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?
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped organ that is responsible for some vital roles in the body, from controlling our metabolism to regulating our brain development. It also influences our heart rate, body temperature, muscle strength, body weight, and even cholesterol levels. The thyroid gland makes up part of the endocrine system, which is a combination of glands that produce, store, and release hormones into the bloodstream for the purposes of cellular communication. The three main hormones involved in thyroid function are TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), T4 (triiodothyronine), and T3 (thyroxine).
Unfortunately for some, the thyroid ceases proper functioning and a whole host of symptoms often emerge. Determining what treatment will be best to treat a thyroid hormone imbalance begins by first determining what the root cause of the dysfunction is.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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
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.
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!
© 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