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Love and Happiness: Hormone Hacks for a Happy Life

Hormones are chemical messengers that influence essential aspects of our health and wellbeing. The emotions of love and happiness are included as essential components of our lives. Three key compounds are involved in love and happiness – oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. Today I’ll discuss the action of each and give some Hormone Hacks to help you boost your love and happiness in your day-to-day life.

Oxytocin

Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that is often called the love hormone or the cuddle hormone. It is produced during times of bonding – during labour, breastfeeding and intimate contact with loved ones.

The release of oxytocin increases empathy and sensitivity to the emotions of others. It increases trust, caring for others and positive social interactions. It can make you feel more extroverted, and may even encourage you to lie for the benefit of a group!

Oxytocin also influences other hormones, leading to decreased stress hormone production and strong anti-anxiety effects.

Levels of oxytocin are high during the first six months of a romantic or significant relationship, but we can carry on that oxytocin high by focusing on these Hormone Hacks.

Touch and warmth – massage has been found to increase oxytocin, as has cuddling, holding hands, kissing or petting an animal

Give and receive hugs – some experts suggest both your immune system and oxytocin levels will benefit from 12 hugs per day

Eye contact – positive eye contact can increase oxytocin significantly, especially during intimate conversations and physical contact

Positive smells – smells associated with positive memories can increase oxytocin

Practice gratitude – focusing on the blessings in our lives can improve our mood, well being, and oxytocin levels. Simple steps like keeping a gratitude journal or sharing gratitude at the dinner table can go a long way towards improving happiness

Participate in something great – volunteer work, social movements, and any activity that benefits society and the greater good can boost oxytocin and social connectivity

Orgasm – the most direct line to increased oxytocin, it is produced by both men and women at orgasm. The boost is especially pronounced in loving relationships

Interesting fact: oxytocin is being studied for its potential benefits for autism and increasing empathy and social interaction. It may also be useful for tinnitus, but only preliminary studies have been done.

Dopamine

Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter and hormone that is produced during new and novel experiences. It is a reward based neurotransmitter that increases desire, focus and attention, short term memory, boldness and delight in small details. It can also lead to a lower need for food or sleep and increase risk taking.

It is also a hormone associated with addiction. Dopamine feels good, so we repeat behaviours that encourage dopamine production, even if they have damaging effects on our lives.

Knowing this aspect of dopamine we can focus on building habits that are positive to our overall wellbeing.

Below are some Hormone Hacks to increase the beneficial effects of dopamine.

Try something new – engaging in a new activity will boost dopamine. Traveling to new places, visiting art galleries and trying new and novel activities

Eat something spicy – eating seemingly dangerous foods – spicy, hot, icy, fermented – will all trick your body into a dopamine boost

Take a healthy risk – riding rollercoasters, watching scary movies or playing video games, basically any mildly thrilling activity will increase dopamine

Achieve a goal – even small goals like finishing a book, finishing a chore, winning a game against friends can give you a dopamine edge

Meditation and visualizationmeditation has been found in studies to increase dopamine. And if you aren’t feeling adventurous enough for a rollercoaster, just visualizing the activity can trigger a dopamine release – just as if you were actually doing it!

Serotonin

Another feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin is essential to a balanced, happy mood. It is also necessary for will power, to create long term plans and delay gratification. Serotonin makes us feel like anything is possible.

Serotonin is made both in the brain and in the digestive tract (80-90%). Not only does serotonin impact mood and memory, but also appetite (especially carbohydrate cravings), nausea and bowel function.

Low levels of serotonin are found in impulsivity and depression – but we don’t know if the low serotonin is a cause or effect of depression.

Increasing serotonin is often done through medications (some legal, others not), but there are many natural ways to increase serotonin.

Sunshine – outdoor light, or light boxes (available at some Toronto area libraries, or for personal home use) stimulate serotonin production and vitamin D synthesis, an essential nutrient for serotonin action

Exercise – in addition to making us feel good, exercise improves the function of serotonin in the brain

Massage – another kudos to massage therapy – massage can increase serotonin levels by 28% and decrease the stress hormone cortisol by up to 30%

Eat your greens – vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), found in leafy greens, cauliflower, fish and lean poultry, is an essential nutrient for the production of serotonin. Low levels can lead to low serotonin

Eat legumes – legumes, particularly chickpeas, are high in tryptophan – the amino acid necessary for serotonin production. Other foods high in tryptophan include nuts, seeds, tofu, turkey, lentils, eggs and dairy

Remember happy events – surrounding yourself with positive memories – photos and mementos of happy moments, special occasions, and loved ones, can give you a serotonin surge every time you see them and remember happy times

Hormones really are essential components to our health and happiness. Use these Hormone Hacks to help increase the love and happiness in your life. Got a tip I didn’t include? Please leave it in the comments below.

And if you’re interested in achieving your personal Hormone Harmony, book an appointment now.

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 Labour Induction

As every pregnant woman approaches the last weeks of pregnancy they can’t help but start thinking of ways to bring on labour and get the chance to meet their baby sooner.

A pregnancy is considered full term at 37 weeks and the techniques discussed in this article should not be started until after this point.  Some women choose to wait until 40 weeks, or their due date to begin trying to naturally induce labour.

Below are suggestions for natural labour induction methods that can be attempted at home and also those that should only be administered by a qualified Naturopathic Doctor.

Techniques for Natural Labour Induction at Home

1.     Sexual intercourse

One of the simplest methods of inducing labour (if you’re up for it!)  The prostaglandins in semen can help with the dilating and effacing (thinning) of the cervix.  If you are able to achieve orgasm this can further open the cervix.  Additionally, sex can trigger the release of oxytocin, the ‘contraction’ hormone.  Sex, even this late in pregnancy, is perfectly safe for both the mother and baby.

2.     Nipple stimulation

Stimulating the nipples (manually or with a breast pump) can lead to increased frequency and strength of contractions.  Stimulating the nipples causes the release of oxytocin, the same hormone that is responsible for uterine contraction.  This technique is best done if you are already experiencing infrequent contractions, labour has stalled or you are several days past your due date.  There are several methods that are suggested:

i.   firm pressure of nipple with fingers for 2 minutes, rest for 3 minutes.  Repeat for 20 minutes.

ii.  15 minutes of firm nipple (including the areola) stimulation (alternating breasts midway through) each hour for several hours in a row.

3.     Exercise

Sometimes the best technique for inducing labour is encouraging the baby to assume the best position for labour and delivery.  Exercise, such as walking, swimming, belly dancing, or some yoga movements can help descend a baby into the pelvis and apply the necessary pressure on the cervix for dilation to occur.

4.     Pineapple

Fresh pineapple is a rich source of bromelain, an enzyme that some people think can encourage ripening of the cervix and bring on labour.  Eat fresh pineapple daily, juicing and canning pineapple destroys the bromelain.  Caution: large amounts of pineapple can contribute to heart burn or diarrhea in some people.

5.     Castor Oil

One of the oldest methods of bringing on labour, it is one that I don’t personally recommend unless you are past your due date.  Castor oil works by irritating the digestive tract and having purgative (vomiting) and laxative (diarrhea) effects.  This over-stimulation of the digestive tract also results in stimulation of the uterus and can be effective in bringing on labour.  However, many women would prefer not to be experiencing diarrhea or vomiting in their early labour.  If you choose to use castor oil start with smaller amounts (1-2 tablespoons) and mix with a nut butter (such as almond butter) to provide  some fat and protein to lessen the negative effects of the castor oil.

6.     Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose oil is a rich source of prostaglandins and can support the thinning and dilation of the cervix.  Gel caps are easily available in health food stores.  Insert 3 capsules as close to the cervix as possible each night at bedtime (wear a pad to bed in case there is a slight discharge.)

Techniques for Labour Induction Provided by a Naturopathic Doctor

7.     Red raspberry leaf tea

A botanical that is well known for it’s uterine tonifying properties.  It promotes stronger contractions of the uterus and is often used throughout the entire third trimester to ‘work out’ the uterus and get it ready for labour and delivery.  It is unlikely to induce labour on its own, but when used in combination with other methods it can speed up the progression of labour and promote strong, healthy contractions.

8.     Botanicals – blue cohosh and black cohosh

Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) are uterine tonifying herbs.  They are known to cause contraction of the uterus and are thus contraindicated for use in early pregnancy.   They may be used in certain circumstances to stimulate labour and promote strong and regular contractions.  These herbs should never be taken without proper medical supervision from a qualified Naturopathic Doctor, midwife or obstetrician.

9.     Homeopathic Remedies

Homeopathic remedies are small doses of more potent substances and, as a result, are very safe for use during pregnancy, labour and delivery.  They are considered much safer than botanical remedies – no published studies exist showing any harm to the mother or fetus after use of homeopathics in pregnancy and labour.

The most common homeopathic remedies used to induce labour are pulsatilla, caulophyllum and cimicifuga.  Homeopathic remedies are taken by mouth at regular intervals to induce labour.  Dosages vary – contact your Naturopathic Doctor for an individualized plan.

10. Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been used for centuries to treat conditions associated with pregnancy (such as heart burn, nausea, and carpal tunnel syndrome) as well as for inducing labour.  Acupuncture to stimulate labour can be begun after 37 weeks gestation and is administered from once per week to once per day, depending on the desired outcome.  When performed after the due date, acupuncture has been shown in studies to have a success rate of up to 88% in starting labour.

Specific points are used to stimulate and strengthen uterine contractions, promote proper fetus positioning and encourage the downward movement of Qi (energy) which can bring on labour.

All published studies have shown acupuncture to be safe for both mother and fetus when applied by a qualified practitioner.  Be sure to find someone who is experienced in perinatal acupuncture protocols and techniques.

Your Naturopathic Doctor can also teach you proper acupressure techniques for you, or your birth partner, to administer to induce labour or manage pain during labour and delivery.

Remember, although most of these methods are safe and can be effective in encouraging labour in full-term pregnancies, it is important to make sure your primary health care provider (e.g. midwife or obstetrician) has given you the go-ahead for trying to induce labour.  There are some instances where waiting is the best approach for both mother and baby.

Also be sure any practitioners (Naturopathic Doctors, homeopaths, herbalists, acupuncturists, etc.) are fully qualified and knowledgable in pregnancy and labour.  Not all practitioners have the same level of experience – ask questions and only work with practitioners you have confidence in.

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.

 

Eight Benefits of Hula Hooping

I have an addiction. I don’t try to hide it. It’s an addiction to a sparkly plastic hoop (actually I have about 11 sparkly plastic hoops now!). It’s an addiction to hula hooping and I love it.

Hula hooping began as a child’s toy in 1958 and enjoyed a brief heyday through the late fifties and early sixties. But adults and teens around the world have taken this wonderful toy and given it a renaissance! We are hoopers.

I want to share with you eight reasons you should try hula hooping. It goes far beyond exercise and I want to tell you why.

1. It’s a Full Body Workout

You may think that hula hooping is done mostly on your waist, and while that may be true for beginners, most hula hoopers enjoy using the hoop on their whole body. You can hoop on your chest, shoulders, hips, knees, arms, hands, feet and more. Even just hooping on your waist works as many as 30 different muscles!

2. It Builds a Killer Core

Dr. Watson fire hula hooping #dangerfunWaist hooping works your core like no other exercise. Using muscles both in your abdomen (upper and lower abdominal muscles) as well as muscles in your back you can strengthen the core as well as burn nasty abdominal fat.

3. Hooping Burns a Crazy Amount of Calories

The amazing team over at the American Council on Exercise did a study that showed waist hooping can burn over 400 calories per hour. To give you some perspective that’s similar to an hour of tennis, hiking, stationary rowing or elliptical training.

4. Hooping Gets Your Heart Pumping

Cardiovascular exercise (aka “cardio”, aka “aerobic exercise”) results in improved heart health by both strengthening and enlarging the heart muscle, allowing it to pump more efficiently and reducing both heart rate and blood pressure. Engaging in cardiovascular exercise has been shown to have many benefits for lifelong health and can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Who knew a hoop could do all that?

5. Hooping Improves Hand-Eye Coordination

I don’t know about you, but this was something I was not expecting when I picked up my first hoop! But looking around at all the amazing hoopers in my hoop class I knew I needed to learn some tricks!   From hand hooping to doubles and escalators and vortexes, you really challenge your brain and your body and build those neural connections that will last you a lifetime. It’s just like riding a bike!

6. Improves Flexibility

Hula hooping can improve flexibility of your spine, hips and entire body. Waist hooping is a rhythmic movement requiring purposeful (but not rigid!) back and forward, or side to side, movements. As you progress in your skill as a hooper you improve flexibility, not just through your core but through your hips, chest, shoulders and extremities.Dr. Watson hula hooping

7. Connect Your Mind and Body

The relaxation response that is elicited during yoga and meditation can also be achieved with rhythmic aerobic exercise – like hula hooping! The movement of hooping can be very meditative and it’s easy to spend 30 minutes with your hoop, connecting to your body and the music while relaxing and de-stressing your mind.

8. Hula Hooping Brings Happiness

There is no better reason to try hula hooping than that it is fun. There may be many many health benefits to hooping, but the reason that most of us pick up our hoops day after day is that we feel happy while we’re hooping. For me hula hooping brings out a spontaneous playful side that I’ve brought into my life as a mother, wife and doctor. I tell people that hooping boosts my Qi – the life force inside all of us. I feel more happy and more alive when I’m hooping regularly.

And the hooping community is amazing as well! I’ve made friends from Toronto and around the world through hula hooping. I dare you to try it and not love it!

References:

Holthusen, Jordan, John Porcari, Carl Foster, Scott Doberstein, and Mark Anders. “ACE-sponsored Research: HOOPING– Effective Workout or Child’s Play?.” American Council on Exercise: Fitness. Available online at: http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1094/

*All featured photos are of Dr. Watson and her hula hoops.

Dr. Watson hoops in Toronto with HooperSonic and Sugar Hoops 

 

Managing Gestational Diabetes Naturally

The incidence of gestational diabetes (carbohydrate intolerance that is first identified during pregnancy) is increasing.  With up to 10% of pregnancies affected this is becoming a major health concern in North America.

Diagnosing Gestational Diabetes

It is standard practice in North America to screen all women for gestational diabetes using the oral glucose challenge test (GCT)  While this universal screening is controversial (the benefits of screening all pregnant women are not established, and there is a high rate of women testing positive for gestational diabetes who do not, in fact, have this condition) it is still common practice for women to be screened between 24 and 28 weeks.

Not every pregnant woman needs to be screened for gestational diabetes.  You have the option to decline this screening test.  However, all pregnant women with risk factors for developing gestational diabetes should be screened with the GCT.  Risk factors include:

  • Glucose in the urine (found on routine urinalysis)Naturopathic Treatment of Gestational Diabetes
  • Diabetes in a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child)
  • History of glucose intolerance, including gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Previous infant with high birth weight

A high blood sugar level (greater than 7.8mmol/L or 140mg/dL) after the GCT is not diagnostic and does not mean you have gestational diabetes.  A diagnosis can only be made after a 100g three-hour oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT).

In Canada, to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes following the 100g three-hour OGTT you must exceed two or more of the following blood sugar values:

Fasting:                                                 95mg/dL             or            5.3mmol/L

          One hour after glucose load:          180mg/dL            or            10.0mmol/L

          Two hours after glucose load:         155mg/dL            or             8.6mmol/L

                   Three hours after glucose load:      140mg/dL            or             7.8mmol/L

Large babies and gestational diabetes

Complications of Gestational Diabetes

The potential risks of unmanaged gestational diabetes include:

  • Large birth weight babies and increased risk of shoulder dystocia and other birth traumas (including brachial plexus injury)
  • Higher rate of Caesarean section
  • Postnatal infant hypoglycemia
  • Increased risk of mother developing Type II Diabetes

Naturopathic Treatment for Gestational Diabetes

While I don’t believe that all pregnant women should undergo the glucose challenge testing, there are benefits to managing blood sugar during pregnancy and this should be a priority regardless of a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.

Here are my tips for managing blood sugar for all pregnant women, including those with gestational diabetes.

  1. Avoid simple sugars.  No “white” foods – no white bread, white pasta, white rice.  Avoid candies, cookies, cakes and other confections.
  2. Eat regular meals.  Eat at the same time every day.  Eat every three hours.
  3. Never consume a carbohydrate without a protein or fat.  For example: if you are eating an apple have some almond butter, almonds or yogurt at the same time.
  4. Increase dietary fiber.  Have a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with every meal.  Mix ground flaxseeds with applesauce or yogurt or sprinkle on salads, rice, etc.  Ideally, grind your flaxseeds at home with a coffee grinder rather than purchasing them pre-ground.  If you do purchase pre-ground flaxseeds, keep them in the freezer for freshness.
  5. Swimming for gestational diabetesEat the majority of your carbohydrates at lunch rather than breakfast or dinner.  Keep portions of carbohydrate foods small (one slice of whole grain bread, one half cup of brown rice, one half cup of whole wheat or brown rice pasta, one half cup of quinoa, etc.)
  6. Exercise for at least thirty continuous minutes once or twice per day.  A walk is an easy way to do this but you could consider swimming or yoga or other activities to keep it interesting and to engage other muscles (insulin is used by skeletal muscles – get those muscles using it!)

For gestational diabetes specifically, inositol is a supplement that can be used safely in pregnancy and has been found in studies to improve insulin sensitivity and decrease glucose levels.  It takes a few weeks for maximal effects so see your Naturopathic Doctor as soon as you are aware of abnormal blood glucose levels to gain control over your blood sugar faster.

Gestational diabetes is usually well managed with diet, exercise and simple supplements.  In rare cases where drugs are necessary your Naturopathic Doctor can continue to provide support with lifestyle and dietary counseling and stress management to ensure you and your baby are healthy throughout pregnancy and beyond.

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.

Six Natural Treatments for Menopause

Menopause is the natural transition out of the childbearing years of a woman’s life.  So why is this natural transition often treated with synthetic hormones that have increase your risk for stroke, pulmonary embolism, coronary artery disease and breast cancer?

Symptoms of menopause begin for most women between 46-55 years of age and can persist for 2-20 years (8 years is average).  With the risks associated with synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT) more and more women are looking for natural alternatives.  Learn more about six of the top recommended natural treatments for menopause and how they may help you transition smoothly through menopause.

Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)

Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)

Black cohosh is one of the most important and popular natural remedies for menopause.  Several large studies have found that daily use of black cohosh for a minimum of 8 weeks improved symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, night sweats, headaches, insomnia, mood swings, irritability and vaginal dryness.

Black cohosh is often self-prescribed but should be used under supervision of a Naturopathic Doctor.  Studies suggest that the effectiveness of black cohosh can be increased by combining it with other natural treatments.

Isoflavones

Isoflavones are compounds found in plants that have estrogen-like actions in humans.  They are also known as “phytoestrogens”.  Clinical studies have shown that isoflavones can reduce symptoms of hot flashes and vaginal dryness in menopause.

Additionally some isoflavones (particularly those in soy) are also effective preventative agents for certain types of cancer, including breast cancer.  Isoflavones also protect the body against heart disease, increase good (HDL) cholesterol, decrease bad (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, and help prevent osteoporosis.

Isoflavones are most commonly found in combination with other phytoestrogens.  A diet high in soy may also provide a significant amount of isoflavones, especially if fermented soy products like natto or miso are consumed.  Do not take soy based isoflavones, or consume a high soy diet if you have a history of thyroid disease.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red clover is a popular phytoestrogen supplement for management of menopausal symptoms.  It is most effective for hot flashes and night sweats.  It contains isoflavones so also has many of the same benefits listed above (decreasing bad cholesterol, prevention of osteoporosis).

There are multiple drug-herb interactions for red clover, so it should only be taken under supervision by a Naturopathic Doctor.  Red clover interacts with blood thinners and antivirals and may not be appropriate if you are taking these medications.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C and citrus bioflavonoids are known to improve the integrity of blood vessels and promote healthy blood flow.  This has been shown in preliminary studies to improve symptoms of hot flashes.  Vitamin C is also incredibly safe and can be taken in food form.  Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, papaya, bell pepper, strawberries, cauliflower and dark green leafy vegetables.

Exercise

Exercise should be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle during the menopausal transition and beyond.  A list of some of the benefits of exercise in menopause are listed below.  Exercise has been demonstrated in clinical studies to improve quality of life in menopausal symptoms, and decreases the frequency and severity of hot flashes.  A combination of weight bearing and aerobic exercise at least 3.5 hours per week is recommended for women in menopause and postmenopausal women.

Health Benefits of Regular Exercise in Menopause           

  • Relief from hot flashes
  • Decreased bone loss
  • Improved cardiovascular function and circulation
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased cholesterol levels
  • Increased self-esteem, mood, endurance and energy levels

Acupuncture

The natural menopause treatment that has been getting the most media attention is acupuncture.  Acupuncture, when individually tailored to a woman’s menopausal symptoms can be extremely effective in decreasing discomfort and relieving symptoms.  A range of 6 to 12 sessions over an 8 to 12 week period should be used to determine if acupuncture will be effective.

As with all natural therapies, the most effective approach is an integrative one.  Consultation with a qualified Naturopathic Doctor who can tailor a treatment plan to your symptoms, current health and lifestyle will allow you to reap all the benefits natural therapies have to offer.

Disclaimer

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

References

Osmers R, Friede M, Liske E, et al: Efficacy and safety of isopropanolic black cohosh extract for climacteric symptoms.  Obstet Gynecol  2005; 105:1074-1083

Wuttke W, Seidlova-Wuttke D, Gorkow C: The Cimicifuga preparation BNO 1055 vs. conjugated estrogens in a double-blind placebo-controlled study: Effects on menopause symptoms and bone markers.  Maturitas  2003; 44 (Suppl 1):S67-S77.

Tice JA, et al: Phytoestrogen supplements for the treatment of hot flashes: The Isoflavone Clover Extract (ICE) Study: A randomized controlled trial.  JAMA  2003; 290:207-214.

Wyon Y, et al: A comparison of acupuncture and oral estradiol treatment of vasomotor symptoms in postmenopausal women.  Climacteric  2004; 7:153-164.

Lindh-Astrand L, Nedstrand E, Wyon Y, Hammar M: Vasomotor symptoms and quality of life in previously sedentary postmenopausal women randomised to physical activity or estrogen therapy.  Maturitas  2004; 48:97-105.

Nachtigall L, La Grega L, Lee W, Fenichel R. The effects of isoflavones derived from red clover on vasomotor symptoms and endometrial thickness. In: Proceedings of the 9th International Menopause Society World Congress on the Menopause. Yokohama, Japan: 1999.

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

Spring Cleansing Can Be Simple

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

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

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

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

1. Drink water

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

lime2. Eat clean

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

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

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

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

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

5. Eat a rainbow.

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

6. Discover whole grains.

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

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

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

8. Choose healthy snacks and enjoy them frequently.

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

9. Do alternating showers every morning.

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

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

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

11. Drink tea (instead of coffee).

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

Exercise for your mind and body

12. Go outside and exercise.

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

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

Disclaimer

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

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

 

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

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

2. Make your bedroom quiet, dark and cool

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

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

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

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

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

5. Don’t nap, or nap appropriately

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

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

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

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

7. Develop a sleep ritual before bedtime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional sleep resources:

BBC Documentary:  Ten Things You Need to Know About Sleep

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

Disclaimer:

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