The Winter Blues:  Seasonal Affective Disorder

 

 

It’s February.  One of the dreariest months of the year and the month when most people really struggle with the winter blues. The medical term for the winter blues is Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

Signs and symptoms of SAD include:

  • Low energy
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Sleeping problems or the tendency to oversleep
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Depression or low mood
  • Irritability, mood swings
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Loss of interest in social interactions with friends and family

The Causes SAD

There is no consensus on what causes SAD but there are a few theories:

Reduced Serotonin Levels

It is thought that the reduced daylight in winter reduces our serotonin levels (the “feel good” serotonin) which affects our mood.  Serotonin plays an important factor in regulating our mood, appetite, sleep and brain function.

Increased Melatonin Levels

The reduced light also increases melatonin.  Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland in response to a lack of light.  It makes us sleepy, reducing our energy levels and lowering our mood.  In some cases, the increase in melatonin can disrupt our normal circadian rhythm (the internal alarm clock that regulates sleep/wake cycles).

Reduced Vitamin D

Our bodies make vitamin D in response to natural daylight but in the winter, the UV index is too low for our bodies to make vitamin D.  This can result in a deficiency that can contribute to the signs and symptoms of SAD.  Many North Americans have less than optimal levels of Vitamin D.

Treatments for SAD

There are natural ways that you can reduce the symptoms of SAD.

Light Therapy:  make sure you get outside when it’s bright out and expose yourself to natural daylight.  You can also buy a “lightbox”, a natural spectrum light, and use that to increase your exposure to light.  Light therapy has been shown to reduce melatonin levels.  A lightbox should be used for 30 minutes a day.  You can use this time to read, work or do other tasks but your eyes must be open.  A dawn simulator has also been shown to help.  It is used as an alarm clock and allows the body to wake up in response to a gradually increasing light over 30-60 minutes.

Diet and Supplements:  Eat a diet high in the amino acid tryptophan.  Tryptophan is the building block for serotonin and is found in eggs, nuts, seeds, tofu, salmon and turkey.  Also, increasing protein and good fats will help regulate insulin levels and mitigate carbohydrate cravings and weight gain.

There are also supplements that can help increase serotonin levels naturally: 5-HTP and SAMe can increase your serotonin levels.  You might also consider a Vitamin D supplement, especially if you have darker skin.  Almost everyone in North America can benefit from a Vitamin D supplement in the winter however any supplements or vitamins should only be taken under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.

Exercise:  Vigorous exercise for 30 minutes 3 times a week has been shown to reduce SAD. Want to increase the positive effects?  Exercise outside in the daylight or under bright lights!  Consider a walk at lunch time when you can maximize your exposure to daylight.  Exercise increases serotonin levels and has been shown to improve mood and energy.

Mindfulness:  practicing mindfulness can help increase serotonin levels and reduce signs of depression. Meditation is one way to practice mindfulness and there are several apps available that can introduce you to meditation if you are new to it – consider Headpace or Muse as some options.  Another way to practice mindfulness is through gratitude.  You can practice gratitude simply by incorporating a few minutes in your day where you reflect on things that you are thankful for and that make you happy.  The key is to be consistent so take a few minutes when waking up, while drinking your coffee or before going to bed to reflect on what makes you happy and feel positive.

The winter months can be very trying for those that struggle to maintain a cheerful disposition, but with a few simple adjustments, you can support your mood and feel better.  If natural solutions don’t work and you feel especially down, it’s important to speak to a specialist and get some additional help.

 

 

 

Are Your Goals for 2019 S.M.A.R.T?

Every year people make New Year’s Resolutions and every year, most people FAIL to keep those resolutions.  Why is that?  Because the resolutions or goals are not SMART.  When setting a goal for yourself, take a few moments to really think about the goal.  Why is it important?  What is holding you back?  Why have you failed in the past?  Then take some time to make sure the goals follow the SMART steps.

Specific:  Be specific in your goal.  Saying you want to “exercise more” or “eat healthier” is not specific.  Instead, determine the time and type of exercise you want to do.  For example, “I will walk for 30 minutes 3 times a week”.  Instead of “eat healthier”, consider “I will eat at least 5 servings for fruits or vegetables a day”.

Measurable:  Keep track and measure your progress.  Consider a journal or calendar and make sure you check off the days that you achieve your goal.

Attainable:  Make sure your goals are attainable.  For example, if you have never exercised in your life, aiming to run a marathon is probably not attainable and will set you up to fail. However, setting an attainable goal, like training to run a 5k will help set you up for success.  This is important.  Always set yourself up for success not failure!

Realistic:  Take a look at your life.  Are the goals you have set out realistic?  For example, if you are not a morning person, it is not realistic to expect that you will exercise 4 mornings a week.  This might be one of the reasons you have failed to make exercise a habit in the past.  Consider taking a walk at lunch time instead, or exercising after work.  This is where it helps to take some time to look at why you have been unsuccessful at attaining a particular goal in the past.

Time-Based:  Put a time limit on your goal.  To do this, you might consider breaking down your goal into smaller sub-goals.  You may want to run a 5k by the end of 2019.  That is your goal but your sub-goal might be to run 2km by the end of March, 4 km by the end of May and then running the full 5k in July.  Setting sub-goals helps you stay on track and allows you to experience small “wins” along the way to help motivate you to keep going.

 

By following the SMART steps, you are more likely to achieve success in attaining your goals.  Good luck!

 

 

There are 6 weeks left until the New Year – how are you going to feel on January 1, 2019?

There are 6 weeks until the New Year.  Many people wait until Jan 1 to start healthy habits.  We often take the weeks before the holidays to splurge on food, alcohol and celebrations.  We skimp on sleep and skip workouts.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s important to spend time with friends and family and to enjoy treats that are only available at this time of year but, if you spend the next six weeks skimping on sleep, bingeing on sugar, indulging in alcohol and skipping the gym, you will wake up on Jan 1, 2019 feeling dehydrated, bloated, heavy, tired and more likely than not, deeply regretful.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  You CAN enjoy the holidays and also take care of yourself with a few healthy tips.

First, do not over indulge on alcohol.  More and more research is suggesting that alcohol, in any amount, is bad for our health.  This time of year, people tend to drink way too much and way too often.  Instead, of drinking at every social gathering, plan for the parties and celebrations where you know you will want to enjoy an alcoholic beverage and the rest of the time, be mindful and stick to non-alcoholic beverages.  You don’t have to have wine with every dinner, or beer at every outing.  Drink plenty of water as well.  It will help keep you hydrated and is a great way to pace the alcohol intake.  Consider alternating a glass of alcohol with a glass of water or club soda to avoid drinking too much.

Next, get enough sleep.  Make sleep a priority.  A lack of sleep makes you more likely to eat poorly, increases your risk of getting sick and reduces energy levels.  Set a firm bedtime and stick to it.  Of course, there will be occasional nights when you stay up later than anticipated, but if you are making sleep a priority MOST of the time, your body will bounce back more easily those times when you do stay up too late.

Also, make sure you don’t skip meals and ideally, make sure you are consuming enough protein and fat throughout the day.  Protein and fats help keep your blood sugar in check and this will make it easier to control your cravings when the gingerbread and eggnog start to appear.  Consider starting your morning with a protein shake packed with greens, protein powder, nut butters, some fruit and a non-dairy milk of your choice.  Surviving on chocolate and Christmas cookies for 6 weeks will leave you feeling bloated and heavy and nobody wants to go into the New Year with extra weight to lose.

Get some exercise.  If you follow the tips above, you will have more energy to maintain your exercise regimen.  Maybe you won’t make it to the gym as often as you usually do but you can always go for a walk instead.  Keep active and your body and mind will feel better through the holidays.

Finally, take your supplements.  If you know you are going to be eating an extra rich meal, take some digestive enzymes ahead of time to help digest the meal.  Probiotics are a great way to support digestion and your immune system so you don’t get sick.  Vitamin D is a must this time of year as well.  It supports the immune system and improves your mood through the shorter days of Winter.

When it comes to the holidays, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  You don’t need to be perfect through the holidays, but taking a few measures to support some healthy habits will make sure you can enjoy this season without sacrificing your health.

Happy Holidays!

 

It’s Allergy Season!  But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

It is estimated that close to 25% of Canadians suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis (an allergic response to specific allergens).  The most common allergies are to pollen, pets, dust and foods.  Allergies are a hypersensitivity, meaning that the immune system overreacts to allergens and produces an inflammatory response.  The body produces histamine and immunoglobulin E (IgE) (causing an inflammatory response) that cause a variety of symptoms including congestion, sneezing, headaches, hives, itchy eyes, and many others.

Many allergy sufferers rely on over the counter anti-histamines, like Claritin or Benadryl, to keep their allergies under control.  Other therapies include corticosteroids, eye drops, decongestants, allergy shots and topical creams.  Though many of these therapies provide temporary relief, these medications have their own host of issues with side effects ranging from drowsiness and fatigue to restlessness and confusion, just to name a few.  Also, the severity of the allergic reactions don’t always change with these medications, and sometimes even worsen.

Often, natural remedies can help allergy sufferers get some relief and can also help reduce the necessity and frequency of anti-histamines.  The following are a list of some natural allergy relief remedies and treatments.

Natural Allergy Relief Remedies and Treatments

Local, unpasteurized honey

Consider visiting your farmer’s market and picking up some local, unpasteurized honey.             The honey contains local pollen and, when ingested regularly, can reduce the severity of allergies by helping the body build a tolerance to the pollen.

Quercetin

Quercetin is a natural anti-histamine. It is found in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli and also in foods like onions and citrus fruits.  It works by stabilizing mast cells (the cells in the body that release histamine in response to allergens).  It is best to start taking Quercetin several weeks before your allergy symptoms typically start.

Saline Rinse/Neti Pot

You can boil a quart of water, dissolve a teaspoon of sea salt and allow it to cool before using the neti pot to rinse out the nasal and sinus passages or you can buy a premade saline mix to use with your neti pot.  Alternatively, you can use a saline spray from the pharmacy and use it several times a day to rinse out all the allergens in your nose and sinuses and reduce allergy symptoms.

Nettle Leaf

Stinging Nettles have been used to treat many types of allergic reactions including hay fever, hives and asthma.  It has also been shown to be an effective treatment for a variety of other illnesses including benign prostate hyperplasia (enlarged prostate), arthritis, hypertension and many others.

When it comes to seasonal allergies, you can take the nettles as a dried extract, tincture, capsule or tea.  Better yet, have a cup of Nettle tea with a teaspoon of raw, local honey!

Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been shown to provide relief of allergy symptoms and reduce medication use.   A study in 2013 showed divided 422 people, ages 16-45, into 3 groups.  One group received real acupuncture regularly and antihistamines as needed.  The second group received sham acupuncture (where the needles are placed randomly, in non – meaningful points on the body) regularly and antihistamines as needed.  The last group received antihistamines only.

After 2 months of treatment, 71% of those treated with acupuncture reported improvement in their symptoms and a reduced use of antihistamines.  However, 56% of those that received sham acupuncture also reported these same improvements.  The fact that the sham acupuncture group reported significant improvements suggested that there was a strong placebo effect.  4 months later, the discrepancy between the groups were less apparent.  This suggests that the subjects’ expectations of how much the acupuncture was going to help them may have played a role in the reported improvements.

Generally, acupuncture is worth a try in cases where individuals are struggling despite other treatments or in individuals that want to take less medication.

Are Natural Remedies for Allergies Safe?

The remedies above are considered safe and well tolerated.  However, you should always check with your healthcare provider before starting a new medication or supplement to make sure it is right for you, especially if you are pregnant, nursing or have other pre-existing health conditions.

Sources: 

Benno Brinkhaus et al, “Acupuncture in Patients With Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis: A Randomized Trial,” Annals of Internal Medicine, doi:10.7326/0003-4819-158-4-201302190-00002

 

 

 

Supporting Prostate Health

 

It’s Movember!

In honour of all the special men in our lives, let’s learn a little more about the prostate, signs and symptoms of illness and strategies to keep the prostate gland as healthy as possible.

The prostate is a walnut sized gland located between the bladder and the penis.  It secretes a fluid during ejaculation that is excreted with sperm.  This fluid helps to nourish sperm and is excreted as part of semen.

There are several conditions that can affect the prostate:

Prostatitis:  Inflammation of the prostate.  This can be caused by an infection and can be treated with antibiotics.

Benign prostatichyperplasia (BPH) is an enlarged prostate gland. Since the prostate gland surrounds the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body), enlargement of the prostate can squeeze or partly block the urethra. This often causes problems with urinating.  Over half of all men over 75 years old have an enlarged prostate.  Symptoms of BPH can include the following:

  • Trouble getting a urine stream started and then trouble getting the stream to stop (dribbling).
  • Frequently feeling the urge to urinate. This feeling may even wake you up at night.
  • A weak urine stream.
  • A sense that your bladder is not completely empty even after you urinate.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer can present with a variety of urinary symptoms including:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Decreased force in the stream of urine
  • Blood in the semen
  • Blood in the urine
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Discomfort or swelling in the pelvic area
  • Bone pain
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Painful ejaculation

There are several risk factors to consider with Prostate Cancer. 

Older men have an increased risk and this risk increases with age.  African American men have a greater risk of prostate cancer than do men of other races. In these men, prostate cancer is also more likely to be aggressive or advanced.  If there is a family history of prostate or breast cancer, the chances of developing prostate cancer increases.  Also, if you have a family history of genes that increase the risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) or a very strong family history of breast cancer, your risk of prostate cancer may be higherObese men diagnosed with prostate cancer may be more likely to have advanced disease that’s more difficult to treat.  Lastly, men using testosterone therapy are also at an increased risk.

Prevention

There are many things that can help prevent the development of Prostate Cancer.

Diet:

  • Eat a diet that is high in protein and good fats, avoiding trans-fat and processed foods.
  • Incorporate Omega 3 fats, best found in fish. If you don’t like fish, consider a good quality Omega 3 supplement
  • Focus on whole foods, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables.
  • Include foods that are rich in lycopene (tomatoes, watermelon, guava, cruciferous vegetables), selenium (wheat germ, tuna, beef liver, kidney, eggs, sunflower and sesame seeds, cashews, mushrooms, garlic and onions) and zinc (sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds) as these nutrients have been shown to have a protective effect on the prostate.

Weight loss:

  • Obesity increases your risk of prostate cancer so if you are overweight, work on becoming leaner.
  • Too much fat, especially in the middle of your body, is linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Lifestyle

Know your family history

  • Having a brother or father with prostate cancer doubles your risk

Quit Smoking!

  • Prostate cancer patients who smoke are more likely to have a recurrence of the disease. Smokers are also more likely to have an aggressive form of prostate cancer as well.  If you are a smoker, it is not too late to quit!  Studies show that prostate cancer patients who quit smoking for more than 10 years had the same mortality risk as those who never smoked (when compared to current smokers)

Screening

Get a PSA blood test and digital rectal exam annually, beginning at age 50. Men at high risk, such as African American men or men with a strong family history of prostate cancer should begin testing at age 45.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The leaves are turning colours, Thanksgiving weekend has just passed and Halloween is around the corner.

It’s officially Fall.

This time of year, things get really crazy around my house.  School, activities and work is in full swing while planning for the holidays and cold and flu season starts to add to the load.  I have found that if my family makes a few adjustments, we all handle this stressful time of year a little better.
First, we start to be very regular about our supplements.  Each of my boys gets a probiotic pill, a teaspoon of Omega 3 oil and a couple drops of vitamin D before heading out the door.  This is my combination for everyone trying to keep their immune system working through cold and flu season and the Vitamin D also helps with mood as our days get shorter, reducing the risk of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) as Fall and Winter progress.

Next, we re-establish bedtime rules.  It’s a slippery slope.  Bedtimes in my house start to get later and later until we reach a point that we all need to reset.  Sleep is so important for growing and adult bodies alike.  It helps keep our immune system working properly, helps us deal with stress better, supports our bodies while they repair themselves and helps maintain our energy levels.  If you are having trouble sleeping, try some herbal tea, cut out caffeine and alcohol in the evening, limit your screens after dinner and practice some mindfulness or deep breathing to help your brain get sleepy.  The boys and I like to use different meditations before bed.  Our favorite app has been Headspace.  The best part of using this app is that the meditations are short and we can do them as a family.  There are several options out there though, so find one that works for you.

Lastly, make sure you fit in some exercise.  This time of year, as the weather gets cooler, people don’t get out for walks or bike rides as much.  Make sure you are fitting in a walk, a class at a gym or incorporating a program at home.  Exercise helps with mood, helps manage stress, boosts immunity, and is a powerful anti-aging tool.  Be sure to work in some strength training activities as well.  These activities help build and maintain muscle, which is especially important as we get older.

A few simple changes can make a big difference in your health so keep things easy, but be consistent and you can ensure a healthy Fall and Winter for everyone in your family.

 

 

Feeding your Picky Eater

 

For those of you who have a picky eater, mealtimes can be a nightmare.  Not only do you need to make sure your child eats, but you also want to ensure that your children are getting the nutrients they need to thrive.  Here are some tips to make sure your children are getting what they need to stay healthy and active.

Expose your child to different tastes and foods.  Don’t force your children to try new foods but make sure they see you and the rest of the family enjoying a variety of foods.  Over time, your child may be more willing to try different foods.  Also, don’t stop making a particular food just because your child didn’t like it the first time.  Children acquire tastes over time.  Your child may need to taste the same food several times before developing a taste for it.

Make sure your pantry is stocked with healthy snacks.  If your little one only has nutritious items to choose from, you will reduce the risk of your child filling up on junk foods.  Items to keep on hand include low-sugar granola bars, fruit, cheese, wholegrain crackers, yogurt, nuts, nut butters, vegetables and nutritious dips like hummus and guacamole.  Try to avoid cookies, chips, ice cream, juices and chocolate.  By keeping these foods out of the house, your little one will develop healthy eating habits and many food battles will be avoided.

Involve your child in the process of food preparation.  Get your child to help pick out vegetables at the grocery store or set the table for dinner.  Children are more likely to enjoy eating and view it as a fun activity if they feel like they have some control over what they eat and if they are an active participant in the process.

Serve a wide variety of foods at meals.  Include foods your child likes and some new or less interesting foods.  By having a variety to choose from, your child won’t feel pressured into eating something they aren’t comfortable with and may be more likely to try something different along with an old favorite.

Consider a smoothie for breakfast or as a snack.  Blend together milk (dairy, goat, or a non-dairy substitute) with some fresh or frozen fruit on days when your child is being particularly fussy or hasn’t eaten well.  Frozen bananas are a special treat in smoothies and are a great way to use bananas that would otherwise go bad. For added nutritional value, consider a protein powder made for kids and some good fats, like flaxseed oil.  Nut butters are also delicious when added to a smoothie.

Make some sneaky switches.  Most children won’t notice if you switch the white pasta to whole wheat or gluten free.  Even better, make whole grains and gluten free foods a part of their diet from the very beginning.  Wholegrain breads, crackers, pasta and brown rice make a nutritious alternative to their white counterparts and offer more fiber as well.  Consider blending some carrots, zucchini and other vegetables into the tomato sauce, soups or casseroles to incorporate some vegetables into your child’s diet, especially if vegetables are usually shunned.

Practice what you preach.  Your child will not develop a healthy appreciation for nutritious food if mom or dad is seen munching on potato chips and soda.  Take this opportunity to make over your entire family’s diet and health.  If your children see you enjoying an apple, chances are they will want one too.

Remember at the end of the day, it is not what your children have eaten in one particular day that will determine their overall health.  Over the span of weeks or months, what your children eat usually ends up being healthy and balanced overall as long as you are making healthy foods accessible.

 

SMALL INTESTINAL BOWEL OVERGROWTH (SIBO)

SIBO or Small Intestinal Bowel Overgrowth refers to a condition where bacteria from the colon populate the small intestine and cause symptoms including the following:

  • Nausea
  • Flatulence
  • Belching
  • Bloating
  • Brain Fog
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Leaky Gut Syndrome
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Acid Reflux
  • Rosacea
  • Fibromyalgia
  • GERD

When bacteria from the colon populate the small intestine, they inhibit the proper digestion of carbohydrates.  Normally, the small intestine helps to break down food and absorb the nutrients vital for good health.  When bacteria from the colon invade the small intestine, these carbohydrates are no longer digested properly.  Instead the colonic bacteria ferment the carbohydrates and produce hydrogen and methane gas.  This process of fermentation can cause a whole host of symptoms ranging from GI distress to joint pain and difficulty concentrating, which can be difficult to treat without the diagnosis of SIBO.

SIBO can be diagnosed by a breath test.  The breath test measures hydrogen and methane in the breath.  Once diagnosed, SIBO can be treated with a specific diet, digestive support, antibiotics and probiotics.

Treating SIBO is not always a quick fix, and sometimes numerous rounds of treatment are required, but you can learn to manage the overgrowth and the symptoms to make your life a little easier and more enjoyable.

To learn more about SIBO or about the Hydrogen Breath Test, contact me at info@drrahima.com