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Hormone Harmony in PMS

Welcome to the first installment of the “Hormone Harmony” series. In this series I’ll be exploring some of the most common states of female hormone imbalance, how your hormones can explain your symptoms, and some simple hormone hacks to help bring your body back into a state of hormone harmony.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

While a definition of PMS may not be necessary if you are reading this (it’s likely you’ve had first hand experience), I will try to give one that encompasses exactly what PMS is.

PMS is a recurrent set of physical and/or behavioural symptoms that occurs 7-14 days before a period and negatively impacts some aspect of a woman’s life

There have been over 150 (seriously!) symptoms of PMS identified. Some of the most common include:

  • Low energy
  • Mood changes – anger, crying, irritability, anxiety, depression, bitchiness
  • Food cravings
  • Headache
  • Low sex drive
  • Breast tenderness
  • Digestive upset – constipation, bloating, diarrhea, gas
  • Difficulty sleeping

Unfortunately we don’t really know what causes some women to experience PMS more than other women. But hormone imbalances are a common proposed cause, and in my practice I see balancing hormones as the most important means of decreasing symptoms of PMS.

Hormone Imbalances in PMS

The relationship between estrogen and progesterone is one of the most important hormone balances in a woman’s body. Imbalance in estrogen and progesterone levels is thought to be the primary cause of PMS.

Estrogen is produced throughout the month by the ovaries, adrenal glands and fat cells. It main action is growth – growth of breast tissue in puberty, and growth of the endometrial lining in the uterus during menstrual cycles.

Progesterone is produced during the second half of the menstrual cycle – after ovulation – by the ovaries.  Progesterone helps to balance the effects of estrogen and prepare the uterus for a possible pregnancy.

A too high estrogen level, or a too low progesterone level is thought to be the most likely cause of PMS symptoms in most women. This state, commonly called “estrogen dominance” is the most common hormone imbalance in women between the ages of 15 and 50. Estrogen dominance is becoming more common in North America due to increasing exposure to xenoestrogens (chemicals in our environment that mimic estrogen), high rates of obesity, decreased ability of our livers to detoxify and overwhelming amounts of stress.

The important thing to remember with PMS and hormone balance is that it is the relationship and balance of estrogen and progesterone that leads to symptoms. You may have normal levels of estrogen, but if your progesterone is low you will still experience symptoms. Progesterone levels are low in women who do not ovulate, and in those with significant stress (your body will convert progesterone into cortisol, leaving you deficient in much-needed progesterone).

Hormone Hacks for PMS

If you are a woman experiencing PMS, taking charge of your hormones and getting them into balance can make a huge difference in your quality of life. Below are some simple Hormone Hacks to get you started.

  1. Follow the PMS diet

There have been some significant findings in the diets of women who suffer from significant PMS. Compared to women who do not have PMS they eat 275% more sugar, 79% more dairy and 62% more refined carbohydrates. Avoiding these foods – and instead choosing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins – can diminish PMS symptoms significantly and promote healthy hormone balance.

  1. Cut the caffeine

No one wants to hear it, but drinking caffeine-containing beverages increases the severity of PMS. And those effects are worsened if you add sugar to your tea or coffee. So cut back, or cut it out all together if you want to decrease your PMS.

  1. Exercise

Women who exercise regularly have less PMS. Multiple studies have found this to be true, and the more frequently you exercise the better the boost. Exercise is known to decrease estrogen levels – so get out there and get moving.

  1. Get your nutrients in

Deficiencies in many nutrients have been found in women with PMS. Some notable ones include magnesium, vitamin B6, and zinc. All of these nutrients can be found in nuts and seeds – also known to be excellent sources of vegan protein.

  1. Get tested

Understanding your hormone imbalances can be incredibly valuable to managing symptoms like PMS. Testing your hormone levels will give you a clear understanding of what is happening in your body during a specific phase of your menstrual period. For PMS we test hormone levels (estrogen, progesterone and prolactin) about 7 days before your expected period.

  1. Herbal hormone balancers

There are some phenomenal hormone balancers in the world of herbal medicine. Vitex agnus-castus (also known as chaste berry) can improve progesterone levels, helping to balance estrogen dominance. Phytoestrogens, like those found in black cohosh, soy and flaxseeds, can also help to normalize estrogen levels by decreasing the action of our body’s own estrogen in favour of the milder estrogen signal from plant estrogens.

  1. Bioidentical progesterone

When all else fails in hormone balancing for PMS, your naturopathic doctor can prescribe low dose bioidentical progesterone in a cream that you can apply during the final weeks of your menstrual cycle. This will be helpful if your progesterone levels are low, or if your estrogen levels are high. Be sure your ND is qualified to prescribe bioidentical hormones, as additional training is required.

Don’t suffer with hormone imbalances like PMS.  You can achieve hormone harmony, and working with a Naturopathic Doctor can get you there.  Book an appointment, or a meet and greet now to find your personal balance.

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.           

Wheat Woes: Celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten sensitivity

Many people are beginning to recognize the personal benefits of a gluten-free diet. For some individuals the simple avoidance of gluten (a protein in wheat, barley and rye) can improve or completely resolve symptoms of diarrhea, constipation, gas and bloating.

So what is the problem with gluten? Why are so many people benefiting from avoiding this specific protein? The answer is not that simple. In fact, there are three distinct medical diagnoses that may apply to people who improve on a gluten free diet.

Celiac Disease

Bread slicedCeliac disease is an autoimmune disease impacting about 1 in 100 people. In this condition the body is stimulated to produce auto-antibodies against the lining of the small intestine. These auto-antibodies are only produced in the presence of gluten in the diet. Celiac disease incidence has increased 5-fold in the past 40 years – a trend that is seen with a number of autoimmune conditions. Having celiac disease increases the risk for the development of other autoimmune conditions in your lifetime. The only treatment for celiac disease is lifelong avoidance of gluten.

Wheat Allergy

Wheat allergy results when the body produces an allergic reaction to gluten or another component of wheat. The allergic sequence is similar to other allergies, with the release of histamine from mast cells and basophils, triggered by immunoglobulin E (IgE) cross-linking. Symptoms of wheat allergy include redness, swelling, hives and other allergy-type symptoms. Wheat allergy is the rarest of the wheat-associated diagnoses with only 1 in 500 people being impacted.

Gluten Sensitivity

By far the most common diagnosis associated with wheat is gluten sensitivity. It is estimated to impact 1 in 10 people and is 6x more prevalent than celiac disease. The symptoms of gluten sensitivity include:

  • Abdominal pain (68%)Gluten Free Logo
  • Eczema or rash (40%)
  • Headache (35%)
  • Foggy mind (34%)
  • Diarrhea (33%)
  • Depression (20%)
  • Anemia (20%)
  • Numbness in legs, arms or fingers (20%)
  • Joint pain (11%)

Diagnosis of gluten sensitivity is typically a diagnosis of exclusion. If you test negative for celiac disease (auto-immune antibodies), negative for wheat allergy (IgE immunoglobulins) but still improve on a gluten free diet then you will likely receive a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity.

Food sensitivity testing, such as the IgG food sensitivity panel, can help to confirm a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity. It can also identify other food sensitivities which may be occurring simultaneously, such as a dairy, egg or nut sensitivity.

If you suspect you may be gluten sensitive, cut it out of your diet for at least three weeks and watch your symptoms for improvement. Or contact your Naturopathic Doctor to discuss comprehensive testing for celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten sensitivity. Take charge of your health, and let go of your wheat woes!

Select references

Sapone A, Lammers KM, Casolaro V, et al. Divergence of gut permeability and mucosal immune gene expression in two gluten-associated conditions: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. BMC Med. 2011;9:e23

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.

 

Natural Approaches to Heartburn

The number of patients in my practice with heartburn is staggering. And what is even more staggering to me is how many people think it is normal! Just because it is common does not mean that it is normal!

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn, also known as reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a burning sensation in the esophagus that may be associated with:

  • Sour, acidic taste in the mouth
  • Pain behind the breastbone or between the shoulder blades
  • Unexplained cough

A New Perspective on Heartburn

In conventional medicine, heartburn is the consequence of excess stomach acid and acid suppressing medications (proton pump inhibitors or calcium carbonate) to reduce symptoms. However, functional doctors and naturopathic doctors believe that low stomach acid may be a more likely cause of heartburn.

Stomach acid is necessary to for proper digestion. If acid production is decreased the stomach will not empty properly and the contents (partially digested food and stomach acid) can reflux up into the esophagus and cause heartburn.

Stomach acid production naturally declines as we age. Stress, unhealthy diet (high in refined grains, sugars and processed foods) and use of medications are all common causes of low stomach acid.

Treating Low Stomach Acid

Water There are a number of natural ways to improve your production of stomach acid. Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you to understand which options are best for you.

  1. Become a “chewitarian” – the longer the food spends in your mouth, the more signals your brain and enyzmes in your saliva will send to your stomach to produce stomach acid. So slow down, chew carefully and savour each bite.
  2. Limit beverages at mealtimes – water and other fluids can dilute stomach acid, requiring our body to produce more. Take only small sips of water during meals and save the majority of your water for between meals.
  3. Apple cider vinegar – can help low stomach acid by providing a source of acid, allowing your stomach to have an optimal pH even if you aren’t making enough stomach acid on your own. Doses vary, start low with 1 tsp and see if it helps you.
  4. Betaine hydrochloric acid – a powerful treatment for heartburn and low stomach acid, betaine HCl provides you with a safe source of stomach acid. This will help optimize your stomach acid levels and promote total digestion of food, leading to a healthy stomach emptying time and decreased symptoms. Your ND will give you guidelines on safe supplementation.
  5. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) – an excellent support for heartburn, DGL improves symptoms of heartburn by healing the esophagus and tonifying the lower esophageal sphincter – the opening at the top of the stomach. Try chewing one capsule when you experience heartburn to decrease symptoms while you work to optimize your stomach acid levels.

The Importance of Treating Heartburn

Heartburn may be miserable, and uncomfortable and for many that is reason enough to try to clear the symptoms. But getting to the underlying cause of the heartburn is important because optimal digestion of our food is the only way we will get all of the nutrients we need for our bodies to function.

If you are producing inadequate stomach acid, or taking acid-suppressing medications, you may experience difficulty breaking down protein, an increase in food sensitivities, deficiencies in nutrients, and increased inflammation. The consequences of poor nutrient absorption can not be underestimated!

So speak with your Naturopath today to find ways to optimize your health and overcome your heartburn symptoms, once and for all!

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.

 

The PCOS Diet

A nutritious diet is the cornerstone of health – a foundation on which we can build healthy choices and behaviours. In no condition is this more true than polycystic ovarian syndrome. Choosing the right foods for PCOS and avoiding others can be enough for many women to balance their hormones and decrease symptoms of PCOS. And there are no harmful side effects – just the benefits of a healthy diet and vibrantly healthy lifestyle.

The PCOS Diet – What to Avoid

  1. Refined grains

Breads, bagels, muffins, crackers, pasta – all the many forms of refined grains that are common in the western diet, should be avoided in women with PCOS. These high glycemic-index foods quickly raise blood sugar levels and can lead to insulin resistance – a condition where your cells no longer respond to insulin. This is thought to be one of the underlying hormonal imbalances in PCOS.

  1. Refined sugars

Fighting Sugar AddictionSugars found in cookies, cakes, candies, sodas and sweetened beverages can wreak havoc on your hormones in a similar way to refined grains. Best to leave these foods out of your diet entirely and instead opt for naturally sweet fruits to nourish your sweet tooth.

  1. Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most hormonally devastating things we can put in our body. Not only is it made of mostly sugar (and in PCOS we know what sugar can do to our insulin response!) it also prevents the liver from being able to effectively process and eliminate excess hormones. Women with PCOS also have an increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Limit alcohol consumption to red wine, have no more than one serving per day and don’t have it every day.

  1. Red meat

Red meats are high in saturated fats and contribute to inflammation. Saturated fats can also lead to increased estrogen levels. I recommend limiting red meat to lean cuts of grass-fed, hormone free meat and consuming it no more often than 1-2 times per week.

  1. Dairy

Dairy is a significant source of inflammation, unhealthy saturated fats and should be avoided by women with PCOS. Additionally, dairy increases the production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF) which is known to negatively impact ovulation in PCOS. Rather than reducing dairy, you should consider avoiding it all together to help manage your PCOS.

The PCOS Diet – What to Enjoy

  1. Vegetables and fruits

Eat food

The foundation of the PCOS diet is a plant-based diet. Vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds are provide the body with essential nutrients and fiber. Soluble fiber such as that found in apples, carrots, cabbage, whole grains such as oatmeal, and beans and legumes, can lower insulin production and support hormone balance in PCOS.

  1. Proteins

Healthy proteins are an absolute necessity for women with PCOS. While dairy and red meat are not recommended, plant based proteins like nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and legumes are encouraged. Other healthy proteins like turkey, chicken breast, eggs and fish should also be emphasized. For most women with PCOS, a daily intake of 60-80g of protein per day is recommended.

  1. Wild salmon

An excellent source of protein, wild salmon is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3s improve insulin response and blood sugar metabolism and studies have shown lower circulating testosterone levels in women who supplement with omega 3s. Choose wild caught salmon and other cold water fish two to three times per week and incorporate other healthy sources of omega 3s such as walnuts and flax seeds into your diet.

  1. Cinnamon

CinnamonSpices are an amazing way to increase antioxidants in your diet, and cinnamon is especially useful for women with PCOS because it can help to regulate blood sugar. Sprinkle it on apples, oats or quinoa in the morning, add it to teas and use it in flavourful stews or curries.

  1. Pumpkin seeds

    These zinc-rich seeds help to lower testosterone levels and are an easy, high protein snack to enjoy every day!

  2. Green tea

Studies have shown that green tea extract helps to improve the response of cells to insulin, as well as lower insulin levels. Consider drinking a few cups of green tea daily – or better yet, have some matcha to get a big nutritional benefit!

  1. Spearmint tea

Spearmint tea for PCOSAs little as two cups of spearmint tea per day for a month can lower testosterone levels and improve symptoms of abnormal hair growth (hirsutism) in women with PCOS. A must for all women with polycystic ovarian syndrome!

  1. Broccoli

Cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, broccoli, kohl rabi, kale – these brassica vegetables are a source of indole-3-carbinole, a compound thought to support the detoxification and breakdown of hormones in the liver.

  1. Walnuts

Researchers have found that consuming 1/3 cup of walnuts per day for six weeks can reduce testosterone levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and improve fatty acid status in the body. Combine these with your pumpkin seeds for a satisfying afternoon snack!

  1. Leafy greens

Spinach, kale, arugula and all the amazing variety of leafy greens are good sources of vitamin B6 – a nutrient necessary for balancing prolactin levels – a hormone that is often elevated in PCOS. Greens are also high in calcium, a mineral necessary for healthy ovulation. One more great reason to get those greens!

I hope you will embrace the PCOS diet – you really can heal your body through food medicine. If you need more support or guidance, contact me to book a free 15 minute consultation and together we can find your vibrant balance.

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.

Select References

Kaur, Sat Dharam. The complete natural medicine guide to women’s health. Toronto. Robert Rose Inc. 2005.

Hudson, Tori. Women’s encyclopedia of natural medicine. Los Angeles. Keats publishing. 2007.

Food Sensitivity Testing

Food sensitivity testing is one of the tools Naturopathic Doctors use to assess health in our patients.  In Naturopathic Medicine our goal is to find the cause of symptoms of illness and disease.  In a previous article, Understanding Food Sensitivities, I discussed what food sensitivities are and the importance of testing. In this article we will look at the options for food sensitivity testing.

Testing for Food Sensitivities

There are several methods of testing for food sensitivities.

  1. Elimination Diet

wheat is a common food allergenMost people attempt a food elimination diet as an initial way of self-diagnosing food sensitivities.  A hypoallergenic, anti-inflammatory diet is consumed for a set period of time (usually 6-12 weeks).  All the most common allergenic foods are eliminated and the patient self-monitors for improvements in symptoms.  Foods are re-introduced one at a time after the initial period of restriction.  If symptoms arise on reintroducing the food then a food sensitivity is suspected.

Advantages: Promotes a general sense of well-being, high level of patient involvement in their health.

Disadvantages: Does not eliminate all potential sources of sensitizing foods.  Requires compliance with a restricted diet for a period of time.  Can be expensive (the cost of egg-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, organic food adds up quickly).

  1.    Electrodermal Food Allergy Testing

A machine is held by the patient and the electrical frequencies of food are tested against the body’s reaction to those foods (the brain interprets the electrical signal and elicits a skin resistance response which is read by the machine).

Advantages: Painless.  Children can be tested easily.   A clear outline of food sensitivities and the severity of sensitivities is given.  Foods do not have to have been consumed recently for valid results (although accuracy is increased if they have been consumed recently or are consumed frequently).

Disadvantages: Moderately expensive.  Some practitioners do not accept the validity of the testing method.  Test accuracy relies on technician proficiency.

  1. IgG Food Sensitivity Testing

A blood test is analyzed by a specialized laboratory to assess for IgG (immunoglobulin G – one of two antibodies produced during an sensitivity response). IgG antibodies are produced for several hours or days after exposure to an allergen (which is one of the reasons why some symptoms of food sensitivity don’t occur immediately after eating a food).

Advantages: Gives a clear outline of food sensitivities and the severity of the sensitivity.  Tests for a wide variety of commonly consumed foods (from 120 to 300 foods).  Only a small amount of blood is required for the test and it can be done in office or at home.  Antihistamine use is permitted during the test.

Disadvantages: Can be expensive.  Food must be consumed within 3 weeks prior to the test for an accurate reading.  Immunosuppressant drugs (prednisone, chloroquine and azothioprine) must not be used during the testing.

In my Toronto clinic I most commonly use the IgG food sensitivity blood test to assess for food sensitivities.  Clinically I have found this test to accurately identify sensitivities and result a corresponding improvement in patient symptoms. I support my patient’s ability to choose whatever testing they find to be ideal and can support that decision making process and help to develop a treatment plan, whatever the testing method selected.

Why is this testing different than that provided by my MD or allergist?

milk is a common food allergyMost severe, immediate allergy symptoms are a result of IgE (immunoglobulin E) – responsible for Type I hypersensitivity reactions in which a food antigen attaches to an IgE antibody and results in an immediate, and potentially life-threatening, hypersensitivity reaction.  Because of this many MDs have limited their testing to this class of immunoglobulins.

There is considerable evidence for IgE testing, but there is also abundant evidence that IgG(immunoglobulin G) is an important marker for food sensitivity testing.  IgG and IgG-complexes are involved in 80% of all food allergy or sensitivity reactions.  IgG is involved in delayed immune responses which are more common in food intolerance.

How can I learn more about food allergy testing?

At my Toronto clinics, I offer Rocky Mountain Analytical’s IgG Food Allergy test.  They offer more information here.  You can also book a complimentary 15 minute consult with me to discuss whether or not food sensitivity testing can help you achieve your goals for a vibrant, healthy 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.

 

Uterine Fibroids: Five Things You Need To Do

Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in the muscle layer of the uterus. Depending on the method of diagnosis a staggering 5 to 77% of women have been found to have fibroids. Fibroids can be very small or very large (up to the size of a watermelon!!)

Symptoms of fibroids depend on the size and location of the fibroid. Fibroids can cause pain, bloating or heavy periods.

We don’t understand exactly what causes the development of fibroids but risk factors include African descent, a family history of fibroids, being overweight and perimenopause. There is also a strong association of fibroids with high estrogen levels, a condition known as estrogen dominance.

While we don’t know exactly how fibroids form, here are five things you should do right now if you have fibroids.

Five Things You Need to Do if You Have Fibroids

  1. Check Your Vitamin D Levels

If you have dark skin or live in colder climates (like Canada) you may have a vitamin D deficiency. Low levels of vitamin D can contribute to the development of fibroids and can lead to inflammation and altered insulin response.

If you have fibroids, you should see your Naturopathic Doctor or Medical Doctor to have your vitamin D levels assessed. A vitamin D supplement is recommended for all Canadians during the winter months, so knowing your current levels is important for determining your individualized optimal dose.

  1. Love Your Gut

    Fermented foods promote healthy bacteria balance
    Fermented foods promote healthy bacteria balance

An imbalance in the levels of bacteria in your digestive tract could be contributing to fibroid growth. This imbalance, known as “dysbiosis”, can lead to increased production of inflammatory mediators which migrate to the pelvis and stimulate the growth of atypical cells that develop into fibroids.

Having dysbiosis can also lead to high levels of estrogen by promoting recirculation of estrogen rather than allowing the body to eliminate it.

Digestive dysbiosis can be caused by antacid use, antibiotics, stress, poor digestion, frequent illness and use of birth control pills.

Dysbiosis can be treated by your Naturopath with the use of probiotics, fermented foods, gut healing nutrients and botanicals.

  1. Be Kind to Your Liver

Balancing hormones requires a healthy liver. The two-phase detoxification process in our livers that allows us to detoxify and eliminate estrogen can be influenced by our diet, stress, herbs and medications.

Make healthy choices every day to love your liver and support estrogen detoxification. Limit or eliminate alcohol, eat less gluten, drink green tea, and eat lots of leafy green vegetables. Your Naturopath may also recommend specific herbs to support the liver or a B complex vitamin supplement.

  1. Balance Your Hormones with FoodCruciferous vegetables for hormone balance

One of the most important things you can do if you have fibroids is to follow a hormone-balancing diet – one that decreases inflammation, balances blood sugar and prevents estrogen dominance.

Foods that can increase inflammation, raise insulin and blood sugar levels, and promote estrogen dominance should be limited or eliminated. These include:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Dairy products
  • Gluten containing grains
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners
  • Trans fats

Luckily there are also foods that can promote hormone balance and decrease inflammation. These include:

  • Cold water fish
  • Nuts and seeds (especially flaxseed)
  • Cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi and cauliflower
  • Beans, peas, lentils, soybeans
  • Water
  1. See a Naturopathic Doctor

If you have fibroids you should consider seeing a Naturopath to get an individualized hormone balance plan. Your ND can identify possible causes of inflammation and imbalance in your life and work with you to find solutions to restore your body to a state of healthy balance. Your Naturopath can also prescribe nutritional supplements and botanical medicines to address your fibroids and overall state of health. You can find a licensed ND in your area by contacting the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors or the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

 

Five Key Nutrients for Headaches

Key Nutrients for HeadacheAlmost half of all adults suffer from headaches and the mental, emotional and physical impacts of headaches are often under recognized and under-treated by medical professionals.

The majority (90%) of headaches are vascular or tension-type, or a mixture of the two. Vascular headaches include both migraines and cluster headaches. The remaining 10% of headaches are due to other conditions such as trauma, dental pain, visual strain, TMJ disorders, neck disorders, sinus inflammation or tumours.

As a Naturopathic Doctor it is important that each person with a headache receive an appropriate intake and assessment to determine underlying causes and precipitating factors impacting their headaches.

In addition to understanding the possible causes of headache, understanding the impact of five key nutrients on headaches allows your Naturopath to assess your diet and recommend supplements where needed.

Magnesium

Low levels of magnesium are typically found in patients with vascular (migraine and cluster headache) and tension type Black beans proteinheadaches. Increasing dietary magnesium, or using a magnesium supplement can decrease the pain associated with magnesium.

Magnesium also acts as a muscle relaxant and can decrease the tension associated with tension headaches.

Foods that are rich in magnesium include pumpkin and sesame seeds, leafy green vegetables, soy beans, black beans, quinoa, cashews, squash, brown rice, barley, millet and oats.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

bell peppers are a source of riboflavinOne of the suspected underlying causes of migraine headaches is impaired mitochondrial function in the brain and in muscles. Riboflavin is necessary for the function of two enzymes involved in this process and can improve the energy reserves of the mitochondria without altering the excitability of neurons.

Riboflavin is used as a prevention for migraine headaches but will not change headache duration or intensity once it is occurring.

Food sources of riboflavin include soy beans, leafy green vegetables, yogurt, mushrooms, eggs, asparagus, almonds, turkey, broccoli, green beans, bell peppers, green peas and sea vegetables.

CoEnzyme Q10 (CoQ10, Ubiquinone)

Similar to riboflavin, CoQ10 also enhances the energy-related mitochondrial processes that are impaired in patients with migraine headaches. Taking a daily CoQ10 supplement can prevent migraines but will not impact a headache once it is occurring. Digestive upset can occur with CoQ10 supplements and they should only be taken under supervision by a Naturopathic Doctor.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Salmon is a source of omega 3 fatty acidsOne of the best things you can do for headaches is to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats, found in cold water fish and flax seeds, have many benefits for both vascular and tension headaches. Omega-3s are powerful anti-inflammatories, decreasing the production of inflammatory molecules in your body. They are also vasorelaxant and decrease platelet aggregation – two of the underlying physiological changes in migraine headaches.

Clinical studies have suggested that fish oil can reduce headache frequency dramatically as well and decreasing duration and severity.

Omega-3 supplements are readily available and food sources include flaxseeds, walnuts, sardines, salmon, soy beans, fortified eggs and grass fed beef.

Vitamin D

Many more Canadians are becoming aware of the importance of vitamin D. It is necessary for immune function, bone health, diabetes and cancer prevention. It is also required for the production and response to serotonin.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter with multiple influences on headaches. Altered serotonin release is known to be one of the many physiological results of migraine headaches and low serotonin production, or low response to serotonin can decrease pain threshold.

All Canadians should be taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter months, but those suffering with headaches should be sure to have their vitamin D levels tested and take a supplement based on their individual needs. Often the recommended daily allowance (600-800IU) is inadequate for people suffering with headaches.

Putting It Together

Working with a Naturopathic Doctor is your best chance for successful management of headaches. Focusing on lifestyle, diet, exercise, nutrients and integrating other therapies such as massage therapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture and botanical medicines can turn your life around and stop the headache cycle once and for all.

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.

Naturopathic Treatment of Eosinophilic Esophagitis

What is Eosinophilic Esophagitis?

Eosinophilic esophagitis (EOE) is inflammation of the esophagus that results in difficulty swallowing food.  The inflammation occurs when eosinophils, a type of white blood cell, increase in numbers in the esophagus.  This influx of eosinophils stiffens the esophagus making it difficult to swallow foods.  Eosinophilic esophagitis can happen in children and adults.

What causes Eosinophilic Esophagitis?

Eosinophilic esophagitis is caused by an allergy, typically to a food (or possibly an inhaled allergen).  When an allergenic food is consumed the immune system produces high numbers of eosinophils which accumulate in the tissue just beneath the lining of the esophagus.

Symptoms of Eosinophilic Esophagitis

The main symptom is difficulty swallowing food.  People with EOE describe a sensation of food becoming stuck in the esophagus.  Some people also experience heartburn and chest pain.  Children can also experience nausea, vomiting, coughing and abdominal pain.

The difficulty swallowing occurs when the high number of eosinophils stiffen the esophagus and prevent it from stretching appropriately to allow food to pass.  Certain foods are more likely to cause difficult swallowing, especially meats and breads.

Diagnosis of Eosinophilic EsophagitisEosinophilic esophagitis

If you have difficulty swallowing your doctor will refer you for an endoscopy in order to take a look at your esophagus.  During the endoscopy a biopsy will be taken to confirm the presence of eosinophils in the tissue of the esophagus.

The incidence of EOE is increasing in North America.  This may be due to a general increase in allergic conditions, or increased awareness and diagnosis of EOE.

Mainstream Treatment of Eosinophilic Esophagitis

The mainstream treatments of eosinophil esophagitis include esophageal dilation (using a tube to gently stretch the esophagus to allow the passage of food), inhaled corticosteroids (i.e. Flovent) and proton pump inhibitors.  None of these treatments are without potential side effects and possible negative impacts on overall health.  This is why many people are exploring Naturopathic Medicine for the management of EOE.

Naturopathic Treatment of Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Treatment with Naturopathic Medicine is individualized for each patient.  However, there are some common treatment goals which are applied in most cases of eosinophilic esophagitis.

Eosinophilic esophagitis

1.  Identify food allergies and sensitivities

Only by identifying and eliminating the cause of disease can we expect to overcome the symptoms of disease.  The cause of eosinophilic esophagitis is allergy – in most cases to an ingested food.  In addition to skin prick allergy testing done with an allergist, Naturopathic Doctors will also perform a food sensitivity test which looks for a different type of immunoglobulin (IgG) that can also result in accumulation of eosinophils in the esophagus.

 While IgG based food sensitivities are not “allergies” per se, they still result in activation of the immune system that can lead to the symptoms of EOE.  The food sensitivity panel allows you to identify the most likely food sensitivities that can be contributing to your symptoms and eliminate them from your diet.  For more information read the article on Identifying Food Sensitivities.

2. Normalize function of the immune system

Allergies result from an over-activation of the immune system.  By modulating your immune system – decreasing over-production of eosinophils without compromising your body’s ability to fight off viruses, bacteria and other pathogens, you can decrease symptoms of eosinophilic esophagitis without the negative side effects seen with pharmaceutical treatments.

The approach to normalizing the function of the immune system is different for every individual.  Your Naturopathic Doctor will take a complete history and look at all the different systems of your body to determine the best treatment options for you.

3.    Decrease inflammation in the esophagus

The inflammation of the esophagus due to the presence of eosinophils results in the difficulty swallowing seen in EOE.  While you are identifying the underlying allergies and normalizing function of your immune system, your Naturopathic Doctor can help to decrease inflammation in the esophagus and improve symptoms.  Natural supplements like omega-3 rich fish oil, slippery elm powder, marshmallow root and curcumin (turmeric) are all well-tolerated anti-inflammatories which may be used short term (or long term) to support the esophagus and allow you to be symptom free sooner.

Naturopathic Medicine can help you overcome your eosinophilic esophagitis.  Book an appointment now with a Naturopathic Doctor experienced in the treatment of EOE and start the journey towards optimal health.

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.

Vegetarian 101 – Iron in the Vegetarian Diet

Iron is one of the most important minerals for health.  Iron is used to form hemoglobin which allows our red blood cells to carry oxygen to each and every cell in our body.  Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide with up to two billion people affected, mostly women and children, and affects omnivores and vegetarians alike.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency generally develops slowly and symptoms often do not appear until anemia is severe, even though our cells are already suffering the consequences of inadequate iron.

Symptoms of iron deficiency are similar in all age groups and include:

iron in the vegetarian diet

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irritability
  • Pale skin
  • Sore tongue
  • Dark coloured stools
  • Frequent infections
  • Sensitivity to temperatures (cold or heat)
  • Pica (the desire to eat non-food substances – most commonly ice or dirt)

Vegetarians have no higher incidence of iron deficient anemia than the omnivore population, however there are some additional precautions vegetarians must take to ensure an adequate dietary intake of iron.

Absorption of Iron from the Diet

Green leafy vegetables are a source of vegan ironDietary sources of iron are either heme-based (from animal sources) or non-heme (vegetarian.)  Some foods (such as cereals and infant formulas) are also iron-enriched or iron-fortified – non-heme iron is used in these foods.

Although a vegetarian diet is likely to contain as much (or more) iron than an omnivorous diet, the non-heme iron in a vegetarian diet is substantially less available for absorption because of differences in the chemical form of iron and accompanying constituents that inhibit iron absorption (such as calcium, tannins and phytates).

Vegetarians need to consume approximately 80% more iron than indicated by the national Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) due to the decreased bioavailability.  Absorption of non-heme is estimated to be 10%, although more will be absorbed in cases of severe anemia.  By comparison the absorption of non-heme iron is approximately 18%.

Iron absorption can be enhanced by combining iron rich foods with a source of vitamin C, using iron cookware (especially for cooking acidic foods that solubize iron from the pan), sprouting grains and avoiding coffee, tea and red wine with meals.

Vegetarian Food Sources of Iron

Food Amount Iron (mg)
Soybeans,cooked 1 cup

8.8

Blackstrap molasses 2 Tbsp

7.2

Lentils, cooked 1 cup

6.6

Spinach, cooked 1 cup

6.4

Tofu 4 ounces

6.4

Bagel, enriched 1 medium

6.4

Chickpeas, cooked 1 cup

4.7

Tempeh 1 cup

4.5

Lima beans, cooked 1 cup

4.5

Black-eyed peas, cooked 1 cup

4.3

Swiss chard, cooked 1 cup

4.0

Kidney beans, cooked 1 cup

3.9

Black beans, cooked 1 cup

3.6

Pinto beans, cooked 1 cup

3.6

Turnip greens, cooked 1 cup

3.2

Potato 1 large

3.2

Prune juice 8 ounces

3.0

Quinoa, cooked 1 cup

2.8

Beet greens, cooked 1 cup

2.7

Tahini 2 Tbsp

2.7

Veggie hot dog, iron-fortified 1 hot dog

2.7

Peas, cooked 1 cup

2.5

Cashews 1/4 cup

2.1

Bok choy, cooked 1 cup

1.8

Bulgur, cooked 1 cup

1.7

Raisins 1/2 cup

1.6

Apricots, dried 15 halves

1.4

Veggie burger, commercial 1 patty

1.4

Watermelon 1/8 medium

1.4

Almonds 1/4 cup

1.3

Kale, cooked 1 cup

1.2

Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup

1.2

Broccoli, cooked 1 cup

1.1

Millet, cooked 1 cup

1.1

Soy yogurt 6 ounces

1.1

Tomato juice 8 ounces

1.0

Sesame seeds 2 Tbsp

1.0

Brussels sprouts, cooked 1 cup

0.9

Sources: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24, 2011

Recommended Daily Intake and Supplementation

The RDI for iron is 80% higher for vegetarians and is dependent on your age.  Children, adolescents and pregnant women have increased needs due to the rapid growth seen during these ages.  The values below are for vegetarian people only and reflect the increased need for iron in this population

Daily recommended intake of dietary iron for vegetarians

Children are at risk for iron deficiencyInfants (0-2 years): 19mg per day
Children (3-11 years): 18mg per day
Adolescent girls (12-18): 27mg
Adolescent boys (12-18): 19mg
Adult women (19-50): 32mg
Adult men (19-50): 15mg
Pregnant women: 48mg
Seniors (>50): 14mg 

Iron supplements should only be taken if blood tests have shown evidence of an iron deficiency or decrease in iron storage levels. Research suggests that a daily iron supplement is best for treating low iron, however frequency may be decreased to once or twice per week for prevention of deficiency in people with a history of low iron.

Iron supplements should be taken away from other minerals (especially calcium) since these may decrease the absorption of iron.  A source of vitamin C (500mg capsule) is also recommended to enhance absorption each time an iron supplement is taken.

Ferrous fumarate and ferrous sulfate contain the highest amount of elemental iron per mg with ferrous gluconate containing the least.  Ferrous gluconate, ferrous fumarate and ferrous citrate are well tolerated with fewer digestive side effects reported.

Constipation, darkening of the stool and digestive upset are the main side effects seen with iron supplements.  Supplements should be continued for three months beyond the resolution of iron deficiency anemia to replenish body stores of iron.

If you suspect you may have an iron deficiency, seek a blood test from your Medical Doctor or Naturopathic Doctor.

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.

Selected References

Goddard AF, James MW, McIntyre AS, Scott BB. Guidelines for the management of iron deficiency anaemia. British Society of Gastroenterology. 2005

M Amit; Canadian Paediatric Society, Community Paediatrics Committee. Vegetarian diets in children and adolescents. Paediatr Child Health 2010;15(5):303-314.

Hunt JR.  Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78(suppl):633S–9S

Stoltzfus RJ, Dreyfuss ML. Guidelines for the Use of Iron Supplements to Prevent and Treat Iron Deficiency Anemia. International Nutritional Anemia Consultative Group (INACG)

Foods that Impact Thyroid Health

Hypothyroidism is one of the most common hormone imbalances affecting women today.  Thousands of women are diagnosed with low thyroid function every year, and it is estimated that there are thousands more who go undiagnosed.

The chances of developing hypothyroidism are increased during pregnancy, after pregnancy and as we age, with rates of diagnosis highest in women aged 40-60.

An imbalanced thyroid can leave you feeling exhausted, unmotivated and unhealthy.  The symptoms of hypothyroidism vary but can include:

    • Foods for hypothyroidismFeeling cold, especially in the hands or feet or an intolerance to cold
    • Constipation
    • Thinning of the eyebrows
    • Weight gain or inability to lose weight
    • Dry hair or skin
    • Hair loss
    • Swelling or puffiness around the eyes
    • Heavy periods
    • Decreased libido
    • Fatigue
    • Depression
    • Poor concentration

If you suspect you may have low thyroid function you should see your Medical Doctor or Naturopathic Doctor to have thyroid function testing done.  Discuss your results with your doctor because even mild disturbances in thyroid functioning can have significant impacts on your quality of life.

Foods that Impact Thyroid Health

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food” – Hippocrates

What we eat can impact our thyroid health in both positive and negative ways.  Learn which foods support healthy thyroid functioning and which ones can interfere with thyroid health.

See if you know which foods are good for your thyroid and which ones are bad.

Pumpkin Seeds – GOODPumpkin Seeds are a source of tyrosine

Pumpkin seeds are a source of tyrosine, an amino acid our body uses to manufacture thyroid hormone.  If we don’t get enough tyrosine in our diet hypothyroidism can develop.

Other food sources of tyrosine: almonds, avocados, bananas, plain natural yogurt, sesame seeds (including tahini), lima beans

Seaweed – GOOD

Seaweeds are a rich source of iodine, a mineral necessary for production of thyroid hormones.  Iodine combines with tyrosine to produce thyroid hormones.  A diet deficient in iodine is the most common cause of hypothyroidism worldwide.

Other food sources of iodine: table salt, fish (sea bass, cod, haddock), shellfish and sea vegetables including seaweed (Nori, Wakame, Arame, Dulse) and kelp.

Brussels Sprouts – BADbrussels sprouts are goitrogenic

Brussels sprouts are members of the Brassica family of vegetables.  This family of vegetables can have goitrogenic effects – they can induce an iodine deficiency by combining with iodine and making it unavailable to produce thyroid hormone.

Cooking the Brassia family of vegetables can lessen their harmful impact on the thyroid – and if your diet is rich in iodine they are unlikely to have a significant impact.

Other Brassica vegetables: cabbage, turnips, Brussels sprouts, kale, mustard greens, radishes, horseradish, rutabaga, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy)

Peanuts – BAD

Peanuts also have goitrogenic effects, similar to the Brassica family of vegetables.  Other foods that have this effect are: millet, cassava and pine nuts.

Mushrooms – GOODmushrooms are a source of selenium

Mushrooms are a source of selenium which is needed for the conversion of T4 to T3 (active thyroid hormone) in the body.  People with low intake of selenium may have high levels of T4 and TSH but low levels of T3, resulting in symptoms of hypothyroidism.  Selenium deficiency can also lead to elevations in thyroid antibody levels.

Selenium content of food depends on the selenium-richness of the soil that the food is grown in.  Southern Ontario soil tends to be low in selenium.  It is estimated that selenium is deficient in about 50% of diets.

Other food sources of selenium: brown rice, oats, Brazil nuts, shellfish, garlic, onions, broccoli, tomato, radishes

Soy – BAD

The main isoflavone in soy – genistein – is goitrogenic – it can bind to iodine and make it unavailable to the thyroid for thyroid hormone production.

If you have an underactive thyroid gland you do not need to completely avoid all soy products – but you do need to make sure you are getting enough iodine to counter any negative impacts from soy consumption.

Wheat – May be BADwheat is a common food allergen

If you are sensitive to wheat, dairy or any other food avoiding these foods is important for maintaining thyroid health.  Individuals with autoimmune thyroid disease are more susceptible to food sensitivities or allergies.

Because many people do harbour food sensitivities to wheat, dairy and other foods, an elimination diet or food sensitivity test may be useful to determine sensitivities and restore balance to the immune system and thyroid gland.

Hormone imbalances like hypothyroidism respond best to an integrative approach to treatment.  Dietary changes, like those discussed here, in combination with lifestyle changes, supplements, and medications where necessary can improve your condition and your quality of life.  It’s all about finding that perfect balance for you, and your health.

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.