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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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Spring Cleaning for the Mind and Body

– Sonya Nobbe, ND

Spring is the perfect time to address the clutter lurking in the far corners of our body and mind. Many ancient cultures liken the earth’s renewed support for life with support for a body’s transformation from hibernation and conservation in winter, to cleansing and new potential in spring. In western medicine the liver is the primary organ responsible for detoxifying medications, food, hormones, and chemicals. It also plays a key role in carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism. These functions are essential to almost every system in our body and yet we burden the liver further with regular exposure to harmful chemicals in processed foods, drinking water, cleaning products, and polluted air. A sluggish liver can slowly lead to whole-body toxicity, inflammation, and hormonal disturbance. Though it is not possible to eliminate your exposure to all harmful chemicals, it is quite possible and even easy to support liver function by engaging in a regular, individualized cleansing program. This is an excellent way for many people to feel great all year long and prevent countless chronic illnesses.

How can you assess the health of your liver? This is a challenge for a disease-oriented mainstream medical system that relies heavily on abnormal laboratory test results for diagnosis. Blood tests covered by OHIP commonly estimate liver damage rather than evaluate liver potential (known as organ reserve), and significant damage may not generate abnormal test results if the liver compensates by working double-time. Furthermore, mainstream medicine generally focuses on organ-specific diseases rather than underlying core imbalances. They may evaluate the brain in the case of migraines for example, but neglect to evaluate the liver as the root cause of hormonal disturbance or inflammation. Naturopathic medicine searches for these underlying imbalances and may assess the health of your liver according to the culmination of all your signs and symptoms, and with testing available at specialized laboratories.

A poorly functioning liver is not necessary to consider completing a cleansing program. A regular detoxification program may help to prevent body imbalances and ensuing disease by keeping the liver healthy. There are many methods to choose from – some rooted in ancient knowledge and some more a product of fashionable trends. Regardless of the method you choose, consider incorporating the following basic principles into your program.

Ensure that all organs associated with eliminating harmful chemicals from your body are functioning well. Daily bowel movements, fibre, and plenty of filtered water for excretion by the kidneys are essential. Deep breathing exercises not only aid relaxation and meditation, they also improve air-blood exchange of nutrients and wastes. Sweating daily in a sauna or during intense exercise will also help to eliminate wastes. Attempt to avoid exposure to harmful chemicals in your environment and finally, consider the impact of stress on the daily functioning of your body. Stress may be mental, emotional, physical, and chemical. It includes negative thoughts, unsupportive relationships, and unfulfilling employment. A cleansing program should address these stresses and may include meditation, visualization, and tai chi.

Your genetic make-up, medical history, and environment, should all be taken into consideration when devising a targeted liver-support program. I use a combination of diet, herbs, homeopathy, and acupuncture, according to my patients’ specific requirements and underlying core imbalances. Please visit my website for more resources to help you complete a spring cleanse.

You may find this and more of my articles published in Within Kingston Magazine.

Detoxification and Spring Cleansing

Please see my article in the May issue of Within Kingston for a brief introduction to cleansing and detoxification.

Your body is an intelligent, self-regulating system. From this perspective, symptoms are an expression of your body’s attempt to heal and illness is a result of “obstructions” that prevent this healing process. Conventional medicine may understand these obstructions as foreign substances that disrupt normal functioning, such as bacteria, tissue growths, and environmental toxins. The common remedy is to kill or remove the offending agent (e.g. prescribe an antibiotic or cut out a tumour). Naturopathic medical philosophy moves one step further to consider the terrain in the person that allowed the bacteria or tumour to grow in the first place.  In naturopathic medicine, an unhealthy terrain is often the root obstruction that must be addressed to shorten healing time and prevent future disease.  One way to improve terrain is to engage in a regular body-cleansing program that removes toxic material and supports optimal organ function.

Diet is a very simple but powerful cleansing tool.  What you eat can be just as important as when and how you eat.  For example, regularly eating on the run can inhibit stomach acid production, which reduces nutrient absorption and creates an environment more susceptible to invasion by microorganisms, including H. pylori.   People who eat on the run also tend to eat infrequently, which puts undue strain on the pancreas and liver to regulate blood sugar for essential brain and body functions.   When completing a cleanse, attempt to eat in a quiet place and relax.  Eat small portions of clean, healthy food every three hours or so, and avoid excessive sugary foods, including refined bread products. And finally, which foods are helpful and hurtful for your particular state of health are unique to you and often require the help of a qualified healthcare practitioner knowledgeable in holistic nutrition.  I find that most people benefit from at least a few weeks of wheat, dairy, and/or sugar-free diets.   Foods that benefit most people during a cleanse include onions and garlic (powerful anti-microbial ingredients that double as liver support), turmeric and rosemary spices (potent herbal anti-inflammatories), and a variety of steamed and raw green, orange, and yellow vegetables. 

For added support, you may wish to include botanicals (herbs) in your cleansing program.  Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis), and milk thistle (Silybum marianum), are often used in detoxification supplements to support liver and kidney function.  Burdock root (Arctium lappa), and cleavers (Gallium aparine), are great support for the lymphatic system, which is one main vehicle for toxin elimination.   Every medicinal herb has numerous actions on the body and it is often possible to choose only a couple for your cleanse that encompass many health concerns and imbalances.  Carefully chosen herbal combinations also have a synergy in which the action of one botanical supports the action of the other.  Not all botanicals are safe for everyone and I encourage you to request the aid of a qualified practitioner who is trained in the pharmacology of botanicals and who is familiar with reputable suppliers that conduct quality-control tests.

Detoxification is generally an effective way to maintain a healthy terrain so that your body is a poor host for “obstructions” such as toxins and parasites. However, please also keep in mind that obstructions may also include behaviours, such as cigarette smoking, overeating, and working too hard. Understanding and changing health-harming behaviour is critical to ensuring lasting effects from your cleansing program.

Can’t Sleep?

– Sonya Nobbe, ND

Our ability to enjoy good quality sleep is one of the ultimate indicators of balance in our lives. Sleep is a reflection of our relationship with our external environment, and it enables us to connect internally to our subconscious mind in the form of dreams. Many ancient medicines use dreams and a person’s “sleep health” to help identify imbalances so that a prescription for whole mind-body wellness can be determined. Conventional medicine considers restorative sleep to play a critical role in the proper functioning of our mood, hormones, and immune system. Disordered sleep is a risk factor for a multitude of health conditions, including breast cancer and heart disease. 

Successfully adapting to our environment may reward us with quality sleep. Stress for example, is experienced by many people as an external situation that exceeds their capacity to cope. The body moves into a “fight or flight” mode in which constant streams of stress hormones makes it difficult to relax the mind and body for sleeping. Over a long period of time the body loses its ability to produce appropriate amounts of stress hormone and difficulty falling asleep progresses to difficulty maintaining sleep and feeling very un-refreshed in the morning. A person in this state may also experience bouts of low blood sugar, anxiety, and lightheadedness when rising too quickly from a lying position.

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Gateway To A Healthy Immune System

– Sonya Nobbe, ND

Most of us know that a healthy immune system helps us fight off seasonal colds and reduces the number of sick days we take at work. However, a balanced immune system also minimizes inflammation in our body, which potentially reduces the pain of arthritis and lowers one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Your digestive tract hosts millions of these immune cells and is the largest barrier between you and the outside world. Ensuring its health is crucial to obtaining a balanced immune system.

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We respectfully acknowledge that Kingston Integrated Healthcare is situated on ancestral Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Territory. Since time immemorial they have cared for these lands and waters, and we are grateful. We recognize that a healthy environment is essential to the wellbeing of all people and all life.

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