Immune Health

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)

Vitamin D: Are You Deficient?

Clinic lab test available to you!

Clinic lab test available to you!

This vitamin, or hormone to be exact, is known as the sunshine vitamin. But are you actually getting enough sun exposure to to produce optimal levels of vitamin D?

Vitamin D plays many vital roles in our body. Virtually every cell in the body has a vitamin D receptor, which, when bound to vitamin D, can influence the expression of more than 200 genes. It maintains normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, to support proper bone development, it modulates cell growth, support the immune system, reduces inflammation and much more!

Vitamin D Levels:

The optimal level of 25-OH D is 75-100 umol/L (recent research has shown a possible optimal range at 120-150 umol/L), however the current Canadian average of D3 levels is 67.7 nmol/L. This means more than 70% of Canadians are deficient. I have seen patients which much lower numbers than this. Even down to 23 nmol/L! (Higher is not always better though for this fat soluble vitamin. However, most cases of toxicity symptoms are at 25000-60000 IU/day for 1-4 months. This is much higher than the ND recommended dose.)

Where do we get vitamin D?

We synthesize most of our vitamin D from sunlight exposure. It is estimated that 20 minutes, with face and arms exposed, provides 200 IU for people with light coloured skin. A moderate sunburn can produce 10000IU per day. However, sunscreen and sunblocks over SPF 8 prevents formation of D3, and most of us are indoors often throughout the summer and get minimal exposure to sunlight on these darker days of fall and winter. We source some vitamin D from food, with seafood being the most significant source, sardines to be exact! Mushrooms and egg yolk also have small amounts.

This is why it is recommended that most Canadians supplement with vitamin D.

What does Vitamin D effect?

To display the vast effects vitamin D has on the body here is a list of conditions that have been linked to vitamin D levels:

  • Fractures and Osteoporosis - Vitamin D along with K2 if needed to increase calcium absorption - D3 supplementation is associated with a 22% decrease in risk of falls

  • Depression - D3 deficiency has been linked to increased incidence of depression 

  • Autoimmune conditions - D3 deficiencies have shown an increase risk of autoimmune diseases such as MS, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis 

  • Thyroid health - There is an association between low vitamin D status and autoimmune thyroid diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease

  • Poor immune system - Vitamin D helps the immune system adapt and ward off infection, beneficial in cold and flu season

  • Metabolic disorders - D3 helps restore beneficial gut bacteria which in these studies has shown to have a key role in diabetes and heart disease 

How much Vitamin D to supplement?

So with all that information you may be wondering how much to actually supplement. This really depends on your individual levels of 25-OH D. As stated early, I’ve seen a patient with levels in the 20s (nmol/L), so they would need a much higher dose of D3 to reach optimal levels, compared to someone that is slightly deficient, let’s say in the 60-70nmol/L range. If you suffer from any of the above health conditions, I advise to get your vitamin D levels tested. The quicker you raise D3 levels if you are deficient, the sooner symptoms will improve. The common recommended dose of 1000-2000IU may not be enough for you! That said, if we were to give higher levels of D3, a dose of 5000-8000IU, it is important to know D3 levels and assess the necessity of vitamin K2 and vitamin A supplementation - all these soluble vitamins play a role with each other to prevent toxicity. Sufficient levels of potassium and magnesium have also been suggested to protect against vitamin D toxicity.

So ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels, 25-OH D levels to be exact. There is a simple blood test I do in practice to assess your levels. Book in for a blood test visit to get yours tested today!

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen

Naturopathic Approach to Healing Eczcema

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If you suffer from eczema you know that the itching, redness, peeling, cracking and even blistering can range from annoying to debilitating. It can be very hard to pinpoint what the trigger is especially as the severity and location of the rash can change quickly. 

What is most frequently prescribed for eczema, or most rashes for that matter, is topical cortisone cream. While this can be very helpful in the short term to decrease severity of symptoms and therefore sometimes your sanity (trust me I’ve been there!), longterm use of cortisone cream can thin your skin and simply suppresses the rash instead of targeting the cause. For those with eczema on their face, cortisone cream is still prescribed, although with a disclaimer to not use too much or longterm. However, what else are you supposed to use if the rash does not go away? 

This is where Naturopathic Medicine can step in. By treating the root cause of eczema, the use of cortisone cream becomes minimal or not even necessary and your skin can look and feel as good as new! The root is typically due to poor gut health and immune function so that is what I target first for my patients. 

6 Steps to Healing Eczema

1. Determine any pattern:

Patterns are helpful to determine to better identify the cause. Take note if your skin is worse in the heat or cold. Do you notice a correlation between your hormones and skin, eg. does it flare just before your period or improve during pregnancy? 

2. Look at your diet:

The most common cause of eczema I see in my practice is due to a food sensitivity damaging the gut. Food sensitivities can be determined through an elimination diet or a simple blood prick test. The most common food trigger I see related to skin issues is dairy. You may not need to eliminate all dairy longterm, however I suggest avoiding all in your diet for 4 weeks and take not of any skin improvements. Other common food triggers are wheat, eggs, soy and corn. 

3. Heal the gut:

From experience, simply eliminating a food may not do the trick completely, especially if too much damage has been done to the gut. That is why I always pair an elimination diet with gut healing support. With continued stressors, a molecule called zonulin is released which weakens the tight junctions holding the intestinal cells together, allowing more permeability. It is therefore important to knit those cells back together with amino acids found in collagen or from glutamine. Some of the most effective gut healing supplements are probiotics, glutamine or collagen powder and omega 3 oil. Dosing depends on severity of the symptoms.

4. Control the immune function:

When the gut is more permeable, the immune system then reacts to foreign substances to leak through into the blood stream. It is therefore important to support and control the immune system to decrease inflammation. Probiotics, omega 3 fish oil and D3 are all helpful nutrients for this purpose. 

5. Heal the skin:

As we work on healing the gut, it is helpful to calm down the inflammation on the skin directly, depending on the severity of the symptoms. My go-to cream for this purpose contains a variety of soothing and healing herbs and nutrients including calendula, aloe vera and vitamin E.

6 . Address stress: 

Last but not least, address your stress levels! High cortisol exacerbates inflammation both in the digestive tract and throughout the body. Consider adrenal or stress support supplements, create a mindfulness practice for yourself and get some sleep, eight hours every night!

If you struggle with eczema try out these tips or don't hesitate to reach out to discuss proper diet changes, supplements and dosing for you. 

In health & happiness, 

Dr. Karen

My Secrets to Staying Healthy While Traveling

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Considering I am on vacation at the moment (just finished flying down a snowy mountain…shoop shoop) I wanted to share a few things I do to stay healthy when I am on vacation. 

I’ve learned that it is important to not stray too far away from your usual routine, mostly in terms of food and sleep, to ensure you feel your best while getting some much needed R&R. With the abundance of colds and flus flying around at the moment it is even more important to take care of yourself. When your life is filled with commitments that keep you very busy and stressed, our cortisol is typically higher. A high cortisol level stimulates immune cells to ward off inflammation and infection. When we finally get to relax our cortisol decreases, our immune system is down regulated giving way to potential colds and flus. This is an actual phenomenon! This is why people often tend to get sick when they are on vacation. So without further ado here is what I try to stick to to stay healthy:

Lemon water in the morning:

  • If this means bringing a lemon with me on the plane I will do it. Lemons are filled with vitamin C, helps with detoxification and helps keep those pipes moving. If you suffer from constipation while travelling this could give you that little push. I don’t drink coffee so when my fellow travellers are drinking their cup of joe I don’t feel like I am missing out. 

Immune Tea:

  • Have you ever brought your own tea on the plane with you? Flight attendants are always intrigued when my good friend, and fellow ND, and I pull out our own tea and snacks on a flight. Echinacea tea by Traditional Medicinals or a David’s tea immune blend are great options during the cold and flu season. 

Healthy Snacks:

  • My family knows that while traveling it is important to keep me fed to keep my energy and mood up. I usually always have healthy granola bars or nuts with me (homemade trail mix on the ski hill? Yes please!). If I am staying somewhere with friends, making a batch of hummus or energy bites always helps. This curbs the craving to grab Timbits, a sugary latte or chips. 

Greens:

  • This is something I definitely try not to stray from. When I am at home my goal is always to have at least one meal, hopefully two, with greens. Greens provide so much healthy nutrients and help with detoxification. When I’m traveling I let this slide to one meal a day if more difficult. If eating out, I grab a big salad for lunch, grab a green juice or have salad as a side for dinner. When staying at someones place, this may be a green smoothie for the group, or salad with dinner. 

Supplements:

That's me in the pink pants :) 

That's me in the pink pants :) 

  • This will vary for everyone but I bring the essentials with me to keep energy up, bowels healthy, and immune system supported. I sometimes think I am going to jinx myself if I bring my Cold-Pro supplement, but will wish I have it in case anyone including me gets sick. Sproos collagen even has little daily packs for gut health. 

Get Moving:

  • I want to keep my blood and lymph moving during vacation and my muscle strong. I try to search out some activity to do, whether skiing, playing tennis, or simply walking and stretching. Don’t be surprised if you finding me stretching in the airport or on the plane by the bathroom. 😃 

There you have it, my tips to stay healthy while on vacation. What are yours?

In health & happiness, 

Dr. Karen