What’s triggering my migraines?

99% of women and 94% of men experience headaches in their lifetime. Most of these headaches are due to muscle contraction and migraines. Today I’d like to discuss migraines.

What are they? Migraines tend to be in the front and sides of the head. They’re more common in women and in adolescents and young adults. It can be a dull ache but they tend to have a throbbing nature and often the scalp feels sensitive. Some people also have sensitivity to light. Migraines ‘with aura’ refers to migraines with visual changes, like scintillating lights, dizziness or muscle weakness. Migraines can last a few hours to over 24 hours and occur at irregular intervals (can be weeks or months between each) and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Interestingly they decrease as we approach middle age and during pregnancy.

It’s thought that a wave of electrical activity passes through the brain making nerve fibers more sensitive to pain and dilating blood vessels. This is probably the reason we feel the throbbing and fullness in our head especially when we change body position.

What can be done about them? Studies have shown that eliminating allergenic foods greatly reduce  triggering of migraines in most patients. Cow’s milk, wheat, eggs, oranges and benzoic acid are the most common foods allergies. Foods that cause blood vessel dilation may also trigger migraines. These foods include chocolate, cheese, beer and wine.  Monitor symptoms while avoiding 1 or 2 of these foods at a time. Your ND can also suggest specific nutrients and herbs that can prevent and decrease the intensity of migraines.


Identifying and avoiding food allergies is definitely one of the most important steps to preventing migraines… but if you already have a migraine? Try essential oil (such as peppermint and lavender) products made for application to temples or using essential oils in a diffuser. Acupuncture can also be extremely effective in reducing the sensation of heaviness in your head and mitigating nausea.

Remember: head pain that follows head or neck trauma, starts suddenly or is unusually severe needs to be assessed by your physician.


Do I Need a Detox?

Who can benefit from a cleanse? People who have had exposures to chemicals (recently or in the past); patients preparing for pregnancy or menopause; patients with or wanting to prevent autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, chronic disease, neurodegenerative disease, hyper-inflammatory disease, chemical sensitivities, frequent infections, migraines, allergies, hives, eczema, foggy-thinking, fatigue, IBS, constipation… so, basically, anyone could benefit from a cleanse.

The body has built-in systems for eliminating naturally produced waste products as well as chemicals and heavy metals from exposure. Unfortunately these cleansing systems are often under-utilized due to lack of fiber in the diet, nutrient poor diets, dehydration, shallow breathing, lack of regular sweating and lack of rest. This leads to the reabsorption of many of the toxins that would normally be eliminated from the body if the systems were in ideal working condition. For example constipation can lead to the build up of chemicals leading to a headache.

Solvents, fossil fuel products, insecticides, herbicides, plastic residues, flame retardants, wood preservatives, toxic metals, and more can be eliminated via sweating and via our liver and kidneys. Even breathing helps to eliminate volatile compounds from solvents, cleaners, dry cleaning fluids and fuel compounds.

The toxins in our bodies are often stored in fat, nerve cells and the brain decreasing the overall tissue functioning.

The basics: quality sleep, clean air, nourishing diet, adequate hydration, love, healthy thought processes, etc. all support organs in the elimination process.

Keep in mind: The more inflammation the body is already experiencing, the more antioxidant support needed during the cleansing process (a diet rich in antioxidants may be sufficient support for many while others may require supplemental support and greater time). Also, when we “stir things up” in the body, there is re-exposure (as the toxins are circulating to leave the body) and often strong emotions may surface. So it’s important to stay connected with your physician and other support networks during a cleansing process.

Photo courtesy of A. Graber

Probiotics for Autoimmune Disease?!

Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s and lupus are only a few of many autoimmune diseases we commonly see today. Although autoimmune conditions are complex and involve many body systems, a growing body of evidence suggests the microbial imbalance  (dysbiosis) can play a huge role in chronic inflammation and autoimmunity.

Many mechanisms are involved (such as molecular mimicry, haptenization, and immune complex formation). Basically, dysbiosis can damage the intestinal lining causing absorption of “debris” from the gut which activates the immune system chronically and inappropriately. Deposition of immune complexes can appear in joints, kidneys, skin and vessels leading to tissue damage and further inflammation. Also certain microorganisms destroy protective antibodies in our gut lining decreasing our defenses to other microbes. This may explain the results of a study where women with chronic vaginal candidiasis (yeast infection) were found to have nearly double the incidence of allergic rhinitis (ie. hay fever) (Moraes, 1998).

As with other conditions, the body’s microbial balance seems to play a huge role in making sure our basic body functions (like the defense system) respond appropriately.

GOOD Bacteria, BAD Bacteria


Last month I had a wisdom tooth extracted. The process of removing the tooth went quickly and smoothly but days later I had an unpleasant skin and abdominal reaction to the antibiotics. It prompted me to discuss this important topic. 

Why do I need bacteria?

We have an important symbiotic relationship with bacteria in our gut. These ‘good’ bacteria help us better digest food and absorb nutrients while keeping the lining of our gut healthy. Since most of our immune system is located in the gut, ‘good’ bacteria help to keep our defense systems strong and working appropriately. Since the lining of the gut and respiratory tract is continuous, ‘good’ bacteria also helps control conditions such as seasonal allergies and hay fever.

Not all bacteria found in our gut are ‘good’. Some strains cause gas and bloating and in sufficient numbers can cause serious gastrointestinal infections. Antibiotics may be appropriate in cases where the ‘bad’ bacterial load (in the gut and other areas of the body) becomes too high causing acute illness. Unfortunately, antibiotics also eradicate ‘good’ bacteria. Unchecked by ‘good’ bacteria, bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics take over the available space in the gut and can cause further acute infections (even though in small numbers these ‘bad’ bacteria are normally safe).

Traditionally we acquired ‘good’ bacteria from fermented foods such as miso, natto, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha and live beer. Today the frequent use of antibiotics and the decreased prevalence of fermented foods in our diets emphasize the importance of probiotic or ‘good’ bacteria supplementation.

Do I need probiotics?

Conditions and symptoms of weak and/or inappropriate immune function, inflammation of the skin, gut or respiratory system, poor digestion and dysbiosis (imbalance of beneficial vs. harmful organisms) suggest a need for probiotics. These include antibiotic use, gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, gastrointestinal tract infections, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohns), abdominal distention, yeast infections/candida, high cholesterol, hay fever, eczema, ulcers, difficulty with lactose digestion, leaky gut syndrome, fatigue and traveller’s diarrhea.

Remember to take probiotics with food as these are live organisms. Food protects probiotics from stomach acid so more will reach the intestines intact. Also fiber acts as food for ‘good’ bacteria. Probiotics are usually very well tolerated but consult your physician about the most appropriate strains of probiotics, suitable dosages and if you are immunocompromised.

For deeelicious, probiotic-packed foods, check out Probiotic Boost!!

3 Health Tips That Will Change Your Life, Number 3

#3 Staying Regular

Is it really that important?    The only way cholesterol leaves the body is via the bowels; if they sit in the bowels long enough, almost all of it can be reabsorbed! In Chinese medicine, regulating bowel function is the main treatment for skin conditions such as acne. High blood pressure, hemorrhoids, fatigue and chemical sensitivity can all be related to slow bowel function. Remember, bowel function (both constipation and diarrhea) may also tell us about our nervous system balance in addition to how well we are digesting and absorbing foods (see post #2 Mindful Eating).

Constipation can be due to more serious causes such as hormonal dysfunction, neurological dysfunction or impaction so make sure these causes are ruled out. Most people on a western diet suffer from mild constipation. Adequate fiber and fluid intake, as well as regular exercise, mindful eating, stress management and acupuncture can help to normalize bowels. When necessary, stool softeners and laxatives may also be used but remember, long term use of laxatives (including herbal laxatives) should only be used under the supervision of a doctor.

Photo courtesy of S. Duprey

3 Health Tips That Will Change Your Life, Number 2

#2 Eating Mindfully

To quote my neurology instructor “the gut is a slave to our nervous system.” The gut is controlled by the (parasympathetic) branch of the nervous system dominant when are body is at rest (during meditation, sleep, in the presence of pleasant company, etc.). During this relaxed state, the nervous system signals the stomach to release more acid and digestive enzymes to ensure foods are digested fully and efficiently. Also the coordinated movement of intestines to allow for nutrient absorption and maintain bowel regularity occurs during this relaxed state.

How’s my digestion?

Bloating, gas, acid reflux, excessive belching, bad breath, abdominal cramping, feeling of food “sitting in the stomach”, constipation, diarrhea, cravings, excessive changes in blood sugar, low energy are all signs of less-than-optimal digestive function.

So how do I improve my digestion?

The key is to get our bodies into that relaxed (parasympathetic) state. Create a pleasant eating environment that is relaxing (eating with family and friends, nice scenery or in a pleasant dining area, relaxing music, etc.). The process of preparing your food (exposure to aroma and visual presentation of food) also helps to stimulate your digestive processes to prepare for digestion. Avoid eating while working, reading, driving, ‘zoning out’ in front of the TV or engaging in any stress and anxiety producing tasks. Keeping your attention on the pleasure of eating will improve digestion greatly. Bitters, digestive enzymes, acupuncture and identifying food intolerances may also be helpful to get efficient digestion, effective nutrient absorption and eliminate unwanted symptoms.