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Is Sugar Addictive? Mental Health Web Series Interview

Along with experts from leading Canadian hospitals, universities and mental health organizations, I was interviewed as part of a web series on mental health called 1001 Ways to Wonder. Creator Bryce Sage wonders about what causes mental illness, what we know about it and how it might be treated. My interview focused on the relationship between diet and mental health - an area of expertise in my clinical practice and research work. Some of the interview was included in the most recent installment of the video series - Bryce is giving up sugar for 1 month to see how it affects his mood! Check out the video and subscribe to the YouTube channel to be notified when more episodes are released!

And be sure to check out my blog post on New Year's Resolutions and dramatic diets! Click Here

Food and Mood

We’ve known for a long time that what we eat affects our physical health.  But research is just starting to demonstrate the connection between food and mental health as well.  Several studies show that individuals eating a poorer quality diet (more processed food, more sugar, more deep-fried foods, less vegetables) are more likely to be suffer from mental illness (1).  There are a number of ways that food is thought to affect our mental health and I am currently conducting a research project (did you know that I work in research as well as in clinic?) to try and understand the different ways that food affects mood.

One aspect of the diet that is critical is protein content.  Our brain functions through the production of chemicals called neurotransmitters and low levels of some (like serotonin) are thought to contribute to depression and anxiety.  These neurotransmitters are made of certain components of protein and if the diet doesn’t contain enough, the brain can’t make enough (2)! This doesn’t need to be a big piece of steak, vegetarian sources of protein can meet these needs if combined correctly. 

Another vital component is dietary fat.  Some people think that fats are bad for us or that they make us gain weight but the true is that some are healthy and some are unhealthy.  Some fats, like the trans fats found in deep-fried foods, are associated with poorer mental health where as omega-3 fatty acids are associated with better mental health and can be an important component of a mental health treatment plan (3). Omega-3 fats also decrease inflammation in the body – a process that is know to be associated with depression (More to come on this - The connection between inflammation and mental health deserves its own post!)

These is also a relationship between sugar and the brain.  The brain demands a steady supply of sugar – it needs a lot and unlike other organs, can’t make it. When this supply is disrupted, it impacts brain function (4).  This can happen when we eat foods that cause big changes in our blood sugar levels.  I recently published a case report sharing the results (with permission!) of a treatment plan I prescribed one of my patients.  This patient was eating a diet very high in carbohydrates and found a significant improvement in her anxiety when she ate more balanced meals.  If you want to read more about this research, click here

Other dietary factors that seem to impact mental health include the effects of food on the bacteria in our digestive system, the effects of food allergies and sensitivities and the role of different vitamins and minerals in supporting healthy brain chemistry.  To learn more about nutritional psychiatry, check out this recent article in the Huffington Post.  If you would like to use nutrition to support your own emotional wellness, let’s create a specific, individualized plan together at your next appointment.

References:  

  1. Opie RS, O’Neil A, Itsiopoulos C, Jacka FN. The impact of whole-of-diet interventions on depression and anxiety: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Public Health Nutrition. 2014; 18(11): 2074-2093. doi: 10.1017/S1368980014002614
  2. Sathyanarayana Rao TS, Asha MR, Ramesh BN, et al. Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illness. Indian J Psychiatry. 2008; 50(2): 77-82. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.42391
  3. Huan M, Hamazaki K, Sun Y, et al. Suicide attempt and n-3 fatty acid levels in red blood cells: a case control study in China. Biol Psychiatry. 2004; 56(7): 490-6.
  4. Aucoin M, Bhardwaj S. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Hypoglycemia Symptoms Improved with Diet Modification. Case Reports in Psychiatry. 2016 Jul 14;2016.

Thanksgiving All Year Round

Last week may have been Canadian Thanksgiving but there’s actually a tremendous amount of research suggesting that being thankful year-round is beneficial.

Expressing gratitude has been associated with increased optimism, better health choices, improved happiness and well being scores, improved relationships. Read more in these articles from New York Times and Harvard Health.

Here are some ways to practice gratitude:

1. Keep a gratitude journal: Each day, record a few things that you’re grateful for. They can be as big or small as you’d like (like a nice cup of tea and conversation or family and health).

2. Express gratitude to others: keep some thank you cards on hand and when someone helps you, gives you a gift or somehow improves your life – thank them!

3. Reflect on those things you're grateful for. For some people this might be in the form of meditation or prayer.

Midwifery and Naturopathic Medicine – Supporting the Body’s Natural Work

Seven weeks ago my husband and I welcomed our first child into the world, a little girl.  During my pregnancy, labour and deliver and post-partum period I was under the care of midwives.  It was a wonderful experience and in the process I found many parallels with naturopathic medicine. 

While I don’t claim to be an expert, midwifery care, in my understanding and experience, is based on the idea that pregnancy and child birth is a normal process that in the majority of cases occurs naturally, normally and without the need for interventions.  Pregnancy is not a disease or illness that needs treatment and those involved should be actively involved in all decisions made.  Allowing pregnancy and child birth to unfold naturally has advantages.  It is well documented that medical interventions in labour and delivery increase the risk of needing further interventions.  For example, a medical induction (medication to start labour) increases the risk of needing a C-section.  Of course, there are absolutely cases when medical treatment is needed and midwives are trained to identify these situations and refer to an obstetrician for treatment.  I’m incredibly grateful for this as a friend who was due at the same time needed emergency medical care and was transferred from her midwife to an obstetrician for medical treatment resulting in the safe delivery of her baby and her own safety as well. 

While medical care is vital and life-saving, knowing when it is not needed is also important.  In my case, I was very lucky to have a healthy, normal pregnancy (apart from some very unpleasant heartburn!) and planned to have a home birth with a midwife.  To my surprise, my due date (August 13th) came and went with no sign of baby.  And no sign of her for the following week either.  When she was 10 days past her due date most obstetricians would have scheduled a medical induction – the use of synthetic hormones to tell my body to begin contractions.  However, I wasn’t too keen on this option - as I’d mentioned above, this increases the risk of needing other treatments.  However, my midwife was reassuring that going past the due date by at least one week is actually very normal in a first pregnancy and does not create any risks for a while.  We waited patiently and sure enough, my labour started on its own shortly before reaching two weeks past my due date.  My labour progressed well and I was able to deliver a healthy baby girl at home as planned. 

This approach of allowing the body to work naturally is similar to naturopathic medicine.  Naturopathic medicine acknowledges that most of the time the body has the capacity to heal and flourish when provided with the right conditions.  When you break your arm, you don’t walk around with a broken arm the rest of your life, the bone heals.  Of course we can encourage this by putting on a cast and resting and taking a break from playing volleyball, but ultimately it’s the body that does the actual repair work.  Naturopathic treatments seek to provide the body with what it needs (more of a nutrient, appropriate activity or rest, improved function of an organ such as the liver) and remove factors that might be interfering with the healing process (such as an offending food allergen, a toxin or an emotional stress) and allowing the body to heal and restore balance.   The benefit of this treatment is that it’s very safe and often associated with fewer side effects.  Like midwives, NDs are trained to use modern medical testing, identify serious conditions that require medical treatment and to refer to a medical doctor appropriately and this care is extremely important.  When we were 1 week past my due date I was sent for an ultrasound to confirm that the baby was doing well and that intervention was not needed.   If you have a heart attack, an emergency room doc and a cardiologist can provide life-saving care.  But if your cholesterol is slightly elevated, there are huge advantages to working with diet and lifetyle changes before opting for medication.  By choosing naturopathic medicine, you’re giving your body the opportunity to heal itself in the context of safe and appropriate modern care.

I'm Back!

I’m happy to announce that after a few weeks off I’m back to clinic and very excited to be connecting with all of my patients to continue to work towards their health goals as well as taking on new patients looking to use naturopathic medicine to improve their health.

As you may know, the reason for my absence was the birth of my daughter, Rose, a sweet little bundle of joy born on August 25th.  I’ll be sharing a bit more about her birth in another post – stay tuned!

To schedule a time to connect, please call the clinic at 416 498 8265.

Photo credit: http://www.tomasmakacek.com/

Maternity Leave Notice

Please note that as I am expecting the arrival of my baby, I will be away from the office for a short maternity leave from August 8th to September 30th. Dr. Lindsey White ND will be providing back up care while I am away and will be happy to assist patients with any concerns. Please contact the clinic for more information on booking with Dr. White (416-498-8265). You can also contact the clinic to schedule an appointment in October.

I look forward to connecting with you in a few weeks and I hope you have a very enjoyable and healthy conclusion to your summer!

Lyme Disease – What you need to know

With the weather really warming up it’s a great time to get outdoors and soak up the many benefits of spending time in nature.  However, one thing that we want to be cautious about is ticks and tick-borne disease. I recently went on a two day hiking and camping trip with my husband and dog and was shocked to find a tick on my dog on the drive home. 

What is Lyme Disease?

Lime Disease is caused by a parasite borrelia burgdorferi that is spread to humans by ticks.  The tick must be attached to the skin for many hours (typically 24-36) in order for the parasite to be transferred. 

What are the symptoms?

When someone is infected they may experience fevers and chills, fatigue, headaches or a bull’s eye rash.  The long term effects if left untreated many include any of these symptoms as well as muscle and joint pain, difficulty concentrating and sleep disturbances. 

What to do if you are bitten by a tick?

If you have been bitten by a tick remove it carefully using tweezers (click here for more details on how to do this) and keep it – bring it to your family doctor in order to test if the tick was infected with the parasite.  Antibiotic treatment may be prescribed to prevent infection. 

How can I minimize the risk?

When you are spending time outdoors try to wear close-toed shoes and socks, light coloured clothing (it makes the brown ticks easier to spot) and perform a “tick-check” after you return.  This involves running your hands over your skin to check for any ticks that may have attached so that they can be promptly removed.  Also, check any pets as they are much more likely to come in contact with ticks.  Be cautious of areas that are known to contain tick populations including Kingston and more recently the east end of Toronto (click here for a more complete list). 

Does this mean I shouldn’t spend time outdoors?

Absolutely not! We know that spending time in nature decreases stress, improves mood and boost immune function (click here to read more!) Get out doors and enjoy these great benefits but take precautions to make sure that you stay safe.

New Article: Nature and Health - Surprising Effects

I'm excited to share that the website Naturopathic Currents just published my article about the effects of nature on human health and well-being.
Here's the link to check it out: www.naturopathiccurrents.com/articles/health-and-nature

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Seasonal Allergies

With April here many people know that seasonal allergies are just around the corning.  But the good news is that there’s a lot that can be done to combat this annual annoyance and at the same time promote overall balance within the body.  

The immune system is designed to recognize and destroy harmful foreign substances.  Allergy symptoms occur as a result of inappropriate immune reactions to substances that are not harmful such as pollen, dust and animal dander.   When the immune cells recognize these foreign particles in our body (that we inhaled or that came in contact with our skin or eyes), they release molecules like histamine which cause swelling, redness, itchiness, congestion and discomfort.  As a result, we get the common allergy symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, itchy skin rashes and sinus congestion. 

What factors can influence imbalances in the immune system? We know that elevated levels of inflammation and imbalances in gut bacteria can influence our body’s reactivity towards allergens.  As well, food sensitivities can contribute to chronic over-stimulation of the immune system and worsen other allergy symptoms including seasonal allergies. 

Many years ago I suffered from a chronic allergic reaction for several years, taking conventional anti-histamines daily until my Naturopathic Doctor helped me rebalance my immune system.  With a combination of an anti-inflammatory diet, some gentle detoxification support and a homeopathic remedy it took about 1 week to say good-bye to my antihistamines and I’ve never needed them since. 

While antihistamines, medications that block the release of histamine in response to the allergen, are generally safe, they can be sedating and taken daily the cost can really add up.  I’ve helped many patients restore immune balance and stop needing these medications using a combination of dietary modification, herbal supplements and homeopathic remedies.

Do you or someone you know suffer from allergies? Let’s connect to create a plan to help you enjoy the coming spring without all the sneezing and itching!

Photo credit:Freedigitalphotos.net

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New Toronto Location

I'm pleased to announce that I currently have office hours available at a new location in Toronto in addition to my Brampton location.

The Integrated Healthcare Centre is located in the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) which trains naturopathic doctors in Ontario.

The clinic offers naturopathic medicine, massage therapy, osteopathic care and psychotherapy.

It is conveniently located at the TTC Leslie Subway station for those that take transit and has parking available and close access to the 401 and Don Valley Parkway for those who drive.

I have office hours on Wednesday afternoon and evening and can accommodate many other times throughout the week by appointment. If you would like to schedule a time for a clinic visit at the IHC please call 416-498-8265.

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