Vitamin D Deficiency: the missing key to your optimal health?

Vitamin D is best known for its role in forming strong, healthy bones, however, it also plays a critical role in the following areas:

  • Immune system
  • Hormone balance
  • Muscle function
  • Cardiovascular function
  • Respiratory function
  • Brain development
  • Anti-cancer effects

What are the best ways to get vitamin D?

Commonly known as “the sunshine vitamin,” the skin is able to make vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. There are also small amounts of vitamin D in foods such as fortified milk, and yogurt, cheese, eggs, cod liver oil, beef liver, and fatty fish such as salmon, trout, and tuna. However, it is very difficult to meet you requirements through diet alone.

How much vitamin D do I need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults is 600 international units (IU) for adults, and 800 IU for seniors over the age of 70. These are the bare minimum amounts you need to prevent rickets but they are FAR from enough for most adults to optimize vitamin D levels to get all of its benefits (including anti-cancer effects).

According to the Vitamin D Council (and based on my clinical experience), most adults require 4000 IU or more during the winter months depending on their blood levels. Many adults who supplement the recommended 1000-2000 IU per day are still deficient when their blood levels are tested.

Factors that affect vitamin D status:

  1. Insufficient sun exposure: If you work 9-5 or are wary of the sun, and therefore don’t spend much time outside, or cover-up and use sunblock, you likely aren’t getting enough vitamin D from sun exposure. And if you live in Canada, it’s essentially impossible to make vitamin D during the winter, even on sunny days.
  2. Skin pigmentation: People with darker skin tones have more melanin in their skin, which can interfere with the amount of vitamin D that the skin can produce. While fifteen minutes in the sun may be enough for a fair-skinned individual, someone with a deep complexion may require as much as six times the amount of sun exposure.
  3. Age: Seniors have an increased risk of developing vitamin D deficiency for a few different reasons. As we age, we lose some of the ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D also needs to be activated in the kidneys, which also decrease in function with age. Lastly, many seniors are housebound and therefore aren’t able to get adequate sun exposure outdoors.
  4. Kidney dysfunction: With age, the kidneys lose some of their ability to convert vitamin D into its active form.
  5. Digestive disorders/diseases: When the digestive tract is unable to absorb vitamin D, for instance, due to conditions such as Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and celiac disease.
  6. Obesity: Vitamin D is extracted from the blood by fat cells, thereby reducing its circulation throughout the body. Obese individuals typically require higher amounts of vitamin D supplements to prevent deficiency.

What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?

  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog/Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Frequent infections or slow healing time

How can I get my vitamin D levels tested?

A simple blood test can be used to see if you have vitamin D deficiency. Your results can indicate the following:

vitamin D capsule

  • Severe Deficiency = less than 30 nmol/L
  • Deficiency = between 30 nmol/L and 75 nmol/L
  • Normal levels = between 75 nmol/L  and 100 nmol/L
  • Optimal levels = between 100-200 nmol/mL

How can I raise my vitamin D levels if I’m deficient?

  1. Get outside: practice safe sun exposure but don’t be afraid of the sun!
  2. Take a vitamin D3 supplement (dosing will be based on your blood levels)- gelcaps or drops are best for absorption.
  3. Get a series of vitamin D injections to raise your levels more quickly (as your Naturopathic Doctor if they offer these.

Resources

Is Estrogen Dominance causing your weight gain, heavy periods, and breast tenderness?

digestive-upsetWhat is estrogen dominance?

Estrogen is one of the primary female sex hormones. In women, estrogen helps initiate sexual development, regulates menstruation, and effects the entire reproductive system. Normally, estrogen is in delicate balance with another primary sex hormone, progesterone. This balance is necessary for both to function efficiently, and can be susceptible to disruption if levels in either shift.

There are two ways that estrogen dominance can present itself in the body. When the body has either too much estrogen from overproduction, or a lack of progesterone, it enters a state referred to as “estrogen dominance.” That is, too much estrogen relative to progesterone.

The body produces three main types of estrogen: estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Many women’s ailments, including breast cancer, uterine fibroids and cancer, ovarian cysts and cancer, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and hypothyroidism are caused or promoted by excesses of estradiol, estrone, environmental estrogens, and synthetic estrogens.

Estrogen in our bodies comes from five possible sources:

  • FROM INSIDE THE BODY: estrogen is made in the ovaries, placenta, adrenal glands, and fat cells.
  • FROM OUTSIDE THE BODY:
    • Estrogen-like foods and herbs (e.g. soy, legumes, pumpkin seeds, licorice root, etc.)
    • Animal products that has been raised using hormones (e.g. meat, poultry, fish, dairy.)
    • Environmental chemicals or xenoestrogens (e.g. pesticides, plastics, parabens, cleaning products, personal care products, etc.)
    • Synthetic estrogens (e.g. birth control, fertility drugs, hormone replacement therapy.)

What Causes Estrogen Dominance?

During the course of a normal menstrual cycle, estrogen is the dominant hormone for the first two weeks leading up to ovulation. Estrogen is balanced by progesterone during the last two weeks. However, as a woman approaches perimenopause and begins to experience anovulatory cycles (i.e. cycles where no ovulation occurs), estrogen can often go unopposed, thus causing symptoms. Skipping ovulation, however, is only one potential factor in estrogen dominance. Other causes may include:

  • Being overweight (i.e. body fat greater than 28%) since fat cells produce estrogen
  • Having a burdened liver, which leads to estrogen not being broken down and eliminated from the body efficiently. The result is estrogen recirculating and accumulating.
  • Being overstressed. This results in excess amounts of cortisol, insulin, and norepinephrine, which can lead to adrenal exhaustion and adversely affect your overall hormonal balance.
  • A low-fibre diet containing too many refined carbohydrates, and not enough nutrients and high quality fats. Fibre helps eliminate estrogen through bowel movements.
  • Environmental exposure to estrogen-like compounds such as phthalates and BPA.

Estrogen dominance has also been linked to allergies, autoimmune disorders, breast cancer, uterine cancer, infertility, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and increased blood clotting, and is also associated with acceleration of the aging process.

Signs and Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance:

Estrogen dominance can result in serious long-term complications, as well as other signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Weight gain (especially in the hips and thighs)
  • Irregular/abnormal menstruation (heavy bleeding, large clots)
  • Insomnia (especially waking up in the middle of the night)
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Fibrocystic breasts, breast swelling and tenderness
  • Low libido
  • Sluggish metabolism
  • Foggy thinking, memory loss
  • Acne
  • Mood swings
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Headaches

Ways to Decrease Estrogen Dominance:

  • Follow a hormone-balancing diet (i.e. eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, enough protein, and healthy fats.)
  • Increase your fibre intake to help the excretion of estrogen, which can also prevent its reabsorption through the bowel
  • Consume cruciferous veggies (such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts) daily to help with estrogen metabolism and clearance
  • Choose organic meat and dairy to reduce your exposure to environmental hormones used in farming
  • Reduce excess body fat and exercise regularly to promote detoxification and circulation
  • Manage daily stress
  • Reduce your exposure to hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics in your environment and diet
  • Avoid synthetic estrogens (e.g. birth control pills, synthetic hormone replacement therapy)
  • Switch your personal care products to those that are free of phthalates, fragrances, parabens and other hormone disrupting chemicals
  • Get rid of plastic water bottles and food storage containers. Replace them with ceraminc, glass or stainless steel.

Resources:

Common Causes of Hair Loss

hair lossBackground: Hair’s Natural Growth Cycle

Hair grows in three different cycles: anagen, catagen, and telogen. About 90% of the hair on the head is in the anagen, or growth phase, which lasts anywhere from 2 to 8 years. The catagen, or transition phase, typically lasts 2 to 3 weeks, during which the hair follicle shrinks. During the telogen cycle, which lasts around 2 to 4 months, the hair rests.

Most people normally shed 50 to 100 hairs a day. This usually doesn’t cause noticeable thinning of scalp hair because new hair is growing in at the same time. Hair loss occurs when this cycle of hair growth and shedding is disrupted or when the hair follicle is destroyed and replaced with scar tissue.

The exact cause of hair loss may not be fully understood, but it is usually related to one or more of the following factors:

  • Genetics (e.g. family history)
  • Hormonal changes or imbalances (e.g. pregnancy, menopause, birth control pills)
  • Medical conditions
  • Medications
  • Stress (including after surgery)
  • Improper nutrition (vitamin and/or mineral deficiency)

Although hair loss may seem like a more prominent problem in men, women are nearly as likely to lose or have thinning hair.

Common Causes of Hair Loss in Women

1. High Cortisol:

Hair loss is often caused by an imbalance in hormone levels. One of the hormones closely connected with hair loss is cortisol.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is normally released in response to events and circumstances such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and acute stress. In its normal function, cortisol regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body including metabolism and immune response. It also has an important role in helping the body respond to stress (i.e. the body’s fight-or-flight response).

However, at sustained high levels, cortisol can be damaging over time. Extended stress leads to extended periods of high cortisol levels. While the adrenal glands are busy making extra cortisol, they make less of the hormones that support healthy hair growth.

2. Low Protein Intake:

Hair loss may occasionally be caused by lack of protein in the diet. When this happens, the body will help save protein by shifting growing hairs into the resting phase. Increased hair shedding can occur two to three months later.

3Elevated Male Hormones:

  • Testosterone: High levels of testosterone has been commonly associated with hair loss. Although women have much lower levels of testosterone than men do, there is enough to potentially cause hair loss, particularly during periods of hormonal change.  However, researchers now believe that it is not only amount of circulating testosterone that leads to hair loss, but more significantly the level of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) binding to receptors in scalp follicles.
  • Dihydrotestosterone (DHT): Testosterone converts to DHT with the aid of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, which is held in a hair follicle’s oil glands. In high levels, DHT shrinks hair follicles, decreasing hair’s natural growth cycle and ability to replace itself.

4. Thyroid Issues:

Hair loss may be a sign that thyroid hormones are out of balance. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause hair to shed. Because hair growth depends on the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, abnormal levels of thyroid hormones can result in hair changes if left untreated. When the thyroid gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism), the hair on your head can become fine, with thinning hair all over the scalp. When the thyroid gland is underactive (hypothyroidism), there can be hair loss, not just on the scalp, but also anywhere on the body. In most cases, the hair will grow back once the thyroid disorder is treated.

5. Low Progesterone:

From the time menses begins until menopause, levels of estrogen and progesterone in women ebb and flow to promote reproduction. At about age 35 to 40, women reach the time of perimenopause. This is when their levels of progesterone and estrogen begin to reduce. Progesterone helps to counterbalance the negative effects of estrogen. When there is not enough progesterone to counterbalance estrogen, one may begin to have symptoms of estrogen dominance, such as hair loss.

6. Iron Deficiency:

Iron deficiency hair loss is caused when the body lacks enough iron to produce hemoglobin in the blood. Hemoglobin carries oxygen for the growth and repair of all body cells including the cells that make up hair follicles.

Temporary hair loss such as iron deficiency hair loss is called telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium is an abnormality of the hair growth cycle that causes hair that would normally be in the anagen (growth) phase of the hair growth cycle to be prematurely pushed into the telogen (rest) phase, causing hair to shed. Because hair is non-essential, hair growth is one of the first processes to be affected when iron or other nutrient deficiencies occur.

7. Zinc Deficiency:

Zinc is a trace mineral that is needed for many important bodily functions in the body such as building healthy cells, regulating hormones, and aiding in the absorption of other nutrients.

Zinc is available through foods such as beef, pork, shellfish, peanuts, and legumes. Zinc deficiency (or hypozincemia) is a nutrient deficiency precipitated by malnutrition or malabsorption of the element. Deficiency may cause weak, brittle nails, diarrhea, slow healing, and hair loss.

Resources:

  • Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hair-loss/basics/definition/con-20027666
  • http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/zinc/background/hrb-20060638
  • You & Your Hormones: http://www.yourhormones.info/Hormones/Cortisol.aspx
  • Today’s Dietician: http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111609p38.shtml
  • WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/hair-loss/hair-loss-causes-women

3 Essential Strategies for Aging Gracefully

Look good, feel great!

 

1. Hydrate your skin from the inside out

You’ve heard it a million times….you need to drink more water! Most of us are ready and willing to open our wallets to purchase the latest anti-aging creams and potions but we often neglect to hydrate our skin from the inside out. Drinking an insufficient amount of water will dehydrate your cells including those in the skin making fine lines and wrinkles more visible.

I always get asked “How much water do I need”? It all depends on a variety of factors such as your weight, your activity levels, and your levels of perspiration. I generally suggest that most adults need between eight to ten 8 ounce glasses daily with a couple extra glasses if you’re a coffee drinker or like to have a glass of wine with dinner. If you’re having trouble fitting in all that water, try having 500mL of water with some fresh lemon first thing in the morning.

Another easy way to hydrate your skin from the inside out is to increase your intake of healthy oils and fats. These include raw olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, avocadoes, organic butter, and raw nuts and seeds. Each cell in the body is surrounded by a layer of fat. By including healthy fats in your daily diet you make your cells more fluid and plump thereby improving the appearance of your skin. Want glowing skin? Include at least 2 Tbsp of healthy oils in your daily diet.

2. Boost Your Glutathione Levels

Glutathione is the body’s most powerful antioxidant. It works to help neutralize damaging free radicals and is a key nutrient needed for detoxification.  The good news is that your body makes its own glutathione. The bad news is that toxins for a poor diet, medications, stress, infections, and aging all deplete glutathione. Boosting up your levels is key for aging well. While you can’t get glutathione through your diet or supplements, you can consume glutathione supporting nutrients to help your body make more glutathione. These foods include whey protein isolate (caution if you have a dairy sensitivity), resveratrol found in red wine, and cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and brussel sprouts. Glutathione can also be given through IV to help replenish levels more quickly.

3. Give your face a lift with Facial Rejuvenation Acupuncture

Facial rejuvenation acupuncture, sometimes called the “acupuncture facelift” is a safe, effective and natural treatment to reduce the signs of aging and improve the overall appearance of the skin. Facial rejuvenation acupuncture helps to promote a more youthful, glowing appearance by supporting overall health and wellbeing. Its benefits include: reducing the appearance of pores, fine lines, and wrinkles; increasing skin tightness and collagen production; reducing oil production and balancing hormonal skin.

How does it work?

By inserting fine needles into the skin, we create a micro (aka teeny tiny) injury which triggers the healing process in the same way your body heals itself after a cut. Part of the healing process involves increasing blood flow to the area which provides fresh oxygen and healing nutrients.

How many sessions do I need?

Some individuals will notice the appearance of their skin improves after one treatment. However, significant lasting results usually occur after 6 or 8 treatments. A full treatment series includes 12 weekly treatments. The effects can last several years will regular maintenance treatments.

7 reasons to go Gluten Free

With all the hype surrounding gluten-free diets, it would be easy to dismiss this new found “miracle” diet as just another fad. I used to think that too until I really started to investigate why gluten is harmful to our health and why so many of my patients (myself included!) see dramatic changes in their health when they eliminate gluten.

7 reasons to go Gluten-Free:

1. It’s not your grandmother’s wheat

Wheat, the greatest source of gluten in most diets, has dramatically changed over the past 100 years. Wheat now has almost twice as many genes as the original species. And more of those genes code for gluten which means our bodies did not evolve eating this type of wheat!

2. It spikes blood sugar & insulin

Carbohydrates found in wheat (and other grains) contain a substance called “amylopectin A” which makes our blood sugar levels skyrocket. The body responds by dumping large amounts of insulin into our blood stream. This combination of high blood sugar + high insulin increases your risk for weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and maybe even cancer.

3. It can contribute to the development of food sensitivities

When we eat foods like wheat and gluten, they can cause significant damage and inflammation in our digestive systems and cause a condition called “leaky gut”. Having a “leaky gut” can cause you to develop food sensitivities, allergies, skin problems and more!

4. It increases your “bad” cholesterol

Gluten can raise fat molecules in the blood (triglycerides) and “bad” cholesterol levels (LDL). To make matters worse, gluten promotes the formation of “small LDL” molecules which are even more dangerous and increase your risk for heart attack and heart disease.

5. It makes your body more acidic

Every food you eat either increases or decreases the acidity in your body. Foods that are more “acidic” such as gluten can increase inflammation in the body which has been linked to arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

6. It makes you hungry

Ever notice how eating carbs makes you crave more carbs? Gluten has effects on both your blood sugar and chemicals in your brain that give you a temporary euphoric feeling. Once that feeling is gone you’ll likely be looking to fix your next sugar craving.

7. It makes you age faster

Gluten and processed carbohydrates create AGEs (advanced glycation end products) which are essentially sugar molecules that bind to proteins in the body. These AGEs have been linked to cataracts, dementia, wrinkles, and premature aging.

Want to see if going gluten free is right for you?

Book your complimentary 15-minute session with me to learn about your options and see if food allergy testing may be helpful.

The Anti-AGEing Diet

Recent research suggests that eating a diet rich in advanced glycation end products (AGEs) can contribute to premature aging and the development of diabetes, kidney and heart diseases.

 

What are advanced glycation end products (AGEs)?

  • AGEs are molecules that are created by a reaction between sugars and either a fat or protein molecule
  • AGEs are a normal part of our metabolism but can be harmful to our health in excess quantities
  • AGEs are naturally found in some foods but additional AGEs can be created during the cooking process

How do AGEs affect my health and the aging process?

  • Increase oxidative stress and inflammation
  • Contribute to the development of diabetes and heart disease
  • Involved in premature aging and the development of wrinkles

What foods are high in AGEs?

  • Meat: beef, poultry
  • Eggs
  • Cheese (full-fat, aged such as American and Parmesan)
  • High fat spread (butter, margarine, mayonnaise, cream cheese)
  • Processed foods

What foods are low in AGEs?

  • Fruits & vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Beans/legumes
  • Milk, yogurt
  • Lamb

How can I lower the AGEs content in my diet?

  • Avoid cooking with dry heat (e.g. barbeque, grilling, searing, frying, roasting, and broiling)
  • Cook with moist heat (e.g. boiling, poaching, steaming, and stewing)
  • Use shorter cooking times & cook at lower temperatures
  • Add acidic ingredients to your food such as vineagar and lemon juice
  • Increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and low-fat milk products
  • Reduce your intake of meat, full-fat dairy products, solid fats, and processed foods