Category filter:AllHairHormonesNutritionPatient ResourcesPregnancyUncategorizedWomen’s Health
No more posts
AUNTY-FLOW_.png

Irregular menstrual cycles are frustrating!

A young woman recounts her experience with irregular periods:

“The hardest part was knowing when it [her period] would come and understanding where the heck my emotions were at. I was tired in school and didn’t have much focus [around menstruation]; the emotional instability really rocked me..”.


Irregular, out-of-whack menstrual cycles are common in PCOS. This could look anything like periods that show up twice in a month, or once every month and a half; some periods just change it up each cycle to keep you on your toes. So much for tracking your cycles and planning out safe days to wear white jeans because the irregularity makes Aunty Flow’s next visit unpredictable.

Nearly 20% of women of reproductive age have PCOS and almost 70% of women with symptoms of PCOS remain undiagnosed in Canada. That’s a lot of women living with the discomfort and mental stigma of irregular periods, acne/hair growth, infertility. This article focuses on irregular cycles and how unpredictable menstruation affects the lives of SO MANY WOMEN.

Uncovering the cause of irregular periods

  1. PCOS: Polycystic ovarian syndrome is the amalgam of an imbalance of hormones, also known as an endocrinopathy (fancy word for, an issue with the endocrine – hormone – system). We know that PCOS presents with irregular periods and increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular issues. The natural cycle of hormones stimulates ovulation which contributes to the balance of estrogen and progesterone with which (if no fertilization) brings about a period. In PCOS, this delicate cycle is thrown off contributing to the lack of regular menstruation.
  2. Stress is another factor that affects the cycle of hormones (mentioned above). If your body is under extreme or chronic stress, it wants to survive first. The body uses any and all of its resources to make sure you’re safe and sound. I.e. the body takes resources away from your digestion and reproductive organs, ultimately affecting your cycles.
  3. Thyroid dysfunction causes a variety of menstrual-related problems as abnormal levels of thyroid hormones affect the release and amount of sex hormones available to bind and act on the body.
  4. Weight: Extreme weight changes disrupt the balance of hormones. Crash diets, malnutrition, anorexia can all lead to irregular periods or amenorrhea (no period). Obese women also demonstrate abnormal hormone profiles; in obese women with PCOS (or at risk of PCOS) tend to carry extra fat around the waist and abdomen rather than the hips.

Do I have PCOS?

While irregular cycles (short: less than 21 days or longer: more than 35 days between periods) are one symptom of PCOS, menstrual irregularities are also present in thyroid dysfunction, periods of stress, and extreme changes in weight or diet. Speak to your doctor/naturopathic doctor about further testing to confirm a diagnosis of PCOS.

 

Management

Treatment for regulating periods always start with diet and lifestyle interventions. If PCOS is the likely cause, cutting out sugar and increasing exercise (more HIIT training!) are my favourite places to start. The less sugar a woman is consuming, the less her insulin levels will spike and the less fat she will store on her body. This is especially important for obese women. If I suspect an underlying thyroid dysfunction, after a thorough investigation, I’ll recommend specific herbs and supplements to help support natural thyroid hormone balance.

 

Some of my favourite herbs for treating irregular periods:

Vitex: Also known as Chasteberry, acts on the hypothalamus-pituitary system by slightly elevating LH and decreasing FSH in favour of producing more progesterone.

Black Cohosh: Traditionally used for treating menopause symptoms and painful periods, this herb is estrogenic and helps balance hormones to support menstrual regularity.

Rhodiola: A herb that helps the body deal with stress effectively.

Dong Quai, Alfalfa, Flaxseed, Licorice: which all help to balance hormones

 

Our young woman with the irregular cycles on her menstrual experiences after making dietary and lifestyle adjustments:

“Having regular periods helps me have regular emotions and I can plan out my outfits”


If these symptoms sound like you, or someone you know, book in an appointment with me to uncover the root cause of your irregular cycles and how naturopathic medicine can support your hormones and regulate your periods. Life is unpredictable, periods shouldn’t have to be!


Picture2.png
01/Aug/2019

What is stress?

Picture yourself as a calm ancient human collecting berries about 50 meters away from your camp. The day is bright and warm and your basket of succulent ripe berries is half full. Ahh, peaceful.

Suddenly you see a FEROCIOUS BEAR coming towards you. You drop your basket, your heart races, breathing quickens, and with a surge of adrenalin you take off at full speed away from the bear.

Now at a safe distance, your heart rate and breathing normalize as you begin to relax from the above-mentioned frightening experience.

This is stress. An evolved response to a perceived threat to keep the body safe. Stress symptoms are biological (change in breathing and heart rate, sweating, an adrenalin surge) as well as psychological (fear, anxiety). Cortisol (the stress hormone) is responsible for the physiological changes we experience during these periods of agitation and threat. Cortisol and adrenaline quicken the heart rate ensuring that there is enough oxygenated blood being pumped to the brain (vital organ – necessary for survival from said bear) as well as the limbs which help you to escape.

Biology of stress – how it works

Stress can be broken down into 3 stages. (General Adaptation Syndrome by Hans Syele, MD).

  1. Alarm (becoming aware of the bear – experiencing the fight or flight response. ).
  2. Resistance (Where the recovery stage begins, your heart rate and breathing normalize, but your mind and body are still on high alert – what if the bear comes back?). In the resistance stage, the body is still releasing low levels of cortisol
  3. Exhaustion – from the chronic levels of cortisol being released, even your stress adrenal glands become exhausted. Some symptoms of the Exhaustion phase include, depression, burn out, fatigue, decreased stress tolerance.
stress symptoms

The brain has a system for responding to an unpleasant stimulus, known as the HPA Axis or, Hypothalamic-Pituitary- Adrenal Axis. The hypothalamus first receives a memo of a stressful trigger, which then causes it to release a chemical message to the pituitary gland. The pituitary responds by releasing another chemical that triggers the adrenal glands (tiny little glands that sit atop the kidneys) to release cortisol. Cortisol then acts on the body to prepare it for a fight or flight response. When the hypothalamus stops receiving any signal of threat, it halts the chemical message to the pituitary leading to downstream effects of decreased cortisol production. After this response the body returns to a state of rest and digest – where digestion is normalized and hormones rebalance. During rest and digest periods the body is able to have restful sleep, metabolize foods, experience a libido and other reproductive processes, and have enough energy stores for day to day living.

Now if the bear was constantly present nearby it’s safe to say that you would be anything but relaxed! Similarly, the presence of chronic stress (a bear or otherwise looming in the background) causes the body to feel on-edge in an unrestful state.

What are symptoms of stress that has become chronic?

  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping, insomnia
  • Changes in digestion: constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas
  • Decreased libido
  • Unintentional weight gain or loss
  • Changes in dietary habits, cravings for sugar
  • Decreased immune system, falling sick often
  • Difficulty concentrating, brain fog
  • Changes in mood, irritability, anxiety, depression
  • Hormonal changes in women such as changes in period length or flow

Sources of stress symptoms:

  • Career and jobs
  • Home life
  • Finances
  • Relationships
  • Our own health, and the health of loved ones

The true dangers lie in the long-term poor management of stress symptoms and experiences of triggering events. Chronically elevated cortisol eventually leads to exhaustion and burn out.

Recognizing and identifying the root causes of stress is integral to learning effective coping strategies for life long wellness.

How to relieve stress:

  1. Quick check-in: how do you feel right now in your body? Is your breathing deep and full or short and shallow? Do you notice any stiffness in your muscles or joints?
  2. Breathing: when there is abundant oxygen going to the brain, your body is reminded that it is notin danger. Deep, slow belly-breaths helps put the body back into rest and digest mode. Try this! Sweet 16 breathing: inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, pause for 4 seconds, exhale slowly through pursed lips for 4 seconds, pause for 4 seconds. Repeat.
  3. Spending time in nature: Unplug once a day and spend time going for walks in a nearby park.
  4. Exercise: health guidelines recommend about 30 min of moderate physical activity daily. Movement is a great way to let off steam!
  5. Seeking out support: reach out to loved ones, a compassionate friend, or a professional who can provide you with the tools to cope and decrease stress symptoms
  6. Limiting junk foods: sugar cravings are a common stress symptom and too much sugar treats can lead to downstream ill health effects. Avoid reliance on coffee, alcohol, and nicotine.
  7. Hobbies you enjoy: create and nurture areas of joy in your life daily!
  8. Boundaries: create space between yourself and the stressful trigger by taking breaks throughout your day, learning when to say no, and prioritizing your self-care routine
  9. Give thanks: an attitude of gratitude helps retrain the mind to focus on positive experiences and outcomes during your day. Positive affirmations help the brain to relieve stress and keep the mind form spiraling into stressful negative thought patterns.

Bonus!

Identify which habits work best for you. Keep a stress symptom journal to pinpoint:

  1. Source of stress
  2. How you reacted
  3. How it felt
  4. What you did to feel better

Monitor these over time as you test out the 9 different techniques to relieve stress.


belly-3186730_640.jpg

Naturopathic digestive support. Decrease heartburn, improved bowel movements, decrease bloating, gas, and pain

I often see cases of heartburn and indigestion in my practice.

Sensations range from a gnawing feeling in the upper-belly to acid burning up into the throat and even out the mouth, scorching the

lips. Heartburn can occur due to a variety of reasons including poor dietary habits, pregnancy, medication use (and abuse), tobacco use, low stomach acid, a hernia, and longstanding health conditions.

Symptoms can creep on you; “I’ve had this for so long”, “I don’t remember when it started, but now everything I eat seems to aggravate it” are what I hear frequently in my office.

Heartburn, acidity, indigestion, and even ulcers are achy (at best) and extremely distressful (at worst).


Here are 5 strategies to help reduce bloating and heartburn:

  1. Diet

Symptoms of heartburn and reflux are commonly triggered by the foods we eat.

Foods that make reflux worse: acidic foods/juices, high fats, red meats, greasy foods, onion and garlic, spicy foods, tomatoes, and peppermint. If you experience heartburn after meals, consider taking these foods OUT of your diet.

  1. Lifestyle

First, posture, posture, posture (while eating)! Maintaining an upright posture helps the food move downwards towards your stomach.

Second, longterm stress may also worsen symptoms of heartburn. Stress puts the body into a state of fight or flight; the opposite is rest and digest. This means that less blood flow is supplied to the digestive system and more supplied to the organs and muscles responsible for dealing with perceived threats. Less blood flow to the digestive system results in the lower esophageal sphincter (connects the esophagus to the stomach) staying open thus allowing for stomach acid to splash up into the esophagus. Re: heartburn.

I like practicing mindful eating techniques. Enjoying my meals when I’m the least distracted (stressed) in order to ensure that my food is digested and nothing splashes back up. To learn more, check out my tips for mindful eating.

  1. Chronic NSAID use

NSAIDs are often used as a tool to help decrease pain and inflammation in the body. Unfortunately one of the side effects includes the erosion of the mucosal lining (protective layer) of the digestive tract; less protection = more injury from acid and digestive juices.

Luckily, there are plenty of alternative options for managing pain and inflammation that spare the mucosal lining; I often recommend options to patients who are looking for healthier solutions to managing their pain. (More on this soon, but my favourite go-to is acupuncture!)

  1. Eliminate alcohol and coffee

These substances relax the tone of the LES and increasing the production of stomach acid. This can worsen symptoms of heartburn and reflux.

  1. Avoid eating 2-3 hours before bed

This goes hand-in-hand with maintaining an upright posture while eating. Waiting a couple of hours between your last meal and bedtime ensures that your meal has been digested and nothing is left behind triggering the production of stomach acid. (And of course, that nothing splashes back up!)

 

So there you have it! 5 easy strategies for decreasing the burning feeling after meals.

Tested these techniques out and looking for more individualized solutions? Book in with me and find out how Naturopathic Doctors in Toronto can improve your symptoms and prevent heartburn from “splashing up” again!


max-van-den-oetelaar-646474-unsplash-1200x800.jpg

Reduce stress with breath work

In my private practice as well as for my personal wellbeing, I confidently support breathing to manage stress in both immediate and long-term triggers.

Here are a few techniques I often recommend as part of a wellness practice:

But first, just HOW do we breathe? Inhale, exhale, repeat. Easy enough, but did you know the WAY we breathe influences how our bodies respond to stress? For instance, in immediate danger, our heart rate quickens and we take short quick breaths; in calm and peaceful situations our breaths are deeper and slower. By mindfully altering the way we breathe, we can control our responses to situations, and therefore grounding ourselves and increasing our resilience to stress.

Breathing exercises promote stress relief, calmness, and mental clarity while decreasing anxiety

Let’s try an experiment together:

Start by sitting or laying down comfortably with your eyes closed (after you finish reading the post of course). Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Now take a deep breath. Which hand moves more?

If you said “the belly hand” – that’s great! You are a belly breather and you may pass Go and collect $200! Or just skip ahead to the tips; and the $200? Think of it like breathing is the currency for the body – the slower and deeper, the richer you are! (Super cheesy, but also super insightful. Pat on the back for me)

If you said “the chest hand” – at least you’re breathing (which is also great!) In order to take a deep, nourishing breath, we must create enough space for our lungs to expand. When this happens our diaphragm (a muscle used to facilitate breathing) pushes our guts downwards (thereby pushing our belly outwards) in order to create the most space available for our lungs to inhale. Think of it like blowing up a balloon. In order to collect the most air, there needs to be room for the balloon to expand.

How do I belly breathe?! Intention, focus, awareness. Allow your shoulders to drop and relax while you focus on filling your belly with air.

Belly breathing that is slow and rhythmic tells the brain that there is no immediate danger because the breathing is now slow, the rest of the body is then able to relax.

 

Here are some techniques you can try right now!

  1. 7-4-8 breathing

Start by inhaling through your nostrils for 7 seconds, pausing for 4 seconds, and exhaling for 8 slow seconds. Repeat. Longer exhales represent mindfully letting go of what does not serve our greater purpose in order to create space for new things that do serve us

2. Sweet 16 breaths

Like the 7-4-8 breathing, yet all stages of the breathing are the same number of seconds. Inhale through your nostrils for 4 seconds. Pause for 4 seconds. Exhale via pursed lips for 4 seconds. Pause for 4 seconds. Repeat.

 

Continue a daily mindful breathing practice for at least 2-3 times in a day and notice how your ability to handle life’s stressors improve! Just learn here how to relieve stress.

 

What are your favourite techniques? Comment below to let us know!


Copyright by The Wellness Suite 2019. All rights reserved.