Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen for 2016

The Environmental Working Group has released their 2016 Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen lists! The Dirty Dozen list includes the foods that are most contaminated with pesticide residues and the Clean Fifteen list includes the foods that are the least contaminated.

The Dirty Dozen includes:
1. Strawberries
2. Apples
3. Nectarines
4. Peaches
5. Celery
6. Grapes
7. Cherries
8. Spinach
9. Tomatoes
10. Sweet bell peppers
11. Cherry tomatoes
12. Cucumbers
These foods are listed in order of pesticide residue contamination with number 1 (strawberries) being the most contaminated.

The Dirty Dozen Plus includes:
1. Leafy Greens (Kale and Collard Greens)
2. Hot Peppers
These foods are contaminated with especially concerning residues, organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, which are particularly harmful to our central nervous system.

The Clean Fifteen includes:
1. Avocados
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapple
4. Cabbage
5. Frozen Sweet Peas
6. Onions
7. Asparagus
8. Mangos
9. Papaya
10. Kiwi
11. Eggplant
12. Honeydew Melon
13. Grapefruit
14. Cantaloupe
15. Cauliflower
These foods are listed in opposite order than the Dirty Dozen with number 1 (avocados) being the least contaminated.

Each year, these lists provide us with excellent information that we can use as helpful guidelines when buying our food - aiming to eat only certified organic Dirty Dozen foods when possible is a great strategy to reduce our pesticide exposure and to support our overall health.  See http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/index.php for more info.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Microbiome Basics

I recently 'attended' a webinar presented by Liz Lipski PhD on Balancing the Gut-Brain Axis.  Loads of interesting information on our human microbiome (which are the microbes that live on our skin and in our genitourinary tract, gastrointestinal tract, lungs and sinuses) was covered including:

- The microbial DNA that makes up our microbiome outweighs our human DNA by 150 to 1!
- We each have between 200-1000 different species in our microbiome - most are commensal or friends to our system.
- Our microbiome has an in-depth impact on a number of our body's processes/systems, including impacting our immune function, our metabolism, as well as our cardiovascular, skin, digestive, and overall emotional health.  
- The specific makeup of our microbiome is individual to each one of us.  For example, people who have asthma have a different microbiome in their lungs than people who do not have underlying lung concerns.
- The more diverse our microbiome, the hardier we are.  Infants, who are much more susceptible to illness than most non elderly adults, do not have an established microbiome in utero - the building of the microbiome occurs initially through the vaginal birth process which allows for a more full diversification of the microbiome.  Babies who are delivered via c section will have a different microbiome more reflective of the microbiome of the skin.  Bathing c section delivered babies in mom's vaginal secretions can help to establish a more well balanced and diverse microbiome.  
- The great majority (90%) of the communication between the gut and the brain goes from the gut to the brain - we produce 80-90% of our serotonin (the 'feel good' neurotransmitter that impacts our overall emotional health) in our gut rather than our brain!  
- If we are experiencing depression or anxiety, it is very important to ensure that our gut function and microbiome are well balanced - by doing so, it can be easier to find more balance, emotionally, as well. 
- There are specific strains of bacteria that produce different neurotransmitters (including serotonin and GABA) and there is a developing field of research into psychobiotics which are probiotics specifically designed to support emotional health.
- When our gut microbiome is imbalanced, we have more tendency to crave simple carbohydrates/simple sugars. 
- Our microbiome is very flexible and responds quickly (within 24 hours) to positive dietary changes.  
- Eating a whole foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy protein sources offers excellent support for establishing a healthier microbiome.  
-Foods rich in polyphenols (including onions, apples, green tea) offer extra support by feeding and strengthening specific beneficial strains (lactobacilli, bifidobacteria) in our microbiome.   

- Fermented foods, including miso, sauerkraut, yogurt, also offer excellent support in establishing a healthy gut microbiome.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Farewell Cleanse 2016!

The 2016 cleanse has now officially come to a close!  Overall the cleanse went well and, as always, felt like a great way to start off the new year.
I was able to do some of the things I had hoped to at the outset - I read more (finished the magnificent book, Just Kids,  by Patti Smith), I went to a few yoga classes and did a few sessions to a DVD at home.  I don't know that I did any better with getting more sleep, but I will continue to try with this one!
One of the new additions during the 2016 cleanse I am most excited about is that I got a juicer!   As a mainly water drinking person, I haven't ever been sure about actually committing to juicing, so I have put it off and put it off.  But the 2016 cleanse inspired me to move forward and so far I had a few juices (mainly using combinations of green apple, beet, ginger, celery, mint, pineapple, orange) which have been delicious!  I look forward to seeing how this new adventure unfolds during 2016.

Instagram account!

I now have an instagram account!  I can be found @nurtureyourhealth .   I look forward to seeing you there!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Consciously Change the Channel

Each of us has certain thought patterns or behaviours that we fall into when we are feeling stressed.  These patterns/behaviours have generally been with us for a long time - they are a familiar space to return to when we are feeling ungrounded.  
Unfortunately though these patterns/behaviours can contribute further to our stress load because they usually aren't truly helpful for us (common patterns can include:   procrastinating/worst case scenario worrying/being unkind to our selves or others etc).  
Most of us are aware of these patterns/behaviours within our selves, but it is really difficult to shift them even with this awareness.  We have very well worn channels or tracts in our brains that carry us into these patterns/behaviours, channels that have been formed over many many years and are the easiest direction for us to go when stressed.   
One of the ways that we can start to slowly shift our ingrained patterns/behaviours is to change the channel, not TV wise, but landscape wise.  Create a new channel, a new tract for our brain to default to in times of stress, one that serves us and supports us more fully.  This requires daily practice - bringing our awareness to how we respond when we are stressed, aiming to pull our selves out of the pattern as soon as we can, and consciously creating and building a new way to respond instead.  
The more we travel down a new channel, a new tract in our brain, the more familiar it becomes and the easier it becomes over time for it to be our conscious 'default' when we are feeling stressed.  It isn't easy and it doesn't happen quickly (and we never become 'perfect' at it), but it is possible if we are engaged in the process and do the work around it. 

Biologically Active Nutrients

One of the ways we can optimize the support supplements offer us is to take the biologically active form of nutrients.  The biologically active form of nutrients can be used directly by our body and do not need to be further converted upon absorption.  

Some examples of biologically active forms of nutrients includes:

Vitamin D - Vitamin D3
Folic Acid - L-5-Methyltetrahyrdrofolate (5MTHF)
Vitamin B6 - Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate (P5P)
Vitamin B12 - Methylcobalamin
CoQ10 - Ubiquinol 

Aiming to pick up supplements that contain nutrients in their biologically active form ensures we are buying good quality, well absorbed, easily utilizable supplements. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Water is an essential building block of our body - if we are dehydrated, we have a harder time moving through all of our day to day processes.  Improper hydration leaves us open to headaches, lower energy, foggy thinking, body pain, suboptimal functioning.
For most of us, we want to aim for 2 litres of water per day.
If we do a work out, we want to add at least an additional 500 ml to our daily water intake total.  
Most of us aren't natural water drinkers - we have to train our selves to drink water.  
The best way to get our selves to drink more water is to slowly increase our intake by 1 additional cup (250 ml) per day each week (i.e. - week 1 - 5 cups per day, week 2 - 6 cups per day and on).  This allows our body to adjust to the increased water intake and for it to slowly become a part of our regular routine.  
Setting out our goal amount of water (in a pitcher or reusable bottles) at the start of the day is helpful too.  This serves as a visual reminder of how much we have already drank and how much more we have to go.  
We want to slowly drink water throughout the day rather than gulping down large amounts at a time.  This allows for the best hydration of our system. 
Room temperature (or warmer) water is the easiest on our body - it is best to avoid ice cold water because it does place extra stress on our system.  
For most of us, after having drank 500 ml of water, we will have to go pee within 1 hour - this is helpful info to have when on a long road trip or during a concert!
The only thing that counts as water is water - unfortunately coffee, tea, juice, pop all don't count as water because the body will relate differently to each of these drinks and not receive the same amount of hydration as it does from water.  
We don't want to use thirst as a daily guide/signal for us to drink water.  Unless we have eaten a saltier than normal meal or it is very hot outside (or we have an underlying endocrine concern), we shouldn't really ever feel thirsty.  Drinking water regularly throughout the day and properly hydrating our system generally prevents thirst from occurring.  

Monday, January 25, 2016

Deep Breathing Practice

It is important for each of us to have some form of daily stress release built into our routine.  Stress release practices help to calm and relax our central nervous system and support healthy adrenal function.  Stress release practices help us to feel more grounded and more able to manage the sources of stress in our lives.  
Deep breathing is a simple form of stress release that anyone can do - it requires no equipment, no extra training, and is free! 

Pick a space that is quiet and private/with no distractions.  Pick a length of time that feels manageable (5-10 minutes is great) and set a timer for the length of the practice.  Sit in a comfortable/upright position.  When we breathe in, our abdomen should rise/come out.  When we breathe out, our abdomen should fall/go in.  If we find this difficult, it is helpful to place one or both of our hands on our abdomen - it acts as a good guide/encouragement for deep full breathing.   For many of us, it is helpful to count our breaths (or repeat a mantra/saying if more comfortable) - in, out, one, in, out, two and on.  Everyone's mind wanders during deep breathing - when we catch our self thinking and no longer counting, we just start back at one and continue forward from there.  Reaching a certain number isn't a goal - committing to sitting for the length of time we have set out each day is.  The more consistently we practice deep breathing (or any other form of quiet/internal focused stress release), the easier it becomes to focus more clearly and deeply, the less frequently we will find our selves returning to the number one.  As well, the more consistently we practice deep breathing, the easier it will be to note the impact it has on our daily lives and the way we respond and react to stressful events.  

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Some Supplement Basics

Supplements can be helpful in supporting our base level of health and can also be deeply tonifying and strengthening for the different systems in our body.
Good quality supplements are generally not found at the drugstore, the grocery store, or large chain/box stores.  Instead we want to buy our supplements from a health food store or the practitioner we are working with.
It is best to take supplements that are in a liquid, powder, or capsule form.  Tablet based supplements tend to be lower quality and are very difficult to break down and absorb.  
Iron is best absorbed with vitamin C, but needs to be taken away from all other supplements.
Any supplement with a fat base (fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D, essential fatty acid rich supplements) is best taken with food.
Zinc also needs to be taken with food because it will cause noticeable nausea on an empty stomach.
As well, regardless of what is recommended on the label, probiotics are best taken with food - if they are taken on an empty stomach, we lose approximately 70% of the probiotics we are taking.

Any supplements that can boost our energy (multivitamin, greens product, vitamin B complex, adrenal tonifying formulas) are best taken in the morning and possibly again at noon, if necessary - we want to take these supplements when our energy needs are at their highest rather than in the evening when our energy/body is meant to be starting to settle and prepare for rest and regeneration.
Iodine is generally best left out by people with auto immune mediated thyroid concerns (graves' and hashimoto's) because it can cause extra confusion/place extra stress on the body and further throw off thyroid function.
It is important to have a clear understanding of why we are taking each of the supplements that are part of our routine.  We want to ensure that we are taking well indicated supplements only and aren't including supports that aren't necessary or beneficial for our body.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hormonal Basics

Our menstrual cycle is divided into the follicular phase (first half of the cycle, pre ovulation) and the luteal phase (second half of the cycle, post ovulation).  The follicular phase starts with day one of our cycle (which  is the first day of our period) and ends with ovulation (at mid cycle generally).  And the luteal phase starts after ovulation and ends with the last day of our cycle (which is the day before our next period starts).  A 'normal' regular cycle doesn't have to be exactly 28 days - it can be anywhere between 21 and 35 days.  Most importantly we need to have a sense of what our average cycle length is - this establishes our own individual normal and if our cycle starts to shift from this, it is a reflection that something is changing for us, hormonally.  
We generally ovulate approximately 14 days prior to our next period starting.  Some women will note one sided ovarian pain at ovulation (we ovulate from only one ovary each cycle and will ovulate from the other ovary the next cycle).  Generally there are also changes in the cervical mucous at ovulation with increased production and change in texture being pretty easy to note.
 It is also important for us to know how many days our period/menstrual flow lasts for and how heavy our flow is (a heavy flow is generally defined as needing to change menstrual products at least every 1.5-2 hours).  If we have a heavy flow at any point during our period or if we have an extended flow (6 days or more), it is important to have our ferritin levels (which measure our iron stores) tested at least yearly.  
All women will feel some increased sensitivity as we lead up to our period.  During the luteal phase, we are able to more closely connect with our intuition and how we are feeling on a deeper/less conscious level.  It is important to create some extra space for our selves during this part of our cycle to be able to listen more carefully and more clearly to the messages our body is more able/willing to share with us.  This can also make it easier to manage any fluctuations (on an emotional or physical level) that may occur during the luteal phase.  
If we do experience concerns that have a significant impact on our life and how we function as we lead up to the period, there are a number of different naturopathic therapeutics that we can consider to help bring more balance to our hormones and our cycle.  
Becoming more informed around and familiar with the basics of our own menstrual cycle can help us have a more manageable and balanced period and is a proactive way of supporting our overall health. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Digestion Basics

Even though our digestive system does a great deal of work on a daily basis, outside of recognizing when we are hungry or full,  some occasional  minor gas, and a sense of when we have to have a bowel movement, we shouldn't directly feel too much going on, digestive wise.  
Balanced digestion involves little to no digestive discomfort, no painful gas or bloating, and at least 1, but no more than 3, bowel movements per day.  Our bowel movements should be formed and remain together in the toilet bowl and should contain no blood or mucous.  
Our bodies do a great job of normalizing any concern that we experience for an extended period of time and this especially occurs for any digestive symptoms.  For many of us, our digestive function doesn't match up with the above list, but we come to accept discomfort, bloating, disrupted bowel movements as normal because we can't remember having felt any differently.  
It is a good idea for all of us to track how we feel digestively for a few days and note if any of these concerns are occurring for us.  If so, it is good idea to then further explore potential causes for our symptoms.    Digestive concerns can be linked to the foods we are eating (doing a cleanse provides a great insight into whether any of the foods we are eating are contributing to different symptoms we are experiencing), imbalances in gut flora/digestive mucous membranes/digestive enzyme functioning (all of which can be addressed through different supplements), and emotional concerns or stress (which can be supported through counselling and stress management techniques such as journalling, deep breathing, meditation).  
Our digestive system does tend to be pretty flexible and responsive to positive changes, so pinpointing a concern and working on addressing/supporting it has great potential to help us to feel better on a digestive level.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Helpful Cleanse Hints

The cleanse is already almost half over!  In many ways, it seems to be going by quite fast this year!  All of my suppers so far have been simple suppers - tonight I had Lemon Quinoa from Kris Carr's new book Crazy Sexy Juice.  It was quick to prepare and delicious!  The book contains loads of great juice, smoothie, and nut milk recipes, as well as some solid food recipes, and is well worth picking up.

Some strategies to make the cleanse a bit easier and a bit more supportive include:
1.  Drink at least 2 litres of water per day - this helps to properly hydrate the body, support the liver in cleansing out toxins more effectively, and helps out with food cravings that can occur especially at the start of the cleanse.
2.  Add a fresh squeezed lemon to one of the glasses of water - this offers further liver cleansing support.
3.  Focus on liver friendly vegetables which includes beets, carrots, leafy greens (kale, collards, chard), brassica vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage) - this further supports healthy liver cleansing.
4.  If craving/missing sweets, have a variety of fresh fruit options to choose from - the fruit can help satisfy some of the sweet cravings.
5.  Prepare snacks ahead of time - this can include fresh fruit, small servings of raw and unsalted nuts and seeds, cut up raw vegetables, bean dips.
6.  Try vegetables you wouldn't normally eat - this expands the food variety and can help make missing the foods that have been removed from the cleanse a bit easier/a bit less obvious.  For the cleanse this year, I have had acorn squash, bok choy, green beans, and golden beets, in addition to the regular vegetables I eat.
7.  Make extra when you do cook - I have leftovers every day for lunch to simplify things.   As well, so far on this cleanse, I have been cooking primarily only every second day because of extra food from the previous night's supper.  This greatly reduces the amount of time required and the overwhelm around preparing food for the cleanse.
8.  Try making a green smoothie for breakfast - it is an easy and quick breakfast solution and is a great way to start the day.  The smoothie I have each morning is made up of 1 green apple, 2 inches of cucumber, 1 cup of chard, 2 tbsp of hemp seeds, 1 tbsp of cashew butter, 1 tbsp of coconut oil, 3/4 cup of water.  From start to end of clean up, it takes approximately 10 minutes to make.
9.  Integrate avocado and coconut oil if missing the higher fat foods that are removed on the cleanse - both of these foods are rich in saturated fat and can help a person to feel more full.

Breast Cancer Risk and PREDIMED participants

An article by Jacob Schor in the November 2015 issue of the Natural Medicine Journal discusses breast cancer risk amongst the female participants of the Prevencion con Dieta Mediterranea (PREDIMED) study.  
This 2003-2009 Spanish study involved over 4,200 women (between the ages of 60 and 80 years, average age 67.7 years) who were at high risk for cardiovascular disease.  
The participants were divided into 3 groups:  1 group that ate a Mediterranean Diet (MD) and 2 ounces of extra virgin olive oil per day, 1 group that ate a Mediterranean Diet (MD) and 30 g of walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts per day, and the control group that ate a low fat diet. 
The primary reason for this study was to gather information around diet and cardiovascular risk/concerns, but it was also analyzed for breast cancer incidence amongst participants (with no previous history of breast cancer).  
The participants who ate the MD + olive oil were found to have 68% lower risk of malignant breast cancer than the participants who ate the control diet.  There was no significant risk reduction between the participants who ate the MD + nuts and the participants who ate the control diet.  
This information from this study provides another good reason to ensure that we have healthy fats, specifically olive oil, integrated into our regular routine. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Protein Requirements In Pregnancy

An article by Kaycie Rosen Grigel in the August 2015 edition of the Natural Medicine Journal looks at protein requirements during pregnancy.  The article looks at a study by Stephens et al. that was published in the September 2014 edition of The Journal of Nutrition.  
The study involved 29 pregnant women who were assessed for optimal dietary protein intake (as measured by Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation (IAAO) technique).  Some of participants did early gestation dietary testing only, some did late gestation dietary testing only, and some did both.  
Through the IAAO technique, it was found that the optimal protein intake during early gestation was 1.22 g/kg per day and the optimal protein intake during late gestation was 1.52 g/kg per day.  
The authors of the study note that the current Estimated Average Requirement for protein in pregnancy is .88 g/kg per day and that the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 1.1 g/kg per day - both of these are lower than what the study found, especially during later pregnancy.  Protein intake has a huge impact on both healthy pregnancy and baby's long term health and the information from this study provides excellent updated guidelines on what women could be aiming for, protein intake wise, both in early and later pregnancy.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Curcumin and PMS

An article by Paul Richard Saunders in the December 2015 issue of the Natural Medicine Journal looks at the impact of curcumin supplementation (which is an extract derived from turmeric) on pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).  The article looks at a study by Khayat et al. that was published in the Complementary Therapies in Medicine Journal in 2015.  
The study involved 70 (63 at completion) female university students (ages 18-34 years) with PMS (based on having at least 5 of the 19 symptoms required for the DMS-IV diagnosis of PMS).  
The participants rated their mood based, physical based, and behavioural based symptoms for 2 cycles prior to beginning the study and again after their first, second, and third cycles during the study.  
Half of the participants received 100 mg of curcumin every 12 hours from 7 days prior to their period starting until day 3 of their cycle and the other half were dosed with a placebo during this same time.  
The participants who dosed the curcumin had significant decreases in all 3 groups (mental, physical, and behavioural based) of PMS symptom scores.   The placebo group saw a physical based score decrease, but no significant change in their behavioural or mood based scores.  
This study provides great insight into another form of support we can consider for the emotional and physical fluctuations we may experience as we lead up to our menstrual period. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A recent article by Kurt Beil in the November 2015 edition of the Natural Medicine Journal looks at the impact walking in nature versus walking in the city can have on mental rumination.  The article looks at a small group field study (38 people, average age 26 years) that took place in Palo Alto, California.  

Half of the participants did a 5.3 km walk on their own in the city and the other half in a nature park.    Participants completed a questionnaire (measuring mental rumination) and an MRI both before and after the walk.  The MRI specifically measured subgenual prefrontal cortex neural activity - increased activity in this area is seen with sadness, social withdrawal, and negative self reflection all of which are linked to rumination.    

Interestingly, post walk, the nature park walking participants were found to have significantly lower questionnaire scores (indicating less rumination) and significantly decreased activity on MRI than they did pre walk.  In comparison, the city walking participants' questionnaire scores and MRI activity were unchanged from post walk to pre walk.

I do think walking anywhere brings positive benefits to us on many levels, but this study highlights the importance of aiming to include nature based walks in our regular routine as well.  As a city dog walker, most of my walking is in the neighbourhood I live in, but with the info from this study, I am hoping to go for nature walks on a more regular basis as well in 2016.  

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy 2016!

With the start of another new year begins the start of another January cleanse for me!  I initially started doing a cleanse for the month of January in 2001, so it is a long standing ritual.  I like the simplicity, grounding, and support the cleanse offers after a busy holiday season and for me, it feels like a perfect way to welcome and prepare for the new year.  A cleanse cultivates space within to tune into messages our body is happy to share - when we take our diet down to the basics, there is less clutter and less noise within allowing us to listen more carefully.  Each year I do the cleanse, I learn something new and I try to carry forward this learning into the rest of the year.
On a regular basis, I don't have meat, dairy, eggs, alcohol, caffeinated drinks, or refined sugar in my diet.  During the cleanse, I also remove gluten, soy, nightshade vegetables (eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes), chocolate, and unrefined sweeteners.   The first few days are always hard, but then it does become easier!  There are many different cleanse variations - this is the one that works for me and for others, different/additional foods may need to be removed.
This year, I am also hoping to read more, get more sleep, and do more yoga during the cleanse.
As usual, I will also aim to do more regular blog posts during the month of January - cleanse or general naturopathic information related.
Sending wishes to all for a new year that is filled with continued learning, growth, fun, and self care and love.