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Is my IBS actually SIBO?

Gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation – present to your medical doctor with any of these symptoms and you’ll likely get a diagnosis of IBS – irritable bowel syndrome. But what if it’s more than that? What if rather than having a cranky digestive tract you actually have a bacterial imbalance in your small intestines? What if you have SIBO?

What is SIBO?

SIBO stands for small intestine bacterial overgrowth, a condition where abnormally large numbers of bacteria (both the good and bad kind) are present in the small intestine. SIBO is a very common cause of IBS-like symptoms – studies have shown SIBO to be involved in between 50-84% of IBS cases. More importantly, when treated for SIBO, a 75% reduction in IBS symptoms has been found. For people who have been suffering for years (or decades!) with IBS symptoms, a proper diagnosis of SIBO can be life-changing.

Symptoms

While most people who experience digestive issues are given a diagnosis of IBS, the symptoms of SIBO are so similar that I recommend every patient who has been told they have IBS be tested for SIBO. Symptoms of IBS include:

  • Gas and bloating (often causing visible distention of the abdomen)
  • Flatulence (farting) and belching (burping)
  • Abdominal pain, cramping or general discomfort
  • Constipation or diarrhea (or both!)
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Nutrient deficiencies (due to malabsorption – vitamin D, B12, K)

The bacterial overgrowth in SIBO can cause significant gas and bloating – if you are experiencing severe gas or bloating, SIBO testing should be considered. With healthy normal bacteria levels, a single ounce of milk will cause about 50cc of gas to be created. With SIBO, that same amount of milk will cause up to 5000cc of gas to be created! And that gas has to go somewhere – filling the intestines and causing pain, or being released as gas and burping.

Many conditions may also be associated with SIBO, with the additional symptoms of those conditions being present. Some of those conditions include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Gallstones
  • Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Diverticulitis/ diverticulosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Celiac disease
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Rosacea
  • Diabetes

What Causes SIBO?

In our bodies we support a population of around 300 trillion bacteria. Living mostly on our skin and in our large intestine, these bacteria are powerful supporters of healthy human function. Producing vitamins like vitamin K and B12, producing neurotransmitters like serotonin, and regulating the function of our immune system – these bacteria are essential for optimal health.

SIBO occurs when the bacteria that should be in our large intestine migrate upwards into our small intestine. There they produce gases and disrupt nutrient absorption, leading the symptoms often attributed to IBS.

There are some specific triggers that can lead to this movement of bacteria into the small intestine. Some of those triggers include:

  • A stomach flu or food poisoning
  • Low stomach acid (or use of antacids)
  • Prior bowel surgery
  • Use of antibiotics (especially multiple courses)
  • Moderate or high alcohol consumption (greater than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men)
  • Use of birth control pills

One of the organisms involved in SIBO, Methanobrevivacter smithii has been linked to obesity in humans

Clues to SIBO

There are some clues that your IBS may in fact be SIBO. If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should invest in SIBO testing now.

  1. Did your digestive symptoms start, or become worse, after a bout of the stomach flu?
  2. Have you experienced short term improvement in your symptoms after taking an antibiotic?
  3. Do your symptoms get worse when taking a probiotic or prebiotic supplement?
  4. Does eating a high fiber diet worsen constipation or IBS symptoms?
  5. Do you have celiac disease that has not sufficiently improved following a gluten-free diet?
  6. Have you been diagnosed with an iron deficiency, despite having an iron rich diet?
  7. Do you have IBS symptoms and take antacids more than once per month (including Tums, Rolaids, Nexxium or Prilosec)?
  8. Do you experience gas that has a strong “rotten-egg” odour?

Diagnosis

The overgrowth of bacteria seen in SIBO can be identified through a breath test. The bacteria produce high amounts of hydrogen, hydrogen sulfide, or methane gas. These gases are not produced by human cells, but only through the action of bacteria on carbohydrates in our intestines.

The most common (and effective) test for SIBO is a combined hydrogen/methane breath test. This test is readily available from your Naturopathic Doctor. This is the only test for SIBO – stool tests will not help to diagnose SIBO.

Next steps

If you suspect you may have SIBO, you should see your Naturopath for appropriate testing. Once a diagnosis has been made you can embark on a treatment plan that may finally resolve your symptoms and get you back on the path to optimal health.

The treatment of SIBO is multifaceted and individualized for each person. Some of the key areas we focus on are supporting small intestine motility, optimizing digestive acids and enzymes, healing the lining of the digestive tract, eradicating biofilm and promoting healthy bacterial balance in the large intestine. Addressing the lifestyle and diet for long term prevention of recurrence is also important. Discontinuing medications, like antacids and proton pump inhibitors that encourage SIBO must also be considered.

You don’t have to continue to suffer. Digestive health is essential for optimal health. Get yourself tested, and get on the path to wellness today.

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 Treatments for Thin Endometrial Lining

The uterus is made up of three layers: an outer protective layer, a muscular layer, and an inner lining (endometrium) which develops each month to support and nourish a fertilized egg. If a woman does not conceive, this lining is lost during the menstrual period.

Endometrial thickness is an important factor in improving pregnancy outcomes. An ideal thickness is between 9-10 mm at ovulation. If your endometrial lining is thin it may not allow for optimal implantation and successful pregnancy.

A thin endometrial lining can be identified on ultrasound done at or near ovulation, or can be suspected in women who have very light menstrual periods.

Women with long term use of birth control pills (10 years or longer) are more likely to experience thin endometrial lining. Use of the fertility drug Clomid (Clomiphene citrate) is also associated with thin endometrial lining, especially when used for multiple cycles in a row.

Below are some suggestions for ways to naturally increase the thickness of your endometrial lining and improve your chances for a healthy pregnancy.

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea

An herbal medicine with a very long history of use, red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) is a uterine tonic that may help to optimize development of the uterine lining. It is also a rich source of nutrients to support a healthy endometrium, including iron and vitamin C. Drink three cups of the tea per day from the first day of your period until ovulation.

Black Cohosh

Another herbal medicine, black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) is a rich source of phytoestrogens that can provide further estrogen stimulation to the uterus and support a thick endometrial lining. Studies have been done combining black cohosh with clomid and found improved endometrial thickness and more successful pregnancy rates. Dosage ranges from 80-120mg per day from the first day of your period until cycle day 12. Best taken under the supervision of a naturopathic doctor who can monitor liver function for optimal safety.

Red Clover

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is another isoflavone rich phytoestrogen, similar to black cohosh. It is used to increase blood flow to the uterus and support estrogen balance in the body. It is used daily from cycle day 1 to 12 at a dose of 40-80mg of standardized isoflavones.

Bioidentical Estrogen

red poppyEstrogen is necessary for the development of a healthy endometrium. If estrogen levels are low (which occurs as we get older) then the lining of the uterus will not develop optimally before ovulation. A blood or saliva test for estradiol can identify low estrogen levels and a bioidentical estrogen cream can be used safely to increase estrogen levels in the first half of the cycle, prior to ovulation. Your Naturopathic Doctor can prescribe bioidentical estrogen at a dose that is individualized to your needs.

Iron

Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in women. Necessary for the health of red blood cells, low levels of iron may lead to an inadequate development of the uterine lining. If you are a vegan or vegetarian or have a history of having a thin uterine lining, ask your Naturopath or Medical Doctor to test your iron (ferritin) and hemoglobin levels.

Exercise

Inadequate blood flow to the uterus can be a significant cause of a thin uterine lining. This can be caused by a sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress or uterine fibroids. Exercise and acupuncture are two of the most effective ways of improving blood flow to the uterus. Swimming, walking, jogging, dancing, yoga or hula hooping are all excellent ways of getting the blood flowing to the uterus. Try engaging in some form of physical activity every day, especially in the two weeks leading up to ovulation.

red tulipsVitamin E and L-Arginine

Researchers have found that the use of these two nutrients can increase the blood flow to the uterus through the uterine radial artery. Published in the journal Fertility and Sterility in 2010, it was found that vitamin E increased blood flow in 72% of patients and increased the endometrial thickness in over half of patients. L-Arginine increased blood flow in 89% of patients and increased endometrial thickness in two-thirds of patients. Dosage of vitamin E in the study was 600mg per day and the dosage of L-arginine was 6g per day.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of my favourite ways of addressing the issue of a thin endometrial lining. Acupuncture has many benefits for women’s hormonal health. It decreases stress, supports hormone balance, and regulates and increases blood flow to the reproductive organs. Clinical studies have demonstrated an improvement in the thickness of the endometrial lining with regular acupuncture treatments. Points that are often considered include: CV4, CV6, LI10, KI3, SP6, SP10 and ST36. Moxibustion, a warming technique, can also be used in combination with the acupuncture.

Working with a Naturopathic Doctor can help you to develop an individualized plan that will improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy. Additionally, if you difficulty conceiving be sure to have your thyroid thoroughly assessed because low thyroid function is also associated with failure of implantation.   Be sure to work with a Naturopathic Doctor who is experienced in supporting fertility and can help you achieve your goals, naturally.

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:

Takasaki A, Tamura H, et al. Endometrial growth and uterine blood flow: a pilot study for improving endometrial thickness in the patients with a thin endometrium. Fertil Steril. 2010;93(6):1851-8.

Yu W, Horn B, et al. A pilot study evaluating the combination of acupuncture with sildenafil on endometrial thickness. Fertil Steril. 2007;87(3):S23

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 Endometriosis Diet

Niels H. Lauersen, MD says in his seminal book Getting Pregnant that endometriosis is “one of the most devastating, if not frustrating, of all gynecological ills”. 1 in 10 women suffer from the pains and frustrations of endometriosis, and there is no cure.

Despite this lack of cure, there is a lot that can be done to decrease the painful symptoms of endometriosis, prevent worsening of the endometrial growths, and support future fertility.

The first step in managing your endometriosis is to follow the Endometriosis Diet.

The Endometriosis Diet

The purpose of the Endometriosis Diet is multiple:

You can start the Endometriosis Diet soon after diagnosis, or at any time. This diet can help control the growth of endometriosis that has already appeared, decrease pain and other symptoms and in some cases prevent endometriosis from occurring at all.

Endometriosis Diet: Foods to Avoid

  1. Avoid alcohol

Alcohol depletes B vitamins that are necessary for hormone detoxification. It also has estrogen-like effects on the body and can worsen endometriosis symptoms.

  1. Avoid refined sugarFighting Sugar Addiction

Sugar is another culprit that can increase estrogen levels. It is also known to negatively impact immune function. Fruit is fine, but avoid all sources of refined sugars.

  1. Avoid caffeine

Women consuming two cups of coffee per day have twice the risk of developing endometriosis.

  1. Avoid red meat, especially grain-fed

Red meat is a rich source of arachidonic acid – which promotes production of inflammatory prostaglandins and increases inflammation and pain. Additionally, cattle and pigs fed grains treated with pesticides tend to concentrate these hormone-disrupting chemicals in their fat and muscle tissues. Consumption of these meats is a leading source of human exposure to organochlorines.

  1. Avoid dairy products

Dairy products are another potential source of hormone-disrupting chemicals, like the organochlorines. Organochlorines also impact the function of the immune system, weakening natural killer (NK) cell activity. Additionally, high fat dairy products may promote estrogen dominance, accelerating the growth of endometriosis.

  1. Avoid gluten

A 2012 study started 200 women with endometriosis on a gluten-free diet. 75% of the women reported an improvement in pain and none reported an increase in pain. All patients reported improved vitality and general health as well.

  1. Avoid refined and hydrogenated oils

Refined and hydrogenated vegetable oils contain omega 6 fatty acids that compete for absorption with anti-inflammatory omega 3s. Avoid canola, safflower, sunflower and so-called “vegetable” oils.

  1. Limit eggsFertile Cervical Fluid Testing

Eggs are a source of arachidonic acid and their consumption should be minimized.

  1. Limit peanuts

Another rich source of arachidonic acid. Healthier nuts include almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts and cashews.

     10.  Avoid food sensitivities

Food sensitivities can contribute to inflammation, intestinal permeability and immune system disturbances. Food sensitivities are very individual – blood testing is generally recommended to identify what foods may causing negative effects in your body.

Endometriosis Diet: Foods to Enjoy

  1. Organic fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables provide fiber that support healthy digestive function as well as nutrients to support immune function, detoxification and decrease inflammation. Women who consume two servings of fruit per day have a 20% decreased risk of endometriosis. Selecting organic fruits and vegetables will minimize intake of pesticides that disrupt hormone function.

  1. Vegetarian proteins

almonds are a source of calciumWomen who eat a vegetarian diet excrete 2-3 times more estrogen in their feces and have half as much estrogen in their blood as meat-eaters. Focusing on eating soy, almonds and other nuts and nut butters, beans, lentils and legumes.

  1. Fish

Fish, especially cold-water fish like salmon and mackerel, are a rich source of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. Two servings per week is the ideal recommendation – more than this can result in undesirable exposure to PCBs and other environmental contaminants.

  1. Flax seeds

Another rich source of omega 3s, ground flax seeds also contain lignans that provide an ideal source of fiber to support digestion and healthy bacteria balance.

  1. Cabbage family vegetables

brussels sprouts are goitrogenicThe Brassica (cabbage) family of vegetables support detoxification and encourage a healthy estrogen balance by favouring production of the less active form of estrogen. Consume broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kohl rabi and cauliflower regularly to reap these benefits.

  1. Leafy green vegetables

Leafy green vegetables provide key minerals for detoxification and support liver function. Frequent consumption of leafy greens (two servings per day) has been shown to significantly decrease the incidence of endometriosis.

  1. Onions, garlic and leeks

These vegetables contain organosulfur compounds that enhance immune function and induce enzymes that detoxify the liver. They are also rich sources of quercetin, a bioflavonoid that stimulates the immune system and decreases inflammation.

  1. High fiber foods

High fiber foods are incredibly important for endometriosis because they support the optimal balance of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract. Friendly bacteria support the elimination of estrogen in the feces. Focus on fiber in the form of vegetables, fruits and whole grains such as barley, quinoa, millet, brown and wild rice.

  1. Fermented foods

Fermented foods support estrogen balance by providing a food source of friendly bacteria. Olives, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh and kombucha are excellent, delicious options.

Spices contribute to health     10. Spices

Spices such as ginger and turmeric are powerful anti-inflammatories and also support liver detoxification. Use them liberally throughout the day.

Far More Than Food

Following the Endometriosis Diet is going to improve more than just your endometriosis symptoms. It will likely improve your overall health and vitality as well. This is a healthy, whole-foods based diet that can help you feel great, inside and out.

Diet isn’t the only important aspect of endometriosis treatment. Other articles on this website cover Understanding Endometriosis, Acupuncture for Endometriosis, Endometriosis and the Immune System, Endometriosis and Infertility, Endometriosis in Adolescence and Naturopathic Treatment of Endometriosis. Read on, and if you’re ready to take a well-rounded, holistic approach to your endometriosis, feel free to book an initial consultation to get started.

References

Hudson, Tori. Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008.

Lauersen, Niels H and Bouchez, Collette. Getting Pregnant. New York: Fireside, 2000.

Lewis, Randine. The Infertility Cure. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2004.

Gluten-free diet: a new strategy for management of endometriosis related symptoms? Minerva Chir. 2012 Dec:67(6):499-504.

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.

Preparing for Pregnancy: Detoxification

Working as a Naturopathic Doctor with a focus on pregnancy and fertility gives me a unique opportunity to influence the health of the future generation while simultaneously optimizing the health of the women and men in my practice. This is an opportunity I like to seize – a chance to make the next generation as vibrantly healthy as they can be!

Pre-Pregnancy Detoxifying

I am not a fan of the detox fad. I feel like it implies that our bodies are dirty or incapable of maintaining health – the very opposite of what I believe. But as with so many fads, there is an essential nugget of truth at the center of it – we are living in a world that is overwhelming our bodies with chemicals – in the air we breath, food we eat, clothes we wear, soaps we use to ‘clean’ our bodies. And our bodies can accumulate these chemicals, and they can cause changes in our hormones, in our cells and in our organ function.

The time prior to pregnancy is a wonderful time to detoxify your life. Not just your body, but your environment, thoughts and behaviours as well. A time to prepare for a fresh new beginning – the beginning of a life and a family.

Detoxifying Your Environment

A landmark study done by the Environmental Working Group found 287 chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of babies born in the United States – chemicals that are known to be toxic to the brain and nervous system, lead to developmental abnormalities and cancer.

This study highlights the importance of making changes now – of reducing our exposure to chemicals to decrease our future child’s exposure.

Here are three easy ways you can detoxify your environment prior to pregnancy

  1. household cleanerUse only natural cleaning products – the Environmental Protection Agency has found that in many homes the level of pollutants are three-to-five times higher than they are outside.Minimize your indoor chemical burden by using only all natural cleansing products and avoid these big offenders: upholstery shampoo, furniture polish, all-purpose sprays, bug sprays, bathroom cleansers, room deodorizers, fabric softeners.
  1. Avoid plastic wrap and plastic storage containers. Almost all plastics contain chemicals that have been shown to disrupt hormone balance and can impact fertility and potentially increase the risk of miscarriage.
  1. Change your personal care products, cosmetics and sunscreens. All of these products can contain a plethora of chemicals all with potential negative health effects. The Environmental Working Group maintains amazing databases of these products that can help you to make healthy choices for your self, and your environment. Be sure to check out their Cosmetics Database and their annual Sunscreen Guide.

Detoxifying Your Body

The two best ways we can detoxify our body is 1) decrease our exposure to chemicals and 2) support our body in eliminating them.

My top four suggestions for detoxifying your body are:

  1. Water Eat organic produce. Hundreds of pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on conventional produce at various stages of their growth and production. Nearly two-thirds of produce contains pesticide residues – an alarming number with unknown consequences on long term health. The simplest way to decrease exposure and minimize risk is by selecting organic produce. Following the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen recommendations from the Environmental Working Group is great place to start for understanding which produce you should always purchase organic, and which have lower potential for pesticide residue.
  1. Drink an abundance of clean water. Water is the way that our bodies move nutrients into cells – and toxins out. Drinking fresh, clean water throughout the day can greatly enhance your detoxification – and can improve energy and concentration as well.
  2. Exercise regularly. Exercise supports the lymphatic system – one of the most important systems in detoxifying the body. In order for our lymphatic system to work, we need to move our muscles, forcing movement of lymph back towards our heart. Daily movement practice should be part of any detoxification plan, and any healthy lifestyle.
  3. Do a personalized cleansing program once or twice a year. A personalized cleansing program developed by a Naturopathic Doctor can help identify specific detoxification goals for your body and help you to achieve them. Individualized programs are especially important prior to pregnancy – enhancing detoxification while maintaining optimal nutrient status will support your body now, and your baby’s in the future.

Detoxifying Your Thoughts and Behaviours

No detoxification is complete without as assessment of your thoughts and behaviours. Each of us has thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that impact our health – both positively and negatively. Time spent in personal introspection or working with a counselor can help us to identify patterns of thoughts or behaviours that we would like to modify. The time prior to pregnancy is an ideal time to explore our own feelings on parenthood, our relationship with our parents, and ourselves. It is a great time to let go of thoughts and behaviours that are not contributing to an abundant state of health – to detoxify our thoughts and behaviours and prepare ourselves for our future as parents.

 

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.

 

Blood Clots in Pregnancy

The risk of developing blood clots is increased during, and after, pregnancy. There are additional risk factors which may increase development of blood clots during pregnancy.

  • A history of blood clots
  • A genetic disposition to blood clots (such as Factor V Leiden)
  • Obesity
  • Long distance travel
  • Prolonged bed rest
  • Carrying multiple babies
  • Advanced maternal age
  • Pre-existing medical conditions.

If you are at risk for blood clots during pregnancy, there are some precautions you should take.

Common sense precautions that reduce the risk of clotting for all pregnant women

  1. Stay hydrated at all times.Water
  2. If you must be sitting for a long period of time, elevate your feet. Even a little bit can take pressure off the backs of your thighs. Get up every hour or two and stretch, walk around, get your blood moving.
  3. Eat a healthy diet with plenty of protein, B-vitamins, folic acid, magnesium and salt. Everything you do to support a healthy blood volume will reduce the risk of abnormal clotting.
  4. Get appropriate amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E and essential fatty acids. Everything you do that promotes healthy blood vessels and tissues will reduce the risk of abnormal clotting.
  5. Don’t overdo calcium. Make sure that your calcium intake is appropriately balanced with magnesium. Too much calcium can impede placental function with calcifications and increase the tendency of blood to clot. When the balance tips in favor of calcium, the balance may also tip in favor of clotting. Get enough, but not too much.
  6. Get moderate exercise every day or every other day. Ideal exercises include walking, swimming, low-impact or water aerobics, basically any low-impact exercise that gets the blood moving and the muscles contracting. Exercise improves circulation, and anything you do that improves circulation will reduce the risk of abnormal clotting.

There are also some natural foods and remedies that can decrease the risk of clotting. Discuss these with your Naturopathic Doctor to determine if they are appropriate for you during your pregnancy.

Naturopathic Prevention of Blood Clots in Pregnancy

  1. garlicGarlic – garlic has a distinct and potent anticoagulant effect. It can be grated fresh onto quinoa or rice, made into garlic butter, added at the last minute to spaghetti sauce. Epidemiological studies have shown garlic to significantly increase serum fibrinolytic activity in humans (breaking down of clots and preventing clot formation). Garlic oil and raw garlic are both effective for this purpose.  The increase in fibrinolysis occurs within the first 6 hours after ingestion and continues for up to 12 hours.
  2. Ginger – similar to garlic and onion, ginger is an inhibitor of platelet aggregation. However, ginger’s effects have been shown to be much more powerful. Ginger inhibits thromboxane formation, pro-aggregatory prostaglandins and significantly reduces platelet lipid peroxide formation – all of which contribute to clot formation.       In one study gingerol compounds and their derivatives were more potent antiplatelet agents than aspirin. In addition to acting on platelets, ginger also promotes fibrinolysis. Ginger promotes bile production and should not be used by those with gall bladder disease.ginger
  3. Purple Grape Juice – juice because the juice is made from the whole fruit, including seeds, and the seeds contain potent anticoagulants as well. Purple because much of the anticoagulant action comes from components in the skins of purple grapes. White grape juice does NOT have the same effect. Use 100% grape, not a blend or cocktail. Two cups a day were used in one study that found purple grape juice to be more effective than aspirin.
  4. Ginkgo biloba – Ginkgo is a very potent anticoagulant. It reduces the “stickiness” of blood and improves circulation. For pregnant women it would only be advisable for those who have actually been diagnosed with a clotting disorder, and should only be used under supervision of a Naturopathic Doctor. Gingko exerts its cardiovascular effects by regulating blood vessel tone, dilating blood vessels and inhibiting platelet aggregation, adhesion and degranulation.
  5. Bilberry – well-known for its antioxidant properties, bilberry is also a cardioprotective herb that protects and strengthens the capillaries. The flavonoids in bilberry (anthocyanosides) also have significant antiaggregation effects on platelets.
  6. pillsB vitamins and folic acid – B vitamins (especially B6, B12 and inositol) and folic acid decrease homocysteine levels. Elevated homocysteine levels increase the risk of clot formation. Pregnancy increases the body’s demands for B vitamins and folic acid. Likewise, birth control pills tend to deplete the body of these nutrients.
  7. Omega 3 fatty acids or fish oils – fish oils decrease production of clot forming substances and enhance the production of platelet anti-aggregatory substances. These action play an important role in decreasing inflammation and clot formation. EPA supplementation is most important for preventing clot formation (thrombosis).

 

Photo Credit: phalinn via Compfight cc

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.

A Male Prenatal?

We all recognize the importance of prenatal supplements for women.  But can men benefit too?  Women are encouraged to take a nutritional supplement for at least three months before getting pregnant and I think men should do the same!

Nutrients for Male Fertility

Certain nutrients are needed for the production and protection of sperm.  Making sure that men have enough of these key nutrients can improve sperm count, sperm motility and the percentage of healthy sperm.

Vitamin C and E

Antioxidants for male fertilityVitamins C and E are antioxidants – they protect the body from damage done by reactive oxygen species (ROS or ‘free radicals’).  Sperm are especially sensitive to damage by ROS.  This is why semen contains high amounts of vitamin C and other antioxidants, to protect the sperm from ROS damage.

A diet that is deficient in antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables can lead to lower sperm count, poor motility and more abnormally shaped sperm.

However, you can get too much of a good thing.  Excess doses of vitamin C and E can have pro-oxidant effects – leading to oxidative damage rather than preventing it.  Working with a Naturopathic Doctor can help you determine your optimum dose for fertility.

Selenium

Supplements for Male Fertility

Another antioxidant, selenium deficiency is associated with poor male fertility.  Selenium supports sperm production and supplementation can improve sperm motility and sperm count.

As with vitamin C and E, too much selenium can cause adverse effects.  It is best used in combination with other antioxidants at low dose, or as a food-based nutrient.              

Folic acid

Normally associated with female fertility, men can benefit from folic acid supplementation as well.  Folic acid is necessary for DNA synthesis and the protection of DNA during sperm production.

It has been suggested that supplementing men with folic acid may decrease miscarriage rate by decreasing genetic mutations.

Zinc

No single nutrient has a greater impact on male reproduction than zinc.  Zinc is necessary for folic acid absorption and metabolism, testosterone production, formation and maturation of sperm and fertilization.

The scary thing is that 79% of men are not consuming even the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc.  Most men who are considering fatherhood could benefit from a zinc supplement.

But as with so many things, you can have too much of a good thing.  Excess intake of trace minerals like zinc can lead to pro-oxidant effects.

Men and women contribute equally to fertility – you each give your DNA to your baby.  Put your best DNA forward and consider seeing a Naturopathic Doctor who can recommend a male prenatal supplement to optimize your fertility, and the health of the next generation.

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.