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

Bloating be Gone: Part 2 - The Mighty Gallbladder

The summer months are over, and fall is in the air this week! Fall is my favourite time of year, mostly due to the changing colours, cozy sweaters and fresh cool air. However, we still have many weeks (hopefully) of warmer temperatures to enjoy.

You may have noticed after your summer celebrations and indulgences, that your digestion just wasn't quite right. Were you feeling a little uncomfortable the next morning or knew you had to be careful with your food choices? This ties in nicely with the theme of digestive health and bloating that I started to discuss at the beginning of the summer. I addressed the issue of low stomach acid as a cause of heartburn and bloating, but let's continue our journey down the digestive tract. Another organ of importance is the gallbladder, a sometimes forgotten organ.

The Mighty Gallbladder:


The gallbladder is an organ I see many issues with in my practice. Many people have issues with digestion if the gallbladder is not working properly, or even after it has been removed! It sits just underneath the liver, under the lower rib cage on the right. The function of the mighty gallbladder is to concentrate bile that the liver produces and release the proper amount during digestion. More is needed with more fatty meals. Bile helps to emulsify fats, stimulate digestive enzymes, lubricate our bowels and eliminate toxins

You may be familiar with gallstones as the major concern of this organ. Some risk factors for gallstones are oral birth control pills, low stomach acid, parasites and eating disorders. The gallbladder becomes more stagnant with some of these, but issues can arise even before gallstones are formed. Stress can cause stagnation in this organ as well.

If there is stagnation in the gallbladder its proper function will be impeded, and symptoms such as bloating, loose stools or constipation, morning congestion, abdominal pain, palpitations and even plantar fasciitis may occur, among others! I see a variety of symptoms relating to the gallbladder, depending on the patient. 

As I mentioned, some of these issues may even arise once you have had your gallbladder removed! How you ask? The organ is there for a reason and if your body is not able to concentrate bile and release the digestive juice when necessary, problems may ensue. It isn't always as simple as just removing it... 

Simple Naturopathic treatments can be done to heal this organ and its related symptoms. For example, eating smaller and more frequently meals, drinking an herbal tea blend or acupuncture to decrease stagnation. Consider seeing a Naturopathic Doctor if you have any questions or digestive concerns that may be related to this sometimes forgotten organ. 

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