Mental Health

How are you? No, but for real. Uncovering anxiety and depression.

How many times have you asked that question yet are not quite ready to hear the full answer? Are you asking to be polite or out of habit or do you truly care about the real answer, whether it be good or bad? Of course no one is being rude when they ask that question out of habit but perhaps next time you ask “How are you?"…truly ask. Sometimes this question can open up a can of worms and in my opinion, this is where the good comes. This question, "How are you?", if you have more than a second to listen, or more importantly to answer, is a time to get real, to allow those feelings and emotions to come boiling up instead of being suppressed, which can eventually cause physical or mental health issues.

There was a recent study that showed the connection between Alzheimers and stress. This proves, yet again, the connection between the mind and the body. We also hear heart-wrenching stories of those taking their life due to depression, when no one around them knew they were suffering.  I see this mind-body connection every week, both personally and professionally. 

Professionally I ask the question “How are you?", usually hoping for more detail, to figure out if there is an emotional connection to the root of my patients concern. Time and time again there is! Because I understand the mind body connection I ask these questions first before doing any extra testing or giving supplements. I love taking the time to listen. Most people aren’t given that time or space and it can be very therapeutic. 

Personally, building a practice and understanding how to structure it to best suit my needs is hard. I have learned this since I started and still struggle to find the right balance. I can suffer health wise myself because of stress and worry. No job is perfect but being the perfectionist that I am I can’t seem to settle for anything else. I want to help you, I want you to heal, I want to give you that space and be open to truly listening to your answer when I ask how you are. In order to do that I need to find time to answer that question myself, to breath, to meditate, to talk. Practice what I preach. 

Are you feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed? Don’t hide it. Find people that can support you. That could be family and friends or it could be someone with an unbiased approach or simply a sounding board; a counsellor, a therapist or me, an ND. We are all happy to listen and to help. It’s time to talk.  

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen

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Anxiety - 6 Ways to Conquer Your Mind

Anxiety - It is a word heard more and more among people today, since the medical community is opening up more about mental health. It is not something we should shy away from, but support each other through. 

I have come to realize, over the years of being a perfectionist, studying in medical school, and starting a practice of my own, that I suffer from anxiety. I understand why people keep it to themselves, because it is actually a hard thing to admit, and a frustrating thing to live with. Because of my anxiety, at times I question whether or not I am are good enough, healthy enough and capable of achieving what I want. My mind gets in the way, even though I know it is irrational. My thoughts can take over, making me less productive. It makes only a few tasks seem like a million that I will never be able to wade through. But this doesn't always have to happen. Taking care of myself and following these steps help to push those anxious feelings aside and go on living a happy and healthy life. 

Types and Symptoms of Anxiety: 

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) - Characterized by excessive anxiety and worry. These feelings are associated with 3 of the following: restlessness or feeling "on-edge", easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, irritability and sleep disturbances. 
  • Social anxiety - Fear of social or performance situations, to the extent that their ability to perform at work or school is impaired. Avoidance, anticipation or distress occurs. 
  • Panic disorder - Feelings of terror or anxiety strike suddenly and repeated with no warning. A panic attack occurs, including sweating, palpitations, shaking, dizziness and difficulty breathing. They can last anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes. 
  • Agoraphobia - Fear of places and situations that might cause panic, helplessness, or embarrassment. Usually results from a previous panic attack in a certain area or situation (eg. heights, public spaces, small spaces etc.)

*Remember, none of these types make you inadequate or imperfect, simply who you are. Anxiety also comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes so a diagnoses is not necessary in order to benefit from these steps. 

6 Steps to Take:

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  1. Routine - I'll say it time and time again, our bodies LOVE routine! Hormones, including cortisol and melatonin, have a rhythm to them and a lack of routine affects these rhythms, leading to issues with energy and mood. Often we press snooze upon waking, rush off to work without eating or pooping, and are on our phones until we hit the pillow. Have a dog? Follow their cues! Wake and eat at the same time, walk every day, cuddle something, drink water and go to sleep at the same time.
  2. Deep breathing/meditation - When we are frightening we tend to breath in and hold our breath. This stimulates "fight or flight". Therefore exhaling is even more important, as it stimulates our sympathetic nervous system ("rest and digest"). Shallow breathing is also a common habit, stimulating anxious feelings. Focusing on deep breathing, expanding both your chest and belly for around a count of 6, in and out, is helpful. Start small - 5 minutes 2x/day. Or delve into mediation using apps such as Calm, Breathe or Headspace. Or join me on Deepak Chopra's 21 day meditation. This is one reason why I love yoga, because it connect the mind and the body through breath and meditation. 
  3. Nourish with food - We are what we eat! A diet abundant in brain foods such as fish, nuts and seeds, avocado, fermented foods and healthy oils (coconut, EVOO, grapeseed) help to feed the brain. A diet with colourful vegetables and fruit, contribute necessary vitamins and minerals and good quality protein aids to build proper hormones and neurotransmitters. Try this delicious and quick salmon recipe
  4. Sleep - With our busy lives, our sleep is something that usually suffers. It is an important part of our routine, in order to get enough stage 4 sleep. This is the healing phase, where tissue repair, detoxification and healing occurs. Without enough sleep, inflammation increasing, in turn increasing cortisol and feelings of anxiety and stress. Try lavender essential oil on your pillow or in a bath before bed to help calm your mind.
  5. Open up - This can be either discussing how you feel with family or friends or putting it on paper. Holding in our emotions is a form of stress, which can translate into other symptoms over time (eg. eczema, bloating, headaches), so get it out! Naturopathic Doctors, Psychologist, or counsellors are available to listen and help wade through your limiting emotions.
  6. Support with supplements - There are several great nutraceuticals and herbs, called nervines, available to help calm the mind. My favourites are L-theanine, schizandra berries, ashwaghanda, passionflower and oats. Specific dosing and herbs depend on the person and situation. Visit an ND to find the right supplement for you. 

Finally, anxiety may occur due to other issues such as poor digestion, nutrient deficiencies and thyroid issues. Naturopathic Doctors can help decipher what the root cause is. Remember, bad weeks happen, but what is important is knowing that you can get through it using these steps and with the support around you. 

Looking for support? I offer 15 minute complimentary consults to help answer any questions you have about Naturopathic Medicine or to see if it is the right fit. Visit Get In Touch to learn more. 

In health & happiness, 

Dr. Karen

(Photo credit: everythingedrecovery.com; pinterest)

To gluten or not to gluten?

Gluten free grains and seeds :)

Gluten free grains and seeds :)

The term "gluten free" is starting to pop up everywhere, from baked goods, condiments, and even take out pizza. So...you may be wondering if going gluten free is right for you, or if it is just a "fad". 

May is Mental Health month and since gluten has been shown to be a silent cause of MANY mental health conditions (Dr. David Perlmutter's Grain Brain goes into much detail), I thought this was the right time to take you through why I believe this "fad" is more that just a fad. It may be your solution. 

Many diets have come and gone. So unlike fads in fashion, which I admit to caving to on numerous occasions, I am cautious when it comes to nutrition and tend to not waver on my recommendations. One of these recommendations however, for many of my patients, IS a gluten-free diet. This diet isn't necessary for everyone but new research is showing that around 1 in 10 people are sensitive to gluten (1 in 300 are celiac - inflammation on overdrive creating an autoimmune reaction to gluten). 

Are you gluten sensitive?

Are you suffering from any of the following?

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  • feeling sluggish
  • brain fog
  • headaches
  • depression/moodiness
  • ADHD
  • memory loss
  • anxiety
  • let's not forget symptoms not associated with mental health - skin rashes, allergies, joint pain or any form of digestive issues

If you answered yes to any (or many!) of these symptoms, gluten may be the culprit. In Naturopathic Medicine, the terms leaky gut and food sensitivities are frequently used. When we frequently experience stress, we spend more time in the "fight or flight" portion of our nervous system and not the important "rest and digest" portion. This prevents proper digestion of food causing inflammation in the gut, which then leaks into our blood stream causing systemic issues. While symptoms could be triggered by a variety of foods because of this process, gluten can cause more issues due to over-exposure, over-processing and its effect on blood sugar.

Let's talk about blood sugar. When digested (if at all), these grains are broken down into glucose very quickly. The glycemic index (or surge of blood sugar) of whole grain bread is higher than a snickers bar or a banana (!), stressing our pancreas to produce more insulin in order to transport glucose into our cells. High blood glucose leads to inflammation - in our gut, joints, skin or the silent organ - the brain! There are no pain receptors in our brain and high glucose (and low dietary fat - but more on good fats later) can wreak havoc without any concrete indication. Inflammation will decrease neurotransmitter levels, which are responsible for keeping us happy and healthy, and affect our neurons and the signals they send for memory and so on. 

Gluten being over-processed, genetically modified and over-consumed is a whole different segway but I won't bore you with that today. Instead let's explore some basics. 

What exactly is gluten?

Gluten is a mixture of proteins, gliadin being one, in many grains. It is responsible for the chewiness of many bread products that we eat every day. It can be found in:

  • wheat (most breads, pastas, cakes, cookies, donuts...you get the picture)
  • barley
  • farro
  • kamut
  • rye
  • spelt
  • many pre-packaged foods and condiments (eg. ketchup, soy sauce, salad dressings)

So what can I eat?

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms I suggest cutting out gluten for a month and keeping tabs on your symptoms. If you feel better, thats fantastic - keep it up. If not, more exploration with your ND is necessary. The gluten free trend makes it much easier to replace your bread for bread, pasta for pasta, cookie for cookie etc, but pre-packaged gluten free foods and some flours tend to spike your blood sugar even more. Therefore focus on healthy whole grains and legumes (think quinoa, buckwheat, sweet potato, rice). You'd be surprised what foods are out there when you open your eyes and experiment! The following foods are gluten-free:

  • amaranth
  • arrowroot
  • buckwheat/kasha
  • corn
  • flax
  • millet
  • oats
  • quinoa
  • rice
  • tapioca
  • potato
  • teff

Follow my food Fridays to learn some new recipes or check out my favourite food blogs for some more ideas. If you enjoy baking like I do, try experimenting with buckwheat, quinoa, and coconut flour! 

Its a lifestyle change and I understand it can be hard at first but trust me, its worth it for some people. You may not need to stick with it forever so check in with your ND. 

So clear your brain and get happy! In the words of Pharrell, - "Clap along if you feel..."

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In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen