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Problems with the Pill

There is no doubt that the birth control pill was a huge player in the feminist revolution. First released in 1960, the pill allowed women to delay pregnancy and focus on their career, transforming the lives of women and society. While the pill may be a political powerhouse, and be effective at preventing pregnancy, my belief is that it is being overprescribed, and women are under-educated on the impact that the pill can have on their health.

This article will share some of the concerns that I, as a naturopathic doctor and women’s health expert, have regarding the pill. The purpose is not to convince you to give up the pill, but to empower you with information so that you can make an informed choice as to whether this medication is the right choice for you.

Problems with the Pill

  1. The Pill Depletes Nutrients

One of the biggest problems with the pill is the nutrient deficiencies that result from use. From B vitamins to essential minerals, the pill changes the absorption, utilization and metabolism of a number of different nutrients. These nutrient depletions are the underlying cause of many of the negative side effects of the pill – things like weight gain, moodiness, fatigue and blood clots. You can read all about the nutritional problems with the pill in this article.

  1. Weight gain

The estrogen in birth control pills can cause an increased appetite and fluid retention, leading to weight gain, especially in the first few months on the pill. Long term weight gain on the pill is more likely due to the decreased levels of B vitamins, necessary for carbohydrate and fat metabolism (i.e. burning fat for energy).

  1. No glory for our guts

The pill is known to alter the balance of healthy bacteria in our guts. Estrogen affects gut permeability (a risk factor for autoimmune disease) and bacteria balance, a condition known as dysbiosis. Healthy bacteria are incredibly important for our overall health – especially our immune, mood and digestive health. The pill has been linked to symptoms of gas, bloating, IBS, and an increased risk of Crohn’s disease in women with a family history of the digestive condition.

The change in healthy bacteria balance, combined with the estrogen in the pill, also makes women more susceptible to vaginal and digestive yeast infections. If you get frequent or recurrent yeast infections, or significant gas or bloating symptoms, consider if your pill may be part of the problem.

  1. Moodiness

Any woman can tell you that hormones can have a significant impact on your mood. The rises and dips in estrogen and progesterone that occur over a woman’s monthly cycle can lead to moods and behaviours that foster relationships, encourage sexual intimacy, and make women weepy, emotional and volatile. While some women on the pill notice very little difference in their mood states, other women find their normal emotional states become heightened in intensity and more difficult to manage. The reasons for this are very individual – some women don’t tolerate the high levels of estrogen and others find the high progesterone problematic. In either case, if the pill makes you moody switching to another pill is unlikely to help.

  1. Blood clots

Possibly the most well known side effect of the pill, the risk of blood clots is highest in women who are obese, are smokers or who have a family history of blood clots. The estrogen in the birth control pill is the most likely culprit, increasing the production of clotting factors and increasing a woman’s risk of blood clots by three-to-four fold. Deficiencies of key nutrients can also contribute to an increased risk of blood clots, most notably vitamin B6, vitamin E and magnesium – all of which are depleted by the pill.

  1. Thin endometrial lining

The endometrial (or uterine) lining is necessary for a successful implantation and pregnancy. In women wanting to have a family, long term use of oral birth control pills could thin the endometrial lining, leading to difficulty conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy. The underlying cause of this change is thought to be a down-regulation of estrogen receptors in the uterus, resulting from long term use of synthetic progesterone. The upside to this situation, is that this same mechanism is thought to be the reason why the pill reduces the risk of endometrial cancer.

  1. No sex drive

Never mind a thin endometrial lining if you can’t get up the urge to have sex at all. Many women report a low libido as a major issue they have with taking the pill. The pill lowers androgens and the lowered testosterone is likely responsible for the lack of sex drive. Around ovulation women typically experience a small, but significant, testosterone surge, causing them to seek out sex. On the pill you don’t experience this testosterone surge and your urge for sex can all but dry up. On a positive note – this decrease in testosterone is the reason why the pill can improve acne. But there are other ways to clear acne than giving up your lusty libido.

  1. Ignoring Mr. Right

Some of the most intriguing research on the pill surrounds a woman’s decision making around possible partners. Women who are on the pill tend to be attracted to more masculine, macho men with more ‘manly’ physical characteristics, and ignore men with softer, more ‘feminine’ features. Dr. Julie Holland, in her book Moody Bitches, refers to this as the “dad-or-cad” dilemma – women on the pill are more likely to be attracted to the bad-boy, rather than the more sensitive man who may be more acceptable as a long term partner and father to her children. Dr. Holland suggests it might be a good idea to get off the pill if you’re entering the dating pool, to prevent later regrets!

As if that wasn’t enough, another study found that women on the pill tend to seek out men with more genetic similarities to themselves, increasing their risk of miscarriage and genetic issues in their offspring. Women off the pill tend to choose men that are more genetically dissimilar – a pairing that tends to result in healthy pregnancies, happier relationships, more satisfying sex, and an increased likelihood of female orgasm.

  1. Masks symptoms

One of my biggest concerns with the pill is that it is used by conventional doctors as a band-aid for every female reproductive issue. Got PCOS? Take the pill! Got endometriosis? Take the pill! Got fibroids? Take the pill! PMS or menstrual cramps? Take the pill! Perimenopausal? You get the pill too! In no way does the pill address the underlying issues of these women’s health issues. The pill just provides a steady state of synthetic hormones, suppressing and masking the symptoms of the underlying imbalance. When you get off the pill you are no better than when you started – but you are older. And if you want to try and start a family you still have to address the underlying imbalance. The use of the pill as a way to suppress and deny the imbalances in women’s hormones is a disservice to women and I deplore it.

  1. The pill is a carcinogen

Ok. I get it, this sounds scary. But it’s true. The International Agency for Research on Cancer includes oral birth control pills as a carcinogen on its list of known human carcinogens. Studies have shown that birth control pills can increase the risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer and liver cancer. It can reduce your risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers, however. In general I’d suggest using the pill for as short a duration as possible and consider other forms of contraception for the majority of your reproductive years.

We have to keep in mind that the pill is not without problems. It contains synthetic hormones at levels much higher than our body produces on its own. Some of the side effects like acne, breast tenderness, or moodiness might be manageable, but I think women need to be empowered with knowledge to decide if the pill is the right choice for them.

If you have concerns about using the pill, want to balance your hormones naturally, or discuss natural forms of non-hormonal contraception, book an appointment now. Your hormones are in your hands – strive for hormone harmony!

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.

 

Onset of Mental Health Disorders – Teen Years

The majority of ‘adult’ mental health disorders start during the teen years. This is not surprising given the substantial development occurring in the brain during the teens. Problems with this rapid and drastic development have been linked to mild mood disturbances as well as major illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Anxiety

Most anxiety disorders begin in childhood, adolescence and into early adulthood. Children tend to experience separation anxiety, while during the teen years social phobia, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety are the most commonly experienced anxiety disorders. In early adulthood panic disorders often start, perhaps due to inadequate management of anxiety during the teen years.

Depression

Natural support for mental illness in teensAlthough depression rates are highest in those aged 25-44, the average onset of depression is around 14 years of age.   Depression is a huge concern for teens because it is a major risk factor for suicide. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for 10-to-24 year olds. Additionally, depression often co-exists with other mood disorders such as anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse.

Schizophrenia

With 1% of the population suffering from schizophrenia, it is not one of the most common mental disorders. Schizophrenia affects males and females equally. Men tend to have their first episode in their late teens, women are most often affected later – in their twenties and thirties.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) tends to occur later than the other mental disorders on this list. The average age of diagnosis is the mid-twenties, with a first manic episode occurring in the late teens or early twenties. Bipolar disorder is slightly more prevalent than schizophrenia affecting approximately 1.2% of people over 18 years of age.

 

Naturopathic medicine for mood in teensWith such a large proportion of mental disorders beginning during the teen years, why are we not recognizing these issues and offering more support to these teens?

Teens who are seeking a drug-free solution to their mental health concerns should consult with a Naturopathic Doctor who is well versed in adolescent health, mental health and who can help you recognize your imbalances and provide you with a plan to help regain balance in your life.

Effective natural treatments are available for anxiety and depression. If you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, your Naturopathic Doctor can work with your Medical Doctor to help you feel better and regain a sense of health and well-being in your life.

If you suspect you may have a mental health disorder, consult a Naturopathic or Medical Doctor. For further reading, visit Teen Mental Health or Adolescent Medicine at Sick Kids Hospital.

Resources:

William R Yates, MD, MS. Anxiety Disorders. E-medicine from WebMD, updated April 20, 2010. available online at: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/286227-overview. Accessed November 20, 2010.

National Institute of Mental Health. The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America. Reviewed November 18, 2010. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml. Accessed November 20, 2010.

 

Optimizing Fertility: Menstrual Cycle 101

One of the most important things you can do when optimizing your fertility is to learn about your menstrual cycle – the ebb and flow of hormones that allows for pregnancy to occur!

Many women have little to no understanding of the events that lead up to their period. Many women don’t even know when to expect their period because they have never tracked it. I too was guilty of this before I began trying to become pregnant!

Other articles on this website will teach you how to track your basal body temperature and cervical fluids, but this article will take you through the hormonal changes that allow our body to become pregnant – each step of which is vital for optimal fertility.

Remember – these dates are approximations based on a “typical” 28-29 day cycle. In every woman there may be individual variations.

The Big Events

Days 1-5

The biggest event in our menstrual cycle is arguably our menstrual period. It’s certainly the most noticeable event! On the first day of our period our major fertility hormones, estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest level. This low hormone state allows for the period to start. It also triggers our pituitary gland to start making hormones (LH – lutenizing hormone and FSH – follicular stimulating hormone) to stimulate growth of new follicles in the ovaries.

Day 7

At the end of the first week estrogen levels are increasing and in the ovaries the follicles are growing rapidly. One of these follicles surpasses the others and becomes the dominant (graafian) follicle. The follicle starts producing its own estrogen, adding to the high total amount of estrogen.

Days 7-12

The high levels of estrogen stimulate the lining of the uterus to thicken and prepare for possible implantation later in the cycle. The glands of the cervix also begin to produce a new type of cervical fluid – the fertile cervical mucus.

Eggs a source of vitamin B12Days 12 and 13

High levels of estrogen act on the pituitary, stimulating it to produce lutenizing hormone (LH). The LH surge stimulates production of enzymes and prostaglandins in the dominant follicle, preparing the follicle to ovulate its egg.

Day 14

Ovulation occurs when enzymes breakthrough the follicle wall and prostaglandins stimulate the release of the egg.

Day 15-25

The follicle that released its egg at ovulation is now a corpus luteum. The corpus luteum produces progesterone. Higher progesterone levels are noted on the basal body temperature tracking chart as an increase in body temperature of 0.4-0.5oC. Under the influence of progesterone the uterine lining continues to thicken and secrete nutrients. Progesterone also inhibits the pituitary from producing any more follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), preventing more follicles from developing in this cycle.

Day 19 or 20

Peak progesterone levels allow for implantation of a fertilized embryo in the lining of
the uterus.

Day 25-28

If implantation of an embryo does not occur the corpus luteum stops producing hormones and levels of progesterone and estrogen drop. This sudden decline in hormone levels leads to loss of the endometrial lining as a menstrual period. The drop in hormones also signals the pituitary gland to once again start production of FSH and LH to prepare a new group of follicles for ovulation.

This knowledge, combined with the information gathered from your BBT tracking and cervical fluid monitoring can help you to take charge of your fertility and optimize your chances for conception each month.

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.

Iron Deficiency in Children

Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency seen in children.  In adults the causes of iron deficiency tend to be pregnancy and menses (in women) and gastrointestinal bleeding (in men).  In children iron deficiency is most often due to dietary influences.

Dietary Influences on Iron Levels

Lentils are a vegan source of iron

The effects of diet on iron levels are well-known.  Eating a diet low in iron-rich foods will result in iron deficiency in all age groups.  The chart below shows foods that are rich in iron and should be included in a health-promoting diet.  Picky toddlers and school-aged children may develop iron deficiency due to an iron-poor diet.  However, a low iron diet is only one cause of iron deficiency in children.

The most common cause of iron deficiency in younger children (0-24 months) is over-consumption of cow’s milk.  The iron in cow’s milk is much less available for absorption than human milk.  Breastfeeding for the first 12-24months or using formulas fortified with iron are the simplest solutions for iron deficiency in young children.

Due to the high demand of a child’s body for iron (necessary for growth and development) and the possibility for long-term impacts of iron deficiency (poor growth, decreased intelligence and IQ) an iron deficient child must be treated quickly and appropriately.

Other Causes of Iron Deficiency

Malabsorption (the decreased ability to absorb iron from the diet) is a potential cause of iron deficiency in all age groups.  Malabsorption is most commonly seen in people with celiac disease (an inability to tolerate gluten-containing foods – such as wheat, rye, oats, barley, kamut and spelt) or in people with H. pylori colonization in their digestive tracts.  Absorption of iron is also of concern in vegetarians because the phytates in iron-rich plant foods can decrease absorption.

Genetic conditions can also be a potential cause of low iron.  If you have a family history of iron deficiency discuss this with your Naturopathic Doctor.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

The symptoms of iron deficiency in adults and children are similar:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Sore tongue
  • Dark coloured stools
  • Pica (the desire to eat non-food substances – most commonly ice or dirt)

Food Sources of Iron

Animal Sources(meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy) Plant Sources(legumes, nuts, grains, vegetables, fruit)
Excellent sources (containing at least 3.5mg of iron per serving)
  • Pork, chicken or beef liver
  • Beef kidney or beef heart
  • Clams, canned
  • Oysters, canned
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereal (1 cup)
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Soybeans, white beans
  • Firm tofu
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
Good sources (containing 2.1 -3.4mg of iron per serving
  • Beef
  • Shrimp
  • Sardines
  • Pasta (1 cup)
  • Kidney, navy, pinto beans
  • Baked potato with skin on
  • Cooked spinach (1/2 cup)
Fair sources (containing 0.7 – 2.0mg of iron per serving)
  • Pork, ham, chicken, turkey, lamb
  • Crab, salmon, tuna
  • Eggs (2 large)

*Meat portions are 100g/ 3oz – approximately the size of a deck of cards

  • Split peas (3/4 cup)
  • Dried fruit – raisins, figs, dates (1/4 cup)
  • Almonds, cashews, mixed nuts (1/4 cup)

Treating Iron Deficiency in Children

Iron supplements are the most common cause of accidental poisoning in children so great care must be taken in the dosing and storage of iron supplements.  Before prescribing iron supplements a blood test must be done to confirm low iron levels.  Once iron deficiency has been established your Naturopathic Doctor will prescribe an iron supplement appropriate for your child’s needs.  Dosage of iron is determined by weight and the recommended dose must not be exceeded.

Iron dosage: 2mg/ kg body weight per day

Iron supplements are best absorbed on an empty stomach, but this may cause stomach upset in some children.  If that is the case, take the iron with food.  Taking iron with vitamin C or with an acidic meal (containing lemon juice or vinegar) will increase absorption.

Supplemental iron should be taken for three months, at which time blood tests should be repeated to check iron status.  Iron supplements should be continued for 3 months beyond the point where iron levels are found to be sufficient in order to replenish iron stores.

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.

Canadian Teens Have Highest Levels of BPA: Study

91% of Canadians have detectable levels of bisphenol A (BPA) in their urine according to recent data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS).

This study represents the first time BPA levels were measured at a national level in Canada.  Urine samples from 5,600 Canadians aged 6 to 79 years were collected between March 2007 and February 2009 at 15 sites across Canada.

Canadian Teens Have Highest BPA Levels

The average Canadian has a mean concentration of urinary BPA of 1.16 micrograms per litre.  International studies have found similar results with mean concentrations ranging from 1 to 3 micrograms per litre.

Concentrations of BPA were highest in the teens – people aged 12 to 19 had mean concentrations of 1.50 micrograms per litre.  That is nearly 30% higher than the mean concentration.  Children aged 6 to 11 also had concentrations higher than adults aged 40 to 79.

Teens may have higher levels due to a higher intake of BPA-containing foods, higher intake of food relative to their body size, or due to absorption, metabolism or excretion differences.

It is of great concern that teens and children have higher levels of BPA than older adults because exposure to hormone-like substances during the different developmental stages of childhood and adolescence can cause permanent, lifelong changes in the way cells function.

What is BPA?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrical chemical used in the production of polycarbonate plastic (for food containers and water bottles) and epoxy resins (most commonly used as a protective lining in canned food and beverages).  BPA does not occur naturally in the environment.

The main source of BPA exposure is from ingestion of foods in BPA-laden containers, although BPA is also found in drinking water, soil, dust, air, and consumer products.  BPA can migrate into food from food containers, especially when containers are heated, as well as from repeat-use plastic containers.

BPA has a short half-life in the body (less than six hours).  The finding of urinary BPA in 91% of Canadians suggests that Canadians are having continual and widespread exposure to BPA.

Health Effects of BPA Exposure

Studies are emerging that demonstrate negative health impacts from low level exposure to BPA, especially early in life.

BPA is a recognized endocrine disruptor (has hormonal impacts in the human body).  The structure of BPA is similar enough to estrogen (the predominant female hormone) that it can bind to estrogen receptors in the body and have effects similar to naturally occurring estrogen.

It is this similarity to the estrogen molecule that causes concern.  Although the level of BPA found in the CHMS study is low it is still a thousand times higher than natural levels of estrogen found in the body.

Some health impacts of BPA that have been proposed in scientific literature include:

  • Reproductive toxicity – including effects on fertility and embryo development
  • Permanent changes to the genitourinary tract
  • Increased risk of breast cancer
  • Early puberty in girls
  • Increased prostate weight and increased risk of prostate cancer
  • Decreased testosterone
  • Hyperactivity and aggression
  • Insulin resistance and type II diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Asthma
  • Cardiovascular system abnormalities

Protecting Yourself and Your Family from BPA

Canada has been making headlines since 2008 when it banned BPA in baby bottles.  However, there are still no guidelines on the amount of BPA allowed into plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and other food containers that are the primary source of BPA exposure for Canadians.

In order to protect yourself and your family from the harmful effects of BPA the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have prepared a list of eight suggestions for minimizing BPA exposure.

  1. Eat Fewer Canned Foods
    The easiest way to lower your BPA intake is to avoid foods that come into contact with the industrial chemical.  Choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables – which are usually higher in nutrients and taste better than canned foods!
  2. Choose Cardboard and Glass Containers Over Cans
    When possible select foods that come in cardboard containers (such as Tetra-packed soups, juices and sauces) and glass containers.
  3. Don’t Microwave Plastic Food Containers
    Polycarbonate plastic, used in the packaging for many microwaveable foods, can break down at high temperatures and release BPA.  Most polycarbonate containers are marked with a number 7 recycling code – indicating a BPA-containing plastic.
  4. Choose Plastic or Glass Bottles for Beverages
    Canned juice and soda often contain BPA, especially if they are in cans lined with BPA-laden plastic.  Use a stainless steel water bottle for water, or a recyclable plastic water bottle which does not have the number 7 recycling symbol.  Plastic bottles with the recycling numbers 1, 2 or 4 do not contain BPA and are safer choices.
  5. Turn Down the Heat
    To avoid BPA in your hot foods and liquids, use glass or porcelain containers, or stainless steel containers without plastic liners.
  6. Use BPA-free Baby Bottles
    Canada banned the sale of BPA-containing baby bottles in 2008.  Glass, stainless steel, and BPA-free plastic baby bottles are the best choices.
  7. Use Powdered Infant Formula Instead of Pre-Mixed Liquid Formulas
    Breastfeeding is best.  But if you must use a formula select a powdered formula over a liquid formula.  Liquid formulas contain more BPA than powdered versions.
  8. Practice Moderation
    The fewer canned foods and beverages you consume, the less your exposure to BPA, but you don’t have to cut out canned foods altogether to reduce your BPA exposure and lower your potential health risks.  Eat less canned food overall, and limit your intake of canned foods that are high in BPA

Foods Highest in BPA

Chicken soup and other soups
Infant formula (liquid)
Ravioli and canned pastas
Tomato sauces

Source: Environmental Working Group

As parents of children and teens, we can help to promote lifelong health by helping them to make healthy choices at young ages.  Encourage your family to eat fewer canned foods and decrease exposure to BPA by following the guidelines above.

References:

Bushnik T., Haines D., Levallois P., Levesque J., Van Oostdam J., Viau C.  Statistics Canada.  Lead and bisphenol A concentrations in the Canadian population.  Available online at: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2010003/article/11324-eng.htm.  Accessed August 31, 2010.

Environmental Working Group.  Bisphenol A: Toxic Plastic Chemicals in Canned Food: Consumer tips to avoid BPA exposure.  Available online at: http://www.ewg.org/bisphenol-a-info.  Accessed August 31, 2010.

Statistics Canada.  The Daily, Monday August 16, 2010.  Canadian Health Measures Survey: Lead, bisphenol A and mercury.  Available online at: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/100816/dq100816a-eng.htm.  Accessed August 31, 2010.

Statistics Canada.  Publications: Health Fact Sheets.  Bisphenol A concentrations in the Canadian population, 2007 to 2009.  Available online at: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2010002/article/11327-eng.htm.  Accessed August 31, 2010.

Naturopathic Medicine for Teens

No one will dispute the fact that the teen years can be a challenging time.  School work, part-time jobs, sports, friends, chores, preparing for college – all of these things and many others make the teen years a very busy and demanding time.  So how do teens cope when a health concern adds additional strain to an already overwhelming time?

Naturopathic medicine for mood in teensHealth Concerns Affecting Teenagers

Teenagers don’t have it easy when it comes to health!  For some people it is a time of peak health – lots of energy, physical fitness, and few concerns or worries.  But the majority of teens are coping with at least one health problem.

The teen years are a transition from childhood to adulthood and during this time teenagers can have health problems that normally affect either children or adults.  The teen years are also a time when many chronic illnesses first are diagnosed.

Some conditions that teenagers may be dealing with:

  • Acne, eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions
  • Addiction – alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, other legal and illegal drugs
  • Allergies
  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Digestive complaints – stomach pain, ulcers, nausea, constipation, diarrhea
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Hypothyroid and hyperthyroid
  • Insomnia and sleep disorders
  • Menstrual cycle disorders – PMS, heavy periods, irregular periods, endometriosis
  • Nutrient deficiency – from poor diet, vegan, vegetarian diets and dieting
  • Pain and injury – including sprains, strains and fractures
  • Personal growth and development – mental, emotional and spiritual change and maturity
  • Pregnancy and birth control use
  • Stress
  • Weight management issues

Naturopathic Medicine for Teenagers

Naturopath for teensNaturopathic Medicine is an ideal treatment option for teenagers.  With a focus on prevention and individualized treatments Naturopathic Doctors are able to listen to and understand the unique experiences and symptoms for each teen and tailor a treatment plan to their needs.

I first discovered Naturopathic Medicine when I was sixteen and had undiagnosed nausea daily for several months.  After a consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor I discovered the link between my stress levels and my digestive symptoms.  With a few nutritional supplements and some stress management techniques my symptoms were cured within a few short weeks.  My personal experience encouraged me to become a Naturopathic Doctor and to help other teenagers find an alternative to suffering with their health problems.

Being a Naturopathic Doctor enables me to help other teenagers heal through the gentle and natural therapies I use in my practice.  I place an emphasis on finding the root cause of the problem and correcting it with:

  • nutritional and dietary counselling
  • nutritional supplements
  • botanical (herbal) medicines
  • homeopathy
  • acupuncture
  • stress management
  • lifestyle counselling

If you are a teenager, or know a teenager, that could benefit from Naturopathic Medicine consider booking a free 15 minute consult to meet with me and discuss how we can work together to make your teen years healthy, naturally.

Organics 101

 

Organic foods – once available only in farmer’s markets, health foods stores and co-operatives are now readily available in most large grocery store chains.  If you haven’t yet made the change to eating organics, it is time you did.

Changing to eating organics doesn’t have to be challenging.  Understanding the value in eating an organic diet, and knowing which foods to always buy organic is a good place to start.  So read on to learn more about Organics 101.

4 Benefits of Eating Organic

1. Higher nutritional value

Conventional farming practices have resulted in declining levels of minerals in fruits and vegetables since the 1940s.  Combined with the common practices of early (pre-ripened) harvesting, longer storage, and increased processing of food crops, and it’s not surprising that we are getting fewer nutrients from our food than we were 70 years ago.

Organic fruits and vegetables contain higher levels of minerals, vitamin C, and antioxidants.  Higher levels of lycopene have been found in organic tomatoes, polyphenols in organic potatoes, flavonols in organic apples, and resveratrol in organic red wine.  Scientific reviews have estimated that organic produce tends to contain 10-50% higher phytonutrients than conventionally grown produce.

2.  Lower pesticide residues

One in three conventionally produced food products contains a variety of pesticide residues.  Consuming pesticide residues in food has been linked by Israeli researchers to headache, tremor, fatigue, depression, anxiety, poor memory, skin rashes, convulsions, nausea, indigestion and diarrhea.

3. Better for our children

Children’s immature and developing nervous system, immune system, organs, and detoxification processes, plus their larger intake of food per kilo of body weight, combine to make them more susceptible to pesticides and toxins than adults.

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that children eating primarily organic diets had significantly lower levels of organophosphorous pesticides in their system than children eating conventional diets.  Other studies indicate that chronic exposure to organophosphorous pesticides – even at low levels – may affect neurological functioning, neurodevelopment, and growth in children.

“Dose estimates suggest that consumption of organic fruits, vegetables, and juice can reduce children’s exposure levels from above to below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s current guidelines, thereby shifting exposures from a range of uncertain risk to a range of negligible risk” – Cynthia L. Curl, Richard A. Fenske, and Kai Elgethun.

4. Better for our environment

Pesticide contamination of groundwater, loss of topsoil and the high energy costs of conventional farming are all minimized in organic farming practices.

Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen”

Making the transition to eating organic can be simplified by following the guidelines provided by the Environmental Working Group’s 2010 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides.  Available as a downloadable and printable pocket guide, their listing of foods to always consume organically (the “Dirty Dozen”) and those that are conventionally grown but have low pesticide residue (the “Clean Fifteen”) is a valuable aid as you make the change to organic eating.

The Dirty Dozen (always buy organic)

The Clean Fifteen (lowest in pesticides)

CeleryPeaches

Strawberries

Apples

Blueberries

Nectarines

Bell Peppers

Spinach

Kale

Cherries

Potatoes

Grapes (imported)

OnionsAvocado

Sweet corn

Pineapple

Mango

Sweet peas

Asparagus

Kiwi

Cabbage

Eggplant

Cantaloupe

Watermelon

Grapefruit

Sweet potato

Honeydew melon

Sources:

Environmental Health Perspectives ehponline.org, posted online Oct. 31, 2002, C.L. Curl, R.A. Fenske, and K. Elgethun, “Organophosphorus pesticide exposure of urban and suburban pre-school children with organic and conventional diets

Organic Trade Association http://www.ota.com/organic/benefits/nutrition.html

Environmental Working Group – 2010 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides http://www.foodnews.org/sneak/EWG-shoppers-guide.pdf

Pregnancy – Foods to Avoid

Every mother wants what is best for her baby.  And pregnancy is a great opportunity to start our babies on a healthy diet.

More foods can affect your health and your baby’s health than you might realize.  Understanding what foods to avoid during pregnancy is an important aspect of pregnancy nutrition.

Following these guidelines will help you make healthier choices for you and your baby.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Raw Meat: Uncooked seafood and rare or undercooked beef or poultry should be avoided due to risk of contamination with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis, and salmonella.

Deli Meat and Hot Dogs: Deli meats have been known to be contaminated with listeria, which can cause miscarriage. Listeria is able to cross the placenta and may infect the baby leading to infection or blood poisoning, which may be life-threatening. If you are pregnant and you are considering eating deli meats, make certain that you reheat the meat until it is steaming.

Fish – Mercury and PCBs: Fish can be a great source of protein, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.  The omega-3s in fish support the proper development of your baby’s brain, eyes, and nervous system.  Research suggests that complete avoidance of fish during pregnancy may contribute to poor verbal skills, behavioural problems, and other developmental issues during childhood.

However, fish that contain high levels of mercury must be avoided. Mercury consumed during pregnancy has been linked to developmental delays and brain damage.  Fish with long life spans tend to contain more mercury than smaller, younger fish.

Farm-raised fish should be avoided due to the significantly higher levels of PCBs – polychlorinated biphenyls.  PCBs can disrupt the normal development of the endocrine (hormone) system.  In addition, farm-raised fish have less nutritional value than wild fish due to the restricted diet they consume on fish farms.

High quality fish oil supplements are rigorously tested for mercury and other contaminants and are safe during pregnancy.

Use the following chart to help guide your fish consumption during pregnancy.

Fish Consumption and Pregnancy

Safe Restricted Consumption

DANGEROUS

  • wild pacific salmon
  • farm-raised trout
  • farm-raised catfish
  • fish sticks
  • summer flounder
  • croaker
  • mid-Atlantic blue crab
  • haddock
  • canned tuna
  • mahi mahi
  • eastern oyster
  • blue crab from the Gulf of Mexico
  • lake whitefish
  • blue mussels
  • cod
  • pollock
  • shark
  • swordfish
  • sea bass
  • tilefish
  • tuna steaks
  • King mackerel
safe to consume during pregnancy limit to approximately one serving per week do not consume while pregnant

Smoked Seafood: Refrigerated, smoked seafood often labeled as lox, nova style, kippered, or jerky should be avoided because it could be contaminated with listeria. (These are safe to eat when they are in an ingredient in a meal that has been cooked, like a casserole.)

Raw Shellfish: The majority of seafood-borne illness is caused by undercooked shellfish, which include oysters, clams, and mussels. Cooking helps prevent some types of infection, but it does not prevent the algae-related infections that are associated with red tides. Raw shellfish pose a concern for everybody, and they should be avoided altogether during pregnancy.

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

Spring Cleansing Can Be Simple

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

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

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

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

1. Drink water

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

lime2. Eat clean

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

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

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

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

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

5. Eat a rainbow.

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

6. Discover whole grains.

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

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

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

8. Choose healthy snacks and enjoy them frequently.

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

9. Do alternating showers every morning.

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

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

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

11. Drink tea (instead of coffee).

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

Exercise for your mind and body

12. Go outside and exercise.

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

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

Disclaimer

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

Ten Tips to Treat Allergies

Spring has sprung!  And with it comes… allergies.  The sniffling, sneezing, burning and redness can put a damper on this beautiful time of year.  But there is hope.  Here are ten tips to try this allergy season.

1. An Apple a Day…

The oldest medical cliché in the book – but it’s true.  A study of 1500 people found that eating apples lowers the incidence of allergy and asthma symptoms.

2. Eat Citrus Fruits Daily

Eating citrus regularly can decrease the symptoms of allergies and asthma.  This is likely due to the vitamin C and bioflavonoids that are abundant in citrus fruit.  Eat at least one citrus fruit daily – organic lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, clementines, kumquats and grapefruits are good choices.

3. Eat Lots of Berries

Berries truly are a ‘superfruit.’  They are rich in vitamin C, bioflavonoids, anthocyandins and antioxidants.  A high intake of antioxidants has been shown to have a positive impact on allergy symptoms.  Eat one handful of blueberries, blackberries or raspberries daily to get the benefit from these sweet superfoods.

4. Determine Food Allergies and Avoid Them

Food allergies and sensitivities can cause a lot more than just digestive symptoms.  Consider having a food allergy test to determine your individual food reactions.  Or try the elimination diet with your Naturopathic Doctor to see how food allergies and sensitivities are impacting your allergies.

5. Eliminate Margarine From Your Diet

Margarine is high in poly-unsaturated omega-6 fatty acids which can result in inflammation in the body (the symptoms of allergy – runny nose, itchy red eyes – are due to inflammation of mucous membranes).

Adults and children with allergies should remove all margarine from their diet.  A 2003 study found that eating margarine led to more symptoms of wheezing and runny nose (allergic rhinitis) in children with allergies.

6. Try the Anti-Inflammatory Diet

There are foods that we eat that can decrease inflammation and there are other foods that can promote inflammation in our bodies.  The Anti-Inflammatory diet can teach you how to boost anti-inflammatory foods (like flax seed oil, citrus fruits and various vegetables) and decrease pro-inflammatory foods (like margarine, dairy products and red meat).

7. Increase Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are the heavy-hitters of the natural anti-inflammatory world.  Omega 3 fatty acids found in flaxseed and cold water fish are the most effective in the treatment of allergy symptoms.  Increasing omega 3 fatty acids in your diet (or through use of supplements) results in decreased production of inflammatory chemicals and fewer allergy symptoms.

8. Quercetin

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that is found in a wide variety of foods (including apples, citrus fruits, onions and buckwheat).  It is nature’s anti-histamine, reducing the release of histamine from mast cells.  It should be taken preventatively – year-round for chronic allergies and seasonally for seasonal allergies.

9. Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)

This local medicinal plant has a long history of use in the treatment of allergies.  It has been rigorously studied and has been shown to be as effective, or more effective, than popular allergy medications.  It is available as a tea or in freeze-dried extracts.  It should be taken daily throughout allergy season.

10. Acupuncture

Acupuncture can be a useful addition to the management of chronic or seasonal allergies.  Between 6-10 sessions are needed to tonify the detoxification systems of the body and balance the organ systems (skin, liver, kidneys, and adrenals) that are commonly involved in allergy symptoms.

Book an appointment with your Naturopathic Doctor now to customize your comprehensive plan for the upcoming allergy season.  It may turn out to be your best season yet!

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.