Are Your Vitamin D Levels Too Low?

It’s the time of year when we often look to vitamin D levels in our patients, and for good reason–low levels of the “sunshine vitamin” have been linked to a host of conditions, including seasonal affective disorder and osteoporosis.

We wrote about the interesting history and importance of vitamin D before, but new research is showing vitamin D matters for more than just building strong bones and keeping your winter blues away.

Why should you care?

Because you’re Canadian! And as awesome as you are, the dark northern days and indoor lifestyle can mess with your D levels.

According to Stats Canada, only 65% of Canadians have vitamin D levels that are likely sufficient to fulfill the body’s requirements for optimal bone health. Not to mention all that other stuff like infections and depression and thyroid conditions and fatigue and more.

The strategy in conventional medicine to deal with this has been to supplement everyone with vitamin D–the recommendation is 2000 IU/day.  

The challenge is that for some people, that’s enough, for others it isn’t. Taking too much vitamin D for too long is not a good thing either. The best solution is to test your levels so that you know exactly what steps, if any, to take.

The good news is that it’s easy to test your vitamin D levels. Better yet, we have a new Vitamin D shot that can make a big difference to your levels.

To test your vitamin D levels and find the optimal approach for you, just contact us, or book online

A Symptom Management Resource for Cancer Patients

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This year, almost 27,000 women in Canada will be diagnosed with this disease—74 women per day.

Here’s the amazing part: 88% will survive it. The mortality rate for breast cancer has been declining since 1986. Between earlier diagnosis and better treatments, we’re simply getting better at tackling the problem.

With treatment, however, can come plenty of difficult side effects, both physical and emotional. 

Nutritional Tools for Cancer Treatment Side Effects

The Toronto General Hospital houses ELLICSR: Health, Wellness and Cancer Survivorship Centre. This resource for cancer patients was created to better understand the cancer and survivorship experience in order to improve it, and to look for fresh new ideas and approaches to improve health and wellness during and after cancer treatment.  

One of the resources that this organization puts out is the ELLICSR Kitchen. This program is designed to help people touched by cancer to manage their symptoms by managing their diet.

They also have a wonderful online resource that gives you recipes and eating suggestions based on your individual side effects. Loss of appetite? There are recipes for that. Fatigue? Nausea? Stomach problems? Each symptom has a list of recipes to help. We love it.

You can also engage with the ELLICSR Kitchen in person with live cooking demonstrations that help you engage with healthy, simple and delicious recipes and give you tasty samples. 

When: The third Thursday of every month, 12:15 – 1:15 pm
Where: ELLICSR: Health, Wellness & Cancer Survivorship Centre Toronto General Hospital, Basement level, B PMB 130
Contact: Call 416 581 8620 or email [email protected] for more information. No regestration necessary!

Managing the side effects of treatment is a critical, but often under-appreciated, part of cancer treatment, and we’re thrilled to recommend this resource!

For more information on our clinical approaches to cancer care, our own Dr. Ehab Mohammed, ND, is happy to help. Dr. Ehab practiced oncology as a medical doctor for over 20 years before becoming a naturopathic doctor. You can book a complimentary visit and get all your questions answered by calling the clinic at 705-444-5331, or booking online.

The Tests We Use to See Into Your Health Future

If you look at the leading causes of death in Canada, you’ll notice that most of them are the result of chronic disease. They’re things like cardiovascular disease, Alzheimers, and diabetes–things that tend to be slow-moving and subtle, creeping up on you over years, silently exerting their effects on your body without your awareness.  

But what if you could measure those things before they become apparent? What if you could see your possible health future, and then work to change it?

In fact, you can. Chronic disease can and does show up in your biochemistry long before you have the heart attack or stroke. Measuring that biochemistry is like a glimpse of the future…only in this case, it’s a future you can change.

How to See the Future: the Metabolic Panel

Here at StoneTree we use a “metabolic panel” to help us see into your future. It’s a collection of blood tests that gives us a picture of your overall health. By testing your blood over time, we can understand if your biochemistry is moving toward, or away from health. That helps us see what causes of death you’re moving toward, and at what rate.

Watching these test results over time gives you a chance to make change–in treatments, supplements, lifestyle choices, and more.

The metabolic panel is actually a number of inexpensive blood tests. It’s our favourite “crystal ball” for seeing your possible health future:

  • GGT. Gamma-glutamyltransferase is a liver enzyme that can be elevated in the blood if you are drinking too much alcohol and/or developing a fatty liver. A fatty liver means your diet contains too much processed food, bad fats and sugars and that your liver is overwhelmed.  
  • Fasting Glucose. This test is common, and measures the amount of sugar in your blood without eating. High numbers are a sign of diabetes. 
  • Fasting Insulin. This test is less well-known, but far more important. Most people with diabetes have Type 2 Diabetes. This is a “metabolic dysfunction” where the person’s cells are insensitive to insulin, and the body produces more and more insulin to deal with the same amount of blood sugar. Fasting insulin, then, will be elevated long before fasting glucose becomes elevated–it’s the canary in the coal mine.
  • HbA1c. Glycosylated hemoglobin, is a measure of how much sugar is attached to your red blood cells. While fasting glucose gives you a blood sugar reading at one point in time, this test gives you your average blood sugar over three months.  
  • hs-CRP. High sensitivity c-reactive protein, is a measure of overall inflammation in your body. The literature repeatedly shows how important the overall inflammatory environment is in chronic disease. 
  • Triglycerides. This fat, when elevated in the blood, is linked to diets high in sugars and simple starches, low in fiber, and high in processed fats–in other words, diets that aren’t good for you.
  • SHBG. Sex hormone binding globulin is a protein in our blood that carries around…you guessed it, sex hormones. It also plays a role in proper sugar balance in the blood.

Here’s the amazing part: You can modify all these results. Supplementation, various treatments, exercise, dietary changes–they can all change your biochemistry, and as a result, your health.

It’s worth repeating. You can change these markers, and as a result, change your health outcomes. Doing this panel of tests every 6-12 months isn’t just a glimpse of your future; it’s the first step in doing something about it!

To learn more about the metabolic panel, or to arrange testing, contact us at 705-444-5331, or book an appointment online.

Easy Choices…Hard Life?

Easy Choices, hard life. 
Hard choices easy life. 
-Jerzy Gregorek 

Jerzy Gregorek, four-time time World Weightlifting champion and author of The Happy Body, came to the United States from Poland in 1986 as political refugee. His words are worth considering.

The things that feel the easiest—things like sitting in front of the TV, hitting the snooze bottom, putting that new pair of shoes on the credit card, avoiding “the conversation”, eating the chocolate, having the second glass of wine—they are all easy choices on the road to a hard life. It’s a road that leads to chronic disease and disability, poor relationships, and money troubles. 

The things that feel the hardest–things like saving money, dragging yourself out of bed to go for that walk, eating the salad instead of the fries, having the tough conversation with your boss—they’re the more difficult choices, but they lead somewhere much better. When we engage in these things that feel so difficult in the moment, we create health, happiness, and connection for the future.  

What will your future self think about your choices?

Stay conscious, be brave and try to make a decision today—however small—that your future self will thank you for. 

The Collaborative Approach to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBD, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, is completely different from its mild-mannered cousin IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBD is a disease process, as opposed to a functional issue. The term captures both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both of which involve a chronic, and often severe, inflammation of the digestive tract.

Symptoms of IBD usually involve severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss.

Causes of IBD are not fully known, but it is thought to be due to a malfunction of the immune system where the inflammatory response does not shut off. 

There are some common risk factors for IBD, like genetics, family history, smoking, and the use of NSAIDs. Interestingly, if you live in an industrialized country, are Caucasian, and live in more northern climates, you are more likely to develop IBD. It may be that some environmental factors, including diet, lifestyle or even vitamin D deficiency, play a role.

IBD can be debilitating and sometimes leads to life-threatening complications like: 

  • Colon cancer
  • Skin, eye, and joint inflammation
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Malnutrition
  • Ulcers
  • Fistulas
  • Anal fissure
  • Toxic megacolon
  • Perforated colon
  • Severe dehydration

A Combined Conventional and Complementary Approach

Unlike IBS, where a naturopathic approach alone can often have excellent results, IBD presents a different challenge. Because symptoms can be severe, and lead to serious health problems, it can be important with IBD to use conventional medications to manage symptoms and keep things from getting worse.

The trouble is that conventional medications come with their own issues. Many meds have side-effects that range from sleep issues with corticosteroid use to certain cancers with the more serious immuno-suppressive drugs.  

As a result, CAM use (complementary and alternative medicine) in patients with IBD is high, ranging between 21% and 60%

Sick and Tired of IBD

Even with “controlled disease”, patients with IBD often feel sick and tired because they simply aren’t getting enough nutrients. Why?

  • The intestines are inflamed and/or damaged and are not absorbing nutrients effectively.  
  • Chronic diarrhea and pain cause changes in taste and anxiety about eating, so patients just don’t want to eat
  • Some drugs for the treatment of IBD, like the anti-inflammatories, make it harder to absorb nutrients
  • The intestines are sometimes so inflamed that they are bleeding, resulting in blood loss over time, which can lower iron levels and lead to anemia

What Can You Do?

The multiple nutrient deficiencies in patients with Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis is well documented. There is less research on the roll of repletion of these nutrients in the IBD literature, although we have seen anecdotal evidence of increased energy, decreased symptoms and longer remissions in our IBD patients who receive regular IV infusions of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.  

There is also a growing body of evidence for the use of some complementary therapies, including probiotics, curcumin and fish oils. All of these substances help to modulate immune function and decrease inflammation.  

To learn more about naturopathic approaches, including IV therapy, for IBD, contact the clinic at 705-444-5331, or book online.

Can a Low FODMAPS Diet Help Your IBS and Digestive Troubles?

FODMAPs, or, Fermentable Oligosaccharide, Disaccharide, Monosaccharide, and Polyols, are a group of dietary sugars that cause digestive issues. They’re carbs that tend to be poorly absorbed, and they can hang around in the small and large intestine, where they ferment and cause all kinds of irritable bowel-type symptoms.   

Example of foods that are HIGH in FODMAPS include: 

  • Wheat
  • Apples
  • Mango
  • Cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • All legumes
  • Honey
  • Milk 
  • Yogurt

Foods that are LOW in FODMAPS include:

  • Quinoa 
  • Blueberries
  • Pineapple
  • Zucchini
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Maple syrup
  • Cheddar, parmesan

Who Can Benefit?

Clinically here at StoneTree, we’ve found it worthwhile for almost anyone who suffers from IBS to try the initial 3-week phase. That being said, it’s not an easy diet, and not for everyone. You can learn more here. But there is a growing body of evidence, including this study on IBS, that supports its use.

How the FODMAP Diet Works

Many commonly consumed foods are high in FODMAPs, and it’s generally recommended that you completely eliminate ALL high-FODMAP foods for a few weeks. The diet is unlikely to work if you only eliminate some high-FODMAP foods but not others.

  • If FODMAPs are the cause of your problems, then you may experience relief in as little as a few days.
  • After three weeks, you can reintroduce some of these foods, one at a time. This allows you to determine which food causes your symptoms.
  • If you find that a certain type of food strongly upsets your digestion, you may want to permanently avoid it.

Following a low-FODMAP diet can be hard, and not everyone should do it. It’s worth seeking professional advice to make sure you’re a candidate and to help you get started and stick with the process. If you’d like more information or support, contact us at the clinic anytime, or book online.

IBS: How Do You Test for Food Intolerance?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is surprisingly common. According to the stats, between 13-20% of Canadians are affected by IBS at any given time.

There are many potential causes, but one of the most common is a food intolerance.  

A food intolerance is often a result of what’s called an IgG food sensitivity–a delayed, hyper-sensitivity reaction to a specific food.  

In this immune reaction, an IgG antibody attaches itself to a food protein. This creates an antibody-antigen complex. These complexes are generally removed from the body by special cells, but sometimes there are too many complexes for the body to clean up. When that happens, the antibody-antigen complexes build up and deposit into body tissues, resulting in inflammation that can play a role in many diseases and conditions.  

There is a growing body of evidence to support the clinical benefits of eliminating IgG reactive foods from the diet, especially in IBS. You can find studies, here, here, and here. The trick is to find out if you’re reactive to any foods, and which ones.

How to Find Out if Your IBS is Related to a Food Intolerance

To find out, we use a simple IgG Food Sensitivity blood test covered by many extended benefits. Once you identify your reactive foods, you can try removing them from your diet to see if your IBS symptoms improve!

Related posts:

Hormone Solutions for Women & Men: Welcome to Dr. Kristy Prouse, MD

Dr. Kristy Prouse MD, is the Medical Director of the Institute for Hormonal Health in Oakville.

An accomplished surgeon and leading OB/GYN with degrees in Psychology, Genetics and Cell Biology and trained in Functional Medicine, Dr. Prouse founded the institute in 2011 when her own experience with hormonal health issues connected her to a naturopathic doctor and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner who helped her in a way that was missing from the standard of care in Western medicine.

Check out her story here: 

She’ll be bringing her expertise in bio-identical hormone replacement therapy to the clinic on select dates this fall.

The therapy is great for symptoms of:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain / decreased muscle mass
  • Night sweats
  • Mood swings, irritiability
  • Decreased libido
  • Increased anxiety, stress, panic attacks
  • “Fuzzy thinking”, lack of confidence and memory problems
  • Sleep disturbances and insomnia
  • Peri-menopausal challenges for women such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness
  • Andropausal challenges for men such as hair loss, erectile dysfunction

Dr. Prouse works alongside naturopathic doctors integratively. When you book to see her for bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, you actually see a Naturopathic Doctor first. The two doctors work collaboratively to develop the best functional medicine plan to rebalance your hormones.  

Dr. Bronwyn Hill, ND and Dr. Candice Soldaat, ND are the StoneTree Clinic Naturopathic Doctors who will be working alongside Dr. Prouse this fall.  If you are a patient of one of the other ND’s in the clinic no worries, you can simply see Dr. Bronwyn or Dr. Candice for your BHRT consult and they will send you back to your regular STC ND for regular care.  

She will be making the drive up from her Oakville practice to join us for limited dates in the fall:  

  • Sept 13
  • Oct 11 
  • Oct 25
  • Nov 8 
  • Nov 22 
  • Dec 6 

Contact the clinic to book – 705-444-5331 or [email protected]. Spaces are limited.