Is Stress Shutting Down Your Sex Drive?

One of the most frequent complaints that I hear from women in my office is that they have no sex drive. Like zero. Nada. Nothing. It’s as if that part of their brain has turned off and doesn’t seem to want to turn back on anytime soon.

There are many reasons why women experience a low sex drive including side effects from birth control pills, low estrogen and low testosterone. But, in my experience, the number one cause of low libido is STRESS.

The reality is that our sex drive is turned down as a PROTECTIVE MECHANISM. What you need to understand is that stress shuts down our sex drive for good reason.

When the body is under stress, it activates the sympathetic nervous system which is also known as our “fight or flight” response. When this response is activated, our body engages in a variety of activities that help us to survive and cope with that stress. We send lots of blood to our brain (so we can respond quickly and appropriately) and lungs and muscles (so we can run away). We may not be fighting off saber tooth tigers anymore but our body still responds in the same way. And let’s face it ladies, between family, work, and social obligations, we’re under low-grade stress all the time.

Another side-effect of this stress response is a reduction of blood flow to your reproductive organs and putting a major damper on your sex drive. WHY? The last thing your body needs when it’s under stress is another human being to take care off (aka a baby). You see, when you are under stress, your body shuts down your sex drive to limit the chances you’ll become pregnant in an effort to try to help you.

Even if you’re post-menopausal or on birth control and technically can’t get pregnant, your body will still shut down your libido because it doesn’t know any better. It’s a automatic response that is hard wired into us that actually helped keep our ancestors alive.

So, if you want that part of your brain to wake up and re-activate, you need to practice getting out of that sympathetic “fight or flight” response and start hanging out in a more relaxed parasympathetic “rest and digest” state. This is when the body is relaxed, feels safe and can start to warm that fire in your loins. (PS. men also need to be in this state to achieve and maintain an erection).

My best strategies for tapping into “rest and digest”:

  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night (this is the ultimate relaxed state)
  • Take 10 deep abdominal breaths before each meal
  • Learn to say “no” (and not feel guilty about it!)
  • Start a daily meditation practice such as the HeadSpace App (and come try our new service: MUSE Biofeedback Meditation)
  • Cultivate mindfulness (try to enjoy the present moment.) Start with simple activities such as mindfully brushing your teeth. Keep your mind focused by paying attention to the smell and taste of your toothpaste, the feeling of the brush against your teeth, the sounds it’s making. It’s simple but it works!

Wondering if stress is really affecting your sex drive and overall health?

Get your stress hormone levels test with our Adrenal Function Panel. It’s a simple at home saliva test that maps out your cortisol and DHEAS. You can learn more about it here. Test Cost = $220.

When it comes to your period, what’s normal?

I don’t know about you, but my girlfriends and I never really got into the nitty gritty details of our periods. Most of us don’t talk about how often we’re changing our tampon or how many clots we pass, which leaves many of us assuming that what we experience every month must be normal. But just because cramping and PMS are common, it doesn’t mean that they’re normal and you have to live with them. Periods don’t have to cramp your style (pun intended!) And while there is definitely some variation from woman to woman, here’s what’s “normal” when it comes to your period.

1. Your cycle length (aka how often you’re getting your period)

  • NORMAL: 21-35 days (most women assume their cycle is 28 days which is the standard cycle when you take the birth control pill but most women’s cycle isn’t exactly 28 days).
  • NOT NORMAL:
    • Less than 21 days: could be a sign of a cycle without ovulation, short follicular phase (aka time between your period starting and ovulation), progesterone deficiency, perimenopase, or stress.
    • More than 35 days: cycle without ovulation, long follicular phase, stress, recent illness, thyroid disease, PCOS (aka polycystic ovarian syndrome), high prolactin (hormone involved in milk production).

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 2. Your flow length (aka how long you bleed)

  • NORMAL: Most women bleed for 3-5 days (with days 1 and 2 being heaviest), including a day or two of light spotting as it finishes up.
  • NOT NORMAL:
    • Less than 3 days: can be a sign of estrogen deficiency (especially if flow is very light and pale pink).
    • More than 7 days: can a sign of high estrogen, endometriosis or fibroids.

 3. How much you bleed

  • NORMAL: You should lose about 50 mL of blood.
    • One soaked regular pad or tampon = 5 mL
    • One super tampon = 10 mL
    • 50 mL = 10 fully soaked regular tampons or 5 fully soaked super tampons over the span of your period
  •  NOT NORMAL:
    • Light period (aka less than 25 mL): can be a sign of PCOS, high stress, estrogen deficiency, or thyroid disease.
    • Heavy period (aka more than 80 mL):  can be a sign of a cycle without ovulation, excess estrogen, low progesterone, estrogen dominance, PCOS, thyroid disease, fibroids, endometriosis.

 4. What your blood looks like

  • NORMAL: menstrual fluid should be liquid, with no large clots. Your menstrual fluid should a reddish-brown colour.
  • NOT NORMAL:
    • Brown blood: is typically a sign of old blood that wasn’t shed during your last period
    • Large clots (bigger than the end of your thumb): can be a sign of high estrogen or estrogen dominance, endometriosis, or fibroids.

 5. PMS & Cramping

  • NORMAL: its common to feel a little congestion or cramping in your lowpexels-photo-735966er belly before your period, and to experience mild mood changes, fatigue and a desire to stay in and binge-watch Netflix.
  • NOT NORMAL: being a sugar-crazed carb monster, having swollen super-sensitive breasts, needing to wear a bigger pant size and flying off the handle at the slightest annoyance. PMS is often a sign of either high estrogen, low progesterone or both. Menstrual cramps that cause you to miss work or need pharmaceutical pain relief can be a sign of magnesium
    deficiency, inflammation, hormone imbalance, endometriosis or fibroids.

 6. Spotting

  • NORMAL: its normal to have light spotting on the day of ovulation (more common with low estrogen).
  • NOT NORMAL: Light bleeding before your periodcould be a sign of progesterone deficiency.

If you experience several symptoms that are “not normal” every month, check in with your family doctor or  naturopathic doctor to see if you might have a hormonal imbalance that requires some attention.

Book your FREE 15-minute Meet & Greet consultation with Dr. Sarah
to get started on getting back to a healthy, happy, feel-good life.

 

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:

 

Natural Medicine for Public Servants

Are you a public servant?

Did you know that your health insurance plan covers Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic Doctors are experts in natural and complementary medicine. We offer natural solutions to common health concerns such as fatigue, insomnia, hypothyroid, digestive issues like IBS, and many more!  By using safe and effective natural therapies such as nutrition, nutritional supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbal medicines), acupuncture, and lifestyle counselling, Naturopathic Doctors help you feel better and optimize your health.  

To learn more about how Naturopathic Medicine can help you
book your FREE 15-minute  Meet & Greet consultation with Dr. Sarah Vadeboncoeur

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