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Natural Treatment of PCOS

PCOS is the most common hormone imbalance impacting women and teenage girls. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, meaning “multiple ovarian cysts” can start soon after puberty and can persist for years. For some women it starts later – but for all women and teenage girls, it can be an incredibly frustrating, and sometimes painful condition.

WTF is PCOS?

Ovarian cysts occur when ovulation doesn’t occur as it is supposed to. In every cycle each ovary stimulates a number of follicles to develop, one of which will release an egg at ovulation. In PCOS the follicles are stimulated to grow (totally normal), but they do not respond to the hormonal cue to release an egg at ovulation. Instead they continue to grow and form cysts within the ovary.

There are many reasons why you may not respond appropriately to the hormones and instead form ovarian cysts – you can learn more about the types of PCOS in this article.

How Do I Know If I Have PCOS?

I talk about the diagnosis of PCOS in this article, but these are the most common symptoms that may suggest a diagnosis of PCOS:

  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Infertility
  • Hair growth on the upper lip or chin
  • Hair loss from the head
  • Acne – especially on the body or on the “beard distribution” of the face
  • Weight gain or excess weight around the abdomen

If you have a family member with PCOS, you are more likely to develop it. So talk to your mom, sister, aunts and grandmothers to see if you have a family history.

If you suspect you may have PCOS, then discuss it with your MD or ND and get an appropriate diagnosis.

What Causes PCOS?

PCOS is the result of failed ovulations – so the cause can be anything that disrupts healthy ovulation. Hormone imbalances stemming from the pituitary gland, the thyroid, the adrenal glands or pancreas can all cause PCOS. Insulin resistance – when your cells no longer respond to the hormone insulin – is probably the most common hormone imbalance that leads to PCOS.

How is PCOS Treated?

In conventional care, PCOS is most often treated with the birth control pill. Other choices, like spironolactone or metformin, are also suggested if acne or insulin resistance are present. However, many women are successfully choosing a more empowered approach to treating their PCOS through diet, exercise and some health supporting supplements.

Diet and Lifestyle

While not every woman with PCOS is overweight, if you are, losing weight is an important goal. Losing as little as 5% of your body weight can reverse insulin resistance, promote ovulation and decrease testosterone (less acne and chin/lip hair!)

I go into great detail on the basics of the PCOS Diet in this article – also available as a fun infographic! Check it out for all the information you need.

Vitamins and Minerals

Many different supplements can be used for managing PCOS. These are best selected by working with your ND – knowing what your hormone imbalance is will allow you to choose those supplements most likely to work for you. Here are a few of the most helpful options:

Vitamin B6 – can help balance prolactin levels, a hormone often elevated in PCOS.

Chromium – essential for proper blood sugar regulation. Taking chromium (also known as insulin tolerance factor) increases the uptake of glucose into cells, decreasing insulin resistance.

Vitamin D – essential for healthy ovulation. Every Canadian is deficient during the winter months, and supplementation is often needed to correct that deficiency.

Herbal Medicines

Plant medicines can be incredibly powerful medicines, especially when it comes to supporting hormone balance. It depends on your type of PCOS what herbal medicines may be recommended.

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) – an incredibly effective hormone balancer, saw palmetto decreases the conversion of testosterone to its more powerful form, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This makes saw palmetto an excellent choice in the treatment of acne, hair loss, and facial hair growth.

Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) – one of the best known herbal medicines for PCOS, chaste tree lowers prolactin levels and raises progesterone levels. It can also restore regular ovulation, the main issue in PCOS!

Other Natural Supplements

A few honourable mentions are necessary in any discussion of PCOS – treatments that have excellent research and deserve to be considered in any woman seeking a more empowered approach to her PCOS.

Inositol – a B-like vitamin, inositol has many benefits for PCOS – it decreases insulin resistance, decreases testosterone levels and helps to promote regular ovulation. It is a super-star for PCOS treatment.

Berberine – compared in studies to metformin, berberine has powerful actions on blood sugar regulation and insulin resistance. It can reduce testosterone, and androgens. Women taking berberine also achieved greater weight loss in some studies.

Next Steps

Knowing that there are a great many different options for the treatment of PCOS, some women can feel overwhelmed by information. This is one of the many benefits of working with a Naturopathic Doctor. Your ND can help you understand your individual hormone imbalance and guide you to the treatments that will be most effective for you.

Remember, any hormone imbalance will take time to resolve. Start taking the steps now to achieve your healthy hormone balance.

Disclaimer

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

 

66 Vegan Proteins

Raise your hand if anyone has every responded to your vegan diet with the question “but how do you get enough protein??” I can’t see your hands – but I KNOW a lot of them are in the air (wave them around a bit while they’re up there… just for fun.) It is absolutely the most common question I get asked. But in my 30 years of eating a vegetarian diet, and 10 years as a Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto I have gotten really good at answering this question!

And today I’m sharing with you the most complete list of vegan (and vegetarian) proteins I have ever compiled. I hope that it will give you confidence to respond to all those people who question the protein density of a healthy vegan or vegetarian diet.

But first – how much protein do you need??

A general guideline is 0.8g per kg of body weight.  I suggest that vegans aim a bit higher – around 1g per kg of body weight to account for the lack of certain amino acids in various vegan proteins.  More on this later… read on…

And now, lets get into it!

66 Vegan Proteins

Beans

Black beans
1 cup*: 15g protein

With 15g of protein and 15g of fiber, black beans are a sure fire way to keep you feeling full and energized.

Garbanzo beans (Chick peas)
1 cup: 15g protein  

Most of the fiber in chickpeas is insoluble, meaning it passes through your body unchanged until it reaches your large intestine where the healthy bacteria metabolize it into short chain fatty acids needed to support your intestinal wall. This can help to reduce the incidence of colon cancer, while also keeping you feeling full and having healthy bowel movements.

Kidney beans
1 cup: 15g protein  

Full of molybdenum, essential for detoxifying sulfites (hello wine), kidney beans are also a super source of fiber and protein.

Lima beans
1 cup: 15g protein 

Buttery and a good source of manganese, essential for energy production, lima beans also provide nearly a quarter of your daily iron – bonus!

Miso
1 cup soup: 6g protein 

One of my personal favourites, a cup of miso soup gives a respectable 6g of protein. I like to have a cup in the mid-afternoon to boost energy instead of coffee or tea.

Navy beans
1 cup: 15g protein

Navy beans are small white beans (it got its name not from its colour, but from its popularity with the US Navy!) and are a great source of vitamin B1 which is essential for memory and concentration.

Pinto beans
1 cup: 15g protein 

Pretty pink polka dotted pinto beans provide an excellent source of potassium, which can help keep your blood pressure and stroke risk low.

Soy beans (Edamame)
1 cup: 25g protein 

Unique among the beans, soy beans are not deficient in methionine, and are considered a complete protein (containing all the essential amino acids humans need).

Tempeh
1 cup: 31g protein

A source of highly bioavailable calcium, tempeh can provide a healthy source of calcium to vegans and dairy-free vegetarians. Fermented soy foods, like tempeh, also provide bone supporting vitamin K.

Tofu
1 cup: 20g protein (firm tofu) 

With increasing protein with increased firmness, firm and extra firm tofu are powerhouses of protein. Soft tofu is also excellent for desserts and to provide a creamy texture to soups.

White kidney beans (Cannellini beans)
1 cup: 12g protein

The delicious relative of the navy bean, cannellini beans are high in fiber and protein and make delicious dips and spreads as well as being a superstar in soups.

*All portions are for cooked beans

Lentils

Brown lentils
1 cup*: 18g

Along with beans and peas, lentils are a member of the legume family. Full of fiber and folate, lentils are also a great source of iron.

Green lentils
1 cup: 18g protein

A more sturdy member of the lentil family, green lentils are excellent in soups and salads, providing a hearty filling protein and loads of fiber.

Red lentils
1 cup: 18g protein

All lentils are high in lysine, but deficient in cysteine and methionine, making them an incomplete protein. Combined with healthy whole grains these little wonders provide a dynamic duo of vegan protein.

 

*All portions are for cooked lentils

Peas

Black eyed peas
1 cup: 4g protein

Thought to bring luck if eaten on New Years Day, black eyed peas also provide around 2mg of iron and half of your daily folate needs.

Green peas
1 cup: 7g protein 

Who knew these little spheres could pack such a powerful punch? An good source of iron (2mg per cup), peas are also a source of coumestrol – a compound that has been found to lower the risk of stomach cancer.

Split peas
1 cup: 16g protein 

Split peas, or dried peas, are known sources of healthy hormone balancing isoflavones, like daidzein, that help to reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancers.

 

Nuts

Almonds
1/4 cup: 5g protein 

Almonds are an excellent source of manganese and copper – two cofactors necessary for energy production in our cells. All packaged together in a delicious little nut – thanks Nature!

Brazil nuts
1/4 cup: 5g protein

In Brazil it is illegal to cut down a Brazil nut tree – and many nuts we eat come from wild collection rather than plantations. Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, an essential nutrient for immune and thyroid health, and one that is often deficient in North American soils.

Cashews
1/4 cup: 6g protein 

Did you know, cashews are actually the seed of the cashew apple?? I had no idea. Learning something new every day. Cashews are lower in fat than other nuts, and most of their fats are the heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids.

Hazelnuts (Filberts)
1/4 cup: 5g protein 

While they may be best known for their infamous chocolate-hazelnut spread, one serving of hazelnuts provides 100% of your daily needs for vitamin E – one of our most important antioxidants.

Macadamia nuts
1/4 cup: 3g protein  

One of the highest fat nuts (and one of the most delicious), macadamia nuts can provide you with a full dose of vitamin B1, necessary for turning protein and carbohydrates into energy. Delicious and energy rich!

Peanuts
1/4 cup: 9g protein 

Higher in protein than most other nuts, peanuts are also an excellent source of biotin – a B vitamin essential for healthy hair and nails. Keep in mind most commercial peanut butters are full of sugar, so opt for shelled peanuts or 100% peanut butters.

Pecans
1/4 cup: 2.5g protein  

No matter how you pronounce it, pecans are one of North American’s favourite nuts.   Most often used in sweet treats, pecans can provide a bit of vegan protein and a healthy wallop of manganese to keep your energy up!

Pine nuts
1/4 cup: 4.5g protein 

With nearly 2mg of iron in each ¼ cup of pine nuts, these savoury bites are a great vegan food. Known mostly for their presence in pesto, pine nuts can also be sprinkled on salads and stir fry.

Pistachios
1/4 cup: 6g protein 

The pleasure of eating pistachios from the shell is increased by knowing that a serving of pistachios can give you half of your daily amount of vitamin B6. B6 is a vitamin essential for hormone balance and the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with happiness.

Walnuts
1/4 cup: 5g protein 

Walnuts may not be the most delicious nut, they may have the distinction of being the healthiest nut. Richest in omega 3 fatty acids, walnuts also have high amounts of gamma tocopherol – a type of vitamin E that is incredibly protective for our hearts.

Seeds      

Chia seed
2 tbsp: 4g protein 

Ok, who still feels like they are butchering their childhood chia pet? Just me… that’s ok too. One way or another chia seeds are finding their way into our lives! The best way to enjoy chia is in your morning smoothie or to make super yummy chia pudding – pudding for breakfast and dessert? And 4g of protein? Yes please!

Flax seed
2 tbsp: 2.5g protein

The best vegan source of omega 3 fatty acids, flax seeds are a powerhouse of nutritional benefits for plant based diets. Add to smoothies, sprinkle ground flaxseed on oatmeal or salads, or just about anything!

Hemp seed
2 tbsp: 10g protein 

They aren’t going to get you high, but they will give you some stellar omega fatty acids and a massive hit of protein as well! Unlike flaxseeds they don’t need to be ground for us to digest them, just sprinkle them on your foods, or throw them in your smoothie for a powerful protein punch

Pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp: 2g protein 

One of the top plant sources for zinc, a nutrient essential for thinking and for immune function, a ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds (10g of protein!) will also give you a few mg (2.8) of iron as well! A healthy plant based snack or a tasty addition to salads.

Sesame seeds
2 tbsp: 3g protein 

Open (your mouth to) sesame!! (Funny? Not funny? I chuckled a little…) Sesame seeds may be small, but they are a great source of vegan calcium and can easily be added to just about any food for a mild nutty taste.

Sunflower seeds
2 tbsp: 4g protein  

Has anyone ever told you to eat sunflower seeds because you burn more energy cracking them than you get from eating them? Well sadly that isn’t true (you’d only burn around 70 calories and a cup of sunflower seeds has nearly 270 calories). But don’t let that stop you! Sunflower seeds are rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant vitamin E.

Poppy seeds
2 tbsp: 3g protein 

Step aside hemp seed, if you want to get high this might be the seed for you. Well, not really… While the opiate compounds in poppy seeds can cause you to fail a drug test, the tiny amounts (around 0.5-10 mcg per gram) of morphine are no where near the amount necessary to produce anything close to a high (5000 to 30 000mcg). So sprinkle away without any fear (or hope) of intoxication!

Grains

Amaranth
1/2 cup*: 4.5g protein  

A complete protein (unusual amongst the grains), amaranth provides all the essential amino acids. As a whole grain (germ intact!), amaranth has a decent amount of fiber (5g) and B vitamins to help you turn your food into energy.

Barley
1/2 cup: 3g protein 

Nourishing, filling barley gives you a healthy dose of fiber, and the high magnesium content may help to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

Buckwheat
1/2 cup: 3g protein 

A diet high in unrefined grains, like many of those on this list, has been found to reduce the incidence of gallstones in women. This is likely why vegans have a lower risk than the average population!

Bulgur
1/2 cup: 3g protein 

A type of wheat, bulgur should be avoided by those with celiac disease or known gluten intolerance. If you can tolerate it, it makes a nice substitution for rice.

Ezekiel bread
2 slices: 8g protein

“Take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, put them in one vessel and make them into bread for yourself” – Ezekiel 4:9. This biblical recipe makes for one delicious and nutritious bread. Containing all 9 essential amino acids, this sprouted bread is also easy to digest. Look for it in the freezer at your grocery store.

Farro
1/2 cup: 4g protein

One of the many foods on this list you may not have heard of, farro is an ancient wheat grain with an amazing nutty taste. As a member of the wheat family, it does contain gluten.

Freekeh
1/2 cup: 12g protein

Another wheat cousin with a fun sounding name, Freekeh, also known as Farik, has more protein than many of the other grains on this list. It’s also high in zinc and iron. But remember, as a member of the wheat family it does contain gluten.

Kamut
1/2 cup: 5.5g protein 

Yet another wheat (is anyone keeping a tally??), kamut is a gluten-containing grain that is so ancient it has been found in pharaoh’s tombs. Excellent as a replacement or companion for barley in soups and salads.

Millet
1/2 cup: 3g protein 

You may be feeding it to the birds in your garden, but maybe you should consider keeping some of the millet for yourself. Millet makes an excellent breakfast porridge or enjoy it (in moderation) as the popular roti flatbread.

Oats
1/2 cup: 5g

We all recognize this whole grain! And those of us who eat oatmeal regularly may also have a smaller waist circumference according to some studies. Go for the steel cut oats rather than the processed oats for maximal health benefits.

Rice
1/2 cup: 2.5g

Brown rice and white rice are essentially the same grain, but with white rice the nutritional hull is removed, destroying the vast majority of nutrients in the rice. So stick with brown rice and get all the B1, B3 and B6 rice has to offer.

Rye bread
2 slices: 5g 

Unlike wheat, rye is difficult to separate from the hull, leading to a higher fiber gluten-containing bread. While bread should only be consumed in moderation, a bit of rye can provide protein and double the fiber of wheat bread.

Seitan
1/2 cup: 31g protein  

Many of the grains listed here contain gluten, but seitan IS gluten – sometimes it is even called gluten (or wheat meat or wheat protein). Made by isolating the gluten from wheat, seitan is more meat-like than most other vegan proteins and is popular in vegan restaurants.

Sorghum
1/2 cup: 8g protein 

A gluten-free ancient grain, sorghum is hearty and chewy (similar to quinoa) and is fantastic in pilafs and risottos. Also a good source of vegan iron (4mg per ½ cup!)

Spelt bread
2 slices: 6g protein  

Yet another member of the wheat family (contains gluten), spelt is often used to make bread and other baked goods instead of traditional wheat. Spelt has more niacin, copper, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus than wheat, meaning that choosing spelt bread may give you an edge over your old fashioned wheat bread.

Teff
1/2 cup: 5g protein  

Technically a seed rather than a grain, teff is native to Ethiopia. It cooks up similar to quinoa, but cooks a bit faster (great for a quick dinner!) Teff is a great source of manganese, which helps you make energy to keep you going all day.

Triticale
1/2 cup: 12g protein 

The laboratory love child of wheat and rye (brought to us by 19th century Scottish and German scientists), triticale is higher in protein and lower in gluten than wheat (but keep in mind it still does contain gluten). A sturdy grain, it makes an excellent salad or cereal.

Quinoa
1/2 cup: 4g protein

Remember when no one knew what quinoa was? Oh, the simpler times of 5 years ago… who knows which of the foods on this list will rise to superstardom next (remember you read about them first here!) Quinoa is also a seed, rather than a grain, and has the full amino acid profile needed to be considered a complete protein.

Wheat (whole)
2 slices: 7g protein
1/2 cup pasta: 4-7g protein  

The most commonly consumed grain in North America, wheat provides the majority of its protein in the form of gluten, a no-no for celiacs and those with gluten intolerance. White bread, a highly processed form of wheat, only provides 3g of protein for 2 slices.

Wheat berries
1/2 cup: 6.5g protein 

Wheat berries, not actually a berry, but actually a whole grain form of what, are what wheat looks like before it undergoes any processing. Wheat berries take a while to cook but stand up amazingly well in grain salads.

Wild rice
1/2 cup: 3g protein  

Another misnomer in this category is wild rice. Not actually a rice at all, wild rice is an aquatic grass that can be grown in lakes in Canada and the US. Wild rice doesn’t have the full complement of amino acids to be a complete protein, similar to many of the other grains, but combined with beans can be an excellent addition to your diet.

*All portions are for cooked grains

Vegetables

Artichokes
1 cup: 6g protein

Delicious, and completely worth the effort, artichokes are one of the top protein containing vegetables. Some early research also suggests that artichokes have the potential to lower cholesterol – an added bonus to an already delicious food.

Asparagus
1 cup: 4g protein 

A good source of quercetin, asparagus could help to reduce allergy symptoms – important since asparagus is freshest during the Spring when allergy season kicks in for many sufferers.

Avocado
1 cup: 4g protein

Best known for its healthy fats, avocado can also provide you with a nice bump in your daily protein intake. With 1 avocado providing around 4g of protein you will be looking at your avocado toast with newfound respect.

Broccoli
1 cup: 4g protein  

Love it or hate it, broccoli is a stellar anti-inflammatory with the ability to suppress inflammation with its high content of isothiocyanates (that’s a mouthful). Better yet, get a mouthful of broccoli – or the other types of broccoli like broccoli rabe or rapini.

Brussels sprouts
1 cup: 4g protein 

Lots of research has been published looking at the cancer risk reducing impact of eating Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts support three essential actions in reducing cancer risk – detoxification, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

Corn
1 cup: 3g protein 

Perhaps not the healthiest option on this list, corn is also not in the right category. Technically a grain, since we all treat it like a vegetable I’ve opted to stick it here. Corn isn’t particularly dense in any nutrient, so use it sparingly and opt for fresh corn over processed corn foods.

Guava
1 cup: 4.2g protein  

Guava is a fruit that is ready to come to the table. With the highest amount of protein of all the fruits (and more than many of the veggies on the list), maybe we should be making space for guava in the fruit bowl more often!

Kale
1 cup: 2.5g protein  

Is there anything kale can’t do? It’s the superhero of vegetables everywhere. And with the highest content of lutein, a eye healthy antioxidant, you could spend a long happy life looking at all that kale in your shopping basket.

Mushrooms
1 cup: 2g protein 

A potential source of vegan B12 (scientists are still hotly debating this issue), mushrooms are also a good source of eight different vitamins and six minerals, including zinc for immune health and DNA replication.

Spinach
1 cup: 5g protein  

We all love spinach as a source of vegan iron, magnesium and folate, in addition to a nice selection of B vitamins, but spinach also has a nice amount of protein. And it’s so easy to incorporate into smoothies, salads, soups, and more!

Spirulina
1 tbsp: 4g protein

This seaweed is about 60% protein so a little bit can go a long way towards helping you meet your daily protein requirements. With a unique mineral profile, providing calcium, iron, magnesium and iodine, spirulina can support metabolism and energy production.

           

Protein Combining

Just a quick note on protein combining. Many vegan proteins are not complete proteins – meaning they are lacking one or more of the 9 essential amino acids necessary for human health. Nutrients are considered essential when we can’t make them ourselves and need to consume them in our diet. The nine essential amino acids are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

In general beans are deficient in methionine and grains are deficient in lysine and threonine. In order to balance the amino acids you should aim to consume foods in both these categories each day – it doesn’t have to be in the same meal, but aim to provide your body with balanced amino acids every day.

Food Deficient Amino Acid Complementary food
Beans and legumes Methionine Grains, nuts, seeds
Grains Lysine, threonine Beans and legumes
Nuts and seeds Lysine Beans and legumes
Vegetables Methionine Grains, nuts, seeds
Corn Tryptophan, lysine Beans and legumes

 

Did I miss any of your favourite vegan proteins? Let me know in the comments below!

 

QUIZ! Do you have a Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

B12 deficiency is one of the MOST common nutrient deficiencies – and one that is not taken as seriously as it should be.  Vitamin B12 is essential for the synthesis of DNA – which is only important in cells that have DNA (i.e. ALL OF THEM).  If you don’t have B12, your cells can’t divide and grow appropriately and you feel terrible.

B12 is also essential for the healthy of the nervous system, being essential for the formation of myelin – the protective coating around our nerve cells.

B12 is also necessary for carbohydrate metabolism – using sugar for food in both the nervous system and to create abundant energy in our bodies.

If you are concerned your B12 levels may be low, take the quiz below.  If you answer YES to more than SIX questions, get your tired ass to your Naturopath for a blood test.  And if you know your B12 levels are low, do something about it!  It may be as simple as a daily supplement, or it may require B12 injections.  Talk to your ND to determine the best course of action for you. 

 

 

 

 

 

B12 Deficiency Quiz

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:

British Columbia Medical Association. B12 Deficiency – Investigation and Management of Vitamin B12 and Folate Deficiency. Victoria, Canada: Guidelines and Protocols Advisory Committee; 2007.

First Consult: Megaloblastic Anemia  www.mdconsult.com

Rakel: Textbook of Family Medicine, 7th Ed.  2007.  Common Laboratory Testing.

 

The Empowered Woman’s Guide to Yeast Infections

If you have been reading my blog (yay you!), then you know my core mission is to empower women to demand more from their health. No more accepting mediocrity in our bodies and our wellness. You CAN feel better.

And the one condition I am constantly amazed that women are living with, without successful treatment, are yeast infections.

Ladies! You don’t have to live like this. If this is your first yeast infection, congratulations. You are going to learn how to deal with this right, the first time. If this is your third, or fourth, or fortieth – I am so glad you are here. Because we are going to get into some serious action-oriented information that you need to learn.

So let’s do this.

 

What is a Yeast Infection

A yeast infection is an overgrowth of yeast, usually Candida albicans that causes irritation to the vagina and vulva. Also known as VVC (vulvovaginal candidiasis), candida is most often self diagnosed and treated with over the counter creams and capsules.

While most women think of a yeast infection when they experience a thick, whitish discharge, only 20% of cases actually have this symptom.   The more common symptoms of a yeast infection are itching, swelling of the vulva and pain on urination (especially after peeing).

What is NOT a Yeast Infection

While most women self diagnose yeast infections, there are a number of imbalances that can occur in the lady garden that look like yeast infections, but aren’t.

Vaginitis – an infection of the vagina with inflammation. A yeast infection is a type of vaginitis, but this can also be caused by other infections, like trichomoniasis.

Vaginosis – the overgrowth of vaginal bacteria without inflammation. Most commonly caused by Gardnerella, BV (bacterial vaginosis) is incredibly common – even more so than yeast infections. But that is the subject of another article (coming very soon!)

Other conditions that are not yeast infections – contact irritation, allergic reactions, atrophic vaginitis, menopausal dryness, cytolytic vaginosis (Write this article too) and sexually transmitted illnesses like Chlamydia and gonorrhea.

What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You About Yeast Infections

Yeast infections don’t need to be difficult to treat. They don’t need to be recurrent. The problem is that doctors aren’t offering complete solutions to women with yeast infections.

When you talk to your MD about yeast infections, most often you are told to take an over-the-counter antifungal medication that will kill the yeast. Sounds ok right? Well, no… not right.

Killing the yeast is important, there is no doubt about that. But killing the yeast does nothing to change the environment that the yeast was growing in. And since yeast is everywhere (yeast spores are airborne – you are going to be exposed to them both in your environment and from your digestive tract every day of your life) if you don’t change the environment, you’ll like just get another yeast infection.

The Empowered Approach to Yeast Infection Treatment

I’m going to present you with my empowered approach to fighting yeast infections. It takes a bit longer than the typical over-the-counter remedies – but it works a lot better. So if you’re ready to conquer candida, for once and for all, read on.

  1. Pay attention to pH

The healthy normal pH of the vaginal tract is around a 3.8-4.5. When you have candida (or BV), that pH can be increased above a 4.5. This occurs due to a change in the healthy bacteria, Lactobacillus, that should be the main bacteria in the vagina.

If you want to resolve your yeast infection, you need to pay attention to pH. If you optimize the normal, acidic pH of the vaginal tract, the yeast and nasty bacteria can’t thrive and the lactobacillus species can.

The best way to do this is with boric acid suppositories. Boric acid sounds scary – but remember, the vaginal tract is meant to be acidic. Using boric acid will restore the optimal pH and support the healthy bacteria populations. Made by a local compounding pharmacist, boric acid is simple to use and very effective.

  1. Eradicate the yeast

Ok. Yes, we do need to eradicate the yeast. But as I mentioned above, it can’t be the ONLY step in a successful yeast treatment. Most often I recommend using nature’s favourite antifungal – garlic – often combined with some caprylic acid (from coconut). Taken orally, or sometimes vaginally, these two are a powerhouse of antifungal activity.

But we don’t stop there. We also look at your diet. Yeast thrives in a high sugar environment, so I suggest avoiding all sugar (including dairy and bread products), alcohol and some fruits for at least a month while treating your yeast infection.

  1. Restore beneficial bacteria

yeast infection, candida, candidiasisWho hasn’t heard of the amazing benefits of probiotics? Those 300 trillion lovely little bugs that live in and on our body are a huge part of what makes us healthy (or not.)

In our lady garden, our boss bacteria is Lactobacillus. And imbalances in healthy levels of Lactobacillus are associated with BV and yeast infections.

The main source of bacteria for the vagina is from the “proximity exposure” to the exit of our digestive tract. So taking probiotics by mouth can be really effective for supporting healthy bacteria levels. Using vaginal probiotics is also highly recommended for yeast treatments, especially when using boric acid.

  1. Prevent recurrence

Eradicate yeast? Check.

Promote healthy pH? Check.

Lots of Lactobacillus? Check.

Now how do we stop this from happening again? Avoiding triggers that can lead to yeast infections – like a diet high in sugar, dairy and wheat, diabetes and unstable blood sugar, tight clothing and artificial fiber underwear (cotton ladies, cotton) is imperative. You can discuss with your ND whether you should embark on a longer “Candida Diet” – this isn’t necessary for everyone, but can make all the difference for some.

  1. Don’t accept mediocrity from your lady garden

I’ve said it before – and I’ll say it once more – yeast infections are not normal. And you don’t have to live with them. Now that you know better, I hope you will want better for yourself. And go out there and do it. You have been empowered – and I’m cheering you on.

Want a personalized treatment plan to get over your yeast infections?  Book in and let’s talk.  I’m ready when you are.

Your Guide to Pain Free Periods

Painful periods and menstrual cramps

This is the one article series a lot of women have been asking for – what to do about painful periods and period cramps. Half of women experience pain during their menstrual cycles (and around 90% of teen girls) and 1 in 10 women have periods that are so painful they are unable to work or function for up to a week each month.

So what are we going to do about it ladies? I’m not one to just take things as they are – and I don’t want you to either! Let’s learn a bit more about why some of us get such significant pain during our periods, and then we’ll talk about what we can DO to lessen our pain, and live our amazing lives, every damn day of the month.

Dysmenorrhea

The medical term for painful periods is dysmenorrhea. And it encompasses anything from cramps in the lower abdomen to low back pain, pain/pulling sensation in the inner thighs, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache and fatigue. Dysmenorrhea is basically anything miserable during a period that interferes with our ability to function.

There are two different types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary.

Primary dysmenorrhea – no underlying cause, just the result of our body’s natural physiology

Secondary dysmenorrhea – occurs as a result of something else – an underlying condition that can lead to pain during periods – endometriosis, ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, a narrow cervical opening, etc.

Ultimately we need to understand if there is a secondary cause for the painful periods – and treat that. If your periods started being painful right from your first period in your teens, then it’s most likely primary dysmenorrhea. If you had years of pain-free periods, then a full workup for secondary dysmenorrhea is highly recommended. In either case read on and learn more about what you can do to help yourself manage your period pain.

Why Are My Periods Painful?

A couple of specific physiological changes occur at the start of our periods that contribute to pain during periods.

Just before the start of our period flow the blood supply, and thus oxygen delivery, to the uterus is significantly restricted. In order for the lining of the uterus to be shed there is also an increase in the production and release of inflammatory compounds (called prostaglandins) that stimulate uterine contractions. This combination of low oxygen delivery (called ischemia), inflammatory prostaglandins, and contractions causes the pain associated with our periods.

But Dr. Lisa, not every woman experiences painful periods (lucky b*tches)

Yes, dear reader, this is absolutely true! Some factors need to be considered in those of us who do have painful periods.

Women who have painful periods produce on average 8-13 times more prostaglandins than women who do not experience painful menstrual cramps (more on this in the treatment section). Women who do not ovulate during their menstrual cycle also do not have painful periods – the drop in progesterone is what triggers the inflammatory prostaglandin production and painful uterine contractions. As we get older and make less progesterone, we also can experience much less painful periods.

And lifestyle makes a difference for some women too. Women who already have poor oxygen delivery to the uterus – smokers, women who are overweight, women who are sedentary – they tend to have cramping that is either more intense, or lasts longer, or both.

Treatment of Painful Periods and Menstrual Cramps

There is a LOT that we can do to manage our menstrual cramps. Many of the lifestyle and natural treatments are very effective for reducing pain during our periods and can give women back their vitality every day of the month. Ultimately it can be a trial and error to determine what will be the most effective for you, and working with a Naturopathic Doctor can accelerate your progress.

Below I’ve given you my top ten lifestyle modifications for managing period cramps.  Once you’ve made those changes, check out my article on Natural Treatments for a Pain Free Period. And then when you’re empowered with all that knowledge, book an appointment so we can put together the very best plan for you.

Lifestyle for Pain Free Periods

Studies have found a number of factors that can contribute to painful periods – women who eat more sugar, junk food, fast food and saturated fats tend to have more painful periods. Women who exercise regularly (not just during their periods) tend to have less menstrual cramps. Using tampons can make menstrual cramps worse, as can constipation or food sensitivities.

Below you’ll find my top ten lifestyle tips for reducing period pain

  1. Cut the sugar

Not really a newsflash, but sugar makes just about everything worse – including period cramps. Sugar interferes with the body’s ability to absorb and use B vitamins and minerals, both of which can worsen muscle tension and increase the force of uterus cramps. So quit it – you already knew you should.

  1. Ditch dairy

Prostaglandins, those inflammatory molecules produced by our uterus that cause pain, are made in our body from arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid comes mostly from our diet, in particular dairy products (although poultry is also a high source of arachidonic acid). Reducing or eliminating dairy is a great idea for women who get period pain – and it has been suggested that eliminating dairy may provide a significant benefit (with no other treatments) for up to one-third of women with painful periods!

  1. Avoid alcohol

Ladies, I get it. The urge to have a lovely glass of wine to dull the cramping and misery, and really, you just want it. But I’m a teller of truths – alcohol is a no-go for painful periods. Alcohol is well known to deplete B vitamins as well as muscle-relaxing minerals such as magnesium. Not only that – it interferes with the liver’s ability to metabolize hormones. All of these contribute to more cramping and heavier periods (which lead to more clots, which trigger more uterine spasms, which causes more pain…)

  1. Skip the salt

Salt is something many people think they are avoiding, but that stuff sneaks into everything. While I’m not opposed to a bit of sea salt on my edamame, the primary source of salt in the diet is processed or packaged foods. Salt can increase fluid retention, which can worsen bloating and discomfort as well as period pain. So skip the salt and season with spices instead.

  1. Load up on the legumes, nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of minerals like magnesium and calcium – both of which can lessen muscle tension and reduce the pain of menstrual cramps. Additionally, eating a diet higher in plant proteins and lower in animal proteins has been found to reduce the incidence of dysmenorrhea. So skip the chicken and have some chickpeas and cashews instead.

  1. Eat your veggies

Really, is there anything vegetables CAN’T do? They are the most important component of the human diet, and eating more of them cures just about everything – including period cramps. Women who eat more fruits and vegetables have the lowest rates of painful periods. Vegetables are excellent sources of minerals, like calcium and magnesium, as well as fiber to reduce bloating and discomfort.

  1. Understand your food sensitivities

Wait, what? Food sensitivities? What do those have to do with my period cramps?

It turns out, quite a lot!

Food sensitivities can damage the lining of the digestive tract, altering the absorption of B vitamins and minerals, resulting in more cramping. Additionally, food sensitivities can cause increased production of inflammatory molecules, leading to more inflammation (and more pain) when period time rolls around. Add to the mix the irregular bowel movements that can result from food sensitivities and you have the perfect storm for period pain. So if you’ve ever wondered if you have food sensitivities and you get painful periods, I’d considering having the food sensitivity test. It may be just what you need.

  1. Exercise regularly

Exercise improves blood flow to, and from, the uterus. Exercise also helps to alter the production of prostagandins, leading to less pain. And it’s not just exercise during your period that helps – most studies show that women who exercise regularly have less painful periods than those who don’t. There are also some specific exercises that have been found to help manage period pain – you can read more about those here.

  1. Toss the tampons

We are entering a new age of period empowerment. No longer are we having to choose between bulky pads and bleached cotton tampons. There are so many options now for women to comfortably accommodate their periods.

Pain free periods. Natural treatments for period cramps

From the Diva Cup to Thinx period panties, to all natural pads that are thin and comfortable. Women who use tampons have more painful periods than those who don’t, and most of those tampons are full of chemicals that can be absorbed across the mucosal barrier of the vaginal canal – not a good thing! So toss those tampons and join women in the age of period empowerment!

  1. Try a Natural Approach

While we may be tempted to manage our period pain with Midol and Advil and other pain killers, there are a number of natural supplements – nutrients and botanical (plant) medicines that can provide amazing relief. And without the side effects of those pain killers as well! Start by reading my article on Natural Treatments for Pain-Free Periods and then work with a Naturopathic Doctor to personalize a treatment plan that can give you relief from your menstrual cramps.

WTF is MTHFR?

The world of genetics is confusing AF.  But trust me, you will be hearing more and more about genetics in the coming years.  In 2003 researchers completed The Human Genome Project, a many year endeavour to sequence the human genome and understand what our genes can tell us about our health.  And one of the most important genes identified was MTHFR.

MTHFR

MTHFR is the acronym for the gene that makes methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. This is an essential step in the methylation pathway – a complex pathway that results in the production of neurotransmitters (mental health), glutathione (liver, inflammation and antioxidant health), and processing of estrogen and testosterone (hormone health). Methylation has been considered by many to be the most important enzyme function in the human body.

MTHFR Polymorphisms

Somewhere between 30-50% (perhaps more) people carry a mutation (also called a single nucleotide polymorphism – or SNP) in the MTHFR gene, with an estimated 14-20% of people having a more severe mutation. First identified by the Human Genome Project, researchers noted that people with the MTHFR mutation were more likely to develop certain diseases, including ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis and autoimmune disorders.

Autism Alzheimer’s ADHD Atherosclerosis Miscarriages Fibromyalgia
Deep vein thrombosis Neural tube defects Gluten intolerance Pernicious anemia Schizophrenia Chronic fatigue syndrome
Post-menopausal depression Chemical sensitivities Parkinson’s Irritable bowel syndrome Pre-eclampsia Stroke
Spina bifida Bipolar disorder Male infertility Vascular dementia Blood clots Congenital heart defects
Gastric cancer Migraines with aura Low HDL cholesterol Epilepsy Atherosclerosis Oral clefts
Type I Diabetes Cervical dysplasia Glaucoma Prostate cancer Multiple sclerosis Essential hypertension
Thyroid cancer Premature death Heart murmurs Placental abruption Myocardial infarction Tongue tie
Asthma Bladder cancer Low testosterone Heavy metal toxicity
Conditions Associated with MTHFR Polymorphisms

It is important to remember that just because you have inherited a gene (thanks mom and dad), does not mean you will develop one of these health conditions. There are many factors (diet, lifestyle, nutritional status, environment) that contribute to gene expression.

Your genes are not your destiny, but they are your tendency

MTHFR C667T and MTHFR A1298C

Two main MTHFR mutations have been identified and are the focus of most research.

Mutations are inherited from our parents, and as such we have two copies of each gene. A mutation on either of these genes can be heterozygous (+/-) – meaning only one copy is abnormal – or homozygous (+/+), meaning both inherited copies is mutated. Homozygous mutations are more likely to cause health problems. And having a homozygous mutation in both MTHFR C667T and MTHFR A1298C is considered to be the most problematic.

The Consequences of MTHFR Mutations

The importance of the methylation cycle, impacted by MTHFR mutations, can not be understated. Some of the consequences of altered MTHFR function include:

  • Decreased methylationMTHFR, naturopath, nutrigenomics
  • Increased heavy metal toxicity (iron, copper, lead, mercury)
  • Low iron (often secondary to elevated copper)
  • Increased homocysteine leading to vascular inflammation (cardiovascular disease, increased blood pressure, increased risk of vascular dementia)
  • Poor conversion of homocysteine to glutathione (increased stress, fatigue, toxin build up, cellular stress)
  • Poor conversion of homocysteine to methionine (increased atherosclerosis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, anemia, inflammation)
  • Decreased production of SAMe and decreased serotonin levels (depression)

Nutrigenomics for MTHFR

One of the main reasons I became interested in genetic medicine, is the ability of nutrients, diet and lifestyle to strongly influence the function of our genes.  This field of study is known as nutrigenomics. 

When we know what our genetic tendencies are, we can alter and optimize them through dietary and supplemental choices. It’s an empowering way to look at our bodies.

In order to optimize MTHFR function, there are some things that need to be avoided:

  1. Synthetic folic acid – further slows the MTHFR function
  2. Cyanocobalamin – a form of vitamin B12 that slows methylation
  3. Birth control pills – block the uptake of folate in the gut
  4. Methotrexate – another medication that blocks folate uptake
  5. Proton pump inhibitors – a medication for heartburn that alters stomach acid levels and decreases vitamin B12 absorption
  6. Processed grains – contain synthetic folic acid
  7. Mercury amalgams and heavy metals – can lead to greater heavy metal toxicity due to poor metal clearance

Individuals who have MTHFR polymorphisms will often thrive with appropriate nutritional support. Supplements that can help to improve methylation are the cornerstone of MTHFR therapy.

Supplemental Support for MTHFR

Folate – natural folate, from leafy green plants (foliage – that’s how folate got its name!) and natural supplements will help to improve methylation. Especially important during the months prior to pregnancy, women of reproductive age with MTHFR mutations should be taking folate regularly.

Vitamin B6 – an essential cofactor in the methylation pathway, vitamin B6 helps to ensure folate works properly.

Vitamin B12 – vitamin B12 is a methyl donor – it contributes a methyl group to the methylation pathway, allowing it to function at optimal capacity. B12 should be taken in the methylcobalamin or hydroxycobalamin form, and never in the cyanocobalamin form.

Treatments for MTHFRTMG (Trimethylglycine or Betaine) – another methyl donor, providing three methyl groups to the methylation cycle, this nutrient is commonly deficient in people with MTHFR. Stress, infections, inflammation and high levels of heavy metals will all increase the demand for THM. In a healthy body, plenty is made, but it is also available as a supplement and in foods such as broccoli, beets and other vegetables. TMG is especially useful for people with depressive symptoms as it increases the production of SAMe.

SAMe – a consequence of poor MTHFR function is low levels of SAMe. Essential for the production of serotonin, low SAMe can be associated strongly with depression. SAMe acts as a methyl donor in the body, and is made in the body through methylation processes. Supplementation is available although often levels improve with supplementation of methyl donors, B12 and folate.

NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine) – a direct precursor to the production of glutathione. NAC can be used to support detoxification and decrease oxidative damage in people with MTHFR mutations.

Confused? 

You’re not alone!  The study of genetics, and the influence of our genes on our health, is some pretty deep, dark science stuff!  But it’s also incredibly informative, and empowering.  And if you’ve ever wondered how your genes are impacting your health, you should consider genetic testing and working with a Naturopathic Doctor,  Geneticist or Functional Medicine Doctor who can help you understand your genetic tendencies, and realize your optimal health potential.

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.

 

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.

MTHFR in Mental Health

MTHFR is an essential component of human health, one that you may not have heard of, but you likely will be hearing more about it in the future.

MTHFR is an acronym for a gene – methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. This gene produces an enzyme essential for human health – methylenetetrahydrofolate (MTHF). It has been estimated that somewhere between 30-85% of humans carry a mutation, or SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) in this gene. This can lead to minimal changes in the function of this gene, or significant changes that can drastically impact health. Our current best guess is that between 6-14% of caucasians, 2% of African descent, and up to 21% of Hispanics have a severe mutation.

MTHFR in Mental Health

One of the essential functions of MTHFR is to produce neurotransmitters. Individuals with MTHFR mutations may be more at risk of developing one of the many mental health conditions associated with MTHFR:

  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • schizophrenia
  • autism
  • addiction
  • anxiety

The neurotransmitters produced during the MTHFR cycle, in particular serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and melatonin, have important mood stabilizing effects. The decreased function of the MTHFR cycle in people with a MTHFR mutation can lead to lower levels of these neurotransmitters, increasing the risk of developing a mental health condition.

MTHFR and Anti-Depressants

In addition to increasing the odds of developing a mental health condition, an MTHFR defect can also alter the ability of a person to respond to antidepressant medications. A higher rate of non-responsiveness and/or adverse effects has been found in people with an MTHFR mutation.

MTHFR Testing

If you suspect you may have an MTHFR defect the only way to know for sure is to do a genetic test that will identify if you have a mutation in this important gene at one of two locations – known as C667T or A1298C. If you have a single mutation in one location (inherited from one parent) you have a “heterozygous” mutation – if you have two mutations in one location (inherited from both parents) then you have a “homozygous” mutation, which is generally more severe. If you have two mutations in both locations then you have a “compound homozygous” mutation, the most severe.

What to do about MTHFR

The most important thing to do about MTHFR is to support the normal function of this enzyme pathway with essential nutrients. This pathway (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) produces folate as one of it’s primary actions. Folate, vitamin B9, can be taken as a supplement and reduce the negative effects seen with MTHFR mutations. Avoiding things that can interfere with folate is also important – digestive diseases, poor diet, alcohol consumption and some medications (include the birth control pill). Additionally, avoiding synthetic folic acid, found mostly in processed foods (like bread, crackers and cereals), is also important as the folic acid can slow down the MTHFR cycle further.

In addition to taking a folate supplement, focusing on a healthy diet is essential for managing MTHFR. Folate comes from foliage – so eating your leafy greens, broccoli and beans can provide folate in your daily diet.

Treating MTHFR can be complex. Working with a qualified practitioner, well-versed in MTHFR is essential to improve your health and support your mind and body.

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.

Hormone Harmony in PMS

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

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

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

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

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

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

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

Hormone Imbalances in PMS

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

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

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

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

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

Hormone Hacks for PMS

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

  1. Follow the PMS diet

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

  1. Cut the caffeine

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

  1. Exercise

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

  1. Get your nutrients in

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

  1. Get tested

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

  1. Herbal hormone balancers

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

  1. Bioidentical progesterone

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

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

Disclaimer

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

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.