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 they 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!

What is the “Keto” Diet?

The ketogenic diet is the new, sexy diet that everyone is talking about. Many companies are jumping on the “weight loss miracle” bandwagon with “exogenous ketones” that will solve all your weight loss problems.

But what is a ketogenic diet? What is it good for? How do you do it?

A ketogenic diet is one that is high in healthy fats, low in carbohydrates, and low to moderate in protein.  When you eat this way, your biochemistry can enter what is called nutritional ketosis. That means your cells are burning fat (in the form of ketones) as their primary fuel instead of carbohydrates/sugar (in the form of glycogen).

For the most part, your body likes burning sugar. It’s easy to get at, and easy for the body to use. Fat, on the other hand, is super-efficient for storage, but less easy to access. Given a choice between the two, your body will typically take sugar (in the form of glycogen) over fat (in the form of ketones).

Plus, the standard North American diet is generally so high in simple carbohydrates, the body never gets a chance to actually burn the fuel we have stored as fat. A highly processed, high sugar/simple carb diet tips the biochemical balance AWAY from fat burning toward carb burning. The ketogenic diet is a way of tipping the scale back again by reducing the carbohydrate supply in the body.

What do we mean by high fat, low carb, and low/moderate protein?

Generally, the macronutrient ratio varies within the following ranges: 60-75% of calories from fat (or even more), 15-30% of calories from protein, and. 5-10% of calories from carbs

What does that mean for you?

Here is a handy little calculator:

What are healthy fats?

What to we mean by “healthy fats”? Not French fries and deep-fried food.:)

Healthy fats include things like:

  • Ghee
  • Coconut oil (MCT)
  • Lard/butter
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Nut oils
  • Fatty fish
  • Grass-fed animal proteins

Is it safe? Should I do it?

For us, the upside of a low-carb or ketogenic diet is that it guides people toward simply eating food that is less processed. By default, when you lower your simple carbs, you end up cutting out a lot of packaged food and added sugars. As a general rule, we always support eating “real food”–things your grandparents or great-grandparents might have actually recognized and eaten.

The idea of a “diet”, especially for weight loss, can be troublesome. Diets are almost always temporary, and when people return to the way they habitually eat, their bodies follow along. The same health issues return, the same body fat distribution returns.

For most people, the goal should be a long-term, sustainable shift toward a healthier lifestyle. That generally means gradually changing to whole foods, a more active lifestyle, and improved emotional health.   Expecting a ketogenic diet to transform your life forever is probably the wrong recipe. Diets come and go–what doesn’t change are the fundamentals of health.

Most people can safely eat far fewer simple carbohydrates than they do, but as always, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor!

Additional Resources

Protein Powders: What You Need to Know

In recent weeks, there has been some coverage in the media around toxins in protein powder products.

The “Clean Label Project,” a non-profit organization in the United States, recently published findings on protein powders in the US market.

This organization, which is focused on health and transparency in consumer product labeling with respect to environmental contaminants, uses state of the art laboratory testing to determine contaminant levels in various consumer products. They use a 5-star system to rate the level of contamination: 5 stars means clean, 1 star…not so much.

Protein Powder Findings

Vegan protein powders had higher levels of contamination of heavy metals and other toxins then animal based ones. The most shocking finding was that the heavy metal contamination was just as high, or sometimes higher in organic vegan powders.

The best performers? Whey protein powders. This is an option that many of our patients might avoid because whey comes from milk, but many people with a dairy intolerance will do just fine with an isolated whey protein powder. Another upside is that it helps us make glutathione, a powerful anti-oxidant and detoxifier in our bodies.

Why Use Protein Powders at All?

This is a very good question, and many nutritionally-focused practitioners do not recommend them, instead wanting people to focus on eating whole food sources of protein. This is advice that is hard to argue with. Whole foods not only have protein, but fiber and other vitamins and minerals, making them more nutritionally whole.

When a protein powder does make sense is when people are not taking the time to eat properly. For example, many of our patients don’t eat a full and wholesome breakfast, instead grabbing a muffin from the café. This sets up a day of sugar cravings, mid-afternoon fatigue and that inevitable weight gain around the middle. Starting the day with a smoothie augmented with a healthy protein powder helps many of our patients get on a better eating track, and on the path to better overall health.

Retail Protein Powders vs. Professional Protein Powders

Many of the products tested by Clean Label are retail brands that can be bought off the shelf in health food stores, pharmacies and grocery stores. Often these brands compete on price, so they are always looking for the most cost-effective way to make their products. Sometimes, those efforts to cut costs lead to lower quality.

With professional lines–supplement lines that do not sell their products through retail stores, but through health professional–the product testing requirements are different. These companies have to ensure that heavy metal testing is done on their products by a third party. As a result, their sourcing for constituents to make the products is more stringent. That makes the products more expensive, but of higher quality and lower contamination.

Protein Powders We Love

Here are a couple of powders we recommend:

Vegan powders are harder because of contamination, but for those who will only go plant-based, the best we can find is Garden of Life – Raw Protein. It’s organic, and gets a 3-star rating on Clean Label. For a vegan powder, that’s the best you can get.

Curcumin and Blood Cancers

Last week, a story circulated in the UK about a woman with multiple myeloma—a blood cancer that is very difficult to treat—that was seemingly successfully treated with curcumin, the active medicinal ingredient in the spice turmeric.

Multiple Myeloma is a blood cancer that will affect just under 3000 Canadians annually. The disease does damage to bones, the immune system, the kidneys–because it’s a blood cancer, symptoms can crop up all over the place. The prognosis for patients with multiple myeloma is fair at best, and the median survival rate is 3 years.

Although her recovery may sound sensational, her case was actually written up in the British Medical Journal. That led us to ask our resident cancer guru, Dr. Ehab, about curcumin.

Curcumin is derived from the yellow curry spice, turmeric (curcuma longa) or Yu Jin.

Taking curcumin in your diet can be protective from various cancers, but the medical dose would be 90 grams a day of the root. The turmeric root has about 3% curcumin, so the biggest challenge with dietary curcumin is poor absorption–it’s hard to get that much into your blood by diet alone, so we use the capsulated curcumin concentrates.

How curcumin helps in cancer care

There are a number of very interesting ways in which curcumin can play a role in cancer care. For example, curcumin:

  • Induces apoptosis (i.e. programmed cell death, so cancer cells stop dividing indefinitely and stop growing) in tumors of the liver, kidney, sarcoma, and colon.
  • Reverses liver damage from fungal aflatoxin.
  • Inhibits cancer initiation, promotion and progression.
  • Is highly chemoprotective, blocks tumor induction by chemical carcinogens.
  • Is very useful for improving safety and efficacy in radiation therapy.

If you want to get deep into the weeds on this, you can read some specific studies:

But you can also have any questions answered about our cancer program by booking a complimentary meet-the-doctor visit online, or by calling the clinic at 705-444-5331.

The Migraine-Food Intolerance Connection

This piece of research came across the desks of one of the ND’s here at StoneTree that supports what we have all seen time and time again with our patients: food intolerances and migraines are related.

We’ve written about food intolerances many times before. When we eat foods that we are intolerant to, our immune systems see these foods as foes, not friends. The normal response to a foe by the immune system is to create inflammation in an effort to get rid of the threat.

This works very well when the threat is a virus or bacteria. It works less well when the threat is a food you eat every day. The threat is never eliminated–it just keeps showing up on your plate, day after day, and your body keeps fighting the fight.

Over time, the result is an accumulation of low-grade inflammation that can cause symptoms throughout the entire body. One of those places is the vasculature of the brain. Result: migraines.

Testing for food intolerance is an easy blood test. If you are suspect that foods are causing a problem for you, this time of year is a great time to do intolerance testing. Most extended health benefit plans will cover this lab test if done through your naturopathic doctor. (Curious about what a test looks like? You can find a sample here.)

 To learn more about food intolerance and other lab tests, book online, or call the clinic at 705-444-5331.

World Diabetes Day: What’s Your Sugar Status?

World Diabetes Day started in 1991 and has been celebrated on November 14th every year since. It was initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) in response to the rapid rise of diabetes incidence around the world.

This year, World Diabetes Day focuses on Women with Diabetes, and for good reason:

  • There are currently over 199 million women living with diabetes. This is projected to increase to 313 million by 2040.
  • Two out of every five women with diabetes are of reproductive age.
  • Diabetes is the ninth leading cause of death in women globally.
  • 1 in 7 births is affected by gestational diabetes.
  • 2% of live births to women in 2015 had some form of hyperglycemia in pregnancy.
  • Approximately half of women with a history of gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes within five to ten years after delivery.
  • Half of all cases of hyperglycemia in pregnancy occur in women under the age of 30.

These are some sobering statistics, and they don’t begin to cover it all. Diabetes can lead to nerve damage, kidney failure, and blindness. If you have diabetes, your risk of developing heart disease is twice that of the rest of the population, and you’re more susceptible to depression and infections.

Diabetes is dangerous. But it’s also a largely treatable and more importantly preventable disease. In fact, according to the IDF, more than 70% of type 2 diabetes could be prevented through the healthy lifestyle.

Where do you begin? Diabetes is a lifestyle disease, and naturally, food and movement are key.

Eat right. Eat foods that nature makes, mostly plants, not too much. It really is as simple as that. If a food package is making a health claim, be suspicious. The foods sitting in the veggie aisle with no claims and no packaging are where your diet should be focused.

Start with these 10 recipes that will save your life!

Exercise regularly. You don’t need to be a marathon runner to get the diabetes prevention benefit of exercise. Walk every day for 30 minutes. It’s all you need to do to make an enormous difference.

Test your blood sugar. Find out if your blood sugar is a problem before it’s a problem–testing your blood sugar regularly can give you an idea if your body is heading down the diabetes track.

Blood sugar tests look at the following:

  • Fasting blood sugar. This is the test we are all very familiar with. We fast overnight and get our blood taken first thing in the morning. Any value over 6.0 mmol/L should get your attention that you may be heading down the wrong track.
  • Hemoglobin A1c. This test measures how much sugar is attached to the red blood cells. The more that is attached, the more likely you are not getting the sugar out of your blood fast enough. Because the lifespan of the RBC’s is around 3 months, this test gives us an idea of what your AVERAGE blood sugar has been over a 3 month period. Values over 6% are a sign that things are not going well.
  • Two-hour post-prandial blood glucose. This test measures how well your body deals with sugar within 2 hours of eating it. If your blood sugar is over 7.8 mmol/L 2 hours after eating the sugar, you could be heading down the wrong track.

Interested in learning about your blood sugar levels? Tests are inexpensive, and we can take your blood sample right here in the clinic! Book online, or call 705-444-5331 for more information.

Tuning Your Hormonal Orchestra

Hormones are your body’s chemical messenger system. They control many, if not most, of your major body functions, including digestion, mood, sleep, metabolism, respiration, stress, growth, movement and mood. Hormones, in short, are a big deal.

They also pack a powerful punch, and so they need to be balanced. To keep things running smoothly and to keep your body “in tune”, they have to be produced in exactly the right amounts at the right time.

This makes your hormonal system a little like an amplified orchestra with various instruments and roles to play:

  1. The pineal gland is the timer, to tell the system when to sleep and when to play.
  2. The hypothalamus is the sound man, detecting signals from the audience and reading the sound levels, balancing the output of control hormones.
  3. The pituitary gland, like a conductor, tells the individual players when and how forcefully, to do their part. If all is in balance, the individual player does just the right amount of work and the system is in tune.
  4. The thyroid hormone is the rate controller, increasing the speed of the beat and the efficiency of the instruments.
  5. The neurosteroids, or sex hormones, control tuning, maintenance and repair of the many instruments.

All of this must work in a complex biological harmony. Otherwise, like a poorly tuned orchestra, the results can be pretty awful.

Fortunately, the hormonal orchestra is usually an elegant and effective performance. The problem arises as we age, when hormone production begins to slow. It’s then that we hear the first problems in the musical score that is your body.

The progressive loss of hormones begins with the pineal, at about age 20, followed at about age 25-26 by declining growth hormone. After that, pregnenolone decreases, then DHEA, testosterone and progesterone, with estrogen in women following closely behind testosterone in men.

As hormones decline, your poor thyroid is left to handle the bulk of the work, like a lone musician trying to play an entire symphony alone.

Off Key: The Effects of Low Hormones

If we look at blood tests just a few months into menopause, a woman’s blood may contain:

  • Zero estrogen, testosterone, growth hormone and melatonin, and;
  • almost zero pregnenolone, progesterone and DHEA.

Is it any wonder things feel different? Like a poorly tuned orchestra, these changes don’t usually go unnoticed:

  • Low testosterone and/or progesterone causes depression and panic attacks.
  • Low progesterone causes menstrual irregularity, painful menses, water retention, poor sleep, reduced memory capacity, reduced self-esteem and inadequate maintenance and repair of the brain and nervous system.
  • Low estrogen causes hot flashes, night sweats, poor sleep and general misery.

All of this elevates your stress levels and further inhibits the ability of your thyroid hormone to do an increasingly difficult job. As more time goes by, the orchestra slips further out of tune. Your body loses its balance, can’t manage sugar and cholesterol metabolism, and is unable to heal quickly, fight off infections, avoid autoimmune diseases and kill cancer cells.

It’s reasonable to conclude that many of our age-related disabilities (if not all) have their root in this progressive reduction of hormone production. Add the stress of modern life to the mix, and you have a musical score for accelerating the development of disease and the aging process.

The good news is that it’s possible to bring the orchestra back into tune! Using accurate testing and bio-identical hormone replacement, you can relieve some of the troublesome symptoms of aging and your body can begin to play a more pleasing score.

To learn more about your hormonal orchestra—and bring your instruments back into tune—contact the clinic at 705-444-5331, or book an appointment with Dr. Gervais Harry, MD online here.