If you feel down during the winter, it could be just a case of the “Winter Blues”. Or it could be something more!
Winter can be a time of fun for some of us, but for others, it can be a long season. The crisp weather and reduced daylight hours can combine to produce some nasty winter symptoms.
Now, I’m not talking about the colds and flus that can hit us at this time of year. I’m talking about the mental and emotional changes that can occur for some of us during the winter season.
This can simply mean a dip in energy or feeling a bit “down”, or it can be more serious.
You may find yourself thinking “why do I feel so sad in winter?” But you’re not alone! Many suffer from a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short (one of the most appropriate acronyms out there).
Neurotransmitters and SAD
As the name suggests, the symptoms of SAD occur in certain seasons, namely fall and winter, and disappear in the spring and summer.
One theory of SAD proposes that the reduced number of daylight hours during the fall and winter causes changes in the brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
The two neurotransmitters that seem to be the most important in SAD are serotonin and melatonin.
This is believed to predispose a person to typical depressive symptoms like sadness and hopelessness and to “atypical” symptoms like excessive sleep, lethargy, cravings for carbohydrates (including sweets), overeating, and weight gain.
Conventional Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Since SAD is associated with depression, conventional treatment of SAD sometimes includes the use of anti-depressants.
Some medical doctors and alternative practitioners may prescribe light therapy, which has been shown to reduce the depressive state of SAD. The idea is that increasing your exposure to light will normalize the brain’s melatonin levels - melatonin is normally produced in your sleep, when it’s dark.
When your melatonin is normalized, it will help bring your serotonin into balance, which can help your mood.
Bright white “full spectrum” lamps that emit 10,000 lux of light are used for this purpose. It is recommended that you sit 30-60 cm from the light source, not looking directly into the light, for 30-60 minutes a day.
Alternative treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder
A naturopathic approach to both SAD and to the less severe “blues” that may occur in winter, will be multi-faceted.
5-HTP, a pre-cursor to tryptophan, can help to stabilize levels of serotonin and melatonin in the brain, which, as I mentioned earlier, may help your mood.
Vitamin D, in addition to being important for bone health and your immune system, may be helpful in regulating mood. Studies have shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with depression.
St. John’s Wort has been extensively studied for its anti-depressant qualities. Acupuncture can be used to regulate energy flow in the heart and liver organs to address mood changes.
And exercise, especially in daylight, is an extremely powerful way to improve one’s emotional state.
Of course, any attempt to restore balance in the brain’s neurotransmitters to improve mood must also address any underlying inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, digestive problems, and issues with blood sugar regulation.
These natural treatments, under the supervision of a naturopath, can make a big difference in how you feel during the winter!
If you suffer from SAD and feel that alternative treatments may be helpful, make sure to consult with a qualified health practitioner. Only by addressing all of the issues that may be influencing an individual’s emotional state, will it be possible to cure the “Winter Blues”.
Written by: Dr. Pat Nardini, ND
Is the Cooking Oil You’re Using Improving Your Health or Damaging it?
If you like to cook, you probably have a favorite cooking oil - your go-to standard of choice. But the oil you think is the healthiest may not be healthy after all!
There’s a lot of misinformation out there on the nature of oils, and which are healthiest for cooking. Unfortunately, much of it focuses on the use of refined, polyunsaturated oils, which are anything but healthy!
As a Naturopathic Doctor, I’m naturally a big fan of cooking my own food. I’d like to set the record straight on which oils are healthiest to cook with and which ones you should avoid like the plague.
What is an oil’s smoke point? It’s the point at which the oil will begin to vaporize in the pan, creating smoke. This smoke is made up of water, free fatty acids, and some oxidized compounds that are createdby the heating process. It can also contain toxic chemicals, like acreolin.
If you heat oil past its smoke point, it suddenly becomes more toxic and less healthy for you than it would have been previously. It can even put the fats through a process called polymerization, which can increase the formation of damaging free radicals.
But it’s important to note that break-down of the oil can occur before the smoke point as well.
And some oils are refined by subjecting them to high heat and chemical processes to artificially increase their smoke point. This naturally reduces the nutritional value of the oil, and can add unnecessary toxins as well.
Smoke point is a good guideline, but not the only thing you need to determine whether or not an oil is good for you.
Top 5 Cooking Oils
Below are five of my favourite cooking oils. They have proven health benefits, and are relatively easy to acquire or make.
Coconut oil (Smoke point: 280-365°F)
You’ll find experts across the internet speaking in favour of coconut oil, and I tend to agree with them. Coconut oil can aid weight loss, improve energy, treat fungal infections, and may even serve as a supplement to natural thyroid treatments.
Of course, it’s also a great cooking oil. It’s primarily made up of saturated fat, which is highly stable and resistant to rancidity. Rancidification is a nasty chemical breakdown of the fats into potentially harmful substances called aldehydes and ketones. Exposure to oxygen and heat can speed up this process in unsaturated fats.
Now you might see the word “saturated fat” and be surprised that a naturopathic doctor is suggesting the stuff. That’s not surprising. Saturated fats have been vilified by conventional medicine and the mainstream media for decades, but there is no good evidence to suggest that saturated fat is bad for you – in fact, evidence shows that it is good for your health!
Coconut oil also contains high levels of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) that give it many health properties.
Clarified Butter/Ghee (Smoke Point: 425-480°F)
Butter, like coconut oil, contains a high percentage of saturated fat, making it resistant to rancidity. But it also contains a small amount of protein and sugar that can burn when heated. The clarification process removes that protein and sugar, leaving only the butter fat behind.
You can buy ghee in most health food stores, or you can easily do it yourself at home.
Ghee, if made from grass-fed cow’s milk, is a great source of Vitamins A, K2, D and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a fat that may aid in weight loss and blood sugar balance.
Butter (Smoke Point: 325-375°F)
Grass-fed butter, that is butter produced by cows who were given a diet of grass more in line with their natural diet than the cheap GMO corn many cows are fed, has a number of demonstrable health benefits.
It can give you the same nutritional value as ghee, but is generally less expensive and more convenient, since you don’t need to worry about turning it into ghee.
But because it still has the proteins and sugars, which would have been removed in the clarification process, it has a lower smoke point.
Palm Oil (Smoke Point: 430-455°F)
Palm oil, harvested from the fruit of oil palm trees in Africa and the Americas, is also high in stable saturated fats like the others above.
They’re also high in nutritional value. The red palm oil contains natural anti-oxidants like vitamin E and carotenoids which further protect the oil from going rancid.
But a caution is advised before you buy just any old palm oil. Make sure what you get is sustainably harvested, as much palm oil production leads to the destruction of wildlife habitat.
Olive Oil (Smoke Point: 320-350°F)
You’ve likely heard that olive oil is good for you, and it’s true. It’s different from the above oils, though, because it isn’t very high in saturated fat.
It does, however, contain antioxidants and mono-unsaturated fats which have been shown to promote heart health.
But despite these facts, as well as its undeniable deliciousness, it isn’t as resistant to break-down by heat as saturated fats are. It is best used for low heat cooking only, or as part of a vinaigrette on a salad.
It’s also important to know where your olive oil is coming from. A lot of cheap commercial olive oil is cut with cheaper, refined oils like corn, canola, or soy oil, even if it says “100% extra virgin olive oil”.
Cooking Oil For Health
Now that you know some of the healthiest oils out there and even one that may benefit your thyroid, it’s important to keep the following things in mind when choosing your oil.
Make sure to use organic oils, as conventionally grown ones often contain high levels of pesticide residues.
Steer clear of refined oils, like peanut oil, corn oil, soy bean oil, canola oil, grape seed oil, sunflower oil, and generic “vegetable oil”. These oils have a high smoke point because of the refining process, but they are also highly processed and often contain chemical solvent residues and harmful trans-fats. Avoid these at all costs!
However, if you manage to find unrefined versions of sunflower oil and grape seed oil, these are acceptable. They do have lower smoke points than their refined cousins, so use them cold or for low heat cooking only.
Keep an eye on the cooking oil you use. A simple change from processed oils to one of my top 5 can be a big step toward living a healthier lifestyle, naturally!
Written by: Dr. Pat Nardini, ND
Coffee has its benefits and drawbacks. Does it fit in your lifestyle? Toronto naturopath Pat Nardini explains.
Many people enjoy a cup of the dark stuff at least every once in a while. Others can barely function before their first cup of Joe. Much ink has been spilled about the benefits of coffee, but is it really a healthy way to boost your energy and mood?
Certainly we feel better after knocking one back, but are the benefits worth the negative effects it has on the body? I feel it’s important for you to know the benefits and drawbacks of coffee, so you can make an educated decision about your health.
As you probably know, the major active ingredient in coffee is caffeine. A typical cup of coffee has anywhere from 65 to 120 mg of caffeine in it. A decaf coffee has 2-4 mg, and green or black tea has around 30-50 mg.
Caffeine is the stuff that gives you that energy boost when you have a cup. From a biological level, caffeine stimulates your adrenal glands and tells them to maufacture the hormones cortisol and adrenaline (also called epinephrine).
The adrenaline increases your heart and respiration rate as well as blood pressure, which delivers more blood to your brain and muscles. This also increases your alertness and energy. Meanwhile, the cortisol increases your blood sugar, making more fuel available to your brain, blood cells, and muscles. That’s where your caffeine boost comes from.
Caffeine is known to enhance mood as well. Neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and GABA are affected by caffeine. These chemicals in your brain affect your mood, and caffeine can have a positive affect here.
In fact, several studies have shown that brain function and mood can be at least temporarily improved with caffeine consumption. So if you’re feeling down, a cup of coffee may help.
Natural and Antioxidants
Coffee contains a certain number of vitamins and minerals which your body needs. You can find vitamins like riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), as well as minerals like potassium, manganese, and magnesium.
Coffee is also full of antioxidants. In fact, coffee has among the highest number of antioxidants available in any food. Antioxidants are nutrients that counteract the process of oxidation in your body, which has beenconnected to diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and others.
One particular antioxidant in coffee, chlorogenic acid, has been shown to lower blood pressure and aid weight lossin overweight individuals. While the roasting process reduces the amount of chlorogenic acid in coffee beans, the amount in your typical cup of coffee is still quite high
While coffee does have its benefits, there are several drawbacks to coffee as well.
One of the biggest ones is the effect it can have on your thyroid. I have a special interest in thyroid health in my practice and, for this reason, coffee is a little concerningto me.
Coffee has been shown to raise your cortisol levels, as we mentioned above. And cortisol has been shown to slow down the conversion of T4 thyroid hormone into T3 thyroid hormone. T3 is 4-5 times more active than T4 in stimulating your body’s metabolism, so reducing your T3 levels can cause fatigue, low body temperature, depression, hair loss, and weight gain. This is why regular coffee drinkers feel better after coffee, but their overall energy levels are low.
And while elevated cortisol levels have their issues, elevated adrenaline levels can be dangerous as well. Symptoms of anxiety, like heart palpitations, racing thoughts, shaking, and shortness of breath have been linked to elevated adrenaline levels.
Caffeine also changes your cortisol curve, which can make it difficult to sleep at night. This is true even if you only drink coffee in the morning. And if you already suffer from heightened stress and anxiety, difficulty sleeping can make this worse.
Digestive System Effects
You may have noticed that you often need to visit the washroom shortly after drinking a cup of coffee. This is because caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it makes you urinate more.
This can cause a loss in water-soluble vitamins and minerals from your body, which can cause malnutrition. As a result, our bodies often miss out on some of the nutrients coffee does contain. This can also lead to dehydration, which comes with all sorts of issues.
Coffee also increases acid production in your stomach. This can actually help you digest your food better, but if you suffer from ulcers or gastritis, coffee is a nightmare. IBS, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammatory bowel diseases can be aggravated by coffee too.
Of course, the rest of these issues wouldn’t be as bad if it wasn’t for coffee’s addictive qualities. Coffee is known to be physically addictive, meaning your body can become dependent upon it and experience withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink it.
Should I Drink Coffee?
Although there are benefits to coffee, drinking it every day can increase its negative effects.
For many people, having a cup of coffee a few times a week, or even once a day, is alright. But if you’re suffering from anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues, or thyroid problems like Graves’ disease, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or Wilson’s temperature syndrome, you should avoid coffee, and all caffeine for that matter, until these issues improve.
Those worried about coffee’s negative effects can drink decaffeinated coffee. Decaf has the same levels of anti-oxidants and nutrients, but without the heavy stimulatory effects. It will still impact your digestive system like regular coffee does, but the effects are reduced. Also, most decaf coffee and tea is decaffeinated using toxic chemicals, like methylene chloride. Make sure to get decaf that is “naturally decaffeinated”, using a water or carbon dioxide extraction method.
If you decide to cut out coffee, though, you should find a new source for your antioxidants. Consider clove or peppermint tea, since they have much higher levels of polyphenols, a potent type of antioxidant, than coffee does.
Remember, it’s your choice whether coffee is right for you. Consider both its benefits and drawbacks when you decide whether or not to drink coffee, and how much.
Written by: Dr. Pat Nardini, ND
What Can You do to Help Your C-section Recovery?
At Dalhousie Health & Wellness we have a variety of options to help ease the discomforts associated with c-section recovery. Many women are eager to rush into activities that can harm their low backs, core and pelvic floors. Most women simply aren’t ready to go back to the rigors of life and physical activity at their 6 week postpartum checkup. YES, your tissues have healed... but the most important question is, how is your body functioning? Do you leak urine when you laugh, cough, sneeze, jump or run? Do you feel heaviness in your pelvic floor? Do you have a lumpy- bumpy scar, and tension in your abdominals? Do you have back pain, sciatica, pelvic pain or hip pain? Do you have the sensation that something isn’t quite right but you can’t really explain what you are feeling? Well, if you answered yes to any of the aforementioned questions then that is your body sending you a message that you are not yet recovered and you may need to slow down and get some help. At Dalhousie Health & Wellness we can offer the help you need. We can help you return safely to physical activity, and get your body functioning to tolerate the demands of your busy mom life!
The First 6-10 Weeks Postpartum
It is essential to tap into your deep core muscles for a smooth c-section recovery. Dr. Hodges works alongside women and teaches them how to properly engage their core. This proper core engagement involves diaphragmatic breath and the ability to connect to ones pelvic floor muscles, as well as low back stabilizing muscles. Activating these muscles in the first 6-10 weeks postpartum can help retrain the mind-body connection between the deep core and pelvic floor that can be diminished with pregnancy, during delivery and with a c-section. Dr. Hodges works closely with women before, during and after delivery to ensure a proper functioning core and pelvic floor.
Abdominal Massage and Scar Tissue Release
Many midwives and OBGYN’s refer to Dalhousie Health & Wellness for postpartum C-section and scar tissue care to help speed up healing. Once you are cleared by your OBGYN or midwives, massage therapy and gentle cupping are wonderful techniques to help release the scar tissue and help speed up the healing of the scar. Our Registered Massage Therapist Suzanne Hamm can preform gentle abdominal massage to help with c-section and postpartum recovery. Dr. Meredith Hodges can preform gentle cupping, acupuncture and abdominal release techniques to assist in your recovery.
Easing Back into Activity
Most women are eager to get back to physical activity and loose their baby weight. This unnecessary pressure to rush recovery can have lifelong negative consequences. It is an essential part of the postpartum recovery (c-section or vaginal birth) to slow down, listen to the signs that the body is giving and gently ease back into activity with the advice of your Dalhousie Health & Wellness healthcare team. If you are really eager to get back to physical activity sooner than later, we advise that you work with a trained postpartum specialist. Dr. Hodges has taken extensive training in postpartum recovery and uses Pilates to rehabilitate the postpartum body. Dr. Hodges works one-on-one with women to retrain the breath, core and pelvic floor. Weather you seek help from our highly trained postpartum team at Dalhousie Health & Wellness or prefer to allow the body to recover naturally, make sure you take time, slow down and be patient. Your body will heal on its own timeline with a little patience and TLC.
Pilates is one of the best exercises you can do while pregnant. It is a low impact workout that focuses on strengthening your core and the muscles needed during your pregnancy and labour, as well as postnatal care for mothers. Pilates encourages deep breathing, a mind-body connection, and movement to help alleviate physical discomfort and stress. This alternative therapy promotes a safe and optimal delivery and quicker recovery post pregnancy.