Can oil pulling radically change your health?

I heard about oil pulling a few months ago on a Facebook group that I belong to. I didn’t pay much attention to it nor did I manage to research it. Fast forward a few months later and oil pulling is everywhere. Google oil pulling and you will find health claims from hangover cure to TMJ pain relief. As usual, there are as many people touting the amazing health benefits of oil pulling as those claiming that there is no scientific research to back it up.

What is oil pulling?

Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that involves swishing oil in the mouth for oral and systemic benefits. Oil pulling has been used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years for everything from tooth decay to strengthening of teeth, gums and jaw. Any vegetable oil such as sunflower or sesame oil can be used. In Ayurveda, sesame oil is considered the queen of oil seed crops due to its benefical qualities. The systemic benefits of oil pulling can be explained by the fact that Ayurvedic medicine believes that each section of the tongue is connected to vital organs such as lungs, kidney, spleen, stomach, small intestine, liver and heart which is a very similar belief system in reflexology and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Show me the research

In the West, our ideology is firmly rooted in research/evidence based medicine. Not that there is anything wrong in using research to direct care or treatment. However, it has been my observation that ancient ways of healing are simply chalked up as a hoax and irrelevant. A study by Asokan S et al (2009) showed that oil pulling significantly reduced the plaque index, modified gingival scores and total colony count of microorganisms in the plaque of adolescents with plaque induced gingivitis.

Oral health has been linked to various conditions such as endocarditis, cardiovascular disease, pregnancy and birth, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s just to name a few. I am not advocating ditching your regular oral hygiene regimen (toothbrush, dental floss, regular visits to the dentist) in favour of oil pulling. However, if swishing some oil in your mouth can enhance overall general health while fighting breath then why not give it a try?

What to do?

I have decided to use coconut oil for my oil pulling experiment. I chose this oil because of it’s antibacterial properties and I find it palatable.

1. I recommend starting with 1 teaspoon of coconut oil melted and working up to 1 tablespoon per session

2. As soon as you wake up in the morning, put 1 teaspoon of melted coconut oil in your mouth. Do not brush or floss before doing this.

3. Swish  the liquid around for about 15-20 mins. Do not swallow. The liquid will  get thick and fill up your mouth as time progresses. Try to be relaxed while doing this. Do not hold the oil for longer than 20 mins.

4. After 20 mins, run the hot tap water and spit out the liquid in your mouth. You don’t want coconut oil solidifying in your pipes.

5. Rinse your mouth out with warm salt water, brush/floss as usual.

6. I highly recommend using a natural toothpaste that has been EWG approved and abstain from using mouthwash.

I challenge you to oil pull for 2 weeks and see if it impacts your health.

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It’s Croup Season

Well, I got bit by the croup bug. Actually, my oldest child developed croup 2 weeks ago. Up until then, he had never had a respiratory infection except for a mild runny nose. At first I didn’t realize it was croup until he was 2 days into it. Need less to say, the whole croup episode lasted for 4 days and I am now dealing with symptoms of the common cold in both him and his 9 month old brother.

What is Croup?

Croup is an inflammation of the upper airways – vocal cords, wind pipe and bronchial tubes. It is mostly caused by a virus –  parainfluenza, respiratory syncital virus or adenovirus. On occasion it could be caused by a bacteria. Children between the ages of 3 months and 3 years are the most vulnerable. That is not to say that children older than 3 years cannot catch croup. Fall/winter is the most common time of the year for croup to rear its ugly head.

Signs and symptoms

Croup usually start with a runny/stuffy nose and fever followed by a hoarse voice as the upper airways become inflamed. The hallmark of the disease is a harsh barking cough that sounds like a seal. Symptoms are worse at night and when the child is upset or crying. Croup is highly contagious. Please keep your children at home if you suspect they have croup.

Things to look out for and be concerned about:

High pitched/squeaking noise with breathing in –  this is known as stridor

Retraction around the ribs during breathing

Fast breathing/difficulty breathing

Pale/bluish colour around the mouth

If child is less than 6 months and having difficulties breathing, go right to emergency.

If your child exhibits any of these symptoms and they are not playing or can’t sleep or they seem to be struggling with breathing, get medical attention immediately.

Treatment.

There are actually lots of natural remedies that work great for croup. If started at the first sign of symptoms, it’s the difference between your child going to emergency and getting pumped full of steroids or hanging out at home watching Toy Story on repeat.

1. Don’t panic. It can be very scary for both parents and kids when breathing becomes laboured or the cough starts. The calmer the child, the less likely for the coughing to progress.

2.  Most parents are told to bundle up the child and put them outside in fresh cool air. This does not work for all children. Running a cool air humidifier also works. My son definitely did worse in the cold air and he preferred moist warm heat. Run the shower and place a few drops of essential oil (eucalyptus, thyme, lavender) in the shower to steam and have child inhale deeply. Opening the window at night for some fresh cool air was helpful.

3.  An aromatic chest rub works well especially at night and allows everyone to sleep a little better. Rub the front and back of the chest with the aromatic rub. If possible have your child sleep with you so you can monitor their breathing.

4. The following are herbs that are immune modulating, and antiviral: elderberries, andrographis, licorice root, peppermint, chamomile, lemon balm, catnip, echinacea, thyme, cinnamon and reishi mushroom. I only prescribe and use glycerites in young children. Please consult a naturopathic doctor or trained herbalist for a custom formulation. I recently formulated a natural fever reducer that works as well as acetaminophen.

5. Give lemon and honey as a soothing warm drink.

6.  Eliminate all sugar and processed foods from the diet. If at all possible make your own bone broth and give several cups per day. Make sure the bones are organic. Don’t be surprised if your child is not interested in eating during this time period. Keep them hydrated. Try to stay away from fruit juice they offer no nutritional value and are loaded with sugar.

Are there other natural remedies that have proven effective for you?

Is your nursery toxic?

Source: Fantastic4design.com

There is nothing more exciting than waiting for the arrival of a new baby. Most parents spend a significant amount of time and money getting the nursery ready for the baby once it makes it arrival. Did you know that the average nursery harbours over 300 harmful chemicals floating in the air? That’s a lot for a little body to deal with.

Ways to have a healthier nursery.

  1. If you decide to redecorate and paint, choose non VOC, solvent-free paint. Conventional paints can off gas for years after the paint has dried and they contain toxic volatile substances that are known carcinogens. Look into other options to decorate the nursery that doesn’t require painting such as wall decals.
  2. Choose a solid wood crib with non toxic finish. If you do purchase or accept a second-hand crib, make sure to ask about the finish and avoid composite wood. Remember that in a few months, your baby is going to be chomping on the crib while they teeth.
  3. Avoid carpet in the nursery. Hard wood flooring with a carpet that is washable is much better.
  4. Purchase an organic/Greenguard certified mattress. Yes, it is more expensive but so are hospital bills and a lifetime of neurological and behavioural problems. Conventional mattresses contain flame retardants, anti microbial and water proofing finishes. These are all substances that are detrimental to a developing brain and respiratory system.
  5. If you must purchase a changing pad, make sure if it does not contain foam or PVC material. Wool and cotton filled pads will do the job. Foam changing pads are most likely loaded with flame retardants.
  6. Beware of phthalates, BPA, PVC, lead and cadmium in toys, diaper bags and teething products. Wooden teethers and PVC free teethers are available. Be cautious of old toys passed down since the paint finish may be questionable and it may be loaded with lead.
  7. Purchase organic baby care products or better yet make your own. If the product does not say certified organic, then it most likely isn’t. Beware of companies trying to green wash their toxic products by calling it natural. Read labels to check ingredients or visit the EWG website to see if the product you are using is safe.
  8. Opt for chlorine free diapers or better yet purchase cloth diapers and use reuseable cloth wipes.
  9. Ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary to purchase all this furniture and toys for your new-born.

Lifesaving Probiotics

Picture courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

Yes, you read that right, I believe probiotics are lifesaving. A few weeks ago, I got into a heated debate with two other people on wellness mama’s blog site.  I felt as if I was in a political race with all the mudslinging and name calling that was going on. Somewhere in cyberspace there is a person who goes by Captain Obvious who vehemently said that there is no proof that probiotics ever saved anyones’ life.

Well Captain Obvious, whoever, wherever you are, I am here to tell you that obviously you do not know the world of probiotics. I started reading a very interesting and great book on probiotics by Dr. Gary Huffnagle called The Probiotics Revolution this past week. According to Dr. Huffnagle, pre and probiotics are not optional additions to our diet but an essential food group that provides nutrients that are just as important to our health as vitamins and minerals.

What are Probiotics and how do they work?

Probiotics are friendly bacteria that live inside our intestines. Each individual person is host to one hundred trillion microbes . These microbes have important functions to our health and include species such as Lactobacillus, E. coli, Bacteroides, Candida albicans, Clostridium difficile, Streptococcus and Klebsiella to name a few.  Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the two most commonly known friendly microbes in our body that protect us by competing with harmful bacteria within our body and enhancing our immune system. Problems arise when the balance between good and bad microbes is disturbed.

The research on the role of probiotics have been mixed. Some studies have  shown probiotics to help with diseases such as asthma, allergies (food and environmental), eczema, autism, H. Pylori, IBS, IBD (Chron’s, Ulcerative Colitis), peptic ulcer, rheumatoid arthritis, constipation, diarrhea, urinary tract infection, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease and the list goes on. Probiotics have even be shown to help decrease the incidence and severity of the common cold and flu. Probiotics have such a far-reaching effect because they help to modulate the immune system, quench inflammation, curb the stress response and keep bad bacteria in check.

How Can I get probiotics?

I am a proponent of getting your probiotics from your food. The reason the research results have been mixed is because single strains are used for reasearch. However this may not be a true reflection of what happens in our intestines when we eat whole foods. Fermented foods are a great way to increase the probiotic content in your gut. Every single culture in the history of human kind has eaten some kind of fermented food. The two biggest modifications that have affected the levels of probiotics in our system has been our diet and the introduction of antibiotics. A low fiber, highly processed diet enables the bad bacteria to grow in numbers that cause health problems while antibiotics disturb the delicate balance of the good vs bad microbes in our systems be killing the good ones.

Foods such as kefir, yogurt (look for a brand that added back the probiotics after pasteurization), kombucha, kim chee, miso, pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, naturally aged cheeses are all good sources of probiotics. It is equally important to have a high fiber diet full of fruits, vegetables, some whole grains that act as prebiotis which is food for the probiotics in our system.  Making your own fermentables is a great way to boost your health and that of your family and it is much cheaper than taking a supplement.  When at all possible choose organic produce for your fermentables. Please be cautious when you are fermenting your own food and avoid giving it to very young children who might easily get sick.

I usually recommend probiotic supplementation when a medical condition needs to be addressed and getting probiotics through food alone is not enough. Buyer beware when purchasing probiotic supplements. Not all brands are created equally and when at all possible keep your probiotic supplement refrigerated.

What are your experience with taking probiotics?

Doing gluten free right. Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, just because you are gluten-free does not necessarily mean you are eating a healthy diet. I have seen people gain weight  and acquire a new set of health problems on a gluten-free diet. Adopting a gluten-free diet should be a change in lifestyle and eating habits. It is an opportunity to discover new foods and have a different relationship with food. It is not always easy initially but the long-term benefits are well worth it.

Tips for doing gluten-free right.

1. Start by cleaning out your kitchen. Stock up on organic fruits and vegetables.  They are chock full of vitamins, minerals and enzymes that nourish your body. You are more likely to snack on fruits and vegetables instead of cookies if that is all you have at home. This is your opportunity to eat a whole foods diet.

2. Avoid or limit your intake of low nutritional carbohydrates such as potato starch, rice starch, corn starch and tapioca starch. These types of carbohydrates all contribute to excessive weight gain since they increase blood sugar. It is near impossible to bake gluten-free without using some kind of starch. This may be a great opportunity to introduce raw desserts into your diet.

2. It is ok to use nut flours like almond flour in moderation. Most nuts are high in omega 6 fatty acid and they contain phytic acid which can block the absorption of other minerals.  More about phytic acid in a later blog.

3. Consider alternative flours such as: quinoa, sorghum, buckwheat, amaranth, coconut and teff. These are all  nutrient dense as they provide protein, fibre and essential minerals and vitamins.

4. Rotate your diet. Try not to eat the same thing repeatedly. Food allergies/sensitivities develop as a result of repeated exposure to the same foods over a prolonged time period.

5. Get into the habit of reading labels. Just because it says gluten-free doesn’t mean it is healthy.  Some gluten-free manufacturers load their products with sugar in addition to cheap starch. This wrecks havoc on your metabolism and endocrine system.

6. Learn to cook so that you can control what goes into your body. There are excellent blogs and cookbooks available now that make gluten-free living both healthy and delicious.

7. Stay away from packaged foods as much as possible. A gluten-free packaged bagel is just as detrimental to your health as a regular whole wheat bagel. Eat food in its natural state. Eat organic and local food as much as possible.

8. Remember to be kind and gentle to yourself. Adopting a gluten-free diet is not going to happen overnight. You have a lifetime of discovering delicious food and your philosophy and food attitude will most likely change as time goes by.

Please consult a licensed naturopathic physician if you have an ongoing medical condition. Food can be a powerful tool for self transformation and healing.

How has your health changed since becoming gluten-free?

Gluten free diet. Not just for Celiacs. Part 1

Gluten free diet is one of the buzz words in nutrition these days. There are shows, blogs, restaurants, magazine articles dedicated to helping people achieve  gluten-free diet nirvana. This is great news for those diagnosed with celiac disease but what about the non celiac person?  Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body mounts an immune response to the ingestion of gluten/gliadin containing foods. This results in the destruction of the lining of the small intestines.  However there are people who do not have celiac disease but instead have a condition called non celiac gluten sensitivity.

In my clinical practice, I am coming across an alarming number of people with non celiac gluten sensitivity. This condition is being picked up indirectly with a specialized blood test and an elimination diet protocol. People with non celiac gluten sensitivity can exhibit signs and symptoms that range from gas, bloating, fatigue, depression to migraines and joint pain.

Top 6 reasons to switch to a gluten-free diet

1. Autoimmune condition: Any person with an autoimmune/inflammatory condition can benefit from a gluten-free diet. Whether you have rheumatoid arthritis , fibromyalgia, lupus, or just generalized aches and pains,  a gluten-free diet may help alleviate your symptoms. Gluten is believed to be one of the major contributors to “leaky gut syndrome“. By eliminating gluten from your diet, you are giving your immune system a break.

2. Children: if you are a parent of a child suffering from hyperactivity, colic, headache, eczema, asthma, insomnia, diarrhea, then your child may have food intolerance/sensitivity. Wheat is one of the major food allergens for young children but unfortunately it is in everything which increases your child’s exposure to it. Even exclusively breastfed babies get food intolerance/sensitivities from their mother. If you eliminate gluten containing foods from your diet and your child’s health improves, then your child most likely has a difficult time digesting gluten containing foods.

3.  Weight loss: adopting a gluten-free diet is helpful when trying to lose weight for several reasons. A gluten-free diet ensures that you are eating more fruits and vegetables while decreasing consumption of foods that are higher on the glycemic index. Most people are able to reduce their caloric intake and eat more nutrient dense foods instead of low nutritional status foods such as whole wheat bagels, crackers, bread and pasta.

4.  Bladder conditions: I have seen patients with bladder/fecal incontinence, overactive bladder, interstitial cystitis improve significantly by eliminating gluten and other food intolerance from their diet. The reason is that for some people their allergic reaction to food occurs in the bladder not the respiratory or GI system. Some individuals who are allergic/sensitive to gluten may experience urinary frequency, urgency and bloating in addition to painful bladder syndrome.

6. Fertility: if your goal is to get pregnant, then you might want to go gluten-free before conception. Celiac’s disease has been linked to infertility, miscarriage, fetal growth problems and stillbirth. If you are suffering from any of these conditions, you may have undiagnosed celiac’s disease or non celiac gluten sensitivity.

The average person who is non celiac or gluten sensitive can benefit from adopting a gluten-free diet most of the time. By adopting a gluten-free diet, it enables you to replace your diet with more nutrient dense foods that will benefit your body. I usually advise patients to adopt the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the diet is gluten-free while twenty percent of the diet is the occasional ingestion of gluten containing foods. Of course this rule does not apply to individuals with celiac disease who must abstain from gluten containing foods permanently.

There is however a caveat to all of this. The gluten-free industry is now a multi billion dollar machine. There are a lot of packaged products on the market that are just as nutritionally devoid as gluten filled ones. Most manufacturers utilize cheap starches that will not only ensure that you are carrying an extra spare tire or two around your midsection but can eventually lead to nutritional deficiencies and ill-health.

As always it is best to consult with a licensed naturopathic physician if you have any of the conditions mentioned above for specialized testing/assistance.

What is preventing you from trying a gluten-free diet?

Living with bladder pain naturally

My previous blog focused on explaining what bladder/pelvic pain is. After treating a large population of people with pelvic/bladder pain, there are a few natural remedies that I found to be effective.

The problem is that conventional medicine has little to offer patients that are suffering from bladder/pelvic pain. This is the reason that the average individual will have the disease for at least 8 years before it becomes diagnosed. If you are one of those people who does not want to be on the chemical/bladder installation train for the remainder of your life, you are in the right place.

My top 10 recommendations 

1. Identify foods that are your triggers. This can be accomplished by keeping a food diary that chronicles everything you eat and drink over a 24 hour period along with your mood, physical reactions,  bladder and bowel movements. Common foods that are known bladder irritants are: chili/ spicy foods, chocolate, coffee, tea (black, green, white), tomatoes, apples, apple juice, citrus foods, cranberries, cranberry juice, grapes, pineapple, plums, strawberries, alcohol, carbonated drinks, food preservatives, vinegars, vitamins (esp B vitamins) and MSG.

2. If you are a smoker, stop. Smoking may worsen pain conditions.

3. Find a way to deal with your stress. Whether it is tai chi, yoga, mindfulness based meditation, swimming, or walking. You get the idea. Stress makes bladder/pelvic pain worse. Pick an activity that does not aggravate your bladder pain and do it at least 3 times a week.

4. Try hot or cold applications. Most of my patients find that soaking in  a warm bath with 2 cups of Epsom salt for 30 mins helps to relax their pelvic floor and relieve stress. Do not put any bubble bath or bath fizz as these things tend to aggravate pain symptoms. A few drops of almond or coconut oil with some essential oils is usually ok.

5. Do not let yourself get dehydrated. It is very tempting to decrease water intake in an effort to avoid going to the bathroom often. This only makes your urine concentrated and it can make your pain symptoms worse. In addition, you don’t want to set yourself up for a bladder infection. Drink at least half your body weight in oz of water daily.

6. It is important to find a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor rehabilitation. Not all physical therapists are created equal. Find someone who  is familiar with the Wise-Anderson protocol. You DO NOT want to be doing kegel exercises if you have pelvic/bladder pain. This may make your condition worse.

7. Try acupuncture. Acupuncture is good for stress management and it can be a very effective tool in managing pain. I have found a hybrid neuromodulation protocol which is a combination of traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine to be very effective.

8. Get a naturopathic physician on board who has experience treating bladder/pelvic pain. There are several herbs/supplements that can be very helpful and much more effective than pharmaceutical meds without the nasty side effects.

9. Take control of your gut health and fix any leaky gut syndrome that you might have. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and bladder pain almost seem to go hand in hand. You cannot truly fix pelvic pain without also addressing GI issues.

10. Get support. Find a support group that is engaging and uplifting. Pain is depressing and depression is painful. It is helpful to be with people who are able to rephrase their experience and not allow this condition to define them.

How have you dealt with your condition naturally?