Could Depression by Caused by an Immune System Imbalance?

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

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

Here’s the gist: 

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

Now, enter cortisol.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the article in the Globe and Mail says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do they do it?

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

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

Are Your Vitamin D Levels Too Low?

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

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

Why should you care?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Symptom Management Resource for Cancer Patients

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

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

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

Nutritional Tools for Cancer Treatment Side Effects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tests We Use to See Into Your Health Future

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

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

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

How to See the Future: the Metabolic Panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example of foods that are HIGH in FODMAPS include: 

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

Foods that are LOW in FODMAPS include:

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

Who Can Benefit?

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

How the FODMAP Diet Works

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

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

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

Building Strong Back-to-School Immune Systems

Kids will be heading back into the classroom next week, and after the initial celebration by parents is over and the weather cools, thoughts turn to avoiding the seemingly inevitable “back to school” cold—both in our kids and ourselves!

Here are some of our best tips and tools as you head back into a new school year.

1. Sleep

Kids are chronically under-slept, and homework, extra-curriculars, and excessive screen time can contribute to the problem. Be mindful of this as the school year begins, and guard this aspect of health. Sleep is where we repair and recuperate—not enough of it means your immune system is more easily overwhelmed.  

How much sleep is enough? Here’s a starting point.

2. Keep them Outside

The school year means being inside. It means more sitting and breathing re-circulated air, surrounded by dozens of other kids. Make sure your kids spend daily time outside moving their bodies (and therefore their blood and immune systems) in the fresh air. It’s a critical part of keeping their immune systems strong and healthy.  

3. Eat for Immune System Success

What does that mean? It’s easy: avoid sugar and go for the healthy proteins. Here are some ideas that kids love.  

4. Supplement

We love Fit For School probiotics by Genestra which includes, probiotics, vitamin C and vitamin D, or MetaKids chewable probiotic only. Both are pretty yummy, but if you aren’t sure if your kids will like them, drop by the clinic. We always have a bottle/package open for a sample!

More:

::Back to School Advice from the StoneTree Naturopaths

Lyme Disease: What You Need to Know

With the incidence of Lyme disease climbing in Ontario, and in Simcoe County specifically, we’re getting more and more questions at the clinic about what people can do to keep their families and themselves safe. 

Here are answers to some of the most common questions, as well as info on a new tick removal kit we have available in the clinic.

What is Lyme disease? 

Lyme disease is a disease caused by the bacteria borrelia burgdorferi. It is spread to humans through the bite of an infected deer tick. 

Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, fatigue, and a skin rash, especially one that looks like a red bull’s eye (called erythema migrans). Although rashes are fairly common, only 30% of Lyme patients report experiencing a rash, and only 9% develop the classic “bull’s eye” rash.

How do you test for it? 

Lyme testing is tricky. Testing used in conventional medicine in Ontario commonly shows false negative results, especially in the early stages of the disease.  

There are two reasons for this. First, it takes time for antibodies to develop in the blood (between ten days and a month) so the early tests can miss the diagnosis. Also, Lyme is known for antigenic shifting, meaning the antibodies change, so antibody testing isn’t always effective.

Some international labs, like this one which we use, will do in-depth testing that is more accurate but is not covered by OHIP.  

Is it treatable? 

Lyme disease is treatable. However if the infection is not treated in its early stages it can easily turn into a chronic infection. 

Chronic Lyme disease will not go away on its own over time. There is no evidence to suggest Lyme disease clears the body without treatment. In fact, the opposite research exists.

There are two persistent myths surrounding chronic Lyme disease that affect its treatment. The first is that it doesn’t exist. The second is that there’s no reason to treat chronic Lyme disease since people don’t get much better.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most people can return to work and carry on with few limitations on their lifestyle. Lyme disease remains one of the most treatable of chronic illnesses.

What do I do if I find a tick on my body?

You can remove an embedded tick yourself, but it is a lot easier with the right tools, and something to keep it in for analysis. We now carry a tick removal kit at the clinic. It’s a great item for your first-aid kit, glove box, backpack, or purse, etc.

The kit includes tick identification cards, 3 styles of tick removers (ie, if tick is in your ear or a pet’s ear a different tick remover size and style are required), magnifying glass, containers to put ticks into, instructions for proper tick removal and identification, and a container to save the tick in. 

Available online, or at the clinic! 

Tips for Surviving the Summer Heat

Canadians don’t deal well with sustained heat and humidity. Sure, the odd day or two of over 30 gives us something to complain about, because we love to complain about the weather. But day after day of +30C with high humidex? That’s something we don’t adapt to very well.  

Many people around the planet, however, do effectively live in and deal with these high temperatures all the time. Here’s what we can borrow from their experience.  

Slow down. It’s often cold in Canada, so rushing from one thing to another in our day is not only possible, but it also helps keep us warm by generating body heat. That’s the last thing you want to do in high heat and humidity environments. Moving slowly decreases the heat you are generating and keeps your core temperatures down. 

Avoid activity in the heat of the day. In the tropics, the most productive times of the day or in the early morning and late after. Minimize activity and movement when possible. The middle of the day is for finding shade and rest. 

Stay hydrated. This isn’t just about water. Many cultures who live in hot climates have traditional beverages that help manage hydration. Coconut water, cold teas, like yerba mate in South America, lime juice, and water. Drinks like these are refreshing and contain electrolytes as well as water.  

What happens when you don’t manage heat well? You run the risk of heatstroke, also known as sunstroke–a type of severe heat illness that results in a body temperature greater than 40.0 °C (104.0 °F).

Symptoms of heatstroke include:  

  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
  • Rapid, shallow breathing

What to do about it: 

  • Get to a shady or air-conditioned place
  • Cool off with damp sheets and a fan
  • Take a cool shower or bath
  • Rehydrate (with NON-sugary beverages)

If you don’t feel better in 30 minutes, it’s off to the doctor with you! You may need IV fluids.  

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.