Gluten is a grain protein found in wheat, spelt, barley, and rye. Its also added as a filler to many dressings and sauces, such as soya sauce. Individuals with intolerances to gluten may experience a number of symptoms, including but not limited to gas, bloating, diarrhea/constipation, joint pain and/or swelling, fatigue, brain fog, mood issues such as anxiety or depression, headaches, mouth ulcers, and dermatitis herptiformis (unique to celiac disease). And while gluten intolerances exist, the list of associated symptoms is very broad and non-specific, meaning the same symptoms can also be seen in a number of other medical conditions such as food intolerances, anemias, dysbiosis, hypochlorhydria, and so on. Its always best to talk to your Naturopath or Family Doctor before deciding to sustain a gluten free diet.
The most important fact I want to highlight here is this...
A product labelled "gluten free" does NOT mean it's a healthier alternative.
Now let me be clear... following a gluten free lifestyle lays some important groundwork for a less refined, more whole foods, and overall healthier diet.
However, the mistake is made when, instead of limiting refined foods like breads, crackers, and pastas altogether, people reach for their gluten-free alternatives. To shed evidence on the situation, new and interesting research coming out of Harvard University found after reviewing 30 years worth of medical data that individuals limiting or completely avoiding gluten had a 13% increased risk of type 2 diabetes . Now does that mean gluten prevents diabetes? Unlikely. But what it does suggest is that gluten free foods often contain less fibre and other macronutrients helpful in preventing metabolic disorders. Secondly, the most common ingredients found in gluten free alternative products are rice and corn. Most of the corn in these pastas are genetically modified, and because corn flour doesnt stay together as well as wheat, a number of chemical binding agents get added to the mix to create a wheat like texture. A cup of brown rice pasta has a glycemic index (GI) of 92 and a glycemic load (GL) of 52 !!! (I call it diabetes in a box), vs a cup whole wheat pasta with a GI of 37 and a GL of 17 . Also, if you didn't know, rice is loaded in arsenic, with brown rice being the highest source of it. Without going into too much detail on this topic, I'll direct you to the Environmental Working Group's website, who has a great resource here highlighting the problems with arsenic, how it's getting into our rice, and ways to limit/avoid it .
So yes, this Naturopath enjoys the occasional slice of toasted whole grain bread with brunch, and the occasional hoppy brewed beverage on a summer patio. I'm fortunate to not experience a gluten intolerance, which means I don't limit it completely, but I also dont consume it often. My diet tends to limit refined carbohydrates in general, gluten and gluten-free all the same.
Remember, the foods that were always gluten free (ie popcorn) are now re-branding with gluten free labels in hopes of catching a few more consumers who are getting in on the action. We must act as educated consumers, or else it becomes very easy to fall victim to the next biggest health trend, and miss the mark completely.
Moral of the story, if you're going gluten free, part ways with refined carbohydrates instead of reaching for the chemically altered, less nutritious gluten free substitutes. And for goodness sakes, eat your veggies.
 Low gluten diets may be associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes. American Heart Association Meeting Report Presentation 11. March 09, 2017. http://newsroom.heart.org/news/low-gluten-diets-may-be-associated-with-higher-risk-of-type-2-diabetes?preview=076d
 The University of Sydney Glycemic Index Database. http://www.glycemicindex.com/www.ewg.org/foodscores/content/arsenic-contamination-in-rice
 Arsenic is in rice - should you worry? Evironmental Working Group Food Database. http://www.ewg.org/foodscores/content/arsenic-contamination-in-rice
Medical science misguidedly suggests that we are victims of our genetics, but this statement is not entirely true. While our genes help determine how certain disease onset and develop over time, our lifestyle choices can actually manipulate how, or even if, these genes are expressed. Take celiac disease, for example. The National Institute of Health determined that roughly 30-40% of the population in the US have one or both genetic markers for celiac disease, but only about 3% of that population actually actives them, developing celiac disease.
What is MTHFR, and Why is it Important?
Properly referred to as Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase, the MTHFR gene codes for a rate limiting enzyme used in the methylation process of our body’s elimination of waste, toxins, heavy metals, and more. There are two main mutations, referred to as polymorphisms, which researchers focus primarily on. Both of these mutations can be inherited and occur on different locations of the MTHFR genes.
MTHFR is responsible for the conversion of homocysteineinto methionine, which supports the body’s natural antioxidant pathways, as well as the activation of folic acid into folate (required for cellular development, pregnancy, and so on). Methionine gets converted into SAMe, a chemical that metabolized dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin, and therefore deficiencies are correlated to impaired cognition and mood disorders. Research shows that MTHFR gene mutations have been linked to mental disorders like bipolar, schizophrenia, and depression, as well as migraine headaches . Furthermore, high levels of homocysteine in the bloodstream have been correlated to high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, and cardiovascular disease like atherosclerosis .
Effects on the Body
As a result, MTHFR mutations can affect the way in which our bodies metabolize various nutrients from foods, beverages, vitamins, and supplements we consume and how they are converted into active minerals, proteins, and vitamins our bodies use to give us energy, fight off infections, and so on.
These mutations further affect how hormone levels and neurotransmitters function within the body, as well as, in certain cases, affect the function of enzymes that influence brain function, cholesterol levels, endocrine functions, digestion, and may even contribute to the development of certain cancers .
To determine whether you could have a MTHFR mutation, the first thing you should do is get a detailed examination conducted by a naturopathic doctor. One tell-tale sign of this mutation is severe nausea that onsets after taking vitamins, particularly B-vitamins.
There are several underlying symptoms and medical conditions which could contribute to MTHFR mutations, including:
Treating MTHFR Mutations Naturally
There are several natural treatments available to address MTHFR mutations. Your naturopath will work with you to determine which ones would be of the most benefit for your health and well-being. Possible treatment options may include:
For testing and diagnosis, or for further information about MTHFR, please feel free to schedule an initial consultation appointment with Dr. Courtney Holmberg, ND by booking online or calling 647-351-7282 today!
If you and your loved one have been trying to conceive a child, but have unfortunately had little success, stress levels are often on the rise for both of you. But for some couples, the stress resulting from the inability to conceive may actually be part of the reason they’re having difficulty getting pregnant. Anew condition called “Pregnancy Stress Syndrome”not only can prevent you from getting pregnant, but also can create problems and complications during the pregnancy, most notably, miscarriages.
What Is Going on Inside My Body When I’m Under Stress?
When faced with excessive stress levels, the brain signals the adrenal glands to start producing and releasing more stress hormones, especially adrenalin and cortisol. In other words, your body is initiating your “fight or flight” response in the sympathetic nervous system. Since all hormones talk to each other (that is their job, after all), increased levels of stress hormones within your body often cause an imbalance to other hormone systems.
Together, the adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and hypothalamus of the brain, evaluate the level of stress and perceived stressors on your present state, and increase the production of stress hormones to enhance our “survival instincts” during heightened levels of stress. While this can be beneficial occasionally in certain situations, it is when we are in a constant state of “fight or flight,” it is counterproductive to the reproductive system and being able to conceive a child.
How Does Stress Prevent Pregnancy?
Increased, prolonged levels of stress results in the body’s continual release adrenalin and cortisol, and elevated levels affect the body as follows:
What Can I Do?
The first thing you need to do is address and deal with your stress in a healthy manner.
First and foremost, a change in dietary eating patterns and developing a daily exercise routine helps immensely. Far too often, our “go-to” foods when overly stressed are those we consider “comfort” foods, which are full of unhealthy fats and contain large amounts of sugar and sodium. Eliminating refined sugar and a processed food reduces the insulin burden on the hormone system, and the livers need to detoxify chemicals. Instead, reach for whole foods, healthy fats like avocado and nuts, and be sure to reach your required daily caloric intake healty fat making up at least 40% of it.
Others benefit from learning new techniques and methods to reduce stress and relax, like getting regular message therapy, joining a yoga class, or trying acupuncture. I’ve personally seen acupuncture lower FSH levels (a sign of ovarian failure) from 19 down to 9 in a the course of a month.
Lastly, DON”TGoogle things! The Internet is a never-ending black hole of information, some good, some bad, and some terrible. You’re wasting precious energy adding potentially incorrect information to your already stressed state. This is what your Naturopath is for. Unsure to build a well rounded health team to not only help you manage stressors, but to look at every factor involved that may be reducing your chances of conception, all the while optimizing your chances of success (there’s a LOT you can do to improve sperm & egg quality, ovulation patterns, etc.)
As an additional resource, consider a well-rounded book that will provide insight and empowerment, like Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler MPH.
To determine whether your inability to conceive is due to heightened stress levels, I encourage you to consult with a qualified and experienced Naturopathic Doctor who has a focus in hormones and infertility for a detailed and comprehensive examination.
To schedule a consultation appointment today, please feel free to contact Dr. Courtney Holmberg at 647-351-7282, or visit www.courtneyholmbergnd.ca for more information.
We have all been there, had a nervous sensation before speaking in front of a large group of people, or a “pit” in the bottom of our stomachs as we started a new job with a new employer. These “gut feelings” actually have a connection to our brains. It is believed there is a second brain within the gut to handle digestion and other functions. Scientists are continuing to discover how this “second brain” and the microbiome affects our emotions, state of mind, and relation to a variety of illnesses, diseases, and conditions.
Our Feelings and Our Gut
Have you ever felt so stressed out you sought comfort in a pint of ice cream or some other sugary, salty, or deep fried food or snack? If so, this is just one aspect of our guts and brains talking to each other. When we become overly stressed, it leads to anxiety. This triggers the body’s natural “flight or fight” response and releases adrenaline into our systems. Along with the adrenaline, another hormone, called cortisol is released.
Cortisol tricks the gut into thinking it is hungry, even though you are not. Until the stress is reduced and brought back down to more manageable levels, the body continues to release cortisol. For someone, who is highly stressed, this can result in overeating, or what many of us refer to as “stress eating,” as a means to address the stress.
Our Mood and Our Gut
Besides stress, other emotions and moods we experience have a direct link to our guts. For instance, if we are overly excited, we are full of energy as the gut works to release energy and burn calories. On the other hand, if we are feeling sad or depressed, our gut functions can slow down or could cause the gut to become upset where we have a “sour” or “burning” feeling in our gut, or experience nausea.
Conditions of the Gut
Many types of gastrointestinal medical conditions, like GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), gluten intolerance, dairy intolerance, and food sensitivitiesare believed to directly related to various types of disorders some people suffer from including anxiety, autism, depression, and ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder).
In people suffering from these conditions, the make-up of their gut’s microbiome is different, compared to people without these disorders. Fortunately, there are natural remedies available to help change how the microbiome functions and restore order to the gut and improve its connection with your brain.
To start, you also want to aim to incorporate these three power foods to rebalance gut function and microbiome.
Of course, the best place to learn how to address concerns over your own brain-gut connection, is to schedule a visit with a qualified health professional.
Schedule a consult with Dr. Courtney Holmberg, ND to learn how naturopathic medicine can rebalance your gut for good. Book online or call 647-351-7282 today!
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that causes significant imbalances to the hormonal system in many women today. One of the biggest concerns with PCOS is that it is widely under-diagnosed. Just in the United States alone, there are approximately 7 million women experiencing symptoms of this condition, yet around half of these women have no idea they have PCOS!
For a long time, the root cause to PCOS was believed to be a result of an overproduction of male hormones, called androgens. In more recent years, research has confirmed PCOS is in fact a condition resulting from desensitization to insulin production within the body, which in turn leads to increased production of these androgenic hormones.
In addition, studies on PCOS have revealed those with the condition are at a greater risk for heart disease and diabetes (type 2). Heart disease is the leading killer in women. Even in cases where women were young and fit, yet had PCOS, it was five times more likely they would still develop these risks if they did not seek treatment for their conditions.
If left untreated, it can make you feel quite unwell. There are several telltale signs you might have PCOS. If you notice any one or several of these, it is important you seek medical advice from a qualified Naturopathic Doctor.
1. Problems getting pregnant. There are all sorts of reasons why a woman might not be able to conceive. Having PCOS is one such reason. PCOS affects ovulatory cycles, and the number of viable eggs released during the cycle. However, it is possible to still conceive, but could take some time and requires the proper treatment.
2. Skin problems. PCOS can cause acne, skin tags, dandruff, and acanthosis nigricans. The acne caused by PCOS is typically found along the jaw line, is resistant to acne treatments and often returns after stopping treatment.
3. Excess hair growth or hair loss. With increased production in male hormones within the body, it can cause hair to start growing in areas where you do not want it to grow, like on the face, chest, back, and around the nipples and navel. PCOS can also cause DHT levels to increase, which is another male hormone that causes hair loss.
4. Feel tired and unrested even after a full night’s sleep. PCOS has been linked to sleep apnea. This medical condition is where a person snores loudly and their breathing patterns will stop and restart several times throughout the resting period. Sleep apnea also increases risks for heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity.
5. Weight gain around the belly.PCOS can cause women to gain extra pounds, particularly around the belly. This is due to problems with insulin resistance, and the resulting improper management of sugar. Women with PCOS may find weight gain is rapid, and resistant to weight loss efforts. Furthermore, PCOS causes leptin resistance, which is the hormone that tells your body when you are hungry, and those with PCOS can feel hungry all of the time, even after eating a full meal.
The good news is, there’s hope. The true root to managing PCOS doesn't actually lie in the suppression of androgens (which conventional therapies often target), but in the proper support of insulin sensitivity to every cell in the body. Insulin’s role is to unlock the cell and drive sugar inwards to be broken down or stored as energy. In individuals with insulin resistance, the body has learnt to ignore this hormone, and the above-mentioned symptoms are the result.
A properly formulated diet with foods that not only balance sugar intake, but also support insulin reception can make a huge impact. Believe it or not, the timing of food is also just as important as the food quality. Other goals of therapy include balancing the enzymes that drive male hormone production forward, and supporting regular ovulation to balance female sex hormones.
While PCOS is a common condition, and many women will move in and out of symptomatic states throughout their life, it isn’t one that you have to continue to suffer from. For more information about PCOS, or if you suspect you might have PCOS and need a professional diagnosis, please feel free to contact Dr. Courtney Holmberg, ND at 647-351-7282 today to arrange a consultation.
There have been several studies and research conducted over the years on the topic of whether depression and taking a birth control pill is related. A very recent study was published this year on the topic, and is making headlines, as some of you may already know. But before discussing some of its findings, it is important to first understand how the pill works, and discuss its efficacy, side effects, and potential risks on your mental and physical wellbeing.
Birth control pills are the most commonly prescribed form of contraception to young females in North America. They contain a variety of different active and inactive ingredients. Among the more common ones are progestin, synthetic progesterone, and estrogen. The pills can contain a combination of these hormones in various dosages, or just consist of a single hormone. Ingesting synthetic hormones alters your body’s natural hormonal balance, levels, and production, ultimately preventing ovulation and subsequent ability to conceive.
The estimated probability of pregnancy during the first year of perfect use of the pill is 0.3% if taken at the exact same time every day, and a dose is never missed. However, actual rates of pregnancy with oral contraceptive are more like 9-11% in their first year of use . Furthermore, an estimate 51% of unintended pregnancies happen while using a birth control pill , suggesting failure rate is high.
Furthermore, as a result of this natural hormone imbalance, it also affects responses within the brain, which causes altered psychological and physical responses. For instance, some of the more common side effects that have been reported from women taking oral contraceptives include:
The University of Copenhagen Study on Depression and Birth Control
This recent study contained a large sample population, consisting of 1,061,997 female subjects, who were aged 15 to 34. In addition, none of these women had experienced any form of depression or other psychiatric/psychological problems prior to starting birth control. To help determine the effects of taking oral contraceptives, the researchers monitored whether subjects were diagnoses with depression or started a new antidepressant prescription throughout the study.
The study sample was also divided into two groups, where one set of women would take some form of birth control including:
The other group of women would not use female birth control during the study. At the conclusion of the study, researchers compared the number of women who developed depression during the study period in both groups. The findings were as follows :
Relative risks for first time use of antidepressants were as follows:
Based upon these findings, the study concluded there was evidence that birth control use and depression were related. However, future studies conducted at other research facilities have resulted varying findings. For instance, a 2007 study also found an increase in depression from subjects taking birth control, while another one in 2012 did not find a correlation between the two.
Natural Alternatives for Birth Control
If you are worried about potential risks and side effects of oral contraceptives, there are several natural alternatives available. Forms of hormone free birth control method include:
A conversation I often have with my patients is the use of a hormone free intrauterine device made from copper. While the study did not assess the use of a hormone free intrauterine device, if you have a history of depression, or have previously experienced low moods on a birth control pill, this may be an effective alternative for you. Of course, it comes with its own risks and side effects, so always have a full discussion with your Medical Doctor or Naturopath to find an option that is right for you.
For more information about these and other natural alternatives, please feel free to contact Dr. Courtney Holmberg ND at 647.351.7282 or access the online schedule HERE today to arrange a consultation appointment at her naturopathic clinic in Toronto.
In recent years, interest surrounding food sensitivities and their role in day-to-day wellbeing has increased. From gluten and dairy to soy and nuts, all one has to do is read the back of food labels or the finer details on restaurant’s menus to see a wide range of potential food sensitivities. What seems most difficult for individuals suffering from suspected sensitivities is the identification of the attributing food, as reactions are often delayed and inconsistent.
Part of the reason for the increase in food sensitivities may be contributed to the larger number of processed foods people consume today. In addition, many types of processed foods lack the nutrients the body needs for energy production and what little the body does get, is often used by the immune system to repair the damage and heal. As such, the body is not able to digest processed foods as effectively and efficiency. This can lead to a loss in energy, as well as other gastro-intestinal problems.
Symptoms of Food Sensitivities
There are several signs you might have a food sensitivity including:
• Feeling Lethargic
• Problems Concentrating on Tasks
• Aches and Pains in the Muscles and Joints
• Unexplained Rashes, Dermatitis, or Acne
• Stomach and Intestinal Cramping and Pain
• Excessive Gas
• A Bloated Feeling
Unlike food allergies, which present themselves almost immediately, food sensitivities can take much longer before exhibiting symptoms. In some cases, symptoms may not appear until a few days later, making it harder to narrow down the actual cause of the sensitivity, considering the amount of food a person consumes in a 48-hour period.
Triggers for Food Sensitivities
There are several common foods and food ingredients that have been associated with food sensitivities. These “trigger” foods can and do vary from one person to the next, but generally speaking, these foods are all inflammatory in nature, compromising the integrity of the gut lining and its ability to decipher between foods, chemicals, pathogens, and so on.
• Preservatives Added to Processed Foods (Nitrates, MSG, Artificial Colours, Sulfites)
• Certain Nuts
Identifying and Treating Food Sensitivities
One of the more effective methods used to help identify food sensitivities is making changes to your diet. This begins by keeping a journal of the foods you are eating, energy levels, and other symptoms you experience afterwards. During this time, the more common food “triggers” are typically eliminated from the diet. After about a month, the common foods are reintroduced, one at a time over a short period of time.
If a noticeable change in energy levels or other symptoms reemerge, then the food is most likely the cause. While the process can seem time consuming, the primary benefit of taking this approach is to help people restore their energy and eliminate related symptoms.
An alternative to this approach is food sensitivity testing. The results identify levels of inflammation to each individual food, helping to eliminate the guesswork in which foods may be provoking inflammation, and ultimately, your symptoms. Its important to recognize that while food sensitivity testing is very accurate, it is simply assessing inflammation resulting from individual foods, and results must be put into clinical context to evaluate if they are in fact attributing to your reported symptoms.
It is also important to stress that there could be other factors at work beyond food sensitivities, so it is vital to ensure a qualified Naturopathic Doctor performs a full workup to rule out other potential causes.
If you believe you have sensitivities to certain foods, book an appointment for a full health assessment with Dr. Courtney Holmberg, ND at her naturopathic clinic in Toronto by calling 647.351.7282 today!
Join us for the next 6 weeks as we challenge each other to incorporate healthy habits into our lifestyles. Share with a friend to challenge them with you!
Health Habits Challenge: Eat a BALANCED breakfast!
Thats right, its week 4 of the #healthyhabits challenge!
The goal this week is to start your day off right with a breakfast balanced with proteins and healthy fats.
The word breakfast literally means "to break the fast", and you want to do so by intaking nutrients the body has used up all night long. That primary macronutrient is protein.
By reaching for something quick and easy on your way out the door, like coffee + a banana or bagel, you're essentially fueling your fasted body with a handful of sugar, and not much else.
A simple, quick burning carbohydrate meal like the examples mentioned above leads to insulin spiking, cortisol release, and ultimately an energy crash a few hours later.
Instead, consider proteins and fats such as like eggs, nut butters, overnight oats, or chia pudding.
Fruit can be a great, light option as well, but don't let it be your only breakfast item. Adding a fibre sources + some cinnamon offsets the blood sugar spiking effects of fruits, and breaks them down slower.
Most importantly, don't skip it. The food you intake in the morning stimulates metabolism, and fuels the rest of your day!