Inflammation: friend or foe?

Inflammation can be both a good thing and a bad thing, which can be tricky to understand. Here’s why:

Simply put, inflammation is your immune system’s response to damage or injury. When the body detects harm, it sends specialized immune cells to the damaged area that cause pain, redness, and swelling. Harm can range from infection (#coronavirus), physical injury (sprained ankle), or environmental (pollutants, processed foods, etc.).

In the short term (aka “acute phase”), inflammation is a good thing. Pain prevents us from further injuring the area, and the redness and swelling is the result of increased blood flow that brings nutrients and cells to the area to promote healing. Once the threat is neutralized and damage is resolved, the body returns to normal.

The problem arises when we experience long term (aka “chronic phase”) inflammation. The immune system continues to react to a perceived threat of harm, and in doing so, it starts to damage otherwise healthy cells. This is when inflammation becomes harmful to the body and leads to chronic pain and disease.

Think of inflammation like a house on fire. Your immune system calls the fire department, they arrive and make a big fuss – blocking off the street, blaring their lights and sirens, and drenching the whole house with water. It’s a necessary disruption to the neighbourhood, and once the fire is put out, the fire department leaves, the damaged house can be rebuilt, and the neighbourhood returns to normal.

Chronic inflammation is like a fire that has been burning for a long time and has gotten out of control. The flames spread from house to house, smoke pollution impacts people for miles, and the neighbourhood struggles to keep up with its normal activities.

To get this fire under control, we have to do three things:

  1. Stop feeding the fire – identify and treat the cause of inflammation. It might be a low-level infection like SIBO or candida, stress, poor diet, or exposure to toxins.
  2. Call in reinforcements – typically we use anti-inflammatory supplements to help put out the fire.
  3. Rebuild and repair – provide your body with the tools it needs to heal.

Signs you might be living with chronic inflammation include pain, depression, indigestion, insomnia, fatigue, eczema or if you have a chronic health condition like autoimmune disease. There are also lab tests that we can order to identify the presence if inflammation and its cause.

Book your appointment to identify and address the cause of chronic inflammation, and put out the fire so that we can rebuild and repair the body.

 

 

Stress & Digestion

Why does stress affect digestion?

We all know the feeling of having butterflies in our stomach or feeling nauseous when we’re worried, but why does that happen?

When we’re feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or upset, our bodies are in a sympathetic nervous system state. This is more commonly known as “fight or flight”.

During stressful situations, we release a cocktail of hormones that instructs the body to reroute blood flow from “unnecessary” to “critical to survival” areas of the body. This includes taking blood flow away from digestive organs and sending it to the heart, lungs, and large muscles. From a survival perspective, this makes sense: let’s focus on running from a lion now and we can deal with digestion later.

The problem is that if we’re feeling stressed for a prolonged period of time, our digestion suffers long term consequences:

  • Stomach: Lack of production of digestive enzymes and stomach acid leads to nausea, heartburn or indigestion.
  • Small intestine: If we don’t break down foods well in the stomach AND we have a lack of blood flow to the intestinal tract, we poorly absorb nutrients. This leads to fatigue and other symptoms of nutrient deficiency like brittle hair and nails, headaches, and muscle tension.
  • Large intestine: Poorly broken-down foods become hyper fermented by our gut flora. This leads to bloating and leaky gut.
  • Motility: The normal action of moving food through the digestive tract in a healthy time frame with proper bowel movements is affected. This can cause diarrhea in some people and constipation in others.

Long term stress has other impacts on how our digestion moves, too. It can slow our metabolic rate (causing constipation) through slowing thyroid function. Stress also alters our gut microbiome, impacting our immune system, mood, and appetite. Suffice it to say that stress has a huge impact on our digestion as the foundation of overall health!

So, what do we do?

  1. The opposite of “fight or flight” is “rest and digest”. The key is that you can’t be in both nervous system states at the same time. When you’re feeling stressed, worried, or if you notice that your digestion has been off lately, try taking a few moments before you eat to take five slow, controlled, deep breaths. This pulls you out of fight or flight and moves you into rest and digest.
  2. Focus on your meals. Avoid screens, phones, and other distractions while eating. Sit down and enjoy your food! Eating with others is helpful for the digestive process because keep us relaxed and focused on the meal.
  3. Engage in restorative and restful activities throughout the day. Remember that digestion isn’t just happening while we’re eating, it’s a continual process.
  4. Don’t work out too much. Intense workouts put our bodies back into fight or flight. Make sure your workouts are challenging but not exhausting. A good rule is that if you’re sore two days after a workout, you’ve pushed too far.
  5. Get a good sleep. Sleep inhibits our stress hormones. When we’re more tired, we feel more anxious and irritable, and this is because our stress hormones weren’t sufficiently lowered during sleep. Click here for more tips on sleep.
  6. Seek out support for coping with stress and anxiety. Dr. Chambers may use herbs and/or supplements, adjust your nutrition, improve your sleep and provide stress coping tools to help reduce stress.
  7. Uncover what else may be sabotaging your digestion. Food intolerances, IBS, thyroid issues, candida overgrowth and SIBO are all conditions impact our digestion and are made worse with stress.

Book an appointment to address the underlying cause of your digestive concerns, learn to cope with stress, and get you on the path to great digestion even in the face of stressful circumstances.

Collagen: Everything you need to know

Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the body. It is found in muscles, bones, skin, the digestive tract, and blood vessels.

We don’t tend to DIRECTLY eat collagen, as it would involve eating gelatin, connective tissue and bone (no thanks). However, bone broth is one of the few great sources of collagen in the diet.

We make collagen from the protein that we eat, so meat-lovers and vegans alike all produce collagen, as long as we get enough protein from our diets. Read more about getting enough protein here.

It’s important to know that our production of collagen naturally declines as we age. This is why our skin elasticity diminishes and our joints can become painful as we get older. Our demand for collagen may also increase if we have joint or muscle injuries, or digestive dysfunction, like in Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, SIBO, leaky gut, or IBS.

HOWEVER, a collagen supplement doesn’t absorb as a whole entity from your digestive tract into your blood stream! Your body needs to take it apart to absorb the components and then rebuild and integrate it into your muscles, skin, bones, and tendons. Taking a collagen supplement is like buying a lego set for a house: you know all the pieces you need are in the box, you just need to put them together. You could build the same house using pieces from other sets, but you might be missing a few bricks.

Now that we understand how a collagen supplement works, here’s how it may be beneficial:

  1. Skin and Anti-ageing: A Systematic Review of 11 research studies shows that it boosts skin elasticity, hydration, dermal collagen density, and reduces signs of ageing.
  2. Digestion: Research shows that it enhances tight junctions and reduces inflammation in the gut, which improves digestive symptoms in patients with IBS, IBD, GERD and SIBO (a lot of acronyms, but basically any digestive condition!).
  3. Repairs joints: Builds cartilage and connective tissue to support joint repair in people with osteoarthritis and joint pain.
  4. Source of #protein: 1 scoop provides 10g of protein, although it may NOT have all essential amino acids (the one on my counter is missing Tryptophan, which is an important thing to have if you have anxiety or depression!).

There are also different types of collagen, so we want to make sure we make the right choice to target the areas of your body that need support:

  • Types I and III improve gut health, muscle recovery, and skin health
  • Type II is found in cartilage, so it is best used for joint health
  • Type IV and V aren’t typically supplemented
  • Type X is found in bones and helps with fracture healing but isn’t typically supplemented
  • Hydrolyzed collagen is great because it dissolves in coffee (my preferred route!), water, oatmeal, or smoothies.

Do not start any new supplements without speaking with your Naturopathic Doctor, as they may not be safe or beneficial for you.

Please note that I am accepting patients during the COVID-19 isolation via Video Consultations. Appointments can be booked here.

COVID-19: The Facts

There is a lot of fear surrounding COVID-19 (Coronavirus), so here is what you need to know:

1. TRAVEL

  • The Canadian government has recommended avoiding all non-essential travel outside of Canada. I cancelled my vacation, and it hurt my heart. It’s not because I’m worried about being sick, it’s because I don’t want to carry the virus and promote its spread to others. I’m sure you feel the same!
  • If you have traveled anywhere outside of Canada, as of Saturday March 14th at 12:01am, it is recommended that you self-quarantine for 14 days.

2. PREVENTION

  • Wash your hands for 20+ seconds with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available.
  • Don’t touch your face if you’re out in public.
  • Avoid gatherings of more than 250 people. Social distancing should be practiced when reasonable.
  • Sanitize surfaces regularly, including door handles and light switches.
  • Eat healthy, with lots of protein and as little sugar as possible. Prioritize your sleep. Talk to your ND about immune supporting supplements.

3. DISEASE

  • Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
  • If you have a fever or think you may have contracted the virus, contact Public Health BY PHONE (Ontario: 1-866-797-0000).
  • This illness can be dangerous for those who are immunocompromised and in the elderly, as it can cause pneumonia.
  • If you are otherwise healthy, you are unlikely to develop a severe illness. You should phone Public Health, stay home, treat yourself like you would with any other flu, and ensure you’re being monitored as per Public Health recommendations.

4. STOCKING UP

  • Don’t do it. Shop normally, and only buy what you need.

5. ANXIETY MANAGEMENT

  • I understand that this is causing a lot of fear and panic for many people.
  • Yes, we are taking immense precautions to prevent this from spreading throughout our community. This means we’re being careful, not that we’re in over our heads.
  • If you are young and healthy, do your part to protect others. If you are at risk of more serious outcomes, stay home.

6. FOR MY PATIENTS

  • I am offering OPTIONAL video consults in place of in-person consults (note: if you are under quarantine, this is not optional), but I will continue to be in the office if you would like to see me in person. If you have an appointment already booked, you’ll receive an email from me soon.
  • I will continue to monitor our Government recommendations, and I will act with an abundance of caution to protect my patients.

Happy Gut, Healthy Body

Gut health is the basis for which all our other body systems function. When our digestive system is happy, our bodies are happy, and here’s why:

  1. Nutrient absorption – we absorb most of our nutrients in the small intestine, some in the mouth and stomach, and mostly absorb water in the large intestine. If we don’t break down foods well in the stomach, have an unhealthy gut flora, or inflammation or damage in the gut lining, we limit our ability to absorb nutrients from food. The most common issues with absorption are in people who have SIBO, Crohn’s, Celiac and GERD. We often see low levels of Vitamin B12, iron, magnesium and more, which causes symptoms including fatigue, low mood, bone density issues, and others.
  1. Gut micro biome – we’re still learning about how the gut flora impacts our overall health. We know that the microbes living in our gut influence our immune system, inflammation, nutrient absorption, and hormone production and more, so having a healthy gut flora is one of the most impactful elements o how our digestive health influences our health as a whole.
  1. Hormone production – we make most of our hormones, including 90% of our serotonin and 50% of our dopamine (think anti-anxiety and anti-depression), in the gut lining using building blocks from food sources, primarily healthy fats and proteins. If our gut health is off-balance, often seen in people with IBS, boating, IBD and SIBO, our ability to produce hormones impacted, and we can develop concerns with menstrual irregularities, mental health and more.
  1. Immune system – 70% of our immune system originates in the gut. This means our ability to recognize and fight infection, and to regulate chronic #inflammation and limit threats like cancer and autoimmune disease is initiated in the gut lining. A healthy gut flora and gut barrier helps to balance and regulate our immune system.
  1. Waste elimination – our bodies are continually breaking down, detoxifying and eliminating waste through the bowels. When our bowels move too quickly we don’t absorb nutrients well, but if they move too slowly wastes are reabsorbed and build up in the system. A healthy digestive pathway helps keep our bodies from a high toxic burden, which can result in things like fatigue, brain fog, acne, and hormonal concerns.

How do I know if my gut is happy?

We should be having at least one fully evacuated, well-formed, easily passed bowel movement daily. There should be no blood, mucous or undigested food (except corn…) in the stool. You should not feel bloated, excessively gassy, or have abdominal pain. The best way to think about it is that if your gut is happy, your bowels should be something you rarely think about – you go when you go, and the rest of the time your digestion is not a concern.

Our bowel movements are one of the best indicators we have for our overall health. If you are having digestion challenges, it may be your body’s way of telling you that it needs support. When we improve your bowel health, we usually improve many other symptoms across the whole body – pain, headaches, acne, autoimmunity, eczema, fatigue, anxiety… they all originate in the digestive tract.

The healthier the gut, the healthier the body!

Book an appointment to get your digestive health back on track here.

 

Dr. Hilary’s Guide to Herbal Tea

I find it tough to drink plain old water day in and day out, especially when it’s chilly outside. Herbal teas are a great way to warm up and enjoy new flavours, all while making sure you’re hydrated.

Let’s be honest – I’m not a huge fan of prescribing tea as medicine. My treatment plans are research-driven and designed to get results, so teas typically don’t pack enough punch to get us there. Compliance is also really tough: who’s going to drink 3 cups per day of a strong tea EVERY DAY for 4+ weeks to see the desired results? I know I’m not…

However, each herbal tea has its place for supporting the body. For example, if you’re feeling tired you might choose rosemary, or feeling bloated you might choose fennel. Some teas should also be avoided under certain circumstances. So, here’s my quick guide to herbal teas to help you make the best choices in the tea aisle.

1. Licorice Root

  • Helps with: adrenal fatigue, boosting energy and the immune system, soothing digestion
  • Avoid if: you have high blood pressure

2. Fennel

  • Helps with: soothing digestion, bloating and gas, promotes milk supply during breastfeeding
  • Avoid if: you have loose bowel movements (in some people)

3. Lemon Balm

  • Helps with: anxiety, insomnia, stress, and soothes indigestion
  • Avoid if: you’re taking anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, or sleep-aid medications

4. Lavender

  • Helps with: insomnia, anxiety, depression, stress
  • Avoid if: you’re taking anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, or sleep-aid medications

5. Dandelion

  • Helps with: liver and kidney detoxification, swelling and water retention
  • Avoid if: you are on medications, diuretics, or have reduced kidney function

6. Peppermint

  • Helps with: IBS, bloating, indigestion, menstrual cramps, and boosts energy
  • Avoid if: you suffer from heartburn

7. Ginger

  • Helps with: nausea, boosts the immune system, helpful if you have phlegm and congestion during cold and flu
  • Avoid if: you suffer from heartburn or are on blood thinning medications

8. Rosemary

  • Helps with: mental focus, energy, and coughs and during cold and flu
  • Avoid if: you are on blood thinning medication or have history of seizures

9. Smooth-move / Senna

  • Helps with: occasional constipation (*Note: I’m not a fan, I never recommend this tea, even for occasional constipation!)
  • Avoid if: you frequently experience constipation. This is a habit-forming laxative, meaning it causes laxative dependancy over time. DO NOT USE MORE THAN 1-2x MONTHLY.

10. Nettle

  • Helps with: fatigue, nutrient deficiency (it’s like a multivitamin tea), seasonal allergies, lowering blood sugar levels
  • Avoid if: you’re on blood thinning medications or diabetes medications

*A note about pregnancy and breastfeeding: speak to your Naturopathic Doctor before using teas in pregnancy, as there are specifics about frequency of use, trimester, and personal health history that must be taken into consideration.

This is not an exhaustive list, but I’m hopeful it gives you a glimpse into the benefits of herbal teas. Please speak to your ND before regularly drinking large amounts of any herbal tea, and tell your ND if you’re on any medications so they can make sure your teas are safe for you.

Book an appointment to discuss more about herbal teas and tea-combinations that can best benefit your health needs.

Lectins: Eat or avoid?

What is a Lectin?

Lectins are molecules found in beans, peanuts, soybeans, lentils, and wheat. Lectins can bind to human tissues if we have a compromised gut barrier (I don’t love the term leaky gut but it helps us understand the concept here).

Once a lectin is bound to your body’s tissues, your immune system sees it as a “red flag” and mistakenly mounts an attack against those tissues. This attack is better known as autoimmunity, and can be part of what causes autoimmune disease. Wherever we see an attack, we see inflammation, and often pain and dysfunction in that area of the body.

Lectin-associated autoimmune symptoms are most frequently seen as joint pain / rheumatoid arthritis, and intestinal barrier disorders Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Celiac disease, SIBO, and IBS.

How do I know if I should avoid lectins?

There are two ways to know if lectins are contributing to symptoms:

  1. Do a Food Intolerance Test to see if there is an immune system response to lectin-containing foods. If one comes up and symptoms are severe, I typically remove all lectin-family foods.
  1. Remove lectins (along with other food triggers) and see if symptoms improve. This can take up to 3 months for full resolution, but we typically see improvement within 2-4 weeks.

Lectins are just a small part of addressing digestive concerns. Book an appointment to address the intestinal barrier, microbiome and other food triggers as part of your overall plan to get your digestive health back on track.