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MTHFR in Mental Health

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

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

MTHFR in Mental Health

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

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

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

MTHFR and Anti-Depressants

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

MTHFR Testing

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

What to do about MTHFR

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

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

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

Disclaimer

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

Nutritional Needs of Teens

There is a lot of growth during the teen years.  Emotional growth, intellectual growth, spiritual growth and, of course, physical growth.  All of this growing can be exhausting (this is one of the reasons teens need so much sleep!) It also means that nutritional needs are increased to support all this growth and change.

Teens need over 2 litres of water daily

The teen years are second only to pregnancy and lactation for high nutrient requirements.  The best way to ensure you are getting all of these nutrients is to eat a diverse diet high in different coloured fruits and vegetables, whole grains (such as brown rice, quinoa, barley, and millet), legumes and beans, lean meats (or alternatives) and low fat dairy (or alternatives).

Below are two charts on micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate, fats, water) nutritional needs.  Values given are daily requirements.

Micronutrient_Needs_Teens

*Vitamin D requirements are higher in Canada from October to May due to inadequate sun exposure during the winter.

**Any female who is sexually active should be taking an additional 400mcg daily to prevent birth defects if pregnancy occurs

Macronutrient_Needs_Teens

Remember: these reference values are for normal, apparently healthy individuals eating a mixed North American diet. An individual may have individual physiological, health, or lifestyle characteristics that may require different intakes of specific nutrients.

If you are concerned you are not getting enough nutrients in your diet consider a high quality multivitamin-mineral supplement to meet your needs.  It is better to take a supplement to meet your needs than to deprive your body of the building blocks it needs to grow and maintain health through your teens and beyond.

References:

Health Canada Dietary Reference Intake Tables.  Available online at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/index-eng.php http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/index-eng.php

Low Testosterone in Men: Supportive Supplements

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

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

Symptoms of low testosterone are variable but may include:

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

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

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

Nutritional Supplements

Zinc

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

Astaxanthin

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

Botanical Supplements

Mucuna pruriens

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

Tongkat Ali

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

Withania somnifera

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

Tribulus terrestris

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

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

Disclaimer

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

 

The PCOS Diet

A nutritious diet is the cornerstone of health – a foundation on which we can build healthy choices and behaviours. In no condition is this more true than polycystic ovarian syndrome. Choosing the right foods for PCOS and avoiding others can be enough for many women to balance their hormones and decrease symptoms of PCOS. And there are no harmful side effects – just the benefits of a healthy diet and vibrantly healthy lifestyle.

The PCOS Diet – What to Avoid

  1. Refined grains

Breads, bagels, muffins, crackers, pasta – all the many forms of refined grains that are common in the western diet, should be avoided in women with PCOS. These high glycemic-index foods quickly raise blood sugar levels and can lead to insulin resistance – a condition where your cells no longer respond to insulin. This is thought to be one of the underlying hormonal imbalances in PCOS.

  1. Refined sugars

Fighting Sugar AddictionSugars found in cookies, cakes, candies, sodas and sweetened beverages can wreak havoc on your hormones in a similar way to refined grains. Best to leave these foods out of your diet entirely and instead opt for naturally sweet fruits to nourish your sweet tooth.

  1. Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most hormonally devastating things we can put in our body. Not only is it made of mostly sugar (and in PCOS we know what sugar can do to our insulin response!) it also prevents the liver from being able to effectively process and eliminate excess hormones. Women with PCOS also have an increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Limit alcohol consumption to red wine, have no more than one serving per day and don’t have it every day.

  1. Red meat

Red meats are high in saturated fats and contribute to inflammation. Saturated fats can also lead to increased estrogen levels. I recommend limiting red meat to lean cuts of grass-fed, hormone free meat and consuming it no more often than 1-2 times per week.

  1. Dairy

Dairy is a significant source of inflammation, unhealthy saturated fats and should be avoided by women with PCOS. Additionally, dairy increases the production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF) which is known to negatively impact ovulation in PCOS. Rather than reducing dairy, you should consider avoiding it all together to help manage your PCOS.

The PCOS Diet – What to Enjoy

  1. Vegetables and fruits

Eat food

The foundation of the PCOS diet is a plant-based diet. Vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds are provide the body with essential nutrients and fiber. Soluble fiber such as that found in apples, carrots, cabbage, whole grains such as oatmeal, and beans and legumes, can lower insulin production and support hormone balance in PCOS.

  1. Proteins

Healthy proteins are an absolute necessity for women with PCOS. While dairy and red meat are not recommended, plant based proteins like nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and legumes are encouraged. Other healthy proteins like turkey, chicken breast, eggs and fish should also be emphasized. For most women with PCOS, a daily intake of 60-80g of protein per day is recommended.

  1. Wild salmon

An excellent source of protein, wild salmon is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3s improve insulin response and blood sugar metabolism and studies have shown lower circulating testosterone levels in women who supplement with omega 3s. Choose wild caught salmon and other cold water fish two to three times per week and incorporate other healthy sources of omega 3s such as walnuts and flax seeds into your diet.

  1. Cinnamon

CinnamonSpices are an amazing way to increase antioxidants in your diet, and cinnamon is especially useful for women with PCOS because it can help to regulate blood sugar. Sprinkle it on apples, oats or quinoa in the morning, add it to teas and use it in flavourful stews or curries.

  1. Pumpkin seeds

    These zinc-rich seeds help to lower testosterone levels and are an easy, high protein snack to enjoy every day!

  2. Green tea

Studies have shown that green tea extract helps to improve the response of cells to insulin, as well as lower insulin levels. Consider drinking a few cups of green tea daily – or better yet, have some matcha to get a big nutritional benefit!

  1. Spearmint tea

Spearmint tea for PCOSAs little as two cups of spearmint tea per day for a month can lower testosterone levels and improve symptoms of abnormal hair growth (hirsutism) in women with PCOS. A must for all women with polycystic ovarian syndrome!

  1. Broccoli

Cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, broccoli, kohl rabi, kale – these brassica vegetables are a source of indole-3-carbinole, a compound thought to support the detoxification and breakdown of hormones in the liver.

  1. Walnuts

Researchers have found that consuming 1/3 cup of walnuts per day for six weeks can reduce testosterone levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and improve fatty acid status in the body. Combine these with your pumpkin seeds for a satisfying afternoon snack!

  1. Leafy greens

Spinach, kale, arugula and all the amazing variety of leafy greens are good sources of vitamin B6 – a nutrient necessary for balancing prolactin levels – a hormone that is often elevated in PCOS. Greens are also high in calcium, a mineral necessary for healthy ovulation. One more great reason to get those greens!

I hope you will embrace the PCOS diet – you really can heal your body through food medicine. If you need more support or guidance, contact me to book a free 15 minute consultation and together we can find your vibrant balance.

Disclaimer

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

Select References

Kaur, Sat Dharam. The complete natural medicine guide to women’s health. Toronto. Robert Rose Inc. 2005.

Hudson, Tori. Women’s encyclopedia of natural medicine. Los Angeles. Keats publishing. 2007.

The Uterine Fibroid Diet

“The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison” ~ Ann Wigmore

Below are listed some suggestions for ways food can be your medicine in the treatment of uterine fibroids. These recommendations will optimize nutrient levels, support detoxification and balance estrogen levels – all important treatment goals for improving health and managing the symptoms of uterine fibroids.

Fibroid Diet: Foods to Avoid

  1. Alcohol

Alcohol can alter estrogen metabolismAlcohol can wreak havoc on hormone balance. Consuming even moderate levels of alcohol can increase circulating estrogen levels in the body, impacting the progression of uterine fibroids and increasing the risk of endometrial cancer. Alcohol also interferes with the body’s ability to absorb and utilize B vitamins, nutrients that are essential for proper estrogen detoxification in the liver. Avoid alcohol or drink only small amounts infrequently.

  1. Refined sugar

Sugar is another culprit that can increase estrogen levels. Consumption of sugar in the form of fruit is fine, but eliminating all sources of refined sugars can help to improve hormone balance.

  1. Saturated fats

A diet high in saturated fats is associated with high circulating blood estrogen levels. Found predominantly in dairy products (cream, cheese, butter, ghee), fatty meats (beef, pork), processed and fried foods.   Limit or eliminate these foods from your diet and instead choose healthy polyunsaturated fats from olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.

  1. Avoid the use of plastic

Plastics are an abundant source of hormone disrupting chemicals. These chemicals have similar molecular structures to estrogen, and are able to bind to estrogen receptors resulting in an increased estrogen effect in the body. To minimize the risk avoid using plastic food storage containers and never heat food in a plastic container.

Fibroid Diet: Foods to Enjoy

  1. Increase dietary fiberHealthy whole grains

    A diet low in fiber is associated with elevated estrogen levels, which has been demonstrated to increase the risk of endometrial cancer. A diet high in fiber also helps to improve elimination of estrogen by encouraging healthy and regular bowel movements.
    Focus on healthy whole-food based fibers: fruits, vegetables and whole grains and limit processed and refined grains (breads, crackers, muffins, etc.)

  1. Consume whole grains

Whole grains are a rich source of fiber and one of the best sources for B vitamins. B vitamins are essential for healthy detoxification of hormones, including estrogen.
Choose whole grains that retain the entire grain: brown rice, wild rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, rye, amaranth

  1. Eat tomatoes and an abundance of fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants and fiber. Lycopene, a compound found in yellow, orange and fruits and vegetables (especially tomatoes) has been shown to have potential in decreasing the size of uterine fibroids.
Cooked and canned tomato sauces are the richest sources of lycopene. Consume 6-10 servings of whole fruit and vegetables per day.

  1. Cabbage family vegetablesTomatoes on the vine

The Brassica (cabbage) family of vegetables support detoxification and encourage a healthy estrogen balance by favouring production of the less active form of estrogen. Consume broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kohl rabi and cauliflower regularly to reap these benefits.

  1. Soy and legumes

A diet rich in soy and vegetarian proteins like legumes has been shown to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. Soy acts as an estrogen modulator, decreasing the action of high circulating estrogen. Choose organic, non-GMO soy products, like miso, tempeh, tofu and edamame and have one serving per day. Also increase other legumes such as beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils. 

  1. Flaxseed

The lignans found in flaxseed help to regulate estrogen levels and have been found in studies to have promise in decreasing the risk of cancer. One to two tablespoons of ground flaxseed per day will also provide a rich source of fiber and omega 3 fatty acids.

  1. Vegetarian diet

Women consuming a vegetarian diet have higher rates of estrogen detoxification and elimination. Vegetarian diets are rich in beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Eating a vegetarian diet even 60% of the time can make a big difference for hormone balance. 

  1. Soy is a vegetarian protein and source of ironIron rich foods

    Iron deficiency anemia is a common concern for women with fibroids. In a terrible catch-22, iron deficiency can make heavy menstrual bleeding associated with fibroids worse, leading to worsening iron deficiency. A supplement may be needed for some women, but consuming a diet rich in iron can be very important for women with uterine fibroids. Rich sources of iron include lentils, beans, soy, pumpkin seeds, nuts, raisins, fortified cereals, chicken, beef, turkey, oysters, shrimp and clams.

  1. Green tea

    One of the best foods for uterine fibroids is actually a beverage. Green tea is a rich source of polyphenols, especially epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). These polyphenols have been shown to be protective against cancer, help to balance hormone levels, and promote detoxification. In one study green tea extract was found to decrease the size of uterine fibroids, improve the quality of life and improve iron deficiency associated with uterine fibroids. Drinking 2-3 cups per day is a great choice for all women with fibroids.

Diet is one of the best ways to support your body when you have uterine fibroids.  Your Naturopathic Doctor can also give you guidance on how to decrease pain, prevent progression of fibroids and decrease excessive bleeding during your periods.  Contact a naturopath today and start yourself on a journey of optimal health.

Selected References

Hudson, Tori. Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008.

Roshdy E, et al. Int J Womens Health. 2013;5:477-486.

 

Naturopathic Medicine and Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a chronic condition affecting millions of Canadian women. It can begin at any age between the teens and 40s and impacts between 10-15% of women in these age groups.

There is no cure for endometriosis, but Naturopathic Medicine can offer women with this condition hope for improved hormone balance, decreased pain and support for fertility.

Prior to reading this article, I suggest you check out Understanding Endometriosis to learn how to recognize the symptoms of endometriosis and the underlying imbalances that lead to this frustrating condition.

Naturopathic Treatments for Endometriosis

A Naturopathic treatment plan for endometriosis will be highly individualized to each person, addressing their unique lifestyle, dietary and symptom needs. The treatment goals vary person to person, but always include a combination of the following:

  • Normalize the function of the immune system
  • Balance hormones
  • Support liver detoxification of hormones
  • Reduce and block pro-inflammatory chemicals produced by the body
  • Support the large intestine and microbiome (healthy bacteria)
  • Decrease stress

Vitamin CBy addressing these underlying imbalances in endometriosis Naturopathic Doctors can improve the overall health of women with endometriosis, decrease or eliminate symptoms of endometriosis and address the underlying cause of endometriosis.

Normalize Immune Function

There are many nutrients involved in healthy immune function. One of the largest categories of immune supportive nutrients are the antioxidants. Nutrients like vitamin C, beta carotene, vitamin E and selenium all enhance immune function and can be used to support endometriosis treatment. Many of these nutrients also decrease inflammation and can improve pain associated with endometriosis.

Vitamin D, an incredibly important nutrient for Canadians, has profound impacts on endometriosis. Vitamin D regulates cell growth and differentiation in endometriosis, enhances macrophage action and decreases inflammation. Vitamin D supplementation has been found in studies to reduce the weight of endometriosis lesions as well.

Balance Hormones

hormone balanceEndometriosis is a hormonally responsive condition – the growth of the endometrial lesions occurs under the influence of estrogen – so balancing hormone levels is an important treatment goal for all women with endometriosis.

Phytoestrogens, such as lentils, flax seeds and soy, can bind to estrogen receptors and have a less potent effect than our body’s own estrogen. When these phytoestrogens are bound to receptors they displace our own estrogen resulting in a lower estrogen effect overall. These foods should be incorporated into our diet daily for optimal hormone balancing effects.

Indole-3-carbinole and DIM (di-indolylmethane) from brassica vegetables are also estrogen regulating supplements that act much like phytoestrogens by binding estrogen receptors and decreasing our body’s estrogen response. Your Naturopathic Doctor may recommend these supplements, or recommend increasing consumption of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts for hormone balancing in endometriosis.

Reduce Inflammation

Grapes are a source of resveratrolMany of the most profoundly effective treatments for endometriosis work by reducing inflammation in the body. Pycnogenol, a pine bark extract, has anti-inflammatory, immune supportive and anti-growth properties. Studies have shown significant improvements in pain symptoms in women using pycnogenol.

Resveratrol, a substance found in the skin of grapes, is especially beneficial for women with endometriosis and infertility. Resveratrol can decrease inflammation, reduce proliferation of endometrial lesions and protect eggs from the effects of aging.

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is one of the most promising treatments for endometriosis. Studies have found immune function improvements (increases in T regulatory cells, decreases in TNF-alpha), significant decreases in inflammation (including increases in glutathione – a cellular anti-inflammatory) as well as reduces in the size of existing endometrial lesions.

Support Liver Detoxification

The liver is essential for hormone balance as it is where our body detoxifies estrogen and prepares it for elimination. B vitamins are necessary for this function, allowing the liver to more efficiently inactivate and process estrogen.

Nutrients known as lipotropics also promote liver function by promoting the flow of fat and bile (containing estrogen for elimination) out of the body through the large intestines. Choline, betaine, methionine and dandelion are all prime examples of lipotropics that can be used to enhance liver detoxification in endometriosis.

oatmealSupport Large Intestines and Healthy Bacteria

Our body eliminates estrogen by attaching it to a carrier molecule (glucuronic acid) and excreting it through the bile into the stool. Unfriendly bacteria in the large intestines can prevent our ability to eliminate estrogen by breaking this bond between estrogen and it’s carrier. This estrogen is then recycled back into our body, resulting in higher circulating levels of estrogen.

We can modify this action, and support healthy hormone levels, by following the Endometriosis Diet which emphasizes healthy fiber and avoidance of unhealthy fats. Probiotic supplements can also be used in some cases to encourage healthy bacteria balance.

Decrease Stress

Stress occurs frequently in our fast-paced society, but we know that unhealthy levels of stress, or poor adaptation to stress is linked to decreased immune function and may trigger the kind of biochemical imbalances that lead to endometriosis. Studies have demonstrated that endometriosis grows more rapidly, or recurs faster and in greater quantities, during times of extreme emotional stress.

Breathing exercises, physical exercise, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, good quality sleep and adaptogenic herbs and supplements can decrease your stress response and help you to manage your endometriosis, naturally.

Not All Nutrients Are Beneficial

Just because it’s natural, does not mean it’s safe. It is strongly recommended to consult with a Naturopathic Doctor to develop a safe and effective endometriosis plan that will address your concerns and give you the best chances for success.

Additionally, some nutrients may negatively impact endometriosis. L-carnitine, an amino acid, was shown in one study to induce a condition resembling endometriosis with accompanying infertility when give to young female mice. We are not sure of the impact this may have on humans, but a cautious approach is recommended.

Treating Endometriosis

Understanding EndometriosisTo take a fully empowered, knowledgeable approach to your endometriosis I recommend you read the other articles written by Dr. Lisa Watson, ND on endometriosis: Understanding Endometriosis, The Endometriosis Diet, Endometriosis and the Immune System, Acupuncture and Endometriosis and Endometriosis and Infertility.  If you are ready to take the next step, book a complimentary 15 minute meet-and-greet appointment with Dr. Watson, or book an initial consultation.  You can feel better! Get started now.

References

Hudson, Tori. Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008.

Lauersen, Niels H and Bouchez, Collette. Getting Pregnant. New York: Fireside, 2000.

Lewis, Randine. The Infertility Cure. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2004.

Kohama T, et al. Effect of French maritime pine bark extract on endometriosis as compared with leuprorelin acetate. Journal of Reproductive Medicine; 2007:52(8),703-8

Vassiliadis S, Athanassakis I. A “conditionally essential” nutrient, L-carnitine, as a primary suspect in endometriosis. Fertil Steril. 2011 Jun 30;95(8):2759-60.

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.

A Male Prenatal?

We all recognize the importance of prenatal supplements for women.  But can men benefit too?  Women are encouraged to take a nutritional supplement for at least three months before getting pregnant and I think men should do the same!

Nutrients for Male Fertility

Certain nutrients are needed for the production and protection of sperm.  Making sure that men have enough of these key nutrients can improve sperm count, sperm motility and the percentage of healthy sperm.

Vitamin C and E

Antioxidants for male fertilityVitamins C and E are antioxidants – they protect the body from damage done by reactive oxygen species (ROS or ‘free radicals’).  Sperm are especially sensitive to damage by ROS.  This is why semen contains high amounts of vitamin C and other antioxidants, to protect the sperm from ROS damage.

A diet that is deficient in antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables can lead to lower sperm count, poor motility and more abnormally shaped sperm.

However, you can get too much of a good thing.  Excess doses of vitamin C and E can have pro-oxidant effects – leading to oxidative damage rather than preventing it.  Working with a Naturopathic Doctor can help you determine your optimum dose for fertility.

Selenium

Supplements for Male Fertility

Another antioxidant, selenium deficiency is associated with poor male fertility.  Selenium supports sperm production and supplementation can improve sperm motility and sperm count.

As with vitamin C and E, too much selenium can cause adverse effects.  It is best used in combination with other antioxidants at low dose, or as a food-based nutrient.              

Folic acid

Normally associated with female fertility, men can benefit from folic acid supplementation as well.  Folic acid is necessary for DNA synthesis and the protection of DNA during sperm production.

It has been suggested that supplementing men with folic acid may decrease miscarriage rate by decreasing genetic mutations.

Zinc

No single nutrient has a greater impact on male reproduction than zinc.  Zinc is necessary for folic acid absorption and metabolism, testosterone production, formation and maturation of sperm and fertilization.

The scary thing is that 79% of men are not consuming even the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc.  Most men who are considering fatherhood could benefit from a zinc supplement.

But as with so many things, you can have too much of a good thing.  Excess intake of trace minerals like zinc can lead to pro-oxidant effects.

Men and women contribute equally to fertility – you each give your DNA to your baby.  Put your best DNA forward and consider seeing a Naturopathic Doctor who can recommend a male prenatal supplement to optimize your fertility, and the health of the next generation.

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.

 

Getting Under Your Skin – Ten Natural Treatments for Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a common condition, affecting more than 50 000 people in Toronto alone.  Both men and women are equally impacted by psoriasis and more than one-third of people with psoriasis have a family member who also has it.

What is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic, immune-mediated inflammatory condition that manifests as red, scaly skin rashes (known as “plaques”) that occur on the knees, elbows, scalp and other areas of the body.  The underlying issue that leads to psoriasis is immune activation of T-cells leading to release of inflammatory mediators and hyper-proliferation of keratinocytes.

Naturopathic Treatment of Psoriasis

Naturopathic treatment of psoriasis works to address the underlying causes of psoriasis – immune dysfunction and inflammation.  Correcting the imbalances that lead to psoriasis plaques and arthritis can significantly improve outcomes and promote optimal health.  Listed below are ten natural treatment options for psoriasis.

Ten Natural Treatment Options for Psoriasis

1. Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Food is a major source of inflammatory particles for our body.  Some foods promote inflammation, while other foods inhibit inflammation.  Foods that cause inflammation include: dairy, red meats, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, safflower oil, canola oil and trans-fats.  These foods should be reduced or eliminated in the diet.

 Foods that reduce inflammation include the omega 3 fatty acids, many spices, and most fruits and vegetables.  A vegetarian diet, or diet rich in fruits and vegetables can decrease inflammation and symptoms of psoriasis.

 2. Identification and Elimination of Food Allergies and Sensitivities

In addition to foods that contain compounds known to lead to inflammation, individual food sensitivities or allergies can also cause inflammation.  Consuming foods that we have a sensitivity to leads to an immune response in our body, ultimately leading to inflammation.  Determining your food sensitivities and eliminating them can profoundly decrease the symptoms of psoriasis.  The most common food sensitivities found in people with psoriasis include gluten (wheat), eggs and dairy.

3. Healthy Weight LossBalance scale

People who are overweight tend to have worse symptoms of psoriasis, likely due to the increase in inflammation from insulin imbalance and the metabolic effects of being overweight.  Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is an important lifestyle goal for all people with psoriasis and something your Naturopathic Doctor can help you do in a healthy and long-lasting way.

 4. Manage Stress

Long term stress can deplete our body’s ability to produce cortisol, one of the most powerful natural anti-inflammatories in our body.  Psoriasis tends to worsen during times of stress – whether it is mental, emotional or physical stress.  Learning appropriate stress management skills, and using appropriate natural supplements to decrease the physical impacts of stress can be an effective way of managing psoriasis across your lifespan.

 5. Spice Up Your Life!

Literally! Many spices can be used to decrease inflammation and act as strong antioxidants, promoting healing of skin.  Specific spices that can decrease inflammation and help treat psoriasis include: turmeric, capsaicin (red pepper), cloves, ginger, cumin, anise, fennel, basil, rosemary and garlic.

6. Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids

Essential Fatty AcidsOne of the most powerful treatments for all forms of inflammation, including psoriasis, is omega 3 fatty acids.  Omega 3s are essential fatty acids, our body can’t produce them and needs to get them from food.  Unfortunately our diets are rich in omega 6s (pro-inflammatory) and deficient in omega 3s (anti-inflammatory).

 Omega 3s have many impacts on the development of psoriasis.  They change the function of cell membranes, modify immune function decreasing overactivation, prevent blood supply from developing in psoriatic plaques and decrease inflammation throughout the body.

 Dietary sources of omega 3 fatty acids include cold water fish (mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, albacore tuna), flaxseeds, walnuts, algae and hemp seeds.  Supplementing with higher doses of omega 3s is recommended for people with active psoriasis.

7. Vitamin D

People with psoriasis have lower levels of the active form of vitamin D in their blood streams.  At this point it’s not clear if this finding is a cause of psoriasis or a consequence.  It is known that psoriasis is much less common in areas of the world with higher vitamin D production – sunny and warm climates have a much lower incidence than cold climates.  UV phototherapy is another effective treatment for psoriasis that increases vitamin D levels but can have unwanted side effects.

 Supplementing with vitamin D, and using it topically is safe for most people with psoriasis.  A simple blood test is available that will tell you whether this treatment is right for you, talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about it today.

8. Bioactive Whey Protein

Emerging research has shown bioactive whey protein isolate to be a promising treatment for psoriasis.  Whey isolate has immune regulating effects due to the presence of growth factors, immunoglobulin’s and active peptides.  Taking this supplement twice daily showed significiant improvements in psoriasis skin plaques after just two months of use.

9. Curcumin Gel

While much of the healing for psoriasis depends on healing from the inside out, topical use of curcumin gel has been shown to be more effective than calcipotriol cream, one of the most common prescription medications for psoriasis.  After 2-6 weeks of daily use all patients had at least a 50% improvement in psoriasis plaques with half of patients having a 90% improvement.

aloe vera
Aloe vera gel

Curcumin gel works by reducing inflammation locally and in combination with other Naturopathic treatments can be an amazing treatment option for psoriasis.

10. Aloe Vera Gel

Another topical option for healing psoriasis, aloe vera gel is an incredibly gentle and safe treatment with good clinical results.  Not only is aloe vera calming to inflamed skin but it also promotes healthy regrowth of normal skin cells.  One study found an 82% improvement compared to placebo.

Psoriasis is a multi-faceted condition that stems from an imbalance in the immune system leading to inflammation and characteristic skin plaques.  Naturopathic Medicine offers treatment options that address the underlying imbalances and can result in profound improvements in overall health and lead to healthy, clear skin.

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

Calder PC. n-3 Polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation, and inflammatory diseases. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:1505S-1519S.

Chalmers RJ, Kirby B. Gluten and psoriasis. Br J Dermatol 2000;142:5-7.

Heng MC, Song MK, Harker J, Heng MK. Drug- induced suppression of phosphorylase kinase activity correlates with resolution of psoriasis as assessed by clinical, histological and immunohistochemical parameters. Br J Dermatol 2000;143:937-949.

Perez A, Raab R, Chen TC, et al. Safety and efficacy of oral calcitriol (1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3) for the treatment of psoriasis. Br J Dermatol 1996;134:1070- 1078.

Pizzorno JE, Murray MT. Textbook of Natural Medicine. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone; 2006.

Poulin Y, Bissonnette R, Juneau C, et al. XP-828L in the treatment of mild to moderate psoriasis: randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Cutan Med Surg 2006;10:241-248.

Syed TA, Ahmad SA, Holt AH, et al. Management of psoriasis with Aloe vera extract in a hydrophilic cream: a placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Trop Med Int Health 1996;1:505-509.

Traub M, Marshall K. Psoriasis – Pathophysiology, Conventional and Alternative Approaches to Treatment. Alt Med Review. 2007;12(4).

Wolters M. Diet and psoriasis: experimental data and clinical evidence. Br J Dermatol 2005;153:706-714.

Vegetarian 101 – Iron in the Vegetarian Diet

Iron is one of the most important minerals for health.  Iron is used to form hemoglobin which allows our red blood cells to carry oxygen to each and every cell in our body.  Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide with up to two billion people affected, mostly women and children, and affects omnivores and vegetarians alike.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency generally develops slowly and symptoms often do not appear until anemia is severe, even though our cells are already suffering the consequences of inadequate iron.

Symptoms of iron deficiency are similar in all age groups and include:

iron in the vegetarian diet

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irritability
  • Pale skin
  • Sore tongue
  • Dark coloured stools
  • Frequent infections
  • Sensitivity to temperatures (cold or heat)
  • Pica (the desire to eat non-food substances – most commonly ice or dirt)

Vegetarians have no higher incidence of iron deficient anemia than the omnivore population, however there are some additional precautions vegetarians must take to ensure an adequate dietary intake of iron.

Absorption of Iron from the Diet

Green leafy vegetables are a source of vegan ironDietary sources of iron are either heme-based (from animal sources) or non-heme (vegetarian.)  Some foods (such as cereals and infant formulas) are also iron-enriched or iron-fortified – non-heme iron is used in these foods.

Although a vegetarian diet is likely to contain as much (or more) iron than an omnivorous diet, the non-heme iron in a vegetarian diet is substantially less available for absorption because of differences in the chemical form of iron and accompanying constituents that inhibit iron absorption (such as calcium, tannins and phytates).

Vegetarians need to consume approximately 80% more iron than indicated by the national Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) due to the decreased bioavailability.  Absorption of non-heme is estimated to be 10%, although more will be absorbed in cases of severe anemia.  By comparison the absorption of non-heme iron is approximately 18%.

Iron absorption can be enhanced by combining iron rich foods with a source of vitamin C, using iron cookware (especially for cooking acidic foods that solubize iron from the pan), sprouting grains and avoiding coffee, tea and red wine with meals.

Vegetarian Food Sources of Iron

Food Amount Iron (mg)
Soybeans,cooked 1 cup

8.8

Blackstrap molasses 2 Tbsp

7.2

Lentils, cooked 1 cup

6.6

Spinach, cooked 1 cup

6.4

Tofu 4 ounces

6.4

Bagel, enriched 1 medium

6.4

Chickpeas, cooked 1 cup

4.7

Tempeh 1 cup

4.5

Lima beans, cooked 1 cup

4.5

Black-eyed peas, cooked 1 cup

4.3

Swiss chard, cooked 1 cup

4.0

Kidney beans, cooked 1 cup

3.9

Black beans, cooked 1 cup

3.6

Pinto beans, cooked 1 cup

3.6

Turnip greens, cooked 1 cup

3.2

Potato 1 large

3.2

Prune juice 8 ounces

3.0

Quinoa, cooked 1 cup

2.8

Beet greens, cooked 1 cup

2.7

Tahini 2 Tbsp

2.7

Veggie hot dog, iron-fortified 1 hot dog

2.7

Peas, cooked 1 cup

2.5

Cashews 1/4 cup

2.1

Bok choy, cooked 1 cup

1.8

Bulgur, cooked 1 cup

1.7

Raisins 1/2 cup

1.6

Apricots, dried 15 halves

1.4

Veggie burger, commercial 1 patty

1.4

Watermelon 1/8 medium

1.4

Almonds 1/4 cup

1.3

Kale, cooked 1 cup

1.2

Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup

1.2

Broccoli, cooked 1 cup

1.1

Millet, cooked 1 cup

1.1

Soy yogurt 6 ounces

1.1

Tomato juice 8 ounces

1.0

Sesame seeds 2 Tbsp

1.0

Brussels sprouts, cooked 1 cup

0.9

Sources: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24, 2011

Recommended Daily Intake and Supplementation

The RDI for iron is 80% higher for vegetarians and is dependent on your age.  Children, adolescents and pregnant women have increased needs due to the rapid growth seen during these ages.  The values below are for vegetarian people only and reflect the increased need for iron in this population

Daily recommended intake of dietary iron for vegetarians

Children are at risk for iron deficiencyInfants (0-2 years): 19mg per day
Children (3-11 years): 18mg per day
Adolescent girls (12-18): 27mg
Adolescent boys (12-18): 19mg
Adult women (19-50): 32mg
Adult men (19-50): 15mg
Pregnant women: 48mg
Seniors (>50): 14mg 

Iron supplements should only be taken if blood tests have shown evidence of an iron deficiency or decrease in iron storage levels. Research suggests that a daily iron supplement is best for treating low iron, however frequency may be decreased to once or twice per week for prevention of deficiency in people with a history of low iron.

Iron supplements should be taken away from other minerals (especially calcium) since these may decrease the absorption of iron.  A source of vitamin C (500mg capsule) is also recommended to enhance absorption each time an iron supplement is taken.

Ferrous fumarate and ferrous sulfate contain the highest amount of elemental iron per mg with ferrous gluconate containing the least.  Ferrous gluconate, ferrous fumarate and ferrous citrate are well tolerated with fewer digestive side effects reported.

Constipation, darkening of the stool and digestive upset are the main side effects seen with iron supplements.  Supplements should be continued for three months beyond the resolution of iron deficiency anemia to replenish body stores of iron.

If you suspect you may have an iron deficiency, seek a blood test from your Medical Doctor or Naturopathic Doctor.

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

Goddard AF, James MW, McIntyre AS, Scott BB. Guidelines for the management of iron deficiency anaemia. British Society of Gastroenterology. 2005

M Amit; Canadian Paediatric Society, Community Paediatrics Committee. Vegetarian diets in children and adolescents. Paediatr Child Health 2010;15(5):303-314.

Hunt JR.  Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78(suppl):633S–9S

Stoltzfus RJ, Dreyfuss ML. Guidelines for the Use of Iron Supplements to Prevent and Treat Iron Deficiency Anemia. International Nutritional Anemia Consultative Group (INACG)

Six Natural Treatments for Menopause

Menopause is the natural transition out of the childbearing years of a woman’s life.  So why is this natural transition often treated with synthetic hormones that have increase your risk for stroke, pulmonary embolism, coronary artery disease and breast cancer?

Symptoms of menopause begin for most women between 46-55 years of age and can persist for 2-20 years (8 years is average).  With the risks associated with synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT) more and more women are looking for natural alternatives.  Learn more about six of the top recommended natural treatments for menopause and how they may help you transition smoothly through menopause.

Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)

Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)

Black cohosh is one of the most important and popular natural remedies for menopause.  Several large studies have found that daily use of black cohosh for a minimum of 8 weeks improved symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, night sweats, headaches, insomnia, mood swings, irritability and vaginal dryness.

Black cohosh is often self-prescribed but should be used under supervision of a Naturopathic Doctor.  Studies suggest that the effectiveness of black cohosh can be increased by combining it with other natural treatments.

Isoflavones

Isoflavones are compounds found in plants that have estrogen-like actions in humans.  They are also known as “phytoestrogens”.  Clinical studies have shown that isoflavones can reduce symptoms of hot flashes and vaginal dryness in menopause.

Additionally some isoflavones (particularly those in soy) are also effective preventative agents for certain types of cancer, including breast cancer.  Isoflavones also protect the body against heart disease, increase good (HDL) cholesterol, decrease bad (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, and help prevent osteoporosis.

Isoflavones are most commonly found in combination with other phytoestrogens.  A diet high in soy may also provide a significant amount of isoflavones, especially if fermented soy products like natto or miso are consumed.  Do not take soy based isoflavones, or consume a high soy diet if you have a history of thyroid disease.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red clover is a popular phytoestrogen supplement for management of menopausal symptoms.  It is most effective for hot flashes and night sweats.  It contains isoflavones so also has many of the same benefits listed above (decreasing bad cholesterol, prevention of osteoporosis).

There are multiple drug-herb interactions for red clover, so it should only be taken under supervision by a Naturopathic Doctor.  Red clover interacts with blood thinners and antivirals and may not be appropriate if you are taking these medications.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C and citrus bioflavonoids are known to improve the integrity of blood vessels and promote healthy blood flow.  This has been shown in preliminary studies to improve symptoms of hot flashes.  Vitamin C is also incredibly safe and can be taken in food form.  Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, papaya, bell pepper, strawberries, cauliflower and dark green leafy vegetables.

Exercise

Exercise should be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle during the menopausal transition and beyond.  A list of some of the benefits of exercise in menopause are listed below.  Exercise has been demonstrated in clinical studies to improve quality of life in menopausal symptoms, and decreases the frequency and severity of hot flashes.  A combination of weight bearing and aerobic exercise at least 3.5 hours per week is recommended for women in menopause and postmenopausal women.

Health Benefits of Regular Exercise in Menopause           

  • Relief from hot flashes
  • Decreased bone loss
  • Improved cardiovascular function and circulation
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased cholesterol levels
  • Increased self-esteem, mood, endurance and energy levels

Acupuncture

The natural menopause treatment that has been getting the most media attention is acupuncture.  Acupuncture, when individually tailored to a woman’s menopausal symptoms can be extremely effective in decreasing discomfort and relieving symptoms.  A range of 6 to 12 sessions over an 8 to 12 week period should be used to determine if acupuncture will be effective.

As with all natural therapies, the most effective approach is an integrative one.  Consultation with a qualified Naturopathic Doctor who can tailor a treatment plan to your symptoms, current health and lifestyle will allow you to reap all the benefits natural therapies have to offer.

Disclaimer

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

References

Osmers R, Friede M, Liske E, et al: Efficacy and safety of isopropanolic black cohosh extract for climacteric symptoms.  Obstet Gynecol  2005; 105:1074-1083

Wuttke W, Seidlova-Wuttke D, Gorkow C: The Cimicifuga preparation BNO 1055 vs. conjugated estrogens in a double-blind placebo-controlled study: Effects on menopause symptoms and bone markers.  Maturitas  2003; 44 (Suppl 1):S67-S77.

Tice JA, et al: Phytoestrogen supplements for the treatment of hot flashes: The Isoflavone Clover Extract (ICE) Study: A randomized controlled trial.  JAMA  2003; 290:207-214.

Wyon Y, et al: A comparison of acupuncture and oral estradiol treatment of vasomotor symptoms in postmenopausal women.  Climacteric  2004; 7:153-164.

Lindh-Astrand L, Nedstrand E, Wyon Y, Hammar M: Vasomotor symptoms and quality of life in previously sedentary postmenopausal women randomised to physical activity or estrogen therapy.  Maturitas  2004; 48:97-105.

Nachtigall L, La Grega L, Lee W, Fenichel R. The effects of isoflavones derived from red clover on vasomotor symptoms and endometrial thickness. In: Proceedings of the 9th International Menopause Society World Congress on the Menopause. Yokohama, Japan: 1999.