Are Food Sensitivities Behind Your Symptoms?

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The other day I had another reminder about the significant effect food has on our health. A patient who had been medicated for years for daily acid reflux and nasal congestion, tried an elimination diet for only 3 weeks. Essentially all her symptoms of reflux and sinus inflammation resolved! Inadvertently, even her rosacea improved! Her hsCRP blood test had for years been showing whole-body inflammation  (associated with high risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease). But after 3 weeks of the protocol, she went from a high risk level to a very low risk level!

So what’s an elimination diet?

The elimination diet is a protocol used to identify foods in our diet that may be causing or aggravating headaches, sinus inflammation, abdominal pain, gas and bloating, fatigue, mood changes, skin rashes and hives, eczema, acid reflux, constipation or diarrhea, joint pain, brain fog, wheezing, palpitations and many other symptoms.

Sometimes the adverse reactions to foods are obvious to us (such as when it changes our breathing or causes a skin rash). However, food reactions can occur up to 3 days after eating the food triggers so often symptoms are hard to track and difficult to correlate to foods. Generally the protocol involves eliminating common food allergens for a short period of time and watching to see if any symptoms improve. This is followed by systematically reintroducing the foods and observing responses to each food group to identify which foods are associated with which symptom(s). As you can imagine, this program involves careful planning, guidance and monitoring so make sure to do this under the supervision of a physician. Also, this protocol is NOT for suspected anaphylactic reactions (closing up of the throat and difficulty breathing) caused by foods.

I have heard some people say “I would rather not know if certain foods are bothering me because that means I can’t eat it!” That’s not necessarily the case. Often times, once we identify foods that exacerbate symptoms, we avoid them for a period of time to allow the gut lining to heal. After this break period, sometimes those foods we were previously sensitive to are well tolerated. Either way, knowing our body’s responses, we can choose to manage our food sensitivities to our comfort level.

What a great reminder: before jumping to therapies to suppress symptoms, in non-urgent cases, let’s always investigate our basic daily practices, such as diet, to improve symptoms from the inside out.

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Preventing Diabetes and Improving Its Management

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What a huge event! The Diabetes Expo held at the Trade and Convention Center in downtown Seattle brought thousands who were motivated to improve their health and curious to learn more! Thanks to everyone who visited us!

Naturopathic medicine’s emphasis on healthful diet and physical activity was definitely well-received! I loved hearing story after story of people who had significantly changed their eating habits and had really seen their own or their loved ones’ blood glucose improve. How inspiring!

We performed hundreds of HbA1c screening tests. For many with diabetes, this was a routine check of their long term blood glucose levels, but for many others, the test was their first indication that they were heading towards diabetes. What a perfect time to incorporate healthful proteins at breakfast, more (non-starchy) vegetables at each meal and incorporate fun, physical activity! Thanks for letting me be a part of your health journey!

The Trick with Protein

Unlike vitamins and minerals, most people in North America actually eat more protein than recommended (American Dietetic Association recommends 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight – so that’s about 55-75g of protein a day for most adults). So if people are getting enough, why am I talking about it? There’s a trick with protein: source and distribution.

Most of us eat most of our protein later in the day (at dinner time). If we redistribute protein intake throughout the day (say 20g of protein at each meal) we can better control our weight, maintain muscle mass, maintain energy and blood sugar levels and prevent sugar cravings. So for many of us, this means, redistributing protein to breakfast and lunch. How do we do this?

All animal proteins are “complete” (meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids). However, higher animal protein intake has been associated with higher diabetes risk. So the key to increasing protein is to add a variety of plant-based protein sources (which are NOT associated with diabetes risk). (Combining grains with beans or legumes allows us to get complete protein sources.) Whole grains, nuts and seeds come with lots of protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fiber. A 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds will instantly add 14g of protein to your morning oatmeal. How about just substituting the butter on your toast with a nut butter (like almond, peanut or cashew)? This substitution alone will cut the increase in blood sugar by half!

Other sources of protein that come with additional benefits: salmon and sardines contain anti-inflammatory omega 3 oils; low-fat yogurt is a significant source of protein plus it comes with probiotics; try some good quality organ meats as well! They’re packed with vitamins and minerals that are hard to get elsewhere.

Try to avoid processed sources of protein such as cured ham and deli meats. Also any foods high in salt and chemicals (like nitrates) as these can increase risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Remember: protein recommendations vary with the individual’s physical activity level and kidney health; consult your naturopathic physician or dietitian to determine optimum protein amounts and protein sources.

Diabetes Event – Don’t Miss This!

Is my current lifestyle leading to diabetes? or preventing diabetes?

What’s the best way to manage my blood sugar?

Come and visit me with the Bastyr Center for Natural Health’s Diabetes and Cardiovascular Wellness Team at this year’s Diabetes Expo in Seattle!! It’s a free event with health screenings, cooking demonstrations, fun fitness demonstrations, expert talks by researchers, medical doctors and naturopathic doctors and LOTS of exhibits! Learn about the latest research on prevention and management of diabetes.

Saturday, April 21, 2012 from 9am to 3pm at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center North Halls 4E/F

American Diabetes Association – Diabetes Expo in Seattle

Looking forward to seeing you there!

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.