Apple cider vinegar

The healing power of food - Using food as medicine

If you did not catch me on CTV last week, check it out by clicking the photo above or read all about it and more below.

If you are like me and do not like to take too many pills in a day, putting the emphasis on food to give you the nutrients you need and using its medicinal properties to heal your body is ideal. The quote "eat your medicine" rings true here. Food is more than just calories to fill us up. It is full of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. 

Some simple ways to use food as medicine:

  •  Lemon – Add lemon to water to stimulate the digestive track. Great for liver health and to regulate your bowel movements (especially if you suffer from constipation). Try infusing water with lemon in the fridge overnight or drink a cup of warm water with a lemon slice before breakfast. Be sure to use fresh lemon instead of lemon juice. 
  • Apple cider vinegar – This stimulates your stomach acid before meals to aid in digestion. As we age, or if we have been struggling with stress (and who hasn't!), our level of stomach acid starts to decline, which can impede digestion. This creates symptoms such as heartburn, gas, bloating and constipation. Taken before meals, a little goes a long way! You only need about 1 tsp-1tbsp in a little water.
  • Fermented foods – There are several studies recently showing the connection of fermented foods to improved health, including improved immune system, digestive health and mood - including anxiety and depression. The fermentation process produces beneficial probiotics. There are several types of fermented food available such as sauerkraut, kombucha tea, kefir, kimchi, and of course yogurt. Have you tried a variety of these? You can even make your own! 
  •  Ginger root – The phytonutrient in ginger acts to soothe the stomach, if there is any digestive concerns. It is also very warming for people who tend to always be cold like me. Finally it helps to improve your immune system. Make ginger tea by boiling a few slices of fresh ginger in water.
  • Tumeric root – You can find this as the root, the spice or in capsule form. The curcuminoids in turmeric act as a natural anti-inflammatory. They target any type of inflammation, including joint pain, muscle pain and even digestive issues. I use the capsule form a lot in my practice for joint pain and injuries. Research shows a higher dose is most beneficial so a capsule with a least 250mg 3x/day is suggested. However, you can add the spice to food or make turmeric tea with the root - just be careful as it can stain everything yellow!
  • Flax seeds – We have heard a lot about flax seed in terms of its fiber content, however I use it a lot in my practice for many gynecological issues, such as cramps, irregular period and menopause. Flax contains lignans, which act as a phytoestrogen to help balance estrogen. 1-2 tbsp ground flax seed is great for females of all ages.
  • Mushrooms – Their polysaccharides in mushrooms improve and balance your immune system. They are great for a poor immune system, fatigue or any immune condition. Try adding more shiitake mushrooms to stir-fries or  try chaga tea. 
  • Cruciferous veggies – This is a large group of veggies, including broccoli, cauliflower and greens. They contain I-3-C, which is needed in both phases 1 and 2 of liver detoxification. By adding these vegetables to your diet, you improve your livers function, ultimately improving your overall health. 
  • Finally think colour! - The more colour you have in your diet, the broader spectrum of phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals you are getting. A good question to ask yourself is, how many colours are in my diet today?

Have you tried one or more of these foods for their medicinal benefits? Which is your favourite?

Also, if there is a topic you are curious about please let me know in the comments below and I'd be happy to shed a little more light on it.

In health & happiness, 

Dr. Karen

Giving the body a break: Spring Cleanse

We recently completed our first Spring Cleanse at Symmetry Wellness Centre and it was a success! The cleanse was two weeks focusing on healthy whole foods, eliminating the more inflammatory and processed foods, including gluten, processed sugar, alcohol and coffee. Although not everyone has repercussions from some of these foods, ie coffee, it is good to give the body and liver a break at least once a year. We stuck to a whole foods cleanse, instead of the more aggressive cleanses, as our bodies still need nutrients and fibre to function optimally and several people participating had never done a cleanse before. 

Who should cleanse? Everyone! Even if our diet is super clean, we are bombarded with toxins everyday from multiple sources. Some examples are processed food, pesticides, pollution and radiation. It is a good idea to do a cleanse at least once a year to support your body's natural detoxification processes and empty our "bucket". 

Body as a bucket: Think of our bodies as a bucket. When we are born, is it a empty - a clean state - then we start to fill up the bucket. If we are not careful, overtime it will overflow, creating symptoms. These could be eczema, asthma, high blood pressure or cancer, to name a few. What we want to do is promote an ebb and flow to the bucket, preventing it from overflowing. To do this we need to decrease the amount of stress we put on our bodies, food stressors and/or emotional stressors, but also ensure the healthy functioning of our "organs of elimination" - liver, bowels, kidneys and skin. This means, eating a whole foods diet, exercising and focusing on emptying our bowels at least once a day. What comes in...must come out (except for the nutrients that we DO absorb)! If this is an issue for you, consider liver support, more fibre or water. Consult an ND if more support is needed. 

Why Spring? In chinese medicine, spring is the time of the liver, therefore the perfect time to support its detoxification function. The change of the seasons is a new beginning for the nature around us. We can implement this new beginning to our bodies as well, giving it a fresh start. Nature is helping us do this with new buds, sprouts and herbs flourishing. Nutrients is more concentrated in light, fresh foods. No need for larger, heavier meals to hibernate for the winter, but fresh salads and cooler foods to put a "spring" in your step :)

Healthy habits: During a detox, one goal of mine is to help implement healthy habits to carry forward into the summer. Here are some easy ones you'll hear me mention a lot:

  • Drinking more water! Especially during the hotter months to replenish that which we have lost during the day. Hungry? Reach for water first.
  • Warm water with lemon and castor oil packs - The pack at night over the liver and lemon water in the morning helps to get those bowels moving and stimulate digestion. 
  • Apple cider vinegar and honey - 1 tsp ACV + 1 tsp local honey in 1 cup hot water. The bitter and sweat together is the perfect combination to use food as medicine to stimulate the liver, and even combat seasonal allergies.
  • Tumeric - The spice of many names. "Curcuma longa" in latin, is a powerful spice with many actions including anti-inflammatory, immune regulating and liver supporting. I higher dose taken in capsule form has the best results. 
  • Light fresh meals - Click on the photos above for some fresh ideas.

What have you done to support your liver this spring?

Join us next year for our 2nd annual spring cleanse!

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen


Bloating be Gone: A guide to digestive health Part 1

It is that time of year when we become both excited and stressed about the sunshine and bathing suit season. Even with all the confidence in the world, it can be a scary thing to de-robe by the water. We want to look our best but bloating may be one thing standing in our way. Does your stomach commonly feel hard and distended later in the day, your pants feel a little tighter after work, still hungry but can't think to eat anything in fear of making it worse? Yes, bloating is a pain and never makes you feel good! Well, let's start to get to the bottom of it...

Common culprits:

  • Food sensitivities - There are some foods that our bodies just aren't able to process.The most common food sensitivities I see that cause bloating are dairy, gluten, eggs, and red meat. You may not be sensitive to all of them, or it may be something different, such as prolonged exposure to processed foods, but eliminating them for 3 weeks, monitoring symptoms, and re-introducing them one at a time may give you some answers. (More on food sensitivities and elimination diets at a later date.)
  • Low stomach acid - In most cases I see, heartburn is due to low stomach acid instead of high stomach acid. Yes its true...mind blown! Your digestion starts mostly in your stomach and therefore if it is impeded here, it can lead to issues further down, such as bloating. 
  • Low digestive enzymes - Your stomach and pancreas are the main organs that secrete necessary digestive enzymes, such at pepsin, protease and lipase. If there are not enough enzymes, food does not get digested as completely causing issues.
  • Dysbiosis - A fancy term that means an imbalance in your gut between the good and bad bacteria. Probiotics (the good guys), have many health benefits, including regulating your bowels and decreasing inflammation.
  • Stress - All of these issues can lead back to stress. It goes back to the "fight or flight" and "rest and digest" idea of our nervous systems. If we put all our energy into fighting stress, we prevent adequate blood flow to our digestive system, which can lead to inflammation, poor organ function and a "leaky gut". Organs that can be affected are your stomach, liver, gallbladder and intestines. 

As it can be any one, or all of the above, its best to understand your digestion from the start. So...

Let's start at the very beginning...A very good place to start.

Digestion actually begins even before you take your first bite. Salivation, stimulated by hunger or smell, sends signals to your digestive track to start producing enzymes, stomach acid etc. You then take your first bite...yum! However, if your stomach is not able to produce enough stomach acid, or HCl, digestion is impeded. Heartburn is a common symptom of low HCl. At the end of the esophagus is a sphincter (an elastic band per say), and it opens and closes to let food into the stomach. Ideally, adequate stomach acid sends a signal to the sphincter to tighten, preventing any acid and food from irritating the esophagus while breaking down your food. This sphincter can become weak or lazy due to low acid (but also such things as overuse of ant-acids, stress, obesity and pregnancy), and symptoms may arise.  Protein is broken down first by HCl. Have difficulty digesting red meat? This may be why! If food is not broken down properly in the stomach, your intestines have to work harder and inflammation can arise, causing bloating. 

What can you do?

apple cider vinegar.jpg

Bitters, such as the herb Gentiana lutea, will initiate digestion and help eliminate bloating very successfully. However, one of the best at home remedies for bloating and heartburn is organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Instead of suppressing stomach acid, it actually stimulates your bodies natural ability to produce stomach acid, while prepping your body for digestion. Even 1 tsp in water 10 minutes before meals will do the trick. Note that apple cider vinegar will not give relief if you have an ulcer or too much stomach acid. An HCl challenge, with your ND, is a useful tool to decipher if you have high or low stomach acid. 

If you have any questions about elimination diets, testing stomach acid, using apple cider vinegar or your bloating concerns please don't hesitate to book an appointment with me or your local ND. (More to come on bloating in the coming month.)

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen


Simple ways to Spring Clean your Body and Mind photo photo

Although it might not feel like it in Nova Scotia, Spring is here! I am being taunted by photos and messages from my sisters in Vancouver and London (England that is!), about how warm and beautiful it is there lately. I do miss the cherry blossoms around Vancouver, but am staying optimistic that it will move this way soon!

With spring, comes spring cleaning. Spring cleaning not only refers to material objects but to our bodies as well. In an ideal world, we would eat healthily year round and not expose ourselves to toxins and chemicals, but that requires a lot of dedication. Don’t fret, the change of seasons is the best time to detox.

In Chinese medicine, spring is the season of the liver. This powerful organ is what filters toxins, which if built up can deposit throughout our body causing a variety of symptoms, including pain, headaches, digestive issues and allergies.

Allergies are very common in the spring, however not inevitable if we take the right steps and are proactive. It’s time to let go of toxins, start to feel better and prepare for the warm season.

Here are some simple ways to detox this spring:

  • Warm water with lemon in the morning - lemon stimulates your liver, primes your digestive system and promotes regular bowel movements (an important way we eliminate toxins). Cold water can shock our bodies and create tension within our digestive system, therefore stick with warm or room temperature water. 
  • Apple cider vinegar - 1/4 tsp in warm water before meals will also prime your digestive system and help eliminate toxins. ACV helps with many digestive issues, such as gas, bloating and even heartburn if low acid is the culprit.
  • Parsley, Cilantro, Dandelion, Nettles - All of these herbs are specific to the liver and help it function optimally. Add them to salads, smoothies or as a garnish. Dandelion and nettles can be made into a tea and have added benefits as a nutritive and a blood cleanser. 
  • Drink plenty of water - Your body is about 70% water. We release toxins through urination and sweat and that comes from the water we drink! 
  • Castor oil packs - Applied topically over the digestive system as a "pack," the castor oil is absorbed into the lymphatic system to cleans as well as stimulate immune function.  
  • Breathing - Proper breathing, specifically the exhale, is key to activating our parasympathetic nervous system ( the "rest and digest" component), allowing our digestive system, including the liver, to continue the detoxification process. Slowing our breathing allows better exchange of old and new air, optimizing the function of every cell.
  • Exercise - At least 30 minutes of moderate exercises a day can make you look and feel better. Not only does it help release toxins it helps release tension, emotions and triggers the mind-body connection. 

This is just a start but implementing these practices on a daily basis can go a long way in your overall wellbeing. So drink up, get breathing and enjoy the sunshine with a brisk walk. 

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen