What Dr. Tara Learned at Convention

I was recently at a naturopathic convention, and one of the speakers put up a slide that I thought was worth sharing:

 

YOU CAN’T OUT-SUPPLEMENT A SHI**Y DIET AND LIFESTYLE

 

This may not be the news you want to hear as we head into the holiday season, but…it’s the truth. In almost every lecture at the three-day conference, which covered health issues from heart disease to cancer to infertility, all roads invariably led back to one problem: too much inflammation.

There are many great supplements, backed by lots of research, that help the body deal with inflammation – curcumin, fish oils, berberine, bio-flavanoids, olive oil. The list is long.

But taking a mitt-full of these supplements doesn’t help if you are living a standard North American lifestyle. Too much sugar, not enough greens. Too much stress, not enough sleep. Too much sitting, not enough movement. Too much screen time, not enough people time. It’s a perfect storm for making inflammation.

The basics are the most important, and the prescription is the same for everyone.

Eat generous helpings of produce every day. One easy way to get started is a daily green smoothie. There are recipes abound. Here is my current favourite:

  •  ½ frozen banana
  • 1 peeled orange
  •  1 handful curly kale
  •  1 handful spinach
  •  1 cup almond or coconut milk
  •  1 scoop isolated whey protein

Commit to getting into bed earlier. NO TV in the bedroom. Read, journal, meditate or…. but no TV!!!

Move every day. Yes, every day! Everyone has a few minutes. Get outside at lunchtime. Meet a friend after work or in the morning. It’s a kind of miracle.

Turn off the TV, the computer, the iPad and TALK TO A PERSON. Commit to eating as a family. If you’re living on your own, start up a weekly dinner group.

You can spend a fortune on supplements, but just remember: they won’t make up for not taking care of yourself.

Functional Hypothyroidism: When Normal Isn’t Normal

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that’s responsible for secreting a critical hormone called triiodothyronine or “T3”.

T3 is the active form of the thyroid hormone. It’s the body’s “accelerator,” regulating body temperature, heart rate, body weight, and glucose/cholesterol management. T3 is essentially responsible for controlling cell metabolism in every cell in your body, promoting optimal growth, function, and maintenance of all body tissues.

Needless to say, it’s a pretty important hormone.

Enter rT3, the Evil Twin

Your body also has reverse T3 (rT3), T3’s evil twin. This pesky hormone is a mirror image of T3. It can attach itself to T3 receptors, but because it’s shape is different, it doesn’t fit properly and fails to activate them. In doing so, it blocks T3 from plugging-in, thus inactivating the accelerator.

Under normal circumstances, your body produces about 60% T3 and 40% rT3. That means the rT3 is “outgunned” and things work as they’re supposed to.

Here’s the catch: Reverse T3 production increases in direct response to stress of any kind. Cortisol, the stress hormone, effectively inhibits our ability to produce T3 AND promotes the production of rT3– a double whammy. Under high, prolonged stress, so much rT3 is produced that it blocks almost all of the T3 receptors and normal T3 is completely, or almost completely, inactivated.

What happens now? You get all the symptoms of hypothyroidism (low thyroid function):

  • Fatigue
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Puffy face
  • Hoarseness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Elevated blood cholesterol level
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
  • Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
  • Thinning hair
  • Slower heart rate
  • Depressed mood
  • Impaired memory

Here’s the critical part. Conventional medical approaches typically don’t measure T3 and rT3 levels, so your lab tests for related hormones like TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and T4 (the “raw material” from which T3 and rT3 are made) can look normal.

The Solution

Most medical doctors do not recognize rT3 dominance theory or functional hypothyroidism, and will not prescribe T3. Conventional medicine only recognizes thyroid gland deficiency.

This isn’t a thyroid gland deficiency. It’s an imbalance of T3 to rT3, most often caused by prolonged stress. This is easily treated with stress management and a prescription for T3.

Questions about your thyroid or any of the symptoms above? You can have your rT3 and T3 levels measured by contacting the clinic.

5 Ways to Support Breast Health

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, an estimated 26,300 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. This represents 25% of all new cancer cases in women in 2017. The same year, 5,000 women died from breast cancer. This represents 13% of all cancer deaths in women in 2017.

The number of women and families impacted is enormous.

In that spirit of prevention, we wanted to focus on the most important things you are can do to prevent breast cancer before it begins.

1. Make time for regular exercise

Adopt an active lifestyle. Aim for 30 minutes or more of moderate aerobic activity at least five days per week. The average risk reduction when comparing the highest versus lowest levels of physical activity is 25%. <source>

2. Minimize or avoid alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most well-established dietary risk factors for breast cancer. Women who consume more than two glasses of alcohol a day are at higher risk. <source>

3. Eat more veggies

Consume more cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower), dark leafy greens, carrots, tomatoes, citrus fruits, berries, and cherries. Cruciferous veggies help the body detoxify excess estrogens and chemicals that are associated with increased breast cancer risk. <source>

4. Maintain a healthy body weight

If you can consistently connecting to the three lifestyle factors above, then you’ll have a much better chance of maintaining a healthy body weight. Plenty of moderate exercise, a plant-based diet, and avoidance of alcohol is usually a slam-dunk in this area.

Maintain a BMI less than 23 throughout your life. Weight gain and obesity may increase your risk of breast cancer. <source>

What does a BMI of 23 mean? Here’s how to calculate yours. This way of evaluating weight isn’t perfect–it doesn’t take into account body composition or structure–but it is a place to begin evaluating if weight loss is an area you need to focus on.

5. Quit smoking

The risk of breast cancer (and many others) increases if you smoke. Smoking is associated with a modest but significant increased risk of breast cancer, particularly among women who started smoking at adolescent or peri-menarcheal ages. The relative risk of breast cancer associated with smoking was greater for women with a family history of the disease. <source>

Is Your Teen Struggling With Mental Health Issues?

StoneTree welcomes a guest writer today. Eve Clements is a grade 12 student at CCI, and the daughter of Dr. Tara. Here she is with her perspective on teen mental health. Thanks, Eve!

 – The StoneTree Team

Rates of depression and anxiety in teens have risen 70% in the last 25 years.We’re in the grips of a mental health crisis, and as hard as it is to hear, in many cases, parents are doing the wrong things. Here are six signs to watch for in your teen.

1. Isolation

It is common for teens to become more withdrawn as they step into a teenage lifestyle. However, if your child avoids things they used to love like sports and social events, or cuts off friends so they can stay home in their room, you may want to check in.

2. Changes in Eating Habits

Be aware of both binge eating and reduced eating. Social media has got a grip of much, if not all, of teenage brains, and can cause serious disordered thoughts around food. Small changes can be nothing, but catch them before they get out of hand, as these thoughts can be very hard to reverse.

3. Preoccupation with Appearance

Social media comparison is common with teenagers, and a preoccupation with appearance can be consuming. This can lead to social anxiety, and can go hand-in-hand with changes in eating habits.

4. Self-Harm

This can be hard to catch, but is very important and very serious. It needs immediate professional attention, as it goes hand in hand with suicidal thoughts and can lead to attempted suicide.

5. Drastic Changes in Grades

For sufferers, depression is like a dark hole that can consume everything in life, including motivation. School can be hard enough on its own, without the burden of mental illness. Slipping grades can be a sign of deeper troubles. Watch for changes and try and create a solution… together!

6. Substance Abuse

Experimenting with alcohol or drugs isn’t unusual for teens, but when it reaches the point that it is no longer an experiment or fun, but an abusive relationship, things have gone too far. This abusive relationship can be seen in changes in mood or personality, unexplained injuries or weight loss, or extreme fatigue or other unusual behaviours. If this is the case, confront, talk calmly and openly, and create boundaries and a solution.

Remember that raising healthy and happy teens is about a healthy balance of teaching the child to make choices on their own, while passing on your own experience and wisdom. Both sides of the relationship need to be equally validated and understood.

Hormone Replacement 101

A hormone is a molecule that is produced by a gland. Hormones are chemical messengers; they’re carried in your blood to other organs, where they control how those organs behave.

Like all delivery systems, hormones aren’t perfect. Messages can be disrupted by all kinds of things, including your lifestyle, your age, and your genetics, to name a few things. When that happens, you can get any number of crazy symptoms, some of which can be pretty troublesome. Menopause is just one example of the changes brought on by shifting hormones.

To deal with these hormonal changes, doctors sometimes prescribe hormone replacement therapy. Conventionally, that means using synthetic hormones. The drawback of those is that they can be very powerful and carry more risk and side-effects.

Here at StoneTree, we use bio-identical hormone therapy (BHRT) to help optimize your hormonal balance using hormones that are compounded to be identical or very close to the ones in your body.

You have some 50 or so hormones carrying messages in your body. Here are the most common ones prescribed in BHRT:

  • DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a hormone produced by your body’s adrenal glands. It functions as a precursor to male and female sex hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. It is sometimes called the “anti-aging” hormone.
  • Progesterone is most known for its role in fertility and pregnancy, but in BHRT it has important applications to cognition, sleep patterns and mood.
  • Estrogen is an important hormone for healthy function of the reproductive system in adult humans.  It is most often used in BHRT to manage symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats, and libido issues in women.
  • Testosterone, the “body-building” hormone, is a sex hormone that regulates sex drive (libido), bone mass, fat distribution, muscle mass and strength in men. Because of its pesky tendency to convert itself into estrogen, it’s uncommonly prescribed in BHRT.
  • Thyroid hormone is the body’s “accelerator. The thyroid hormones make everything GO!  If your thyroid hormone isn’t working, you feel tired, fat and cold.
  • Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland in the brain and is an important hormone for regulating circadian rhythms. In BHRT, it is most commonly prescribed alongside progesterone to support restful sleep.

If you’re curious about your hormones and would like to learn more, you can book a 15-minute “meet the doctor visit” with our resident BHRT expert, Dr. Gervais Harry, MD. Just click here, or call 705-444-5331.

What’s Your Mindset for Aging?

As I head into my late 40’s, I am struck by how much of the conversation in my peer group is about getting older:

  • My joints are sooooooooo achy.
  • I can’t remember anything. I must be starting to lose it.
  • My fortune to be able to sleep like a teenager again.
  • What the heck happened to the skin on my neck?!!!

All these symptoms are chalked up to “getting older,” and then the conversation moves on to investments, aging parents, or troublesome teenagers.

I think we’re missing something in the conversation.

As an ND, I spend a lot of time thinking about disease prevention and optimum health. In my many years of practicing in the Georgian Triangle I’ve met many people who are shining examples of healthy aging.

I know 50-year-olds who look like they are in their 30’s. I’ve worked with 60-year-olds who are starting up wildly successful businesses. We have 70-year-olds in the clinic who are shredding up the ski hills, and 80-year-olds who are biking with the local cycling clubs and setting the pace.

These people inspire me and mirror that healthy aging is indeed possible and it’s not magic.

The Three Mindsets of Aging

But what’s different about those people? One of the consistent qualities in all these healthy people is their mindset. Over the years of working with thousands of patients, I have found three predominant mindsets as people age. Two that do not serve them, and one that serves very well.

The first is the “ignore it and it will go away” mindset. These are the patients who continue to believe that they have the biochemistry of the 20-year-old. They eat junk, drink too much, don’t get enough sleep and play the odd hockey game in the belief that it’s enough to support good health. Their body is SCREAMING at them with various symptoms, and they simply ignore it all and carry on. The end game? A heart attack, stroke or worse.

The second is the “I’m getting older and I must accept it” mindset. These patients believe that there is nothing to be done about the symptoms of aging. They are doomed to painful movement, increasingly chubby bodies, and lapsing memories. They will retire, golf and slowly lose the function of their bodies and their minds, and there is simply nothing that came be done about it. Aging is an inexorable tide, so why bother swimming?

The patients who inspire me that healthy aging is possible, however, share neither of these two internal stories. Their mindset is different.

Theirs is the “I’m going to live my best life as the years pass” mindset. Do they think they are 20 still? No way. They know their body and biochemistry does not work the same as it did in those younger years. But they also know that there is much that can be done, and that maintaining and even improving their health as they age requires something different than it did decades before.

They know they need:

  • Consistent exercise. No more weekend warrior stuff will do. Daily movement is mandatory.
  • Consistent healthy eating. 80/20 is key here. You used to get away with 80% junk. Now it’s time to flip the ratio to 80% or more real, whole food.
  • Consistent rest. Rest is when we repair, and this takes a little more time as we age. We have to make more time for it.
  • Consistent reality checks. How much are you really doing the things above? How much are you really drinking? What’s your language around aging? How much are you challenging your mind and your body as time passes?

Changing your mindset about aging doesn’t mean you ignore your changing parts, but it also doesn’t mean you accept infirmity as the only end game.

Do your genetics matter? Of course. But they’re only part of the story, and probably a smaller part than you think.

Besides, what sounds more appealing: believing you can’t do anything, or believing that you can consciously engage with your body, listen to its signals, and support it to give you the vibrant health it wants to in your 70’s, 80’s and beyond?

When Your Oncologist Says “No”

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. On top of the stress and worry is a near-endless supply of internet advice, and tips from well-meaning friends and family. Almost everyone seems to have a story about how the chemo killed Joe’s sister’s, brother, or how some natural product saved the day.

A large percentage of patients explore alternatives, doing their best to sort through the stories, rumours, and research. When they feel they’ve found a solution, however, they check with their oncologist only to be told “no” because the treatment doesn’t work, or worse yet, it will interfere with their current treatment.

Sometimes the oncologist is right. There are many ineffective approaches, and many other powerful ones that will indeed interfere with conventional tools.

But sometimes the oncologist is wrong, too.

This isn’t for lack of knowledge, mind you, but lack of specialized knowledge. Oncologists know their tools and how they work; they don’t necessarily know the research around alternative and complementary approaches. That makes it far easier to say, “Don’t do anything,” than to dig through the evidence. They are simply erring on the side of being cautious.

There are two problems with this, and they’re big ones:

  1. The patient decides to engage in “alternative medicine” for cancer treatment without telling their oncologist. If they are getting their advice solely from Dr. Google or their neighbour’s cousin, it really could be interfering with their conventional therapy. Cowboy cancer care is risky.
  2. The patient doesn’t engage and misses the real benefit of complementary therapies which, when applied properly, can increase quality of life, decrease side-effects, increase the efficacy of conventional care plans and/or prolong life in conjunction with conventional care plans.

What to do?

The Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre, or OICC, is a not-for-profit regional centre of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. It’s a registered charity providing education and research in naturopathic and complementary medicine since 1978.

They have put together research monographs for some of the best studied complementary cancer treatments. These are easy to read and are in patient-centered and doctor-centered formats. Patients can do their own reading, but they can also share research with oncologists who simply won’t have the time to go digging for it.

Knowledge is power. As our patients who are dealing with cancer know, the more information that they have to feel strong and centered in the treatment plan they choose, the better their outcomes can be.

StoneTree Clinic is happy to have Dr. Ehab Mohammed, ND on our team. Dr. Ehab brings with him over 20 years as an oncologist and researcher at the University of Cairo. In his new career as a naturopathic doctor here in Canada, he employs the best evidence to use complementary therapies in conjunction with conventional care plans to maximize treatment efficacy while minimizing treatment side-effects. You can book a free appointment to have all your questions answered here.

Sleep: The New Science of Slumber

As our patients head out on their summer holidays, one of the things we hear most often is, “I can’t wait to sleep.”

If you’ve found yourself feeling the same way and are wondering why, this month’s National Geographic has a long article about sleep that is very much worth the read.

Some interesting and important takeaways:

  • The average American gets 7 hours sleep. That’s 2 hours less than a century ago.
  • The WHO has described night shift work as a “probable human carcinogen”.
  • When the circadian rhythm breaks down there is an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and dementia.
  • Blue light at night is bad for sleep. Red light is better. Blue light at night comes from things like screens.
  • If you can fall asleep anywhere anytime, especially if you are under 40, that’s a sure sign you are sleep deprived.
  • Our brain cells shrink bring sleep, allowing space for the cerebral fluid to wash away the waste products, including beta–amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s.

There’s plenty more in the article, but the biggest takeaway is that sleep is wildly important to our overall health. It is worth doing, and worth doing well. Reclaiming it as an important part of your overall health regime–as important as eating right and exercising.

::Sleep: Inside the new science of slumber

Natural Progesterone? Yes, Please!

Peri-menopause has been quite the ride. I’ve written about it before.

Eating right, exercising, and supplementing with lots of great hormone-balancing supplements and herbs has helped with my menopausal symptoms, but one of the most potent solutions has been natural progesterone supplements.

Progesterone has many functions in a woman’s body, but the most well-known and important function in women of childbearing years is to make the endometrial lining thick and enriched to support a developing baby.

You’d think, then, that this hormone wouldn’t be very important or useful in the perimenopausal/post-menopausal woman. But symptoms of low progesterone are far-reaching, and include:

  • weight gain
  • decreased sex drive
  • mood swings, and depression
  • PMS, irregular menstrual cycle, heavy bleeding
  • breast tenderness, fibrocystic breasts
  • gallbladder problems
  • thyroid dysfunction
  • sleep issues
  • decreased mental focus

Sound familiar, ladies?

I started taking natural progesterone by mouth over six months ago, and I have joked with my girlfriends that they are going to have to pry it out of my cold dead hands.

Not only are the “hormonal symptoms” improved, but my mental clarity and focus are SO much better. And sleep? It’s like I’m a teenager again—falling asleep in an instant, with none of the restless, 4:30 AM, why-can’t-I-sleep-I’m-so-tired, nonsense!

Progesterone supplementation can also be done using a cream, but I’ve been taking oral progesterone for a specific reason. With natural progesterone taken by mouth, the dose peaks in 2 hours and then is gone in 24. When you apply it on the skin, the absorption is more gradual and less consistent, and the skin can “store” it causing it to become congested, resulting in too much or too little getting to where it needs to be. The oral use makes for a better choice to deal with issues of sleep quality and focus.

Got more questions about bio-identical hormone restoration therapy? Book a 15-minute complimentary “meet-the-doctor” visit with Dr. Gervais Harry MD.

Magnesium Supplementation: The Long Term

Studies show that some 48% of American’s consume less than the required amount of magnesium. Low magnesium levels have been associated with a truckload of troubling conditions, including type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome,  hypertension, atherosclerotic vascular disease, sudden cardiac death, osteoporosis, migraine headache, asthma, and colon cancer. This is something worth talking about.

During some continuing education last week, the StoneTree docs were reminded of a little something regarding magnesium supplementation: the importance of taking it long-term. Before we get to the reason why, it’s important to understand a little about magnesium testing.

How To Test Your Magnesium Levels

Testing for magnesium deficiency is not perfect.

In part, this is because of where magnesium is used in the body. Serum magnesium, the magnesium in the blood, is easy and cheap to measure, but magnesium has no value in the blood–it’s an intracellular mineral, meaning all of its usefulness is inside a cell. A test might suggest you have enough magnesium in your blood, but is there enough in your cells?

To measure the intracellular levels of magnesium, you can do an RBC magnesium level–this is the amount of magnesium inside a red blood cell. But, again, this isn’t a perfect test, because magnesium is most useful in muscle tissue, nervous tissue, and bone. You can have “enough” in your red blood cells, but still have low levels in other tissues.

Measuring magnesium in those other tissues, however, is much harder. For example, most patients wouldn’t willingly succumb to a muscle biopsy to determine their magnesium status.

What to do? The best/easiest measure can be to look for magnesium deficiency symptoms that improve when you start taking magnesium. These symptoms include:

  • Inability to sleep or insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Mental disturbances
  • Anxiety, depression or restlessness
  • Muscle soreness or spasms
  • Period cramps

Which brings us to why it’s important to take magnesium long-term.

Magnesium For Months vs. Weeks

Around 60% of your body stores of magnesium are in your bones. When someone suffers from symptoms of magnesium deficiency, like muscle cramps, their body will work to mobilize the magnesium from the bone stores to deal with the deficiency. But without enough magnesium intake, they’ll slowly but surely deplete that store.

When we treat a patient with a magnesium deficiency, they’ll notice an improvement in their symptoms, but it’s not uncommon for that improvement to plateau. That’s because the immediate cellular issue has been solved, and the body is changing gears, now trying to “refill” the supplies in the bones.

However, if those patients continue with the supplementation, they’ll notice that after 4-5 months there’s another level of improvement when the bone stores have been repleted, and the cells can take in even more for more optimal function.

The take-home message is this: If you feel better when you take magnesium, keep taking it for the long haul to feel even better!