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

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.

SIBO: What Is It and Could You Have It?

Tummy troubles are one of the most common complaints that naturopathic doctors deal with. Usually, we have great success–if we can help a patient get to the bottom of food intolerances, rebalance their flora, or deal with stress, then tummy troubles like IBS can become a thing of the past. 

But when our usual magic doesn’t clear things up in 8-12 weeks, we start to think that a patient might be dealing with SIBO.

What is SIBO? 

SIBO is the acronym for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. In this syndrome, bacteria that normally grows in other parts of the gut start growing in the small intestine where they shouldn’t be. The result is symptoms such as pain in the stomach, especially after eating, bloating, cramps, diarrhea, constipation, a regular feeling of fullness, gas and weight loss.

If the SIBO is long-standing, the bacteria can start to use up the body’s nutrients, leading to malnutrition and more global symptoms of fatigue and malaise.  

What causes SIBO? 

In some cases, SIBO it the result of the bowel’s anatomy and physiology not working probably. There could be an adhesion or stricture in the bowel, so the muscular activity of the intestines breaks down and the food and bacteria aren’t moving through properly. The pH of the intestine could be off resulting in the wrong bacteria growing in the wrong place. The immune system can be out of balance causing bacteria to grow where they shouldn’t.  

How do you know you have SIBO?

The wrong bacteria in the small intestine release hydrogen and methane gas. This can be measured by a breath test, where breath samples are taken over a period of time to measure the gasses.

If SIBO is indicated, we then use a three-pronged treatment plan designed to eradicate the bad bacteria, heal the gut lining, and feed the good bacteria!

If you’d like to learn more about SIBO or other digestive challenges, or get more information on SIBO testing, contact us or book a complimentary meet-the-doctor visit online.

Naturopathic Medicine Month – Week 4: Cancer Care & Connection

It’s our last week of Naturopathic Medicine Month–we’ve had a great time answering your questions and busting myths!

Just because the month is over doesn’t mean we don’t want to continue to answer your questions. We’re always open to hearing from you. If you have a question or are wondering if Naturopathic Medicine has a solution for you, drop us a line or book a 15-minute complimentary “meet-the-doctor” visit.  

Myth: “Naturopathic doctors undergo little training”

Many people believe that becoming a Naturopathic Doctor requires little to no training, especially compared with conventional Medical Doctors. The belief that you can take an online course, or read a few books and call yourself a Naturopathic Doctor couldn’t be farther from the truth. As one of the 25 regulated health professions in Ontario, Naturopathic Doctors have access to seven “controlled acts”. Only four regulated health professions have more.  

After completing pre-medical sciences in university, Naturopathic  Doctors, attend a four-year, full-time accredited naturopathic medical school. During those four years, they gain a thorough knowledge of biomedical sciences by taking anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, physical clinical diagnosis, and pharmacology courses, as well as learning the naturopathic modalities such as herbal medicine, nutrition, acupuncture, and physical medicine. Students also complete supervised internships, gaining practical experience with patients.  

In Ontario, an ND must then also obtain a license by first passing board exams, both written and practical and acquiring malpractice insurance.  

The College of Naturopaths of Ontario registers eligible naturopathic doctors, and ensures they maintain continuing education requirements and adhere to professional standards of practice.  

FAQ: “Can I see a Medical Doctor AND a Naturopathic Doctor at the same time?”

You bet! 

In fact, research has shown that those patients receiving naturopathic care alongside conventional care do better than those receiving conventional care only.  

For best outcomes, patients want both MDs and NDs on their teams. MDs are experts in how to diagnose and manage disease and pathology. NDs are experts in the healthy function of your body. When a patient has a plan to optimize their health along with managing their disease they can’t help but win. 

Solution: Caring for Patients with Cancer

A cancer diagnosis can be one of the most frightening events in life. Naturopathic Doctors who work with cancer patients help them navigate through this very stressful and confusing time, and empower them to make an overall plan for their health as they engage with their conventional treatment plan.  

With these patients, the focus is on helping to:

  1. Decrease the side-effects of conventional cancer treatments
  2. Improve the nutritional status of patients before, during, and after conventional treatment
  3. Support the patient’s immune system to avoid additional illness
  4. Increase the effectiveness of conventional treatments
  5. Improve overall health in an attempt to prevent the spread or recurrence of cancer
  6. Support the body’s ability to better heal itself

Dr. Ehab Mohammad, ND practiced oncology as a medical doctor for over 20 years before becoming a naturopathic doctor. Here at StoneTree, he works exclusively with patients who have received a cancer diagnosis. By applying the best evidence and understanding how conventional and complementary therapies work together he helps patients come up for the best plan of management.  

Healthy Living Tip: Connection 

Humans are pack animals. We need social connection to thrive, not just air, food, and water.   

Recent studies on loneliness suggest that being lonely for a prolonged period is more harmful to your health than smoking 15 cigarettes per day! Beyond causing heightened rates of depression, anxiety, and irritability, loneliness is now being associated with potentially life-shortening health issues such as higher blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity.

More and more Canadians are now living alone–some 28 percent of households, according to recent numbers by Statistics Canada, which also reports that one in five Canadians identifies as being lonely. 

Living along and being lonely also means eating alone too, and that’s unfortunate–eating together is one of the great secrets of health and wellness. Eating together usually results in eating better food, eating it more slowly, which usually means eating less of it, too!

Eat together!

Naturopathic Medicine Month Continues! Lab Tests, and Healthy Eating Made Simple

Naturopathic Medicine Month – Week #3

Here we are in our third of four weeks spreading the word about Naturopathic Medicine. As with our last two posts, we have a myth, an FAQ, a solution, and a tip!

Myth Buster: “Naturopathic Doctors put everyone on a restrictive diet.”

It’s true that all Naturopathic Doctors believe that food matters when it comes to your health.  

Most modern, chronic disease is strongly linked to poor diet, sedentary lifestyles, and smoking.  The evidence in the medical literature is overwhelming. So, with that in mind, just about every visit you have with an ND is likely to touch on what you eat. 

That can take a number of different forms. It might be dealing with inflammatory foods through food intolerance testing, or simply changing a diet high in “food-like substances” to one high in actual food.  

That doesn’t, however, mean that everyone needs to be gluten-free, or dairy-free, or vegan, or paleo, or keto, or whatever the latest sexy diet plan is.  

Each individual is different, and the diet that works for each person is also different. Getting to the root of that for each person is a cornerstone of naturopathic medicine.  

We have written many blog posts about nutrition that touch on our philosophy–here are a couple from the archives:

FAQ: “Can Naturopathic Doctors order lab tests?”  

Just like MD’s, Naturopathic Doctors can and do order labs tests.  There are, however, a couple of key differences: 

  • OHIP does NOT cover lab tests ordered by ND’s. The upside is that patients pay for their own labs, they get to have more control of their testing which keeps them in the driver’s seat for their health.    
  • ND’s look at labs differently. Although ND’s are trained to recognize abnormal labs, we are most interested in determining if there is a functional problem or pre-disease marker in lab results. Diabetes, for example, shows up as PRE-diabetes long before diabetes shows up. Staying on top of labs and dealing with problems ahead of time is true preventative medicine. 

Solution: Hormones!

Imbalances in hormones might be the single biggest root cause of the symptoms that bring patients to StoneTree Clinic. 

Symptoms like

  • persistent weight gain 
  • fatigue 
  • mood issues 
  • poor sleep 
  • brain fog
  • headaches 
  • menstrual issues 
  • PMS
  • Menopausal symptoms.  

The root cause of hormone imbalances are different for every patient, and we use specialized testing to figure out what the imbalance is.  We then use our awesome toolbox of herbal medicines, nutritional supplements, and diet and lifestyle changes to get things back where they belong. 

Tip: Healthy Eating Made Simple

This hilarious video really captures the confusion that most people feel about what they eat:

  • Eggs are good for you, then they are bad for you, then they are good for you again. 
  • Fats are bad, now they are good. 
  • Carbs are good for you, then they are not. 
  • You should eat meat, not eat meat, avoid gluten, eat more fiber….

It’s hard to keep it straight!

The best advice we can give holds true no matter what the new fad diet is:

Eat foods that nature makes, mostly plants, not too much. 
(Thanks, Michael Pollan)

It really is that simple.  

Nat Med Month 2: Low Energy and Being Tortoise Healthy

Our celebration of naturopathic medicine continues with another myth, a question, and a tip!

Myth: “Naturopathic Doctors are anti-medicine.”

Naturopathic Doctors work with patients to rebalance their bodies toward health and healing.  That rebalancing, which often includes a healthy diet and lifestyle, can reduce the need for some medications–and that’s a good thing!

However, there are MANY instances when conventional medications are needed. Naturopathic doctors are trained to recognize those situations and refer patients back to their family doctors to access those important treatments–it happens here all the time!

Best results don’t come from “one-or-the-other” thinking. Best results come when a patient feels in control and empowered to access the health care they need most.   

FAQ: “Is Naturopathic Medicine covered by OHIP?”  

Naturopathic Medicine is not covered by OHIP, and with all the changes that are being proposed, it’s unlikely to ever be included in our publicly-funded system.  

Naturopathic Medicine is, however, covered by most extended health benefit packages, and through the years this coverage has continued to expand.   

At StoneTree we do our best to direct bill insurance companies to make access to care even easier!

Solution: Getting To the Root Cause of Low energy 

Unexplained fatigue is the single most common reason people walk through our door.

Often, a patient has gone to their MD complaining of tiredness, but their blood work comes up “within normal limits”. It’s a frustrating thing to hear when you’re experiencing a symptom that’s interfering with your life.   

What “within normal limits” really means is that there is no diagnosable reason for the fatigue; it does NOT mean your biochemistry is functioning optimally and that there’s nothing wrong.  

One common cause of unexplained fatigue is functional hypothyroidism, but there are many more. Sub-clinical nutrient deficiencies, food intolerances and leaky gut, toxic exposures or chronic infections can all be culprits. Book a free “meet-the-doctor” visit to learn how we can help.

Healthy Living Tip: Be Tortoise Healthy

It’s all about the tortoise, not the hare….

In our “microwave culture” of wanting things instantly, we are often looking for that magic pill or the easy way out. But chronic health problems are frequently the result of an accumulation of small actions over time, and regaining good health is no different.

If you want lasting health, you need to focus on being the tortoise, not the hare!

  • The hare diets. The turtle slowly shifts to eating habits that can last a lifetime.
  • The hare is a weekend warrior. The turtle is active every day in some way.
  • The hare binge sleeps on the weekend. The turtle builds good sleep habits.
  • The hare makes time for others on rare holidays. The turtle tries to connect every day.

Be a tortoise this week!

Want to learn more about how naturopathic medicine can help? Book a 15-minute complimentary “meet-the-doctor” visit here.

It’s Naturopathic Medicine Month!

Actually, next week is Naturopathic Medicine Week, but we’re celebrating all month!

We’ve been helping people in the Georgian Triangle for 18 years now. Almost two decades! In that time, we have had the privilege of touching the lives of over 7000 patients.

Yet, for all that progress, we still meet people every week that don’t know who we are or how we help.  

In celebration of Naturopathic Medicine Week, we’re getting back to basics. By answering FAQ’s, debunking myths, and outlining the problems we solve, we hope to change that.  

Please pass this info on to someone you think we can help.  We all love our job and can’t wait to do more of it!

Myth: “Naturopathic medicine is not evidence-based”

Actually, there is plenty of evidence to support the natural and complementary therapies used by ND’s. New studies are published all the time in peer-reviewed journals, and many show positive findings. If you’re looking for evidence, there is no shortage. Last week, for example, we looked at the evidence to support IV vitamin C as an effective treatment for seasonal allergies.

FAQ: What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic Medicine is a comprehensive approach to health care. Naturopathic Doctors (ND’s) are trained to diagnose and treat various acute and chronic conditions. Our main objective, however, is to find and treat the underlying cause of your health concerns.

ND’s follow a series of principles that guide their approach to helping you improve your health:

  • Primum non nocere – first do no harm, effective health care with the least risk for all patients.
  • Vis medicatrix naturae – healing power of nature, respect and promote self-healing
  • Tolle causum – treat the cause, identify and remove causes.
  • Docere – doctor as teacher, educate the patients, inspire rational hope, encourage self-responsibility
  • Treat the whole person – each person is unique with their own factors affecting their health
  • Health promotion is the best prevention – STAYING well is just as important as GETTING well.

Solution: Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Studies show that between 13-20% of Canadians are affected by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) at any given time.

Here’s the tricky part: this syndrome is rarely a result of a pathological problem. There’s usually very little to point at and say, “There’s the cause.” As a result, conventional medical intervention often falls short.

Upwards of 50% of people suffering from IBS end up seeking out complementary and alternative care. Why? Because the root cause of the symptoms is most often functional in nature – something is out of balance. Uncovering and repairing functional imbalances in your biochemistry and physiology is what naturopathic medicine is all about.

Healthy Living Tip: Get Out in Nature!

Yes, getting outside in nature is actually good for you. And no, this isn’t your mother saying, “get some fresh air!” This is the increase in doctors actively prescribing time outdoors as a treatment.  

And if you can couple nature with exercise? Then you’re really getting somewhere! A local group of health enthusiasts is doing just that. Check out Primitive Patterns–they’re offering outdoor exercise classes all summer.  

The Case for Cooperative Cancer Care

Cancer is a scary proposition.  No one wants it in their orbit, but the stats are sobering. During their lifetime, nearly 1 in 2 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer, and 1 in 4 will die from the disease.

This week we recognized World Cancer Day, which was born on February 4, 2000, as part of the Paris Charter Against Cancer. The charter aims to promote research, prevent cancer, improve patient services, raise awareness and mobilise the global community to make progress against cancer.

Part of the charter reads:

“Since cancer knows no boundaries, and individual countries cannot address the challenges of cancer in isolation, a new co-operative approach to research, advocacy, prevention and treatment must be established.”

The ideas of “cooperative approach” and “prevention” speak volumes to naturopathic doctors. While conventional medicine works toward the best plan of management for a persons disease, it almost always leave out a solid and robust plan to manage and optimize a patient’s health during their treatment process. It’s a missing piece in the fight.

Research is showing that complimentary therapies that are focused on the health of the patient seem to consistently result in better outcomes, for example:

  • Stress management techniques like meditation and yoga to manage the emotions challenges of the disease and its treatment
  • Acupuncture for pain management and nausea
  • Diet interventions to decrease the body wasting that can happen with cancer and cancer treatment
  • High doses of nutriceuticals both orally and via IV to increase quality of life and overall treatment tolerance so patients may complete their chemotherapy treatment plan

For links to the evidence to support these therapies check out the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre.

Chronic Problems vs Acute Expectations

In medicine, we use the term acute to refer to an illness or disease that comes on suddenly, and doesn’t last long. Heart attacks are acute. Colds and flu are, too. Acute illnesses tend to either get better fairly quickly–with treatment, or often without–or kill you. Usually, it’s the former.

We see our fair share of acute problems: infections, injuries, colds, flu, sore throats, and all manner of other complaints that need to be dealt with.

Where naturopathic medicine shines even brighter, however, is in chronic illness. Unlike an acute problem, chronic conditions come on far more slowly, often getting worse over time. Arthritis. IBS. Crohn’s and colitis. Persistent back pain. Recurring migraines. Heart disease, kidney disease. It’s a long list. And unlike acute problems, they don’t go away on their own, at least not for long. They’re stubborn, and they take a special approach. Here’s why.

The Two Challenges of Chronic Illness

Beyond the obvious problem that they keep hanging around messing up your life, chronic problems have two other distinct challenges:

  1. They’re difficult to diagnose. Acute problems often have readily identifiable causes. That broken leg? It’s because you broke your leg. There’s no mystery. Typical solution? Pain control, reset, cast, heal, and done. Chronic migraines, though? Wow. It could be hormonal imbalances. Environmental toxins. Musculoskeletal imbalances. Stress. Food intolerances. Chronic diagnosis is an art form. It takes time and experience, and that’s why ND’s seem to take forever during your initial visit. The more persistent and mysterious the problem, the more information we need. We’re the Sherlock Holmes of health care.
  2. They’re challenging to fix. Moreover, it’s not just the diagnosis that’s tricky, treating chronic problems is no cakewalk either. Not because the treatments don’t work, but because they’re harder to do. Acute conditions are often dealt with quickly–take a pill, get a cast, rub on a cream. Then wait. Chronic conditions are a whole different story. They take longer, and worse still, they often require significant lifestyle change on the part of the patient. You have to change the way you live your life, and that’s a lot more demanding than taking a pill.

Chronic Problems meet Acute Expectations

Of course, that’s where things get tricky. As a culture, we’re not accustomed to the challenges of fixing chronic complaints. We’re used to acute solutions–the pills, the injections, the bandages. We’re used to looking for the “one thing” that is responsible for our symptoms, and the “one thing” that will fix it.

Unfortunately, in the majority of cases there really isn’t “one thing” at all. The real cause of a chronic illness generally is a result of long-term “un-wellness”. In effect, it’s lots of things.

It’s months of poor sleep. It’s years of crappy eating. It’s one too many glasses of wine and too few glasses of water. It’s no movement and lots of TV watching. It’s years of exposure to chemicals. It’s a host of chronic behaviors that give a chronic result: a body that can never fully heal and recover.

Basically, it’s a host of chronic behaviors that give a chronic result: a body that can never fully heal and recover. A body that’s overwhelmed with inflammation, raging with out-of-whack hormones and low-grade nutritional deficiencies. A body–and its owner–that has energy in the toilet, poor sleep, crappy moods, even crappier digestion, and a lackluster sex life.

That’s more than chronic illness. It’s chronic unhappiness, discomfort, and confusion.

Most chronic symptoms are really the body screaming at its owner to take better care of it overall.

The good news is that despite all these obstacles, much chronic disease is still very treatable. You can change, and you can see the results. We do every day!


Health Mysteries

“In the beginning, disease is difficult to recognize but easy to cure.
In the end, disease is easy to recognize but difficult to cure.”

– Franz Mesmer, German Physician

I love this quote. It’s a lesson for patients in the value of prevention and long term health thinking, but also a reminder to doctors of the importance of not shying away from the hard diagnostic work of challenging cases.

Challenging cases are something every doctor gets, and we see our share. Every week, new patients arrive at StoneTree with health care dilemmas. And while each patient’s symptoms might be vastly different, at the heart of many cases there’s a common theme: they feel awful but conventional medicine says there is nothing wrong with them.

These patients are often angry and frustrated. Their lab tests have come back not showing anything significant. They’re being told, “It’s all in your head.” They feel like they might be malingering hypochondriacs.

Of course, they’re not malingering hypochondriacs. Their body is in that first stage of disease that Mesmer is talking about, the stage where it is very difficult to identify a problem, particularly by standard tests that are geared toward diagnosing disease, not subtle imbalances. And that leaves patients with a problem: they have a health mystery that no one seems interested in solving except them.

Well…we like the mysteries. The great thing for many of these patients who end up in our office is that although recognizing what is wrong with them has been frustrating and difficult, the fix can often be much easier.

Dealing with nutritional deficiencies, low grade toxicities, food intolerances, hormone imbalances or immune system issues in the early stages reap huge rewards. People have more energy, and get better sleep. Their moods balance. Their immune systems, which seemed to be betraying them, now behave properly and their detox systems are not overrun.

There’s a prize for solving the mystery, and that’s a faster, easier return to health. That’s why we like the mysteries. As Mesmer suggests, a hard problem to solve beats a hard disease to cure.