Shingles: Causes and Prevention

Herpes zoster is the virus that causes the chickenpox. Most of us experienced this infection as kids–a very itchy rash, that can show up over the entire body.

Once chickenpox is resolved the herpes zoster virus can “hide” in a little pocket in our nerves called the dorsal root ganglia. It can hide there, dormant, for years, with a healthy immune system keeping it where it can’t cause any trouble.

But, like a gift that just keeps on giving, the virus can reemerge.

As we age, or if we are in a situation where our immune system is run down, that little virus can poke it’s head out and start causing trouble. That trouble is called shingles, and anyone who has had it can tell you it’s no fun.

This painful rash typically appears as a single “strip” of blisters that wraps around either side of your torso.   These blisters can be itchy and/or burny. They can cause numbness or tingling and result in intense sensitivity to touch. Some people also experience fever, headache, fatigue, and sensitivity to light. Overall the experience is extremely unpleasant.

Wore still, as you age, chances increase that you can develop a complication like post-herpetic neuralgia, which is continued pain even after the blisters have resolved that can result in months of discomfort.

So what to do?

1. Keep your immune system strong and healthy.

Immune boosting is the key to prevention. You want to keep that dormant virus right where it is! Eat right, exercise, get lots of rest when you feel tired and lots of laughter whenever you can.

2. Treat early.

Getting an antiviral within 72 hours of the onset of shingles will decrease the duration of the disease. If you don’t want to do conventional anti-virals, some research supports using IV Vitamin C to decrease both disease duration and post-herpetic neuralgia. We’ve seen this work in practice in many patients. Vitamin B12 injections have also been shown to decrease post-herpetic neuralgia.

Shingles is no fun. If you develop symptoms, see your health care provider as soon as possible!

Get Those Kids Moving!

A new study published in the Frontiers of Physiology in July offers a glimpse into the possible long-term importance of getting our young ones moving.

The study fed a group of baby lab rats a high-fat diet and then separated them into three groups. One group was denied exercise for their whole life, one group was denied exercise until they were adults, and the last group was allowed to exercise from the very beginning.

  • The researchers found that early exercise positively impacted the way the rat’s metabolism responded to the high-fat diet. They were able to transform fat into energy more effectively. This effect lasted for 60 days after the exercise stopped. No big surprise here.
  • But, the interesting part was that early exercise decreased overall inflammation as an adult. Even though the rats still all got fat from a diet that was too calorically rich, they did not seem to have the same negative health effects of a high-fat diet without exercise.

Clearly, kids aren’t rats, and no one is going to run a lifetime study denying humans exercise (although the fact that 1 in 10 kids meets the physical activity guidelines suggest we might be working towards it, sadly.)

But although it might be difficult to know what the long term studies will tell us for sure about humans, while you’re waiting there’s almost zero downside to getting kids moving!

This is one time when it’s probably quite reasonable to compare your kids to rats. 🙂

Men: Understanding and Measuring Your Testosterone

Testosterone is predominately a male hormone. Although women have it in small amounts as well, this post is all about our boys. (Although our female patients may have to drag their guys in for testing. :))

Gentlemen, testosterone is the “fountain of youth” hormone. It’s part of what makes a guy feel like a “guy”. It makes you feel strong, vital, virile and ambitious.

As you age, however, testosterone levels gradually decline. This decline can have very little abnormal effect on some men, or it can have varied and far-reaching effects that can really wreak havoc.

Symptoms of Low/Decreasing Testosterone

Low testosterone has a lot of possible symptoms, such as:

  • Reduced sexual desire, or low libido
  • Fewer spontaneous erections
  • Impotence (erectile dysfunction)
  • Infertility
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Emotional changes, such as low self-confidence or lack of motivation
  • Physical changes, like increased body fat, reduced muscle bulk and strength, and decreased bone density

The Challenge of Measuring Your Testosterone

How do you find out if low testosterone is behind your symptoms? Usually testosterone is measured in the blood in two ways: bound and free. They’re different.

Total testosterone is all testosterone in the blood, much of which is “bound” to something called sex hormone binding globulin, some that’s  bound to albumin, and some that’s not bound to anything.

Free testosterone is made up of the second two–that bound to albumin and that not bound to anything. This is the testosterone the cells can actually use–it’s  what we call “bioavailable.” Only about 1/3 of total testosterone is free.

The free number is mainly what we’re interested in, but  there are a couple of problems. The first is that the “free” number is more of a calculation than a measurement–we’re using other measurements to do some math. So it’s not completely accurate.

The second problem is that even though we get a number, normal ranges can vary a lot between individuals. What’s normal for you may be typical. Levels are also age-related. You can try this page for reference.

Testing, though, is critical because it gives us a reference point.

Optimal Testosterone

Ideally, then, this is what we want to do:

  1. Test so that we have a baseline. That way, at least we can compare future numbers against something and see when things are changing. You can find a sample report here if you’re curious.
  2. Focus on optimal testosterone. That’s the level where you are not experiencing symptoms.
  3. Make the right health changes to keep your testosterone in its optimal range for you.

Tips for Restoring Optimal Testosterone Levels

Testosterone levels are related to other hormone levels, too–things like insulin and cortisol. That means your lifestyle can have a huge effect, and it’s generally our first treatment choice, although there are other options. We’ll often recommend that patients:

  1. Stop drinking too much.
  2. Get rid of extra weight. Fat cells make estrogen, which throws off testosterone levels.
  3. Avoid refined carbohydrates. Increased insulin levels suppress testosterone.
  4. Deal with stress. Stress hormone suppresses testosterone
  5. Get off the couch. Exercise is the key. It helps decrease the weight, burn off those carbs and helps deal with the stress. Weight lifting stimulates the muscle building which in turns stimulates testosterone. (Plus, when you’re exercising,you’re not sitting on the couch drinking that second beer!)

For more information on testing your testosterone levels, contact the clinic at 705-444-5331 or book online!

Well-Woman Visit Dates for 2017

We’re happy to announce the Well Woman Visit dates for this year. This unique service offers a warm, caring environment for annual visits that includes:

  • A complete breast exam
  • Self breast exam education
  • Full gynecological exam with PAP test

Dates filled up quickly in 2016, especially with the addition of online booking. Here are the dates for 2017:

  • Jan 16
  • Feb 27
  • Mar 27
  • May 1
  • June 5
  • July 10
  • Sept 18
  • Oct 23
  • Dec 4

In the last part of the year, booking online resulted in slots filling up quite quickly. You can grab one for 2017 by booking online, or calling the clinic at 705-444-5331.

All dates are online and available. If you want to book for the December date, for example, go for it. No worries about forgetting – we will email you to remind you as the date approaches. (Online booking also allows you to cancel in the event of an unexpected cycle course correction.)

You can learn more about how this unique service was created here:

And learn more about cervical cancer screening and guidelines here and here.

A Stitch in Time?

If it seems like your doctor isn’t as interested in your yearly screening exam, annual physical, or regular blood work as they used to be, you’re not alone. Patients are increasingly coming to the clinic to ask for tests to be done that their MD’s won’t do anymore.

This is part of an increasing trend in conventional medicine toward abandoning the screening tools used to determine if there is a potential problem in otherwise “healthy” people.

The Conventional Rationale

I’ve spoken with my medical doctor colleagues about this. For them, the evidence suggests that finding a problem earlier (when there are no symptoms) doesn’t change long term outcomes any more than just waiting until the patient has symptoms, and treating the problem then. The only thing that changes, according to one colleague, is that when you use screening, the patient ends up on drug interventions (with all the risks and side effects) for much longer then had the patient simply waited.

The result of this evidence is the trend to test less often, or simply wait until there is actually a problem and then deal with it. That’s what you’re seeing more of now in conventional care.

The Naturopathic Approach

As many of you know, we test, screen and assess a great deal, and continue to do so. But why do we do it if the evidence suggests we shouldn’t?

There are a couple of key reasons:

  1. Our philosophy leads us to individualize. If a study of a thousand patients suggests that doctors should stop screening, that doesn’t mean there won’t be patients who are worse off by abandoning screening. It means that in aggregate, the data supports abandoning it. But patients aren’t aggregates, or averages. They’re people. It’s hard to talk about “averages” and “overall population benefits” to someone who lost a spouse or parent to a disease that could have been prevented.
  2. We believe in, and see the results of, prevention. When a patient comes into our office, she might in fact be on the diabetes or heart disease track. Her diet might be full of simple carbohydrates and inflammatory foods. She may never exercise. She may have an imbalance in hormones or a toxic body burden. All of these things contribute to disease processes like diabetes or high blood pressure, for example. And most are all correctable before the disease fully develops. In other words, the disease can be prevented.

But to properly do both of those things—individualize and deliver preventative medicine—we need a level of understanding of the patient that’s difficult to achieve without testing and screening and monitoring.

When we do screening blood tests, for example, we’re trying to find out what future track the patient might be on, not so we can treat them on that track earlier, but to get that specific individual on an entirely different track so the disease never arrives.

The great strength of a publicly-funded health care system is that it’s designed to benefit the whole group. But that strength can also be its weakness when individuals suffer as a result.

A stitch in time saves nine. That’s math that works just fine for big groups. But what if a stitch in time saves just one?

For us, it’s still more than worth it.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year….

It’s back to school time! As our little critters leave the house with new pencils and backpacks, parents are breathing a collective sigh of relief. Summer is fun, but the routine of getting back to school can be its own kind of heaven. Summer isn’t always fun and games for families. In an age where children aren’t left to play by themselves, or to wander with their peers in the wood lots and side streets of our communities, it’s the parents who are left with the job of trying to organize an entire summer’s worth of activities. And of course, those activities need to be enriching, active, with a good lunch program and affordable. Even a trip to the cottage can mean organizing friends, and for the most attentive of parents, making sure there are games and crafts, and enough nutritious snacks laid out in appropriately healthy time intervals through the day. The result? Many parents can’t wait for the school bell to ring so the stress of all of it is finally over. Many a mom has spent their visit to the clinic crying and overwhelmed, feeling guilty for their feeling relieved. Thinking they are a bad mom for wanting it to all be over. Reflecting on their own childhood and remembering their own mom “doing it better” without dissolving into a puddle of stress and tears. Perhaps. But from the Clear Conscience Department of StoneTree Clinic, here are a few thoughts to take with you as this first week of school rolls out:

  1. Surprise! Your parents ALSO loved September. Humans love routine and although summer holidays are good times, two months of no routine is not for everyone. Our stress hormones help us adapt to our environment. When we have a good routine, they don’t have to work very hard. When we are out of routine they need to work harder.
  1. Your parents raised you in a different world. One where kids could leave the house and play outside with a posse of friends all day. No crafts and activity planning required. The only thing required was a freezer full of popsicles and the rule of being home before the street lights came on.
  1. Your parents had different social pressures. It was fine for kids to be bored. Staring slack-jawed out the car window for a long drive was normal. Enriching activities to keep reading skills up in the summer weren’t even on the radar. Kids were told to go find something to do, and parents felt far less cultural pressure to entertain.

So give yourself a pat on the back, parents. You made it through! As the school bus pulls away from the curb this week, go back to the house, book a day off just for you if you can. Read a book, book a massage, or just sit alone in the glorious quiet and breathe. Give your stress hormones a break – you deserve it!

Once in a Row

Once in a Row

Little changes are hard to see but they make all the difference.

This statement is true, but it can work for or against you. Healing takes time, and it takes steady work over a lifetime to build and keep great health. But making disease takes time, too–Type II diabetes and cancer and heart disease don’t happen overnight.

Healing or harming, it’s all a long, slow process. And in that time frame lies the problem. Human beings are experiential in nature. We need to feel a cause and effect. And that makes health care—and disease creation—a tricky process, because in most of the things we do everyday, there’s little positive or negative feedback.

Tiny amounts of negative feedback aren’t often “loud” enough to notice, and over years we end up with the wrong kind of momentum. We become like a health Titanic, unable to turn the ship in time to avoid the iceberg of a heart attack, a cancer diagnosis, a kidney failure, or lung disease.

Smoking a single cigarette, or drinking one can of soda might not make a noticeable change for the negative so why not another? Likewise, NOT smoking one or NOT drinking one doesn’t feel much different either.

So one doesn’t really matter, does it?

But of course it does. The little things we choose to do everyday create our habits. And our habits create our long term health. So when you choose once, ask yourself if it’s really once…or once in a row.

The Iodine-Thyroid Connection: How To Test Your Iodine Levels

According to the 2012 Iodine Status of Canadians paper, nearly 30% of Canadians have mild to moderate iodine deficiency.

Symptoms of low iodine look remarkably like hypothyroid symptoms—weight gain, fatigue, depression, mental impairment and fibrocystic breasts. That’s not surprising, because iodine is an important component of the thyroid hormone—you can’t make it without iodine.

Why does this matter? We’ve written before about how conventional thyroid testing doesn’t always reveal problems. It’s why you can go to your doctor with low thyroid symptoms, but be told that everything is fine. One reason for that could be low iodine levels.

Why are We Low in Iodine?

There are four good reasons why iodine levels may be falling in the population, all factors related to modern lifestyles:

  1. Increased consumption of commercially prepared foods–lots of salt but no iodine.
  2. Decreased use of iodized salt at table because of health messages to reduce salt intake.
  3. Declining use of iodine-containing disinfectants by the dairy industry–therefore less iodine content in dairy foods.
  4. Bromine hidden in disinfectants, flame retardants, and medications, which interferes with the transport of iodine into cells.

So how do you find out if you’re low?

Testing Iodine Status

A new test by Rocky Mountain Analytical helps us determine your iodine status with a simple urine test. This test also evaluates your selenium status (another very important mineral that helps the thyroid hormone become active). It also measures levels of bromine, which can interfere with iodine uptake by the thyroid, and cadmium levels, which can interfere with selenium. (Cadmium is also an independent risk factor for lung and kidney disease).

Why Not Just Take More Iodine Instead?

Because too much can also be a real problem—more is not better if you don’t need it. Taking excess iodine can also shut down your thyroid. Do NOT take iodine without medical supervision.

Wondering if this test is right for you? Contact the clinic at 705-444-5331 to talk to a naturopathic doctor to learn more.

Over 80 and Going Strong

This summer we wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter to our younger selves. You might think of this New York Times piece as the reverse: a note to our older selves.

The article is called “Old Masters,” and shares interviews with people past the age of 80 who still continue to work, create and engage. Well worth a look.

What’s even more inspiring that these 80 and 90-somethings continuing to thrive were the tiny gems of wisdom hidden in their interviews.

“…my friends are either dead or still working.”
– Frederick Wiseman, filmmaker, age 84

“I was with a doctor the other day, and he said the reason that I’m so alert and all is probably that I do work….I’m going to retire in a box being carried out of my office.”
– T Boone Pickens, chairman of BP Capital Management, age 86

“I’m going to do this until destiny takes me away.”
– Ginette Bedard, marathoner, age 81

“It’s very sad that most people in the world are not happy with their lot or with their jobs and they can’t wait to retire. And when they retire, it’s like death.”
– Christopher Plummer, actor, age 84

There are others—some you’ll recognize, like Tony Bennett who, this year at age 88, released an album with Lady Gaga. Some you likely won’t, like the 99 year old painter Carmen Herrera, or the 89 year-old drummer Roy Haynes. But in each, you’ll recognize a similar quality: a love of what they do, and no plans to stop anytime soon.

Find it here: Old Masters: After 80, some people don’t retire. They reign.



Food Allergy vs Food Intolerance: What’s the Difference?

As awareness rises for just how connected food and health are, so has an increased interest in discovering what foods work best for our individual bodies. That’s led many people to look to food sensitivities—such as gluten intolerance–as the culprit for chronic illness, and mysterious-seeming complaints.

Many, however, confuse food sensitivity with food allergy. They’re very different creatures—here are a few differences.

The Symptoms are Different
Food allergies are actually allergies—they create an immune response, such as hives, difficulty breathing, itching or even anaphylaxis. Symptoms arrive quickly, and to very small amounts.

Intolerances, on the other hand, cause an inflammatory response, such as stomach troubles, fatigue, dry skin, weight gain, mood changes and a host of others. It may take a larger quantity of the food in question, and symptoms can even be delayed a day or two, which makes them much more difficult to diagnose.

The Testing is Different
Food allergies are determined by what is called a “scratch test”. A very small amount of a food is put under the skin and a reaction is monitored, and IgE antibodies are measured—they’re the ones that are present during an allergic response.

For food intolerances, a different antibody is present—IgG. Those antibodies stick around much longer than their IgE counterparts. To detect them, a small blood sample is taken as part of a three-step process and sent to a lab where reactivity can be determined by a biochemical process called ELISA testing.

Finding Your Sensitivities
To learn more about ELISA testing, and how to address possible food sensitivities, contact the clinic anytime at 705-444-5331, or book a complimentary meet-the-doctor visit here.