What is the Estrobiome?  4 Steps to Hormone Balance

What is the Estrobiome? 4 Steps to Hormone Balance

How often I hear from female patients that they have been prescribed oral contraceptives without any testing for undiagnosed perimenopause, depression and skin issues to name a few.  Why don’t we test and see what is actually going on?  In Functional Medicine this is exactly what we do.

Recently a patient came to me with a list of symptoms including anxiety, poor recovery from exercise, insomnia and low libido.  Was it perimenopause as was suggested to her?  I didn’t think so.  After testing we had clear picture of what was actually going on and it wasn’t perimenopause at all.

The Estrobiome:  A Healthy Gut = Healthy Hormones

A new and exciting area of research is around the estrobiome.  The gut deals with getting rid of some of our excess hormones.  Estrogens that enter the gut from the liver may be recirculated if the microbiome is not healthy.  Enzymes like beta glucuronidase are thought to play an important role in whether or not estrogen is recirulated.  In one study, 44% of women with healthy estrogen excretion had higher levels of this enzyme.  We are finding out that treating the gut could mean lower rates of estrogen related cancers overall.

Stress, the Liver & Detoxification

Especially for women with heavier cycles and those who have taken oral contraceptives there is likely an issue of hormone buildup.  Our livers are responsible for clearing hormones through the bile and into the gut.  If stress is high, diet is poor and one is exposed to environmental xeno estrogens then the liver is unable to keep up.  Boosting your body’s natural detox capacity is essential to help with hormone clearance.

Natural Detox in 4 Steps

Step 1: Lower stress by moving your body.  Our liver’s love movement.  Choose activities you enjoy so you are inspired to do them often.  

Step 2: Eat Veggies and Drink Water.  The liver loves veggies!  Increase fibers from root veggies and phytoestrogens from specific plants like flaxseed and yam.  Two litres of water/day is your baseline.

Step 3: Get your hormones and gut tested.  Then you will know what you don’t know!  I can’t tell you how many patients are surprised by their results.  The DUTCH test shows metabolites which is key.  I use stool and breath tests to look at gut health.

Step 4: Appropriate supplementation based on comprehensive lab work makes treatment more effective. Get the support of a trained clinician and get started today.  Each person is unique and we decide together where to start.  Often we focus on the gut or the stress response because both have a significant impact on hormone health.  

The Science of Estrogen Metabolism

I’d like you to understand why its important to see hormone metabolites in your lab work.  I will break down the 3 pathways: 2, 16 and 4.  You’ll see that synthetic and equine sources of estrogens from hormone replacement therapy and birth control are metabolized down the less favourable pathway.  Bio identical hormones and botanicals are received favourably. 

Keep in mind that the liver has 2 Phases of detoxification. The first is hydroxylatin and the second is methylation.  Both need to function well as you will see. 


The 2 pathway is the most favourable and we want to see it used more.  It excretes estrodial and estrone.  Estrone is converted into 2-Hydroxyestrone (2-OHE1) as part of Phase 1 detox which is known as hydroxylation. 2-OHE1 is a ‘good’ estrogen because it doesn’t stimulate cell growth.  When it is methylated into the 2-MeE1 in Phase 2 it becomes cancer protective.  Enough exercise, higher protein diets, and specific supplements can raise 2-OHE1 levels.


Estrogen is also metabolized through is the ’16’ pathway. We need this route however it should be used significantly less than the 2-Hydroxyestrone pathway.  Phase 1 in the 16-Hydroxyestrone pathway is also hydroxylation.  Phase 2 is a reduction phase that produces Estriol which is a weak estrogen.

Higher levels of the 16 pathway are associated with breast cancer, obesity, hypothyroidism, pesticide toxicity (organochlorines), high Omega-6 fatty acids, and inflammatory cytokines.


The last metabolism pathway is the 4-Hydroxyestrone. Estrone is hydroxylated through Phase 1 detox to form 4-OHE1. In Phase 2 it is methylation to form 4-MeE1. When 4-OHE1 is properly methylated to 4-MeE1 it is relatively benign as the 4-MeE1 is easily eliminated and risks are low.

When its not methylated 4-OHE1 builds up.  Then it converts to 3,4-Quinones which are carcinogenic similarly to the 16 pathway.  Women with uterine fibroids may have increased levels of 4-OHE1.  High levels of estrogen across the board are associated with heavy cycles.

Why are so many women affected with hormone imbalance?

The answer is simple.  Most of it is due to environemental factors.  Many chemical substances mimick estrogen.  Stress also inhibits the function of the liver as we’ve talked about.  Lastly, compromised gut health inhibits the proper excretion of the excess estrogens.

More about the Bad Stuff:

  • Xenoestrogens – compounds that have with estrogenic activity including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), bisphenol A (BPA), and phthalates are xenoestrogens. These are chemicals that disrupt normal estrogen balance. Eliminate from your environment along with any industrial raised meat products.  These have added hormones and are pro inflammatory.
  • Contraceptives from equine sources favor the 4-OHE1 pathway as do synthetic hormones.

Some of the Good Stuff:

  • Diindolylmethane (DIM) increases 2-hydroxylation favoring the more healthy metabolic pathway
  • Rosemary and Curcumin
  • B6, B12, Folate, MTHF, TMG
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • Antioxidants: Vitamin E, A, C, Selenium, NAC, Polyphenols, Flavonoids, Lycopene & Alpha Lipoic Acid
  • Phytoestrogens:  Flax seeds in whole form ground or soaked.  The lignans help with estrogen metabolism.  Kudzu – this is another phytoestrogen.  So are yams.
  • Trimethylglycine (TMG):  a compound found in beet root and other plants and animal foods like choline. It protect cells from stress and act as a source of methyl groups. Betaine hydrochloride is made out of (TMG).  This is a supplement that increases stomach acid which I use to optimize gut health.
  • Sulforaphane glucosinolate (SGS): is a naturally occurring phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables.  It supports Phase 2 detox and decreases 3,4-quinones.
A Different Kind of Detox

A Different Kind of Detox

Limiting distraction was monumentally easier even just 5 years ago. Ten years ago some of us still didn’t have smart phones. Choosing to take breaks from the endless world of digital distraction used to take less effort.

So I’m pleasantly stunned this week to find I’m without a cell phone or wifi access for a couple weeks. It was not deliberate and, yet, given that I seek out wilder places, this is a welcome experiment.

What happens in the evening with my family when I don’t have texts coming in?  How does it feel after tucking my son in knowing I really have time to myself? The stars certainly look brighter and I pause longer to notice this.

If you haven’t given it a shot, I encourage you to try a digital detox. Aim for one day a week or even a few hours every day day. Why not both?   In this world of overload, our physiology is remarkable responsive and seems to sigh in relief.

Limiting digital distraction could end up being the most important thing you do this year for your health, relationships and pleasure overall.


Kindness & other Essential Nutrients

Kindness & other Essential Nutrients


Every week a couple of my patients say or do something that strikes me.  “Thank you for being kind,” were the words of one woman.  I wasn’t being particularly kind in my mind.  What I was doing was taking her concerns seriously which she had expressed was a new experience for her.  In Functional Medicine we deliberately spend more time with patients.  We value the insights that emerge from listening to what’s happening to them.  We look at diet and lifestyle as primary interventions.  I also seek to understand how the mind is working for or against the process of regaining health.

Another patient commented on an article she read.  It stated that all protein comes from plants.  She was asking how then could her diet have played a role in the deficiencies that showed up in her lab work?  People can feel fine on a vegetarian diet for years.  Often this is followed by either a health crisis or a slower process leading to poor recovery, low immunity, hormonal imbalances, brain fog, fatigue or a host of other symptoms.

Nutrients that are essential for life are accessed by eating a wide variety of food.  For 66,000 generation humans ate meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts/seeds, starchy tubers and other plants.  Macro nutrient ratios certainly varied geographically however no one was eating the refined foods we see on the shelves of every grocery store today.  We are adapted to thrive based on how we have adapted for most of our evolution.

Evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky once said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

When our environment changes faster than we can adapt, a mismatch occurs.  This is what has happened with the advent of industrial agriculture.  Traditional agriculturalists knew to prepare grains and legumes properly to lessen the impact of nutrient inhibitors.  We also know traditional cultures were not vegan and those who ate mostly vegetarian didn’t do so by choice.  Let’s look at why.

Nutrient Inhibitors

Oxalate and phytate from grains and legumes inhibit nutrients absorption of calcium, zinc and iron for example. I see many patients with low iron.  At least part of the reason is because plant-based iron is impaired by things that people consume every day like coffee, tea, and dairy products. This explains why vegetarian diets are known to reduce plant-based iron absorption by 70 percent.  On the other hand, calcium is the substance that inhibits the absorption of iron from animal products.  Heme iron is highly absorbable and its much more cost effective to get it from food as opposed to supplements.

Vegetarian diets also have been shown to reduce zinc absorption by 35 percent. Plant foods containing zinc also contain phytic acid.  Someone may be consuming the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for zinc but if its all plant based they can still be deficient.

Precursor vs. Active Forms

EPA and DHA are the long-chain omega-3 fats.  Occasional a patient will say to me that they take a vegan or vegetarian source of these essential oils.  The problem is that little of the plant-based ALA gets converted into DHA.

Vitamin A is another essential nutrient that is widely misunderstood.  Beta carotene is the precursor that is found in plant foods and fortified foods. Retinol is the active form.  Humans are not good at converting beta carotene to retinol.  The RDA for retinol is a tenth of what our ancestors consumed and thrived on.  To get just the RDA  would require us to eat an enormous amount of plants like carrots, sweet potatoes and kale everyday whereas one serving of liver would be enough for the whole week.  I’m not suggesting that we don’t also eat vegetables. In fact I want everyone to eat the rainbow in vegetables but this isn’t enough.

If you go to your local butcher or the meat department at the grocery store, you’ll find out that liver often gets thrown out.  Doesn’t it make sense to use this instead supplementing out of a plastic bottle?

Nutrient synergy.

Most nutrients require the presence of other nutrients, called cofactors, to allow absorption.  We talked about the conversion of ALA to DHA.  The cofactors that this conversion depends on are zinc, iron, and B6.  Most vegetarians and vegans are unlikely to get enough in their diet of any of these essential nutrients.

The reason I suggest cod liver oil to most patients, especially in the winter, is because it nails all the points I’ve listed above.  Its a synergistic and bioavailable source of essential vitamins D and A in its active form.  It also contains EPA and DHA.  Eat some oysters and you’ll get a good dose of zinc, B6 and B12.  For iron, enjoy a serving of liver pate and you are set!  These are the real superfoods.

Creating Kindness

Most vegans need to supplement B12 and vitamin D at the very least to maintain health. Enough retinol, or the active form of vitamin A, EPA and DHA, zinc, iron, and calcium also needs to be consumed and absorbed for long term wellness.

Insomnia and anxiety or depression can be rooted in low iron.  This is an example of how a deficiency of one essential nutrient can have wide reaching consequences.

The opposite is also true.  When I start patients on an ancestral diet, treat the gut and rule out other causes of malabsorption they feel more alive and ready to make a difference in the world.  The potential of creating a kinder world rests on our ability to be healthy and well-resourced.  This is what preventative medicine is all about.


Protect Your Brain and Keep Your Memory

Protect Your Brain and Keep Your Memory

There are 44 million people currently experiencing alzheimers or dementia worldwide.  There are a number of steps you can take no matter where you are in life to prevent and even reverse memory problems.

  1.  Regulate blood sugar.  Processed foods reduce insulin sensitivity of your brain’s neurons. Dementia is now being called Diabetes Type 4 due to the surprising amount of evidence linking insulin resistance with it.
  2. Eat Real Food.  Chocolate for their flavonols and spices for their polyphenols.  Pastured eggs for choline and cholesterol.  Cold water fish for DHA and omega 3 fatty acids.  (Choose ocean wise for ethical harvesting practices and third party tested oils for quality.)  Berries for their antioxidants and fermented foods for the gut
  3. Meditate daily.  If you have had the pleasure to spend time with anyone who has meditated for years, you’ll already understand why meditation is so powerful.  Science is mapping the changes to the brain that occurs when you meditate.  I’ve witnessed profound changes on retreat in myself and in others.
  4. Sleep.  Our bodies repair when we sleep.  One night of sleep triggers an inflammatory response in the body.  If you are having trouble sleeping it may be due to blood sugar dysregulation or other imbalances that can be addressed by digging in with a functional medicine practitioner.
  5. Specific supplementation which I’ll get into now.

Its important to understand that Alzheimer’s and related disorders (ADRD) begin long before symptoms do.  By addressing steps 1-4 you are reducing your risk by as much as 50%.  Women are affected more than men as we age, however there is a growing number of young men who experience memory problems earlier in life due to very high stress and insulin resistance.  ADRD affects people on all levels; personally, socially and professionally.  Evidence supports early prevention in reducing risks as much as 50%.

Nutraceuticals and Botanical Medicne for Cognitive Health:

  • Resveratrol is a polyphenol with both anti oxidant and anti inflammatory properties.  Researchers believe it has positive effects on the hippocampus.  This is the area of the brain that is critical for memory, learning and mood.  It also has been shown to improve cerebral blood flow.  Four studies saw enhanced executive function and memory in health older adults who supplemented for a minimum of 14 weeks at a dose of 150-200 mg with both resversatrol and phytoestrogens.
  • Phosphatidylserine helps to improve depressive symptoms, memory, and behaviour.  It is an essential nutrient that is not found in the diet.  It also regulates stress and is indicated when cortisol is high at doses between 100-500 mg.
  • Choline in the form of alpha GPC or citicoline allows this ‘b vitamin’ to cross the blood brain barrier. This supports cognitive health by making more acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the form of cold-water fatty fish is best.  Grass fed meat is also higher in omega 3’s.  If you are supplementing with fish oil a range aim for around 2000 mg (combined EPA + DHA).
  • Vitamin B12 found in organ meats and some shellfish. Methylcobalamin can be supplemented at 500 mcg.
  • N-Acetyl Cysteine reduces glutamate from the brain. This antioxidant is the precursor to glutathione.
  • Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR) is recommended dosage is 1000 – 2000 mg to support brain function.
  • Curcumin Cook with raw turmeric root and supplement with 300 – 500 mg of curcumin.
  • Ginkgo Biloba increases blood flow to the brain and reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms. It also increases short term memory recall. Check for interactions with medications before supplementing at 120 – 240 mg.
  • Bacopa is a herb that improves memory and focus. Recommendation is 200 – 500 mg.

I don’t recommend starting on all of these on your own.  Herbal and nutraceutical medicine is complex and like Functional Medicine its individualized. Deciding on a treatment course and plan has many factors.  Its best to work with a practitioner to ensure you will be getting the most out of any supplements you purchase.  Quality and duration are important factors.  You also want to ensure you are absorbing them and not taking anything that isn’t going to improve your quality of life.


How We Treat Autoimmunity: LDN

How We Treat Autoimmunity: LDN

Low Dose Naltrexone Works

With the astonishing rise of autoimmune diseases we need effective treatment strategies.  Studies on LDN are still limited however we can use this information along with what is being seen clinically.  LDN is not going to be supported by the pharmaceuticals so this is part of why we aren’t seeing more research.  Treatments that don’t make big pharma lots of money are unlikely to be given much attention by the conventional system.

The studies that do exist include treatment on cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, and autism. For patients with Crohn’s the rate of remission was 70% with complete healing of the gastrointestinal mucosa without any side effects.  If you know anyone with Crohn’s disease you’ll understand how debilitating the disease can be and conventional treatments are often ineffective so this is very encouraging.

In my clinic I have seen LDN work in a variety of autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome.  It is also used in neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  In the United Kingdom it is being used by one clinic to treat infertility with excellent success.  The reason it is working is because it is regulating the immune system and reducing inflammation.  In Functional Medicine we know these two factors are at the root of most chronic disease.

I’ve had patients who don’t feel well but don’t know why.  This can be a major factor in mental health especially when their doctor has told them their symptoms are in their head.  Yes this actually happens and in fact two patients this week have reported this to me in clinic.  I look for indications of specific autoimmune disorders in lab work.  When a patient feels better on an autoimmune protocol this is sometimes enough to explore LDN as a treatment.  With no side effects and positive results there is little reason not to.  One patient was able to stop strong painkillers after 20 years of use.  These stories are what I live for.

To learn more about a autoimmune paleo and nutrient dense diet check out:  www.amberwoodhealth.ca

Antidepressants That Work

Antidepressants That Work

Modulating your gut flora has far-reaching benefits for your emotional and cognitive health says a study published by Trends in Neuroscience.  This study uses the term psychobiotics to describe how prebiotics and probiotics affect the brain.  The central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain and spinal cord.  It connects with the gut via the enteric nervous system (ENS).  Gut microbes produce metabolites that affect both organs negatively if there is dysbiosis or an imbalance in bacteria.

Probiotics Support Neurotransmitters & Reduce Inflammation

In animal studies, specific probiotic strains were used to treat anxiety and depression.  Findings included an improved stress response, an increase in GABA (the calming neurotransmitter), more tryptophan (the precursor to seratonin) and less inflammatory cytokines.

Inflammation is known to be part of the pathogenesis of most depression.  These cytokines travel along the gut-brain axis and can cross the BBB (blood, brain barrier).  An increase in BBB permeability is associated with mental illness and alterations in neurotransmitters like serotonin. In human studies, specific probiotic strains have been used to decrease negative moods and improve the stress response within 30 days of use.

Prebiotics Reduce Stress & Support Emotional Regulation

Prebiotics like GOS (galactooligosaccharide) have anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and antidepressant effects.  When stress levels are too high we don’t function optimally.  By reducing the cortisol awakening response (CAR) we can soften the impact of chronic stress.  Hyper-vigilance is associated with depression and anxiety.  Increased prebiotic intake is showing to have an impact on this.

Defining Psychobiotics

“Psychobiotics were previously defined as live bacteria (probiotics) which, when ingested, confer mental health benefits through interactions with commensal gut bacteria. We expand this definition to encompass prebiotics, which enhance the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. We review probiotic and prebiotic effects on emotional, cognitive, systemic, and neural variables relevant to health and disease. We discuss gut–brain signalling mechanisms enabling psychobiotic effects…”  This quote is from a study published this year.

Prebiotics are available in foods like onions, artichokes and asparagus to name a few.  Find more information on the health benefits of both these and probiotics here. For periods of rebuilding I offer my patients GOS, beta-glucan, larch arabinogalactan and inulin.  When infections are present prebiotics can exacerbate symptoms.  In these cases there are other prebiotic fibres that can be used during treatment.

Functional Testing for the Gut-Brain Axis

Its important to see what is happening in the gut.  In Functional Medicine we say, “why guess when you can test?”.  Over and over I’m surprised by this medicine.  Just last week one of my patients thought there were two recurrent infections happening in his body.  It turned out it was just one thing that was causing all his symptoms and the lab work showed exactly what to treat.  He’s already feeling better! 

When mood is the predominant symptom I start with another test.  It is an overview of thewhich the gut, nutrient status, toxic exposure and neurotransmitters.   For mental health this test allows us to target treatment.  I’ve used it to successfully support a suicidal patient and another with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from a brain injury.  This is an excellent starting place if you are ready to feel more alive and well.  For a limited time your initial 30 minute consult is free and will help us decide the best place to begin.  Book in now




Getting to the Root of Autoimmunity

Getting to the Root of Autoimmunity

The root is the gut.  I’m going to tackle some of the most common autoimmune conditions by looking at the latest research.  What is significant for all autoimmune disease is that conventional treatments fall short.  New approaches are badly needed.  Good results are being found with an anti-inflammatory diet like the autoimmune paleo reset along with prebiotic fibres that nourish beneficial bacteria.  I also use herbs to soothe the intestinal lining and further reduce inflammation.  Other therapies like low dose naltrexone have been very helpful for my patients.

Genetics and environment play an important role in autoimmunity.  An ancestral diet with significantly more fibre and no processed foods has excellent outcomes.  It is naturally lower in carbohydrate.  Processed grains and grains in general were introduced recently in our evolution.  Our biology does not tolerate these foods especially in the quantities they are being consumed.  The high carb, low fat diet has led to many problems including overeating.  Higher fat whole foods are more satiating and safe as long as they aren’t combined with refined sweeteners.

Blood Sugar Solutions

Diabetes is on the rise in both children and adults.  In this disease the immune system attacks the pancreas preventing it from producing insulin by attacking it.  A study done this year found an association between  inflammation and microbial imbalances in those with type 1 diabetes (T1D).  In biopsies of patients with T1D, two specific strains of bacteria associated with gut inflammation were out of balance.  The study concluded that those with TID have a disrupted gut microbiome which plays a role in the disease 1.

Immunity and Lupus

Gut bacteria serve as immune protection against pathogens but in some cases they have taken over and contributed to transmission of a disease.  This in unusual but is what happens in Lupus.  Again it is an imbalance in specific strains of bacteria against others that contribute to the disease.  By supplementing with the anti-inflammatory strains of lactobacillus​ and bifidobacterium​ symptoms of Lupus were reduced.  In animal studies both lymphadenopathy and glomerulonephritis were affected by this simple intervention. Treatment with just bifido prevented the immune system from becoming over activated.2  A disrupted gut microbiota is associated with decreased DNA replication and repair.  Impaired carbohydrate and amino acid metabolism have also been associated with gut dysbiosis.  Therefore, we see dysbiosis epigenetically harming the body’s repair system and metabolism.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Oral Microbiome Health

Increased levels of aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans​ (​Aa​) in oral cavities due to peridontitis may be connected to rheumatoid arthritis. ​Research suggests that the oral microbe ​Aa​ may trigger autoimmunity in rheumatoid arthritis.​ Therapies that treat Aa infection and improve the health of the oral microbiome may be valuable in the treatment of RA. Confirming the presence of Aa and then treating it would be the first step. Dietary interventions to reduce inflammation and probiotics specific to the oral microbiome would ideally be part of treatment.







Gluten, Genetics & Gut Health

Gluten, Genetics & Gut Health

Why are these 3 G’s so damn important right now?  One out of every six people in North America suffer from an autoimmune condition.  By 2050, it’s predicted that 600,000 kids will have type 1 diabetes given the current rate.  This is alarming and I really think we can do better for our children.

Autoimmunity is complex and has many causes.  In this article I discuss three diseases and the research connecting gut health to autoimmunity.  Today I’ll focus on a specific genetic marker present in some autoimmune conditions and the strain of bacteria associated with it.  We’ll also discuss how a lower carb, ancestral type diet is indicated.

Gluten increases inflammation even in those who are non reactive.  It is also a filler food meaning its highly processed and modified.  It lacks any nutrient value unless it is fortified which can actually cause more problems.  For those who are reactive, gluten leads to several disease processes including neurological issues, joint problems, malabsorption and yes, autoimmune disease.

What about HLA?

HLA means human leukocyte antigen. Leukocytes are the white blood cells. They protect the body from infection and foreign substances.  Antigen means the protein on the surface of immune cells. Genes determine which proteins are present on the surface of the immune cells.  HLA is a highly polymorphic gene, meaning there are many different possible gene set variants, or haplotypes.

Humans have incredibly adaptive immune systems because of the number of haplotypes available.  However, certain haplotypes predispose a person to specific immune system diseases.  HLA-DQ haplotypes have also been associated with celiac disease (1), while HLA-DRB1 has been associated with rheumatoid arthritis (2).  Mold illness may affect one person and not another due to the individual’s haplotype.

HLA-B27 in Autoimmunity

Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, reactive arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and uveitis are all associated with HLA-B27.  Fusion of the spine in AS is the most common condition associated with this haplotype. An estimated 88 percent of people with AS are HLA-B27 positive.  Some subtypes of this gene are protective against AS while others increase the risk of developing the disease.  Keep in mind that you can have this haplotype and never develop an autoimmune condition.

Klebsiella and Ankylosing Spondylitis

A connection has been made between Klebsiella and HLA-B27 since 1980.  Studies have found that this gut bacteria has two molecules that closely resemble HLA-B27 (34). The immune system naturally produces antibodies against Klebsiella in an effort to remove it, but these antibodies can also bind to HLA-B27.

Low-starch Diet?

Studies have shown that Klebsiella does not grow on cellulose from plant starches but can grow on simple sugars (5). Simple sugars are absorbed in the small intestine whereas some starch makes it to the colon where bacteria live.  Klebsiella can manufacture an enzyme called pullulanase, a starch-debranching which allows it to break down starch into simple sugars for energy and growth (6).

Human studies confirm that a high protein, low carbohydrate diet significantly reduces klebsiella in fecal samples (7). Another study found that a low-starch diet reduced the immune response in AS patients (8). The majority of these patients reported remission or at least a reduction in symptoms.

And Finally Back to Gluten

In four out of 5 randomized, double blind trials gluten showed to increase symptoms in patients.  The patients who received the rice pill instead of the gluten pill continued to have symptoms improvement.  This doesn’t mean that all people need to be strictly gluten free but it does mean that up to 80% of people who are struggling with chronic illness are reactive to gluten.  I explain to patients who want to get better that removing gluten is an excellent starting place given the medical literature.  Most testing available to the public only looks at alpha gliadin and wheat.  More accurate testing is available.  It covers 24 markers.  I highly recommend this if you are questioning whether or not to remove gluten from your diet.  Remember that diet and environment turn on genes that would otherwise be dormant.  One step to preventing autoimmunity can be as simple as eating more vegetable and eliminating gluten for 2 weeks to see if you feel better.

Your Body & Brain on Meditation

Your Body & Brain on Meditation

The Nervous System of A Parent

Seven years ago I sat down with my meditation instructor.  I was preparing for my next long retreat where I would make a deeper commitment to working with myself.  What was striking about this conversation is he was much more interested in the fact that I was considering becoming a parent.  At the time his daughter was still young so he understood the kind of challenges that lay ahead for me.  I’ll never forget him saying in a very sobering way that his nervous system was completely shot due to parenthood.  And this was from a long time meditator!

Nobody could’ve guessed what lay ahead.  Like most parents, my resiliency has been tested over and over.  Some of us are wired from a young age to be easily triggered.  Others develop this tendency once we have children of our own.  The good new is we can remodel our brains at anytime.  The goal is to keep our life force strong in order to be of service to our families and communities.  Enough down time is essential.  A mindfulness practice is the best way to build this into a busy life.

The practice of meditation interrupts our normal patterns.  By resetting the nervous systems it allows new growth.  Imagine its 8am and your child is on his third tantrum already.  You still have a full day of work ahead and an important meeting in one hour.  You feel exhausted.  One way to prepare is to lay down and do some belly breathing followed by a body scan meditation.  This can bring you into the present, allow you to recharge and let go of effect of the tantrums.

Wisdom of the Belly

There are four times more stress receptors in the belly.  This is why belly fat accumulates in those with more perceived or real stress in their lives.  Visceral obesity is connected with poor insulin and cortisol regulation.  In the pre-industrial age this fat storage capacity was how we survived famines.  In modern times it has run wild because our stress is higher than ever and we have fewer ways to discharge that are part of our normal daily routines. This is why we have to build it in.  We know that meditation changes our cellular energy metabolism.  If you are exhausted, the best thing you can do is lay down and reset your mitochondria.  This is the power house of your cells.

Perceived Stress

Elizabeth Backburn won the nobel prize for her research of telomeres in the brain.  When there is perceived stress these telomeres appear short and stubby.  This coincided with more inflammation, a higher risk of cancer and a faster rate of aging.  Keep in mind that perceived stress does not equal actual stress.  Working with your mind is one way to protect your brain with the positive effect of aging gracefully.

For those with PCOS we know meditation can lower DHEA and androgens.  It also increases oxytocin.  This is the calm and connect hormone that naturally lowers cortisol.  Stress is a major contributor in all disease processes. Half the population are taking antidepressants lacking any substantial long-term evidence whereas meditation has an enormous body of research.  Patients tell me that their doctors prescribe them the birth control pill alongside an antidepressant to fix their hormonal problems.  This is enough to make anyone feel crazy.

A Functional Medicine gynecologist I know reminds us that the pill reduces the size of the clitoris by 25 per cent.  It also lowers testoterone which decreases sex drive and lowers confidence.  Vaginal dryness is another common side effect.  One in 4 women are taking pharmaceuticals for mental health.  Anti depressants lower sex drive and are indicated in severe depression only.  They are being used in mild to moderate cases where other interventions are called for.

How do I begin and what’s the dose required?

Alternatives are available.  My patients shift in a few weeks by doing a Baseline Reset that includes a mindfulness practice.  Research shows that meditating for 25 min per day for only three days changes the brain.  Imagine what would happen if you kept going!

The conventional medical paradigm recognizes meditation as a powerful tool.  You can get a ‘prescription’ for a class through our medical services plan to learn mindfulness for anxiety and depression.  Heart Math is a non-profit research project in California helping people to connect with their minds and bodies.

The Human Genome

An institute in California studied prostate survivors during a residential program in which meditation was a part. What they found was the genes that prevent cancer get turned on and the ones that cause it turn it off by social connection, meditation, diet and stress reduction.  Lifestyle makes a huge impact.  This is proven over and over.

The Real Goods on Meditation

The Real Goods on Meditation

Self-care and stress management can feel like just one more item to add to our to-do list.  How can we talk about meditation without making it one more thing that stresses us out?

Anyone can meditate. There are many approaches and none are wrong.  All of them have been studied in depth and show excellent health outcomes often outweighing other interventions including pharmaceuticals. When it comes to health and happiness this is the magic bullet.  A solo practice can nurture introverts who require more time alone. Group retreat can provide a new kind of social contact to unwind trauma.

I hear people say they can’t meditate.  “My mind never gets quiet.”  A different view or understanding is needed regarding what meditation actually is.  Fundamentally it is the opposite of doing anything including judging what is happening.  The point is to stop, step away from everything external and just see what’s there.  At first what we discover includes the full range of human experience. Then we may start to feel a bit of space emerging.  What is in this space after we settle into our body a little?  All that is good about being human including wisdom and joy.

The Science Backing Meditation

A recent meta analysis done by the Journal of American Medicine reviewed nearly 19 000 research studies on meditation.  The results were stunning across the board.  In just 8 weeks anxiety was reduced in the majority of people.  After 3 to 6 months of practice, 78% of those suffering from anxiety enjoyed significant benefits. This meta analysis concluded that meditation lowers depression in 70% of people and reduces pain in 67%.  This may be related to its ability to increase serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain.  So let’s talk more about the brain and then we’ll get into the stress response.

A study done in 2004 at the University of Wisconsin by Richard Davidson looked at long time meditators.  Using an EEG it was determined that not just brain waves changed during meditation but there were also permanent structural changes. Meditators have a thicker brain and more folds on the surface. They are also able to induce gamma waves at levels not seen in the rest of the population.

Changing the Brain

The control tower for the endocrine or hormone system is in the brain.  The amygdala interprets stress and is responsible for emotions, instincts and memory.  It also has a role in libido.  Psychological stressors like to-do lists and deadlines create the same physiological stress response as being in immediate danger.  We know that women are more at risk for having a dysregulated stress response. The #me too phenomenon explains in part why this is and I’ll be addressing this more in another article.  Chronic issues with gut, thyroid and HPA (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal) function are all too common these days.  Shiny, new, high tech interventions are not where we are finding answers.

When my health issues began, my gut instinct was to move away from conventional medicine. I literally relocated to the mountains and learned to meditate.  I found my doctor there.  Gradually returning to dance and martial arts training was part of the answer.  Movement and strength training is important as long as it is enjoyable.  It triggers human growth hormone and stimulates a cascade of changes that makes us feel safe on a fundamental, somatic level.

Neuroplasticity or the brain’s ability to change goes on throughout our lives. It is not limited to just babies as we once thought so we can always begin wherever we are.  You may recognize these words from the title of a popular book written by the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron.

Focus, Attention and Addiction

ADD is a common diagnosis in children whereas it seems under diagnosed in women. This is another area where pharmaceuticals are the primary intervention. However, the long-term evidence is not convincing.  Young people are being exposed to meditation more and more because of how effective it is.  In terms of substance use, meditation, cognitive behavioural therapy and acupuncture are some of the best tools for building resiliency.

A wave of research on meditation occurred after a conference where the Dalai Lama urged scientists to go in this direction.  Research is currently being done at the University of Victoria by a professor who is part of the meditation community I practice with.

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
-H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama






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