fermented food

Probiotics Everywhere - What To Really Look For!

At the end of last year I did a talk to local Holistic Nutritionists and it was mentioned that one of the top trends of 2017 was going to be probiotics. Not just those good gut bugs in general, but adding them to all different types of foods. So I was curious to see what the commercial industry was going to come up with next. What I am seeing lately is probiotics in orange juice! FYI - probiotics are not naturally found in juice. To see a benefit you also want a lot more than the 1 billion found in that cup of juice they are marketing. 

Better ways than this to get your probiotics :)

Better ways than this to get your probiotics :)

I want to shed a little light on probiotics so you have a little more information when those marketing gurus try to direct their product your way. 

Benefits of probiotics:

There are so many strains of probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that reside mostly in the large intestine of your gut. More and more research is coming out showing the importance of probiotics on a wide variety of conditions, including all digestive disorders, immune health, anxiety, skin health and even weight loss. In Naturopathic Medicine research is trying to get even more specific in terms of subtypes of strains to treat even more individually. In my practice I prescribe either specific probiotic strains or higher doses of probiotics - 11 billion, 50 billion or even up to 300 billion for issues such as crohns and colitis. Once we have established a healthy community of those good bugs the focus then turns more to food forms of probiotics. These would be naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt or even sourdough. Naturally fermented I say...not orange juice.  

What to look for:

While I am not saying a little fresh juice is bad, it is actually quite delicious at times, it just shouldn't be your primary way of getting probiotics. Therefore when companies claim their products contain probiotics, ask yourself if it is a naturally fermented food and how many billion are actually in a serving. Focus on adding a tbsp or two of naturally fermented foods as mentioned above to your meals, or for a higher dose look for a probiotic containing 10 billion or more with more than 2 strains. 

If you are having digestive concerns that don't seem to be improving with over the counter probiotics or fermented foods consider coming in for a visit to discuss a more specific treatment plan for you! I am always happy to help. 

In health & happiness, 

Dr. Karen 

Healing the Gut: All about the good bugs

Did you know that our body lives symbiotically with many bugs, called the microbiome? Did you know that many chronic diseases, such as allergies, skin issues, depression, obesity, hypertension and more are linked to a disruption of our microbiome? 

We are seeing a plethora of research today showing the benefits of a healthy microbiome, this being the collection of healthy bacteria in our body. The majority of this microbiome is located in our gut, which is why I discuss gut health with so many of my patients! Many of you may be familiar with the word “acidophilus” but that is only one strain of probiotics, or live bacteria, which lives symbiotically with us. Some other strains that are important are lactobacillus, bifidobacterium and saccromyces boulardii. Sound like gibberish? Luckily, it is helpful gibberish. 

A few important roles of probiotics:

  1. They protect against pathogens: A spectrum of immune conditions, from simple colds and flus to chronic immune deficiencies, such as Hashimotos and Crohns, can occur if we have a deficiency in probiotics. This is due to the fact that more that 70% of our immune system resides in our digestive tract and probiotics help to strengthen it. Some germs are actually good for us in this case. If we wiped out all those bugs, from over sanitization or antibiotics we decrease our bodies ability to protect us from when we need them the most.
  2.  They protect the gut lining itself: Heard of the term “leaky gut?” Our digestive tract is simply one layer of cells, with the blood stream directly beneath it. Therefore, it is quite fragile. An imbalanced flora can lead to permeability of these cells, by up-regulating a protein called zonulin, which has been shown to be correlated with auto-immune conditions, such as celiac disease, and other chronic diseases. This permeability leads to an increase in inflammation in the blood stream. Diagnosed with “IBS”? Probiotics may be the gut protection you need. 
  3. They calm the nervous system and affects the mind: I have spoken before about the correlation of depression and anxiety and an imbalanced microbiome. By protecting the gut lining, probiotics decrease overall inflammation in the body. Probiotics have also been shown to stimulate neurochemical production such as GABA and serotonin, our calming signals, and also communicate directly with the brain through the vagus nerve (one of the largest nerve in the body, connecting the brain and the gut.) 

My tips to help your gut: 

  1. Focus on Diet. The western-style diet of more carbohydrates and more sugar leads to higher levels of inflammation and gut permeability. They also feed the “bad” bugs, such as yeast and an imbalance ensues. By focusing on eating more vegetables and fibre and eliminating sugar and processed carbohydrates, the gut will thank you. 
  2. Get some Vitamin D. This multifunctional vitamin decreases zonulin in the gut, ultimately helping our probiotics to function more affectively. Summer in Nova Scotia is a great time to increase your vitamin D, so get out in the sun...for a reasonable amount of time!
  3. Eat your fermented foods. Kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut are all great ways to improve your gut flora with food.  **A note on kefir: Please read the bottle! All kefir is not the same. Avoid the flavoured versions with added sugar (just negates the effects). If you are sensitive to dairy, try coconut kefir, which actually has more probiotics per tablespoon (15 billion vs 2 billion). Finally, increase the dose slowly, starting with 1/2 tbsp, increasing to only 2 tbsp, added to other yogurt or smoothies. Too much all at once may cause more bloating. 
  4. Take a probiotic supplement. In my practice I usually start my patients on a supplement form as a larger correction is needed or a certain strain is important. The dose and strain depends on their concern. It may be hard to get enough probiotics in food form before the imbalance is corrected. Ask your ND what is right for you. 

So there you have it, probiotics have several important roles in our body, especially in the gut. If you have any questions on these little bugs please don’t hesitate to ask or reach out to me in a 15 minute free consults. Happy to help!

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen


(Photo credit: www.mindbodygreen.com) 

Spring Allergies...nothing to SNEEZE about

As I am sitting here in the sun (yeah for a beautiful warm day!), it is a lovely reminder that spring weather is on its way. The season bring many wonderful things - sun, warmth, fresh flowers - but for many it brings a plethora of negatives - sniffling, sneezing, itchy eyes, fatigue. Oh, the dreaded spring allergies. You may have suffered from these for many years and are reliant on over the counter antihistamines and nasal sprays, but within only a short time you could be free of these forever!

My story:

For many summers as a teen, I suffered from seasonal allergies, especially from fresh cut grass. As a camp counsellor one summer, I remember not being able to function in the morning until I took a Reactine, my nasal spray and eye drops. I literally did not feel like a person and was miserable until I did these steps. I continued to take Reactine daily for 3 whole years because otherwise I would break out in hives, with no known trigger. I would panic slightly if I forgot my anti-histamines while travelling because I knew I would be very itchy soon. Not fun! Flash forward a couple years, after seeing an ND myself, I was free of all medication and spring allergies haven't crossed my mind since (except when treating patients). All it took was simply tweaking my diet and taking a few supplements for a short period of time. 

So what can you do?

The root cause of seasonal allergies is typically an increase in inflammation and hyper-reactivity in the body. Meaning, our bodies are hyper-alert to anything that seems foreign to us and we mount an inflammatory response by releasing histamine. It is histamine that causes red, itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, hives etc., released from mast cells. It is important to build our immune system and decrease inflammation to eliminate this reaction, and it all starts in the gut…surprise, surprise! 😃

Here are 5 things you can do to prevent spring allergies:

1. Adjusting your diet - Focus on nutrient rich colourful foods to support your digestive system and provide necessary nutrients. Eliminate gluten, dairy, and artificial sugars for at least 3-4 weeks (one month of your life isn't so bad), to drastically decrease inflammation in your body. If you need some guidance feel free to reach out. Here's a list of low-histamine foods that are great to add to your diet:

  • freshly cooked meat, poultry (frozen or fresh)
  • freshly caught fish
  • eggs
  • gluten-free grains: rice, quinoa
  • fresh fruits: mango, pear, watermelon, apple, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapes
  • fresh vegetables (except tomatoes, spinach, avocado, and eggplant)
  • dairy substitutes: coconut milk, rice milk, hemp milk, almond milk
  • cooking oils: olive oil, coconut oil
  • leafy herbs
  • herbal teas

2. Probiotics - This is an important step in healing the gut and boosting your immune system. With the abundance of antibiotics taken, it is likely that your gut flora is lacking the beneficial bacteria that are vital to our health. Adding a probiotic supplement with at least 11 billion units, eating 1-2 tbsp of coconut kefir, or adding fermented foods to your diet are all possible options. 

3. Nettles - This is one of my favourite herbs for spring allergies and liver detoxification.  It acts as a great natural anti-histamine. I add it to my allergy teas or give it in capsule form. If you are antsy for a quick fix this is a great start. 

4. Quercetin - Another good natural anti-histamine. Quercitin is found in foods such as apples and onions, however a higher dose is typically more effective for an alternative to OTC anti-histamines. This is one supplement I used to wean myself off of Reactine those years ago. 

5. Vitamin C - This helpful vitamin acts as a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. It is helpful to build your immune system as well. I typically start with 1000-2000mg of buffered vitamin C, and be weary of an increased dose in pregnancy and its potential to cause loose stools. 

Several of these suggestions can be mixed into one supplement and taken all together to minimize the miserable effects of spring allergies. This is generally what I do with my patients. In conclusion, by addressing your gut and immune health with a few tweaks, you can improve or forever eliminate spring allergies so there really IS nothing to sneeze about. 😃

If you have any questions or visit me for a free 15 minute consult. I'd be happy to help! 


In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen


(Photo credit: avivaromm.com, womensday.com) 

Bugs to avoid bugs: How probiotics can improve your child's immune system

The summer heat has finally arrived...just in time to gear up for school again! If you have small children going into day-care or school in a few weeks, consider improving your child's and your gut health to avoid those nasty bugs that inevitably go around.

Study time:

There is a plethora of research coming out recently proving that a healthy gut goes a long way to improve your digestion, mood and even your immune system. For children in day-care, that is good news, because there are things you can do as a parent to protect you and your child. There are little bugs, or healthy bacteria, that live in our gut that ward off the unhealthy bacteria that lead to illness. Probiotics are those healthy bacteria and you can add them to your child's diet, as well as yours in several ways. A 2014 meta-analysis looking at the impact probiotics have on children's immunity showed that parent and child pairs that took probiotics had fewer colds and flus, shorter duration of colds and less sick days. Taking a good quality, multi-strain probiotics is a great way to get probiotics, but also consider fermented foods, yogurt (if you or your child aren't sensitive to dairy) or coconut kefir. There are even specific children probiotics available in powder form that you can mix with juice, apple sauce or other easy foods. Also, any antibiotics (remember all those nasty ear infections), kill both bad and good bacteria so it is even more important to introduce probiotics back into gut after taking antibiotics.

But how does this work?

Surprisingly, the majority of your immune system resides in your digestion system. It is called your gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or simply GALT, and works to protect your body from invasion of any illness by producing immune cells that fight them off. It is proposed that probiotics adhere to gut tissue, in turn activating GALT. The stronger your digestion system is, the stronger your immune system will be. And remember, immune health is important at all ages so eat your probiotics! 

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen

(Photo cred: www.sciencemag.com; www.todaysparent.com)