Insulin Resistance: What it is and what you can do about it.

Insulin is the hormone whose main function is to process sugar in the bloodstream and carry it to fat, liver, and muscle cells to be stored for later use.  When your body is flooded with too much insulin too much of the time, your cells can become resistant, or desensitized, to its effects.  Insulin resistance over the long term will result in Metabolic Dysfunction.

Causes of Excess Insulin

The most common cause is the consumption of too much nutrient-poor carbohydrate.  Other causes include: the use of artificial sweeteners, an insufficient protein intake, chronic stress, erratic or irregular mealtimes, over-exercising or lack of exercise, poor liver function, excess alcohol consumption or an existing hormonal imbalance – ie. excess cortisol or estrogen.

Symptoms of Insulin Resistance

Short-term side effects of high insulin include heart palpitations, sweating, poor concentration, weakness, anxiety, fogginess, fatigue, irritability, increased hunger and sugar cravings. 

Over the long term, signs of excess insulin include a tendency to hold extra weight abdominally, around your hips or over your triceps; an inability to lose weight in spite of a healthy diet and regular exercise; water retention or a puffiness in the face and extremities, fatigue, burning feet at night, skin tags, infertility or irregular menses, erectile dysfunction, gout, vision changes or sleep disruption.

Beyond obesity and type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, reproductive abnormalities, androgen imbalance in women and osteoporosis.

Diagnosing Insulin Resistance/Metabolic Syndrome

In addition to the clinical symptoms above, according to the current medical guidelines, metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when three or more of the following risk factors are identified:

·       Low levels of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL)

·       High levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL)

·       Elevated triglycerides

·       Increased waist to hip ratio

·       High blood pressure

·       Elevated fasting blood sugar

·       Elevated fasting insulin

·       High uric acid

Reversing Insulin Resistance

The following are the most important steps you can take to improve insulin receptor sensitivity and restore optimal metabolic function.

1)    Limit your sugar intake – Sugar in the form of high dose fructose impairs insulin sensitivity more than any other food.  Examples of high dose fructose foods are: cakes, candy, fruit juice, dried fruit, agave, honey, sweetened milks.  Whole fresh fruit okay to eat as it is considered a low dose fructose, which actually improves insulin sensitivity.  The American Health Association recommends a maximum daily intake of sugar for women of 25g, and for men 37.5g.  Most people eat close to 100g/day, so making this adjustment can make a huge difference.

2)    Increase your muscle mass – The more muscle you have the more sensitive it will be to insulin.  With just 3 weeks of strength exercises for 30 minutes 3 times/week, you can increase your insulin sensitivity by 24%.

3)    Improve your stress response – Chronically elevated cortisol gives your body the message to increase abdominal fat storage and further depresses your metabolic rate by increasing muscle breakdown.  Developing good self care that effectively lowers your cortisol levels and keeps you out of a regular ‘fight or flight’ response is essential.  Some examples include: meditation, yoga, dancing, laughing with friends or walking in nature.

4)    Sleep – Chronic insomnia is a major cause of insulin resistance.  Four consecutive nights of poor sleep (less than 5 hours) is enough to reduce insulin sensitivity by 30 percent. 

5)    Supplement Magnesium – Magnesium deficiency can cause insulin resistance.  A magnesium rich diet improves insulin sensitivity so well it can be used instead of Metformin – the insulin-sensitizing drug prescribed for pre-diabetes and PCOS.  Magnesium rich foods include: green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds and legumes.  Stress and exercise deplete magnesium levels, so supplementation is often indicated.   Magnesium glycinate is the best form of magnesium – usually 300-400mg/day taken with food. 

Insulin Resistance is unfortunately increasingly common, affecting one in four adults.  It is often the basis of other hormonal imbalances and it must be addressed in order for other imbalances to resolve and for optimal wellbeing. 

References: 

Pailosso, G. (1997). Hypertension, Diabetes Mellitus, and Insulin Resistance: The Role of Intracellular Magnesium.   American Journal of Hypertension, Vol 10, Issue 3, p.346-355
Basciano, H, Federico, L., Adeli, K. (2005), Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipidemia. Nutritional Metabolism. Feb 21;2(1):5..
Spiegel, K, Knutson, K, Leproult, R, Tasali, E, Van Cauter, E. (2005) Sleep loss: a novel risk factor for insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.  Journal of Applied Physiology Vol. 99 no. 5, 2008-2019
 

 

Immune Boosting

With the cold and flu season upon us, here are a few tips to keep ourselves and our families healthy.

Here are my top general immune tips:

  • Rest. Head to bed early, and aim for extra sleep (more than 7-8 hours) if you are feeling those niggly first signs of sickness.

  • Fresh air. Bundle up and head outdoors for a hike, boost your Vitamin D levels naturally to enhance your immune function.

  • Eat nutrient rich foods. Enjoy a wide variety of foods rich in vitamins, mineral and antioxidants to fortify your bodies defenses. Focus on warm, cooked foods such as soups and stews. Think about lots of vegetables and protein. Limit sugar as it suppresses your immune function.

  • Manage your allergies. Awareness and avoidance of allergens reduces the burden on your immune system for optimal functioning.

  • Reduce stress as much as possible.

  • In terms of supplementation, as a preventative strategy through this season I recommend extra daily Vitamin C and D, and increased Probiotics.

And, at the first sign of symptoms in our house, we have a few remedies we start immediately:

·      Echinacea Tincture (the best Echinacea I have ever used) ½ dropper 5 times/day at the first sign of symptoms of immune activation, for me this could be feeling suddenly cold or achy, or noticing a slight scratchy throat.  Kids can take this too in a glycerite form if they won’t do the tincture. 

·      Honey Garlic syrup – for sore throats it works so well it seems like a magical cure.   The recipe can be found on our clinic blog. 

·      Warming socks

·      Hot lemon tea with ginger and honey

·      If there is a fever, UNDA 2, 5, 15 to encourage the fever and support our innate immune response.

Note: if you have an autoimmune condition, the above recommendations may not be appropriate

Garlic Honey Cough Syrup

This is a staple in our house through the winter months…works super well!

Very easy to make:

Fill a mason jar with peeled garlic about 1/2 way - we use our own organically grown garlic.  Fill the rest of the jar with unpasteurized local honey.  Let it sit in a cool dark cupboard for 4 weeks.  Strain.  And done!  

Give 1 tsp 2-4 times/day - as needed for cough.  (Not for children under age 1)

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Magnesium and Hormonal Balance

I love prescribing magnesium because it makes people feel better almost immediately.  If you are a patient of mine, and we are working to balance your hormones, you are probably taking magnesium.  It is useful in balancing thyroid conditions, adrenal imbalance, premenstrual issues and perimenopausal symptoms.  Many of us are deficient in magnesium because our cells use a lot of it during stressful periods.  Magnesium works on many levels to help to bring your system into balance.   Here are a few examples of why we need more of this mineral:

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Magnesium lowers blood sugar – Magnesium effectively sensitizes insulin receptors resulting in improved control of insulin and fewer sugar cravings.

Magnesium regulates cortisol levels – Magnesium relaxes the nervous system and reduces excess cortisol production.  It also prevents uptake of cortisol into the brain.

Magnesium supports quality sleep – Magnesium calms the brain by blocking the binding of a stimulating neurotransmitter (Glutamate) to NDMA receptors.   Optimal sleep is crucial to hormonal balance.

Magnesium supports optimal thyroid function – Magnesium is essential for thyroid hormone production.  Most cases of thyroid imbalance are autoimmune in origin, Magnesium helps to decrease the underlying inflammation which causes the autoimmune response.

Magnesium is anti-aging – Magnesium is essential to the production of steroid hormones such as Testosterone, DHEA, Progesterone and Estrogen.   It has been shown to enhance glutathione production, prevent telomere shortening and reduce oxidative stress – slowing down the aging process.

Because most of your magnesium is inside your cells, it does not test well with standard laboratory testing.  As most people are deficient I usually recommend trying a low dose and seeing how you feel.

I most often recommend magnesium glycinate or bis-glycinate.  This form of magnesium has an affinity for nervous tissue, is highly absorbable and is very well tolerated.   It has the least laxative effect of all forms of magnesium.

Food sources of magnesium include leafy greens, almonds, sesame and sunflower seeds, and chocolate.  Correcting a magnesium deficiency will often reduce or completely eliminate chocolate cravings.

Caffeine and Hormonal Balance

I truly appreciate a perfectly brewed, artfully crafted organic espresso – these days this happens about once every couple of months.  I love the taste of coffee and the relaxing ritual of lingering over a matcha hemp milk latte while engrossed in thought-provoking conversation or some interesting reading material.  I can understand the appeal of this as a daily ritual.  While I have never had a daily attachment to caffeine in general, during the first year of my daughter’s life when sleep was at a premium, I gave serious thought to developing one.

Working with hormonal balance, I often advise people to decrease or come off coffee or caffeine completely.   For some people, this is incredibly challenging, and it is difficult to understand how even one cup/day, for some people can be an issue.    

Caffeine is an addictive CNS stimulant.  It works by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain.  Adenosine is a neuromodulator, which inhibits the release of neurotransmitters.  When the receptors are blocked by caffeine, there is increase in central nervous system stimulation.  To take this one step further, the binding of caffeine to the adenosine receptors means that instead of slowing down, the brain/nerve cells fire up. The pituitary notices this increased action and sends hormones to tell the adrenal glands to increase production of adrenaline, activating a fight or flight energy. At the same time, caffeine slows down the reabsorption of dopamine, which is our pleasure neurotransmitter. With extra dopamine, you not only feel alert, but you feel really good.   Until, these levels drop, usually about 5 hours after ingestion.  No wonder it is hard to give up.

It is a challenge in terms of hormonal balance, because with daily coffee use, your body becomes used to this cycle, cortisol and dopamine levels are pushed beyond their natural limits of production and this is not sustainable, your nervous system becomes chronically stimulated, magnesium levels are depleted, and you are likely chronically dehydrated.

Giving your body a break from this cycle allows for an opportunity to restore adrenal and hormonal health, balance your brain chemistry, improve your liver function and achieve mood stability.  After the first few days, most people report stable more consistent energy levels.

http://science.howstuffworks.com/caffeine5.htm

Arousal effect of caffeine depends on adenosine A2A receptors in the shell of the nucleus accumbens. The Journal Of Neuroscience: The Official Journal Of The Society For Neuroscience [J Neurosci] 2011 Jul 6; Vol. 31 (27), pp. 10067-75.

Making Sense of Thyroid Lab Results

Thyroid_system.png

Thyroid disorders are prevalent in our culture, and are unfortunately often poorly managed within the conventional system.   I find myself explaining thyroid function and assessment on a daily basis.  It is a complex topic and requires a significant amount of time to cover thoroughly during a consultation. 

I am hopeful this article will serve as a reference for those of you working with an imbalanced thyroid.

While symptoms are more important to me than lab values, in the case of thyroid disorders the following tests make my job easier.  And, thorough testing usually means that you begin to feel better faster because we are able to support you as specifically and efficiently as possible.

Thyroid testing:

TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone) - is the hormone released by your pituitary gland to stimulate your thyroid to produce thyroid hormone.

Within the conventional system, this is the current test used in diagnosis of a thyroid disorder.  The “official” normal range for adults is quite broad – 0.5-5.0.  This range remains despite the fact that the AACE (American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists) announced in 2002 that the range of TSH should be narrowed to 0.3-3.0.   The goal of this recommendation was to enable physicians to diagnose and treat thyroid disease early, before it can lead to more serious conditions such as hypercholesterolemia, heart disease, osteoporosis, infertility and depression.   Unfortunately, every week I have people coming into my office with symptoms of hypothyroidism (fatigue, weight gain, difficult focus, hair loss, depression…) in whom a thyroid disorder has been ruled out because TSH was within the normal range.

I find that most people feel best when their TSH is between 0.5-1.8

Free T4 (Thyroxine) - is the main thyroid hormone produced by the thyroid gland. I refer to it as a pre-hormone because it is only about 10% metabolically active even though it represents roughly 90% of circulating thyroid hormone. The "free" part means we are measuring the quantity of hormone not bound to other proteins in the blood.  When T4 levels are adequate, your pituitary gland receives the message that enough TSH is being produced.   This means that TSH can be normal, even when your body is not converting T4 to T3.

Free T3 (Triiodothyronine) - represents our body's most active thyroid hormone. The T4 in circulation is converted within our liver and kidney into T3.  T3 stimulates cellular metabolism. T3 represents only about 10% of circulating thyroid hormone but is about 90% active. Again, we want to make sure we measure the free levels of this hormone to properly assess what is available to our cells.

Thyroid antibodies (TPO, ATA, TSI) - These antibodies play a critical role in many thyroid conditions. Eighty percent of women that have hypothyroidism have it due to an autoimmune condition referred to as Hashimoto's Disease. The TPO (thyroid peroxidase antibodies) and the ATA (anti-thyroglobulin antibodies) are two critical markers present when an autoimmune process is at play.  The TSI antibody is related to an autoimmune hyperthyroid state called Graves' disease.

Within the conventional system these tests are often overlooked, even in people with a longstanding thyroid condition.  From a conventional perspective, the treatment of an autoimmune thyroid condition is essentially the same as a non-autoimmune thyroid condition.  Naturopathically, we will work to resolve the autoimmune condition, so, knowing whether it is underlying a thyroid imbalance is very important.

Reverse T3 - If cortisol levels are high, your body can convert the T4 hormone into reverse T3 instead of regular T3. The reverse T3 will bind to the T3 receptor site but will not activate it. In the process, reverse T3 blocks these receptor sites from regular T3 and the net effect is your body having less T3 stimulation and reduced metabolism. This is an attempt by our body to preserve energy levels in times of stress.  If this level is high, it can indicate that an adrenal imbalance is underlying your thyroid disorder.

Thyroid issues rarely exist in isolation.  Underlying conditions that may be related include: imbalances within the adrenal or reproductive system, food sensitivities (often gluten enteropathy), and vitamin/ mineral deficiencies.  Further testing may be recommended depending on other relevant symptoms.

 

Flu Prevention

Our natural alternative to the flu shot involves two injections of low dose herbal extracts and minerals and a take home package that continues to boost immunity. This is not a vaccination. Instead it improves white blood cell activity against viral particles, speeding up the rate that they respond to viral invaders.

We have many return clients for this program who find it has reduced the number of colds and flus they get over the season.  And since it is a general immune boost - it helps your body fight the common cold as well as the flu.

This is a great option for people who cannot take the flu shot, who do not want to take the flu shot but are recommended to by their employer, and for those with chronic illnesses like asthma and emphysema that respond poorly to the flu.

Please call to reserve your 15 minute flu visit.

 

Replenishing healthy bacteria

Dr. Kristin Schnurr, ND

Healthy digestive microbes come from ingesting uncooked fruits, vegetables, and dairy products that contain live probiotics. Our first microbes are introduced in the vaginal canal after the natural birth process, and are delivered through breast milk. We inherit our gut flora from our mother at birth, where it settles in the baby's sterile system and becomes gut flora. Breastfeeding is another way the mother passes her gut flora to her baby. Bottle fed babies acquire completely different gut flora than those that are breastfed.

Routinely eating some live culture containing foods such as yogurt, kefir, or fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso or kombucha can also assist in replenishing healthy bacteria.  It is important to ensure the products are guaranteed to contain live cultures since many brands destroy the essential bacteria with high temperature processing during the manufacturing process. Making your own yogurt assures an active bacteria content.

For some people, the level of depletion requires the consumption of a daily probiotic supplement in order to replenish beneficial bacteria.   It is important to consider that infants, children and adults require different combinations of specific bacteria. 

And, it is important to be cautious with dosing in the treatment of skin and autoimmune conditions.

Why Eat Fermented Foods?

I find myself recommending probiotics (beneficial bacteria) to many people throughout the day. Probiotics promote regular bowel movements, improve digestion in general, enhance immune function, produce antioxidants, normalize skin conditions, reduce cholesterol, help to maintain bone health, help to manage blood sugar levels and promote a positive mood. Fermented foods contain natural, good bacteria and are well tolerated by people who experience adverse reactions to probiotic supplements. Examples of fermented foods are plain yogourt, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and kombucha.

To get the full benefit, make sure when purchasing these products that they have not been pasteurized. Heat destroys the good bacteria, so the foods must be raw to be beneficial.
I have recently been inspired to make my own Kimchi. (Thanks Barbara!)
Here is the recipe I followed:

Kimchi
Makes a lot.

Ingredients: 
1 Napa cabbage (1 kg total weight) 
1 daikon radish
3 large carrots 
1/2 bunch green onions (about 4) 
1 apple 
3 tbsp fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic 
2 tbsp crushed red chili flakes
1/8 cup good-quality sea salt

Directions:

  1. Wash all veggies. Chop cabbage into bite-sized chunks, julienne or grate carrots, daikon, and apple. Slice green onion. Place all vegetables in a very large bowl. 

  2. In a food processor blend ginger, garlic, and chili until well combined. Add this mixture to the bowl of vegetables along with the salt. 

  3. Mix and vigorously massage all ingredients together until the cabbage begins to soften and release fluid. Continue until you have a fair amount of liquid in the bottom of the bowl, about 4-5 minutes. The vegetables at this point should have lost much of their volume. Let the bowl sit out at room temperature for a few hours, massaging once or twice more. Season to taste. 

  4. In a large, sterilized jar (or several small ones), pack in the vegetables trying to avoid any air pockets, making sure to leave a few inches of space at the top of the jar for carbon dioxide. Cover the jar with a loosely with a lid, or make sure to open it periodically to release any pressure that may build up. Leave the jar on the counter for 2-4 days. You may see bubbles forming in the jar – this is carbon dioxide and totally normal. Taste the kimchi now and again. Mine still has another day or two to go. Once the flavour is to your liking, seal the jar and place in the fridge. Keeps for several months.

*Tip: After removing kimchi from the container to eat, push the remaining back down to keep most of the cabbage submerged in the brine (the liquid). This will help keep it fresh for longer.

Sublingual Immunotherapy

A proven alternative to allergy shots

Introduction
Sublingual Immunotherapy, or SLIT, is a proven, injection-free treatment to address the underlying causes of seasonal and environmental allergies. The therapy desensitizes the immune system to pollens, dander, and other allergens. It has been found to be effective in hay fever, allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis and allergic asthma. It has been found to prevent the development of allergic asthma in children with eczema and allergic rhinitis.

The treatment is very safe, in fact safer than injections. SLIT, when compared to traditional allergy injections, costs less, is more convenient, and requires fewer clinic visits. Allergy drops are safe for children (3yrs or older), highly reactive people, and those with underlying medical conditions that prevent them from being candidates for injection therapy.

How does it work?
SLIT works in a similar way to traditional allergy shots. A small daily dose of the allergen is given in a sublingual drop form (under the tongue), which gradually reduces your reactivity by training your immune system to no longer react.

An in-office initial scratch test is done to determine which allergens you are reactive to. The first dose of the indicated allergen/s is given in the office. Subsequent daily doses of the allergy drops are taken at home. Retesting after 6 months of treatment will determine whether the drops are still needed.

SLIT can be used during allergy season or done preventatively, beginning 30-60 days prior to pollen season (continuing to the end of the season itself – and beyond if indicated).

Types of allergies treated
At this time, we offer treatment for allergies caused by:
Cats/Dogs           Dust mites            Tree pollens
Grasses        Weeds            Mold

When should I start my treatment?
For prevention (pre-seasonal treatment), your treatment should start 4-8 weeks prior to pollen season.  Tree pollen: preventative treatment should start early December or January; Grass/Weed pollen: preventative treatment should start early March or April.
Treatment during active allergy symptoms can start at any time during the allergy season.  There is no season for mold, cat/dog dander, or house dust mite - treatment can start at any time.

How accurate is the testing?
Scratch tests are highly accurate for pollen, dander, dust mite, and mold spore allergies. They have, at minimum, 98% sensitivity and 95% specificity for the allergens tested. Results are highly reproducible.

Appointments and Fees for Sublingual Immunotherapy
Expect to be in the clinic for up to one hour for the initial test and dosing. The test itself takes a few minutes to administer, however the results take up to half an hour to be determined. You must remain at the clinic for at least 15-20 minutes after the first administration of the drops.
Our testing fee is a flat rate of $40.00 plus HST. Cost of the allergen drops depends on the number of allergens being treated.

Studies and Articles
Preventive effects of sublingual immunotherapy in childhood: an open randomized controlled study Marogna, Maurizio; Tomassetti, Dante; Bernasconi, Antonella; Colombo, Fausto; Massolo, Alessandro; Rienzo Businco, Andrea D.; Canonica, Giorgio W.; Passalacqua, Giovanni; Tripodi, Salvatore Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Volume 101, Number 2, August 2008 , pp. 206-211(6)
One hundred forty-four children received SLIT and 72 received drugs only. New sensitizations appeared in 34.8% of controls and in 3.1% of SLIT patients. Mild persistent asthma was less frequent in SLIT patients. There was a significant decrease in clinical scores in the SLIT group vs. the control group since the first year. The number of children with a positive challenge result decreased significantly after 3 years only in the SLIT group.

 

Building our Reserves

Dr. Kristin Schnurr, ND

During winter, snows replenish earth’s water reservoirs and plants return their sap to their roots, re-collecting their energy. We too need a “winter season” to restore our energy, build our reserves and reflect on our lives. Paradoxically, the winter holidays demand a different type of energy, we are often expected to be active, busy, outgoing and gregarious. This expectation when we are called to be quiet and restful, can be the cause of additional stress as we experience opposing pulls on our energy.

According to Acupuncture Theory, all seasons have an associated natural element, organ and emotion.  In the case of Winter, these are Water, the Kidneys/Bladder, and Fear/Will, respectively.  

Our energy levels can be likened to a water source with a reserve cache. Ideally, we want to use the reserve sparingly, and replenish it quickly if used. When we are constantly dipping into our energetic reserves we can become depleted. Winter gives us an opportunity to restore these reserves so we can be ready for the energetic demands with the shift from extreme yin to extreme yang in the Spring.

We are physically, 75% water. Without the cleansing flow of the Water Element, the mind loses its flexibility, our memory suffers and we have difficulty clearing old negativity and habituated patterns that no longer serve us.

The Kidneys and Bladder are the organs controlled by the Water Element and associated with Winter. The bladder is your reservoir of energy; the kidneys are the storehouse of constitutional energy, or essence. Physical symptoms of an imbalance may manifest in the form of urination problems, decreased libido, hormonal imbalances, anxiety disorders or a deficient metabolism.    

Willpower is the domain of the water element, exhibiting in its two extremes the power of ambition and the paralysis of fear – those with an imbalance in this element can manifest either in their approach to life.  Water gives us the ability to be internally quiet, to listen with our mind and spirit.  When this element is unhealthy, we respond to life with an excess of fear or with a complete lack of fear.  Neither extreme is appropriate, both are expression of an imbalance.

The light is returning and days are getting longer, fortunately, there are still a couple more months of Winter with which to nourish ourselves in preparation for Spring. 

Suggestions for self-care during the Winter Season (or anytime you need to replenish your reserves)

  • Take time to be still and reflective. Use the quiet time for inner work that will build your reserves.

  • Practice “wakeful” resting. Know what rests you – meditation, walking, painting or writing – and make time for these activities in your life.

  • Keep warm – don’t allow yourself to get bone cold.

  • Eat warming foods, root vegetables and beans, squash and grains.

  • Get more rest. Follow the winter sun – go to bed earlier and rise later.

  • Seek inner warmth – spend time with close friends.

  • Take time to play – with your kids, games with your friends, a vacation.

  • Monitor changes in the quantity and quality of your energy throughout the day, using that awareness to make wise choices about how you use your time.

  • Dream. Let ideas and plans germinate. Wait until spring to begin new projects.

  • Spend time beside different bodies of water (oceans, lakes, streams, rivers) and notice how you feel.

  • Consider the additional energetic support of acupuncture. Each person carries within their own healer, acupuncture works to encourage this innate healing process, gently reminding the body to follow its own unique path to health.

Gut Feelings

Dr. Kristin Schnurr, ND

Many of you may have heard the show, “Bacteria in your gut affects your mental health.” which aired on the CBC on October 11, 2013.  If you missed it, here is the link

Listening to this show reinforced for me the importance of ensuring gastrointestinal health for myself, my family and in everyone I work with. We already know that healthy gut flora promotes health by strengthening immunity, improving our digestion and absorption of nutrients, and by promoting healthy metabolism and preventing obesity. 

Too much of the wrong bacteria can make us ill and too little of the healthy bacteria can leave us vulnerable to illness.  Symptoms of dysbiosis or an imbalance of good bacteria intestinally include: digestive upset, bowel irregularity, fatigue, allergies, skin conditions, headaches, autoimmune conditions, anxiety and depression.

Recently, there has been significant research emerging on the connection between gut flora and mental health. A recent study in the journal Gastroenterology shows that healthy gut bacteria play a major role in mental health and pain sensitivity.  Scientists at UCLA showed a direct link between probiotics consumed and elevated amounts of the important mood regulating neurotransmitters: Serotonin and GABA.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. It regulates intestinal movement, mood, appetite, sleep, muscle contraction and cognitive function such as memory. GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It plays a role in regulating neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system.   People with low serotonin production typically suffer from depression.  And, people with low GABA production typically experience anxiety.

This research is important as it points to the importance of addressing gastrointestinal health in the management and treatment of anxiety and depression.  As Gregor Reid, PhD, a professor of microbiology, immunology and surgery at the University of Western Ontario stated, "There isn't a drug on the market that can match probiotic bacteria for its far-reaching implications on health.

Top 4 Reasons to Decrease Sugar Intake and Healthy Snack Alternatives

Dr. Kristin Schnurr, ND

Changes in food processing over the past 30 years, particularly the addition of sugar to a wide variety of food, has resulted in an increase in a number of very preventable health conditions. Here are the top 4 reasons to work on getting sugar out of your child’s diet:

  1. Sugar consumption seriously inhibits immune function:
    Almost 25 years ago, an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that ingesting as little as 3 teaspoons of sugar in one sitting significantly inhibits the ability of white blood cells, which are the basis of the immune system, in destroying bacteria and viruses. This applies to all sugars, including fruit juices. This immune suppression starts about 30 minutes after the ingestion of sugar and can last up to five hours. This immune suppression leaves us more vulnerable to opportunistic infections, which our immune systems normally keep in check.

  2. Sugar and Behavioural Problems
    Most parents, teachers and pediatricians notice that sugar ingestion has a significant effect on children’s behavior and mood. Several research studies have supported these observations. Foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates increase adrenaline levels. Adrenaline increases anxiety and irritability and reduces our ability to concentrate.
    Sugar is also connected to Attention Deficit Disorder and Hyperactivity. In one large study, 74% of the “hyperactive” children were unable to properly digest and assimilate sugar and refined carbohydrates. Within three weeks of a low sugar diet, their hyperactivity disappeared.

  3. Sugar and Nutrient Deficiency
    Numerous studies have been done showing a deficiency in blood content of minerals with as little as two teaspoons of sugar ingested.
    Sugar intake directly coorelates with a decrease in Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin C. Sugar can also satisfy hunger while providing no nutritional benefits. Studies show that children who consume the highest amounts of sugar get far less protein.

  4. Sugar and Childhood Obesity
    The dramatic increase in childhood obesity over the last 50 years is linked to the increase in the use of refined sugar in prepared foods, especially breakfast cereals and snack foods such as granola bars. Refined sugar adds empty calories, not nutrients. Artificial sweeteners are not the answer as they increase the cravings for sugar.

It is not difficult to understand why decreasing or eliminating sugar from your household is beneficial.  But, as any parent knows, planning healthy snacks for children takes a bit of effort.  This is especially true if you are raising a picky eater.

As a Naturopathic Doctor with many pediatric patients and a mama to one young girl, I am constantly searching for creative ways to get veggies, fruits, healthy fats and protein into children.

Here are some of my favourites:

  1. Almond butter and apple slices. Can also use pear or other fruit. Cut pieces into shapes to keep 'em coming back for more!

  2. 2) Raw cocoa energy balls. 1 cup almonds, ¾ cup medjool dates, ¼ cup raw cocoa powder, 1/8 cup dried coconut. Add into food processor or blender in multiple layers then blend and press into balls. Store well in the fridge. Delicious!

  3. Ants on a log. Celery topped with almond butter and raisins. For a variation of an old favourite, you can also use dried currants, cranberries, blueberries, or chopped dried apricots in the place of raisins. Also try guacamole or hummous instead of nut butter and top with finely minced tomatoes, spinach, or olives.

  4. Veggies and dip in a cup. In a short transparent cup or glass, place tzatziki or hummous at the bottom. Stand brightly coloured veggies tall inside the cup. Kids will love the look of it!

  5. Smoothies – the options are endless! Add spinach, chard, or kale to fruit smoothies to get more leafy greens into those wee picky peeps. These can travel to school in a small thermos, and make a quick and easy snack.

  6. Popsicles made from smoothies. Can sneak in all kinds of wonderful nutrient packed foods (ie: kale) this way. These are great in the summer.

  7. Cheesy kale chips. Tear kale into 1 to 2 inch pieces and combine in a bowl with olive oil, tamari nutritional yeast, and ground cashews. Spread on a baking sheet and pop into the oven at 250 degrees F for 40 mins or even better, use a dehydrator – a great way to make additive free dried fruit too. Check on them periodically, bake until crisp.

  8. 8) Seaweed snacks. You can tear nori sheets/wraps into small pieces and add to a mix of dried fruit or nuts/seeds for an iodine-rich trail mix.

Happy sugar free snacking!


Dr. Kristin Schnurr, ND runs a family oriented family practice and also coordinates the Family Naturopathic Clinic, a free Naturopathic Clinic serving low-income young families in Victoria.  For more information: www.drkristinschnurr.com