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Hormone Harmony in PMS

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

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

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

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

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

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

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

Hormone Imbalances in PMS

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

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

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

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

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

Hormone Hacks for PMS

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

  1. Follow the PMS diet

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

  1. Cut the caffeine

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

  1. Exercise

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

  1. Get your nutrients in

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

  1. Get tested

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

  1. Herbal hormone balancers

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

  1. Bioidentical progesterone

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

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

Disclaimer

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

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 Treatment Options for PUPPPS

 

PUPPPS may sound like a cute acronym, but ask any pregnant woman who has experienced it and you will soon realize this condition is anything but cute.

PUPPPS stands for pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy.  This translates to “itchy, allergy-like rash during pregnancy”.  PUPPPS is a hive-like rash that occurs in around 1 in 200 women during pregnancy.  The rash is itchy and most commonly starts on the abdomen and may spread to the legs, feet, arms, chest and neck but usually does not occur on the face.

We don’t know why some women develop PUPPPS during pregnancy but it most often begins in stretch marks and is more common in women with significant skin stretching. Women with large fundal measurements and those who are carrying large babies or twins and triplets are at greater risk.

Interestingly there is a higher rate of PUPPPS in women carrying boys. Statistics have shown that bw-pregnant-window70% of women with PUPPPS deliver boys. Researchers think this may be due to male DNA interacting with the mother’s body, leading to irritation.

The good news is that PUPPPS, aside from causing itching and irritation, has no long term negative effects on either the mother or the baby and tends to resolve on its own within a week of delivery.

Most treatments for PUPPPS involve hydrating the skin and keeping the mother comfortable.  Certain antihistamines may also be tried.  From a Naturopathic perspective, we focus on decreasing the allergic response of the immune system, supporting the detoxification properties of the liver, decreasing inflammation and helping to clear and possible underlying causes.

6 Natural Treatment Options for PUPPPS

  1. Increase vegetable consumption and vegetable juice consumption

To optimize liver function by supplying healthy antioxidants and cholagogues (plant based compounds that support optimal liver function). Ideal vegetables are dark green leafy vegetables, beets, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, brussels sprouts, kale and kohlrabi

Also increase consumption of canned tomatoes for the lycopene content, an excellent antioxidant and member of the beta carotene family – but be sure to choose organic canned tomatoes to decrease exposure to BPA. Glass containers are even better.

  1. High quality omega 3 rich oils

TomatoesOmega 3 fatty acids, such as those found in flax seeds, chia seeds, salmon and fish oil supplements help to improve the fluidity of skin membranes, decreasing the potential for stretch marks. Omega 3 fatty acids are also anti-inflammatory and can help to decrease the production of inflammatory mediators, decreasing redness and itching in skin rashes.

Consume omega-3 rich foods such as ground flax seeds and chia seeds daily. Consume omega 3 rich fish (those that are safe in pregnancy include salmon, tilapia, cod and Pollock) at least two to three times per week. An omega 3 rich fish oil supplement may also be recommended by your Naturopathic Doctor.

  1. Moisturize the skin with a soothing moisturizer

    Coconut oil is a safe choice for pregnancy and is highly moisturizing. Chickweed ointment is another stellar choice as chickweed is a natural antihistamine and can greatly reduce itching sensations.

  1. Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinalis)

    allergy_dandelion medicineAnother highly effective treatment for PUPPPS. Dandelion acts as a hepatic and cholagogue – it enhances the function of the liver and gallbladder, clearing inflammation and congestion through that system. It is highly indicated for chronic skin eruptions, especially those that are hot, red or itchy.

    Dandelion is available as a tea (which will have diuretic effects) or as a capsule. For PUPPPS I usually recommend starting with a tea and introducing a supplement if needed.

  1. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)

    Mike thistle is a liver supportive treatment that can be used to enhance the actions of dandelion root or on it’s own. It is effective in increasing the secretion and flow of bile from the liver and gall bladder. Milk thistle also promotes milk secretion and is encouraged for breast-feeding mothers.

  1. Avoid food sensitivities

    There is some research suggesting a correlation between food sensitivity (especially dairy) and PUPPPS. Consider food sensitivity testing or elimination diets to address symptoms.

PUPPPS can be a difficult condition to life with, and with the support of naturopathic medicine you may not need to!  Gentle and safe natural treatments are available.  Speak with your Naturopathic Doctor today to put together a plan.

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.

10 Tips to Treat PMS Naturally

PMS (premenstrual syndrome) sucks.  That’s not medical jargon, that’s just the way it is.  Once a month, up to three-quarters of women experience physical or emotional discomfort or pain which can last up to 14 days (two weeks!!).  Over 150 symptoms of PMS have been identified but the most common symptoms are:

Naturopathic treatment of PMS
There are over 150 symptoms associated with PMS
  • Decreased energy
  • Irritability, nervousness, anxiety and anger
  • Food cravings
  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Altered sex drive
  • Breast pain
  • Muscle aches and low back pain
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea and/ or constipation
  • Swelling of the hands and feet
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping

What causes PMS?

Honestly, we don’t exactly know what causes PMS.   It’s most likely a combination of imbalances in our hormones, neurotransmitters and environment that leads to symptoms of PMS.

Balancing these diverse systems gives most women relief from their PMS symptoms.  It sometimes takes time to determine which treatment is right for you.  An experienced Naturopathic Doctor will be able to tailor an individualized plan to give you the best chance for success.

10 Tips to Treat PMS Naturally

1. Exercise

Exercise is important for your overall health, but it can also decrease symptoms of PMS.  Studies have shown again and again that women who engage in regular exercise have fewer PMS symptoms than women who do not.  And the exercise doesn’t need to be intense – it just needs to happen regularly (at least 3 times per week throughout the month).

Exercise is thought to reduce PMS symptoms by reducing estrogen levels, improving glucose tolerance and raising endorphin levels.  Aerobic exercise (swimming, cycling, running, etc), yoga or tai chi are all beneficial.

2.    Cut out sugar

Women who experience PMS have been reported to eat whopping 275% more refined sugar than women who do not get PMS symptoms.  Refined sugars deplete our magnesium levels, increase sodium and water retention and create imbalances in our insulin levels.  All of these processes have been linked to the development of PMS symptoms.

Eliminating refined sugar and limiting simple carbohydrates in favour of high fiber complex carbohydrates lowers blood levels of estrogen, improves magnesium levels and can significantly improve symptoms of PMS.   So cut out the cookies, cakes, bagels and breads in favour of oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, brown rice and other fiber rich foods.

 3.    Eliminate caffeine

Caffeine consumption is associated with more and worse PMS symptoms.  Caffeine is linked especially to breast tenderness,anxiety, irritability and difficulty sleeping during PMS.  The impact is even worse when combined with sugar (pay attention all you Frappuccino drinkers!).  Eliminating caffeine, or limiting it during the premenstrual phase can improve PMS symptoms for a lot of women.

4.    Take a probiotic

Probiotics are not just for digestive health!  Having good bacteria in our intestines has wide ranging benefits for our health.  Healthy bacteria can decrease symptoms of PMS by increasing beta-glucuronidase enzyme activity and promoting estrogen excretion.

The best way to establish a healthy bacteria flora in your intestinal tract is to take a probiotic supplement.  Try for one with both Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.  Taken with food, probiotics are extremely safe and have no negative side effects (you can experience bloating if you take too much – 1 to 10 billion is usually a safe amount).

 5.    Take a calcium and magnesium supplement

1k-7649 spinachThere is a direct relationship between calcium and estrogen.  Estrogen is involved in the absorption, metabolism and utilization of calcium in our bodies.  Clinical trials have found that both mood and physical symptoms of PMS are improved with daily calcium supplementation

Magnesium deficiency is a major concern and is seen in a majority of women with PMS.  Magnesium deficiency causes fatigue, irritability, mental confusion, menstrual cramps, insomnia, muscle aches and pains and heart beat irregularities.

Dietary sources of calcium include dark green leafy vegetables, dairy (cheese, yogurt, milk), tofu, and almonds.  Dietary sources of magnesium are similar and include green leafy vegetables, tofu, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.  Calcium and magnesium supplements should be taken in the evening, away from iron supplements and thyroid medications.

6.    Take B vitamins

B vitamins are involved in hundreds of different processes in our bodies.  The liver uses various B vitamins to detoxify estrogen and allow our bodies to eliminate it.

Additionally, pyridoxine (vitamin B6) can ease symptoms of PMS by increasing production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.  Low levels of these neurotransmitters have been suggested as a cause of many PMS symptoms including low energy, irritability and mood swings.

As if that wasn’t enough, B6 is also involved in transfer of magnesium into cells – without B6 magnesium wouldn’t be able to enter cells.  This is another reason why B vitamins, and especially B6 are so important in the relief of PMS symptoms.

7.    Dong Quai

Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis) is a traditional Chinese herb with thousands of years of use for imbalances in the female reproductive system.  It has been used for menopause, painful menstruation, no menstruation and as a uterine tonic.  Dong quai has phytoestrogenic properties and is best used for women who experience PMS symptoms in addition to painful menstruation.

 Dong quai is usually used from ovulation (day 14) until menstruation begins.  If you are also experiencing painful periods, continue it until your period stops.

 8.    Chaste tree

While best known as a treatment for menopause, chaste tree (Vitex agnus castus) is probably the single most important herb in the treatment of PMS.

The effects of chaste tree appear to be due to the impact it has on the hypothalamus and pituitary – the starting point for hormone production in the body.  As a result, chaste tree is able to normalize the secretion of many hormones, for instance, reducing prolactin levels and normalizing the estrogen to progesterone ratio.

Chaste tree is best taken daily throughout the menstrual cycle.  Studies have found it to be useful for almost all symptoms associated with PMS including irritability, mood swings, anger, anxiety, headache, and breast tenderness.

9.    Licorice

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is an amazing herb!  It has been used in both Western and Eastern herbal medicine for thousands of years for a wide variety of ailments.  It also has impressive modern scientific research to back up its historical uses.

 Licorice is useful in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome because it lowers estrogen levels while simultaneously raising progesterone levels.  Licorice also blocks the hormone aldosterone, decreasing water retention.

 Licorice is usually taken from ovulation (day 14) until your period starts.  It should not be used if you have a history of kidney disease or high blood pressure.  You should be under the care of a Naturopathic Doctor while taking licorice.

10. See a Naturopathic Doctor

This is probably the best thing you can do to help manage your PMS symptoms.  Naturopathic Doctors are experts in correcting the underlying imbalances that lead to PMS symptoms.  Your unique set of symptoms will give an experienced ND a lot of information that can be used to individualize a treatment plan just for you.  NDs also can order comprehensive hormone panels that will identify imbalances in prolactin, estrogen, progesterone or testosterone that may be contributing to your symptoms.  You can find a licensed Naturopathic Doctor in your area by visiting the national association websites – CAND in Canada and AANP in the United States.

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.

Photo credits:

Creative Commons License Mislav Marohnić via Compfight

Creative Commons License Ed Yourdon via Compfight

Tim Hamilton via Compfight

Wheat Woes: Celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten sensitivity

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

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

Celiac Disease

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

Wheat Allergy

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

Gluten Sensitivity

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

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

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

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

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

Select references

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

Disclaimer

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

 

Hashimoto’s and Gluten

Gluten. It seems like everyone is talking about it. Books are lining shelves declaring the evils of this grain-based protein most of us have been eating for years. The grocery stores are full of “gluten-free” labels and gluten free bakeries are popping up in cities all across the country.

Gluten Free LogoWhy are we suddenly so aware of this protein? And what does it mean for people who have Hashimoto’s? Let me take you through some of the basics.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in several different grains – wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut and triticale. It is a combination of two different proteins, gliadin and glutenin. Not all grains contain gluten and a gluten-free diet can still provide the essential nutrients found in these grains.

Autoimmunity

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. It is, in essence, an immune condition with the thyroid being the unfortunate victim.

Autoimmune conditions are thought to develop when there are a combination of different factors. The three most commonly suggested factors are:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • A triggering event – this can be a nutrient deficiency, acute illness, chronic infection, dysbiosis, excess stress, food sensitivities or impaired detoxification
  • Increased intestinal hyperpermeability or “leaky gut”

The increased intestinal hyperpermeability, or “leaky gut” is where gluten becomes a major issue.

Leaky Gut

Keep outThe cells that line our digestive tract are joined at tight junctions – these close connections allow only the smallest particles of digested food to present to our immune system. Certain foods, like gluten, are more difficult for our enzymes to completely digest. These partially digested proteins, called peptides, can cause inflammation at the lining of the digestive tract, leading to damage of the tight junctions. When these tight junctions are compromised they become more permeable, or leaky, allowing larger molecules (peptides) to present to our immune system.

Once the immune system has been exposed to these large peptide molecules it may begin to produce antibodies against the peptides – an attempt to protect us from this foreign molecule.

The issue of autoimmunity, especially Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, occurs when the immune antibodies begin to circulate through our body, searching for the sequence of amino acids that make up the gluten peptide. The surface of the thyroid gland is made up of fats and proteins – and unfortunately the amino acid sequence of proteins on the surface of the thyroid is the same as the gliadin peptide in gluten. This results in the immune system destroying the thyroid gland, mistaking it for the component of gluten that triggered the response in the digestive tract.

Gluten and Food Sensitivities

wheat is a common food allergenIn my practice I recommend that all people diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis eliminate gluten from their diet. However, leaky gut can be caused by, or lead to many other food sensitivities which can also have the same devastating effect on the thyroid gland, and other tissues in the body.

Every person with an autoimmune condition, including Hashimoto’s should seriously consider having an IgG based food sensitivity panel done to identify their own sensitivities. Understanding the action of your immune system in your body is imperative to decreasing the overactivity of the immune system and preventing further damage to your body.

For more information on Naturopathic Medicine and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, please read the other articles on this website written by Dr. Lisa Watson, ND: Understanding Hashimoto’s, Hashimoto’s and Fertility, Naturopathic Treatments for Hashimoto’s. If you are ready to start on your path to healing your Hashimoto’s you can book an appointment with Dr. Lisa by following the links here.

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

Carrocio A, D’Alcam A, Cavataio F, et al. Gastroenterology. High Proportions of People With Nonceliac Wheat Sensitivity Have Autoimmune Disease or Antinuclear Antibodies.2015 Sep;149(3):596-603.e1.

Fasano A, Shea-Donohue T. Mechanisms of Disease: the role of intestinal barrier function in the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal autoimmune diseases. Nature Clinical Practices. 2005 Sep:2(9):416-422.

 

Natural Approaches to Heartburn

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

What is Heartburn?

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

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

A New Perspective on Heartburn

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

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

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

Treating Low Stomach Acid

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

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

The Importance of Treating Heartburn

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

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

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

Disclaimer

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

 

Low Testosterone in Men: Supportive Supplements

Many otherwise healthy men are suffering with low testosterone levels.  Testosterone is an important hormone for male sexual health, but also mood, energy, muscle strength, bone density and many many other functions in the body.

Testosterone levels decline with age, and men of this generation are producing up to one-quarter less than their grandfathers.

Symptoms of low testosterone are variable but may include:

  • Low libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Depression and low mood
  • Brain fog and reduced mental functioning
  • Osteoporosis
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Infertility and low sperm count

Low testosterone levels can be identified on blood or salivary panels. If you think you may have low testosterone, ask your doctor for a test.

You can learn about lifestyle approaches to improving low testosterone levels here, or read on to learn how specific nutritional and botanical supplements can increase your testosterone and get you back to feeling vibrantly healthy.

Nutritional Supplements

Zinc

The most important nutrient for male health, even a slight deficiency in zinc can lead to lower testosterone levels and decrease sperm counts. It is estimated that 80% of men are not getting the daily recommended intake of zinc (11mg). Good food sources are nuts, pumpkin seeds and whole grains. Take supplements only under the care of a qualified naturopathic doctor – taking too much zinc can be toxic to sperm and result in infertility. Taking zinc with folic acid has also been shown to be more effective at balancing hormones and sperm production than either alone.

Astaxanthin

This carotenoid molecule (less well-known than it’s cousin beta carotene), is isolated from algae.  Astaxanthin has been found to increase testosterone levels and sperm health after three months of supplementation. It has stellar antioxidant properties and is safe for most men.

Botanical Supplements

Mucuna pruriens

A traditional Ayurvedic herb, mucuna is able to balance the entire cascade of male hormone balance from the production of GnRH in the hypothalamus all the way to testosterone production in the testes. Human and animal studies have shown increases in sperm count and increased testosterone. It also has been found to decrease reports of stress and decreased stress hormone (cortisol) production.

Tongkat Ali

Eurycoma longifolia Jack, or Tongkat Ali, is a traditional Malaysian botanical medicine. We don’t know exactly how it works, but studies have demonstrated increases in hormones, including testosterone as well as increased libido and sperm count.

Withania somnifera

Ashwaganda, an excellent adaptogenic botanical, has been found in studies to improve sperm counts, hormone balance and testosterone levels. This botanical is best indicated for men with stress in addition to low testosterone levels.

Tribulus terrestris

A botanical with a long history of use for improving male virility, muscle strength and sexual potency. Tribulus is thought to enhance production of lutenizing hormone, leading to an increase in testosterone production. Studies have found daily supplementation can improve hormone parameters after as little as one month.

As with all supplements, supervision by an experienced and qualified Naturopathic Doctor is recommended to ensure safe and effective use.  Natural remedies may be natural, but they are not without side effects and potential interactions.  Your ND will help you find your ideal 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.

 

Low Testosterone in Men: A Lifestyle Approach

Testosterone is the dominant reproductive hormone in men and it has a lot of different actions in the male body. Not only is it responsible for libido and sexual health, it is also involved in prostate health, hair growth, mood, muscle strength, bone density and many many other actions.

We know that testosterone levels in the current generation are much lower than they were 100 years ago. Studies suggest that the peak testosterone production in men today is up to 25% lower than it was in our grandfathers.

Testosterone production also declines with age. There is a 50% reduction in testosterone production between 25 and 75 years of age.

Symptoms of low testosterone are variable but may include:

  • Loss of libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Reduced cognitive function/ foggy thinking
  • Osteoporosis
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Low sperm count/ infertility

Low testosterone levels can be identified on blood or salivary panels. If you think you may have low testosterone, ask your doctor for a test.

There are many lifestyle, dietary and naturopathic treatments for low testosterone. Discuss with your Naturopathic Doctor what treatments may be best for you.

Lifestyle Interventions

Avoid alcohol

Alcohol increases estrogen levels and can lead to low testosterone balance in men. If your testosterone levels are low, reduce or avoid alcohol to support hormone balance.

Avoid marijuana

Marijuana use can lower lutenizing hormone, decrease testosterone and lower sperm counts. We don’t know how much is needed to have these effects, so best to avoid it altogether.

Quit smoking

Cigarette smoking is one of the most damaging habits for sperm health and it also decreases testosterone levels. Talk to your ND if you need help quitting smoking.

Avoid plastics and endocrine disrupting chemicals

BPA Free bottlePlastics and other chemicals (household cleaners, pesticides, herbicides, etc) are known endocrine disrupting chemicals – they disturb our body’s hormone balance. Plastics and household cleaners are the most common EDCs in our environment. So switch to glass and all natural cleaners to prevent hormone imbalance.

Achieve an optimal body mass

Being overweight results in increased estrogen production from fat tissues and decreases circulating testosterone levels. Being underweight can also be problematic for hormone balance. Focus on a healthy exercise and diet to achieve your ideal body mass.

Get enough sleep

Peak testosterone production coincides with the onset of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in younger and older men. Not getting enough sleep (less than 6 hours per night) can lead to lower testosterone levels. So get your 8 hours every night.

Exercise regularly

In general, testosterone levels are elevated directly following heavy resistance exercise. The greatest elevations in testosterone occur when you work large muscle groups, with moderate to high intensity, with short rest intervals. Consider working with a trainer if you are inexperienced in this form of exercise to prevent injury.

Manage stress

High stress hormone (cortisol) production leads to a greater increase in the conversion of testosterone to estrogen in fat cells (a process known as aromatization). Focus on active relaxation and stress management, and talk to your ND if your stress levels are high or out of hand.

A healthy lifestyle is one important factor in improving low testosterone levels in men.  Nutritional support, botanical medicines and acupuncture can also be helpful.  For more information check out this article by Dr. Lisa Watson, ND – Low Testosterone Levels in Men: Supplement Support.

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.

 

 

Gratitude Goodies

Every year at the Integrative Health Institute, we celebrate our anniversary by celebrating you – our community – the reason we are able to do what we do.  You are the motivation that brings us to work every day.  You are the fire behind our passion for health care.  And so we thank you!

This year I celebrated our #IHIgratitude party by making my favourite healthy vegan snack – protein power balls! We’re calling them Gratitude Goodies and the recipes are below.

Ginger Coconut Gratitude Goodies

1 cup dates (soaked)
1 cup mixed raw almonds and cashews (soaked)
1 scoop Vega vanilla protein powder
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut

Soak dates and nuts for 10 minutes in warm (not boiling) water.  Drain and place in food processor.  Pulse to mix.  Add protein powder, coconut oil and ginger.  Blend in food processor until desired consistency (I like a bit of crunch so I don’t puree until smooth).  Form balls and roll in coconut.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Gratitude Goodies

1 cup dates (soaked)
1 cup mixed raw almonds and cashews (soaked)
1 scoop Vega vanilla protein powder
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp raw cacao nibs
1/4 cup Mexican hot chocolate powder (I used the one from Soma Chocolatiers)

Soak dates and nuts for 10 minutes in warm (not boiling) water.  Drain and place in food processor.  Pulse to mix.  Add protein powder, coconut oil and cacao nibs.  Blend in food processor until desired consistency (I like a bit of crunch so I don’t puree until smooth).  Form balls and roll in powdered chocolate.