Could Depression Be 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!

13 Books to Help With Your Resolutions

According a recent poll, many of our top resolutions this year are around our health–three of the top four, in fact:

  • Eat better
  • Exercise more
  • Save more money
  • Increase self-care (more sleep, etc.)

Interestingly, “read more” came in at number five. With that in mind, we thought we’d give you a list of our top health and wellness books. If read and put to use, they could do wonders for your health in 2018.

Here they are, in no particular order. Happy Reading!

Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 to 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley. An oldie but a goodie. I have gifted and recommended this book dozens of times. It is a life changer.

Untangled: Guiding Teenager Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour. If you are living with a teenage girl you can feel like you are going crazy yourself. This great book helps you keep your head on straight as you navigate through this life change.

The Passion Test by Janet Bray Attwod and Chris Attwood. Purpose is a big determinant of our health. This simple read helps you get to yours.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. When we can understand how and why our habits are there it makes it easier to change them and let them go. This book does that AND gives you strategies to make the change.

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge MD. Debunking everything we thought about brain injury and the brain’s ability to heal – it will blow your doors off.

The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. In a culture that has demonized the stress word, we have forgotten it’s true purpose in our lives. This book reframes our thinking about this word for our betterment.

Healthy at 100 by John Robbins. Just read it – the solutions are simple…if not easy.

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Micheal Pollen. Eat food that nature makes, mostly plants, not too much – it really is that simple

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Traub. This book is a little academic, but worth the read. It will completely de-bunk everything you thought about fat.

The Happiness Project by Gretchin Rubin. A year of happiness – so worth it.

Eat, Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes by Tom Rath. Can you capture health better in three words?

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, One of my favorite books of ALL times.   We so often trade our health in our pursuit of more. This book makes a very compelling argument for focusing on what’s most important.

Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut Might be the Root Cause of your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure It by Josh Axe. In a germ-phobic world, its good to reconnect with just how critical bacteria are in our lives. More than you might know!

How to Decide What to Eat

North Americans are obsessed with figuring out what is or isn’t the BEST food or diet.

Reports in the media like this one report on a single food that is magic for a specific health complaint–in this case nuts and colon cancer. No doubt some media outlet will post an article the soon that nuts are bad for you because they are too fattening, too contaminated or likely to cause diverticulitis.

It seems like there is just no knowing what is good for you and what isn’t.

In fact, the International Food Information Council Foundation’s annual Food and Health survey this spring reported that 78% of those surveyed reported they encountered conflicting information about healthy food, and the follow-up questions indicated that 58% of respondents reported that this conflicting info created doubt in the food choices they were making.

We’re confused, in other words, and we don’t know what to do.

How To Decide What To Eat

Knowledge is power…expect when it isn’t. The way that health and nutrition is reported in western media is not making us healthier and more empowered. It’s doing the exact opposite.

The best resource I have found to take the confusion out of healthy food and healthy eating is Michael Pollen’s book, In Defense of Food.  He digs into lots of great detail to support his thesis which is simple, easy and NOT confusing: eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

By “food”, Pollan means things your great-grandmother would recognize as food. Whole foods. The more processed a food becomes the less it should be eaten.

  • Strawberries? Yes. Strawberry jam…less so.  “Strawberry” milkshake from McDonalds? No.
  • Non-GMO corn? Yes. GMO, round-up ready corn…less so. Organic corn chips even less so. High fructose corn syrup? No.
  • Sunflower seeds? Yes. Sunflower oil…less so. Commercially produced, low-fat salad dressing with sunflower oil? No.
  • Grass fed beef. Yes. (Assuming you eat meat.) Commercially farmed corn feed beef…less so. Processed beef patties with fake cheese and simulated bacon flavouring? No.

It’s a good rule of thumb. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. If you want to learn more, you can watch the documentary “In Defense of Food” on Netflix.

By they way…Pollan followed up In Defense of Food with Food Rules, a guide to answer the question, “What should I eat?” Guess what the last rule is?

“Break the rules once in a while.”

Worth considering. All these years of study and worry and research and media don’t seem to have made us any healthier!

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

Surviving a Teen Girl

If you are currently living with a female human between the ages of 12-19, and feel as though you are living with an alien at best, or a demon at worst, you’re not alone.

The teenage years are a confusing time for parents. Where once was a happy and engaging girl now stands an eye-rolling, sullen teen. Where once stood a child who you had absolute control over, now stands a budding individual who wants to call her own shots.

This call of independence is normal, but it can be absolutely frightening to parents when the consequences of getting it wrong–drugs, eating disorders, teen pregnancies–become a bigger deal. Even though we navigated through that time (which seems like a long time ago), we’re reluctant to give the reins to our kids because the stakes seem so high and their behaviour so immature that we can’t believe they can actually get it right.

51o4hqwNSHL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Enter Dr. Lisa Damour PhD and her book Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood.

This highly accessible book puts into plain and easy to understand language the normal behaviour of the teenage girl, and gives parents a real understanding of what is really going on behind those closed bedroom doors and those vacant, rolling eyes.

This book is a must read for any parent dealing with teen girls. Not only will it give context to the behaviour that makes you want to pull your hair out, but it offers solid advice on how to effectively engage with your daughter, when it’s time to worry, and what to do about it.

Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood

The Upside of Stress

The StoneTree clinic team has had our share of stress this month.

Moving to a new space, packing up an old space, figuring out where everything fits and how to effectively work in a new place is always tumultuous.

All that stress, you might think, would be “bad for our health”, but is it?

The answer is yes…and no. Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. has some fresh insight that suggests that stress might only be bad for you if you believe it is. If we learn how to embrace it, McGonigal says in hew new book, The Upside of Stress, it can in fact make us stronger, smarter, and happier.

McGonigal’s great TED talk on the subject has been watched more than 10 million times. It’s a good intro to the idea, but the book is worthwhile read.

Great Summer Reads from the StoneTree Team

It’s summer holiday time, and nothing is better then relaxing on the dock, beach or couch with a great book.

To help you pick your next great read, here are some recommendations from the StoneTree Clinic gang:



Happy reading!



Less but Better

I love “falling back”. It’s my favorite day of the year. My husband teases me mercilessly, but I can’t help it—that extra hour just feels like I’ve hit the jackpot. One more hour to sleep. One more hour to get more done. One more hour to tackle the never ending to-do list.

But while it’s great to enjoy a free hour, it’s also a sorry statement about our culture. Are we so over-extended and under-slept that one extra hour in a whole year feels like we’ve won the lottery?

Sadly, I think the answer is yes. So, as the euphoria of that extra hour wears off, I pass on to you a reading recommendation. The book Essentialism by Greg McKeown is a fantastic read about getting you off the rat wheel and into a more rested, productive and centered life.

Stress is such a huge contributor to unwellness and disease, and much of the stress in Western culture is self-induced. We feel we need to be more, do more have more. We say yes to every request and opportunity, and say no to sleep and time to rejuvenate. And the result? We become less healthy with each passing year.

As Greg McKeown says, over and over again, if we focus on “doing less, but better” we stop spinning our wheels, we focus on the most important things, and start to build lives of meaning and contribution, without mortgaging our health and relationships.

Collingwood Spring Running Clinic

2011 is the year I start running again.  I took 2010 off and focused on building strength and flexibility with regular yoga, which worked beautifully. March 20 will mark the first day of spring, and the day I hit the trails.

For anyone interested in an organized running group, check out Maximum Physiotherapy’s Spring Running Clinic in Collingwood. Sue and Brock offer a great program.  It starts March 22, 2011.  To learn more, visit–c~344601/article.html

If you don’t fancy running but like to read, check out Born to Run by Chris MacDougall. Yes, it may seem strange to read a book about running if you don’t run, but if you’re not even a little intrigued to put on running shoes after reading it, I’ll treat you to an organic energy bar at the clinic… 🙂


No More Fat Talk?

Last week was “Fat Talk Free Week” in the US, a a campaign to bring awareness to how common conversations can contribute to poor body image, low self-esteem, and eating disorders.. What a great idea! During the week, participants at 35 college campuses across the US tray to eliminate statements about weight, fat, clothes, and other negative self-image topics.

There’s good reason for the campaign. Statistics show that body dissatisfaction leads to eating fewer fruits and vegetables, and even doing less exercise – it seems we really are what we believe. Focusing on your weight and how much you hate yourself for it will never get a carrot in your month (or at least not one that isn’t followed by a bag of cookies). Focusing on health, and your right to be healthy and vibrant, is the only way help facilitate healthy lifestyle choices.

If you need a more compelling reason to not trash talk yourself, read the book, Like Mother, Like Daughter by Debra Waterhouse.  It’s an eye opener and will very much change how you talk about yourself, your weight and your choices. And check out the video below (or click here to view).


Book Review: Healthy at 100


In Healthy at 100, John Robbins explores the lifestyles of four of the world’s longest living cultures: the Abkhasians of Southern Russia, the Vilcabambans of Ecuador, the Hunza of Northern Pakistan, and the Okinawans of Japan. The cultures all share an extraordinarily high number of centenarians, and a low incidence of most of the chronic diseases of Western culture.

The essence of the book is an effort to discover what these four long-living cultures have in common. While the discoveries may not be entirely surprising, they way they’re delivered is inspiring nonetheless – this was an insightful read.

Some of the common traits among the cultures that Robbins uncovered during his research include:

Plenty of Moderate Exercise

These are active people, in terms of their lifestyle. Three of the four cultures, in fact, live in mountainous terrain. The daily exercise that they get simply from going about their lives is very high.

High Vegetable Diet

Robbins is a big proponent of the vegan lifestyle, so he may be showing his bias, but all of the cultures ate a diet extremely high in vegetables. Many added dairy or small amounts of meat or fish, but their diet was predominantly plant-based, and in most cases seemed to be moderately low in overall calories.

Love and Connection

Each culture fostered strong familial and communal bonds, with multi-generational homes, and close interaction among people. Even as the elders of society age, they stay engaged with their communities through these close connections. That engagement keeps the older members of society mentally and physically healthy even into their advanced years.

Healthy Attitude Toward Aging and the Aged

This is clearly Robbins’ core message, that our attitude towards the elderly in our culture, and towards our own aging, plays a dramatic role in how well we age physically. By marginalizing the older members of our society and viewing our own aging as a curse, rather than an increase in wisdom and life experience, we reduce our expectations of the elderly, and in doing so speed up their decline.

I listened to the audio version of this book early this year, and the simplicity of the “secrets” of aging well resonated with me. The biggest downside? It’s a little sad that many of these happy, healthy cultures are losing their simple, natural edge as the world changes.


PS If you’re interested in other cultures, you might want to join Amanda and Terry from the clinic as they share stories, photos and videos from their mission trip to Senegal, Africa. The presentation will be at The Collingwood Public Library on Wednesday, February 24, 6-8:30 PM. Admission is free, and so are the snacks!