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).

time-calendar-saturday-weekend-60032

 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.

 

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:

 

5 Essential Thyroid Tests for Women

If you are experiencing some of the following symptoms, it may be worth having your thyroid tested to rule out thyroid hormone imbalances:

  • Very slow or very fast heart rate
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight (or rapid weight loss)
  • Change in menstrual cycles (irregular periods, heavy periods)
  • Always feeling very cold or overly hot (or going from one extreme to the next)
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Elevated LDL cholesterol level
  • Depression

5 Essential Thyroid Tests to ask for:

  1. TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone)
  2. Free T4
  3. Free T3
  4. TPO-antibodies & TG-antibodies
  5. Reverse T3

Understanding Your Test Results

1. TSH is short for thyroid-stimulating hormone, a hormone made by the pituitary gland (located in the brain) which tells the thyroid what to do. Think of it as the knock on the door. If the thyroid is not doing it’s job, the pituitary will knock more loudly (elevated TSH) whereas if the thyroid is working optimally, the knock will be very light (lower TSH). As you can see, TSH is not made in the thyroid meaning it’s an indirect way of looking at thyroid function.

High levels of TSH may indicate hypothyroidism (i.e. underactive thyroid), a pituitary gland tumor, or inadequate thyroid hormone medication in the treatment of a preexisting condition. Low levels of TSH may indicate hyperthyroidism (i.e. overactive thyroid), damage to the pituitary gland, too much thyroid medication in the treatment of a preexisting condition, or pregnancy in the first trimester.

  • Normal Range: 0.4-5 mIU/L
  • Optimal Range: 0.4 -2.5 mIU/L
  • Hypothyroidism = TSH > 5 mIU/L
  • Hyperthyroidism = TSH < 0.4 mIU/L

2. Free T4: T4 is the main hormone produced by the thyroid so it’s the most direct way at looking at actual thyroid gland function. Keep in mind that T4 is a very weak, mostly inactive hormone that’s main purpose is to be converted into T3 (see below).

  • Normal Range: 9-22 pm/L
  • Optimal Range: 14-18 pm/L
  • Hypothyroidism = < 9 pm/L
  • Hyperthyroidism =  > 20 pm/L

3. Free T3: is made from T4 throughout the body but mostly in the liver. T3 is the most active form of thyroid hormone and is responsible for giving us energy, revving up our metabolism, keeping us warm and with hair on our head. It’s vital to look at T3 hormone levels in order to gauge if there is thyroid dysfunction because you can have normal TSH and T4 levels but if you aren’t converting well to T3 you can still have symptoms of thyroid imbalance.

  • Normal Range: 3.4-5.9 mIU/L
  • Optimal Range: 4.5-5.5 mIU/L
  • Hypothyroidism =  <3.4
  • Hyperthyroidism =  > 6

4. Thyroid Antibodies (TPO and TG): Thyroid peroxidase (TPO), an enzyme found in the thyroid gland, plays a key role in the production of thyroid hormones. A TPO test detects antibodies against TPO in the blood, the presence of which suggests that the cause of thyroid disease is an autoimmune disorder (e.g. Hashimoto’s or Grave’s disease).

  • Normal Range: < 35 kIU/L
  • Auto-immune disease (e.g. Hashimoto’s or Graves’s) > 35 kIU/L

5. Reverse T3: is essentially a “dud” hormone that is made when the body is under stress. A small percentage of our T4 hormone is always converted to reverse T3 in order to prevent the body from being overstimulated by T3. However, in certain conditions, especially with higher stress and cortisol hormone levels, the body can convert too much T4 into reverse T3 which essentially blocks other thyroid hormones from doing their job.

  • Normal Range = < 9-24 ng/dL
  • Optimal Range = less than 18 ng/dL

These tests are all done through a simple blood test which your MD can request. Naturopathic Doctors are also able to run these tests which will cost approximately $100.

The Super Secret Weapon to Surviving Menopause? Your adrenal glands!

Women are all too familiar with the symptoms that signal the impending doom of menopause- hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue and mood changes! These symptoms occur because the ovaries start producing less estrogen as they prepare for retirement. Rapidly declining estrogen levels can cause intense and severe symptoms that can really affect a woman’s quality of life. But menopause need not be a dreaded time in a woman’s life- for our bodies have a secret weapon that can help make the transition through menopause much smoother….our ADRENAL GLANDS!

What are Adrenal Glands?
The adrenals are two small glands that sit above the kidney (hence their name!). These glands are well known for making stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, but what most of us don’t know is that our adrenal glands also produce sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone!

Why are they important?
During the menopausal years, as our ovaries start producing less female hormones, our adrenals are called into action to be our main producers of these hormones. The problem is that most of us enter menopause with adrenal glands that are already tired and overworked due to years of living in our stress-filled modern world. When the adrenal glands are already exhausted when a woman enters menopause, they have a harder time producing these much needed female hormones.

It is therefore imperative that all women support their adrenal glands during the menopausal years (and ideally before!) so that they can produce estrogen and progesterone which will help to make the transition much smoother.

Here are my top 5 tips for supporting your adrenal glands:

1. Make sleep a priority

Our adrenal glands need a good night’s sleep in order to regenerate and recover from daily stresses. Aim to get 8-10 hours of quality sleep each night and be in bed no later than 11 pm.

2. Increase your intake of foods rich in magnesium and vitamins B5 and C.

Magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin B5 are most concentrated in the adrenal glands where they provide the nutrient needed for healthy adrenal function.  Increase foods that are rich in these nutrients.

Magnesium: pumpkin seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, soybeans, sesame seeds, halibut, black beans, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds

Vitamin C: Papaya, Bell Peppers, Strawberries, Broccoli, Pineapple, Brussel Sprouts, Kiwifruit, Oranges, Cantaloupe, Kale

Vitamin B5: Cremini and shiitake mushrooms, avocado, yogurt, corn sweet potato, cauliflower, broccoli, grapefruit, bell peppers, and asparagus.

3. Indulge in a cup of licorice tea

Licorice is one of my favorite herbs for supporting the adrenal glands. It helps to nourish and relax the body…and it’s caffeine-free so you can have it anytime! Caution: do not use if you have high blood pressure.

4. Relax….you deserve it!

Our adrenal glands get fired up every time we perceive stress. Did you know that on average, we experience 50 brief stress response episodes per day? This means that for many of us, our adrenal glands are constantly being drawn on to help us adapt and resist life’s daily stresses. Counteract these effects by making relaxation a priority every day…whether it’s a yoga class, a hot bath, or 5 minutes of deep breathing.

5. Limit your caffeine intake

Caffeine not only gives your mind a jolt – but your adrenals too. Limit this daily assault by eliminating caffeine if possible or limiting your intake of caffeinated beverages to no more than 2 per day. In fact, caffeine itself can trigger hot flashes.

I hope you find these tips helpful and they can make your menopausal years more enjoyable. If you are interested in receiving additional support for your menopausal symptoms, book your free consultation to learn how I can help create a personalized plan for you including salivary hormone testing, nutrition guidelines, herbal support, and acupuncture.

 

 

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

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.

Is Plastic Making You Fat?

Did you know that chemicals found in plastics (such as BPA) can contribute to weight gain?

Plastic 101

More than 2.2 million tonnes of BPA are produced each year to make plastics used in food and drink containers, food packaging, and the lining of canned goods.

Up to 90% of the population is exposed to chemicals such as BPA mainly through dietary consumption, but also from drinking water, dental sealants, and inhalation of household dusts. Higher levels of BPA in the body have been associated with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

How does plastic make me fat?

Chemicals found in plastics can mimic estrogen in the body. These higher levels of estrogen can trigger and activate insulin, a fat storage hormone. Higher insulin levels can cause weight gain, especially in your midsection, and put you at increased risk for diabetes and heart disease.

But my water bottle is BPA-free…

Even plastics that are BPA-free can still contain hormone-disrupting chemicals. You’re best to avoid plastics all together!

How can I avoid plastics?

  • Limit your consumption of canned foods which can contain BPA. Buy dried beans instead of canned and look for glass jars of tomato sauce,etc. Sensitive groups, such as children and pregnant women should limit their intake of canned foods or look for BPA-free brands such as Amy’s and Eden Foods. You can also rinse canned fruits and veggies to lessen BPA exposure.
  • Never heat plastic or leave it exposed in the sun. Heat can increase BPA leaching into food and drinks.
  • Ditch plastic containers and invest in glass or ceramic containers for your food storage needs.
  • Choose a glass or stainless steel water bottle. I love my Life Factory bottle.
  • Reuse glass food jars to store leftovers.

What are your favorite tips for avoiding plastics?

 

 

 

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.

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