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

Sleep Hygiene Tips for Restful Sleep

What is Sleep Hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is a term that you may have heard a lot of recently. But what is it? According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene is defined as “a variety of practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”

Frequent sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. In addition, if you’re taking too long to fall asleep, you should consider evaluating your sleep routine and revising your bedtime habits. Just a few simple changes can make the difference between a good night’s sleep and night spent tossing and turning.

Why is Sleep Hygiene Important?

Our quality of sleep is not only determined by what we do before bed, but rather by the sum of how we spend our entire day. Think of your sleep routine as starting the moment you get up in the morning.

insomnia

Why is Sleep Loss So Common? 

Let’s face it: we live in a fast-paced crazy world! Sadly, the lifestyle most of us adopt to get through our crazy days often make it hard to sleep at night.  Lack of sleep may be caused by many factors but in my experience the two most common factors are stress causing an overstimulated nervous system and poor blood sugar management.

Quantity Versus Quality:

Getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night is needed for optimal energy and overall health. However, sleep quality is equally as important as the number of hours spent in bed. Getting adequate, good quality sleep means that you should wake easily and feel rested and refreshed.

How Hormones Affect Sleep:

There also appears to gender differences when it comes to sleep, and a strong link between female sex hormones and sleep. While women report higher duration and quality of sleep than men, they also frequently report sleep issues. Women are more likely to have insomnia than men, the latter of which report higher incidences of sleep apnea or obstructed sleep. Menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause can alter sleep, as well as a combination of environmental, social, and cultural influences on these biological factors, not to mention pre-existing medical conditions.

Simple Ways to Get a Better Sleep:

It’s clear that there are many benefits to getting enough good quality sleep. Here are some tips that can help to improve your sleep hygiene and establish good sleep habits:

  1. Be consistent: As best as you can, maintain the same sleep and wake patterns every day. This will help your body establish a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  2. Limit daytime naps: You’ll sleep better at night if you eliminate naps. However, if you need to nap, limit them to 30 minutes or less, keeping in mind that napping does not make up for inadequate nighttime sleep, but can help to improve mood, alertness, and performance.
  3. Exercise at the right time: Regular exercise helps to improve sleep, as long as your workout isn’t too close to your bedtime. Aim to finish any vigorous activity 3 to 4 hours before you plan to go to sleep. On the other hand, gentle exercises before bed, such as yin or restorative yoga, can help the mind and body calm and prepare for sleep.
  4. Adequate exposure to natural light: This is particularly important for individuals who may not venture outside frequently. Exposure to sunlight during the day (especially when you first wake up), as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  5. Limit caffeine intake to before noon
  6. Choose a healthy bedtime snack: snacking before bed can be especially helpful for individuals with poor blood sugar balance. The best bedtime snacks contain tryptophan, and amino acid that helps the body make serotonin, a chemical in the brain that aids in the sleep process. My favourite go-to’s are raw pumpkin seeds (or other nuts/seeds) or a rice cake with nut butter.
  7. Power down: The soft blue glow from a cell phone, tablet, or digital clock on your bedside table may hurt your sleep. Turn off TVs, computers, and other blue-light sources an hour before you go to bed. Cover any displays you can’t shut off.
  8. Make you sleep environment pleasant: The Academy of Sleep advises that we think of our bedroom as a cave. Meaning, your room should be cool, dark, and quiet (i.e. free of distracting electronic devices). Your sheets should be clean and your bedding appropriate for the time of year, so your sleep is not disturbed because you are either too hot or too cold. If you share your bedroom, communicate your sleep needs with your partner, so you are both on the same page, sleep-wise. This will help limit partner-related sleep disturbances.
  9. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine: For example, dim the light 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. At least an hour before bed, (if hungry) eat tryptophan-rich snack, turn off all electronics, enjoy a cup of chamomile tea, or take a bath with essential oils like lavender. Half an hour before bed, do a little light yoga and/or mediation, or read. You can also journal about anything that’s on your mind. Fifteen minutes before bed, make sure your room is quiet, cool, and dark, and your bedding is fresh and appropriate for the weather. At bedtime, slip under the covers, and practice some deep breathing techniques, or read (no electronics!) until you’re tired enough to drift off.
  10. Make your room 100% dark: make your room dark enough that you can’t see your hand in front of your face when you go to bed. Blackout curtains are a great investment or simply wear an eye mask. Note: If you don’t fall asleep in about 30 minutes, try repeating some of these steps, until you feel tired enough to drift off. There’s no point in suffering and becoming more frustrated.

Resources:

 

3 Unhealthy Habits of 30-Something Women That Keep Them Feeling Tired All Day Long (Part 2)

Unhealthy Habit #2: SLEEP SHORTAGE

A shortage of sleep means getting anything less than 7 hours of deep, restful sleep EVERY NIGHT! Most busy women that I know don’t get enough sleep. They’re too busy climbing the corporate ladder, raising their kids, caring for their partner, whipping together healthy meals, and trying to squeeze in a workout here and there. The point is, sleep is far from being a priority and is often seen as a luxury.

Why a sleep shortage will sabotage your energy

You don’t need a medical degree to figure out that not getting enough sleep will make you feel tired! But there’s more….a sleep shortage can increase your hunger and cravings for sugar and carbs. Did you know that getting less than 6 hours of sleep for 1 night will increase your sugar cravings the next day? One night of sleep!?! Imagine how that might affect you after years of sleep deprivation. So, a sleep shortage will have you reaching for sweet treats which will leave you feeling even more tired. Have I convinced you yet to start sleeping more?

But I don’t have time to sleep…

You’re probably wondering how you’re going to find more time for sleep. I’ll let you in on a little secret ….you’ll never “find time” for sleep or any other activity for that matter! You have to “make time” which means making sleep a priority. Chose a reasonable bedtime (preferably no later than 11pm) and set an alarm for 1 hour before that time. When the alarm goes off, it’s time to start your bedtime routine. Just like when you were a kid. Our bodies need time to transition from go-go-go to zzzzzzzz. During that hour, turn off the TV, put away your cell phone and iPad and take some time to do something relaxing like reading a book, taking a hot bath or shower, or just lying in bed and doing some deep breathing. Creating a healthy bedtime routine will help you sleep better and wake up feeling more rested. Believe me; you’ll thank me in the morning!

Read About Unhealthy Habit #1

I tested negative for Celiac. Can I still be sensitive to gluten?

In short, YES! There are 3 major categories of wheat or gluten-related diseases: celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten sensitivity. It can be very difficult to distinguish between the three based on symptoms alone. For this reason, food allergy/sensitivity testing can be very helpful in identifying what type of food allergies you may have.

Celiac disease

  • Affects approximately 1 in 132 individuals
  • Confirmed by a 3-part test: antibodies to gluten in the blood, atrophy of the small intestine (biopsy), and improvement with a gluten-free diet

Wheat allergy

  • Confirmed by the presence of IgE antibodies to wheat (blood test)
  • Food “allergy” symptoms tend to occur within 24 hours of eating the allergenic food (peanut allergies, for example, involve IgE antibodies)
  • Can present like celiac disease with symptoms including: asthma, eczema and digestive issues

Gluten sensitivity

  • Estimated to be 6 times more common than celiac disease!
  • Confirmed by presence of IgG and/or IgA antibodies to gluten (blood test)
  • Gluten sensitivity can be difficult to identify through food journaling because the symptoms resulting from the sensitivity can occur 24-72 hours after eating gluten and do not always affect the digestive system (see below)

The most common symptoms that can be caused by gluten sensitivity are (and frequency):

  • Abdominal pain (68%)
  • Eczema or skin rash (40%)
  • Headaches (35%)
  • Foggy mind (34%)
  • Fatigue (33%)
  • Diarrhea (33%)
  • Depression (22%)
  • Anemia (20%)
  • Numbness in arms, finger or legs (20%)
  • Joint pain (11%)

If you suffer from one of more of these conditions, consider eliminating gluten from your diet for a minimum of 3 weeks to see if you improve. Food allergy testing can also help identify food allergies and sensitivities to a variety of foods.

Contact me to find out if food allergy and sensitivity testing is right for you!

Source: Doherty, C. (2012). Defining Gluten Sensitivity. NDNR. www.ndnr.com

3 Tips to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

1. Dim the lights

Human beings evolved with very little to no exposure to nightime light. After sunset, darkness would gently signal to the body that it was time to start winding down and prepare for sleep. These days, with city living and our fondness for television, e-readers and iPads, we’re constantly exposed to bright light during our waking hours. A simple way to help your body wind down in the evening is to dim the lights after dinner and use only minimal lighting.

2. Do an Electronic Detox

Our constant use of personal electronics exposes us to an overabundance of information that our mind must process. Exposure to stressful or thought provoking information activates the sympathetic nervous system which creates an influx of stress hormones throughout the body. These stress hormones increase our heart rate and blood pressure which can interfere with good quality sleep. Avoid using all electronics (TV, computer, cell phone) for at least one hour before bed. Use this time to read a novel, take a bath, chat with a loved one, do some deep breathing or journaling.

3. Make your room DARK

Our bodies produce a hormone called melatonin while we sleep. Melatonin is important for helping us get a good night’s sleep and wake feeling refreshed and may even play a role in preventing certain types of cancer. The catch is that melatonin is only produced when we sleep in complete darkness. To help you sleep better, make sure that your bedroom is completely dark- you shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face. If this proves difficult, invest in an organic cotton eye mask to wear to bed.

Following these tips and still having trouble sleeping? There are natural treatments for insomnia.

5 Reasons Every Woman Should See a Naturopathic Doctor

Wondering why you would go see a Naturopathic Doctor?

Check out this article which outlines 5 reasons to see an ND. The benefits you can enjoy include:

  • More energy
  • Better sleep
  • Improved digestion
  • Clear, glowing skin
  • PMS relief & hormone balance

Have a specific condition that you want help with? Book your FREE 15-minute consultation with me to learn how Naturopathic Medicine can help you achieve optimal health.

Yours in health,

Sarah

What are food sensitivities?

What are food sensitivities?

Food sensitivities are an immune reaction to a food in the diet. They are becoming increasingly common due to a variety of factors including:

  • The over-consumption of processed and genetically-modified foods
  • Chronic stress which strains the digestive system
  • Overuse of certain medications (such as heartburn medication and antibiotics) which can disrupt our healthy gut bacteria

Food Allergy vs Food Sensitivity

Food allergies (like peanuts allergies) cause an immediate reaction that often includes hives, rashes, digestive upset, and difficulty breathing.

Food sensitivities on the other hand can be more subtle. Symptoms can appear 24 to 72 hours after eating an offending food and the symptoms are different for everyone but may include diarrhea, constipation, headaches, fatigue, skin concerns, and joint pain. The delayed reaction can make it very difficult to identify the offending food!

What are the most common food sensitivities?

  • Milk and dairy products, eggs, wheat and gluten, peanuts, tree nuts (almond, walnuts), soy, corn, brewer’s yeast (found in beer, wine, vinegar, and soy sauce) and baker’s yeast (found in bread, pastries, muffins).

How do I know if I have food sensitivities?

There are 2 main ways to identify food sensitivities.

1. Elimination Diet

The elimination diet involves removing the most common foods that cause sensitivities (see list above) for a minimum of 3 weeks. After the elimination phase, foods are gradually reintroduced in a systematic order in order to determine if any reactions occur.

2. Food sensitivity Testing

Food sensitivity testing is done through a simple blood draw. It measures how your immune system reacts to 96 common foods. There are special tests available for vegetarians and those eating certain ethnic diets. The results of the test allow you to determine exactly which foods your body doesn’t tolerate well.

To learn more about food sensitivity testing options
book your complimentary 15-minute consultation.

A Healthy Balance: Omega 3 to 6 ratio

You’re likely familiar with Omega-3 fatty acids. They’re the heart healthy fats that are found in fish, flax seeds, and walnuts. Omega-3 fats are considered “essential fatty acids” because our body cannot produce them and they must therefore be consumed in the diet. The lesser known Omega-6 fatty acids are also considered essential fatty acids.

Omega-3 fats include ALA (found in flaxseeds and flaxseed oil), and EPA and DHA (found in fatty cold-water fish including salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines). The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are numerous and include: reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, mood enhancement, and helping with weight loss.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola) and animal proteins such a poultry, pork, and beef. Excessive amount of omega-6 fats, in particular, arachidonic acid, contributes to increased inflammation in the body. Most Canadians get high levels of omega-6 fats in their diet due to high consumption of meat and vegetable oils.

An ideal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids between 1:1 to 1:3, meaning that we should be getting close to equal amounts of omega 3 and omega 6 fats. The average Canadian diet provides 15 to 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fats. This can result in an overabundance of omega-6 fats in the body which contributes to an pro-inflammatory state. Inflammation had been linked to a variety of health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

So what can you do to bring your omega fats back into balance?

  1. Limit your animal protein to one meal per day and watch portion sizes! Your protein should make up only 1/4 of your lunch and dinner plate.
  2. Increase your intake of plant based proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
  3. Reduce your intake of vegetable oils including corn, canola, sunflower, and safflower. Increase your intake of flaxseed oil, olive oil, coconut oil (a healthy source of medium chain triglycerides!), avocado, and nuts and seeds.
  4. Include fatty cold water fish twice a week (salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines)
  5. Start taking a purified, high quality fish oil that provides at least 1000 mg of omega-3′s (or an algae based oil if you are vegetarian/vegan). Avoid the Omega 3-6-9 blends since you’re likely getting enough omega-6 fats already and you can get omega-9 fats from your diet.

Aim to get 6 teaspoons of healthy fats including a balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats to help lower inflammation and improve your overall health.

Adrenal SOS

Your adrenals are two little glands that sit atop your kidneys in your low back. The adrenal glands secrete stress hormones, regulate blood pressure, and produce small amounts of sex hormones. Every time your body perceives stress, your adrenal glands get fired up and secrete stress hormones such as cortisol. Given the innumerable sources of stress that we face every day, most of us have our adrenals working in overdrive on a regular basis. After weeks, months, and even years of chronic stress, our adrenal glands can find it difficult to keep up and eventually become “fatigued”.

Symptoms of “adrenal fatigue” can include:

  • Low energy/fatigue
  • Cold intolerance or feeling chilly
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheaded/Dizziness (especially upon standing)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Poor coping skills
  • Mental fog
  • Salt cravings
  • High (or low) cortisol levels
  • Evening burst of energy

The good news is, there are simple steps that you can take to help nourish and regenerate your adrenal glands!

  1. Get your zzzzzz’s
    Your adrenal glands regenerate at night, especially between 11 pm and 1 am. Make sure to be in bed before 11 pm and get your 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  2. Curb your coffee intake
    Excess caffeine can add further stress to your adrenal glands. Limit your coffee intake to 2 cups a day, ideally before noon. Try a delicious cup of licorice root tea for a caffeine-free pick-me-up that helps to nourish your adrenal glands.
  3. Breathe Deeply
    Use deep breathing and other stress management techniques to help keep your stress levels under control. Keeping stress under control will reduce the number of times your adrenals have to secrete stress hormones!

Your Naturopathic Doctor can help determine if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue and offer natural therapies to help restore your health.