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Achieving Truly Healthy Skin

Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.
~ Kahlil Gibran


Traditionally, healthy skin is considered a sign of beauty, and our society generally equates aged skin with “unhealthy”, or deficiency, which is not beautiful. This standard is fundamentally inadequate and, thankfully, pro-aging concepts are slowly leaking into mainstream thinking. Older skin can certainly be beautiful.

And akin to how the romantic poets describe beauty as that which comes from within, skin is a reflection of our internal health. Imbalances inside our bodies quite often generate symptoms at the level of our skin. So, while a person may pursue beautiful skin with the understanding that they are supporting internal health, my wish for you is that it is also with the understanding that you are already beautiful, no matter how healthy (or unhealthy) your skin is.

Healthy Skin from the Inside-Out

Not only is your skin your largest organ, but it is metabolically active, which means that it works hard to protect you from harmful external influences. Your skin contains many of the same enzymes present in your liver for chemical detoxification, and it houses immune cells that ward off pathogenic bacteria. When an organ as complex as your skin is unhealthy, it’s worth paying attention to.

A general principle of many medicines is that the body is a self-healing unit which will succeed if all routes of waste elimination are maintained. In other words, if your organs are working efficiently to excrete unwanted chemicals, then most processes stay in balance and your body is healthy. Unhealthy skin is certainly linked to these processes, and many associations exist between suboptimal liver function, (your main excretory organ), and unhealthy skin. In this way, healthy skin requires healthy internal organs, and healing your skin requires more than topical symptom management.

For more information about how to support your liver and improve its efficiency, please refer to my articles on detoxification. We can also work together to develop a detoxification plan that supports exactly where your individual organs need support in their elimination efficiency.

…From the Outside-In

Up to 65% of what you put on your skin may be absorbed into your bloodstream and lymph system. Using natural skin care products free of known and suspected cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) could relieve some of the burden on your body’s elimination organs. Please refer to this detailed reference guide for more chemical-specific information: Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors: Chemicals and Synthetics to Avoid in Personal Care Products

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) also publishes a Skin Deep database that contains hundreds of brand names rated for safety by EWG researchers. (A sunscreen guide is also available here.) See how your favourite cosmetic brand was rated! Toxic Products Cosmetic Database.

Truly natural body-care products are hard to come by in Kingston! This is why I’ve researched and brought in two body-care companies, Rocia from Belleville, and Ferlow Botanicals, from Vancouver. For those individuals who would go a little bit farther to achieve changes in skin health, I’d like to introduce Mei Zen(TM) cosmetic acupuncture, also available at KIHC. Mei Zen(TM) is considered by many to be a healthy alternative to cosmetic surgery.

Cosmetic Acupuncture: Needles over the Knife

Traditional Chinese Medicine understands more than many other medical systems that beauty comes from the inside-out. Mei Zen(TM) acupuncture is a technique that combines an individualized whole-body balancing acupuncture treatment with a specific protocol to improve facial skin tone, comparable to cosmetic surgery, botox, or a “face-lift”. The treatment appears to improve blood flow to the face, which encourages the body to synthesize collagen and elastin for improved skin and muscle tone. More information about cosmetic acupuncture may be viewed here. You may also read a New York Times fashion article about Mei Zen acupuncture, here.

Mei Zen(TM) acupuncture is now offered by KIHC’s Traditional Chinese Medicine expert, Jennifer Foster. Jennifer offers complimentary 15-minute consultations for anyone requesting more information about this technique or Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis and treatment in general.

Finally, Clean Skincare Products!


What Are You Feeding Your Skin?

Rocia is a new line of natural skin care and mineral makeup products developed by two local Belleville ladies known as The Leading Lady Image Consultants. Their products are free of suspected and known carcinogens such as parabens, phthalates, EDTA, and sodium lauryl sulfate. (Many of these chemcials are found in other “natural” skincare products, including Avon, Aloette, and Aveda.)

The Leading Lady Image Consultants expect their new website to be up and running in a few weeks. Their products are on display at KIHC and orders may be placed at the front reception desk.

Ferlow Botanicals

Ferlow Botanicals is a purely Canadian, family owned and operated company that specializes in organic personal care products. My favourites so far include the neem tree toothpaste and the calendula shampoo. This company also carries a variety of products with neem, or Azidirachta indica, an antimicrobial alternative to tea tree oil that may be used to treat acne, dandruff, athlete’s foot, or skin fungal infections. Their website contains well researched information about neem, and a guide to toxic personal-care product chemicals.

GreenUp Winner!

Congratulations to the winner of our draw prize, Nancy Sinclair! Nancy won a gift basket of Genestra supplements, valued at over $200.

As promised, the articles available at our booth are posted in electronic form here on our website:

Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors: Chemicals and Synthetics to Avoid in Personal Care Products

The Lancet: Health gap between rich and poor is lowest in areas with the greenest environments.

Maclean’s: Gut Wrenching. November 2008.

Food Allergies: The Hidden Cause of your Health Concerns?

Food intolerances are far more common and complicated than most people know. Reactions to food can show up in almost any body system and cause almost any symptom, up to 72 hours after eating the offending food. Numerous scientific studies link food reactions to chronic health conditions including fatigue, eczema, migraines, arthritis, menstrual pain, and irritable bowel syndrome. Even anxiety, depression, and ADHD have been linked to food reactions. Investing a small amount of time or money now in identifying problematic foods can be rewarding for a lifetime.

Healthy eating for you is not necessarily healthy eating for your colleagues or family members. Numerous Asian medical systems (some dating back more than 3000 years) understand quite clearly how to use diet to balance individual body types, regardless of genetic inheritance. Each food has qualities that may be used to balance the opposite quality in a person. For example, a person with a “yang deficiency” who often feels cold, such as someone with low thyroid function, may benefit from warming foods with a high “yang’ quality, such as onions, ginger, and cinnamon. Similarly, people in a cold Canadian climate would benefit from eating a diet rich in warming foods. In this way, foods may be thoroughly tailored to a particular individual’s state of health and environment. Asian dietary therapy is well presented in Paul Pitchford’s book: Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition.

From a Western medical perspective, food intolerances may be identified by food allergy testing or by dietary experimentation, a process in which suspect foods are eliminated and then reintroduced to the diet. A complete, individualized dietary plan can then be developed to promote health and prevent disease.

There are two main types of food allergies, each diagnosed with a different test. A “skin-prick” allergy test, which is performed by a traditional allergist, tests for foods that typically cause swelling or itching reactions in seconds to minutes. These allergies generally do not account for the symptoms of chronic disease listed above, which may manifest up to 72 hours after exposure. These allergies require a blood test available through specialized laboratories when ordered by a licensed health practitioner. Some insurance companies cover the cost of these tests, which generally range in price from $200 to $400. More information is available at

These allergy tests are useful for identifying foods that cause negative reactions by stimulating the immune system. These tests are not able to identify foods that cause reactions by other mechanisms. For example, “lactose intolerance”, in which a person experiences discomfort or pain after eating dairy products, is the result of an enzyme deficiency and not an immune response. Many chemicals in foods, including MSG, dyes, and preservatives, affect the body by routes other than the immune system, and would not necessarily show up on food allergy tests.

An elimination diet can identify most food reactions, regardless of the mechanism. Numerous suspect foods are eliminated for at least 2 to 6 weeks, and individually reintroduced in a particular sequence for at least 1 to 3 days each. This experiment is challenging, but possible for most people with the guidance of a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner. Your individual symptoms will guide a practitioner to the most likely food intolerances.

Naturopathic medicine is about applying old wisdom and new science to an individual. Experimenting with foods to identify the healthiest ones for you alone can have a tremendous impact on your quality of life, particularly if identified at a young age. For some people, this information is life-altering. Once you really start to believe that food is medicine… and that sometimes people take the wrong medicine, eating takes on a whole new significance.

Breast Cancer Prevention: Is Mammography Effective?

Consider your relationship with each of nine women in your family.  Statistically speaking, one of these women is likely to develop breast cancer in her lifetime.  Breast cancer continues to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in Canadian women.  And though most people tend to think of breast cancer as that which affects only older women, it is the leading cause of cancer death in young women aged 30 to 49.  Our medical establishments respond with recommendations that women perform monthly breast self-examinations (BSE) and biennial mammograms (breast x-rays), though recent studies suggest that both of these screening protocols are scientifically unjustified.  Some medical professionals even consider these guidelines to be harmful.  Following is an outline of some of the newest research to help a woman protect her breast health. 

A recent Statistics Canada publication states that: “Mammography is an important preventive practice for the early detection of breast cancer.”  These authors, like many authors in the mainstream medical system, use the word “prevention” to imply prevention of death.  Not prevention of breast cancer.  In other words, screening for breast cancer with mammograms and self-examinations is not the same as engaging in preventive practice.  Furthermore, a recent gold-standard statistical analysis of 7 studies involving half a million women, determined that for every 2000 women screened with mammography over 10 years, death might be prevented in 1 woman.  The unfortunate consequence is that an additional 10 healthy women would be misdiagnosed with breast cancer and receive unnecessary treatment.  Screening for breast cancer can have negative consequences.

A recent scientific statistical review suggests that breast self-examination (BSE) as a screening tool for breast cancer could also be harmful.  Of nearly 400,000 Russian and Chinese women, those who conducted BSE were not less likely to die of breast cancer compared to women who did not conduct BSE.  More importantly, the women who performed BSE were twice as likely to undergo a potentially unnecessary breast surgical procedure for suspected cancer.  These results are consistent with a Canadian study (conducted more than 15 years ago), which found that BSE and even breast examination conducted by a medical practitioner did not prolong life.

Despite this evidence, an individual woman must keep in mind that scientific studies have inherent limitations.  These population-based studies do not consider an individual woman’s hereditary risk factors for developing breast cancer, or lifestyle.  They do not separate out the benefits to women with many risk factors versus the potential risks to women who are statistically unlikely to develop breast cancer.  These studies are not able to objectively evaluate whether a woman approaches her breast screening routine with fear, or with a sense of empowerment.  How might this determine the benefit or harm of a screening exam?

Discuss your concerns with a medical professional and consider having them teach you proper breast self-examination technique with the mind set that you are maintaining health, rather than searching for disease.  When evaluating the best breast cancer screening tools for you, know your risk factors and know what you can do to reduce or eliminate those risks.  Develop a breast cancer prevention plan that matches your health philosophy with appropriate breast screening tools.

Reduce your Risk

Traditionally, there are hereditary breast cancer risk factors that a person cannot change, and lifestyle factors that you can manage.  In fact, a woman has far more control over her chances of developing breast cancer than traditionally considered.  The following recommendations are only a very brief introduction to the possibilities for reducing your risk of developing breast cancer. 

  1. Test the state of estrogen metabolism in your body and ensure a predominance of the weaker, protective estrogen called estriol. Traditionally, women are told that if they started menstruating early in life (before age 11), did not experience pregnancy, had menstrual cycles shorter than 25 days, and experienced a late menopause (after age 52), they are at increased risk of developing breast cancer.  These factors are linked to a woman’s lifetime exposure to estrogen.  Specialized testing available through a naturopathic doctor may help you evaluate the consequences of this exposure by exploring how well your body protects itself from harmful estrogens.  This may include evaluating liver health, thyroid health, and progesterone hormone levels.  

  2. Complete a mild liver cleanse at least twice a year that targets efficient metabolism and elimination of estrogens and waste products.   Enzymes in the liver prepare estrogens for excretion into the intestine.  Many other substances use the same enzyme pathways so regular cleansing and a nutritious diet help to keep these pathways moving smoothly.  The liver is also responsible for protecting you from harmful chemicals absorbed from your environment (e.g. pesticides, phthalates, bisphenols in plastics) that can impact hormone balance.  Many environmental toxins are scientifically linked to increased breast cancer risk.

  3. Sleep well!  Our bodies release the hormone melatonin during the night, which helps to inhibit breast cancer cell growth.  Shift work, insomnia, and poor sleep habits have all been linked to increased breast cancer risk.

  4. Examine your spiritual self.  Many ancient medicines equate breast cancer with spiritual concerns regarding self-care and nurturance.  Mainstream medical science proves links between stress, our perception of stress, and our risk for developing cancer.  Practicing regular visualizations, meditation, or yoga has been associated with decreased risk of cancer development.

Thyroid Controversy

A couple of months into winter and many people are noticing the cold, fatigue, and weight gain more this year than last. They may write-off the changes to the “winter blues”… but could a more serious health concern be responsible for these changes? 

Low thyroid function, also known as hypothyroidism, mimics many other health disorders and is difficult to accurately identify despite its prevalence. Some studies suggest that hypothyroidism may affect as much as 10% of the population, particularly women over the age of 55. The symptoms of hypothyroidism are vague and include intolerance to cold, mild weight gain, fatigue, aching muscles, and constipation. Some less recognized symptoms include high cholesterol, forgetfulness, and wrist pain that mimics carpel tunnel syndrome. Some people have no symptoms at all but identifying the condition might still be worthwhile given that hypothyroidism has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, and depression.

How to best identify and treat a person with hypothyroidism is somewhat controversial. A medical professional may assess the health of your thyroid gland with a blood test that measures Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), a hormone produced by the brain. An abnormally high TSH may mean that your brain is working excessively hard to stimulate the underactive thyroid gland. In Ontario, most laboratories indicate that you do not have an underactive thyroid if your TSH level is below 5. However, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists stated over 5 years ago that this range should be reduced to 3, so that anyone previously considered “healthy” with a TSH between 3 and 5 should be assessed further for hypothyroidism. 

The Stress – Sugar Craving Connection

It’s often not possible to simply ‘will’ your way through sugar cravings.  Stress and inflammation are both significant triggers that can actually cause your body to crave carbohydrates.  Fighting the cravings without managing the stress or pain will often result in failure. 

A big holiday dinner can be quite satisfying… and stressful.  When you eat a large meal, your body releases a cascade of hormones, including insulin, to signal the cells to absorb the sugars and proteins.  Many of the component amino acids of proteins are absorbed by the muscles.  Tryptophan, an amino acid used to make the “feel-good” brain chemical serotonin, is generally not absorbed by the muscle.  Instead it is left free of competition from other amino acids to be absorbed into the brain, where it is converted into serotonin. 

The Miracle Sugar Replacement

Stevia (Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni) is an herb that has been used as a natural sweetener in various Asian countries for decades and in parts of South America for centuries. It is calorie-free, low-cost, and up to 320 times sweeter than sugar. It is not an artificial sweetener like aspartame and sucralose, and is the only sweetener I know of that helps to balance blood sugar. It is therefore a safe sugar alternative for diabetics and ideal for anyone prone to sugar cravings… and weight-gain!Recent research suggests that stevia may also fight viruses, treat cancer, decrease high blood pressure, and reduce inflammation. Quite a wonder when you consider that excessive sugar consumption is associated with just the opposite outcomes: poor immune system function, increased inflammation, and high blood pressure. 

Naturopathic Perspective

This article is a continuation of “What is Naturopathic Medicine” in my December newsletter.  

Many people choose to develop a health partnership with an ND because they dislike the pharmaceuticals or surgery options offered by their family MD.  They are more comfortable with the concept of using something natural to cure their ailment.  However, becoming a naturopathic patient frequently involves more than subscribing to diet and lifestyle changes, or taking various supplements.  It gives you the freedom to view your health from an entirely different perspective and potentially achieve a wellness you never thought possible.    

The reason you caught your child’s cold this time but not last is a reflection of the millions of processes occurring in your body at any one moment.  These processes include the biochemical events generated by our thoughts and emotions.  It is well documented that emotions generate, and are generated by, numerous complicated reactions all over the mind and body.  Dr. Candace Pert wrote the book Molecules of Emotion, an account of her ground-breaking discovery in the 1970s that proves the physiological basis of emotion.  Dr. Pert has since published hundreds of scientific articles corresponding to the “emotion-carrying” chemicals that circulate in our blood and activate receptors located not only in our brain, but also in our immune system, nervous system, and endocrine system. 

Birth “Control”

– Sonya Nobbe, ND

The Birth Control Pill (BCP) was introduced to the North American marketplace over 40 years ago as the key to liberating women by enabling sexual expression.  In Canada, approximately one in five women of childbearing age take synthetic hormones to suppress menstruation, prevent pregnancy, and control pre-menstrual symptoms.  Few women are aware that other physical, mental, and emotional processes are impacted by these pharmaceuticals, and are further unaware of claims made by women advocates that the very concept of the BCP in our culture is suppressing more than our monthly cycle.  How has it become so “normal” for our girlfriends, sisters, wives, and mothers to consume this pill daily for years without a thorough understanding of how it controls their body?

The menstrual cycle involves an intricate balance of dozens of hormones that are still somewhat mysterious to modern-day scientists.  It is impacted by a woman’s diet, life stress, environment, and social status.  The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges that a culture’s perception of menstruation is related to how women overall are restricted or enabled in their society.  Consider that in Western society, young women are generally taught that the BCP will control monthly bleeding so they do not have to suffer an inconvenient process each month; that some form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in menopausal women is necessary because an older body with less estrogen defines unattractiveness and is a health risk; that approximately 1 in 4 Canadian children are born by cesarean surgery rather than natural birth, when the WHO recommends that a rate of about half of this is medically necessary.  An outsider might perceive that Western society views the female body as a broken or risky health condition. 

We might be creating more damage by trying to fix what’s not broken.  Birth control pills that contain synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone suppress fertility by overriding the natural hormone cycle at the level of the brain. 

The Truth about Cholesterol

– Sonya Nobbe, ND

I’ve met a few patients recently who are understandably confused about high cholesterol levels and what to do about them. Recent media reports highlight the poorly acknowledged potential side effects of Statin drugs (e.g. Lipitor, Crestor), including muscle pain and amnesia. Recent research suggests that mild muscle damage due to Statins is likely quite common and may not show up on standard blood tests.  When do the benefits of these pharmaceuticals outweigh the risks?  Is it possible to manage high cholesterol levels without drugs

A common misperception is that cholesterol is a “bad” thing.  In fact, your liver makes cholesterol because it is essential for life.  Your body requires it for numerous functions including hormone production and nerve protection.  Cholesterol only becomes a “bad” thing when levels are so high that it generates inflammation in your blood vessels and increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.  Though high cholesterol levels may be a result of poor lifestyle choices (such as little exercise and high-fat meals), high levels may also occur secondary to low thyroid function, diabetes, liver disease and kidney disease.  Numerous drugs can also elevate cholesterol, including some diuretics, beta-blockers, (both of these may be prescribed to reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors) and the birth control pill.  Addressing these things first is sometimes all that’s required to reduce high cholesterol levels.

Statins are a modern preparation of a 2000-year old Chinese medicine called red rice yeast extract.  Both medicines reduce the liver’s ability to synthesize cholesterol and studies reproducibly show that both can significant reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.  From a naturopathic perspective however, high cholesterol levels are a symptom of an imbalance.  Ignoring this root imbalance is a missed opportunity for improving your overall health and may lead to other less known risk factors.  In fact, some dissidents argue that though reducing cholesterol levels with Statins statistically reduces risk of heart attack and stroke, it doesn’t ensure a longer lifespan or improved quality of life. 

The good news is that Dr. David Jenkins of the University of Toronto developed the Portfolio Diet, which includes a collection of foods that work synergistically to change how your body metabolizes cholesterol.  High-quality clinical studies show that this diet reduces cholesterol just as well as Statin medications and the only “side-effects” include probable additional reduced risk for diabetes and cancer.  In other words, you can lower your cholesterol levels with diet alone.