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    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 interestingly 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 stress, these foods can make us feel tired and lethargic by spiking our 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”, it's 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 illness. The Dos and Don’ts You should avoid simple carbohydrates, like sugar because it is quickly digested by the body and only provides a short-term calming effect. Stay away from 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: Oatmeal Starchy Vegetables: sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, squash Lentils Beans & Legumes For sweet treats, consider citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruits, 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 number 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 fibre 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!


    It probably comes as no surprise that a gluten-free diet has become one of the most popular food trends of this decade. Originally deemed inflammatory to the small intestine of celiac patients, gluten intolerance has since been correlated to a number of other medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, dermatitis, autoimmune disorders, and so on. Grocery stores now dedicate a whole section to gluten-free products and foods, creating many alternatives that mimic the wheat-based staples of the North American diet. And while these products are helpful for individuals with allergies or intolerances to gluten, a considerable number without these diseases still adopt a gluten-free lifestyle in hopes of reaping some health benefits. ​But there's one major mistake many people are making. 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 herpetiformis (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. It's 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 bread, crackers, and pasta 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 [1]. 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 kinds of pasta is genetically modified, and because corn flour doesn't 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 of whole wheat pasta with a GI of 37 and a GL of 17 [2]. Also, if you didn't know, rice is loaded with 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, which has a great resource here highlighting the problems with arsenic, how it's getting into our rice and ways to limit/avoid it [3]. 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 don't 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. The moral of the story is 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' sake, eat your veggies. [1] Low gluten diets may be associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. American Heart Association Meeting Report Presentation 11. March 09, 2017. ​ [2] The University of Sydney Glycemic Index Database. [3] Arsenic is in rice - should you worry? Environmental Working Group Food Database.


    As we age, our bodies often remind us we are getting older. While other parts of our body may start to show signs of aging, our digestive systems are not always affected as much by age as we may believe. However, there may be certain foods you once enjoyed with ease that are now causing stomach upset if you overindulge. And while food intolerances are always a possibility, these new symptoms do not necessarily mean we have developed intolerances for certain foods. Certain changes to digestion do occur as we age. These include: 1. Slowed digestive response. As the digestion response slows it requires more time to break down the food in our stomachs. As a result, we can feel full for a much longer period of time after consuming a large meal, which may also make us feel bloated. 2. Less elasticity of the stomach. The stomach also becomes less elastic, meaning rather than being able to consume an entire pizza, like we could when we were teenagers, we are only able to eat a few slices before we start to feel full. 3. Lactase production decreases. As we age, the body slows how much lactase (the enzyme that breaks down the sugar, lactose, in milk) is produced, which can cause some of us to become lactose intolerant or start to feel the effects of consuming too many dairy products, like gas and intestinal cramping. Contrary to popular belief, lactose intolerance is not a “condition”. It's a normal process of aging, and your body's attempt to preserve resources (since milk is for babies, not adults). 4. Bacteria growth expands into the small intestine. While normal “gut” bacteria are essential to proper digestion, as we age, it is not uncommon for the bacteria to extend beyond the large intestine and into the small intestine and can make it seem like we have food intolerances (commonly termed SIBO). 5. Contractions weaken or slow in the large intestine. The feeling of constipation is not uncommon as we get older and is caused by this age-related factor. 6. Illnesses – Age-related reduced immune responses can affect the digestive system. 7. Medications – Certain medications can affect the digestive system and could have side effects similar to symptoms of food intolerances. 8. Failing to Change Eating/Dietary Habits – As we get older, what we eat, how much, and when are directly related to digestive problems sometimes mistaken as intolerances to food. Going back to our original question, the primary type of food intolerance we may develop as we get older is an enzymatic intolerance to certain foods, such as dairy products. This type of food intolerance is where the body no longer produces the right amount of enzymes needed to properly digest the food. In conclusion, if you are experiencing digestive problems related to specific foods, it does not necessarily always mean you have developed an intolerance to a food or food group. It may in fact mean your body has developed an inability to properly digest it. As a result, it may be time for some dietary changes to maintain a healthy digestive system. If some of the above points are affecting you, it is best to speak with a naturopathic doctor to determine the underlying to your concerns. You can 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!


    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 in 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 [1][2]. Furthermore, high levels of homocysteine in the bloodstream have been correlated to high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, and cardiovascular disease like atherosclerosis [3]. 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, and digestion, and may even contribute to the development of certain cancers [4]. To determine whether you could have an 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: Migraine Headaches Diabetes Fibromyalgia Bipolar Disorder IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) Digestive Issues Drug and Alcohol Addictions High Cholesterol High Blood Pressure Heart Disease Anxiety Depression Keep in mind this is just a sampling of potentially related health problems and conditions and there are others that could be related to MTHFR mutations. 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: Addressing Digestive Problems and IBS – This requires adjusting your diet to reduce foods that cause stomach and IBS symptoms and increase the intake of foods that are considered “gut-friendly.” Increasing Consumption of Foods High in B6, B12, and Folate – Those that suffer from MTHFR mutations often have lower levels of B6, B12, and folate, all of which are important to maintain proper health. Consume a diet with folate-rich foods such as spinach, asparagus, chickpeas, beans, and broccoli. Avoid folic acid in supplements, which will further burden the methylation pathways. Making Hearth Healthy Choices – Improving heart health, like quitting smoking, exercising, and consuming more natural and organic foods helps reduce “bad” cholesterol levels, strengthens the heart muscle, and reduces the overall effects of MTHFR mutations. Detoxing the Body – Supporting oxidation pathways, overseen by your naturopath, helps flush out chemicals and waste from your body and can help. Reducing Anxiety and Stress – Discover stress relievers, like essential oils and massage, and increase the amount of omega-3 and use other soothing exercises to reduce stress and anxiety. Getting Sufficient Rest – Most health conditions, including MTHFR mutations, are often linked to people experiencing problems sleeping or not getting sufficient rest. Reviewing Medications You Take – Certain medications can interfere with the way the body converts and metabolizes vitamins, proteins, and minerals, which could further contribute to issues related to MTHFR mutations. ​Most people have no idea they have an 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! Gilbody S1, Lewis S, Lightfoot T. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) genetic polymorphisms and psychiatric disorders: a HuGE review. Am J Epidemiol. 2007 Jan 1;165(1):1-13. Prasad VV1, Wilkhoo H. Association of the functional polymorphism C677T in the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase gene with colorectal, thyroid, breast, ovarian, and cervical cancers. Onkologie. 2011;34(8-9):422-6. Li P1, Qin C2. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene polymorphisms and susceptibility to ischemic stroke: a meta-analysis. Gene. 2014 Feb 10;535(2):359-64. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2013.09.066. Epub 2013 Oct 16. Prasad VV1, Wilkhoo H. Association of the functional polymorphism C677T in the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase gene with colorectal, thyroid, breast, ovarian, and cervical cancers. Onkologie. 2011;34(8-9):422-6


    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 vary greatly. For instance, you can easily find over 1 billion bacteria per millilitre in the colon, and only 10,000 bacteria per millilitre 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 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 who experience IBS-like symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation/diarrhea, and abdominal cramping, the number of bacteria in the small intestine increases significantly. The bacteria that typically colonize the digestive tract (most commonly the colon or large intestine (1)) overgrow in a location not intended for so many 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: • Belching • Gas/Flatulence • Diarrhea • Abdominal Discomfort, Cramping, and Pain • Constipation • 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 inflammation (2). 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 defences put a person at risk for SIBO. The actual causes are 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 eradicate 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 within a year or less (3). 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! Sources: 1. 2. 3.


    If you and your partner are trying to conceive, but have unfortunately had little success, stress levels may be on the rise for both of you. For some couples, the stress resulting from the inability to conceive may actually be part of the reason they’re having difficulty getting pregnant. A new condition called “Pregnancy Stress Syndrome” may be impacting your ability to get pregnant, and may also increase the risk of complications during the pregnancy - most notably - miscarriage. 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 in other hormone systems. Together, the adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and hypothalamus of the brain, evaluate the level of stress and perceived stressors in 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 result in the body’s continual release of adrenalin and cortisol, and elevated levels affect the body as follows: Progesterone secretions from the corpus luteum (which are responsive for maintaining your uterine lining and sustaining a pregnancy) are reduced. The release of estrogen is reduced and impedes follicle development and health. Reduced estrogen levels also reduce the thickness of the fertile mucous and endometrium. The secretion of prolactin is increased and inhibits ovarian functions, like ovulation. Reduces immune responses, like the part of the immune system responsible for preventing miscarriages. Reduces secretion of LH (luteinizing hormone), which is responsible for ovulation. Reduced conversion of active thyroid hormones, leading to elevated TSH levels, and subclinical signs of hypothyroidism (one of the primary factors in infertility) In addition, since increased stress levels reduce immune responses, other health issues can arise, which can further impede the ability to conceive. What Can I Do? The first thing you need to do is address and deal with your stress in a healthy manner. Diet First and foremost, a change in dietary eating patterns and developing a daily exercise routine help 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 processed food reduces the insulin burden on the hormone system, and the livers need to detoxify chemicals. Instead, reach for whole foods, and healthy fats like avocado and nuts, and be sure to reach your required daily caloric intake of healthy fat making up at least 40% of it. Stress Management Others benefit from learning new techniques and methods to reduce stress and relax, like getting regular massage 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 the course of a month. Seek Help Lastly, DON'T Google 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 on 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 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 affect 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 fights” 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 sensitivities are believed to be 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 makeup of their gut 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. Probiotics: Kimchi Kombucha Sauerkraut Fermented foods Dandelion Greens These foods contain pre & probiotics to promote healthy gut flora and prevent the overgrowth of harmful or unwanted organisms. They also assess proper digestion and bowel formation. Bitters: Kale Bitter melon Arugula & dandelion Turmeric Cumin These foods, because of their bitter properties, promote natural gentle cleansing of the body via liver stimulation and stimulate your rest and digest nervous system for proper digestive function Cleansing: Processed meats, prepared foods, sauces, etc Gluten Dairy Refined sugar Avoiding processed foods and following a healthy, non-processed diet will change the functioning of the microbiome and gut. As an added bonus, you reduce your risks for diabetes, obesity, and other conditions. 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 in the hormonal system in many women today. One of the biggest concerns with PCOS is that it is widely underdiagnosed. 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 of 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 jawline, is resistant to acne treatments and often returns after stopping treatment. 3. Excess hair growth or hair loss. Increased production of 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 of 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.


    If you've yet to come across the lists of "quick" tips to attaining goals that seem to be circulating the interweb these days, then you're probably bound to soon. It seems as though every goal or desire that may have once seemed dauntingly unachievable now has an article with a step-by-step process on how to reach it quickly or easily. And of course, we can't help but think as we frantically scroll down the page, "fantastic, they've found me a solution". Unfortunately, it couldn't be further from the truth. This day and age, the lifestyles we lead force us to think efficiently, not sustainably. Whatever works right now, for the most part, is the route we choose. Fad diets outweigh gradual shifts towards healthier eating, trending exercise programs outweigh sustainable movement to keep us fit, and the latest solutions to quickly fix health concerns keep us from dealing with the underlying cause. If you can relate to what I've just said, please don't feel ashamed, for we have all taken what seemed to be the easy way out at one time or another. And while quick step solutions seem so appealing and simple, they are almost always an insurance policy for failure. The hard truth is, much like you already know, the easy way out is commonly short lived. Why do trending, "quick-fix" solutions often not last? Because they're not designed to. Lets face it... anything thats becomes a consistent part of our lifestyle didn't happen overnight, and it most certainly didn't have 10 quick steps to get us there. Now I'm not saying there isn't a value to a list of tips to get you places - because there is. They're tips, as simple as that. Use them to get the ball rolling, to give you ideas to transition into change, and to ease you along the way. Use them for nothing more, and please, oh pretty pretty please, ignore the part where it tells you it will happen quickly, for the key to successful, longterm change, is time. To effectively make change, we have to ditch the lists, forget the steps, and set some achievable, and more importantly, maintainable goals. It is also important to know how to set these goals. While you may want to lose weight before that tropical holiday, you have to be realistic and ask yourself if you've set the right goals to make it happen. How much weight, by when... and have you set smaller, measurable, and realistic midway-points to ultimately get you there? To set SMART goals (my best attempt at a play on words), we like to follow this acronyms: Furthermore, take the time to think about what works for you. While your online sources may highlight the easiest solutions, they may not be the easiest for you. Always stop to ask yourself... Am I ready to make this change?Does this fit into my lifestyle right now? Will this fit into my lifestyle three months from now? Don't be afraid to start small, don't be afraid to not succeed, and most importantly, don't be afraid to try again. Last but not least, don't take the quick or easy route to achieve what you want. While it may sound appealing, it will likely get you nowhere, quickly.


    Our skin provides us with a wonderful reflection of what’s occurring below its surface. Contrary to popular belief, acne is not a result of improper facial hygiene. It typically presents itself as the unfortunate indicator that there's an internal problem. And while most reach for the latest and greatest topical products that promise results, many forget to ask the important question of "why is this happening in the first place?" The root of acne formation is centred on the oil gland, known as the sebaceous gland. Hormonal changes, inflammatory foods, disrupted skin pH, etc. can lead to changes in the quality and amount of sebum produced, creating low-level inflammation. This inflammation can plug the follicle, creating little papule-like lesions called closed comedones. Bacteria see these comedones as honeymoon destinations, and the more overgrown with bacteria these blocked follicles become, the larger and more cystic the resulting "pimple". If the cyst ruptures below the dermis, the lesions last a lot longer and are more likely to trigger scarring. So how do we manage it? Since lesions are most commonly the result of oxidative damage and hormonal imbalances, the trick is to work from the inside out. HORMONES First and foremost, we must investigate hormones. Higher levels of dihydrotestosterone are attributed to increased sebaceous gland activity and acne formation. This is common in conditions like PCOS and congenital adrenal hyperplasia, with associated symptoms of irregular or infrequent menses, the middle-age onset of acne, male-patterned hair growth around the chin/nipples/stomach/hands, and insulin resistance. However, not all of these symptoms have to be present for hormones to be disrupted, making it difficult to uncover the underlying problem. Hormone testing can be a useful tool in these cases Speak to your ND about completing a thorough hormonal assessment Furthermore, evaluate your birth control pill. Certain birth control pills have higher androgen activity than others, resulting in a higher likelihood to worsen acne. While birth control is never my suggested treatment of choice for acne, if you choose to use it, ensure it's an appropriate combination. THE LIVER While balancing hormones in the body is important, the elimination of these hormones is just as critical. Your liver acts as a filter, eliminating degraded hormones and preventing hormonal congestion that results in acne. Alcohol, birth control, environmental toxins, etc all burden our liver on a daily basis, leading to sluggish detoxification and toxins being shifted to our major detox organ, the skin. Try: lemon water in the morning, dandelion root tea, 2-3 L of water daily (depending on body weight), alcohol-free for 6 wks DIET A high intake of refined carbohydrates, sugars, and preservatives results in blood sugar spiking, and subsequent boosts in insulin levels. High levels of insulin in the bloodstream trigger sebum production and an increase in pore-clogging cells. Dairy also tends to be a problematic food, as it's rich in IGF-1, which also promotes insulin release. An imbalanced, high-carb diet may be attributed to you producing all the wrong hormones as an older adolescent or adult. Try: a low GI diet, removing dairy for 6-8 wks, having your insulin resistance measured DIGESTION Just as the liver detoxifies hormones, the colon actually excretes them. If bowel movements are not regular, degraded hormones sit in the gut waiting to be reactivated and resorbed by "bad" bacteria. Furthermore, consuming foods you may be sensitive to (ie food intolerances) results in higher levels of overall inflammation in the diet every time you eat them. Try: lactobacillus acidophilus probiotics, increasing intake of naturally fermented foods like kombucha or sauerkraut Consider: Food Sensitivity Testing ​ NUTRIENTS Certain minerals and vitamins have been shown to be effective treatments for acne-prone skin. Zinc-containing foods, like pumpkin seeds, lamb, chicken, kefir etc, are encouraged for those with acne, as a recent study published in BioMed Research International identified a correlation between low zinc levels and the severity of acne. Furthermore, B6, B5 and Vitamin A all have balancing effects on skin pH and sebum production. Always remember, vitamins and nutrients at the therapeutic dosages required to treat certain conditions can have severe risks and side effects. Never self-prescribe; always speak to a licensed professional. TOPICALS Last but not least, what you put on your skin is important. If you’ve been using strong washes or cream moisturizers, STOP now. Harsh chemicals in washes that come over the counter or prescription grade strip the natural pH of the skin, leading to higher amounts of oil production to recent the balance. Furthermore, creams are glycerin based, which the skin does not properly absorb. Instead, it sits on the surface of the skin, trapping debris and oil within the pores, and preventing the skin from breathing. That sounds like a recipe for acne to me. Try gentle foaming cleansers without sulphates and benzoyls, and serum moisturizers that are glycerin-free (light carrier oils are important). As always, feel free to contact me should you have any questions regarding testing and/or treatments. References: 1. Leyden JJ. Therapy for acne vulgaris. N Engl J Med 1997; 336(16):1156-62. 2. Pantothenic Acid, Vitamin B5 for Acne by Jeffrey Dach MD. 3. Rostami Mogaddam M, Safavi Ardabili N, Maleki N, Soflaee M. Correlation between the severity and type of acne lesions with serum zinc levels in patients with acne vulgaris. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:474108


    In recent years, interest surrounding food sensitivities and their role in day-to-day well-being 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 the 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 efficiently. This can lead to a loss of energy, as well as other gastrointestinal 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 • Headaches • 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 • Gluten • Eggs • Soy • Dairy • Corn 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 in each individual food, helping to eliminate the guesswork in which foods may be provoking inflammation, and ultimately, your symptoms. It's 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!


    Allergy season. With the snow melting, it's fast approaching, and so are the dreaded symptoms of sneezing, congestion, itchy eyes/throat, and headaches... shall I go on? Those who suffer from seasonal allergies, understand me when I say it's near impossible to function on a day-to-day basis under the fog of these symptoms. Believe me, I know... I used to suffer from all of the above. The good news is, it doesn't have to be this way. Simply put, seasonal allergies are an overreaction of the immune system, and there's more we can do than just handing it a tissue. It's time to ditch the drowsy decongestants, for good. WHAT ARE ALLERGIES? An allergy, or hypersensitivity, develops when the immune system reacts to something in our environment that was once otherwise harmless but has now been flagged as problematic, or an "allergen". These reactions are acquired, meaning the first time you're exposed to it, you develop the antibodies, and the second time you're exposed, you experience the symptoms. Believe it or not, the symptoms of seasonal allergies, medically termed "allergic rhinitis", are a result of your immune system in action, and not the allergen itself. White blood cells over-actively release an antibody called IgE, as well as histamine, which both help the immune cells to rid of the allergen it deemed as harmful. WHY DO ALLERGIES HAPPEN? Allergies can usually be attributed to two factors - heredity, and the environment. Age, sex, race, and family history are correlated to the odds of developing allergies. The modifiable risk factor, however, seems to be our environment. Research shows children who are not breastfed, or who are not exposed to germs in early childhood have a higher incidence of allergy development, mostly because their immune systems never learnt to develop a balanced response. Top 5 SURVIVAL tips 1. STOP ALLERGIES BEFORE THEY START (NEW MOMS - this one is for you) Research confirms that the appropriate use of probiotics, particularly the strain of lactobacillus rhamnosus (both during pregnancy & in infancy) can influence and enhance the immune system response, and decrease the risk of atopy [1,2]. Furthermore, it's crucial for children to develop a healthy immune system. Breastfeeding passes along some of the immunoglobulins you've developed over the years - your breast milk is nature's best vaccine! And lastly, the hygiene hypothesis suggests that our world of sterility is harming our immune systems' ability to learn what's harmful and what's not. So let your kids eat dirt sometimes, don't smother them in hand sanitizer, and most of all, don't suppress mild fevers! Fevers are the body's way of creating an optimal environment for immune function, so instead, monitor, support with fluids, and ride them out! 2. PROBIOTICS Even in adulthood, probiotics have a powerful influence on our immune systems. Not only do they enhance immunity, but they have the ability to regulate it. While the research is still developing, a dysbiosis of gut bacteria has been linked to allergies, and certain probiotic strains have immunomodulatory effects in favour of suppressing overactivity and supporting balance [3]. Use a 10+ billion-count multistrain probiotic high is lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, especially in the 3 months leading up to allergy season. 3. VITAMIN C & BIOFLAVONOIDS Unlike the over-the-counter antihistamines that work to interfere with histamine after its produced, vitamin C actually works to PREVENT histamine production (bringing us closer to the root of the problem). To maximize the effects of Vitamin C, it's best taken with bioflavonoids, in divided doses throughout the day. And while these two ingredients are found actively in berries & other fruits, not in the amounts needed to have an effect. However, adding more bioflavonoids to the diet is always a great approach!! Dosage: 2000-6000 mg daily in divided doses. Too much vitamin C can cause loose stools, and should not be used at this dose if diabetic or pregnant. 4. QUERCETIN My favourite to-go for allergy season, Quercetin is the bioflavonoid found in onions that makes you tear up! Again, this compound works to actually prevent the white blood cells from producing histamine, but to you, it will work much like an antihistamine. Dosage: you generally require large daily doses to have an effect ~ 1000 mg 3 times/day, and it should be commenced before the season even starts. There are theories on temporary mega-dosing with Quercetin to cure allergies but talk to your Naturopath before trying this, as quercetin can have negative impacts on your kidneys if taken in high doses for long periods. 5. HOMEOPATHY There are some great and readily available homeopathic remedies out there for seasonal allergies, which are safe, non-drowsy alternatives to anti-histamines. Try Allium Cepa if you have very watery, irritating discharge running from the nose and feel better in the cool open air. Euphrasia is great if your eyes are irritated and won't stop watering. Nux Vomica helps with paroxysmal sneezing and lots of drainage from the nose, as well as itching in the ears. Gelsemium is great for extreme allergy sufferers who feel overwhelmingly fatigued and debilitated, with lots of discharge. And of course - don't forget to limit your exposure. Dust on and under surfaces often, eliminate animal hair, change the air filters and pillowcases/sheets often, use hypoallergenic bed-ware, and have the carpets replaced or deep clean them bi-annually. MOST IMPORTANTLY - look for household mold - it's a common cause of newly developed allergies. There you have it! Natural allergy treatments. I've done all of the above, and I'm happy to say that it not only relieved but resolved my seasonal allergies. If you've got questions on how to apply this for yourself, or want to know more about natural allergy treatment, comment below! REFERENCES: 1. Allergol Int. 2014 Dec;63(4):575-85. Epub 2014 Jul 25. Effects of bifidobacterial supplementation to pregnant women and infants in the prevention of allergy development in infants and on fecal microbiota. 2. . Hauer, A. “[Probiotics in allergic diseases of childhood]” (article in German). MMW Fortschritte der Medizin 148, No. 35–36 (2006): 34–36. 3. Kramer MF, Heath MD. J Allergy (Cairo). 2014; Probiotics in the treatment of chronic rhinoconjunctivitis and chronic rhinosinusitis.

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