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

Calling All Teachers!

Dealing with kids can put a real tax on stress glands and immune systems–it’s the kind of thing that can lead to constant colds and flu, sleep and mood issues, or that overall “tired” feeling that is so tough to shake.

For our patients who are teachers, the hustle and bustle of the school often has them completely worn out by the end of June. They rely on summer to rest and recharge.

The magic of summer, however, isn’t just in recovery. It’s in building a strong base for the coming year. Prevention really is the best medicine, and for teachers, summer is the best time to put that in place. Supporting the stress glands and boosting the immune system before school starts almost always makes for a healthier school year.

Simcoe County teachers have a wonderful extended health plan for naturopathic medicine, and the benefits restart at the start of their new year, which is September. Getting in during the summer months prepares you for the upcoming year, but also ensures you maximize the coverage you are entitled to.

We now make it even easier for our teachers to access care with direct billing to your extended health plan. This ensures you can come in without having to worry about cash flows during the summer months.

We love working with teachers and keeping them healthy and well during the school year. Teaching our kids is important work–please pass this on to the teachers in your life!

Book your appointment online here, or call the clinic at 705-444-5331.

Natural Solutions for Summer Kid Challenges

Summer is in full swing. and what a summer it is turning out to be!

Lots of sun and heat make for great cottage or beach days, but they can also bring little health annoyances that can ruin the fun for kids. Here are some natural solutions to a few of summer’s nagging problems.

Sunburn

  • Prevention is the best medicine here. Cover up or look for shade, and avoid the sun from 11AM-3PM.
  • For a look at the best sunscreens, check out the Environmental Working Group’s top picks.
  • Eat foods containing lots of antioxidants like berries, watermelon, peaches, and citrus. This can help little bodies deal with the oxidative damage of the sun. And if little ones do get burned, aloe gel applied often and liberally is soothing and helpful!

Bug Bites

Prevention is difficult here without staying indoors or using toxic chemicals, but here are a few suggestions to manage bug populations:

  • Drain sources of stagnant water sources
  • Plant marigolds around your yard.
  • Install bat boxes

For natural repellents, you can try Dr. Mercola’s list, which includes: Vick’s Vaporub®; cinnamon leaf oil; clear liquid vanilla extract mixed with olive oil; citronella soap and 100% pure citronella essential oil; catnip oil.

When the bug bit happens we love Orange Naturals Bites + Stings cream. It works great!

Swimmer’s Ear

Lots of swimming means lots of opportunities to collect water in the outer ear canal. Add that to the heat-driven increase in the number of critters growing in the ponds, lakes, and pools kids swim in, and the conditions are ripe for a case of swimmers ear. Some tips:

  • Prevent swimmers ear with a couple of drops of part rubbing alcohol part vinegar after swimming.
  • If an infection has already taken hold we love St. Francis Ear Oil. This lovely natural remedy combines the herbs mullen, St. John’s wort, and garlic. It’s anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and provides pain relief–great for getting on top of swimmers ear.
  • More info for treating this naturally check out Dr. Axe’s guide.

If ear symptoms persist for more then 3-4 days, it’s best to have a regulated health professional have a look to make sure things aren’t getting out of hand and antibiotics are not needed.

Athlete’s Foot and Other Fungal Infections

This summer’s heat is making lots of sweating a given–the perfect environment for fungal infections. Again, prevention is the best medicine:

  • Always wash hands and feet after playing.
  • Change sweat-stained clothes frequently during a day.
  • Make an anti-fungal spray of diluted apple cider vinegar. Spritz it on clean, dry feet (or other areas) and allow it to dry. Fungus hates acid and will die off.

Dehydration

Kids are so in the moment. They’re just so happy playing around they forget to drink! Dehydration is a pretty common problem, so remind them to drink regularly during the heat waves. If you want to avoid Gatorade or other sugary electrolyte drinks, try all-natural coconut water. It’s delicious and full of electrolytes without all the sugar of a Gatorade. You can even make your own sports drink!

For more serious concerns, remember that Dr. Bronwyn is StoneTree Clinic’s resident child health guru, with a love for treating all things kid-related!

Food as Medicine: Chia Seeds

These tiny little nutritional powerhouses were prized by the Mayans for providing them with “sustainable energy”. In fact, the word chia is the ancient Mayan word for strength!

Check out what’s inside just two tablespoons of these little seeds:

  • Fiber: 11 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s)
  • Calcium: 18% of the RDA
  • Manganese: 30% of the RDA
  • Magnesium: 30% of the RDA
  • Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA

They also contain a decent amount of Zinc, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Potassium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and Vitamin B2.

The calcium content is particularly impressive. A whopping 18% of the RDA in a single ounce! Gram for gram, this is higher than most dairy products.

Happy Guts!

Chia seeds are one of the foods being showcased here at The Pantry in the month of July when we are focusing on gut health.

Chia seeds can absorb up to 12 times their weight in liquid. When soaked, they develop a mucilaginous coating that gives chia-based creams and beverages that distinctive gel texture. This gel-forming action is due to the soluble fiber in chia seeds, and it can work as a prebiotic that supports the growth of probiotics in the gut.

Get this yummy, gluten-free, high protein, high fiber seed into your diet daily!  Your gut and bones will love you for it. Here’s a great recipe to start you off. 🙂

Chia Pudding

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 2 cups unsweetened coconut, almond or cashew milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup, honey or sweetener of choice (optional)
  • blueberries and strawberries, for topping

Instructions

  • In a bowl or mason jar, mix together chia seeds, milk, maple syrup and vanilla. If you’re using a mason jar, you can put the lid on and shake the mixture to combine everything.
  • Once the chia pudding mixture is well combined, let it sit for 5 minutes, give it another stir/shake to break up any clumps of chia seeds, cover and put the mixture in the fridge to “set-up” for 1-2 hours.
  • You can also prep your pudding the night before and let it sit in the fridge overnight if that’s easier. When ready to serve, divide the mixture between two bowls, top the pudding with berries and enjoy.

Enjoy!

Recipe and image courtesy of Eating Bird Food

Candid Conversations with Teens

I recently came across this video from CityLine–it’s worth a watch if you have a teen in your life.

How much do you think you know about your teenager? Host Tracy Moore sits down with 12 teens for a candid conversation about what’s really happening in their lives.

Whether you are a parent, coach, auntie, uncle, grandparent or other interested adult, this show will give you some insight into what’s going on in the life of today’s teens and how you can help.

Teen CityLine Real

A Week of Naturopathic Eating

What do you eat?

This is a common question asked by patients at StoneTree Clinic.

Most patients who arrive here are given some sort of diet change. From going gluten- or dairy-free, to a ketogenic diet, or to simply eating more legumes and vegetables, some sort of diet change is often one part of the treatment plan.

For the staff and docs at StoneTree, healthy eating is not something we have to do; it’s something we love doing. If you were to visit the lunch room on any given day, you’d find us enjoying many delicious, highly nutritious foods….and loving it!

Eating the way we do seems easy now, but it took time to change old habits, and even now we’re always looking for new ideas and inspiration.

With that in mind, Dr. Shelby put together a week-long meal diary–21 meals, all with links to recipes and resources! Dr. Shelby is a fish-eating vegetarian, who eats largely gluten- and dairy-free. Thank you Shelby!

Download: Dr. Shelby’s Week of Eating

How Sugar Affects Your Immune System

This piece of research dates back to 1973, but the results are no less relevant to your immune system today.

The study showed that the ability of your immune system to deal with bacteria was significantly decreased for up to five hours after eating sugar. The sugar didn’t decrease the number of immune cells, but it decreased the effectiveness of those cells.

Dr. Kendra talks about this study is her latest video here.


If you need more proof that reducing sugar intake is important for your health, listen to Dr. Mark Hyman interviewed by John Robbins on Food Revolution Network, or watch the documentary FED UP. And if you need help making a change, your local naturopathic doctor is never far off!

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!

Foggy Thinking? It Might Be Your Phone

Fascinating research out of the University of Chicago.

Researchers had groups of people complete standardized cognitive tasks, like memorizing letter sequences or solving math problems. All participants had smartphones that were put on “silent mode”–no distractions from alerts–but in each case, the location of the phones changed:

  • One group had their phones on the desk in front of them, facedown.
  • Another had their phones in the pockets or bags with them.
  • The last group had their phones in an entirely different room.

The result? The closer the phone was to you while doing the thinking tasks, the lousier you were at thinking. Those with the phone on the desk did as poorly as those who are sleep deprived, even though the phones were facedown and silent.

Why is this? The researchers don’t know for sure but the thought is that having that phone in sight, even facedown with the sound off, keeps our minds connected to it. We’re dedicating a little bit of brainpower to monitoring the phone all the time, even though we don’t realize it.

What this Means for You

Complaints of lack of focus, foggy thinking, and memory issues are common here at the clinic, and they span all age groups. Parents of our younger patients worry about attention problems in school, while our older patients wonder if they’re experiencing the early onset of dementia.

There are many potential causes for these symptoms, but if your smartphone is a big part of your life, perhaps a good first step is to create times when your phone is shut off and out of sight. That’ll give your brain a chance to fully focus on what you’re doing. You might find that the root of the problem isn’t what you thought!

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