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Bitch Redux

In my work in women’s health I see a lot of conditions impacting the lady garden, endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, cervical dysplasia, yeast infections and UTIs. But the one issue a lot of the women in my practice complain about is bitchiness. It might not be a medical diagnosis, but it impacts up to 80% of women at some point during their monthly cycle.

Women’s Emotions

Women have evolved to have immense sensitivity, and their emotional variations allow them to be more responsive to the environment, people and connections important to them.

Women are naturally more empathic and intuitive than men (of course acknowledging the great diversity of individual personalities). Women have always been the caretakers, the gatherers, the life-givers. Women rely more on social relationships for their survival, and the survival of their children and communities. Women have great emotional intelligence, because they need to be able to intuit and empathize with those around them – their children’s needs, their community’s goals, their partner’s intentions.

Women’s Brains

Women’s brains develop different to men, hardwiring us to feel more deeply, be more attuned to the emotional states of others, and be more reactive to the needs of those around us. At 8 weeks gestation, the testes become functional and the resulting surge of testosterone kills neurons in the communication centre of the brain. The testosterone instead develops more neurons for action, aggression and sexual drive – ultimately taking up about 2.5 times the space in men’s brains than women’s.

In women’s brains more space is allotted for language, hearing and memory. The memory center, the hippocampus, is larger in women, allowing those early female gatherers to remember where to find the food. The insula, thought to be the seat of self awareness, empathy, and interpersonal relationships, is also noticeably larger in women. This may lead to an increased intuition, or gut feeling, in women.

Women’s Hormones

Women’s hormones DO make them more moody. For women being fixed and rigid doesn’t lend itself to survival. Our emotionality is our strength – we may not be as physically strong as men, we rely more on our emotional connections and strength of connections, community and family.

Unlike men, whose hormone production spikes at puberty and remains fairly stable across their lifetime, women’s hormones ebb and flow over a monthly cycle and wax and wane over their reproductive years.

At the beginning of our menstrual cycle, at the onset of our bleeding, estrogen levels climb to prepare an egg for ovulation at midcycle. Estrogen production is strongly linked to serotonin production – and as estrogen goes up, so too does serotonin.

As estrogen continues to climb to the midcycle peak, most women note a positive mood state. During this time our biology encourages us to be more social, to connect to our tribe, more confident, to meet people and more alluring, to try to find a mate to conceive a baby with.

Estrogen acts as a stress hormone, or an anti-stress hormone. Making us more likely to brush off things that at other points in our cycle may provoke a significant response.

At midcycle estrogen levels are at their highest, along with dopamine and oxytocin. This encourages pro-social, trusting behaviour, and we are more generous and connected to others in our social network. We also talk more and are more interested in intimacy than at any other time of the monthly cycle.

Immediately after ovulation, our estrogen levels start to decline, but the rise in progesterone catches us before our moods crash. Progesterone doesn’t increase serotonin levels like estrogen does, but it supports GABA production, leading to a sense of calm and low anxiety that persists for about 10 days while progesterone levels are high.

All hell breaks loose during the final 3-7 days of the menstrual cycle however, with estrogen levels at a low, and progesterone levels steeply declining. Women during this time are more depressive, more cautious – a way for nature to keep us from harm during a time when we may be pregnant without knowing it.

The low estrogen also makes us less resilient, experience more physical pain, more emotionally sensitivity, and makes us more likely to react or respond to triggers that we would ignore during our high estrogen first half of the cycle. It’s not that we have more stress – we’re just way more likely to call it what it is and not stand for any shit.

Estrogen is essentially the “whatever you want honey” hormone – you are so much more willing to give to others and sacrifice your own needs when estrogen levels are high. But when those levels drop we are more likely to react and share our opinions – good or bad. It is not that we are reacting to things that aren’t really there – we’re reacting to things that upset or anger us – we just might ignore them at other times. If you feel underappreciated, overworked, or overwhelmed, or that you’re not in balance with your partner – it’s probably all true.

Bitch Redux

I want to encourage women to recognize the power in our hormonal fluctuations – our mood changes are adaptive – they help us seek out relationships, build connections, and preserve our energy. The mood changes that occur during our premenstrual phase are normal, and temporary. I want women to reclaim our natural hormone and mood fluctations, and be empowered by our emotions, rather than struggling against them.

My recommendation is to learn your natural fluctations and use your bitchiness as a superpower. Track your cycle – using any number of excellent free apps – and plan your month accordingly. Plan for presentations, meetings, anything requiring verbal skills for your first half of the cycle (the closer to ovulation the better! Your personality is magnetic when you’re near ovulation!) Have a task that requires fine motor skills – an intricate art project or rewiring your house? Keep that to the first half of the month as well.

Leave the tasks best left for your OCD-self for the last month of the cycle. I think most women probably read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up during the last week of their cycle. So put “clean out the kitchen cupboards” on your list for the premenstrual week (maybe stay out of your closet though – many women feel less appealing during their premenstrual week and this could be a disastrous task.) Your pain tolerance is also lowest during your premenstrual phase – so skip the dentist or your tattoo appointment and get a mani-pedi or skin care facial instead.

Think of your PMS as a time to spend in reflection and personal contemplation. Your intuition is at its peak in the week before your period, so take time to do a mental health inventory – are you doing what you want? Are you where you want to be? Pay attention to the things you are critical about during your premenstrual phase – these thoughts are probably a lot more valid than you might want them to be. Write down the things that upset you/ anger you/ send you into a whirling passion of emotions and act on them in the beginning of the next cycle when you’re feeling energized and empowered again. Harness your bitchiness, it could end up being your greatest power.

Disclaimer

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

Love and Happiness: Hormone Hacks for a Happy Life

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

Oxytocin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positive smells – smells associated with positive memories can increase oxytocin

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

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

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

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

Dopamine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serotonin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disclaimer

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

Social Kids – Supporting Social Development in Children

Some children are naturally social, and others struggle with finding their place in social circles.  As parents we can support even the most timid child to learn positive social skills that can last a lifetime.  Below are ten tips to support social development in children.

1. Allow Your Child to Have Influence in Your Family

Give your child a voice in your house and she will have an easier time speaking up in other situations. The best way to foster this in your family is by active listening. Give your child your full, undivided attention and weigh carefully what it is that they are saying. Even young children want to know that their feelings are important and are being heard. Children of all ages begin to recognize that they can earn certain rights and privileges if they do what is expected of them. They thrive when they have a perception of power, some ability to shape their life.

Friendship_social2. Focus on the Positive

Too often parents look at parenting as correcting undesirable behaviours, and their parenting styles dissolve into complaining, nagging and reacting. If you focus on fostering and developing the positive behaviours in your child, then the negative behaviours won’t be so overwhelming. Use positive reinforcement to encourage positive behaviours in your child. Reward positive behaviours by giving them something they value – some one-on-one time doing a favourite activity, computer and television privileges, a play date with a friend, etc. Try to avoid using sweet treats (such as candy and chocolates) as a reward – this reinforces unhealthy eating behaviours as a reward for good work – an issue that often persists into adulthood.

 3. Set a Social Example

Children who struggle with socializing are often children of poor socializers. Be sure to be a good role model for your child – talk to other parents at the park, invite friends (with or without children) over for lunch, tell your children about the fun things you like to do with your friends. This technique is known as modeling. Your child’s most influential role model is their same-sex parent. Let them observe you making friends with others and they will begin to recognize the techniques and consequences of this behaviour and begin to try the techniques themselves.

4. Engage in Your Child’s Life Outside the Home

Most parents find that the way their child behaves at home can be completely different to the way they behave at school or day care. Engage the other adults whom your child sees on a regular basis – teachers, care givers, sports coaches, and parents of other children. These people are the best resource you have for monitoring and changing your child’s behaviour outside the home.

5. Give Your Child Space to Grow

It can be tempting as a parent to be overly involved in the activities of our child. While it is important to be involved it is equally important to give your child space to try out some of their new socialization skills. Children are going to fall down, they are going to make mistakes. Children need to learn what this is like, so they can adapt when it happens and grow as people. If you are always hovering over your child, you rob them of a sense of self-mastery, a sense of accomplishment and competency.

soccer_social6. Enroll Your Child in Group Extracurricular Activities

While activities such as piano or language lessons are important in building skills and competency, enrolling your child in a group activity will allow them to meet other children their age and practice socializing in a low-risk setting. Select diverse activities (not too many at once) and allow your child to find what they enjoy doing while making friends. Examples of group activities include: soccer, swimming, baseball, dance, martial arts, reading groups, cub scouts/ girl guides, art or pottery classes, and more.

7. Host Playdates

Most people feel more confident in familiar settings. If you want to support your child in building friendships be prepared to invite friends over. Keep playdates small – start with just one child – and short – one to two hours is plenty for most children. Have suggestions for fun activities and be prepared to get the ball rolling, but then step back and watch your child play with their friend. At the end of the playdate have a conversation with your child about they fun things he did with his friend, encouraging children to share their feelings with you will make it easier for them to share their feelings with others. If possible, try to arrange regular playdates with the same children – and when they are ready they will want to go have a playdate at their friend’s house as well.

Together time_social8. Be Your Child’s Friend

Get down to your child’s level and play with them like a friend. Not only will this be fun for both you and your child, but you will learn a great deal about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Studies have suggested that parents of the most socially successful children laugh and smile often, avoid criticizing their child during play time, are responsive to their child’s ideas and aren’t too directive.

9. Don’t Push

As much as we want our children to be happy and well liked by their peers, pushing them into making friends can easily backfire. Some children need more time and need to take more gradual steps towards building friendships. Support your children, but don’t push them. Help them develop social skills such as empathy, problem-solving, co-operation, sharing, negotiation and communication skills.

10. Be Patient!

No skill is learned overnight!  Be patient with this process and know that once your child learns positive social skills they will be able to use them for the rest of their lifetime.

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.

 

Adult ADHD – Diagnosis and Natural Treatment Options

Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not just for kids.  Difficulty concentrating, inability to complete tasks, forgetfulness and other symptoms in adults can be due to ADHD.  ADHD can cause significant problems in adults, ranging from increased anxiety, depression, substance abuse, financial problems, poor job performance and social difficulties.

Diagnosis of adult ADHD is important and management of symptoms, through mainstream or Naturopathic treatments should be considered to improve quality of life for people with this condition.

Diagnosis of Adult ADHD

It is estimated that 4% of North American adults have ADHD, a disorder that is most commonly diagnosed in childhood and persists through adolescence and into adulthood.

Diagnosis of adult ADHD is very similar to that of children. Diagnosis requires confirmation of at least 6 ADHD traits within the inattentive or impulsive/ hyperactive categories, or in both.  Impairment must also be present within at least 2 life settings.  The Adult ADHD self report scale is also a useful tool for identifying adult ADHD.

DSM-IV Criteria for ADHD

      Inattention Symptoms

  1. Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.
  2. Often has trouble keeping attention on tasks or other activities.
  3. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
  4. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions).
  5. Often has trouble organizing activities.
  6. Often avoids, dislikes, or doesn’t want to do things that take a lot of mental effort for a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  7. Often loses things needed for tasks and activities (e.g. school assignments, pencils, books, or tools).
  8. Is often easily distracted.
  9. Is often forgetful in daily activities.

      Hyperactivity Symptoms

  1. Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat when sitting still is expected.
  2. Often gets up from seat when remaining in seat is expected.
  3. Often excessively runs about or climbs when and where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may feel very restless).
  4. Often has trouble doing leisure activities quietly.
  5. Is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”.
  6. Often talks excessively.

      Impulsivity Symptoms

  1. Often blurts out answers before questions have been finished.
  2. Often has trouble waiting one’s turn.
  3. Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).

Six or more of any of the above symptoms, persisting for at least 6 months to a point that causes disruption in daily activities and work performance is adequate for a diagnosis of adult ADHD.

A diagnosis of ADHD must also eliminate the possibility that the symptoms are due to another disorder such as a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, personality disorder, schizophrenia or other diagnosis.

What Causes ADHD?

Food dyes and additives may contribute to ADHD symptoms

No one knows what leads to ADHD in children or adults.  It is known that genetics plays a significant role in the development of ADHD – if your parents, siblings or children have ADHD you are more likely to have it as well.

Food allergies or sensitivities have also been suggested as a potential causative factor in the development of ADHD.  The Feingold diet has been used since the 1970s to treat ADHD by eliminating food additives, dyes and salicyclates.

Some research suggests that a gene affecting the transport of the neurotransmitter dopamine may be a factor.  This gene increases dopamine transport, leading to dopamine inactivation.  Less available dopamine can impair memory and some brain functions.

Researchers also suggest that norepinephrine (another neurotransmitter) may also have a role in ADHD.  Without sufficient norepinephrine the brain can’t respond fully to new stimuli.

Other researchers think that ADHD is just an imbalance in overall neurotransmitter activity.  Dopamine may be over-active when compared to norepinephrine, but under-active when compared to serotonin.  Ask your Naturopathic Doctor to give you a questionnaire to assess your individual neurotransmitter balance.

Natural Treatment Options for Adult ADHD

ADHD is usually treated with prescription stimulant medications.  Many people diagnosed with ADHD do not want to take these medications and seek out natural treatment options.  Luckily there are many highly effective treatment options available, and a comprehensive individualized approach to adult ADHD can diminish or eliminate many of the symptoms and promote lifelong health.

Food Allergy Elimination/ Feingold Diet

Allergies to food or food additives have been suggested as a causative agent for ADHD in children and adults.  The Feingold diet was the first of many diets to eliminate preservatives and dyes in food to manage symptoms of ADHD.  Eliminating known food allergens (identified through IgG or IgA blood tests) can also decrease severity of ADHD symptoms.

Balance Neurotransmitters

As discussed above, imbalances in neurotransmitters – both frank deficiencies (overall low levels) and relative deficiencies (low levels of one or more neurotransmitter related to another) can lead to symptoms of ADHD.  Stimulant medications, like Ritalin are used in ADHD to increase norepinephrine and dopamine activity in the brain.  However, these stimulants can have significant side effects such as decreased appetite, insomnia, and jitteriness.

Your Naturopathic Doctor can use a questionnaire to help identify your individual neurotransmitter balance and uncover deficiencies.  This information is used to tailor a treatment to balance your neurotransmitters and enhance your overall health without the negative side effects of stimulant medications.

Nutritional supplements are used to help balance levels of dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and acetylcholine.  SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine), phosphatidylserine, L-carnitine, iron, B vitamins, and tyrosine all have been used in the treatment of adult ADHD to balance individual neurotransmitters.

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are just that – essential.  Our bodies need them, but can not produce them.  They must come from dietary sources.  Levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to be lower in people with ADHD than in people without it.  Additionally, men need nearly three times the volume of daily essential fatty acids compared to women to function well.  This may be one reason why ADHD is more common in boys and men.

Fish oils are the preferred form of essential fatty acid supplements.  Various studies have shown that supplemental fish oil improves cognitive function, behaviour, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness in patients with ADHD.  Omega 3s are necessary for health and should be taken by all individuals with ADHD, both adults and children.

Zinc and Magnesium

Zinc and magnesium are two nutrients that appear in lower concentrations in people with ADHD.  Magnesium deficiency can mimic the symptoms of ADHD (hyperactivity, irritability, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, poor concentration, and restlessness).  Zinc has been shown in studies to improve response to ADHD therapies – natural or pharmaceutical.

Ginkgo biloba and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba increases blood flow to the brain and when combined with American ginseng has been shown to improve some symptoms of ADHD.  Research has suggested that the combination of these two botanicals is more useful than either one in isolation.

L-Theanine

A component in green tea, L-theanine is used to promote a state of calm alertness.  Suggested to be partially responsible for the calm seen in zen monks, it has a long history of use as a natural stimulant.

These, and other natural treatments can be effective in managing ADHD in adults when used properly.  It is not recommended that you attempt to self medicate with these treatments, but instead seek out the care of a knowledgeable Naturopathic Doctor who can individualize your treatment and support you through your journey to 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.

Selected References

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

Elia J, Ambrosini PJ, Rapoport JL. Treatment of attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder. N Engl J Med 1999;340:780-8.

Kessler, R.C., Adler, L., Barkley, R., Biederman, J., et al. The prevalence and correlates of adult ADHD in the United States:  Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.  Am Journal of Psychiatry (2006), 163:724-732.

Lyon MR, Cline JC, Totosy de Zepetnek J, et al. Effect of the herbal extract combination Panax quinquefolium and Ginkgo biloba on attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a pilot study. J Psychiatry Neurosci 2001;26:221-8.

Mitchell EA, Aman MG, Turbott SH, Manku M. Clinical characteristics and serum essential fatty acid levels in hyperactive children. Clin Pediatr (Phila) 1987;26:406-11.

Oades RD. Dopamine may be ‘hyper’ with respect to noradrenaline metabolism, but ‘hypo’ with respect to serotonin metabolism in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Behav Brain Res 2002;130:97-102.

Shekim WO, Antun F, Hanna GL, et al. S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) in adults with ADHD, RS: preliminary results from an open trial. Psychopharmacol Bull 1990;26:249-53.

Teen Insomnia

There is no question that teens need their sleep.  Often parents recognize when their teens are sleeping too late – waking at noon or later, but insomnia in teens often goes unnoticed.

An article in the journal Sleep suggests that 12.5% of teens experience insomnia and that in almost half of those teens the insomnia is chronic.  This means that insomnia is just as common in teens as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.  So why are teens losing sleep?

Teen insomniaSleep patterns in teens

Major changes in sleep patterns happen during the teen years.  Sleep patterns in teens are different than those of children and adults.  Teens need, on average 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night.  However, the hormone that is responsible for causing feelings of sleepiness (melatonin) is produced later in teens than in children and adults.  This means that teens often have difficulty falling asleep early and tend to stay up later at night.  Combined with an early waking time for school it is nearly impossible for most teens to get the necessary 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night.

Mood disorders and sleep

Disturbed sleep is associated with mood disorders in teens – teens with insomnia are more likely to be depressed or anxious, and anxious or depressed teens are more likely to have insomnia.  Although in adults these conditions are more common in females, in teens insomnia is equally as likely to affect boys as girls.

It is unclear whether insomnia leads to anxiety and depression or if the reverse is true.  It is clear that these conditions are affecting the health of teens and that identification and treatment of insomnia in teens is an important health goal.

Recognizing sleep disorders in teens

There are many signs that can identify sleep disorders in teens.  These include:

  • Difficulty waking in the morning
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Decreased performance in school
  • Feelings of moodiness or depression
  • Late afternoon fatigue
  • Cravings for sugar in the afternoon
  • Decreased motivation

Sleep deprivation or insomnia?Teen computer insomnia

Biologically determined circadian rhythms are keeping teens up later – but biology doesn’t take all the blame.  For some teens part-time jobs, homework, social activities, computer games, television, social media sites and other behaviours are keeping teens up late – beyond the point where their bodies and minds are tired.  These teens are choosing to sleep less, prioritizing other activities by sacrificing sleep.

Signs that a teen may be sleep deprived rather than suffering from insomnia include:

  • Use of caffeinated beverages (cola, tea or coffee) or “energy drinks” to stay awake at night
  • Late night video game or television watching
  • Anger or moodiness when confronted about sleep issues

Treating teen insomnia

Establishing appropriate sleep-time rituals is the first step to encouraging healthy sleep in teens.

  1. Set a regular bedtime

Establish a regular bedtime and stick to it.  Going to bed at the same time every night trains our body to fall asleep more easily and to sleep more soundly.  Compromise on a reasonable bedtime – one that allows time in the evening for activities but also allows for adequate sleep each night.

2. Remove the television and computer from the bedroom

Any light before bedtime – including the light from a television or computer screen can disrupt the body’s ability to initiate sleep.  It is best to keep the television and computer in a separate room and have the focus in the  bedroom be on sleep.

3. Caffeine worsens PMS symptomsAvoid stimulants

Caffeine (soda, tea, coffee, chocolate) and other stimulants should be avoided from early afternoon on to avoid disrupting sleep.

4. Keep the bedroom dark at bedtime, and bright at waking

Darkness stimulates the body to produce melatonin – the hormone that causes sleepiness.  Use dark window coverings to block light from the outdoors.  Turn alarm clocks towards the wall or cover them up.  In the morning bright light stimulates our body to wake up – place a lamp on a timer to help the body wake up more naturally.

5. Avoid napping too much

Napping can help to meet our sleep needs, but napping too much can disrupt nighttime sleep.  Nap for no more than 40 minutes and nap only between 3 and 4pm – no napping after 5pm or falling asleep at night will be difficult.

In addition, some natural therapies can be effective in treating short-term insomnia in teens.  For chronic insomnia a consultation with a sleep specialist is recommended.

  1. Melatonin

The hormone that is responsible for sleepiness can be taken as a supplement.  Since melatonin production in teens is delayed (some studies suggest it isn’t being produced until 1am, compared with 10pm for adults) there is some evidence to suggest that taking a melatonin supplement can help teens with insomnia fall asleep at a reasonable time.

Melatonin should not be used in teens before puberty or in early stages of puberty.  It should only be used for short periods of time and in low doses.  Consult with a Naturopathic Doctor to determine if melatonin supplementation is appropriate for your teen.

2. Passionflower

Passion flowerA gentle botanical (plant-based) medicine that is effective in the treatment of insomnia associated with restlessness, anxiety or over-active mind at bedtime.  This type of insomnia is common in teens, with anxiety over tests, social relationships, jobs, and other issues.  A cup of passionflower tea 30 minutes before bed or a passionflower supplement can be used safely for acute insomnia in teens.

Passionflower should not be used during pregnancy.

3. Chamomile

Another gentle botanical that can be used as a mild sleep aid in children, adults and teens.  Taken as a tea 30 minutes before bed or in supplement form it can effectively treat acute insomnia and is very calming.

Chamomile should not be used in pregnancy or in people with hayfever.

4. Valerian

One of the most common natural supplements for sleep, valerian is not recommended for use in teens.  Valerian has similar properties to benzodiazepine drugs and in children and teens these medications can often cause restlessness rather than sleepiness.

Insomnia in teens is a health concern that should be taken seriously.  Talking with teens about appropriate bedtime behaviours, maintaining a regular bedtime and the occasional use of supplements can help teens get the sleep they need to succeed in school, work and life.

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.

Resources:

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: Monographs on Valerian, Melatonin, Passionflower and Chamomile.  Accessed November 1, 2010. http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/

Roberts R, Roberts CR, Chan W.  Persistence and Change in Symptoms of Insomnia among Adolescents.  SLEEP 2008;31(2): 177-184.

Acupuncture in Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time of growth – growth of a baby, growth of a mother’s belly and growth of a family.  And in pregnancy, as in life, sometimes there are growing pains!  Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine provide mothers with a safe and natural form of health care that can effectively manage the growth and ‘pains’ of pregnancy.

Acupuncture during Pregnancy

Many physical, emotional, and spiritual changes occur throughout a pregnancy and some of these changes can bring with them uncomfortable symptoms.  Since most conventional pharmaceutical medications are not safe for use in pregnancy many women suffer with these symptoms not realizing there are safe and effective alternatives available.  Acupuncture can be used safely in pregnancy to relieve negative symptoms and increase overall health and wellbeing.

When applied by a licensed and qualified Naturopathic Doctor, acupuncture is ideally suited to treat the following conditions associated with pregnancy:

  • Threatened miscarriage
  • Nausea and vomiting (“Morning sickness”)
  • Heartburn
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Migraine
  • Back pain, pelvic pain, sciatica
  • Swelling/ edema
  • Leg cramps
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Premature labour
  • Breech presentation
  • Labour induction

Acupuncture in the first trimester

One of the most researched uses of acupuncture during pregnancy is for the treatment of morning sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum1,2 (severe nausea and vomiting lasting beyond the first 12 weeks of pregnancy).  Over 1100 women have participated in studies assessing the effectiveness of acupuncture for pregnancy3.  A majority have found that acupuncture decreases the symptoms of nausea and vomiting and encourages a healthy appetite during pregnancy.

It is best to start acupuncture treatments at the first signs of morning sickness in pregnancy (often around the six or seven week mark) and to have treatments once a week.  More severe cases may need to be seen more often – your Naturopathic Doctor will individualize your treatment plan to meet your needs.  You should know after three visits if acupuncture will be an effective treatment for your morning sickness.

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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 seventeen 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.