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Pregnancy – Foods to Avoid

Every mother wants what is best for her baby.  And pregnancy is a great opportunity to start our babies on a healthy diet.

More foods can affect your health and your baby’s health than you might realize.  Understanding what foods to avoid during pregnancy is an important aspect of pregnancy nutrition.

Following these guidelines will help you make healthier choices for you and your baby.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Raw Meat: Uncooked seafood and rare or undercooked beef or poultry should be avoided due to risk of contamination with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis, and salmonella.

Deli Meat and Hot Dogs: Deli meats have been known to be contaminated with listeria, which can cause miscarriage. Listeria is able to cross the placenta and may infect the baby leading to infection or blood poisoning, which may be life-threatening. If you are pregnant and you are considering eating deli meats, make certain that you reheat the meat until it is steaming.

Fish – Mercury and PCBs: Fish can be a great source of protein, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.  The omega-3s in fish support the proper development of your baby’s brain, eyes, and nervous system.  Research suggests that complete avoidance of fish during pregnancy may contribute to poor verbal skills, behavioural problems, and other developmental issues during childhood.

However, fish that contain high levels of mercury must be avoided. Mercury consumed during pregnancy has been linked to developmental delays and brain damage.  Fish with long life spans tend to contain more mercury than smaller, younger fish.

Farm-raised fish should be avoided due to the significantly higher levels of PCBs – polychlorinated biphenyls.  PCBs can disrupt the normal development of the endocrine (hormone) system.  In addition, farm-raised fish have less nutritional value than wild fish due to the restricted diet they consume on fish farms.

High quality fish oil supplements are rigorously tested for mercury and other contaminants and are safe during pregnancy.

Use the following chart to help guide your fish consumption during pregnancy.

Fish Consumption and Pregnancy

Safe Restricted Consumption

DANGEROUS

  • wild pacific salmon
  • farm-raised trout
  • farm-raised catfish
  • fish sticks
  • summer flounder
  • croaker
  • mid-Atlantic blue crab
  • haddock
  • canned tuna
  • mahi mahi
  • eastern oyster
  • blue crab from the Gulf of Mexico
  • lake whitefish
  • blue mussels
  • cod
  • pollock
  • shark
  • swordfish
  • sea bass
  • tilefish
  • tuna steaks
  • King mackerel
safe to consume during pregnancy limit to approximately one serving per week do not consume while pregnant

Smoked Seafood: Refrigerated, smoked seafood often labeled as lox, nova style, kippered, or jerky should be avoided because it could be contaminated with listeria. (These are safe to eat when they are in an ingredient in a meal that has been cooked, like a casserole.)

Raw Shellfish: The majority of seafood-borne illness is caused by undercooked shellfish, which include oysters, clams, and mussels. Cooking helps prevent some types of infection, but it does not prevent the algae-related infections that are associated with red tides. Raw shellfish pose a concern for everybody, and they should be avoided altogether during pregnancy.

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Oww… My Head Hurts – Determining Your Headache Type

Headaches are one of the most common health complaints.  Almost every person will experience a headache at some point during their life (imagine being one of the few who never gets a headache!)

The majority of headaches can be classified as vascular (migraine and cluster headaches), tension headaches or a mixture of the two.  Less frequent causes of headaches include trauma, dental pain, jaw disorders, neck disorders, sinus pain and tumours.

So, with so many different types of headaches, knowing what kind of headache you have is important for you to understand and will have a big impact on conventional and Naturopathic treatment of your headache.

The Most Common HeadachesTypes of headaches

The most common headache types seen in clinical practice are (from most to least common):

  • Tension Headache
  • Chronic Daily Headache
  • Migraine
  • Cluster Headache

Important Features to Know About Your Headache

When trying to determine what type of headache you have there are a number of features you should consider.

  1. Onset: Does the headache come on suddenly, or slowly over the course of several hours?
  2. Regularity: Does the headache start at the same time everyday?
  3. Laterality: Is the headache on one side, both sides, or everywhere?
  4. Location: Where is the pain the worst?  At the back of the head, top of the head, sides of the head, base of the neck, behind the eyes, or elsewhere?
  5. Pain characteristic: How would you describe the pain?  Dull, band-like, throbbing, pounding, excruciating?
  6. Associated symptoms: Are there any other symptoms associated with the headache?  Any muscle tension, blurred vision, nausea, sensitivity to light, need to move around?
  7. Aggravations: Have you found anything that makes the headache worse?
  8. Ameliorations: Have you found anything that makes the headache better?

Determining Your Headache Type

Taking your answers to the questions above you can match the type of headache that most closely matches the features of your headache.

Migraines

Onset Sudden, occasionally with an ‘aura’ preceding it (a sense that a headache is coming)
Regularity Not typically at the same time everyday, but exposure to triggers (such as sunlight, odours, fatigue or foods) can cause the migraine to occur with some regularity
Laterality One side, or both sides
Location Behind eyes, top of head, temples, sides of head
Pain Characteristic Throbbing, pounding
Associated symptoms Blurred visionLack of appetite, nausea, vomitingNeed for avoidance of light (photophobia) and sound (sonophobia)
Aggravations Light, noise, odours
Ameliorations Ergotamine drugsCaffeine (for some people)

.

Cluster Headaches

Onset Sudden
Regularity Occur in ‘clusters’ – regularly for several weeks or months usually followed by a time with no headaches
Laterality One sided
Location Behind the eyes, at the temples
Pain Characteristic Excruciating, throbbing
Associated symptoms Inability to lie still
Aggravations Very individual – some people have seasonal aggravations (worse in Spring) or time aggravations (worse with no sleep) or foods (alcohol, gluten, etc.)
Ameliorations Rocking, constant movement

.

Tension Headaches

Onset Slowly over the course of hours
Regularity Can be daily or during times of stress
Laterality Depends on location of muscle tension
Location Starts at base of skull or forehead and spreads over the entire head
Pain Characteristic Steady, constant, dull, pressure-sensation
Associated symptoms Muscle tension
Aggravations Stress, tight muscles
Ameliorations Muscle relaxation, massage, stretching

.

Chronic Daily Headaches

Onset Can be migraine-type or tension-type
Regularity Daily
Laterality Depends on type (migraine-type or tension-type)
Location Depends on type (migraine-type or tension-type)
Pain Characteristic Depends on type (migraine-type or tension-type)
Associated symptoms Depends on type (migraine-type or tension-type)
Aggravations Depends on type (migraine-type or tension-type)
Ameliorations Depends on type (migraine-type or tension-type)

 

What To Do Now?

So now that you have an idea of what kind of headache you have, where do you go from here?  The answer to that is more difficult.  Each type of headache has a different cause and a different treatment.  And each headache sufferer will respond to different interventions.  One person may need additional nutritional support, another person may need relaxation exercises and regular massage therapy, another may respond best to botanical medicine.

This is where Naturopathic Medicine can be extremely helpful for headache sufferers.  Each person is treated as an individual.  Your Naturopathic Doctor will help you determine the root cause of your headaches, and treat accordingly.  A Naturopath will figure out why you have headaches and remove that imbalance, helping you strive for a headache-free life.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Matcha – Super’powdered’ Green Tea

The tea shop can be a daunting place!  Sencha, oolong, pu-erh, ceylon, Darjeeling, matcha – exotic words that can intimidate or inspire new and experienced tea drinkers alike.

One type of tea stands out from the crowd – a jade-green powder that looks out of place amongst the leafy green, black and white teas.  This is matcha –  Japanese for “powdered tea”.

What is matcha?

Matcha is a special kind of green tea.  It is the tea prepared in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies (Chanoyu) and has been used by Zen monks during meditation for over 800 years.  Matcha is also unique because it is the only green tea where the leaves are powdered and drank – so that you are actually consuming the whole leaf.

Why drink matcha?  The many health benefits of matcha.

Matcha, green tea powder, in a chawan vessel with a chasen. Shallow dof.Because matcha is a powdered green tea you get all the benefits of green tea, but to a higher degree.  Drinking one cup of matcha tea gives you the equivalent of ten cups of green tea in terms of antioxidant and health-promoting benefits.

Matcha is also grown in a special way.  The earliest spring leaves are covered for two to three weeks (‘shade grown’) which causes health-promoting nutrients to concentrate in the leaf of the tea plant.  Shade growing also increases the amount of the amino acid L-theanine in the tea leaf.

The L-theanine in matcha relaxes the brain, muscles and blood vessels.  It can help lower blood pressure, enhances mood and promotes a sense of wellness by enhancing alpha waves in the brain (associated with a feeling of happiness, relaxation, and alertness) and increasing dopamine (and possibly serotonin) production – two of the brain’s ‘feel good’ chemicals.

The combination of L-theanine and caffeine (matcha does contain caffeine, but it has less caffeine than other green and black teas) gives matcha the unique ability to result in a “calm alertness” or what has been termed “zest and zen” by matcha aficionados.  The caffeine gives an sense of alertness while the L-theanine results in relaxation and a sense of well-being.

Matcha is also an antioxidant powerhouse.  The ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity – a measure of the antioxidant capacity of a food) rating of matcha is 1348 units/g, compared to 105 units/g for pomegranates and 91 units/g for blueberries. A single cup of matcha contains 70 times the antioxidants of a cup of orange juice and nine times the beta carotene of two cups of spinach.  The antioxidants in matcha – catechin polyphenols – offer protection against many kinds of cancer, help prevent heart disease, reduce cholesterol and can slow the aging process.  The most important and abundant polyphenol in matcha is EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) – the same polyphenol found in all green teas.  Sixty percent of the catechin content in matcha is EGCG.

Matcha also contains trace minerals and vitamins (A, B-complex, C, E, and K), chlorophyll, and is a source of dietary fiber (remember – you’re drinking the whole leaf in a powdered form) and has very few calories

Matcha has many positive impacts on diseases:

  • it may lower your risk of cancer – the antioxidants in matcha (and other green teas) protect against breast, skin, lung, stomach, prostate, ovarian, and colon cancers
  • it prevents heart disease – the flavonoids in tea help prevent the arterial blockage that leads to heart attack and strokes
  • it supports joint health – green tea reduces inflammation and prevents cartilage breakdown – both of which can contribute to improved joint mobility

How to make matcha

Making a cup of matcha is simple and can be a wonderful ritual in the morning or at any time of the day.

  1. Use a tea bowl (or wide mouthed mug).  Place the bamboo tea whisk (a chawan – available wherever you buy matcha tea) into the tea bowl and pour some warm water in to soften the whisk and warm the bowl.  Pour out the water and dry the bowl.
  2. Using a bamboo scoop (chashaku) place three scoops of matcha into the bowl (equivalent to approximately ½ to 1 tsp of matcha)
  3. Pour one quarter of a cup of hot, but not boiling (85 to 90°C) water over the matcha
  4. Whisk the mixture with the bamboo whisk to completely disperse the matcha.  This should take between 20 to 30 seconds (less time is needed if the matcha is sifted prior to use)
  5. Drink the matcha

Tips:

  • sift matcha prior to use to ensure a nice frothy cup of tea
  • store matcha in the freezer to maintain freshness
  • matcha can be made thick (Koicha) or thin (Usucha) by altering the amounts of matcha and water
  • a matcha latte can be made by adding prepared matcha tea to 3/4 cup of steamed soy milk (or other milks)
  • matcha can be used in baking – cookies, cupcakes, ice creams, and more can all be made with matcha

I hope you are all inspired to give matcha tea a try.  It is truly a “superpowdered” green tea.  Full of health-promoting benefits and gives you an immediate sense of calm alertness.  It is the favourite part of my morning ritual.  I encourage you to incorporate it into your morning, or any time you want a healthy boost to your day.

Nutritional Profile of Matcha Tea

Nutrient Per 1g Matcha
Total Catechins 105mg
EGCg 61 mg
Total Amino Acids 34 mg
L-theanine 14.26 mg
Caffeine 35mg
Fiber 318mg
Carbs 447mg
Vitamin C 1.75mg
Vitamin A 291 units
Potassium 26.6mg
Calories 3

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Sources and Further Reading

ORAC Analysis on Ceremonial Matcha Green Tea ME17916 Lot#D1805: Brunswick Laboratories

G Cao, SL Booth, JA Sadowski, and RL Prior.  Increases in human plasma antioxidant capacity after consumption of controlled diets high in fruit and vegetables .  Am J Clin Nutr 1998 68: 1081-1087.

Dr. Weil, MD.  Matcha Tea

Matcha Source, Matcha Tea Health Benefits

Health Benefits of Green Tea

Spring Cleanse – 12 Simple Tips for Cleansing Your Body and Mind

Spring Cleansing Can Be Simple

Spring.  Just hearing that word makes me smile.  It’s my favourite time of year.  It’s a time when we throw open our windows and let the sunshine and fresh air into our homes.  It’s the time when we spring clean our homes, and we should do the same for our bodies.

A spring cleanse can be a wonderful way to clean up our diets and feel as good on the inside as Spring feels outside.

There are many benefits to a spring cleanse: increased energy, better digestion, fewer allergy symptoms, improved immune system function, better sleep, better concentration, healthier skin, healthy weight and many, many more.

Spring cleansing doesn’t have to be hard.  Join me as I do my annual Spring cleanse (I cleanse for the entire month of April every year!)  I want to share with you 12 Simple Tips for Spring Cleansing so that you too can clean up your body without strict regimes or harsh restrictions.

1. Drink water

Our bodies need at least 8 to 10 glasses of water (or more!) daily to help flush out toxins.  Adding the juice of one organic lemon to a glass of water can add flavour, antioxidants, anti-cancer compounds and support the detoxifying actions of our kidneys, liver, and colon.

lime2. Eat clean

Eating clean is a simple strategy for a healthy diet.  Eliminate all the ‘trash’ foods – fried foods, sugary foods and all processed, pre-prepared, and packaged foods.  Eat whole foods – a general guideline is if the food looks like it does in nature, you can have it!

3. If you can’t read it, you shouldn’t eat it!

Read the labels – even on the so-called ‘healthy’ foods.  If the ingredient list is long, or contains words that you can’t pronounce, then you probably shouldn’t eat it.  Chemicals and food preservatives often have long, complicated names and should be avoided to lower our body’s burden of toxic chemicals.

4. Eliminate or cut back on meat and dairy products.

Meat and dairy over-consumption are responsible for a number of health conditions affecting North Americans (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity).  Meat puts a strain on your kidneys and intestines and requires a lot of energy to digest.  Dairy promotes mucus formation and is a common food allergy.   Give your body a break and eliminate or cut back on these foods.

5. Eat a rainbow.

Eat as many different colours of fruits and vegetables as possible each day.  This will make sure your body is getting a diverse selection of vitamins and minerals.  Aim to make three-quarters of each meal vegetables.

6. Discover whole grains.

Whole grains is NOT the same as ‘whole grain bread’.  Whole grains are foods like brown rice, quinoa, millet, kamut and amaranth.  If you haven’t tried these foods – you should!  They are simple to prepare and delicious.  Whole Foods Markets have a great variety of whole grain recipes on their website.  Whole grains are high in fiber, B vitamins and when combined with beans provide a complete meat-free protein.

Beans are a healthy carbohydrate7. Include 1/2 cup of legumes (beans) in your diet every day.

Beans are delicious, filling and a great source of fiber and nutrients.  Beans also help balance your blood sugar and can promote healthy weight maintenance and enhance energy levels.

8. Choose healthy snacks and enjoy them frequently.

Eating frequently throughout the day helps to stabilize your blood sugar and maintain your energy throughout the day.  Healthy snacks include: raw nuts (like almonds, walnuts, and brazil nuts), almond butter on celery sticks, carrot sticks and hummus, berry smoothies with almond milk, frozen or fresh grapes, and dates with pecans.

9. Do alternating showers every morning.

Most people choose to shower in water that is much too hot.  Choose a temperature that is warm rather than hot to decrease dehydration.  At the end of the shower alternate between hot water (hot enough to turn your skin pink – but not so hot that it burns) for one minute and cold water (cold but bearable) for 20 seconds.  Repeat this sequence two or three times to encourage healthy blood and lymph circulation and promote detoxification.

10. Take deep, cleansing breaths three times per day.

The lungs are an important organ of elimination that are often overlooked during cleanses.  Spend one minute three times per day taking in five deep, cleansing, slow breaths.

11. Drink tea (instead of coffee).

As part of my cleanse I am drinking a cup of matcha daily.  Matcha is a green tea full of antioxidants and anti-cancer compounds.  You could also drink regular green tea or a botanical tea such as dandelion root teawhich supports the liver in it’s important detoxifying role.

Exercise for your mind and body

12. Go outside and exercise.

Exercise improves circulation, energy levels, sleep quality and encourages detoxification through the skin and lungs.  Exercising in the fresh air brings clean fresh oxygen to your blood and revitalizes your body, mind, and spirit.

Doing a spring cleanse does not have to be difficult.  I look forward each year to my spring cleanse.  It reminds me how good it feels to prepare healthy food for myself and my family.  It refreshes my mind, body and spirit and makes me feel happy, energized and healthy.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Getting to the Root of Female Hair Loss

Hair loss is a condition affecting many adults – both men and women.  Women are more likely to question why they are experiencing hair loss and may be more negatively affected by the hair loss than men.  Women with hair loss report lower self esteem and often have higher levels of fear, stress, depression and anxiety.

Conventional medicine is often dismissive of female hair loss.  The hair loss is most often not severe alopecia (the medical term for hair loss) and it is often diffuse (scattered over the scalp).

So why are women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s experiencing hair loss?  There are a number of potential causes.  By addressing the root cause of the hair loss, many women are able to stop the hair loss and in some instances, reverse it.

Aging

Unfortunately, hair loss is a normal part of aging.  By the age of 40, the rate of hair growth slows down.  New hairs are not replaced as quickly as old ones are lost.  This age-related hair loss affects both men and women.  In men the hair loss can be more prominent due to the effects of androgens (male sex hormones – such as testosterone).

Androgens

Androgens can contribute to hair loss in women just like in men.  It has been known since the time of Hippocrates that male sex hormones (androgens) contribute to hair loss.  This androgen-related hair loss is very common in women.  A report published in the Clinical Dermatology journal states that it affects approximately 30% of women before age 50.   When it occurs in women it is often referred to as “female pattern hair loss”.

There are a number of reasons why a woman may be affected by androgen-related hair loss.  Genetics, excess androgens, insulin resistance, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and low antioxidant status are all associated with female pattern hair loss.

Drug-Induced Hair Loss

A long list of pharmaceutical drugs can cause hair loss.  Some of the most common ones are:

  • Medications_hair loss
    Many common medications can contribute to female hair loss

    Antibiotics

  • Anticoagulants (Coumadin, heparin)
  • Antidepressants (Prozac, lithium)
  • Antiepileptics (Valproic acid, Dilantin)
  • Cardiovascular drugs (ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers)
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Endocrine drugs (Clomid, danazol)
  • Gout medications (Colchicine, allopurinol)
  • Lipid-lowering drugs
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • Ulcer medications (Zantac, tagamet)

When possible, natural alternatives to these drugs should be considered if hair loss is occurring.

Nutritional Deficiencies

A deficiency of almost any essential nutrient can lead to hair loss.  A Naturopathic Doctor can assess your overall nutrient status, but there are a few signs you can look for at home.

Zinc – white lines on the nail can indicate poor wound healing, a common sign of low zinc levels.

Vitamin A – bumps on the back of the arms (called hyperkeratosis) is a common sign of vitamin A deficiency.

Essential Fatty Acids dry skin on the elbows and other parts of the body is a common sign of low essential fatty acid levels.

Another nutrient deficiencies that may lead to hair loss is iron.  A simple blood test is needed to determine iron levels.  Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you interpret this test – many labs have normal ranges that include low iron levels that should be corrected with iron supplements.

If you are deficient in any of these nutrients a test of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) should be considered to determine if you are not absorbing nutrients properly from your diet.

Hypothyroidism

Hair loss is one of the first features noticed by most women with hypothyroidism.  10 to 20% of the adult population has mild to severe hypothyroidism.  A blood test can be done to determine if hypothyroidism is causing your female hair loss.

Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Gluten Free LogoCeliac disease is a medical condition where gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye grains) damages the small intestines and causes systemic symptoms by cross-reacting antibodies that attack various cells in the body, including hair follicles.  The hair loss with celiac disease is often complete – a condition known as alopecia areata.

In people with gluten intolerance, the condition may manifest as hair loss (not complete) rather than digestive symptoms (which are a predominant feature of celiac disease).

Consider being tested for celiac disease if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Bulk, pale, frothy, foul-smelling bowel movements
  • Weight loss
  • Signs of multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies

A gluten-free diet will virtually eliminate symptoms in people with celiac disease.  A trial elimination of all gluten containing foods is recommended for anyone with hair loss to determine if gluten sensitivity is a cause.

Treatment of Hair Loss in Women

One of the central philosophies of Naturopathic Medicine is to treat the cause.  The treatment for female hair loss depends on the underlying cause of the hair loss.

hormone balance_feet
Hormone balance, addressing nutrient deficiencies and addressing the cause will improve hair loss in women.

Treatment of Androgen-Related Hair Loss in Women

  • Address underlying causes of androgen excess
  • Improve blood glucose regulation – low glycemic index diet, blood glucose normalizing supplements (such as glucomannan, fenugreek, or bitter melon), and regular exercise
  • Increase antioxidant intake – vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, green tea
  • Saw palmetto extract – reduces the formation of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) a more potent form of testosterone that is often elevated in male and female pattern hair loss.  Works in a similar manner to Propecia (finasteride) – a prescription drug often used in female hair loss.

Treatment of Nutrient Deficiency-Related Hair Loss in Women

  • Test hydrochloric acid levels to ensure nutrients from food are being absorbed and supplement when necessary
  • A high-potency multivitamin and mineral formula (with iron when indicated)
  • Flaxseed or fish oil daily as a source of essential omega-3 fatty acids

Hair loss in women is a concern that should be taken seriously.  Although some hair loss naturally occurs with aging there may be another underlying cause of hair loss.  Consult with your Naturopathic Doctor if hair loss is a concern for you.  There is help available.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Ten Tips to Treat Allergies

Spring has sprung!  And with it comes… allergies.  The sniffling, sneezing, burning and redness can put a damper on this beautiful time of year.  But there is hope.  Here are ten tips to try this allergy season.

1. An Apple a Day…

The oldest medical cliché in the book – but it’s true.  A study of 1500 people found that eating apples lowers the incidence of allergy and asthma symptoms.

2. Eat Citrus Fruits Daily

Eating citrus regularly can decrease the symptoms of allergies and asthma.  This is likely due to the vitamin C and bioflavonoids that are abundant in citrus fruit.  Eat at least one citrus fruit daily – organic lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, clementines, kumquats and grapefruits are good choices.

3. Eat Lots of Berries

Berries truly are a ‘superfruit.’  They are rich in vitamin C, bioflavonoids, anthocyandins and antioxidants.  A high intake of antioxidants has been shown to have a positive impact on allergy symptoms.  Eat one handful of blueberries, blackberries or raspberries daily to get the benefit from these sweet superfoods.

4. Determine Food Allergies and Avoid Them

Food allergies and sensitivities can cause a lot more than just digestive symptoms.  Consider having a food allergy test to determine your individual food reactions.  Or try the elimination diet with your Naturopathic Doctor to see how food allergies and sensitivities are impacting your allergies.

5. Eliminate Margarine From Your Diet

Margarine is high in poly-unsaturated omega-6 fatty acids which can result in inflammation in the body (the symptoms of allergy – runny nose, itchy red eyes – are due to inflammation of mucous membranes).

Adults and children with allergies should remove all margarine from their diet.  A 2003 study found that eating margarine led to more symptoms of wheezing and runny nose (allergic rhinitis) in children with allergies.

6. Try the Anti-Inflammatory Diet

There are foods that we eat that can decrease inflammation and there are other foods that can promote inflammation in our bodies.  The Anti-Inflammatory diet can teach you how to boost anti-inflammatory foods (like flax seed oil, citrus fruits and various vegetables) and decrease pro-inflammatory foods (like margarine, dairy products and red meat).

7. Increase Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are the heavy-hitters of the natural anti-inflammatory world.  Omega 3 fatty acids found in flaxseed and cold water fish are the most effective in the treatment of allergy symptoms.  Increasing omega 3 fatty acids in your diet (or through use of supplements) results in decreased production of inflammatory chemicals and fewer allergy symptoms.

8. Quercetin

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that is found in a wide variety of foods (including apples, citrus fruits, onions and buckwheat).  It is nature’s anti-histamine, reducing the release of histamine from mast cells.  It should be taken preventatively – year-round for chronic allergies and seasonally for seasonal allergies.

9. Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)

This local medicinal plant has a long history of use in the treatment of allergies.  It has been rigorously studied and has been shown to be as effective, or more effective, than popular allergy medications.  It is available as a tea or in freeze-dried extracts.  It should be taken daily throughout allergy season.

10. Acupuncture

Acupuncture can be a useful addition to the management of chronic or seasonal allergies.  Between 6-10 sessions are needed to tonify the detoxification systems of the body and balance the organ systems (skin, liver, kidneys, and adrenals) that are commonly involved in allergy symptoms.

Book an appointment with your Naturopathic Doctor now to customize your comprehensive plan for the upcoming allergy season.  It may turn out to be your best season yet!

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Green Eats – Ten Top Green Foods

As I look out my clinic window today I am greeted by the sight of green-clad Torontonians enjoying this uncharacteristically warm St. Patrick’s Day.

On this St. Patrick’s Day I encourage you to not only reach into your closet for green clothes but into your fridge for green foods.

Top Ten Green Foods

1. Asparagus

Spring is nearly here and that means fresh, local asparagus will soon be in stores.  Asparagus is high in vitamins, A, C and K and is one of the highest food sources of folate – a nutrient essential for heart health and reproduction.  Asparagus is also a natural diuretic and contains inulin – a fiber that promotes healthy digestive function.

2. Avocados

Avocados are another food that are abundant in the Spring time.  Avocados contain oleic acid – a monounsaturated fat that can help lower cholesterol and has recently been shown to offer protection against the development of breast cancer.  Avocados are also a good source of vitamin K, fiber, potassium and folate.

Avocados have the amazing ability of helping your body absorb carotenoids (antioxidant nutrients in foods – known for giving fruits and vegetables their yellow and orange colour) from other vegetables.  So add an avocado to your next salad to make sure you are getting the most from your foods!

3. Cabbage

Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable, a family of vegetables that are valued for their ability to decrease the risk of several types of cancer.  Regular consumption of cabbage and other crucifers (such as kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower) lowers the risk of prostate, bladder, breast, stomach, colorectal and lung cancer.

The cancer-fighting properties of cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables results from their high levels of glucosinolates, which our body metabolizes into isothiocyanates – powerful anti-carcinogens.

In addition to helping prevent cancer, cabbage is also an excellent source of vitamin C – an antioxidant that protects cells from damage by free radicals.

4. Celery

Celery can lower blood pressureCelery is rich in vitamin C and potassium but it’s main health-promoting effect is in lowering high blood pressure.  Celery contains compounds called phthalides which help relax the muscles around arteries, allowing the arteries to dilate.  This lowers blood pressure by decreasing resistance to blood flow.  Eat two stalks of celery every day to get the benefit of celery’s phthalides.

Celery has a reputation of being a high-sodium vegetable, but it would take 48 stalks of celery to reach the FDA’s daily recommended intake of sodium (2400mg).  Two stalks of celery provides only 4% of the daily value of sodium.

5.  Green Figs

One of my favourite foods, no healthy food list would be complete without figs!  Figs are in season from June to September and offer a plentiful source of dietary fiber and potassium.

The dietary fiber in figs can assist in healthy weight loss and may help prevent postmenopausal breast cancer.  Figs also are a good source of potassium which can help control high blood pressure.

6. Green Peas

These small green orbs are just bursting with nutritional value!  They are high in vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, K, manganese, folate, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, and fiber!

Green peas provide nutrients to support bone health (vitamin K), heart health (folic acid and vitamin B6) and energy production.  Green peas contain B vitamins – all of which contribute the energy production in the body, and are a source of iron – a mineral necessary for normal blood cell formation and function.

7. Green Tea

If this list wasn’t in alphabetical order, green tea would be number one!  Green tea has so many amazing health benefits it would take several articles to list them all.  Thousands of scientific studies have been analyzed the positive effects of green tea.

Green tea is rich in flavonoids, including epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) which is thought to be the active constituent in green tea’s anti-cancer and antioxidant effects.

Green tea can protect against death from all causes, especially cardiovascular disease, protects against coronary artery disease, decreases atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), prevents blood clots, speeds recovery after a heart attack or stroke, lowers blood pressure, helps maintain healthy body weight by promoting fat loss, protects against gallstones, reduces the risk of kidney disease, increases bone mineral density, reduces the risk of breast cancer, skin cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, and enhances survival in ovarian cancer… and many more!

8. Oregano

Oregano is more than a seasoning for pasta.  This spice is a highly effective antibacterial agent.  The volatile oils in oregano, thymol and carvacrol are able to inhibit the growth of several types of bacteria as effectively as pharmaceutical medications.

Oregano also has the additional bonus of being a potent antioxidant, with 12 times more antioxidant activity than oranges!

9. Sage

Sage is the second spice to appear on this list of the top ten green foods.  In addition to it’s anti-oxidant effects, sage was selected for its anti-inflammatory effects and it’s ability to enhance memory.

Taken in food doses, or as an essential oil extract, sage has shown powerful memory enhancing effects.  It improves immediate recall and may be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

10. Spinach

Green leafy vegetables are a source of vegan ironRounding out the top ten list is one of the most famous green foods around – spinach.  Calorie for calorie, leafy green vegetables like spinach offer more nutritional value than any other foods.  Spinach is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, E, K and numerous minerals.  Cooked spinach is also a rich source of iron.

Spinach contains at least 13 different flavonoids that function as antioxidants and anti-cancer agents.  Spinach can be used to decrease the risk of several different types of cancer, including prostate and ovarian cancer.

Spinach also contains nutrients that support bone health (vitamin K, calcium and magnesium), heart health (vitamins A, C and E, folate and magnesium), digestive health, brain health, eye health and energy.

In addition to the heart healthy nutrients, spinach also contains four peptides that inhibit antiotensin I-converting enzyme – the same enzyme blocked by ACE inhibitor drugs.  At a serving size equivalent to an entrée-sized spinach salad blood pressure was lowered in laboratory animals within just two to four hours.

Eating green can be nutritious and delicious!  Incorporate these green foods this St. Patrick’s day – and every day – for optimal health!

If you are interested in incorporating more greens into your diet, check out the Green Smoothie Challenge for a 14 day smoothie challenge.  Delicious recipes and support are provided during the challenge.

Fighting Back Against Sugar Addiction

3pm.  You hear a sweet voice in your head, calling you towards the snack machine or the fridge, urging you to indulge in a sugary treat.  Sound familiar?  You aren’t alone.

Sugar addiction is on the rise in North America and the impact it has on our health is anything but sweet.

The Bitter Truth about Sugar and Health

Sugar is an important biochemical that is involved in numerous processes in our bodies.  We need some sugar for survival (glucose is the main energy source for the brain).  However, our bodies are not equipped to handle the large quantity and poor quality of sugar that we currently ingest.

You may also be suffering from sugar-related illness and not realize it.  Symptoms associated with sugar addiction include:

  • Allergies

    Sugar has many negative effects in the body
  • Anxiety
  • Boils
  • Cancer
  • Canker sores
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent colds and/or flu
  • Gas and/or bloating
  • Headaches
  • Hyperactivity
  • Immune suppression
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Mood swings
  • Obesity
  • PMS
  • Sugar cravings
  • Tooth decay
  • Yeast infections

Sugar Addiction

There is no doubt that sugar can be addictive.  Like any addiction people crave sugar, have withdrawal symptoms when they don’t have sugar and may feel better for a brief period of time after eating sugar.  Sugar feels good in the moment, but it can cause serious long term problems for your health.

Like other addictions, many people may not realize they have a problem with sugar.  The following questions may help you recognize if you, or someone you know, has a sugar addiction.

Sugar Addiction Questionnaire

Yes

No

Do you eat refined sugar (white sugar, candies, chocolate, baked goods) every day?

o

o

Do you find it difficult to go for more than one day without eating a sugar containing food or drink?

o

o

Are there always sugar containing foods in your home?

o

o

Do you find it difficult to have candy or other sweet foods in your home and not eat them? o

o

Do you experience cravings for sugar, coffee, chocolate, peanut butter or alcohol?

o

o

Have you ever hidden candy or other sweet foods around the house in order to eat them later?

o

o

Do you get fatigue, perspiration, irritability, depression, or anxiety if you go three or more hours without eating?

o

o

Do you eat something sweet after every meal?

o

o

Do you find it difficult to go more than one hour after waking up in the morning without eating?

o

o

Do you find it difficult to stop after eating one piece of candy or one bite of baked goods?

o

o

0-3 ‘yes’: Probably not sugar sensitive
4-6 ‘yes’: Sugar sensitive
7-10 ‘yes’: Definite sugar addiction

Now What? – How to Overcome a Sugar Addiction

There are many ways to go about battling an addiction.  Sugar addiction is no different.  Some schools of thought say you should quit cold turkey and never consume sugar again, others suggest cutting back slowly and allowing it back into your diet only in moderation.

My philosophy is a combination of those two schools.  You should quit sugar cold turkey, with proper nutritional support throughout the withdrawal phase, but you can have sugar again – provided it is done properly and in strict moderation.

The best way to beat a sugar addiction is to change the way you eat and think about food.  Learning how to eat a healthy diet composed of whole foods, incorporating regular exercise, and dietary supplements (as needed) is by far the best strategy to overcome a sugar addiction.

Curbing the Cravings

Here are some tips for curbing sugar cravings when they hit:

  1. Choose fruit – fruits are a fantastic snack to satisfy your sweet tooth.  Choose fruits that are lower on the glycemic index – that means they cause less of a blood sugar spike after eating (usually because they are higher in fiber and lower in sugar).  Examples include: apples, apricots, oranges, mango, dates, peaches, and pears.
  2. Drink More Water – We often confuse sensations of hunger and thirst.  When a craving for sugar hits you, try drinking a glass of water first.
  3. Exercise – Food cravings can be stopped in their tracks by engaging in some mild exercise.  The next time you get a craving, take a 10 minute walk.  You’ll benefit from the fresh air, the exercise and your cravings will disappear.
  4. Eat Nuts – Nuts are one of nature’s perfect snacks.  They are high in protein and healthy fats.  They are also filling and can quickly wipe out hunger and food cravings.  Try pecans, walnuts, almonds and brazil nuts.  Nut butters are also a delicious way to include nuts in your diet.  Try some nut butter spread on a piece of spelt bread or a Ryvita cracker.
  5. Nutritional Supplements – There are a number of supplements that can support you as you conquer your sugar addiction.  Supplements that help control blood sugar – such as chromium, B vitamins (especially biotin and niacin), vanadium, amino acids, alpha lipoic acid and gymnema sylvestre (an Ayurvedic plant medicine) can all help manage cravings.  Supplements should only be used under the care of a qualified Naturopathic Doctor.
  6. Acupuncture – the use of ear acupuncture or body acupuncture in the treatment of addiction has a long history of success.  A series of 5-10 acupuncture sessions can assist the body in detoxifying while decreasing cravings, relieving stress and anxiety and promoting overall wellness.

Conquering a sugar addiction is not easy.  But with appropriate support it can be done.

For more reading on this topic, Dr. Nancy Appleton’s book “Lick the Sugar Habit” is a great read with more information on sugar addiction.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Ten Steps to A Better Night’s Sleep, Naturally.

 

1. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends

Sleep is a habit.  By consistently going to bed and getting up at the same time every day we condition our body to follow a regular pattern of sleep.  This allows our body’s internal clock, our “circadian rhythm”, to remain balanced and effectively initiate and maintain sleep.

2. Make your bedroom quiet, dark and cool

Studies have shown that sleeping in a cooler room is most conductive to sleep.  Our body temperature drops slightly during sleep and a cooler room helps the body temperature to drop more quickly and effectively.  Eliminate all sources of light in your bedroom – turn digital alarm clocks to face the wall and get dark window coverings to eliminate outside light.  Eliminating excess noise will minimize potential disruptions that might wake you from sleep.

computer insomnia3. Bedrooms are for sleeping and sex, not for work or television

The bedroom should be kept for sleeping and not used for televisions, computers, video gaming systems, phone calls or other stimulating gadgets that may disrupt sleep.  Go in the bedroom when it is time to sleep and leave the room when sleeping is done.

4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine for 4-6 hours before bedtime

Caffeine is found in coffee, soda, green and black tea, energy drinks and chocolate.  It is a stimulant and can negatively impact sleep even if ingested six hours before bed.  And although an alcoholic “nightcap” might help you to initiate sleep it fragments the stages of sleep, decreases the quality of sleep and makes sleep more disrupted.

5. Don’t nap, or nap appropriately

The period of time that you are awake adds to something called “sleep drive”.  The longer we stay awake, the more we want to go to sleep.  By taking a nap we diminish this desire to sleep which may make it less likely that we will be able to easily sleep later.

However, some experts have suggested that napping at the appropriate time of day (between 1 and 4 pm, never between 5 and 8 pm) for an appropriate length of time (20 to 40 minutes) can improve overall sleep.

Aerobic exercise and meditation6. Exercise daily, but avoid exercising 4 hours before bedtime

Staying active is an excellent way to ensure a good night’s sleep.  However, exercising too close to bedtime may cause difficulties in getting to sleep as your body will still be revved up.

7. Develop a sleep ritual before bedtime

Parents have been doing this for children for generations.  Sleep rituals allow us to unwind and mentally prepare for going to sleep.  These rituals should include quiet activities such as reading, drinking a calming cup of tea, listening to relaxing music, writing in a journal, or taking a warm bath.

8.  If you are having trouble getting to sleep, don’t stay in bed or you will train yourself to have difficulties there

If you have difficulty initiating sleep don’t toss and turn in bed and try to force sleep to come (we’ve all tried this… and we all know it doesn’t work!).  As this activity is repeated, night after night, a situation is set up where we associate our bed with the anxiety of not being able to sleep.

If you are unable to fall asleep within 15 minutes, go to another quiet place and lie down until you feel ready to sleep, then return to your bedroom to sleep. Do not watch television or use the computer during this time.

9. Avoid eating or drinking for a few hours before bedtime

Heartburn or having to urinate frequently can be very disruptive to a good night’s sleep.  Avoid these issues by not eating or drinking for a few hours before bedtime.

10. Make sleep a priority.  Don’t sacrifice sleep to do daytime activities

Respect your body’s need to sleep!  Too often we allow our sleep time to be shortened when our daytime activities take longer than we expect.  Opportunities to engage in pleasurable activities – watching television, visiting with friends, playing on the internet, and other activities – will quickly cut into sleep time if we allow them to.  It is important to schedule your sleep time and keep to that schedule, no matter what may come up during the day.

Additional sleep resources:

BBC Documentary:  Ten Things You Need to Know About Sleep

National Sleep Foundation – http://www.sleepfoundation.org/

Disclaimer:

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Four Steps to Selecting Safe Baby Care Products

As parents we want to be sure we are making safe choices for our children.  With marketing claims like “natural”, “mild”, and “gentle” it can be hard to decide which products truly are safe for our little ones.  Every week three-quarters of children are exposed to allergens, neurotoxins, and harmful chemicals in their body care products.

By following the four steps listed you can be sure you are making the best choices for your family.

Step One – Simplify!  Use fewer products.

Most adults use as many as ten personal care products each day.  The number we use with our children can be just as high.  Diapers, wipes, body wash, shampoo, soap, lotions, bubble baths, diaper creams and more are applied to our babies’ skin each day.  Minimize the potential for chemical exposure by eliminating products that aren’t necessary.

Suggestions: Use warm water on a washable cloth to wipe baby’s bum after diaper changes.  Use one product as a shampoo/soap/body wash.  Don’t use bubble bath with young children.

Step Two – Less is More – Use products with fewer ingredients and no fragrance.

The fewer ingredients the more natural the product”.

It’s a general rule and in many cases it is true.  The longer the ingredient list the more preservatives, dyes, emollients and other chemicals the product contains.  There are exceptions to this rule of course, some botanical products use many different plant extracts in their formulas.  But a quick glance at the length of the product label can provide valuable information.

It is also important to choose products that are free of synthetic dyes and fragrances.  Synthetic dyes and fragrances are often composed of several harmful chemicals but due to product labeling laws do not need to be listed separately.  Avoid exposing your child to these chemicals by selecting products that are fragrance and dye free.

Step Three – Read Labels… and Know What Ingredients to Look For.

More important than the length of an ingredient list, knowing what ingredients to avoid is paramount to protecting your child from exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.  The following is a brief list of ingredients to avoid:

Benzyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol Skin irritants and potential neurotoxicity concerns
BHA Found in diaper cream.  Banned in other countries because it can cause skin depigmentation
Boric Acid and Sodium Borate Found in diaper cream.  Industry authorities caution against use on infant or damaged skin
2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol (or Bronopol) Found in baby wipes.  Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants
Ceteareth and PEG compounds Petrochemicals that may contain cancer-causing impurities
DMDM Hydantoin Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants
Dyes Some are linked to cancer and are banned outside the U.S.
Fragrance Allergens that may contain neurotoxic or hormone-disrupting chemicals
Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate Chemically similar to neurotoxic pesticides
Methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone Allergens with neurotoxic concerns
Oxybenzone Found in sunscreens.  In sunlight, can produce allergy- and cancer-causing chemicals
Parabens Hormone-disrupting chemicals with potential cancer concerns
Triethanolamine Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants
Triclosan Linked to thyroid disruption, produces toxic byproducts in tap water

Additionally, a 2009 study found formaldehyde or 1,4-dioxane in a large percentage of tested baby products.  Both formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane were found in 17 out of 28 tested products (61%).  Formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane are known carcinogens; formaldehyde can also cause skin rashes in some children.  These chemicals are not listed on product labels because they are contaminants, not ingredients.

Formaldehyde contaminates personal care products when preservatives release formaldehyde over time in the container.  Common ingredients likely to cause formaldehyde contamination include: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea.

1,4-dioxane is a byproduct of a chemical processing technique called ethoxylation.  Manufactures can easily remove the toxic byproduct, but are not required by law to do so.  Common ingredients likely to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane include: PEG-100 stearate, sodium laureth sulfate, polyethylene and ceteareth-20.

Step Four – Make a List and Check It Twice.

Having a list of ingredients to avoid, and bringing it with you when selecting new baby care products is the easiest way to be sure you are making a healthy choice.

The Environmental Working Group has made this even simpler by providing parents with two phenomenal resources.  One is the Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products which includes a printable pocket reference guide.

Skin Deep is also from the EWG and offers a searchable cosmetic safety database with toxicity ratings for thousands of individual products and brands.  It is an invaluable resource.  I recommend double checking any product on the Skin Deep website before purchasing it.

Making the best choices for your children doesn’t have to be difficult.  By utilizing the four steps highlighted in this article and accessing the resources offered by groups such as the Environmental Working Group, you can be confident you are using products that live up to the highest standards – your standards.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

References:

No More Toxic Tub.  March 2009.  Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.  Available at http://safecosmetics.org/downloads/NoMoreToxicTub_Mar09Report.pdf

Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products. Environmental Working Group Report.  Available at http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/parentsguide/summary.php

Parent’s Buying Guide: Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products.  Environmental Working Group.  Available at http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/parentsguide/index.php?bybrand=1

Ingredients to Avoid: Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products. Environmental Working Group.  Available at http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/parentsguide/ingredients.php