Category Archives: Nutrition

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?

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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?

Top 5 supplements for a healthy pregnancy and baby

As a mother of two boys, maternal and child health are very dear to my heart. Pregnant women in my practice often ask me which supplements they should be taking during their pregnancy. These five supplements are what I recommend to every woman of child-bearing age who might one day get pregnant.  Why you ask? Because these are the supplements that keep on giving. Even after a mother has had her baby, these supplements continue to benefit both the mother and baby.

1. Iron:  is an important vitamin for both maternal and fetal health. It is involved in the transport and storage of oxygen. It is required for energy and it supports the growth and development of the fetus and placenta. It is also involved in brain development and cognition.  Anemia in pregnancy may result in a baby with a low birth weight.

Interestingly enough, iron in breast milk is small but much more absorbable and the amount of iron is more dependent on maternal stored iron. A recent research study found that mother’s that were supplemented with iron during pregnancy had higher iron levels in their breast milk.  Meaning that it is important for pregnant and soon to be pregnant women to have a healthy iron level before they give birth. An anemic mother will lead to an anemic baby once born. Most women at some point or another in their pregnancy become anemic. It is always a good idea to start out with a reservoir of iron instead of a deficiency.

It is important to get a good digestible source of iron that will not cause constipation. My preference is chelated iron bisglycinate. It is relatively inexpensive and it works well. According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre, pregnant women need 27mg of iron daily. Even if a woman is mildly anemic, I still treat them with supplemental iron due to an increase risk of post partum bleeding.  As always please consult a licensed care provider before taking any supplement.

2. Probiotics: these are microorganisms that live in our entire digestive tract.  Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are the major microorganisms and they play an important role in digestive and immune health. There is research to suggest that maternal levels of bifidobacterium affect infant levels as early as 3 days. Bifidobacterium  readily passes from the breast milk to the nursing baby. Probiotics enhance our immune system, enhance the assimilation and absorption of vital nutrients, promote healthy skin, decrease atopic disease (asthma, allergies, eczema) and act as Group B Strep prophylaxis. While you can get probiotics in supplement form, I always encourage people to get additional probiotics through foods such as sauerkraut, kim chee, yogurt, miso or anything fermented.

3. Omega 3 fatty acids: the 3 main types of essential fatty acids are EPA, DHA and ALA. They are called essential fatty acids because they must be obtained from the diet. EPA and DHA are readily found in seafood such as fish, squid and algae. ALA is mainly found in flaxseeds, soybean oil, canola oil.  I will discuss the problems with soybean and canola oil in a later blog. ALA is not readily converted to DHA by the body so I usually just supplement patients with DHA and EPA. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, the mother is the primary source of essential fatty acids. DHA in the developing infant is needed for visual and neurological development, cognition and hand/eye coordination. For pregnant and nursing mothers, essential fatty acids can help with mood stabilization and to banish baby brain.

4.  Vitamin D: with the war against sun exposure in full bloom, Vitamin D deficiency is becoming rampant. I have my issues with the whole everyone must wear sunscreen year round campaign but this is not the place for that discussion. Being a physician in the Pacific Northwest, I see and treat a lot of Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is now becoming a significant public health concern especially the further  away  you are from the equator. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to gestational diabetes, pre eclampsia, infection, Cesarian section and fetal growth restriction. Vitamin D in addition to calcium is also required for proper bone development. A recent paper published in February of this year suggested that supplementation may be a simple way to reverse adverse risk factors associated with low Vitamin D status. A licensed health care practitioner can check your Vitamin D status for you and suggest an appropriate Vitamin D dosage based on your lab results.

5. Prenatal Vitamin: research is just now starting to focus on the role of micronutrients in pregnancy outcomes. According to recent research,  reduction in  essential micronutrients may contribute to recurrent spontaneous abortions.   A good quality prenatal will provide you with all the important micronutrients such as magnesium, selenium, zinc, copper, chromium, manganese among others. In addition, these vitamins and minerals will be in a form that is easily absorbed by the body. Not all supplements are created equally. For example, most supplement companies sell magnesium in oxide form. This form is not readily absorbed by the body whereas the malate or citrate form is much better absorbed. I always advise women to start taking their prenatal vitamins well before they are thinking of getting pregnant. The worse thing that can happen is your hair grows thicker and faster. I also tell women that they need to think of their  womb as a garden. The egg and sperm represent the seed. In order to get a good yield of produce, you have to prepare your garden and fertilize it preferable with organic manure. When you have good soil and good seed, you have a good harvest. Pregnancy is no different.

Are there any supplements you find helpful for pregnancy and post partum?