Feb 1

Teens and Fertility

No I am not here to promote teens trying to conceive! But what I would like to discuss is what are the signs of fertility and why are they so important for our female teens?  (even when NOT looking to conceive)

Why should you care? You’ve heard of vital signs before – Key indicators that you are alive and well – blood pressure, heart beat/rate, breathing rate, and temperature…..they sound important right? Well signs of fertility (ie ovulating) IS a vital sign for females of all ages. The female cycle is complex and involves numerous systems in the body working together – when we have signs of fertility we have a very clear indicator of health.

Plus I am a firm believer that the more a person knows about fertility and how to assess it, the more control and empowerment they also have. Education really is power!

SO let’s look over the signs that your teen is having a healthy cycle.

1. Signs of a healthy cycle:

Regularity: Your period should show up on a ‘regular’ cycle…meaning that it comes at the same time interval. The interval will vary between individuals  – but it can range from 21 to 35 days. Anything longer or shorter means there is an irregularity that needs to be talked about with your healthcare provider. HOWEVER in teenagers (especially in the first 2 years of menstruating) cycles can be much longer – and it is still considered healthy up to 45 days long, but still no shorter than 21days.

Spotting: this is when you have blood spotting in between your periods – light spotting on the day of ovulation is common and normal – but if there is spotting between periods that is not related to ovulation then it needs to be investigated and could be indicative of a gynecological condition.

Flow: meaning the amount of blood in which you lose during your period. The total amount from start to finish should be about 50mL (3 tablespoons). Less than 25mL is considered scanty, more than 80mL is considered heavy; both should be brought to the attention of your health care provider. Unless you are using a diva cup, these measurements are hard to decipher. You can estimate though by the number of pads or tampons you use: one soaked regular pad or tampon holds 5mL (1 teaspoon). A super tampon holds 10mL.

2. Signs of Ovulation:

Cervical Mucus: So here is where we talk about vaginal discharge (aka Cervical Fluid), you know that white stuff in your underwear….it is supposed to be there! Fluid is made by your cervix, it has a huge role in fertility, but also vaginal discharge keeps your vagina moist and healthy and free from infection!

Healthy discharge is white or light yellow and can have a mild salty odor.

If your discharge has a bad smell or causes discomfort or itching, you may have an infection and should see your healthcare provider.

Your cervical fluid changes throughout the course of your cycle – and how it changes is one main indicator of ovulation. After your period you may have some dry days or you may have sticky or creamy discharge – as you approach ovulation (roughly mid-cylce) this will change to what is known as fertile mucus – it has the consistency of raw egg white – it feels wet and slippery. It can sometimes occur in fairly large quantities. This fertile mucus is actually essential for sperm survival!

Other signs of ovulation: a regular period, a rise in basal body temperature and an increase in progesterone (measured by blood test) or a surge in luteinizing hormone (measured in urine)

BUT a period is not a definite sign of ovulation – you can still have a period without ovulating – this is known as an anovulatory cycle. Hence why we look at all the factors listed above to predict the health of your cycle.

3. PMS

“Premenstrual syndrome” – cramps, irritability, breast pain, acne, headaches, anxiety, depression, weepiness….these are the commonly reported symptoms associated with menses. These are COMMON, but they are not a sign of a normal or health cycle. If you suffer from any of these symptoms it’s time to come in and get your cycle assessed! PMS does not need to be a part of your cycle!!

PMS has been used to trivialize women’s emotions – this is a problem. Your emotions should not be dismissed by anyone as simply ‘hormonal’.

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Having a regular, healthy, ovulatory cycle is a KEY indicator in female health. Understanding what a true healthy cycle looks like is the first step. Identifying trouble areas is the next. The final step is where some big issues lie: how do we regulate or treat menstrual complaints. It has become VERY commonplace that young females with ANY complaint are immediately prescribed hormonal birth control. Here are the issues with this:

  1. The birth control pill does not CURE any of these complaints – it simply masks them.
  2. It actually shuts down key hormones necessary for a healthy female body – which then leads to the following symptoms/side effects: depression, loss of libido, hair loss, weight gain, high blood pressure, nutrient deficiencies, reduced thyroid function, digestive problems, yeast infections and abnormal PAP smears, and it can prevent young females from forming healthy bones.

Having a Health Cycle means increase chances of:

  • Healthy Metabolism and Body Weight
  • Healthy Hair
  • Healthy Bones
  • Healthy Mood

Disclaimer: This does not mean I don’t support the use of birth control – there is a time and a place, and for some it’s the right choice. But it needs to be made from an informed perspective. Understand the ramifications of using it. If it’s something that is needed than work with your naturopath to build a plan that can at least help support some of the negative effects that come with the hormonal birth control pill.

Join Dr. TeWinkel for another Webinar this Thursday February 6th at 8pm alllll about teenage periods! We will talk more about:
-what a healthy period looks like
-birth control
-period products

Also please email us at info@integrativehealthinstitute.ca if you have specific concerns/questions you would Dr. TeWinkel to cover.

Dr. TeWinkel is on a mission to improve teen health and build it’s foundations so they can own their health for the rest of their life.

When a teen is supported in their health early on, the stage for success can really be set.

Teens and their families are often given limited choices to deal with their health concerns. Whether it be hormonal struggles, acne, painful periods, anxiety and depression, dieting and healthy weight management or sexual health – all of these can be addressed with a tailored plan to each teen.

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Feb 1

Be A Hero In Tri-Zero: Exploring Men’s Health In Fertility

They say that you can’t pick your parents—including their behaviors and habits, not just the genes.

Procreation and survival have been the common thread throughout human history, so it is natural that we apply what we know now to optimize these most basic elements of life.

In considering fertility and fetal development, the focus is most often on the mother for obvious reasons. Trying to optimize the mother’s health and environment of the uterus is important as this is our first home, and her behavior and lifestyle during pregnancy are key drivers for brain development. From birth to around age two, from a neurodevelopmental standpoint, the cultural environment and the relationship to the mother are key in how the brain decides to wire itself.

But the role of the father is less often discussed in the fertility conversation, beyond sperm count and motility. Research by Sergio Pecorelli has shown that in the 90-104 days pre-conception—referred to as the zero trimester—the man’s health-related activities can affect the genes that are expressed, and 24 weeks of exercising for 150 minutes a week impacts genes that influence schizophrenia and Parkinson’s.

While that news certainly provides incentive for exercise, I think it can also be a diving board from which we consider how basic nutrition and stress management may also make a difference in sperm quality. In addition to the disease aspect, research also shows there are links to other aspects of self, including self-control, perseverance, educational attainment, and longevity, that are also impacted by the father’s state of health.

When we look at health and wellness across the lifespan, we often are considering successful aging. But, if we are to broaden our lens in viewing health optimization and lifespan, we can apply some of this knowledge to the earliest phase of life as well. The brain’s primary role is to predict and protect, yet if we can use it to become predictive and protective of our genetic expression, that is the ultimate in proactive health action.

This is not about putting additional pressure on prospective parents, rather looking at the agency that you have in maximizing your genetic potential. The pre-conception period can be a time when you fully put yourself in the center of all experiences, looking at how your health behaviours can contribute to your ‘reproductive fitness’, while considering a more 360o wellness model where we can look at other aspects that may be contributing factors.

In considering that, these are some basic tips for men to improve your own environment for reproduction:

1. Move often

As mentioned above, there is research-backed evidence for exercise. Pick what you enjoy and what works for your level of fitness.

2. Eat well

Even basic nutritional improvements are an actionable way to create better health.

3. Address any unhealthy habits

Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption are always good health decisions.

4. Embrace the process

Creating healthy habits for yourself is a process itself. Fertility is also a process for many couples, so being able to apply that approach to both can be beneficial in managing the ups and downs.

It is refreshingly optimistic to take this vantage point as it democratizes the outcomes for everyone. There are a lot of considerations and stressors that come with approaching parenthood, whether it be the process of fertility, the financial aspects, or the responsibility, yet having the multi-pronged approach to your own health is going to be key to your own adaptability in these circumstances.

The practices you build in this pre-conception period also creates a scaffolding for better bonding. Using this time in the zero trimester to build better health habits sets you up for, not only a better life for yourself, but equips you with the capacity for the growth and resilience that parenting requires. Rather than making it about whether your kid goes to the fanciest school, you can look at things that are more within your immediate control in terms of making it an empowering process that develops your own anti-fragility and manages your own anxiety—and it is important and reassuring to note that managing even that aspect of the process can help you to have a healthy child.

Where men may have previously wondered about our contribution to the earliest phases of life, we have more influence than we may have thought, and our efforts in improving our own physical and mental landscape can be very impactful in optimizing the potential of future offspring. The better your baseline of health, the better you are able to perform at anything, and I am here to help with that.

Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.

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Feb 1

Preventing Miscarriage: The One Test You Should Ask For (That rarely is done)

Pregnancy is one of the most significant events in a woman’s life, and as an expert in women’s health it is one that I spend a lot of time talking about. 

And one major issue I see, is how few women are tested for this common – and preventable- cause of miscarriage. 

Lack of Lab Testing

In Ontario, where I run my women’s health practice, the standard of care is for women to receive only basic testing when they discover they are pregnant.  Women are screened for sexually transmitted illnesses (chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis), public health testing (rubella), blood type and Rh factor. 

Comprehensive Testing

The one test I insist all women in my practice have at the first sign of pregnancy is a comprehensive thyroid panel.  The thyroid, a butterfly shaped gland sitting in your throat near your voice box, is one of the most important hormone producing glands in your body.  Thyroid hormones are essential for metabolism – creating energy in our cells to meet the demands of our body.  In pregnancy we need to be able to make a lot of energy – making a whole new human is hard work! 

In pregnancy our requirements for thyroid hormones increase – and if our body isn’t able to meet that demand, the result can be early pregnancy loss (miscarriage).  We can identify women who may be at risk for this by running a simple TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test and treating women who fall outside the normal range with thyroid replacement hormones during pregnancy. 

TSH Isn’t Enough

But TSH isn’t the only important thyroid test for a pregnant woman.  Testing thyroid antibodies, especially anti TPO antibody is also essential for preventing miscarriage.  Thyroid autoimmune disease is the most common autoimmune disease in women who are in their childbearing years – impacting up to 15% of women.  Many of these women have no symptoms of thyroid disease and their TSH levels are totally normal.

Having TPO antibodies however, is a major risk factor for miscarriage.  There is a strong association with TPO antibodies and miscarriage, preterm delivery, and other negative outcomes in pregnancy (such as low birth weight and smaller head circumference). 

The Lack of Testing

Despite all the evidence, known to doctors since the 1990s, comprehensive thyroid testing still isn’t available as a screening test for most women in early pregnancy.  But that shouldn’t stop you from seeking it out.  Available from your Naturopathic Doctor at the Integrative Health Institute, this test could make all the difference in your pregnancy.

And since this cause of miscarriage is completely treatable, I encourage you to have the test done as soon as possible after you discover you are pregnant.  Miscarriage is all too common already, no woman should suffer from one that could have been prevented with early diagnosis and treatment. 

Dr. Lisa Watson believes that you don’t have to be perfect to be healthy.  Lisa encourages her patients to take a proactive approach to their health – taking meaningful steps towards achieving their goals for balanced and vibrant health.  An expert in women’s health and hormones, Lisa is a passionate advocate for women’s health and strives to educate all the women in her practice on how to achieve lifelong abundant health.  Dr. Watson practices at the Integrative Health Institute in downtown Toronto and writes regularly about women’s health on her website at www.drlisawatson.com

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Feb 1

The Runner’s Fertility Journey

Let’s imagine Jane.  Jane is a 36 year old Spartan athlete and a marathon runner.  She loves the weekend long runs with her Toronto running group.  The people are great and keep her motivated.  She normally laughs and jokes with her fellow runners but lately her mind has been elsewhere.  For the last six months her and her husband have been actively trying to have a baby.  Every month on the 23rd her period comes and goes. Every month on the 23rd her hopes seem a little less bright.  Her mood just doesn’t quiet seem as light hearted as she once felt.  “Will I ever be able to have a baby?”, she finds herself asking. Should I stop running?  At this point Jane is starting feel moments of despair.

If you are like Jane, and you are thinking of or actively trying to have a baby, there are solutions for you.  Runners are unique people.  You do not have to give up your love for running.  What you need to understand is that the demands placed on your body are different than the average person.  Therefore, a women’s fertility treatment plan should be different too.

Jane met with her running group every week to train for her marathon.  This is how you need to approach your fertility goals.  Think of your fertility journey like you training schedule.  You don’t run a marathon without training.   

Creating a schedule for your Runners Fertility Journey will set the platform for your fertility success.  A proper training protocol will give your body time to prepare to host a beautiful baby.

What might my Runners Fertility Journey look like?

  • The onset of your journey will begin 3-6 months before you want to conceive.
  • Lab work and functional hormone testing can identify areas that require more support.  Optimal references ranges for athletic women are different than the general public.  It is important to have someone review your labs who understands your needs.
  • Specific Nutrition Protocols, including strategic detoxing, can help maintain your running demands and prepare your body to grow a baby.  In this journey, it is vital to build up the reserves of the mother.
  • Personalized Supplement Regime to support both your running and fertility needs.
  • Weekly Acupuncture Treatments.  Acupuncture is a process-oriented method of medical intervention.  Patients are commonly treated for three to four months before progressing to natural conception, IVF or IUI.  When used as a treatment for fertility, expected benefits are boosting blood flow to reproductive organs, balancing hormones and relieving stress.   Some studies have shown an improvement in conception by up to 70%. 
  • Booster options can be added to your Runners Fertility Journey such as IV Vitamin Therapy which provides additional nutrients to support egg quality, anxiety and replace deficient nutrients.

When considering specialized testing, one question I am often asked is – Can you measure your eggs?

  • If you are over 30 you might be thinking, do I have enough eggs left to get pregnant?  Thanks to modern medicine there is a blood test that can help you measure your eggs.  AMH, or Anti-Mullein Hormone, is a test of ovarian reserve. It is used to estimate the level of growing follicles a woman has in her remaining egg supply. Many woman (especially those over 40) who are considering conception with a fertility clinic may be asked to run this test. These levels naturally decrease as we approach menopause. If you are curious about your levels, our Female Fertility blood test Panel includes AMH.  If you have low AMH levels, do not despair, you only need one egg to get pregnant and I have developed protocols to support your fertility needs!

Does Running have an Impact on Fertility?

Studies have showed that moderate physical activity is associated with improved egg specific levels of ovarian reserve markers[i].  That’s good news for you!  In extreme situations, lowered body weights and intense training schedules (5-7 days of training per week[ii]) can cause amenorrhea (lack of a period).  This correlation would have a negative association on fertility and AMH levels[iii].  If you find yourself to be underweight and not cycling, this would become the main focus of our Runners Fertility Journey.  Supporting your body with nourishing foods and hormone protocols can help runners regain a regular hormonal pattern.

What did I do to support my fertility?

Often people ask, if I was in this situation what would I do?  Well, I did all of the above.  I am now a mother of three rambunctious kids!  Now it is my mission to maintain an active lifestyle which includes my children.  I would like to think that my active lifestyle played a role in my fertility and child birth. Was I just lucky? Maybe, but I wasn’t about to cross my fingers and hope everything went smooth. I ate clean, whole foods and plant-based meals. I took high quality supplements to benefit myself and my unborn baby. I went for walks in the valley. Bike rides along the board walk and hit the gym. I didn’t have any pain but I saw supportive professionals such as a registered massage therapist and chiropractor to ensure my hips and joints could move freely during childbirth. I had what is called Precipitous Labour, meaning fast! There is only so much we can control when it comes to conception and delivery, but we can choose to make healthy changes to our diet and lifestyle. As someone who has been in your shoes, I am here to help you make that change today!  Book online to start your Runners Fertility Journey.


References

[i] The Effect of Moderate Physical Activity on Ovarian Reserve Makers in Reproductive Age Women Below and Above 30

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nig.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5405647/

[ii]http://www.researchgate.net/publication/333425676_Analysis_of_anti_mullerian_hormone_levels_of_female_athletes_and_sedentary_women

[iii] The Effect of Moderate Physical Activity on Ovarian Reserve Makers in Reproductive Age Women Below and Above 30

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nig.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5405647/

Dr. Jennifer Tanner, has a broad, evidence-based practice with a focus on sports and performance-based medicine. Being a marathon runner and having been a competitive equestrian, an active lifestyle is important. Dr. Tanner uses a variety of tools including Acupuncture and Clinical Nutrition, putting an emphasis on “food as medicine” and addressing the root causes of inflammation. In conjunction with the Integrative Health team, Dr. Tanner is thrilled to help people achieve an optimal state of health and pursue their performance based health goals!

Follow Dr. Tanner @DrJenniferTannerND  

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Dec 30

Keeping Teen’s Energized and Fuelled for Exams

Best Brain Fuel Practices

There are lots of tips and tricks to aid the study process – trust me I’ve tried a lot of them! 8 years of post secondary education has taught me a few things about preparing for exams. A lot of this was trial and error…so I’m here to help give the best tips to your teen for this years exam period.

Out of all the different methods I tried the ONE THING that always made the most consistent and noticeable impact was food. But, not only WHAT fuel, but when!

1. WHAT Foods Fuel the Brain?

Fat

Our brain is actually made of fat and it is necessary to get enough healthy fats in our diet to support all the functions of the brain – especially for memory and learning! An added bonus is that fat is an optimal source for energy body wide. By ensuring each meal and snack involves some sort of healthy fat, we ensure we have sustained energy (ie. avoid energy crashes!) – much needed during extended study sessions! Top 3 Healthy fats: avocado, wild caught alaskan salmon, walnuts

Protein

Whether animal or plant based, having adequate protein is absolutely necessary for optimal brain health (and overall health!). Our body needs 9 “essential” amino acids from food because we cannot make them on our own – and we get these amino acids from protein. These amino acids are necessary for building neurotransmitters – these are the communication tools of the brain. There are a few neurotransmitters that are known to be especially important in learning and memory- the top one being glutamate. It can be found in all meat-based proteins, but also found in broccoli, mushrooms, tomato sauce and walnuts.

Sugar

Our brain does need glucose as a fuel source – but where we get this glucose from is key! Processed sugars like high fructose corn syrup, or any white sugar will increase inflammation both in your brain and the rest of your body. This can actually impair your learning abilities. Finding naturally sweet foods is the best place to start when looking for a healthy source of carbohydrates/sugars – apples, pears, berries, sweet potatoes, beets and whole grains are excellent options. 

Added bonus- Colourful fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, providing protective benefits to the brain along with fuel.

Each meal and snack during your teen’s busy study schedule this month needs to incorporate each of these key macronutrients (Fat, Protein and Carbohydrates).

2. WHEN to fuel the brain:

Studying is hard work. It doesn’t seem that way from the outside looking in, but from the inside out, energy demands are incredibly high. Smaller and more frequent complete whole-food meals and snacks will keep their energy up. As I said above – our brains use glucose for fuel – so it’s easy to gravitate towards sugary snacks- your teen may have the munchies A LOT during this time period. So ensuring that high quality nutrient dense options are available is KEY.

Timing wise – be sure that every 2 hours a healthy snack or meal is happening based on the 3 main food groups I mentioned above.

3. HYDRATION

I would be remiss if I left out the importance of water! Staying hydrated is ESSENTIAL for optimal brain functioning. Ideally your teen is getting in 8 glasses per day – perhaps getting them a reusable water bottle that they love to help keep them motivated.

It’s also important to try to stay away from things that dehydrate! Energy drinks, coffee, pops, juices…not only are they counterproductive to hydrating us, they also lead to more energy crashes and less of the sustained energy that’s needed to get through exams.

4. SLEEP

Sleep is another form of fuel- without it, your body can’t optimally use all the other fuel sources to build the memories and processes your teen is trying to with all their hard work. Also, if they’re studying from screens later at night, blue-light blocking glasses are an excellent idea. These lenses reduce the melatonin-draining effects of blue-light and help negate the impact this blue-light has on sleep quality (and hence, memory improvement!).

Other ways to Optimize the Exam Period:

1. MOVE YOUR BODY

Study intervals should be no longer than 45min each time. Break up study intervals with a 5-15min break that includes physical activity.

Physical activity Increases blood flow – more blood flow also means more brain power – which means more capacity for focus and learning. Bouts of high intensity exercise has been proven to improve memory retention and mental performance.

2. DEEP BREATHING

Not only does this increase oxygen levels, which in turn increases brain power, deep breathing puts the body into a more relaxed state. From this relaxed parasympathetic state, we conserve energy and put our brains into a better position to absorb and retain information. Making time for 10 deep breaths every study session will increase the effectiveness of your teen’s studies.

If your teen needs extra support don’t be afraid to reach out! Book a call to see how we can optimize your teen’s brain health…and health over all!

Dr. TeWinkel is on a mission to improve teen health and build it’s foundations so they can own their health for the rest of their life.

When a teen is supported in their health early on, the stage for success can really be set.

Teens and their families are often given limited choices to deal with their health concerns. Whether it be hormonal struggles, acne, painful periods, anxiety and depression, dieting and healthy weight management or sexual health – all of these can be addressed with a tailored plan to each teen.

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Dec 30

A Guide to Powering up Your Energy.

If you are like most, January flies in with a wave of fatigue.  The holidays are fun but they are full of excess sugars, booze and late nights.  Let’s get you back and running early in the year by starting with what you are putting in your body.  Level up and design your plan with the following guide.

Structure your Macros.

Start with breakfast and lunch.  Choose power proteins and clean fats as your first bite of the day.  Eating carbs early in the day, encourages carb cravings later in the day.  Eating proteins and fats early for breakfast can help curb those ongoing carb cravings.  If you have a hard time winding down in the evening, save your carbs for dinner meals.

Helpful tips.

  • Choose free range meat products and grass-fed butter
  • Choose wild fish
  • Choose organic or pesticide free produce
  • Keep soy produces/tofu to a minimum unless you are of menopausal years.
  • Choose low glycemic vegetables such as broccoli, zucchini and asparagus.

Track your Habits.

  • Create benchmarks to measure your success.
  • Maintain or begin an exercise protocol to encourage muscle development and endorphin release.
  • Curb sugar and salt cravings with extra proteins and fats.
  • Schedule your feeding times.
  • Drink a minimum of 2L of water per day.
  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep for optimum recovery and mental performance.

Challenge yourself. 

Within 30 days your energy should elevate and you might even shed a few unwanted pounds.

Not sure?

  • Not every dietary change is for everyone.  If you have questions about what you are eating and how to improve your energy I will help you design a diet that will set you up for success.

Dr. Jennifer Tanner, has a broad, evidence-based practice with a focus on sports and performance-based medicine. Being a marathon runner and having been a competitive equestrian, an active lifestyle is important. Dr. Tanner uses a variety of tools including Acupuncture and Clinical Nutrition, putting an emphasis on “food as medicine” and addressing the root causes of inflammation. In conjunction with the Integrative Health team, Dr. Tanner is thrilled to help people achieve an optimal state of health and pursue their performance based health goals!

Follow Dr. Tanner @DrJenniferTannerND  

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Dec 30

Health is a State of Action

In saying ‘when you do better, you know better’, there must be an acknowledgement that doing requires an expenditure of energy. As we head into resolution season, there are some important things to know about the brain and its correlation with energy if we are to maximize and properly allocate our energetic resources.

First, the brain likes to conserve energy. It’s why we have habits. It’s why we spend so much time in our default mode. It likes to run in those patterns and programs because it is economizes our resources, so the attention it requires to change things up does require some energy.

We must also note that your brain is evolved to predict and protect, first and foremost, and that new learning and empathy are the two most energetically expensive processes for your brain to run. The anterior insula is responsible for empathy, while the posterior insula is involved in the perception of pain. Interestingly, research has shown that the posterior insula is activated both in someone who has a broken leg, and in someone who has a perceived deficiency or frustration—like difficulty with math or technology.

Physiologically, we can define energy in terms of where you are activating your blood flow, glucose, and neurotransmitter recycling or uptake mechanism.

While the sexy new kid on the block is the brain-gut axis, the old school axis was that your skin is your second brain. Culturally we are becoming more auditorily and visually dominant, yet those systems take a lot of energy to decode and interpret any input, versus the tactile and proprioceptive systems which are more reflexive in nature as they have evolved over thousands of years. If I stub my toe, for example, it will go through my spinal cord and brain stem which will soften and try to make sense of that input. Though your brain is only 2% of your body weight, it consumes about 20% of your caloric intake and, disproportionately, the visual system consumes 50% of the brain’s blood flow!

So, an additional Brainfullness hack is to give your over-worked visual and auditory systems a break. Closing your eyes for 30-90 seconds or using noise cancelling headphones can reduce some of the external stimuli, giving you a better download of information from your other senses—tuning in to those tactile and interoceptive signals that require less energy.

So how do we know where to focus our energy and how to maximize it?
As you set your goals for 2020, these are the 5 things that would improve your energy:

1. Sleep

Getting adequate, restful sleep is key to cellular repair and rejuvenation of energy to all physiological systems.

2. Exercise

While one of the primary benefits of exercise is to create better blood flow into the system, it is important to choose a form of exercise that is also emotionally enjoyable and meaningful to you so that it does not become an additional stressor!

3. Social network

Likewise with friendships and family members, it is beneficial to socialize with people who are positive and optimistic—through mirror neurons we mirror the other person’s state, so choose wisely.

4. Nutrition

While food is obviously important as a fuel source and there are any number of strategies to follow, if we are to look beyond content and calories, awareness of how food makes you feel is also part of the equation in maximizing your health. When you are stressed while eating food, it is equivalent to consuming an extra 104 calories.

5. Breathing

Breath is like the electrical system that allows you to shift your autonomic nervous system. Extended nasal inhalation stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing blood flow and revving you up, while extended exhalation will down-regulate the system in parasympathetic mode.

It is also important to note that continual focus and expenditure of energy are not sustainable. For most people, the first two or three hours of the day tend to be more productive, but energy naturally has its ebbs and flows. Certain changes in life, such as menopause, can also naturally affect our energy and changes in season are also known to affect how we feel. Taking action on our goals gives us the new feedback to create a new perspective. But, we must also take a strategic pause on occasion to encode this new information and adjust to other events.

Try to gauge your energy not just based on how productive you are at work, but rather on how fast you can recover from a set back. Neurophysiological resiliency is where you want to improve.

While it can be difficult to gain energy, if we can become aware of places where we leak it or spend it, that becomes a better roadmap from which we can act.

Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.

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Dec 30

Let Your Energy SHINE

Low energy. Exhaustion. Fatigue. Burnout.  There are many ways to describe the lack of energy and vitality that so many of us feel.  Feeling tired after a poor night sleep, or a late night out, is one thing.  But what about when the tiredness never lets up?  When we feel like day after day we are unable to have the energy to really shine? 

Fatigue and Medicine

It’s a sad fact, but many people are told by doctors that “it’s normal to be tired”, “we’re all fatigued”, “you’re a parent, of course you’re tired.” Or we’re given suggestions like “get more sleep”, or “manage your stress” with little guidance on what that looks like. 

But I believe we deserve better.  We deserve more than a glib response to our concerns.  We deserve an understanding of the different factors that contribute to fatigue, and guidance in how to overcome them.

Most importantly, we deserve to have support in our striving to have rockstar levels of energy – to have enough energy to be the parents, partners, lovers, and friends that we are destined to be.  We deserve to SHINE.

SHINE – The Essential Factors in Energy

I have developed a framework for helping people overcome fatigue and achieve the abundant energy that they need.  And I call it SHINE.  It stands for the six essential factors in energy production – sleep, hormones, inflammation, nutrition, emotions and exercise.  And I’d like to introduce it to you now.

Sleep

We all know we need a minimum of 7 hours of quality sleep each night to allow for rest and recovery.  And for most of us, that means giving ourselves at least 8 hours in bed for sleep opportunity.

Consistently getting less than 7 hours of sleep will slow your reaction time, impact decision making (a 3pm cupcake, sounds great!), decrease learning and memory, and absolutely tank your daytime energy. 

Common sense, I know, but many, many people are engaging in self-inflicted sleep deprivation, and their energy is suffering as a consequence. 

Hormones

Many hormones contribute to fatigue, and unsurprisingly, this is what is impacting the energy of many of the people in my practice. 

Thyroid hormones are your main energy-boosting hormones and even slight imbalances can cause major fatigue.  Other hormones, like cortisol, adrenaline, and DHEA are also part of our energy production cascade.  Prolonged stress will also lead to fatigue by impacting your daily cortisol curve, and leave you exhausted during the day and sleepless at night.

In my experience, hormone imbalances are one of the most commonly overlooked causes of fatigue in both women and men.  And one of the main reasons many women are dismissed from their medical doctor’s appointment with no real answer or direction on how to overcome fatigue. 

Inflammation

When your immune system is working hard, like when it is fighting off a cold or flu, your energy drops because your brain tries to reserve energy for the important work of the immune system.  Inflammation causes a similar state.  Whether the inflammation is from joint pain, muscle strain, or from gut dysfunction, the result is the same.  When you’re dealing with inflammation, you’re more likely to be fatigued. 

Nutrition

One of the causes and consequences of low energy, is poor nutrition.  Specific nutrients are necessary for energy production, like iron, vitamin B12 and protein, but all of the macro- and micro-nutrients are needed in balance to truly optimize energy.  A blood test is useful to identify iron or B12 deficiency, but for the other nutrients a dietary tracking app may be useful in helping to identify possible nutritional holes.

Emotions

Anxiety and depression may be a symptom of fatigue, and vice versa.  Many studies have found that people who report being less satisfied in their life also report higher levels of fatigue.  I recommend taking some time to reflect on your current emotional health and consider if your low energy may be an indication of some deeper emotional work to be done.

Exercise

And finally, exercise.  The great catch 22 – you don’t have enough energy to exercise, but if you don’t exercise you don’t feel energized.  The struggle is real!!!  But for most people, starting with a small commitment to exercise, a 20 minute walk every day, is enough to have a real positive impact on your energy.  And from that first small step, you can build up towards a greater goal of more exercise, and limitless energy.

The Help You Need

If you are struggling with low energy, fatigue, or burnout, the help you need is here.  I suggest you start by looking at the six essential factors in energy production and see if there is any area you don’t SHINE.  Start by taking small steps towards improving that area, and then move onto other areas.  If you don’t know where to start, or need more guidance, get in touch and we can work together to give you back your energy and get you to SHINE. 

References

Boekhorst JA, Signh P, Burke R. Work Intensity, emotional exhaustion, and life satisfaction. Pers Review. 2017;46(5):891-907.

Rosenthal TC, Majeroni BA, Pretorius R, Malik K. Fatigue: An Overview. Am Fam Physician. 2008;78(10):1173-1179

Dr. Lisa Watson believes that you don’t have to be perfect to be healthy.  Lisa encourages her patients to take a proactive approach to their health – taking meaningful steps towards achieving their goals for balanced and vibrant health.  An expert in women’s health and hormones, Lisa is a passionate advocate for women’s health and strives to educate all the women in her practice on how to achieve lifelong abundant health.  Dr. Watson practices at the Integrative Health Institute in downtown Toronto and writes regularly about women’s health on her website at www.drlisawatson.com

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Nov 29

December Depression

By Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW

While our childhood selves may regard the holidays and new year as a time of wonderment, excitement, and fulfilment, our adult selves tend to let out a defeated sigh when we flip the calendar pages to December.  This time of year often makes those with depression symptoms feel worse.  When considering goals that went unmet, dark and dreary weather, social gatherings that you’d skip for two cents, and expectations that exceed reality, holiday time can feel like a kick when you’re down.  Fear not; you can absolutely keep your mood in check and regain some of that holiday cheer.  My top tips for managing depression symptoms are here!

1. It’s Just Another Day

The holidays, especially the New Year, are often a time of self-reflection.  This is all well and good… until it’s not.  If reflection is making you feel inadequate, disappointed, or like a failure, your depression symptoms will likely be triggered.  This is when you can step back and realize what New Year’s Day truly is: Just. Another. Day.  The idea that New Year’s is a time for reinvention or a time marker of your success (or lack thereof) over the past 365 days is a manmade concept.  If you wouldn’t feel upset about your current life position if it was April 10th or July 25th, then there is no need to assign so much pressure on January 1st.  If you’ve got goals and intentions for your life, consider the overall trajectory of how you’ve been doing and do not let the looming deadline of January 1st be your compass.  Hey, it’s just another day.

2. You’re Not A Hostage

When invitations become obligations, the enjoyment is completely sucked out.  While some things may seem non-negotiable, you have more say than you think.  If work has been rough and the idea of socializing with your colleagues leaves you greener than the Grinch, ask yourself if you really need to go to the holiday party.  Weigh out the risks verses the benefits.  If you feel that the networking opportunities are too good to pass up, then consider it an investment in your future, put on your ugly Christmas sweater, and go.  If it’s simply a get together that doesn’t help you in your career goals and would turn your soul black, politely decline.  Remember: you are not a hostage.  Unless it’s in your work contract, you are within your rights to decline and not give it a second thought.  This also applies to Aunt Karen’s tree decorating party and your friends’ pub crawl.  Go if you want, and say “no, thanks” if you don’t.  The one important caveat?  If you feel like you are hiding out due to depression symptoms and do not want to engage in any holiday fun, please check in with your mental health professional; changes in behaviours such as isolation may be a serious symptom of depression and should be professionally addressed.

3. Help Yourself

If you’ve been in session with me recently, you’ve probably heard me ask you if what’s on your mind is “helpful or unhelpful.”  I’ve spent a lot of time considering what is healthy or unhealthy, and this is the 2.0 version of that concept.  The idea of what is helpful to you is fluid and forever changing on a case-by-case or day-by-day basis.  Play around with this.  A good example of this is holiday meals.  We all have a favourite holiday meal or dish.  Mine is latkes (potato pancakes).  Guys, these little balls of grease are dollops of heaven but make me feel lousy in the long run.  On a run-of-the-mill Tuesday, if someone offers me a plate of latkes, I will decline.  Why?  Because it’s not helpful to me right then.  I know I’ll feel gross and sick the next day.  Offer latkes to me on Chanukah, and I’m down for a solid half-dozen.  Why?  Because to me, latkes are what makes my holiday special.  They make me feel like I’ve celebrated.  I’m okay with feeling so so tomorrow, because of the pleasure and sense of holiday they give me today.  So, on Chanukah, latkes are a helpful choice because they feed my mental health.  If you’re offering me my 12th latke, that is now unhelpful.  I’ve celebrated, I feel good, and if I put myself over the edge by bingeing, all of that goes down the tubes.  Indulging and bingeing are different, and it helps to remember this around the holidays.  Apply this concept to everything and see how it helps you make choices: Is it helpful or unhelpful to take on another work shift right now?  To stay at the party past midnight?  To spend an extra $100 unexpectedly on a gift?  To spend time with your parents when you’re livid with them about an unrelated issue?  If it’s helpful, go for it.  If it’s unhelpful… just say no.

Our thoughts, feelings, and actions can either contribute to depression symptoms or counteract them.  Consider your plans and choices and let them feed your soul.  Reconsider anything that doesn’t benefit you in some way.  Happy Holidays!

**Disclaimer:  The advice in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace the diagnosis/treatment of a licensed medical or mental health professional.**

Lauren Berger is a Registered Social Worker Psychotherapist providing counselling and psychotherapy at IHI.  Check her out at www.laurenberger.ca, drop her a line at lauren@laurenberger.ca, follow her on Twitter: @LaurenBergerMSW, or sneak a peek at her Instagram: laurenberger_msw.

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Nov 29

The Lens and Aperture of Depression – Mind and Body

Depression is multi-faceted in how it affects our bodies and lives. It affects our mood, our cognition, our relationships, and our pain, and generally affects our desire to move and participate in our environment. While I think it is important to understand that sometimes depression is a normal reaction to a life challenge, it occurs on a spectrum which makes it a very individual and devastating experience. But, it is also important to know that there are ways that we can help ourselves if we can better understand our brain.

The Brainfullness Perspective

When looking at any problem through the Brainfullness perspective, we can view it on an x-y axis, where x is lens and y is aperture. Lens is the broader view; it is influenced by our history and our beliefs, with an important variable of openness influencing it. Aperture is the narrow focus; it looks at the data that we have at any given point and our curiosity about it. In looking at the chart, we see that the more data that we have, the less we apply our lens—because our brain is busy synthesizing all of the information. The less data, the more that we apply our own past and our own biases to the situation because we have less new input to work with. We can also see, however, that lens is never at zero because our perception is always a factor.

In looking at where we may improve our health and longevity, we can take a five-pronged approach to life-hacking with these factors:
• adaptive movement
• nutrition
• sleep
• emotional stability and resiliency
• social connection

If we can address these components of health, we have the arsenal to combat up to 90% of diseases, mortality and morbidity. The other 10% being genetics, traumas, and chaos in the form of unforeseen life events.

Genetics and Physical Inputs

Depression can be both physiogenic and psychogenic in nature. The more physiological roots could be considered the hardware—genetics and the physical inputs that affect us, such as nutrition. The more psychological basis would be the software, within areas like secure attachment, beliefs, what we’ve been exposed to, and stress management skills. This, of course, is looking through the reductionist view of western medicine in which we apply aperture for understanding. In the case of trauma, for most diseases, it shifts the lens for all of us to realize how integrated the system really is and how physiological and psychological components are not separate. Regardless, if we look at the five areas above and the degree of control that we have, we see that there is still a lot we can influence.

The Perception Cycle

At this point, it is important to note that the brain works in an action-perception cycle. Most successful interventions occur at the action level—trying to upgrade the software with more current information. As a clinician, I want to input something new to the system, see how the body responds, and try something else, to not only assess where you are at, but to disrupt the system to give your brain a new perception.

Because it is also important to realize that there is no delete button in the brain, no eraser, no anti-virus software; you can only add new. Fortunately, though, the brain is a multiplier—once you get it going, it stays in motion. So, as the patient, the things that you do for yourself within those five areas of health can be effective building blocks to hacking both pain and depression as well. If we proceed by the principle of Bayesian optimization, we are looking to achieve maximum shift with accurate effort. So, if we can pick even just one of those five elements to focus on where we can have some consistency and positive results, it is a place to start to build that efficacy.

But we also understand that depression affects our motivation and can leave us feeling overwhelmed. One of the keys in our efforts to get through it is to not keep reinforcing the pathways or networks or regions that feed it—that is, receiving the signal even without the exposure. Because whatever the brain perceives us to be good at takes over—even if that state is not actually ‘good’ for us.

The Architecture of our Brain

The good news is that we can change the architecture of our brain with what we consistently do and what we are successful at. Encoding and recalibration can happen when we have success. For this reason, we must start before we feel better. In following the action-perception system, doing the action creates sovereignty, while perception makes you a slave to things. The action is what allows us to build. In this way, even small acts that might not feel heroic can have a significant cumulative impact.

Our tendency is often to want to do it all, but when our lens is too broad, we can get more overwhelmed. Either that or we want to focus on the most difficult thing as we think that is the most important, but either way we are setting ourselves up to crash. When we aren’t successful, our brain does not see it as rewarding or worthwhile, so we lose motivation or feel like there is no point to continuing.

This is why it is helpful in this process to have someone who can help you decode which area you need to optimize and to help you go through. Not only to help you stay the course, but to help you pick the one thing that you can do that will help you do more action, and who knows the target optimum for achieving the results you want. That is the foundation from which you can change your perception—which will further change your action. And your brain. And your health.

So, while we can’t erase depression, we may be able to re-program and, ultimately, override it..

Because when you do better, you know better.

Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.

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