Digestive Health

Stop Sneezing and Start Breathing! A Guide to Spring Allergies

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Well the sun is finally starting to come out along with warmer temperatures (please please stay!!), but that doesn’t mean all happy times for those who suffer from spring allergies. Pollens and other allergens are starting to come out and cause sneezing, itching and runny noses. Naturopathic medicine can be very helpful in battling these spring allergies, so you don’t have to rely on over-the-counter, or even prescribed, anti-histamines forever! 

I know what it is like, I have been there. When I was younger I would get chronic hives if I didn’t take Reactine daily. I also could barely function without Reactine, eye drops AND Flonase in the morning one summer when at camp, especially when there was fresh cut grass! Fast forward to a year or so later with no allergies at all, after seeing an ND myself and working through some of the suggestions below. 

3 Main reasons for chronic allergies:

  • Poor adrenal function - The function of your adrenal glands are very much connected to your immune system. I see it time and time again, that if someone is drained due to chronic stress they start to have more sensitivities, allergies or just get sick more often. 

  • Poor liver detoxification - Think of your body as a bucket. If there is too much toxicity going into the body but poor detoxification from the liver, that bucket is going to overflow and symptoms such as allergies start to occur. We need to empty the bucket somewhat by aiding in liver function. 

  • Poor digestion - The digestive system is a main organ of elimination. It also makes up about 70% of our immune system. When we are eating food we are sensitive to, too much sugar or processed foods we damage the gut and its proper function. The digestive system is also affected by such things as chronic stress and chronic use of antibiotics. More damage to the gut leads to a poor immune system and poor elimination. It is that simple. 

Solutions for your allergies:

  1. Clean up your diet - If you suffer from spring allergies every year I would advise you to start cleaning up your diet at least 3-4 weeks before allergens start to affect you. This means decreasing the amount of sugar you eat, decrease processed foods and takeout and figure out other food sensitives you may have to avoid for now. Just that will strengthen your immune system and proper detox. Your body can focus on controlling inflammation elsewhere instead of your gut. Add heathy foods such as fresh veggies, fruit and even a little local honey will benefit your digestive system, liver and immune system. 

  • Add a probiotic - This is especially important if you suffer from digestive concerns or you have had multiple rounds of antibiotics throughout your life. We want to repopulate the gut with those good bugs to support the immune system. Not all probiotics are created equal though so please come see me if you are unsure what to take. Start with one with at least 11 billion units, try coconut kefir or include fermented foods into your diet. 

  • Introduce Urtica diocia (Nettle leaf) - This mineral rich herb acts to revitalize the liver as well as inhibits masts cells (an important part of your immune system) from releasing allergens. This makes it very helpful for spring allergies. It can be taken as a tea or added to a supplement. 

  • Quercetin - This is a plant flavonoid found in foods such as apples, kale and onions, which was a key player in eliminating my allergies. It has a low bioavailability in food so a good quality supplement is necessary to do the trick. Quercetin helps to down-regulate histamine release from mast cells, instead of completely blocking it like over-the-counter anti-histamines do. That means you may need higher doses at first but will not have to take it long term, unlike Reactine or Aerius. 

  • Take vitamin C - Not only is vitamin C a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, it helps support the adrenal glands as well. The can be given in a Myers IV in clinic or in a buffered supplement form.

With these few suggestions you can minimize or even completely resolve your chronic sneezing and itching! Depending on the severity of a patients allergies, I tend to give a combo of these suggestions. If your allergies are chronic and severe you may need a more comprehensive liver detox program. This is something I can guide you through at the clinic. 

In health & happiness, 

Dr. Karen

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

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Have you heard about Intermittent fasting or tried it yourself? I discuss this with many of my patients as it is an effective tool for preventing and reversing disease, as well as help with weight loss and digestion. To implement should be considered carefully however. 

What is Intermittent Fasting:

Simply put intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating and not eating, lasting from short term fasts to longer daily fasts. When you are in a fasted state your body is focused on recovery instead of digesting food, however we have been taught over the years to eat frequent small meals, never allowing our bodies to get into the fasted (and recovery) state, except for overnight. There are a variety of approaches to fasting but I usually suggest starting with the 16:8 method as I find this to be easiest to implement for beginner “fasters.” You can still have your coffee in the morning, try it with a little collagen and/or MCT oil, and lots of water. 

  • 16:8 Method - aka time-restricted feeding. Eating for 8 hours and fasting for 16 hours. Just skip your breakfast and ensure you break your fast with a whole foods, nutritious lunch. You can implement the 16:8 method up to 7 days a week. It helps to create a habit of not-snacking too late in the evening since the later you eat, the later you have to wait for food in the morning. 🙂 

  • 24 Hour Fast - This is a daily fast where you only eat 500-600 calories. This may be necessary for more advanced conditions to reset the body or those that need to jump start weight loss. You would do this 1-2x/week or 1-2x/months. 

  • Fasting Mimicking Diet - This is a 4-5 day fasting period with very low calories mimicking fasting in your body, allowing the body to enter a full ketogenic state. You would implement this method 1x/month for more deteriorating health, and only 1-2x/year when you are fairly healthy. This method is more about longevity and cellular repair. 

Reasons To Implement IF:

  • Decreases body fat and weight while maintaining muscle. It allows a favourable shift in metabolism to preserve muscle. During a fast (usually 18-24 hours) cells shift from using glucose to fat as fuel. 

  • Improves cardiovascular disease risk profile. A decrease in cholesterol up to 20% can occur. A decrease in LDL by about 25% after 8 weeks on alternate daily fast have been shown. A decrease in triglycerides by 32% has been shown, all with no change in HDL levels. 

  • Decreases overall inflammation. As I have mentioned you body focuses on recovery during the fasting time. 

  • Improves brain health by decreasing oxidative stress in the body.

  • Improves blood glucose levels and therefore improves insulin sensitivity. This is important for those with metabolism syndrome, pre-diabetes or diabetes. 

  • Improves digestion by helping promote a normal migrating motility complex (most active overnight). It also favourably influences the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut. 

When To Avoid:

  • Best to avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding when you are supporting both you and baby. 

  • Avoid during times of increased stress. Your brain uses many calories so when you are overwhelmed intermittent fasting may negatively impact you. Please talk to your ND about this. 

  • Caution for those with low blood sugar issues. 

  • Caution for those with a history of an eating disorder. 

  • Caution for those on certain medications. Please speak to and ND. 

Think about fasting like rebooting your computer. Sometimes you just have to turn it off and reboot for it to work properly again. Our body is very similar! 

Come talk to me if you have any questions.

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen

Indigestion - To Test or Not To Test

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I often see new patients with undiagnosed digestive issues, that they have been struggling with for months, sometimes years. They have seen their GP and given either no solutions, a medication they have to stay on to feel better, or referred to a GI specialist and are waiting for many more months to then be told their scope was clear and you just have IBS! I know this can very frustrating! 

This is where Naturopathic Medicine can come in and be very helpful. We have been trained in the ins and outs of the digestive tract and possible conditions and have had many hours of nutrition training to cater a food plan specific for you. I love treating digestive concerns for a few reasons:

  • Time to explain how the digestive tract works 

  • Access to GI lab tests that are specific to the patient

  • Tools such as nutrition, herbs, and neutraceuticals that can be specific for the patient 

  • Most conditions I have found stem from gut health so I can treat skin issues, hormone issues etc by addressing the gut! 

Testing can be an invaluable tool at times and can speed up the treatment process.  I go through the 4Rs in gut health (see post here) with all my patients and usually start with the basics in gut health and/or work with where they are at or how severe their digestive symptoms are, but testing can be very helpful. For example, a recent patient of mine opted to do both the SIBO breath test and the IgG food sensitivity panel during his initial visit so we could gather all necessary information as soon as possible then treat accordingly. On his second visit, we could jump right into the test results, in this case positive for hydrogen SIBO and a sensitivity to a few specific foods, and start antimicrobial herbs specific for his SIBO results. He then saw quick results! I believe we would still have gotten moderate results without testing but with it results happened much sooner and were much better. 

Some GI tests have been criticized in the news as of late but considering the results I see when these tests are included in our clinical diagnoses and ultimately the treatment, I have to disagree with some of their conclusions. A few of the digestive system tests I use are:

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  • IgG food sensitivity - This is a comprehensive test including 160 foods that you could have an IgG sensitivity to. I always make sure patients are aware that if several foods come back as a sensitivity then we are dealing with a “leaky gut” generally and eliminating the bigger culprits is important as well as a lot of gut healing support. 

  • SIBO Breath Test - Many cases of “IBS” are associated with an imbalance in bacteria that cause bloating, gas or bowel movement issues. In the case of SIBO it is an imbalance in the upper GI bacteria and the digestive wave is not functioning correctly. Testing reveals if this is the case, how severe the imbalance is and what type of dysbiotic bacteria is highest. We can then treat more effectively. 

  • GI Mapping or Stool Analysis - In more complex cases or if there is a history of parasites and negative scopes, stool analysis is valuable. Among other things his reveals what bacteria, parasite or virus is running rampant in the gut as well as how much inflammation is present. This test is very comprehensive and informative, but it is also more expensive. 

If you have been dealing with digestive issues for awhile with no diagnosis or direction, testing may be of benefit to you. There are many Naturopathic approaches to healing the digestive system and it is one area I love treating. Come visit me! 

In heath & happiness,

Dr. Karen

(Photo credits: 1 - https://www.everydayhealth.com/digestive-health-pictures/lets-hope-its-just-gas.aspx; 3 - www.sibodoctors.com)

Celery Juice: Fad or Real?

My attempt at celery juice.

My attempt at celery juice.

I’ve been asked many times about the 2019 wellness trend celery juice and whether the health claims are actually valid. So I did a little digging to find out if it really is all that it is cracked up to be. Is it the ultimate detoxer? Can it actually cure chronic disease, bloating, heartburn, acne, eczema etc? Let’s break it down.

Pros:

  • What I love about this trend is that it is pushing people to first drink more fluids in the morning and eating (or drinking in this case) more vegetables. This is key is my book! I try to get my patients to eat 2 cups of veggies 2x/day so if you can cross a cup or two off your list in the morning that it a bonus!

  • Celery is full of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin K (although not nearly as much as what is in other greens such as kale, spinach or broccoli). Most of its nutrients are still intact in the juice form, except for the fibre, so you are still reaping the benefits if you drink the juice.

  • Celery can decrease inflammation as it contains many antioxidants, which decrease overall oxidative stress in our body. This can ultimately decrease chronic disease such as hypertension, cancer and digestive concerns.

  • Due to certain non-starchy polysaccharides, especially one called apiuman, celery protects against inflammation in the digestive tract as it improves the integrity of the stomach lining (although only tested in animals). This can lead to decreased bloating, heartburn and inflammatory bowel conditions. This helps in the Repair portion of my 4 R’s in gut health.

  • Celery reduces water retention due to phytonutrients called phthalides, ultimately leading to decreased blood pressure or edema/bloating (however only the blood pressure effects have been researched).

Cons:

  • Studies on celery, as I have eluded to above, have mostly been on animals only, and not much research has been done. I could not find a study on just celery juice as well.

  • The studies on the effects of phthalates for water retention are only on celery seeds, celery oil and celery extracts and not the whole plant (or just juice in this case).

  • Finally, some stores are running out of celery!! What are we to do?!

Confusing claims:

  • This wellness trend seems to have been initiated by the medical medium Anthony William. He claims all the above pros as well as the ability of celery juice to kill pathogens in the body, which could be causing GI upset, acne, UTIs etc, by its sodium cluster salts. What are sodium cluster salts you ask? I don’t know! He even states that science and research has yet to discover them. He also claims that these sodium cluster salts get neutralized and therefore are inactive if you add anything else (even water or lemon) to your juice and do not drink it on an empty stomach. He may be correct, but as he said this has not be proven or even discovered yet!

Final thoughts:

Is celery juice healthy for you? Yes! Is it a must to incorporate into your morning routine? No.

Although there are several health benefits of celery (the whole plant, not the just the juice), research is lacking on the health claims that have been shared. That said, I don’t see any negatives to adding it to your healthy diet, as long as you are already getting other veggies in your diet including the fibre.

Those that have tried it have told me they have seen great benefits in their digestive system and skin mostly. So it may be worth giving it a shot!

Have you tried 16oz of pure celery juice, first thing in the morning on an empty stomach? I’d love to hear your experience!

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen

p.s Any other health trends you are curious about? Let me know :)