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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.

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.



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!



Hormones and other factors that impact libido 

Girl. Female. Low libido, hormone imbalance, decreased sex drive. Naturopathic medicine helps to naturally support hormones in order to regain sex driveFemale Sexual Dysfunction affects an overwhelming number of women globally. Some studies estimate about 41% of premenopausal women experience some form of sexual dysfunction (1).

Female Sexual Dysfunction or FSD is defined as persistent or chronic problems with sexual activity including arousal, orgasm, or pain experienced by women. The causes are multifactorial and include chronic stress, side effects of medications including antidepressants or birth control, hormonal imbalances and (natural decreases in estrogen) menopause, and other health conditions such as depression, diabetes, hypothyroidism. How unsexy – but it doesn’t have to be!

This article will focus on some of the common causes of low libido in women, hormone testing for women, and naturopathic approaches to improving sexual desire.

 

What is arousal?

A physiological state where there are changes in muscular tension, organ size, heart rate, breathing, that create conditions for copulation. Aspects of arousal are defined by physiological responses such as increases in blood pressure and rate of breathing and a decrease in the activity of the digestive system. While primary arousal is mainly governed by the sympathetic nervous system (aka fight-or-flight nervous system), responses of the parasympathetic nervous system (aka rest-and-digest nervous system) also contribute to the patterns of arousal. Physiologically, arousal patterns are not limited to sexual activity and sympathetic (fight-or-flight) reactions are also present in periods of stress and danger.

How sexual arousal works:

There are 4 stages of arousal: Desire, Arousal, Orgasm, and Resolution.

  1. Desire: General physiological characteristics of the first phase include increased muscular tension, a quickening heart rate and accelerated pattern of breathing. The skin may become flushed and the nipples are erect. Genital blood flow increases and vaginal lubrication begins. Women may also experience swelling of the breasts and vaginal walls, as well as hardening of the nipples.
  2. Arousal: Characteristics of this phase are similar and more intense than the previous stage. Muscle spasms may begin as well as an increase in sensitivity to the erogenous zones.
  3. Orgasm: This phase lasts anywhere between 1-50 seconds in women and consists of involuntary vaginal muscular contractions, and sudden release of tension. A flush may appear over the body.
  4. Resolution: The final phase of arousal where the body slowly returns to its normal level of functioning and swelling of the breasts and vaginal walls reduce to pre-arousal size and colour.

Stress and libido:

In the literature, chronic psychosocial stress is defined as either a “major life event that induces an extended period of stress such as a death in the family” (2) or “the accumulation of small stressors that are frequently present, such as on-going deadlines, traffic, financial troubles” (2).

Steroid Hormone Pathway – Increased production of cortisol leads in a decreased production of sex hormones

Researchers noted that it was these smaller stressors, “daily hassles,” that had a profound negative effect on health as compared to a severely traumatic or stressful life incident. Daily hassles like being in traffic or deadlines that never seem to reach completion are related to sexual difficulties amongst individuals. A survey found that women with higher levels of chronic daily stress experienced increased amounts of sexual dysfunction and lower levels of sexual satisfaction; this was represented in a study measuring levels of genital arousal in women who experienced chronic stress (2). In the same population, women who experienced daily stressors had higher levels of salivary cortisol (the stress hormone). Sex drive in females is affected negatively by the presence of daily chronic stressors.

 

Medication and libido:

Nearly 60% of individuals globally reported sexual dysfunction as a side effect of antidepressant use (3). SSRI’s (a commonly prescribed class of antidepressant) have been linked to significantly decreased libido, arousal, duration and intensity of orgasm (3)

On the other hand, the use of oral contraceptives has mixed side effects, where many experience a decrease in libido. There are some women who do experience an increase in sexual desire (4)

Other conditions and libido:

Sexual dysfunction also presents in a variety of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, alcoholism, hormonal imbalances, thyroid disease, and as a symptom of depression; approximately 50% of women reported decreased sexual interest prior to treatment of depression (5).

The Naturopathic Approach

A naturopath will first conduct a thorough history and case taking in order to identify some lead causes that may be impacting a woman’s sex drive. Further investigation into hormone levels via blood, saliva, and urinary testing may be ordered when evaluating the root cause of sexual dysfunction. For instance, monitoring changes and imbalance in sex hormones (estradiol, testosterone, DHEA) and stress hormone (cortisol) illustrates that in the presence of chronically elevated cortisol, the sex hormones that are generally elevated during sexual stimulation/desire are lessened.

A naturopathic doctor will investigate all potential causes for low libido (hormonal, stress-related, side effect of a medication), and work with you to create an individualized treatment plan to gently stimulate your body’s natural arousal mechanisms.

Decreased or absent sex drives are frustrating and generally a symptom of a deeper problem.

Though every case is unique, it is important to note that there are no quick fixes and as with any health goal, lasting changes develop over time.

What can you do today to improve factors that negatively impact your libido?

  1. Start with stress! Kick your libido out of neutral and into drive! Practice a beginner’s breathing exercise. Our absolute favourite technique is 7-4-8 breathing. Start by sitting or lying comfortably without distraction and with your eyes closed. Inhale for 7 seconds through your nose. Pause for 4 seconds. Exhale through pursed lips for 8 seconds. Repeat.
  2. Create boundaries between yourself and daily stressors by not bringing them into the bedroom. This means, no work, no screens, no fighting – the bedroom is for sleep and sex only!
  3. Opt for whole foods that support the libido like maca, and limit heavily processed foods and sugars. Fun fact: Maca root consumption in postmenopausal women with sexual dysfunction caused by SSRI antidepressants, ALLEVIATED symptoms!
  4. Have a conversation with your naturopath, doctor, or pharmacist if you feel that your medications might be impacting your sex drive.

Interested in learning more?

Book in with our naturopath, Dr. Anousha Usman ND, at The Wellness Suite to rediscover your sexual wellness!

 

 

  1. Mccool, M. E., Zuelke, A., Theurich, M. A., Knuettel, H., Ricci, C., & Apfelbacher, C. (2016). Prevalence of Female Sexual Dysfunction Among Premenopausal Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Sexual Medicine Reviews,4(3), 197-212.doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2016.03.002
  2. Hamilton, L. D., & Meston, C. M. (2013). Chronic Stress and Sexual Function in Women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine,10(10), 2443-2454.doi:10.1111/jsm.12249
  3. Higgins, A. (2010). Antidepressant-associated sexual dysfunction: Impact, effects, and treatment. Drug, Healthcare and Patient Safety,doi:10.2147/dhps.s7634
  4. Higgins, J. A., & Smith, N. K. (2016). The Sexual Acceptability of Contraception: Reviewing the Literature and Building a New Concept. The Journal of Sex Research,53(4-5), 417-456.doi:10.1080/00224499.2015.1134425
  5. Kennedy, S. H., Eisfeld, B. S., Dickens, S. E., Bacchiochi, J. R., & Bagby, R. M. (2000). Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction During Treatment With Moclobemide, Paroxetine, Sertraline, and Venlafaxine. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry,61(4), 276-281.doi:10.4088/jcp.v61n0406

 



Mindful eating habits for health

Retraining the mind to respond to the body’s hunger cues may seem like a daunting task, but actually begins with a few easy steps! Mindfulness-based eating techniques aid with managing and treating emotional eating, weight gain/loss, support energy and overall health.

Here are 6 tips to try today!

  1. Have an attitude of gratitude: Give thanks before each mealPracticing gratitude for food before consuming them is a technique to eat more mindfully.
  2. Be seated: sit in a comfortable position at a table
  3. Chew 30 times: (an arbitrary number) mindful chewing sends messages to the brain that the body is refuelling and well soon be full.
  4. No screens: Power down distractions during meals to fully focus on consuming your meal
  5. Portion food: Measure foods according to guides with reference to your goals and use smaller plates (to visually see that you are indeed consuming a plate-full of delicious food)Portion control helps cut calories and prevent overeating, in order to lose weight. A handful of berries is an excellent source of antioxidants.
  6. Stop when full: Don’t polish off plates, listen to hunger cues. Your body will start to naturally tell you when it doesn’t feel hungry anymore – it might start off as a whisper, listen to it!

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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!


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SOS: Save Our Sinuses! 

 

Do you know what’s the absolute worst? A sinus infection 🙁 

Symptoms include: burning and painfully inflamed sinuses, runny nose, stuffy ears, impacted eyesight, headache, tears, a bleak outlook on life… (okay that last one is just us)

As someone who’s sinuses have a personal vendetta against them – I understand your frustration 110%!

When you say your face hurts so bad – I feel you!

When your head is pounding and your nose burns – I feel you!

And when it’s painful to cry? – I feel you too!

Every year my ears, nose, and throat ally-up and wage war against the rest of my body. Every year I anticipate their treason. One of my go-to self-care treatments: WET SOCKS.

The Wet Socks Solution:

By applying cold the to feet, the body’s natural reaction is to warm them up. In order to do so, it increases blood flow to the feet (which naturally draws fluid away from the head and sinuses).

Here’s how to do it:

You will need a pair of cotton socks and a pair of wool ones. Soak the cotton socks in COLD water, and then ring them out thoroughly. Begrudgingly put cold damp socks on feet. Put wool socks on over top. Go to sleep. You’ll wake up in the night with hot feet, dry socks, and a clear head!

This protocol works best before the sinus infection gets too complicated – when that happens: see your trusted naturopathic doctor for solutions for your symptoms!

Reclaim your face!

#ProTip:

If the socks aren’t cold enough, try freezing the dampened socks! Visit Now!


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Fats.

Here’s the skinny, fats are good for you!  Our bodies are designed to store fat for a multitude of purposes. Vitamins such as A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble and that means that they can only be absorbed and stored in the body in- that’s right you guessed it – fats! Did you know that the human brain is 60% fat? Essential fatty acids promote healthy development of the nervous system in children and as well deter cognitive impairment in the elderly. Fats are the main component of cell membranes and are even an essential part of hormones.

But wont eating fats make me fat? Negative! It’s the type of fat that counts- check out some of these healthy fats to incorporate into your diet for your optimal and vital being:

  • Olive oil. Opt for cold-pressed. Olive oil makes a delicious substitute for store-bought/processed salad dressings. Additionally, studies have demonstrated the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and olive oil consumption for decreasing the risk of adverse cardiac events.
  • This delicious fruit contains MUFAs (mono-unsaturated fatty acids) and are associated with overall increased quality of diet and a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome.
  • My personal favourite are walnuts. These guys are rich in phytochemicals and PUFAs (poly-unsaturated fatty acids); the high amounts of polyphenolic compounds are a great source of antioxidants for the brain by helping to decrease inflammation and improve firing of nerve cells. Ever wonder how walnuts resemble brains?
  • Coconut oil. Probably the most versatile and accessible oil out there, the compounds in coconut oil help to decrease inflammation in the body. This oil is great for stir-fry dishes and even helps with dryness when applied to the skin directly.

What to avoid:

  • Deep-fried foods, processed foods, and saturated fats. These bad boys are a no-no!

The take home message today: don’t be afraid of fats! Aim for healthy nut butters to add to your morning power smoothies, avocados are tasty additions to salad that help fill you up,

and fatty fish such as salmon are light on the waistline but heavy on the nutrients. Healthy fats promote whole wellbeing. It’s a marathon friends, I encourage you to make the better choices today – your body will thank you tomorrow!

Sources:

Dalen, J., & Devries, S. (n.d.). Diets to Prevent Coronary Heart Disease 1957- 2013: What Have We Learned? The American Journal of Medicine.

Fulgoni, V., Dreher, M., & Davenport, A. (n.d.). Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001–2008. Nutrition Journal, 1-1.

Poulose, S., Miller, M., & Shukitt-Hale, B. (n.d.). Role of Walnuts in Maintaining Brain Health with Age. Journal of Nutrition, 561S-566S.


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