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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.

Understanding Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hypothyroidism is a common condition impacting women, with women between 5-8 times more likely to develop this condition than men. The most common cause of hypothyroidism in Canada and the US is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s own immune cells attack and destroy the thyroid gland resulting in decreased thyroid function (hypothyroidism). Hashimoto’s most often impacts young and middle aged women (20’s to 50’s) and can lead to permanent damage of the thyroid gland and lifelong hypothyroidism.

Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in it’s early stages is often silent with few to no symptoms. Some people experience a sense of fatigue or not feeling their best, but often do not seek medical care for these common symptoms.Winter hat

The symptoms of Hashimoto’s are indistinguishable from other forms of hypothyroidism:

  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Constipation
  • Cold intolerance
  • Dry skin
  • Dry or brittle hair
  • Hair loss
  • Firm or nodular thyroid gland on palpation

Diagnosing Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

All hypothyroidism is diagnosed using a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level. TSH is produced in the pituitary gland and tells the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones. If the TSH is too high, that means the thyroid is not working effectively and a diagnosis of hypothyroidism can be made.

In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis anti-thyroid antibodies (antithyroid peroxidase, antithyroglobulin) are commonly present. However they are rarely tested, despite the majority of hypothyroid cases being autoimmune in origin.

In my Naturopathic practice I always test for anti-thyroid antibodies to confirm Hashimoto’s and to monitor treatment.

Hashimoto’s and Autoimmunity

An autoimmune condition is any condition where the body’s immune system begins to attack the body’s own tissues rather than the viruses and bacteria it is designed to fight. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. It is not in essence a thyroid condition, but an immune condition where the thyroid is the unfortunate victim.

Once a person develops one form of autoimmune condition they are more likely to develop others. The incidence of Hashimoto’s is higher in people with pre-existing autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, vitiligo and lupus.

Conventional Treatment of Hashimoto’s

Thyroid medicationConventional treatment of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis does not differ significantly from treatment of other forms of hypothyroidism. The main treatment is L-thyroxine (T4) taken daily in the morning. This T4 is then converted in the body to the active thyroid hormone, T3.

There are controversies regarding this treatment for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Studies have shown that combined use of T4 and T3 results in better relief of hypothyroid symptoms than T4 alone. This is accomplished by using a dessicated thyroid extract, prescribed to you by your Medical Doctor, endocrinologist or Naturopathic Doctor.

Another controversy in the treatment of Hashimoto’s is the lack of treatment targeted at the immune system. The use of L-thyroxine does not prevent or treat the inflammation and autoimmune destruction of the thyroid nor does it lower anti-thyroid antibodies.

Naturopathic Treatment of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

An experienced Naturopathic Doctor can be an amazing ally in the treatment of Hashimoto’s. Your ND can personalize a protocol that will address the root cause of your Hashimoto’s – an overactive immune system.

In Ontario your ND may be able to prescribe dessicated thyroid, provided they have obtained additional education and a license to prescribe.

Nutritional supplements, such as selenomethionine, may also be used to decrease autoimmune thyroid antibodies. Dietary support such as gluten avoidance, immunoglobulin food sensitivity testing, celiac testing, detoxification support, gut healing protocols and more can also be used to support the immune system and decrease over-reactivity.
More information on the Naturopathic treatment of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis can be found in the following articles: Hashimoto’s and Gluten, Naturopathic Treatment of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s and Fertility.  You can also book an appointment with Dr. Lisa Watson, ND and get started on healing your Hashimoto’s 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.

 

 

 

Low Testosterone in Men: A Lifestyle Approach

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

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

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

Symptoms of low testosterone are variable but may include:

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

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

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

Lifestyle Interventions

Avoid alcohol

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

Avoid marijuana

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

Quit smoking

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

Avoid plastics and endocrine disrupting chemicals

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

Achieve an optimal body mass

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

Get enough sleep

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

Exercise regularly

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

Manage stress

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

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

Disclaimer

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

 

 

Preparing for Pregnancy: Detoxification

Working as a Naturopathic Doctor with a focus on pregnancy and fertility gives me a unique opportunity to influence the health of the future generation while simultaneously optimizing the health of the women and men in my practice. This is an opportunity I like to seize – a chance to make the next generation as vibrantly healthy as they can be!

Pre-Pregnancy Detoxifying

I am not a fan of the detox fad. I feel like it implies that our bodies are dirty or incapable of maintaining health – the very opposite of what I believe. But as with so many fads, there is an essential nugget of truth at the center of it – we are living in a world that is overwhelming our bodies with chemicals – in the air we breath, food we eat, clothes we wear, soaps we use to ‘clean’ our bodies. And our bodies can accumulate these chemicals, and they can cause changes in our hormones, in our cells and in our organ function.

The time prior to pregnancy is a wonderful time to detoxify your life. Not just your body, but your environment, thoughts and behaviours as well. A time to prepare for a fresh new beginning – the beginning of a life and a family.

Detoxifying Your Environment

A landmark study done by the Environmental Working Group found 287 chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of babies born in the United States – chemicals that are known to be toxic to the brain and nervous system, lead to developmental abnormalities and cancer.

This study highlights the importance of making changes now – of reducing our exposure to chemicals to decrease our future child’s exposure.

Here are three easy ways you can detoxify your environment prior to pregnancy

  1. household cleanerUse only natural cleaning products – the Environmental Protection Agency has found that in many homes the level of pollutants are three-to-five times higher than they are outside.Minimize your indoor chemical burden by using only all natural cleansing products and avoid these big offenders: upholstery shampoo, furniture polish, all-purpose sprays, bug sprays, bathroom cleansers, room deodorizers, fabric softeners.
  1. Avoid plastic wrap and plastic storage containers. Almost all plastics contain chemicals that have been shown to disrupt hormone balance and can impact fertility and potentially increase the risk of miscarriage.
  1. Change your personal care products, cosmetics and sunscreens. All of these products can contain a plethora of chemicals all with potential negative health effects. The Environmental Working Group maintains amazing databases of these products that can help you to make healthy choices for your self, and your environment. Be sure to check out their Cosmetics Database and their annual Sunscreen Guide.

Detoxifying Your Body

The two best ways we can detoxify our body is 1) decrease our exposure to chemicals and 2) support our body in eliminating them.

My top four suggestions for detoxifying your body are:

  1. Water Eat organic produce. Hundreds of pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on conventional produce at various stages of their growth and production. Nearly two-thirds of produce contains pesticide residues – an alarming number with unknown consequences on long term health. The simplest way to decrease exposure and minimize risk is by selecting organic produce. Following the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen recommendations from the Environmental Working Group is great place to start for understanding which produce you should always purchase organic, and which have lower potential for pesticide residue.
  1. Drink an abundance of clean water. Water is the way that our bodies move nutrients into cells – and toxins out. Drinking fresh, clean water throughout the day can greatly enhance your detoxification – and can improve energy and concentration as well.
  2. Exercise regularly. Exercise supports the lymphatic system – one of the most important systems in detoxifying the body. In order for our lymphatic system to work, we need to move our muscles, forcing movement of lymph back towards our heart. Daily movement practice should be part of any detoxification plan, and any healthy lifestyle.
  3. Do a personalized cleansing program once or twice a year. A personalized cleansing program developed by a Naturopathic Doctor can help identify specific detoxification goals for your body and help you to achieve them. Individualized programs are especially important prior to pregnancy – enhancing detoxification while maintaining optimal nutrient status will support your body now, and your baby’s in the future.

Detoxifying Your Thoughts and Behaviours

No detoxification is complete without as assessment of your thoughts and behaviours. Each of us has thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that impact our health – both positively and negatively. Time spent in personal introspection or working with a counselor can help us to identify patterns of thoughts or behaviours that we would like to modify. The time prior to pregnancy is an ideal time to explore our own feelings on parenthood, our relationship with our parents, and ourselves. It is a great time to let go of thoughts and behaviours that are not contributing to an abundant state of health – to detoxify our thoughts and behaviours and prepare ourselves for our future as parents.

 

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.

 

Basal Body Temperature Tracking

One way to optimize your fertility is to understand your fertility. And this starts with understanding your menstrual cycle and your optimal fertility window.

Basal body temperature tracking, often combined with cervical fluid testing, can be a simple but effective way to increase your chances of conceiving. By tracking your daily temperatures you can get a clear picture of when (and if!) you are ovulating, allowing for appropriately timed intercourse.

How to Test Your Basal Body Temperature (BBT)

For the purposes of tracking your hormone balance across your monthly cycle you should follow these simple instructions.

  1. Basal body temperature thermometerPurchase a BBT thermometer. It is important that the thermometer go to two decimal places (36.00). These are usually found in the family planning section at your local drug store.
  2. Download a free app (Fertility Friend) that allows you to track your temperatures, or print out a tracking chart
  3. Place your thermometer on your bedside table, within reach
  4. Take your temperature IMMEDIATELY on rising every morning. It is important that you do not get out of bed first, do not kiss your partner, do not get up to pee. Your basal temperature is your temperature at rest, any movement can change the temperature.
  5. Note your temperature in your app or on your chart.

Ideally you need to be asleep for at least 3 hours prior to taking your basal body temperature.

Changes in your daily routine, such as sleeping late, stress, alcohol consumption, colds or fevers, can influence your temperature. Be sure to note any deviations from normal in your chart so that any anomalies in your chart can be explained.

Understanding Your BBT ChartBBT

Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you to understand your chart, especially if it does not follow the expected pattern (shown here).

The first half of your cycle (from the first day of your period until you ovulate) should be relatively stable with a lower overall temperature than the second half. At ovulation a significant increase in temperature (usually 0.3-0.5oC) is seen. During the second half (the luteal phase) the temperature should remain high and stable. As your period begins the temperature drops again and a new BBT chart is started.

Why Track Your BBT

For most women the fertile window, the time in which there is a chance for fertilization and pregnancy to occur, is a short 3-4 days. To enhance your fertility you must ensure that intercourse occurs within this window. The BBT chart can help you learn when you are most fertile and allow you to plan accordingly.

The fertile window occurs in the 3-4 days prior to ovulation (which corresponds with an increase in basal body temperature). By tracking your BBT over several months you can start to see a pattern in your ovulation. When combined with cervical fluid testing BBT tracking can significantly improve your chances of pregnancy.

BBT tracking can also highlight imbalances in your hormones that could be negatively impacting your fertility. A lack of ovulation (anovulation), a shortened luteal phase (luteal phase defect), a prolonged menstrual cycle and more can all be identified by a skilled eye simply by looking at your BBT chart.

I recommend all women empower themselves with a greater knowledge of their bodies, and the BBT chart can be an excellent tool in connecting with, and understanding your body, your menstrual cycle and your fertility.

Disclaimer

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

Natural First Aid Kit – Burning Man Edition

As one of my RMT friends prepares to embark on her yearly journey to Burning Man she asked if I could prepare a list of natural first aid supplies to support her during her time in the Nevada desert.  This is that list – supplies for general first aid, for digestive health, headaches and more.

What is Burning Man?

Once a year, tens of thousands of participants gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. They depart one week later, having left no trace whatsoever.  If you are interested in learning more about Burning Man, check out the website at http://www.burningman.com/

In addition to your conventional first aid supplies (bandages, alcohol, gauze, tweezers, etc.) I recommend bringing the following items to make your week in the desert easier and more enjoyable.

Bumps, Bruises and Blisters

Arnica 30C – a homeopathic remedy for all bumps and bruises.  Safe for all ages.  Speeds healing and decreases pain.

Arnica gel – a topical version of the arnica homeopathic.  Arnica has anti-inflammatory and circulation-stimulating properties.  Apply directly to sore muscles, sprains, strains, bumps and bruises to speed healing and decrease pain.  Do not apply to broken skin.

Witch hazel – apply witch hazel directly to a blister to dry it out, then cover with a bandage.  Once the blister is dry, apply calendula cream to speed healing.

Cuts and Scrapes

Calendula cream – calendula (Calendula officinalis) is marigold flowers.  An herb with astringent, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties.  Apply to cuts and scrapes (not to open wounds) to prevent infection and speed healing.  I recommend Weleda’s Calendula Diaper Care cream – a thick cream with a high calendula content.  Do not use if you have a ragweed allergy.

Hypericum 30C – a homeopathic remedy for deeper cuts with stinging nerve pain.  Use for puncture wounds, deep cuts or any time you have sharp shooting pain.

Tea tree oil – a broad spectrum antimicrobial that can be used as an antiseptic for cuts and scrapes as well as for acne, fungal infections, and athlete’s foot.  Can also be inhaled for sore throat (a common concern in the desert!)  Apply a 10% tea tree oil directly to wounds to prevent bacterial or fungal infections.  Apply a few drops to a handkerchief or bandana and inhale deeply two to three times per day to treat sore throat.  Do not take internally.

Sunburn

Aloe vera gel – cooling and healing, aloe vera gel soothes the inflammation of sunburn, speeds healing and decreases the severity of peeling after sunburn.  Of course, sunscreen should always be used while in the dessert and reapplied frequently.  Choose a safe sunscreen from www.ewg.org.

Glonoinum 30C – a homeopathic remedy for sunburn, sunstroke and headaches from sun exposure.

MediHoney Derma Cream – a medical grade honey for topical burns from fire hoops, fire dancing and other fires! Safe on all burns.  Available at www.integrativehealthinstitute.ca

Digestion

Ginger tea or ginger Altoids – best for nausea, motion sickness or indigestion.  Drink ginger tea hot or cold or suck on ginger Altoids for fast relief.

Peppermint tea, peppermint Altoids and Enteric Coated Peppermint Oil (ECPO) – peppermint is soothing to the digestive tract and is very effective at relieving gas pains or indigestion.  Use peppermint tea or peppermint Altoids for general indigestion or take ECPO to relief gas pains.

Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL) – used for heartburn.  Chew one or two tablets as needed or 20 minutes before meals.

Licorice tea – soothing for a sore throat – especially dry and scratchy sore throats.  Licorice tea contains mucilaginous compounds that soothe and heal the inflamed mucous membranes of the throat.

Nux vomica 30C – a homeopathic remedy for over-indulgence.  Take for nausea, vomiting, headaches or other symptoms of hangover.  Remember to remain well hydrated if you are indulging in alcohol or other recreational substances.

Milk thistle tea – milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a plant best known for it’s liver supportive and detoxification properties.  Drink hot or cold to support your liver if you are planning on over-indulging during your time in the desert.

B vitamin complex – in addition to vitamin C, B vitamins are depleted by consuming alcohol and contribute to hangovers.  Take a B vitamin daily, with plenty of water.

Headaches

Lavender oil – a multi-purpose essential oil, lavender is analgesic (decreases pain), anti-spasmodic, and mildly sedative.  For headaches, apply lavender essential oil to the temples and rub in gently.  Apply to sore muscles to relief muscle spasms.  Place a few drops on your pillow to fight insomnia.  Do not ingest.

Dehydration

Coconut water – dehydration and electrolyte loss are major concerns for anyone planning to spend a week in the hot Nevada desert.  In addition to drinking abundant water, coconut water contains a high concentration of potassium, minerals and antioxidants.  It is ‘isotonic’ – meaning it has the same level of electrolyte balance as we have in our bodies.  It is delicious and will rehydrate faster than water.

Emergen-C – an easily absorbed vitamin C supplement that can be added to water.  Provides 1g of vitamin C, electrolytes, 24 nutrients and 7 B-vitamins.  Comes in small, easy to carry packets.

Mood

Bach Rescue Remedy – you never know when anxiety, frustration, fear or other bad moods are going to strike.  Rescue Remedy is a blend of flower essences that calm the mind, ease stressful transitions (like the long lines to get into Burning Man), and provide relief from stress or emotional fatigue.

Chamomile tea – calms the mind and relaxes the body.  Drink hot or cold.  Safe for children.  Can also relieve indigestion.  Apply a warm chamomile tea bag over a bruise, black eye, insect bite or other irritation to soothe and decrease pain and swelling.

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.

 

Matcha – Super’powdered’ Green Tea

Matcha, green tea powder, in a chawan vessel with a chasen.  Shallow dof.The tea shop can be a daunting place!  Sencha, oolong, pu-erh, ceylon, Darjeeling, matcha – exotic words that can intimidate or inspire new and experienced tea drinkers alike.

One type of tea stands out from the crowd – a jade-green powder that looks out of place amongst the leafy green, black and white teas.  This is matcha –  Japanese for “powdered tea”.

What is matcha?

Matcha is a special kind of green tea.  It is the tea prepared in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies (Chanoyu) and has been used by Zen monks during meditation for over 800 years.  Matcha is also unique because it is the only green tea where the leaves are powdered and drank – so that you are actually consuming the whole leaf.

Why drink matcha?  The many health benefits of matcha.

Because matcha is a powdered green tea you get all the benefits of green tea, but to a higher degree.  Drinking one cup of matcha tea gives you the equivalent of ten cups of green tea in terms of antioxidant and health-promoting benefits.

Matcha is also grown in a special way.  The earliest spring leaves are covered for two to three weeks (‘shade grown’) which causes health-promoting nutrients to concentrate in the leaf of the tea plant.  Shade growing also increases the amount of the amino acid L-theanine in the tea leaf.

The L-theanine in matcha relaxes the brain, muscles and blood vessels.  It can help lower blood pressure, enhances mood and promotes a sense of wellness by enhancing alpha waves in the brain (associated with a feeling of happiness, relaxation, and alertness) and increasing dopamine (and possibly serotonin) production – two of the brain’s ‘feel good’ chemicals.

The combination of L-theanine and caffeine (matcha does contain caffeine, but it has less caffeine than other green and black teas) gives matcha the unique ability to result in a “calm alertness” or what has been termed “zest and zen” by matcha aficionados.  The caffeine gives an sense of alertness while the L-theanine results in relaxation and a sense of well-being.

Matcha is also an antioxidant powerhouse.  The ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity – a measure of the antioxidant capacity of a food) rating of matcha is 1348 units/g, compared to 105 units/g for pomegranates and 91 units/g for blueberries. A single cup of matcha contains 70 times the antioxidants of a cup of orange juice and nine times the beta carotene of two cups of spinach.  The antioxidants in matcha – catechin polyphenols – offer protection against many kinds of cancer, help prevent heart disease, reduce cholesterol and can slow the aging process.  The most important and abundant polyphenol in matcha is EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) – the same polyphenol found in all green teas.  Sixty percent of the catechin content in matcha is EGCG.

Matcha also contains trace minerals and vitamins (A, B-complex, C, E, and K), chlorophyll, and is a source of dietary fiber (remember – you’re drinking the whole leaf in a powdered form) and has very few calories

Matcha has many positive impacts on diseases:

  • it may lower your risk of cancer – the antioxidants in matcha (and other green teas) protect against breast, skin, lung, stomach, prostate, ovarian, and colon cancers
  • it prevents heart disease – the flavonoids in tea help prevent the arterial blockage that leads to heart attack and strokes
  • it supports joint health – green tea reduces inflammation and prevents cartilage breakdown – both of which can contribute to improved joint mobility

How to make matcha

Making a cup of matcha is simple and can be a wonderful ritual in the morning or at any time of the day.

  1. Use a tea bowl (or wide mouthed mug).  Place the bamboo tea whisk (a chawan – available wherever you buy matcha tea) into the tea bowl and pour some warm water in to soften the whisk and warm the bowl.  Pour out the water and dry the bowl.
  2. Using a bamboo scoop (chashaku) place three scoops of matcha into the bowl (equivalent to approximately ½ to 1 tsp of matcha)
  3. Pour one quarter of a cup of hot, but not boiling (85 to 90°C) water over the matcha
  4. Whisk the mixture with the bamboo whisk to completely disperse the matcha.  This should take between 20 to 30 seconds (less time is needed if the matcha is sifted prior to use)
  5. Drink the matcha

Tips:

  • sift matcha prior to use to ensure a nice frothy cup of tea
  • store matcha in the freezer to maintain freshness
  • matcha can be made thick (Koicha) or thin (Usucha) by altering the amounts of matcha and water
  • a matcha latte can be made by adding prepared matcha tea to 3/4 cup of steamed soy milk (or other milks)
  • matcha can be used in baking – cookies, cupcakes, ice creams, and more can all be made with matcha

I hope you are all inspired to give matcha tea a try.  It is truly a “superpowdered” green tea.  Full of health-promoting benefits and gives you an immediate sense of calm alertness.  It is the favourite part of my morning ritual.  I encourage you to incorporate it into your morning, or any time you want a healthy boost to your day.

Nutritional Profile of Matcha Tea

Nutrient Per 1g Matcha
Total Catechins 105mg
EGCg 61 mg
Total Amino Acids 34 mg
L-theanine 14.26 mg
Caffeine 35mg
Fiber 318mg
Carbs 447mg
Vitamin C 1.75mg
Vitamin A 291 units
Potassium 26.6mg
Calories 3

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.

Sources:

ORAC Analysis on Ceremonial Matcha Green Tea ME17916 Lot#D1805: Brunswick Laboratories

G Cao, SL Booth, JA Sadowski, and RL Prior.  Increases in human plasma antioxidant capacity after consumption of controlled diets high in fruit and vegetables .  Am J Clin Nutr 1998 68: 1081-1087.

Dr. Weil, MD.  Matcha Tea

Matcha Source, Matcha Tea Health Benefits

 

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

Spring Cleansing Can Be Simple

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

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

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

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

1. Drink water

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

lime2. Eat clean

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

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

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

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

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

5. Eat a rainbow.

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

6. Discover whole grains.

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

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

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

8. Choose healthy snacks and enjoy them frequently.

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

9. Do alternating showers every morning.

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

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

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

11. Drink tea (instead of coffee).

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

Exercise for your mind and body

12. Go outside and exercise.

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

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

Disclaimer

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

Ten Steps to A Better Night’s Sleep, Naturally.

 

1. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends

Sleep is a habit.  By consistently going to bed and getting up at the same time every day we condition our body to follow a regular pattern of sleep.  This allows our body’s internal clock, our “circadian rhythm”, to remain balanced and effectively initiate and maintain sleep.

2. Make your bedroom quiet, dark and cool

Studies have shown that sleeping in a cooler room is most conductive to sleep.  Our body temperature drops slightly during sleep and a cooler room helps the body temperature to drop more quickly and effectively.  Eliminate all sources of light in your bedroom – turn digital alarm clocks to face the wall and get dark window coverings to eliminate outside light.  Eliminating excess noise will minimize potential disruptions that might wake you from sleep.

computer insomnia3. Bedrooms are for sleeping and sex, not for work or television

The bedroom should be kept for sleeping and not used for televisions, computers, video gaming systems, phone calls or other stimulating gadgets that may disrupt sleep.  Go in the bedroom when it is time to sleep and leave the room when sleeping is done.

4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine for 4-6 hours before bedtime

Caffeine is found in coffee, soda, green and black tea, energy drinks and chocolate.  It is a stimulant and can negatively impact sleep even if ingested six hours before bed.  And although an alcoholic “nightcap” might help you to initiate sleep it fragments the stages of sleep, decreases the quality of sleep and makes sleep more disrupted.

5. Don’t nap, or nap appropriately

The period of time that you are awake adds to something called “sleep drive”.  The longer we stay awake, the more we want to go to sleep.  By taking a nap we diminish this desire to sleep which may make it less likely that we will be able to easily sleep later.

However, some experts have suggested that napping at the appropriate time of day (between 1 and 4 pm, never between 5 and 8 pm) for an appropriate length of time (20 to 40 minutes) can improve overall sleep.

Aerobic exercise and meditation6. Exercise daily, but avoid exercising 4 hours before bedtime

Staying active is an excellent way to ensure a good night’s sleep.  However, exercising too close to bedtime may cause difficulties in getting to sleep as your body will still be revved up.

7. Develop a sleep ritual before bedtime

Parents have been doing this for children for generations.  Sleep rituals allow us to unwind and mentally prepare for going to sleep.  These rituals should include quiet activities such as reading, drinking a calming cup of tea, listening to relaxing music, writing in a journal, or taking a warm bath.

8.  If you are having trouble getting to sleep, don’t stay in bed or you will train yourself to have difficulties there

If you have difficulty initiating sleep don’t toss and turn in bed and try to force sleep to come (we’ve all tried this… and we all know it doesn’t work!).  As this activity is repeated, night after night, a situation is set up where we associate our bed with the anxiety of not being able to sleep.

If you are unable to fall asleep within 15 minutes, go to another quiet place and lie down until you feel ready to sleep, then return to your bedroom to sleep. Do not watch television or use the computer during this time.

9. Avoid eating or drinking for a few hours before bedtime

Heartburn or having to urinate frequently can be very disruptive to a good night’s sleep.  Avoid these issues by not eating or drinking for a few hours before bedtime.

10. Make sleep a priority.  Don’t sacrifice sleep to do daytime activities

Respect your body’s need to sleep!  Too often we allow our sleep time to be shortened when our daytime activities take longer than we expect.  Opportunities to engage in pleasurable activities – watching television, visiting with friends, playing on the internet, and other activities – will quickly cut into sleep time if we allow them to.  It is important to schedule your sleep time and keep to that schedule, no matter what may come up during the day.

Additional sleep resources:

BBC Documentary:  Ten Things You Need to Know About Sleep

National Sleep Foundation – http://www.sleepfoundation.org/

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.