Autoimmunity is an umbrella term for a number of medical condition with one common problem: the immune system. In autoimmunity, the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies healthy cells as invaders, and attacks them. This disease can present in various forms, and can affect any part of the body. For some, autoimmunity can disrupt hormone production, as in Hashimoto’s or Graves. In other people, it can present as symptom of inflammation, fatigue, and pain. Some people even experience neurological changes, as in cases of MS.
And while autoimmunity is not news to modern medicine, the increased number of reported cases per year is. It poses the questions - why are incidence reports on the rise, what, if anything, is causing its increase, and is there anything we can do about it?
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.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal health issues in women, affecting an estimated 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. Many women are first diagnosed when they are having difficulty trying to conceive, but PCOS presents with many other symptoms, like hair loss, acne, hirsutism, and weight gain. These symptoms can affect a woman's health even beyond trying to get pregnant.
What Causes PCOS?
The exact cause of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is unknown, though it is thought that genetics play a major role. PCOS is a complex disorder that presents itself as a group of symptoms resulting from hormonal imbalances -- usually an excess of androgens like testosterone and high levels of insulin. These symptoms include:
There is a common misperception about progesterone (naturally occurring hormone) and progestin (the synthetic version) — namely that they are essentially identical. “Progesterone” and “progestin” are used interchangeably so often that patients may inadvertently think of them as one and the same, and put themselves at risk for health issues by not being aware that they are not, in fact, synonymous. So what is the difference between progesterone and progestin? The answer may surprise you.
What is progesterone?
Progesterone is a naturally occurring hormone that functions primarily to regulate reproductive processes. It is produced by the adrenal glands and ovaries or testes, and by the placenta in pregnant women. In women, progesterone is responsible for preparing the uterus for the implantation of an egg and maintains the lining of the uterus — the endometrium — during pregnancy.
Magnesium is the 4th most abundant mineral in the human body. It is found in every cell in the body and is an essential component in regulating over 600 different biochemical reactions and bodily functions. It helps convert food into energy, to build new proteins, to repair DNA/RNA, regulate muscle relaxation, and balance neurotransmitters in the brain, nervous system, and gut. It has direct impacts on heart health, blood pressure, immune response, metabolic rates, and more.
Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is on the rise, with an estimated 50% of the population in the US and Europe getting less than their daily requirement of magnesium (1). Historically, magnesium was abundant in the foods we ate and the water we drank. However, today, most soil grown produce has been shown to be more magnesium depleted than ever, and even the grass and grains livestock eats lacks magnesium content. For those of us that live in the city, our water is treated with chlorine and fluoride to remove bacteria and minerals, like magnesium. Furthermore, consumption of caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and medications like birth control pills, antihypertensives, insulin, and certain antibiotics all deplete magnesium further.
One particularly important mechanism magnesium regulates is our balance and utilization of calcium. Every cell has a regulatory switch that controls the balance between calcium and magnesium, and when there is a deficiency in magnesium, the switch will allow excess calcium into the cells. This can ultimately lead to cellular calcification, amongst a number of other concerns, including:
With the proper magnesium levels in the body, risks for heart disease, heart attack, kidney stones, calcification in the arteries, and osteoporosis are reduced. To ensure proper magnesium levels, expose yourself to these magnesium-rich foods:
If you have experienced any of the signs discussed, and want to find out more about the benefits of magnesium, please feel free to contact Toronto Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Courtney Holmberg at 647-351-7282 to schedule a consultation today!
Believe it or not, the foods we eat play an important role in helping our bodies manage our stress levels. During periods of time in which we feel overwhelmed with stress, it is easy to turn to “comfort foods” like ice cream, sugary sweets, chocolate, deep fried foods, pizza, and others that make us feel good.
Why do we crave these things, you might ask?
Well interesting enough, the foods we consume have a direct impact on the neurotransmitters our bodies eat. For example, eating dietary sugars and starches raise serotonin levels, giving you the temporary sensation of feeling calm and relaxed. Furthermore, the pleasure in doing so promotes dopamine release, which stimulates our reward system, and explains why the more sugar you have, the more your body will continue to crave it.
However, the problem with “comfort foods” is while they initially bring a brief moment of relief, they do not last.
Instead of reducing the stress, these foods can make us feel tired and lethargic by spiking or insulin and cortisol levels, which ultimately directly impact the levels of stress we are experiencing. Furthermore, consuming large quantities of “comfort foods” during high levels of stress can cause a drastic increase in “bad” cholesterol levels, increase our blood pressure, and create long-term risks associated with heart disease and heart attacks.
So when you are feeling overly stressed, rather than consuming your favourite “comfort foods”, its best to turn your attention to stress-reducing foods that are good for the body. Choosing the right foods can help increase the levels of serotonin, without spiking cortisol. You should also include foods that boost your immune system response, as increased stress for prolonged periods weakens immune responses, resulting in more frequent periods of illnesses.
The Dos and Don’ts
You should avoid simple carbohydrates, like sugar, because it is quickly digested by the body and only provides short-term calming effect. Stay away for sugary sodas, candy bars, and other foods that are packed full of sugar, corn syrup or other such sugar-based sweeteners.
Instead, choose complex carbohydrates because these foods provide the same calming effects as sugar, but last longer because they take longer to digest. Some of the foods considered complex carbohydrates include:
For sweet treats, consider citrus fruits, like oranges and grape fruits, that are high in Vitamin C. Vitamin C not only helps the adrenal glands to reduce stress levels, but also has added benefits for the immune system.
If you feel lethargic or are experiencing an increase in the frequency and duration of headaches, along with elevated stress levels, this often indicates you are not getting a sufficient amount of magnesium in your diet. Magnesium is found in green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach. You will also find magnesium in salmon and soybeans, so you have several options.
Additionally, salmon (and other darker meat fish) are considered a good source of Omega-3s, which are great for controlling spikes in the hormones that cause stress and at the same time, help reduces risks of heart attack, heart disease, pain syndromes, depression and PMS. Remember to always source wild fish, or use supplements.
Bonus tip: Sugar cravings can sometimes mean you’re not getting enough fat in the meal prior. Up your fat intake to offset these cravings.
Increasing the amount of vegetables in your daily diet can help combat energy crashes throughout the day. To get the most benefits from veggies, try to sauté them lightly or steam them vs boiling or frying them.
Lastly, stay away from high sugar fruits, like bananas and tropical fruits. While the sugar is natural, it still spikes insulin (and ultimately cortisol) the same way refined sugar will. Always aim to eat fruits with a high fiber food like oat bran or flax, as it helps to offset this effect.
For natural health tips for fighting increased stress levels, please feel free to contact Toronto Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Courtney Holmberg, at 647-351-7282 to schedule a full health assessment today!
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 homocysteine into 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 metabolizes 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:
Most people have no idea they have a MTHFR mutation that could be contributing to other health-related issues.
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.
© 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