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Going Grey

Purple, blue, red, pink – bright vibrant hair colours are all the rage these days!  But grey?  Is anyone really excited to see those grey hairs popping up?  Why are they there, and what can we do about it?  The answers may surprise you.

Aging Grey

Our hair follicles contain cells that make pigment, called melanin.  This melanin gives your hair its distinct colour.  As we age, these pigment cells start to die off and new hairs grow in lighter – in an array of shades from grey to silver and white.  Once that pigment cell is dead, it won’t come back – the hairs growing from that follicle will never be coloured again. 

And aging is inevitable.  Dermatologists often quote the 50-50-50 Rule – 50% of the population will be 50% grey by 50 years of age.  However, it differs for everyone.  It seems that white people tend to start going grey in their 30s, Asians in their late 30s and black people in their mid-40s. 

Grandma Was Great, and Grey

But it’s mostly your genes that determine how early you go grey – and how quickly!  (Thanks Mum.)  If your parents went grey early, it’s more likely that you will too.

Premature Greying

Genetic or otherwise, premature greying happens.  If you go grey 10 years earlier than the average person does, feel free to complain about it!  You can consider it premature if your hair is going grey before:

  • 20 years old if you’re white
  • 25 years old if you’re Asian
  • 30 years old if you’re black

Contributing to the Grey

There are health concerns that can contribute to grey hair.  If you’re convinced it’s not all in your genes, look at these factors to see if they are adding to your silver streaks.

  1. Lack of vitamin B12 – common in vegans and vegetarians
  2. Vitamin D deficiency – common in northern climates, especially during the winter months
  3. Low calcium – from poor intake or a parathyroid dysfunction, low levels are associated with premature greying
  4. Low iron levels – more common in women and vegans and vegetarians, low levels can contribute to greying and to hair loss
  5. Thyroid hormone imbalance – more common in women, impacting up to 1 in 6 women
  6. Vitiligo – an autoimmune disease that destroys pigment making cells
  7. Copper imbalance – copper can boost the production of melanin, the compound that gives hair its colour.  But don’t just start taking it – copper needs to be carefully balanced with zinc or it can cause mood swings, depression and anxiety.
  8. Smoking – smokers are much more likely to go grey before 30 years of age – 2 ½ times more likely!

What To Do About Grey Hair

Dye it or don’t, but whatever you do don’t pluck it!  Or at least don’t make a habit of it!  Repeatedly plucking hairs can damage the hair follicle and result in kinkier, less healthy hair growing in. 

Hair is made mostly of protein, so foods that are high in proteins are essential for healthy hair.  Nutrients like iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, B12 and B6 have also been found to support hair health.  Some vegetarians and vegans, and people with digestive issues, may have difficulty getting enough of these from their food and might want to look at taking targeted supplements. 

Eating every 4-5 hours may also help to support hair health.  Hair is not considered an essential tissue by the body, and research suggests that if we go too long between meals the energy available to non-essential tissues could be reduced and could impact hair health. 

Consider having your nutrient levels tested to see if they are negatively impacting your healthy hair. And meet with a Naturopathic Doctor to discuss your diet if you feel like it could use a boost as well!

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.

Vegan and Vegetarian Lab Testing

You don’t choose a vegan or vegetarian diet because you want to feel tired and depleted.  You choose it because you know it can have a positive impact on your health, and the health of our planet.  You know you can feel amazing and energized by eating a plant based diet.

But still.  You have the question, IS my plant-based diet meeting my nutritional needs? Maybe you have seen your Medical Doctor and had your B12 checked.  Maybe you intuitively know that must be more that you can look at to assess your plant based diet.  Well, there is.

Plant Based Panel (aka the Vegan and Vegetarian Panel)

Complete blood count with differential

Looking at the size and shape of your red blood cells, as well as the numbers and health of your white blood cells.  Essential for identifying anemia associated with low iron, low B12, or low folate. 

Vitamin B12

The most well known nutrient deficiency in vegans.  And for good cause.  Low levels can cause long term nervous system damage and increase the risk of strokes and heart disease.

Vitamin D (25-OH)

A major health concern for Canadians, low levels of vitamin D are associated with osteoporosis, bone pain (including low back pain), increased incidence of colds and flus and long term risks of cancer.  Dairy products are supplemented with vitamin D, and many supplements are not vegan friendly, leading to potentially higher rates of deficiency in people eating a plant based diet.

Ferritin

The storage form of iron, low ferritin levels can identify iron deficient anemia.  Levels in vegans and vegetarians may be normal, but lower than the optimal range for energy production. 

Total iron (TIBC)

Ferritin provides only a partial picture of iron levels.  To have a comprehensive understanding of iron status the TIBC test is recommended.  This helps you to understand how well your body is binding to, and using iron. 

Creatinine

A by product of the breakdown of muscles, people eating an exclusively plant based diet often have lower than average levels of creatinine.  However, very low levels can indicate that protein in the diet may not be sufficient.  For this test to be accurate you should not do any intense physical exercise for at least 3 days prior to testing.

Albumin

Another measure of protein status, low levels of albumin can indicate that a person is not getting enough protein in their diet.  Other conditions can cause low albumin, so this test is done with basic liver and kidney function tests.

Liver function tests (ALT and AST)

Essential for detoxification and the maintenance of good health, a liver function panel is recommended for everyone, regardless of their diet.

Lipid profile

While plant based diets are naturally low in artery clogging saturated fats, some people have a genetic tendency towards high cholesterol levels.  So even with a plant based diet, lipid (cholesterol) screening is recommended every few years.

Getting the Panel

I offer the Plant Based Panel at both of my Toronto clinic locations. It can be done during the first visit, or during any follow up visit. I use LifeLabs to perform the blood draw and results are typically back within a week. As a Naturopathic Doctor my laboratory tests are not covered by OHIP, but they may be covered by your private health insurance plan. If you have questions, or want to book in and get your levels checked, just get in touch!

Banishing Breast Tenderness

A woman’s relationship with her breasts can be… complicated.  I should know. I had comic book heroine sized breasts up until a breast reduction after weaning my youngest child.  At that time breast tenderness was just a part of my day-to-day life.  That experience has given me a lot of compassion for women who experience breast pain.  This article is what I am giving back – hope for those women who suffer with pain, and a plan to overcome it.  Take back your ta-tas. 

Breast Tenderness Types

There are typically two types of breast pain – cyclical and noncyclical.  Cyclical breast pain is associated with your period, most often starting a few days (to weeks) before your period and stopping during or just after your period ends. 

Noncyclical pain doesn’t happen just around your period but can happen at any time.  It can be caused by pregnancy, breastfeeding, trauma or injury to the breast, pain from the muscles around the breast, or simply from having large breasts.  It can also be caused by medications, including birth control pills, antibiotics, and antidepressants. 

Most of this article will talk about how to overcome cyclical pain, but women with noncyclical pain can benefit from following these recommendations as well.

Is it Breast Cancer??

No.  It mostly likely is not breast cancer.  Breast pain is not typically linked to breast cancer, and having breast pain does not put you at higher risk of developing breast cancer. 

But don’t hesitate to see your doctor for a second opinion and a breast exam.  Especially if you have symptoms like heat in a specific area of your breast, a fixed/ non-moving breast lump, or changes to your skin on your breast. 

Why Do My Breasts Hurt?

The most common cause of breast pain is your hormones.  Specifically a condition known as estrogen dominance.  Estrogen is the hormone that causes breast tissue to develop in puberty, and throughout our adult lives our breasts continue to respond to estrogen stimulation.  During the week before your period estrogen and progesterone levels can become imbalanced, leading to breast pain.  This is worsened by an overburden of estrogen in our bodies, which we’ll discuss in a moment.  

Breast pain can also be more common in women who have fibrocystic breasts.  As women age her breast tissue is replaced by fat (a process known as involution).  This leads to the formation of breast cysts and fibrous tissue – and a more lumpy breast texture.  Fibrocystic breasts don’t always cause pain, but they can.  Especially as these lumps get bigger leading up to your period. 

Banishing Breast Pain: An Empowered Woman’s Guide

Experiencing breast pain is not a normal part of a woman’s life.  If you have tender breasts, try to understand why your body has developed this symptom – is it a hormonal imbalance? Are you stressed? Are you tired? Are you taking time for self-care? Is your diet and exercise up to your standards?  Once you’ve taken stock of your life, put the recommendations below into action for 2-3 months and see how much of an impact you can have on your health – you’ll be amazed at how powerful you are. 

1.Eliminate Estrogen Dominance

I’ve talked extensively about estrogen dominance elsewhere but it really is an incredibly common concern for women.  Estrogen is an important hormone for women’s health, but our levels are far higher than our systems can manage.  Increased estrogen production in our bodies from excess body fat, stress and poor diets, combined with estrogen-like chemicals in the environment (known as xenoestrogens), and terrible detoxification and elimination from alcohol consumption, low fiber diets and insufficient vegetable intake has left women living a veritable estrogen soup.   

The consequences of estrogen dominance are huge.  PMS, mood changes, low libido, sugar cravings, brain fog, crazy periods, and breast tenderness are common.  So what should we do about it?

Eliminating estrogen dominance is a huge issue in women’s health.  But luckily there are some action steps you can take now to address this hormone imbalance, and reduce your breast pain.

  • Reduce stress
  • Eat a high fiber diet – consider having 2 tbsp of ground flax seeds per day in addition to lots of healthy leafy green and rainbow vegetables
  • Eliminate excess body fat – a lot of women don’t realize that fat cells can make estrogen, so if you’re more than 15 lbs overweight, consider talking to your Naturopathic Doctor about how to achieve your healthiest body weight
  • Avoid plastics, pesticides and other sources of environmental estrogens.  Drink water and eat out of non-plastic containers.  And never microwave plastic!
  • Limit intake of dairy products

2. Detox Like a Champ

Reducing how much estrogen your body makes/ intakes is an excellent first step in banishing breast pain.  Now we move to the next step – supporting your liver in detoxifying that estrogen!  Your liver needs to take all the estrogen circulating in your body and convert it into a compound that you can eliminate (we’ll cover that in the next step!)  For effective detoxification we need to make sure we have adequate nutrients, especially the B vitamins and trace minerals.  We also want to ensure we’re not overwhelming our liver with excess alcohol intake, pain medications or other pharmaceutical medications.  One of the best things you can do to support your liver is not drink alcohol.  Risky alcohol consumption for women is anything more than one drink per day. 

To support your liver, be sure to eat lots of leafy green vegetables.  Bitter greens like kale, dandelion greens, endive or chicory are especially helpful for the liver.  You can also consider liver supportive supplements like dandelion root, turmeric, artichoke, greater celandine and milk thistle to up your detox game.

3. Master Your BMs

You can be a super-star detoxifier, but if you aren’t having daily bowel movements you are not going to be able to balance your hormones are reduce your breast pain.  Our excess hormones are eliminated in our poop – if you aren’t having healthy daily poops you are going to end up recycling a lot of that estrogen and having to detoxify it all over again.

Best bets for mastering your BMs are a high fiber diet, a regular intake of healthy probiotic bacteria – either through supplements or fermented foods, and potentially a magnesium supplement.  Magnesium citrate or bisglycinate can help to get you regular while you focus on improving your diet.  Studies suggest between 200-600mg of magnesium can help by drawing more water into your stool and promoting regular BMs.

4. Target Your Diet

Inflammation can be a major contributing factor to pain in our bodies, and our breasts are no exception.  By reducing inflammation in our diet we can significantly improve breast pain.

The ideal diet for breast pain is pretty much what you’d expect.  Eat more vegetables, lots of healthy plant based proteins, fish, leafy greens and healthy fats.  Limit or eliminate sugar, alcohol and dairy.  Coffee, especially at high amounts (more than 1-2 cups per day) can also contribute to inflammation and pain, so check in with yourself and see if you’re overdoing the drip. 

Adding in healthy fats and phytoestrogens will also help with hormone balance.  Flax seeds are a superstar for this – they contain omega 3 fats, healthy fiber and phytoestrogen lignans which bind to estrogen receptors and prevent other stronger estrogens from binding.  Flaxseeds – the overachiever of the seed family. 

5. Support with Supplements

You cannot supplement your way out of a terrible diet.  But there are absolutely some supplements than can help reduce breast pain, especially over the first few months while you are making the lifestyle and diet changes that will help you remain pain-free. 

EPO for breast pain

Vitamin E has been found in studies to reduce cyclic breast pain, especially when combined with evening primrose oil (EPO).  A fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin E reduces inflammation and acts as an antioxidant in our cells.  EPO is often used as a source of pregnenolone, the precursor hormone to progesterone, which is essential to balance the effects of estrogen in the body.  600IU of vitamin E with 2-3 grams of EPO is a typical dose. 

B vitamins are necessary for liver detoxification and can be taken as a simple B complex supplement.  Vegans and vegetarians in particular should be considering a B complex containing vitamin B12.

Iodine is another nutrient essential for breast health and low levels have been associated with the development of lumpy fibrocystic breasts.  Rates of iodine deficiency are incredibly common, and you should discuss with your ND whether or not you should test your levels.  A multivitamin supplement will provide you with some essential iodine, or seaweed snacks are a great food source. 

Chaste tree, or Vitex agnus-castus, is hands-down my favourite botanical supplement for cyclic breast pain.  Also used to reduce painful periods and PMS mood changes, chaste tree can be a game-changer for women with miserable premenstrual symptoms.  Talk to your ND to ensure this is a good choice for you. 

Taking Back Your Ta-Tas

My philosophy of women’s health is “No More Meh”.  You don’t have to accept symptoms of breast tenderness, mood changes and low libido.  You don’t have to feel exhausted and overwhelmed.  You are a force of nature.  You are a damn goddess.  Own it. 

If you want to work together, drop me a line via email or Facebook or follow me on Instagram. I’d love to meet you. 

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

Pruthi S, Wahner-Roedler DL, Torkelson CJ, et al. Vitamin E and evening primrose oil for management of cyclical mastalgia: a randomized pilot study. Altern Med Rev. 2010;15(1):59-67. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20359269

Mirghafourvand M, Mohammad-Alizadeh-Charandabi S, Ahmadpour P, Javadzadeh Y. Effects of Vitex agnus and flaxseed on cyclic mastalgia: a randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2016;24:90-95. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26860808

Zombies, BRAINS and Essential Fatty Acids

Theories abound on how zombies came to exist.  Contaminated food supply, mutated viruses, radiation exposure or parasitic infection.  No matter the cause of the zombie state, one thing is consistent for all zombies – a need for BRAINS.

Why Brains?

As we don’t have any zombies to consult for this article, we must rely on a bit of speculation as to why zombies have a nutritional preference for brains.  The human brain is the fattiest organ in the body, made up of at least 60% fat.  However if the fat was the only nutrient a zombie was interested in, adipose tissue (body fat) might be an easier target, especially in North America where roughly 70% of the population is overweight or obese.

What brain tissue has that body fat does not is a high concentration of a specific omega 3 fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).  Concentrations of this essential fatty acid are higher in the brain than any other tissue.  Could it be that zombies are hungering for more DHA?

Functions of DHA in the Brain

DHA is essential for the development of the brain and nervous system in infants, and in the repair and protection of the brain in aging individuals.  Perhaps zombies are seeking the known benefits of DHA on cognitive function (as their function has been significantly decreased by the zombie state).  Some of the known benefits include:

  • Improved memory
  • Improved learning
  • Improved mood
  • Improved neuroplasticity
  • Decreased rates of dementia
  • Decreased rates of depression
  • Increased brain size (less loss of brain size with age)

Novel Nutritional Recommendations for Zombies

I’d like to encourage all zombies, and zombie caregivers, to consider other sources of DHA and to leave the brains where they are best put to use – in the heads of healthy humans.  While food sources of DHA are not abundant in the typical zombie diet, incorporating more of these foods may help to reduce brain cravings and support zombie health.

Food Sources of DHA

  • Algae
  • Fatty fish – especially cold water fish like anchovies, salmon, mackerel, and herring
  • Eggs – especially DHA enriched eggs
  • DHA supplements

Select References

Dyall SC, Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and share effects of EPA, DPA and DHA.  Front Aging Neurosci 2015;7:52 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4404917/

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes by the supernatural community. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed monster doctor. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Frankenstein, or other primary care provider is recommended for any supernatural being suffering from a health problem.

Mummies & Dehydration: Supernatural Health Series

Water, water everywhere.  With 71% of the earth being covered in water, and around 60% of the human body being water, there is no doubt that water is one of the most important elements of health – health of the body and health of our environment.

But what about the health of mummies?  No one is more prone to severe dehydration that a mummified person or animal.  In fact, a lack of water is necessary for the mummification process.

So what is a health seeking mummy to do?  Let’s look at general guidelines for water consumption in humans, and see if our mummy brethren can benefit from this information.

Benefits of Water

Every system in our body uses water.  Without water many essential processes slow down or do not function optimally.  Some of the most important functions of water in the body:

  • carrying nutrients to your cells
  • allowing your cells to remove debris
  • flushing bacteria out of the bladder
  • supporting digestion
  • regulating bowel movements
  • supporting blood pressure
  • protecting joints
  • regulating body temperature
  • maintaining salt balance in the body

Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration can occur quickly, especially on hot days, or slowly with compounded effects day after day.  If you have any of the following signs of dehydration, you should increase your water intake and talk to your doctor.

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • low blood pressure
  • confusion
  • dark coloured urine
  • dry skin
  • bandage wrapped skin and a birth date more than 100 years ago

How Much Water to Drink?

There is no hard rule for how much water to drink, but there are some general guidelines which can be helpful in keeping you hydrated.

  1. Two to three cups (250ml) per hour – This will keep you hydrated all day long
  2. 8×8 rule – eight 8oz glasses per day. – Simple, easy to remember, but not based on any hard science, the 8×8 rule is likely to work for most people
  3. 5-1.0 ounces per pound of body weight – A nice guideline that can be easily individualized based on your weight. Aim for the higher amount during hotter or drier weather.

For mummies, the recommended amount of water is likely to be much higher due to a baseline of severe dehydration.  I recommend tripling the above recommendations to meet a mummy’s water needs.

Human, or mummy, water is essential to our quality of life.  So pick a guideline above and challenge yourself to drink your way to optimal health.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes by the supernatural community. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed monster doctor. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Frankenstein, or other primary care provider is recommended for any supernatural being suffering from a health problem.

The PMS Diet

Premenstrual syndrome may hit you like a storm each month, throwing your mood and your body into chaos and misery. But does it have to be like that? We all know women who sail through their cycles with not a concern in the world. Is it possible that we all can achieve that level of hormone harmony and banish our PMS symptoms? Yes, I believe it is.

The PMS Diet

My philosophy is that health comes from the balance of three key components:

  1. What we put into our bodies (food, alcohol, drugs, etc.)
  2. How we move our body (exercise, flexibility, play, etc.)
  3. The thoughts we hold in our mind-body (gratitude, self love, frustration, etc.)

With this philosophy at the core of my approach, I often suggest that women with hormone imbalances consider the impact of their diet. And in PMS your diet can have a huge impact – for good, or for bad. So lets get to it and discuss how you can have an impact on your PMS by optimizing your diet.

  1. Quit sugar

Ladies, you know this one. But it is so damn hard to do – your body can send some pretty strong cravings for sugar when hormone imbalances associated with PMS cause your serotonin to plummet. But sugar is not going to make anything better.

Women who experience PMS eat, on average, 275% more refined sugar than women who do not have PMS. What?!! That’s a ton of sugar! And women with PMS also consume between 200-500 more calories per day – typically in the forms of carbohydrates, fats and sweets. That is not going to make anyone feel better!

The main issue is that sugar increases the loss of magnesium in the urine – and magnesium deficiency is thought to be the cause of a lot of PMS symptoms, including fatigue, irritability, brain fog, insomnia as well as period cramps. Just to add to your misery, sugar also increases salt and water retention, leading to swelling and breast tenderness. Ugh.

  1. Avoid alcohol

We’re still in common sense country here, but avoiding alcohol really is something you need to do if you want to balance your hormones and eliminate PMS. While reaching for a glass of wine (or two) is tempting when you’re in a PMS rage, you are not making things any better. Alcohol can inhibit your liver’s ability to detoxify hormones, and can lead to higher circulating estrogen levels. This can exacerbate the imbalance of hormones that is already thought to cause PMS – high estrogen to low progesterone.  So consider making a cup of tea instead, and skip the alcohol for your own sake.

  1. Cut the caffeine

I’m really not making any friends with this article. I’m feeling like a bit of a buzz kill! But let’s talk straight – hormone imbalances are strongly associated with our behaviours. And we can change our behaviours!

Drinking coffee, and other caffeine-containing beverages, has been found to be associated with PMS, and with a greater severity of PMS. If you have PMS, I encourage you to try a cycle without caffeine and see if you notice an improvement, a lot of the women in my practice have found this to have a huge impact.

  1. Skip the salt

If you experience bloating, breast tenderness or swelling during PMS, you should check your diet to see if you are eating too much salt. Mostly found in processed food, salt can contribute to water retention, and swelling. Skipping prepared, processed and fast foods should bring your salt intake down to a balanced and healthy level.

  1. Get complex

Breads, bagels, crackers, pasta and other simple carbohydrates are setting you up for blood sugar instability and almost guaranteeing a miserable PMS. Instead of these foods, opt for the complex carbohydrates, these are slower to digest, keep you full longer and your blood sugar stable. Women who eat more complex carbohydrates also eat more fiber, an important nutrient that promotes estrogen elimination from the body.

So banish the bread and instead go for whole grains – brown rice, oats, quinoa, millet, and amaranth are delicious. And try sweet potatoes, squash, lentils, and beans for filling complex carbohydrates.

  1. Go green

Leafy greens are a PMS fighting superfood! A rich source of calcium and magnesium, leafy greens also support liver function, encouraging the liver to detoxify and eliminate excess estrogen. Choose your favourite leafy greens and eat them every day – kale, spinach, arugula, swiss chard or collard greens are all excellent choices!

  1. Go fish!

Fish, and other foods that are rich in vitamin B6, are important for any woman struggling with PMS. B6, a water-soluble nutrient, is involved in over 100 reactions in our body, many of which are involved in the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6 is one of the best studied nutrients for PMS, and it has been found to help restore balance for women with PMS and reduce symptoms, especially mood symptoms such as irritation, anger and sadness.

  1. Open sesame

Sesame seeds are an excellent source of calcium, and clinical trials have found that women with the highest intake of calcium have the lowest incidence of PMS symptoms. While most studies have been on calcium supplements, increasing dietary calcium is a great place to start.

Other great sources of calcium include tofu, sardines, leafy greens, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, squash, bean sprouts, almonds, brazil nuts, quinoa, chickpeas, beans and oranges.

  1. Beans, beans, beans!

There are many reasons why beans pack a powerful punch in treating PMS. Beans are an excellent source of magnesium, one of the most important nutrient imbalances in PMS. Taken as a supplement, magnesium can improve mood, reduce breast tenderness and relieve pain during periods.

But beans offer more than just magnesium. They also are a rich source of fiber and protein. Women who consume a mostly vegetarian diet have lower incidence of PMS and lower levels of estrogen – both benefits that can be achieved by just increasing the beans in your diet.

  1. Boost Bacteria

Fermented foods, like kim chi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir all contain probiotics – healthy bacteria that can live in our digestive tracts and support our overall health. Healthy bacteria do more than just help our digestion, they also support hormone balance – especially estrogen elimination, an important component of managing PMS.

When your bacteria balance is optimal your body is able to easily eliminate estrogen. When your bacteria levels are out of balance estrogen levels increase and can significantly contribute to PMS. So try some fermented foods, or take a daily probiotic to balance your bacteria.

 Diet and More

Diet is an excellent place to start in treating your PMS.  It may seem simple, but simple things can sometimes be incredibly powerful.  Each action you take on a daily basis, each food you eat, or those foods you don’t eat, all influence your hormone balance and determine whether you sail through PMS or struggle.  Once you have started with these dietary changes, if you are still experiencing symptoms, check out my top treatments for PMS, ask whether you may be experiencing PMDD or take a refresher on the hormonal imbalances of PMS.  And if you are ready to take the next step, feel free to get in touch so we can work together on resolving your PMS.

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.

 

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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 (seriously.  14 days.)  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.  Researchers, clinicians, and people all over the internet debate this constantly.  We do know that it’s most likely a combination of imbalances in our hormones, neurotransmitters, lifestyle factors and our environment that leads to symptoms of PMS.

Balancing these diverse systems gives most women relief from their PMS symptoms. But it can take some time to determine what will work for you!  Don’t try to do this alone – an experienced naturopath or functional medicine doctor can guide you and give you the best chance for bidding farewell to your PMS.

Below you will find my TOP TEN natural treatments for PMS.  Start here.  Empower yourself with knowledge.  Then find the support you need.

10 Tips to Treat PMS Naturally

1. Exercise

Come on.  We know exercise is important, but did you know it can decrease your PMS symptoms?  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 can reducing estrogen levels, improve blood sugar levels and raise your feel-good endorphins!  And really, any exercise will do.  So run, dance, swim, cycle, hula hoop, yoga or pilates – it doesn’t matter.  Just do it!

2.    Cut the sugar

Women who experience PMS have been reported to eat whopping 275% more refined sugar than women who do not get PMS symptoms.  DAMN.

Refined sugars zap our magnesium levels, increase salt and water retention and create imbalances in our insulin levels.  All of these concerns have been linked to PMS symptoms.

Eliminating refined sugar and limiting simple carbohydrates (grains, pasta, baked goods) in favour of high fiber complex carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables, whole grains) lowers 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

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but 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!  Those little buggers living in our intestines are working hard 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 healthy bacteria levels in your gut 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.    Consider Cal-Mag

1k-7649 spinachEstrogen and calcium are BFFs in our bodies.  Estrogen is involved in the absorption, metabolism and utilization of calcium in our bodies (this is why we are more prone to osteoporosis as we age – we’re learning so much today!)  And studies have found that both mood and physical symptoms of PMS are improved with daily calcium supplementation

Magnesium deficiency is a serious concern and most women with PMS are deficient in magnesium!  I’m going to say that again – MOST women with PMS are deficient in magnesium.   Magnesium deficiency causes fatigue, irritability, mental confusion, menstrual cramps, insomnia, muscle aches or 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.  Take to your ND about a Cal-Mag supplement, and take it in the evening away from other medications and supplements.

6.    Bring the B vitamins

It is hard to keep track of the hundreds of different things B vitamins do!  One of the most important is the detoxification of hormones through our liver.  If you don’t have enough B vitamins, your body is going to be dealing with those hormones a lot longer than you want to be.

Vitamin B6 is also a superstar when it comes to treating PMS.  Necessary for the production of two neurotransmitters – serotonin and dopamine (read all about them in my article on hormones for happiness!), vitamin B6 can seriously ease symptoms of PMS such as 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 women’s hormones.  It has been used for menopause, painful menstruation, no menstruation and as a uterine tonic.  Dong quai has phytoestrogenic properties and I recommend it 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

The SINGLE most important herb in the treatment of PMS, chaste tree (Vitex agnus castus) has been a life-changer for many women in my practice.

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 production 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 – one of the most powerful we use.  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

Obviously I think this is 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 cortisol, 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.  And of course, you can contact me if you’d like us to work together.

Disclaimer

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

The Empowered Woman’s Guide to HSV

Oh herpes. No one wants you. But with 2/3 of people under age 50 having some form of herpes, a lot of women are dealing with this unwanted guest in their lady garden. And herpes isn’t going anywhere – once you have the herpes virus, you always have the herpes virus. Herpes is one of the types of virus that is able to remain in a hidden state in our bodies (called “latent” infection) and pop out when we least want it to.

Types of Herpes

There are two types of herpes simplex virus – HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is the virus associated with most cold sores. HSV-2 is the one associated with genital herpes. However their location doesn’t really matter – you can have HSV-1 on your genitals, and while relatively rare, you can also have HSV-2 around your mouth.

How to Get Herpes

Now no one wants to get herpes, but honestly it is hard to avoid. HSV-1 and -2 are transmitted by physical contact, kissing or sexual intimacy. As one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, exposure rates are very high. To avoid exposure to HSV use condoms or dental dams when having sexual contact, and avoid direct contact during known outbreaks in a partner.

While HSV-2 is commonly transmitted sexually, it can infect the mouth as well through oral sex. Most cases of HSV-1 are contracted during childhood, but can also occur sexually. HSV-1 and -2 can both also be passed along to infants during childbirth.

Symptoms of HSV

Many people recognize the symptoms of cold sores – a watery blister near the lip (or sometimes the nose) or in the mucous membranes of the mouth. As the blister heals it forms a characteristic scab.

But herpes can also be completely silent – many people have HSV infections and never know it. This contributes to the high rates of exposure to HSV – it can be passed on even if no active blisters or sores are present.

Symptoms of an outbreak can also cause some symptoms such as tingling, burning or flu-like symptoms before the blisters appear. It is important to avoid direct contact with a partner during these times (use a condom or dental dam).

The first contact with the virus will cause the primary outbreak – usually with symptoms showing up between 2-21 days after contact. Typically this outbreak is more severe and can last longer than subsequent outbreaks.

Triggering Future Outbreaks

Any number of different triggers can lead to the resurgence of the herpes virus. Things that compromise your immune function – like lack of sleep, stress, poor diet and alcohol consumption are common triggers. Other triggers may be sun exposure, excessive heat, skin irritation or other local infections.

Diagnosing HSV

The best test is a simple swab, done in your doctor’s office soon after the onset of the blisters. It can take up to a week for results to come back, so treatment is often started if the symptoms and appearance are consistent with a herpes infection.

There are blood tests available as well that can be used if HSV is suspected.

An Empowered Approach to Treating HSV

My first step in treating HSV in women is to offer assurance. You are practically a unicorn if you have never had HSV – most people in Canada do have it (and remember, once you’ve had it you always have it). It is a virus like any other and we need to let go of some of the negative connotations around contracting HSV.

Second, there are antiviral medications available that can help to lessen the severity of an outbreak and lower the chances of passing HSV to a partner. While I don’t advocate for on going use of these medications, they can be used judiciously in women who are looking for short term support.

Of course, as a naturopathic doctor, my focus is on empowering women to make choices for their health based on knowledge and informed by science. So I like to emphasize what we, as women, can do to help control HSV and prevent outbreaks.

St. John’s Wort – most commonly known as a treatment for depression, Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort) also has powerful antiviral properties that are effective against herpes viruses. Typically taken at higher doses for 1-2 weeks, then decreasing to a lower or maintenance dose.

Lysine – one of the more well-known treatments for HSV, lysine is an amino acid that helps to stabilize the virus and prevent reactivation. It is most often taken daily to prevent outbreaks. Many doctors also suggest consuming more lysine in the diet, and avoiding arginine – this balance supports the immune system in it’s work. Below you’ll find a list of foods high in lysine (enjoy lots of these!) and foods high in arginine (limit these).

Lemon Balm – topical lemon balm is stellar at soothing and supporting the healing of cold sores and genital herpes. It is applied directly to the lesions once or twice per day during an outbreak.

Coriolus Mushrooms – mushrooms pack one hell of a punch when it comes to optimizing our immune system. Coriolus mushrooms in particular have been found to optimize immune function and support the immune system in it’s battle against viruses. I suggest taking mushrooms regularly to support your immune function.

Empowered Steps

If you are struggling with recurrent HSV outbreaks, or this is your first outbreak, I hope that you feel more knowledgeable after reading this article. As always, I suggest that you work with a qualified Naturopathic Doctor to put together a plan that approaches all aspects of your health, and the health of your lady garden. If you’d like to work with me, I am happily taking new patients in my women’s health focused practice in Toronto. You can book 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.

Phytoestrogens: Hormone Balance With Food

Phytoestrogens, or plant-based estrogens, are compounds found in our food that can bind to our estrogen receptors.  While a lot of confusion exists on the impact this has on our hormone health, I’m going to help you understand the amazing balancing effects of phytoestrogens, and tell you why you should consider having more of them in your diet.

Why Phytoestrogens are Important

In our bodies we have three sources for estrogen: the estrogen we make (also known as endogenous estrogen), the estrogen we eat (phytoestrogens) and the estrogen-like compounds we are exposed to in our environment (xenoestrogens).

Each of these estrogens can bind to an estrogen receptor and cause an estrogen-like effect.  The chemical estrogens, or xenoestrogens, from the pesticides, herbicides, personal care products and other chemicals in our body have a much stronger impact than that of our own home-made estrogen.  And the plant estrogens have a much weaker effect.

The Balancing Effects of Estrogen

With many women suffering from conditions of excess estrogen – like fibroids, PCOS, obesity and estrogen dominance as well as estrogen sensitive conditions like endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts and breast cancer – lowering their body burden of estrogen is important.  For women with high estrogen, consuming more very mildly estrogenic phytoestrogens can prevent the negative impact of exposure to their body’s own estrogens as well as the chemical estrogens from the environment.  When you have lots of plant estrogens in your body they occupy the estrogen receptor, causing a very small estrogen-like impact, but most importantly, they prevent other stronger estrogens from binding to that receptor.  This results in an overall lower estrogen state in the body.

Following along so far?  It gets better!

When women are suffering from low estrogen – due to hysterectomy or menopause, phytoestrogens can also be helpful.  When women is no longer producing her own estrogen in optimal amounts, the small amount of an estrogen effect from a phytoestrogen can help to boost her estrogen levels and diminish symptoms of low estrogen like hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and mood swings.

Food Sources of Phytoestrogens

More than 300 different plants contain phytoestrogens. There are several subclasses of phytoestrogens, some of which are listed below.

Lignans – Vegetables, fruits, nuts, cereals, spices, seeds; especially flax seeds

Isoflavones – Spinach, fruits, clovers, peas, beans; especially soy

Flavones – Beans, green vegetables, fruits, nuts

Chalcones – Licorice root

Diterpenoids – Coffee

Triterpenoids – Licorice root, hops

Coumarins – Cabbage, peas, spinach, licorice, clover

To increase dietary sources of phytoestrogens, consider the following foods:

Flax seeds – the highest food source of phytoestrogens is flax seed and oils. The phytoestrogens in flax seeds are lignans. Lignans have antitumour, antioxidant, and weakly estrogenic and antiestrogenic characteristics. They have been found in studies to decrease vaginal dryness, hot flashes or night sweats in women with low estrogen symptoms.

Soy, edamame, tofu, tempeh – the best known phytoestrogen, soy, when consumed in the diet, is safe for women with symptoms of both high and low estrogen.  For hot flashes and night sweats, women who consume soy tend to have less symptoms than women who do not.  Other research suggests that increasing soy foods in the diet stabilizes bone density, decreases cholesterol levels and has a favourable effect on cardiovascular risk profiles in menopausal women

Beans: soybeans, tempeh, black beans, white beans, kidney beans, lentils, mung beans, coffee

Grains: wheat berry, oats, barley, rice, alfalfa, wheat germ

Seeds and nuts: flaxseed, sesame seeds, fenugreek

Vegetablesyams, carrots

Fruits: apples, pomegranates

Herbs and spices: Mint, licorice root, ginseng, hops, fennel, anise, red clover

Harmonizing Your Hormones

If you are interested in exploring more ways to balance your hormones naturally, book a free 15 minute meet and greet appointment with me to discuss how you can bring harmony to your hormones and fire up your health!

Disclaimer

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

 

The Empowered Woman’s Guide to UTIs

This month I’m sharing some of my best advice on how to support and maintain a healthy lady garden. And no discussion on lady garden health would be complete without a mention of those miserable, burning, peeing-a-million-times-a-day UTIs.

Urinary Tract Infections

While men get UTIs as well, women are much more prone to getting urinary tract infections. This is due to a couple of unique things about the lady garden anatomy – the urethra is very close to two bacteria-filled environments, the vagina and the anus, and the urethra in women is much shorter, allowing a fast-track for bacteria to get into the urinary bladder.

Sex can also increase the incidence of UTIs in women because of, well, friction. If the bacteria in the vaginal tract are not healthily balanced those bad bacteria can be pushed into the urethra and lead to a UTI (this is why we are told to pee after sex ladies!)

Symptoms of UTIs

Most women are pretty fast to identify a UTI. There is no mistaking that burning sensation when you pee, as well as that urgent and frequent need to urinate – even when very little comes out each time. Other symptoms to pay attention to are: cloudy urine, pain in the lower back or lower abdomen, or fatigue, fever and chills. If you pain, fever or fatigue – get to your doctor – the infection may have moved into your kidneys which needs immediate attention.

An Empowered Approach to Treating UTIs

While most women are given an antibiotic for UTIs – a treatment which is absolutely necessary in some cases – many women can manage their UTIs quickly and easily with a more natural and empowered approach. There is much more to the treatment of UTIs than just killing off bacteria (those antibiotics will kill off both good and bad bacteria) – we also need to support the health of the lady garden and the immune system.

Lifestyle and Prevention

If you have ever had a UTI it is likely you have been given this advice, but it is so important that it is worth mentioning again. Follow these simple tips to prevent UTIs:

  1. Pee after having sex (to flush the urethra of any bacteria that may have gotten in there)
  2. Drink lots of water
  3. Pee often – don’t hold it in!
  4. Wipe from front to back
  5. Don’t use scented products on your lady garden
  6. Wear cotton underwear and loose fitting clothes

Diet to Prevent Bladder Irritation

Some foods can promote a bladder environment that makes it more likely for you to develop UTIs – and can make it harder to effective treat infections, leading to an increased likelihood of chronic or recurrent urinary tract infections (no thank you!)

Limit caffeine, refined sugar, white flour, alcohol, and food allergies to support the health of your bladder and reduce irritation. If you are a smoker, you should quit as well.

Get Hydrated

Another piece of obvious advice, the importance of hydration can NOT be underemphasized in the treatment of UTIs. I recommend drinking water like it is your day job when actively treating a UTI. But for prevention you should still drink at least 2 litres of water per day. Avoid fluids that contain caffeine and sugar, and stick instead with just plain water – or water with lemon if you’d like.

Keep Your pH Balanced

We talked a lot about the importance of pH balance in the lady garden in the BV and yeast infection articles, and pH balance is just as important for urinary tract infections. Our urine should be slightly acidic (like our lady garden!) which creates an environment that is inhospitable to those UTI-causing bacteria, like e. coli.

Vitamin C is one of the easiest and most effective ways to support the proper pH of the urine. During acute UTIs you can take higher doses of vitamin C (discuss your dose with your Naturopath), and for maintenance take 1-2g per day in divided doses (morning and evening).

Promote Healthy Bacteria

UTIs are caused by the presence of nasty bacteria – most often e. coli, in the urinary tract. Promoting healthy levels of beneficial bacteria, especially lactobacillus, will prevent there from being large colonies of e. coli in the vaginal tract, urinary tract and digestive tract. A daily probiotic supplement is absolutely recommended, and I will often recommend a topical probiotic to be applied to the lady garden during acute infection.

Clear Out the Urethra

We’ve all heard of using cranberry to treat UTIs, and there is evidence that this treatment will help. Cranberry contains a compound called proanthocyanidin that prevents bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract. This allows you to clear the bacteria much faster. For an acute infection you need to use unsweetened 100% cranberry juice and drink a good amount per day – up to 16 ounces, diluted in water.

Banish Bad Bacteria

There are some excellent natural plant-based treatments for killing off the bacteria that cause UTIs. I never recommend these in isolation – they need to be taken as part of an empowered treatment plan. Destroying bacteria alone will not adequately treat a UTI.

Uva ursi is a powerful antimicrobial that can be highly effective in eradicating bacteria, including e. coli. It is not for use in pregnancy, breastfeeding, children or for more than one week at a time.

Goldenseal is another excellent antimicrobial that is effective against e. coli. It can be used as a supplement, in a tea, or as a lady garden rinse after sexual activity.

Boost Immune Function

To support your immune system, be sure you are maintaining healthy vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is necessary for the production of antimicrobial peptides – our body’s own antibiotics. Supplementation with vitamin D has been found to be associated with a decreased incidence of UTIs. And since just about every Canadian is deficient from October to May, a daily supplement is necessary for most everyone.

Empowered and UTI-Free!

I hope you can now see all the many factors that go into treating and preventing UTIs.  Working with a Naturopathic Doctor can help you to individualize your plan – to be sure that you are taking all the necessary steps to be empowered in the care of your lady garden.  If you’d like to talk – drop me a line!  You can book a 15 minute meet and greet session, join me on Facebook or Instagram.  I’m thrilled to a part of your empowered journey.

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.