PCOS is a medical condition that affects hormone levels in women, impacting 5%–20% of women of reproductive age worldwide and characterized by hyperandrogenism, ovulatory dysfunction, and polycystic ovarian morphology. Women with PCO end up producing a higher amount of male hormones, like testosterone, and often experiencing resistance to the metabolic hormone, insulin. These imbalances can lead to issues with acne, and missed menstrual periods (impacting fertility), amongst other symptoms. The 2003 Rotterdam criteria are currently the internationally accepted criteria by which PCOS is diagnosed.
However, the pathogenesis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is poorly understood. Part of the research conducted on the origination of the disease has shown that the likelihood of PCOS development in women may be determined at birth. Research in primates suggests that excess fetal androgen exposure may predispose the infant to later development of PCOS through alternations in the epigenome (1). If there is an imbalance of hormones from PCOS during pregnancy, then there is an increased likelihood the baby may also develop PCOS if the infant is born female. Additionally, exposure to testosterone prior to pregnancy could lead to PCOS even when women have children later.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the leading medical conditions now impacting women of reproductive age, and can also have substantial impacts on a woman’s physical and emotional well-being. We’ve already covered symptoms and diagnostic testing of PCOS here, but let's dive deeper into one key hormonal disruption that seems to be particularly troublesome for my patient population – hyperandrogenism.
Hyperandrogenism is common in PCOS, often seen as elevated testosterone and DHEA levels on blood work. And while these two hormones are often seen as synonymous when evaluating total androgenic burden, there is a significant difference between the two. Testosterone and DHEA are both classified as androgenic hormones, however some women with PCOS may have elevated testosterone, with normal DHEA levels, and vice versa. You also don't have to have cysts on your ovaries to present with hyperandrogenism (in fact, only about 20% of women with high androgens have cystic ovaries), and cysts on your ovaries don't always mean you’ll have high androgens. Have I lost you yet?
We all know that getting enough sleep is important. But how important? Sleep impacts our mental health, emotional health, and physical health. But with our busy lives and hectic schedules, it’s often easy to put a good night’s rest on the back burner.
Sometimes, even when we get into bed at a reasonable hour, we may not be able to fall asleep or stay asleep. However, recent research confirms continuous sleep deprivation can have more far-ranging consequences on health than we may have once realized, with negative impacts demonstrated on our intestinal microbiomes, immune system, insulin resistance and weight management, amongst a myriad of other health issues.
Eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains is just generally good for us, but as it turns out, eating a high plant-based diet may help lower your risk for developing many chronic health conditions, including cancer. While no single food or combination of foods can eradicate cancer, studies have shown that the combination of compounds found in certain foods — when part of a healthy diet — can help significantly increase your anti-oxidant intake, and decreasing our risk of developing a number of disorders, including cancer.
The phytochemical compounds found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes, along with antioxidants and a host of vitamins and minerals, all work in conjunction to provide cellular repair. Foods alone cannot cure cancer, but a healthy diet can go a long way toward minimizing your risk. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, “In laboratory studies, many individual minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals demonstrate anti-cancer effects. Evidence suggests that it is the synergy of compounds in the overall diet that offers the strongest cancer protection.” In other words, make sure that your plate is colourful and is part of a well-balanced and healthy diet.
While many foods can play a key role in an anti-oxidant diet, here are a few suggestions to make sure you have on hand:
One of the core principles of functional medicine is to nourish the body and ensure it is getting the appropriate balance of nutrients to stay healthy. Traditionally, this was achieved in a hunter-gather diet by eating colourful whole foods and by practicing “nose-to-tail” eating of meat, which included the consumption of skin, cartilage, marrow, tendons/ligaments, and other parts of the animal that are now typically discarded. Unfortunately, much of this practice has been lost as a result of prepared meats, microwaves, and canned soups over homemade stocks. As a result, our diets have become deprived of an important protein, known as collagen.
There is a lot of noise in the health industry lately about collagen supplementation. The concept of supplementing collagen attempts to regain what we’ve lost from our primitive diet, but the question becomes if supplementation has any benefit.
Benefits of Collagen
I’ll admit that when I first heard about the trend of supplementing collagen, I wasn't on board. It made no sense to me. Collagen is a tissue found in our bodies made from amino acids, vitamin C, etc. So how could supplementingthe end product collagen benefit us? But as it turns out, research in mice shows that hydrolyzed collagen peptides (from gelatin) have a 95% absorption rate at 12 hours after intake, and it distributes in the body similar to that of raw amino acids, with the exception of cartilage (1). Collagen was seen to concentrate more than twice as high in cartilaginous tissue that raw amino acids (1), giving collagen some unique benefits. So, I jumped on the bandwagon.
Insulin Resistance: Is There a Link to Dairy Products?
A considerable amount of research has been aimed at isolating the contributing factors in the development of insulin resistance and looks to discover better ways of controlling and preventing the onset of this disorder.
We already know that diet plays a significant role. In fact, diet is the leading cause of type 2 diabetes: the outcome of unmanaged insulin resistance. Resistance to insulin can also occur in other metabolic/endocrine disorders, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) that affects up to 12% of the female population in North America. In more recent years, an increasing body of evidence is finding that dairy consumption has an adverse effect on insulin production, and may, in fact, be contributing to insulin resistance.
Bacteria are found on every external surface of the body, including the entire gastrointestinal tract. You’re probably no stranger to probiotics and their endless health benefits, and you may even be purposefully increasing your intake of fermented foods as a result. But what if I was to tell you that probiotics might be making your digestion symptoms worse?
The diversity and quantity of bacteria in each part of the digestive system varies greatly. For instance, you can easily find over 1 billion bacteria per milliliter in the colon, and only 10,000 bacteria per milliliter in the small intestine. In addition, the bacteria in the small intestine function differently from those in the rest of the digestive tract.
In the small intestine, the bacteria are responsible for aiding in digestion and helping absorb vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in the foods we ate. These same bacteria also help support immune function. However, in many people experience IBS-like symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation/diarrhea, and abdominal cramping, the number of bacteria in the small intestine increases significantly. The bacterial that typically colonize the digestive tract (most commonly the colon or large intestine1) overgrow in a location not intended for so much bacteria, and as a result, begin to produce symptoms. We call this condition Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO. And as you can imagine, adding more bacteria (like probiotics) to the mix may produce undesirable outcomes.
What Are Some Symptoms of SIBO?
When SIBO occurs, it interferes with normal digestive processes. The vitamin, minerals, and nutrients which are normally absorbed by the intestinal cells become diminished, while some strains of bacteria actually consume the nutrients for themselves, ultimately fueling their growth.
As a result, we often see nutrient deficiencies such as iron and b12 in this patient population. Gas becomes a byproduct of the fermentation of sugars and proteins, and bloating results. The most characteristic symptoms of SIBO patients include:
• Abdominal Discomfort, Cramping, and Pain
• Vitamin Deficiencies
• Unexpected Weight Loss
• Abdominal Distention/Bloating
Long-term concerns of untreated bacterial overgrowth include damage to the intestinal lining, resulting in increased intestinal permeability, often termed “leaky gut syndrome”. This condition predisposes a person to autoimmune diseases, allergic reactions to foods they previously were not allergic to, and overall inflammation2. Furthermore, bacterial endotoxins burden our liver and immune system, increasing incidences of chronic fatigue.
What Causes SIBO?
Any disease or illness that affects the body’s defenses put a person at risk for SIBO. The actual causes complex, but major of people with SIBO have developed an issue with the intestinal anatomy or musculature. Infectious gastroenteritis, bowel strictures or surgery, nerve damage, appendicitis, and birth control use are among some of the predisposing factors to SIBO development.
Various research studies have discovered that the following conditions may also increase the risks for SIBO:
• Crohn’s Disease
• Type I or Type II Diabetes
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome
• Previous Surgery of the Bowel/Intestines
• Celiac Disease
• Conditions of the Liver, Pancreas, and Others
• Low Stomach Acid
• Regular and Heavy Alcohol Consumption
Can SIBO be treated?
First and foremost, a diagnosis should be made using a 3 hr Lactulose Breath Test. Treating SIBO normally requires the use of specific antibiotics and/or antimicrobial therapy to erratic the overgrowth, along with identifying co-morbidities that may have caused its development in the first place. In cases where patients were treated, but their underlying condition was ignored, many experienced a reoccurrence of SIBO with a year or less3.
Since there can be a variety of underlying causes, it is essential to develop treatments which are tailored specifically for each individual.
Click Here to learn more about Dr. Courtney Holmberg ND’s approach to SIBO management. If you suspect you might have SIBO or have experienced any of the symptoms we discussed, contact Dr. Holmberg at 647-351-7282 to schedule a consultation today!
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
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!
© 2018 Courtney Holmberg ND. All rights reserved. Dr. Courtney Holmberg, ND does not endorse or have professional affiliation with any discussed supplement or lab companies. All material provided is for general education and may not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended to assist in diagnosing to treating a medical condition. Legal & Medical Disclaimer, sitemap