Apr 10

Natural Treatment of PCOS

PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is the most common hormone imbalance impacting women and teenage girls. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, meaning “multiple ovarian cysts” can start during puberty and can persist for years. For some women it starts later – but for all women and teenage girls, it is an incredibly frustrating, and sometimes painful condition.

What is PCOS?

Ovarian cysts occur when ovulation doesn’t occur as it is supposed to. In each menstrual cycle the ovaries stimulate a number of follicles to develop, one of which will release an egg at ovulation. In PCOS the follicles are stimulated to grow (normal), but they do not respond to the hormonal cue to release an egg at ovulation. Instead they continue to grow and form cysts within the ovary.

There are many reasons why you may not respond appropriately to the hormones and instead form ovarian cysts – you can learn more about the types of PCOS in this article.

Symptoms of PCOS

In this article  I discuss the criteria for a PCOS diagnosis, but listed below are the most common symptoms that may lead to you seek a diagnosis of PCOS:

  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Hair growth on the upper lip or chin
  • Hair loss from the head
  • Acne – especially on the body or on the “beard distribution” of the face
  • Weight gain or excess weight around the abdomen
  • Infertility

Talk to your mom, sister, aunts and grandmothers to see if you have a family history of PCOS – If you have a family member with PCOS, you are more likely to develop it.

What Causes PCOS?

PCOS is the result of failed ovulations – so the cause can be anything that disrupts healthy ovulation. Hormone imbalances stemming from the pituitary gland, the thyroid, the adrenal glands or pancreas can all cause PCOS. Insulin resistance – when your cells no longer respond to the hormone insulin – is probably the most common hormone imbalance that leads to PCOS.

How is PCOS Treated?

Many women are choosing a more empowered approach to treating their PCOS. In conventional care, PCOS is most often treated with the birth control pill. Other choices, like spironolactone or metformin, are also suggested if acne or insulin resistance are present. However, these treatments can have many unwanted side effects, or can prevent pregnancy (if that is desired).

Luckily, there are many well-researched natural treatments that can support women with PCOS and give them the choice in how they want to treat their PCOS.

Diet and Lifestyle

While not every woman with PCOS is overweight, if you are, losing weight is an important goal. Losing as little as 5% of your body weight can reverse insulin resistance, promote ovulation and decrease testosterone (less acne and chin/lip hair!)

I go into great detail on the basics of the PCOS Diet in this article – also available as a fun infographic! Check it out for all the information you need.

Vitamins and Minerals

Many different supplements can be used for managing PCOS. These are best selected by working with your ND – knowing what your hormone imbalance is will allow you to choose those supplements most likely to work for you. Here are a few of the most helpful options:

Vitamin B6 – can help balance prolactin levels, a hormone often elevated in PCOS.

Vitamin D – essential for healthy ovulation. Every Canadian is deficient during the winter months, and supplementation is often needed to correct that deficiency.

Chromium – essential for proper blood sugar regulation. Taking chromium (also known as insulin tolerance factor) increases the uptake of glucose into cells, decreasing insulin resistance.

Botanical Medicines

When it comes to supporting hormone balance, plant medicines can be incredibly powerful medicines. It depends on your type of PCOS what herbal medicines may be recommended.

Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) – one of the most popular herbal medicines for PCOS, chaste tree lowers prolactin levels and raises progesterone levels. It can also restore regular ovulation, the main issue in PCOS!

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) – an incredibly effective hormone balancer, saw palmetto decreases the conversion of testosterone to its more powerful form, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This makes saw palmetto an excellent choice in the treatment of acne, hair loss, and facial hair growth.

Other Natural Supplements

No discussion of PCOS would be complete without mentioning these superstars – they can be incredibly effective in the management of PCOS, and are being featured in many studies on PCOS with excellent results.

Inositol – a B-like vitamin, inositol has many benefits for PCOS – it decreases insulin resistance, decreases testosterone levels and helps to promote regular ovulation.

Berberine – compared in studies to metformin, berberine has powerful actions on blood sugar regulation and insulin resistance. It can reduce testosterone, and androgens. Women taking berberine also achieved greater weight loss in some studies.

Next Steps

Knowing that there are a great many different options for the treatment of PCOS, some women can feel overwhelmed by information. This is one of the many benefits of working with a Naturopathic Doctor. Your ND can help you understand your individual hormone imbalance and guide you to the treatments that will be most effective for you.

Remember, any hormone imbalance will take time to resolve. Start taking the steps now to achieve your healthy hormone balance.

Dr. Lisa Watson delivers health care that supports balanced and attainable health at all ages and stages of life. Of primary importance is health care that nurtures the body, mind, spirit, family and community. As a Naturopathic Doctor and mother, Lisa believes that health care and a healthy lifestyle are intrinsically linked and that each serves to support the other. Dr. Watson practices at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto.

Check out Dr Watson’s blog: www.drlisawatson.com

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Apr 3

The Fix: Own Your Brain

The Danger of Assuming Potential Experience

The fundamental issue we are all facing is the assumption we make about our potential.

We think we have this massive amount of potential and, whether that is true or not, the assumption of it is not helpful in attempting to actualize it.

In assuming that anything is unlimited, we have a tendency to undervalue it. Looking at an entire lifespan, for example, we may think that we have about 75 years, so we forget how precious is each day. Likewise, in assuming that we have unlimited potential, we think that we have some to spare and we lose our sense of urgency. Seeing it as limited resource, however, creates the mindset to truly appreciate it as something to be valued and utilized to the fullest extent.

In viewing potential as infinite, it also becomes difficult for us to be able to judge and appreciate our own incremental improvement, those small steps which are essential to progress. As a result, we get sucked into comparative analysis which creates uncertainty and unhappiness.

Create an Anchor for Yourself

It is a cosmically cruel joke of the human experience that your body is always in the present, but your brain goes back and forth between the past and the future. We have stories that we run and we are often either consumed in our own or being sucked into someone else’s. Superimposing your physical and your mental experience to be present in each moment requires practice to create that anchor for yourself, if even for a fleeting moment. This practice in itself is one of incremental progress as we are conditioned and evolved to be constantly processing and evaluating rather than simply experiencing.

Being a social animal in today’s society is one of the things that f#@ks with us. In that comparative and competitive state we are triggered by shame and the need to display social status and prestige. The invisible forces of culture pull us like gravity and reveal this reflexive side of us. Couple that with the fact that we are now competing in the world of social comparison on a much larger scale due to the internet, and it is difficult to create a healthy interface between ourselves and our social environment.

A flexible mind requires a healthy cellular metabolic relationship between the brain and body as the essence of growth; but the interaction of our brain with our culture, environment, and social community plays the ultimate role. Awareness of these forces at play in our internal and external worlds is the key to our freedom.

I aim to educate and learn from patients and have updated my principles of care:

  • You cannot out-perform your self-concept.
  • Be comfortable with impermanence, fragility, and modesty.
  • Exercise as a way of communication rather than an expression of vanity.
  • We all change either through evolution or revolution.
  • Focus on determining what you want rather than just saying no.
  • Believe that you’re enough, but be tough-minded to learn like you never will be.
  • Embrace some of your neuro-diversity (weirdness).
  • Wellness starts with wisdom.
  • Live your truth, but don’t try to prove it to the world.

I apply honest and the expression of form, function, and purpose. I see beauty as energy, as some of the most self-criticism in my learning and teaching, and am inspired by the language of nature beautiful interactions occur when we are aligned in energy and purpose. Once we realize we are all in the same boat, it’s time to start paddling—to maximize our individual and collective potential.

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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Mar 26

Fertility Frustrations: Endometriosis

Endometriosis impacts around 1 in 10 women of menstruating age and one-third to one-half of those women will struggle with infertility – about twice the rate of infertility of the general population. 

 If you know you have endometriosis, or suspect it (painful periods, painful intercourse and pain when having a bowel movement are key signs), understanding the impact endometriosis may have on your current and future fertility is important.  Being empowered by knowledge can give you hope – hope to end the pain and suffering of endometriosis, and hope to overcome the pain and suffering of infertility.

Endometriosis and the Immune System

One of the most important features of endometriosis is the changes in the immune system that are found in women with endo (more on that here).

Notably, a huge number of inflammatory prostaglandins are produced in the endo lesions of endometriosis.  In our reproductive system specifically, prostaglandins contribute to local inflammation and contraction of smooth muscle leading to cramping. Altogether, the actions of prostaglandins create a less than ideal environment not only for our menstrual cycle, but for sperm as well.

 Another key finding in the immune function of women with endometriosis is a higher than normal number of macrophages. Macrophages are another type of immune cell that searches for and consumes foreign cells, normally viruses and bacteria. Do you know what else a macrophage may identify as a foreign cell? Sperm and embryos. The high levels of circulating macrophages can interfere with normal conception processes and impact fertility.

Endometriosis, Ovaries and Ovulation

Two out of three women with endometriosis will have endometriomas – endometriosis on the ovaries. These endometriomas lead to the formation of blood-filled “chocolate” cysts on the ovaries – so named because of their characteristic colour and texture.

When endometriosis impacts the ovaries the overall health of the ovary is affected, blood flow may be altered; inflammation and hormonal changes are common. The health of the ovary is not the only concern, but egg growth, development and release are also affected. Women with endometriosis have increased rates of luteinized, unruptured follicle syndrome (LUFS) – a condition further exacerbated by the use of NSAID pain relievers for pain management in endometriosis. If you combine the impacts of endometriosis on ovarian health with other factors, such as increasing age, which also is detrimental to ovarian health, you can understand why there are issues with fertility.

Endometriosis and the Fallopian Tubes

When endometriosis occurs in the fallopian tubes scar tissue can form and create an obstruction that interferes with the ability of sperm to reach the egg, or for a fertilized egg to travel to the uterus. This physical blockage significantly reduces fertility and can also explain the increased incidence of ectopic (outside the uterus) pregnancy in women with endometriosis.

 Additionally, the production of prostaglandins (inflammatory particles) that are produced by endometrial lesions can cause spasms in the fallopian tubes. When this occurs a fertilized egg can be pushed to the uterus so quickly that the endometrium does not have enough time to prepare for a healthy implantation. This may result in no implantation, early miscarriage or possibly premature labour.

In one of the great injustices in the world, women with endometriosis have a risk of miscarriage that is 3 times greater than other women.

Endometriosis and the Uterus

Endometriosis can also invade the muscular wall of the uterus, a condition known as adenomyosis. This can cause scar tissue to develop in the uterus, causing difficulty for successful implantation of the fertilized embryo. And if implantation does occur, adenomyosis can keep your baby from growing properly within the uterus, resulting in a dramatically increased risk of early and late miscarriage in women with endometriosis.

There Is Hope

Knowledge is empowering, but it can also be overwhelming.  But don’t lose hope, there are many lifestyle changes, supportive supplements and naturopathic treatments that can be used to manage endometriosis and improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy. What’s even more promising is that many of the lifestyle changes and supplements used to manage endometriosis are safe during fertility treatments. It’s important to consult a licensed and experienced Naturopathic Doctor to support and individualize your care.  You aren’t alone in this. 


Hudson, Tori. Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008.

Lauersen, Niels H and Bouchez, Collete. Getting Pregnant. New York: Fireside, 2000.

Lewis, Randine. The Infertility Cure. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2004.


The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Dr. Lisa Watson delivers health care that supports balanced and attainable health at all ages and stages of life. Of primary importance is health care that nurtures the body, mind, spirit, family and community. As a Naturopathic Doctor and mother, Lisa believes that health care and a healthy lifestyle are intrinsically linked and that each serves to support the other. Dr. Watson practices at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto.

Check out Dr Watson’s blog: www.drlisawatson.com

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Mar 21

Adrenal Fatigue: The Autoimmune Connection

What do your adrenal glands have to do with your immune system? Everything, when it comes to healing your body and living your best life. Your adrenal glands respond to stress and regulate inflammation in the body. Autoimmune conditions are often triggered by stress and depend on healthy adrenal function to prevent a flare up and regulate inflammation. Adrenal fatigue happens when our stress exposure is chronic and our adrenal glands can’t keep up to the demand. My goal as a Naturopathic Doctor is to help you understand this connection, recover your stress response and heal your body.

Adrenal fatigue is a stress related hormonal dysfunction.

When functioning optimally, the adrenal glands help us respond to “stress” or “adapt” to our environment. These tiny glands help us to perform at our best under pressure: they protect us; they help us to feel alert, focused and energized. If we want to thrive we need to support their work and ultimately our survival depends on them.

Our modern environment is over-stimulating and the adrenal glands can’t keep up.

For most of our evolutionary history, the human body evolved to experience short term stresses and long-term periods of rest and recovery for the nervous system and endocrine system. The challenge in the modern world is that we live in a technology driven society where we experience information overload and decision fatigue on a daily basis. The body’s hormonal response is the same regardless if we are fleeing from a predator, experiencing a perceived threat, or just processing too much exciting information. Overstimulation creates a “sympathetic dominant” nervous system and we are not getting nearly enough rest and recovery to meet the needs of our body. Our adrenal glands are working overtime, and when they cannot keep up, the system starts to fall apart.

The adrenal glands are supposed to regulate inflammation.

The adrenal glands produce adrenaline and cortisol in response to stimulation from the brain, specifically the HPA axis. Like a finely tuned volume control dial, when these glands are functioning well they produce just enough stress hormone to protect us and help us perform well, for just the right amount of time. When the gland is fatigued, the connection to the HPA axis is dysregulated; the glands cannot produce a balanced response, the body cannot maintain balance or what science refers to as allostasis and we experience symptoms such as inflammation. If you have an autoimmune condition, you are very familiar with the damaging effects of inflammation on the body and would do anything in your power to better regulate it.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue and dysregulation:

  • Feeling tired and/or tired and wired
  • An inability to wake up feeling refreshed in the morning
  • Overuse of coffee or stimulants
  • Sugar and/or salt carvings
  • Poor tolerance to stress
  • Frequent infections and a weak immune system
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Pain and inflammation

Repairing the stress response is important for managing autoimmune disease.

Regulating inflammation is essential to your recovery from your autoimmune condition. Autoimmune conditions are characterized by an imbalanced immune system. Autoimmune conditions are diagnosed when signaling in the body changes and the immune system starts to act inappropriately and attack body tissues the same way it would attack a bacterial or viral infection. Recovering your adrenal function can repair the signaling in your body that controls the inflammatory process.

Factors that contribute to autoimmunity include:

  • Genetics
  • Infection
  • Environmental exposures
  • Stress

If we can learn to manage our environmental factors and support our stress response, the body will be better able to fight infection and influence positive gene expression. This understanding is extremely empowering, because it gives us much more influence over our autoimmune condition than we might think. When we understand the stress response, we can protect it, nurture it, love it and repair it.

Does the autoimmune condition trigger the adrenal fatigue or does adrenal fatigue trigger the autoimmune condition?

Autoimmune conditions are often triggered by stress described as adrenal fatigue and at the same time, living with an autoimmune condition can produce a great deal of stress leading to adrenal fatigue. It really does not matter what came first, once you know you have an autoimmune condition nurturing your stress response is essential. Investing your time and energy in lifestyle factors that improve balance for either concern will improve balance for both.

Steps to recovering from Adrenal Fatigue

  1. Start working with a Naturopathic Doctor

If you have adrenal fatigue, chances are you are too stressed to go it alone. Information overload and indecision made worse by adrenal fatigue can make understanding your options very difficult. Your Naturopathic doctor understands the intricate balance between your nervous system and your endocrine system and they have the professional experience to guide you to recovery.

  1. Regulate your sleep routine.

Your adrenal function is dependent on good quality sleep. Adrenal fatigue can cause insomnia and that feeling of being “tired and wired”. Set up healthy boundaries around your bedtime and change your sleep environment to optimize rest. Start by assessing your sleep hygiene. Go to bed at the same time every night. Sleep in a cool, dark room. If you happen to be a mouth breather or have symptoms of sleep apnea, it’s time for a professional assessment.

  1. Choose gentle exercise not excessive exercise.

While movement and exercise are very supportive and necessary for healing, over exercise can cause adrenal fatigue or make your full recovery seem impossible. As your adrenal function improves, you can increase your exercise capacity. Really listening to your body can help, and monitoring your heart rate or heart rate variability can be a great indicator of your capacity to take on more.

  1. Avoid sugar and reduce your carbohydrate intake.

Our goal is to give your body less to adapt to. Changes in your blood sugar caused by eating carbohydrates and the insulin cycle can make it very difficult for your body to self-regulate. Remove the sugar and remove the stress on the system.

  1. Acknowledge your stress and manage your stress.

This is often the most difficult idea to accept. If you have adrenal fatigue, the stresses in your environment have been more than your system can handle. Your environment needs to change and you need to embrace recovery if you want to get better. Fighting through it will just make it worse. Taking pills or supplements alone will not get you where you need to be. Take some time to do some deep self exploration, practice self love and get clear on your priorities. Set up healthy boundaries around your basic needs for human living (nutrition, sleep, exercise, social support) and ensure that your actions are in-line with your health and align with your purpose.

Mindfulness meditation, guided imagery, yoga and counselling are evidence based practices that can help you reduce your stress levels.

  1. Nutrition to fuel your recovery.

Eating a plant based diet that is lower in carbohydrates, void of refined sugar and processed food, and one that emphasizes complete concentrated protein sources, and healthy fats is essential to ensuring that your body is not starving for micronutrients, nor over stimulated by additives. Eating on a regular routine, not skipping meals and avoiding food 2-3 hours before bed, supports your circadian rhythm and will give your body less change to adapt to throughout the day. Your nutrition has the potential to relieve stress or cause stress. Having an assessment of your nutrient timing, nutrient density and the quality of your food is essential to your recovery. When appropriate your Naturopathic Doctor may even recommend fasting as an evidence based practice to help “re-set” your immune system.

If you have an autoimmune condition assessing for food sensitivities and establishing a balance of healthy bacteria or “microbiome” in your digestive tract is key to modulating the immune system and taking the pressure off your stress response.

  1. Supplements including IV therapy.

When your body is stressed it burns through key nutrients much quicker that it normally would. These nutrients are also co-factors for energy, hormone metabolism and neurotransmitter production. When the supply does not keep up to the demand symptoms of fatigue, hormone and mood changes arise. Generally speaking, most people will benefit from B. Vitamins, Magnesium and Vitamin C. However, it is essential that you complete a full assessment with your Naturopathic Doctor so that you do not miss an essential step in recovering your metabolism. Choosing to access nutrients through IV therapy allows the opportunity to saturate your tissues with the key nutrients your cells need to make energy and recover. Once you have worked on the foundation of supporting your sleep routine, addressing your stress and optimizing your nutrition, IV therapy can boost your recovery potential by delivering the nutrients in much higher doses in a shorter period of time than can be achieved orally.

  1. Botanicals

Tonic and nourishing herbs like Withania, Licorice, and Rhodiola have been used for centuries and across cultures to restore vitality. When studied closely their effects help to modulate the stress response, supporting the parasympathetic nervous system and improving adrenal function. Ideally they can give you the performance enhancing energy you need to work on improving your foundational lifestyle changes. Choosing the ideal herb for your health circumstance is the professional responsibility of your Naturopathic Doctor. Especially if you are managing an autoimmune condition or are taking medication.

  1. Clean up the toxic chemicals in your body.

Everyday we are exposed to chemicals like, BPA, plastics, phthalates, heavy metals, pesticides and thousands more. When these chemicals get into our body through our food, water, air and on our skin they stimulate and aggravate our immune system. Our immune system is designed to attack these foreign invaders and the process creates inflammation. The challenge with most of these chemicals is that it can take a very long time for the body to eliminate them. Often our rate of exposure is greater than our rate of elimination and the result is a toxic burden that builds up in the body adding chronic stress to your immune system. Having the knowledge to avoid your exposures and support the body in elimination is essential to your recovery. To get started here are some great evidence based consumer guides to decreasing your toxin exposure. Start working with your Naturopathic Doctor on supporting your metabolism and elimination.

10. Take Your Symptoms Seriously

Suffering from adrenal dysfunction is real suffering. You have the potential to change your path, fighting through it just promotes more fatigue. Supporting your adrenal function is an investment in your long-term quality of life and your overall health. Listening to your body can help you regain your energy and your vitality. Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor, there is help available.


The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.


“Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome” by James l. Wilson

“Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping” by Robert M. Sapolsky

“The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution” Dr. Aviva Romm MD

Dr. Erin Wiley is a Naturopathic Doctor with a strong focus on preventative and integrative medicine. She is the Owner and Clinic Director of the Integrative Health Institute, an integrative medical clinic located in downtown Toronto. Erin has a strong clinical emphasis on autoimmune conditions, stress related illness, anxiety, depression and hormone balance. As a naturopathic doctor, Erin is passionate about working with people to help them better understand their health and achieve their health goals.



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Mar 7

Prejuvenation – Keeping Skin Looking Young and Healthy

Prejuvenation – Keeping Skin Looking Young and Healthy

Many of my patients come to see me looking to restore their skin to health and to treat specific concerns including acne, scars, wrinkles and dark spots. What I have recently been thinking about is what Naturopathic medicine and holistic skincare can do to prevent these concerns and to actually slow signs of aging rather then just trying to correct them. A new term coined by the cosmetic aesthetics industry for this course of action is “prejuvenation”.

What is Prejuvenation?

Prejuvenation is the application of advanced training and techniques to prevent the signs of aging and the development of skin concerns from occurring. It is best to take a multiphase and customized approach to prejuvenation to maximize results.

How Naturopathic Medicine can prevent the signs of aging

To create a customized plan a thorough analysis of your age, lifestyle, skin concerns, medical history, family history, diet and aesthetic goals is critical. Based on your responses, goals and history an individualized plan is designed which may include:

  • Home skincare recommendations – Creating a daily regimen consisting of the right products for your skin and your goals helps to keep the complexion firm, smooth, hydrated, clear and youthful.
  • Professional therapeutic skincare treatments – Regular professional skincare treatments help to maintain a healthy, youthful appearance. Some of the treatments I recommend and perform on patients are:
    • Collagen induction therapy/microneedling
    • Oxygeneo 3-in-1 facial
    • Therapeutic facials with customized serums
    • Gentle peels
    • Facial rejuvenation acupuncture
  • Nutricosmetic supplements – Nutricosmetics are nutritional supplements, which support the structure, function, and health of the skin. Targeted supplements are recommended on an individual basis to optimize results.
  • Lifestyle and dietary recommendations – I work collaboratively with my patients to develop a lifestyle regime that they can easily and successful integrate into their daily life. These strategies will help slow down the aging process and promote overall health and wellbeing.

Why Prejuvenation is important

I have seen more and more patients interested in not just treating the signs of aging and turning back the clock but also preventing those signs from even developing. With our current urban lifestyles here in Toronto, prejuvenation is important to prevent the signs of stress – physical, emotional and environmental – and it’s impact on our appearance over time. Naturopathic medicine excels at preventative care and offers a unique approach to anti-aging and aesthetic medicine from a holistic perspective.

Dr. Jen Newell, ND is the founder of the Naturopathic Skin Care Clinic at the Integrative Health Institute. She is committed to helping others resolve frustrating skin issues because she struggled with hormonal cystic acne and mild rosacea for over 10 years. Dissatisfied with the results from oral contraceptives, antibiotics and other conventional treatments, Jen decided to take matters in her own hands and find a safer and more sustainable solution to achieve healthy, glowing skin. She is now a leader in her field and a pioneer for a holistic approach to skin care.

Dr. Newell has extensive experience in skin, hormonal and digestive health. She understands how the health of these systems is often integrated and the impact these issues can have on quality of life. She is passionate about helping people look and feel their best by combining her knowledge and expertise to develop customized and comprehensive plans for optimal health.

Dr. Jen Newell is a graduate of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and the University of Ottawa. She is a member of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors, the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors and International Association of Corneotherapy. Jen has additional certification in Collagen Induction Therapy/Microneedling, Facial Rejuvenation Acupuncture, and Culinary Nutrition.

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Mar 3

What Does Advil Have to do With Infertility?

Trying to Conceive? Your Advil might be Ruining your Chances

Ovulation is one of the most important events in conception. With many couples struggling to with infertility, eliminating all barriers to conception should be at the forefront of any fertility plan. This includes anything that could impede ovulation.

Infertility Risk Factors

Infertility is a growing concern among Canadians – its prevalence doubling since the 80ʼs, currently affecting 1 in 6 Canadians (1). There are many reasons for why this may be the case. The most obvious – many women are choosing to delay child-bearing, in pursuit of educational, occupational and/or personal goals. In fact, women aged  30 to 34 years are now having more children than any other age group (2). But, according to population studies, a woman’s fertility starts to significantly decline by the age of 35.

Image from the Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists of Canada

Outside of chronological age, other risk factors that effect fertility include:

  • medical conditions that effect the reproductive system, like PCOS or endometriosis, blocked fallopian tubes, or fibroids
  • a history of sexually transmitted infections (STI’s)
  • lifestyle factors like smoking, excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption, and BMI

Often, health care providers will ask women trying to conceive many, specific, health-related questions to assess their risks from the list above, but often, Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) use is left out.

NSAIDs can Impair Your Fertility

NSAIDs include over-the-counter medications such as:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Naproxen (Aleve)

They are among the most commonly prescribed class of drugs in Canada, and are frequently used by women of reproductive age. Although the potential for NSAIDs to interfere with ovulation was first documented in the medical literature 2 decades ago, it has received little attention since then (3). However, newer research has now confirmed preliminary data. In a randomized controlled trial, NSAID use was found to prevent ovulation in as many as 75% of fertile women (4).

Most NSAIDs are non-selective COX-1 and COX-2 enzyme inhibitors, inhibiting the formation of prostaglandins (PGs). Prostaglandins play a central role in the inflammatory process, which is why inhibiting these lipid compounds can have such a profound effect on pain.

We are now discovering that prostaglandins are also a key player in ovulation. The COX-2 prostaglandins are likely involved in the generation of enzymes that actually rupture the follicles.

Meaning inhibiting prostaglandins will also inhibit the release of the egg from the ovary. This leads to unruptured follicles, which can be seen on an ultrasound – called luteinizing unruptured follicle syndrome (LUF or LUFS).

“While clinical signs of ovulation are present (e.g. elevated basal body temperature), follicular rupture and ovum release are absent” (3).

As well as inhibiting ovulation, NSAIDs also lower progesterone.

The good news is that ovulation returns to normal the following cycle, once NSAID use is discontinued.

Next Steps

If you’re trying to conceive, speak to your Naturopathic Doctor about alternatives to NSAIDs for pain management, as they could be delaying or preventing your ability to conceive.

Instead of suppressing symptoms, I work with patients to discover the root cause of their pain, so that they don’t develop dependance or tolerance to pain medication. Until we get to the root cause of your pain, there are many things we can use in it’s place, like: acupuncture, supplements, and herbal tinctures or teas. Often, these evidence-based alternatives have been found to be as effective, if not more effective, than their pharmacological counterparts.

Fertility is a passion of mine, and has been a clinical focus of mine during my fourth year internship. I’m currently on the fertility focus shift at the Robert Schad Naturopathic College, where I help couples achieve a healthy pregnancy and carry that pregnancy to term. If you are currently having difficulty becoming pregnant, there is strong evidence for the use of Naturopathic Medicine to improve pregnancy rates.

It takes 100 days for both an egg and sperm to fully mature. If you’re ready to start planning a family, let’s work together to optimize your fertility. 

  1. Government of Canada. 2016. Available at: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/healthy-living-vie-saine/pregnancy-grossesse/fertility-fertilite/fert-eng.php.
  2. Age and Fertility. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Available at: http://pregnancy.sogc.org/fertility-and-reproduction/age-and-fertility/
  3. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and Infertility. 2015. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/856186
  4. Q, Sherif et al. (2014). Effects of Some Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs on Ovulation in Women with Mild Musculoskeletal Pain (A Clinical Study). IOSR Journal Of Pharmacy And Biological Sciences, 9(4), 43-49.

Farah Mejren is in her fourth year of Naturopathic Medical school, completing her Naturopathic Medical Internship at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. She holds a Bachelors of Science Degree in Psychology, with a focus on behavioural neuroscience, from the University of British Columbia.

Farah is completing part of her Naturopathic internship at the Integrative Health as well as at the Brampton Civic Hospital. She is also a Clinical Intern on the Fertility and Reproductive Health Focus shift at CCNM, where she receives additional training in complimentary fertility care.

Farah has a special interest in endocrinology and hormone balance, digestive health, and skin care. She understands how each system influences the other, and is passionate about identifying the root cause of health concerns.

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Mar 2

Fatigue? Hack your Brain, Harness your Energy

Fatigued? Hack your Brain, Harness your Energy

It is fairly easy to measure the fatigue we feel from the level of a particular task—there are physiological, metabolic measurements that can show us. But on the level of overall fatigue, it becomes more complicated and we are less equipped to judge for ourselves.

There are five variables that I would include when looking at fatigue. There is fatigue on the muscular level and at the respiratory level; then there is what is going on at the level of the brain, including the psychological level and the spiritual level.

The first two are those for which we have data based on performance. We can measure muscular activation, endurance, load, and fatigue. From a respiratory standpoint, a 5-10% improvement can elevate performance. These are the most empirical markers and, arguably, the easiest to train.

From the psychological perspective, much of fatigue is based on perceived exertional demand which is formed from our history and memory. If you have run a half-marathon successfully before, for example, this task will be perceived to be less threatening than if you are doing it for the first time; if it was absent of physical pain or anything catastrophic, you have that to draw from.

Spiritually, anything that you are undertaking with purpose and passion, for a cause and with choice, will be emotional motivation. Doing something in memory of someone, for instance, may be fuel to counteract fatigue in the right mindset. Even having a simple mantra in your head can serve you when the going gets tough.

From the evolutionary perspective, you can think of the brain as an ice cream cone with three scoops. The first scoop is the lizard brain which developed about 300 million years ago. It is developed entirely in utero and is responsible for local decision-making at the spinal cord level; its responses are entirely reflexive and concerned with survival. The second scoop is the mammalian brain which developed about 200 million years ago. Where our memories and emotions come from, it is developed half in utero and half as we go. The neocortex is the third scoop and, while its time of origin is not clear, given that language developed 70 000 years ago, this seems like a probable time. It is responsible for purposeful thought and decision-making, and trying to inhibit the stuff that is happening in the other areas.

To look at the brain’s relationship with an actual ice cream cone, the lizard brain wants to eat the ice cream, the mammalian brain recognizes that it may feel good to do so, while the pre-frontal cortex acknowledges that it may not be such a good idea. Don’t take it personally, they all do what they have evolved to do.

In the spirit of simplexity, this is how the brain works. Neurons (cells in the brain) communicate via electro-chemical signals which produce cellular waste based on usage; a cluster of neurons form a network that is task-specific. The more a neuron fires, the better you are able to recruit this firing as part of a network, the less fatigue you feel. That is, the more a network is reinforced through repeated stimulation, the less demand on the system to fire it up. Likewise, the fewer networks you are operating at the same time, the more energy you will have for the task at hand. While you are running, for example, your brain is controlling your coordination and your biomechanics in response to the physical demand. But, if you are also thinking about a work email that irked you at the same time, there is more neuronal traffic on the networks, cluttering up the space and creating another demand.

Functionally, there are two main networks at work in your brain—one that says ‘stop this madness’ and one that says ‘go get it’; a default-mode and a focus-mode. Those things that fall into the default category include past experiences and perceptions, old stories and thought patterns—the things that run in the background. It is estimated that the brain is in default-mode about 60% of the time which, paradoxically, is more metabolically demanding, but familiar; the brain hates uncertainty, preferring familiar over unknown—even when the unknown may be better.

If the perceived demand of your endeavour is great enough, your brain has the power to shut you down by inhibiting blood flow to the muscles or repressing respiration via your diaphragm. But, when your physical and psychological load are getting the better of you, it is what tools and motivation you have within your focus-mode to sustain your effort that make the difference. These aspects are not measurable; like happiness or feelings of love, they are not quantifiable, but instrumental to success.

When looking at managing fatigue, note that your brain’s job is to detect fatigue, but your psychology will interpret it, and your body will respond accordingly. If you are getting enough restful sleep, being nutritionally mindful, and are aware of the thought patterns that accompany the narrative in your default-mode, you will have less neural traffic and more energy to exercise the task or activity in which you are engaged. Additionally, shifting from one mode to the other is energetically expensive, so the less energy you have to spend fighting the other stuff, the more you have to focus on your task.

Understanding the brain is at the razor’s edge of understanding how fatigue plays out in our bodies, both in terms of synaptic traffic and metabolic demand. Sometimes you may pacify those first two scoops to just eat an ice cream cone, but know that is not a viable long term solution! Being able to just breathe or have a mantra like ‘I am enough, I have enough’ can be simple ways to calm the system. Accepting that you’re human and being fluid rather than rigid in your narrative can also expand your capacity.

Whether your task is physical or mental, work or play, if you want to optimize your functional capacity, you need to optimize your distress tolerance. By being mindful of all of the areas involved, you can get a bird’s eye view of yourself as an actualized human being—one who is capable of modulating your response and regaining your optimal state for maximal energy.

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 26

Hormone Balance For Weight Loss

Hormone Balance for Weight Loss – The Tipping Point

Are you eating right and working out but still can’t lose weight? It’s time to consider your hormones. I see this quite often in practice, patients are eating a clean, balanced diet and engaging in regular exercise but the numbers on the scale won’t budge. It’s time to look deeper and understand the role hormones play in weight loss. When we hear the word “hormones”, most of us think of estrogen, and while estrogen is important, there are a few other hormones to consider. I will review them with you in this article.  I will also teach you about clues to understanding your hormone imbalances, like your weight gain pattern and illustrate just how powerful our hormonal influences can be on our body fat distribution. For example, gaining weight around the hips and thighs is influenced by different hormones than the ones that signal weight gain around the abdomen, or upper arms. Understanding these patterns can be the key to your success. Let’s get started.

What Hormones play a role in weight loss?

We will review cortisol, thyroid hormone, estrogen, testosterone, and insulin. Although we talk about them as separate molecules they all work together as part of your endocrine system.

Our endocrine system (which consists of the glands in the body that make hormones) is closely connected.  If one hormone is out of whack, other hormones kick in to compensate.  In many cases, this feedback system corrects itself, but if our environment demands a continuous state of adaptation the endocrine system can end up overcompensating and draining our energy.

The primary system that adapts to our daily stresses is called the Hypothalamic – Pituitary – Adrenal Axis (HPA Axis). This part of the endocrine system gets stressed out, when you are stressed out.  It can be very common to underestimate the level of stress on our body. I often hear people say they feel like they are coping with stress well, but they are just busy.  Believe it or not “busyness” can lead to weight gain. Your body interprets “busyness” as a source of stress (or overstimulation on the nervous system) and produces stress hormones like cortisol in response.  This can include anything from excessive exercise, information overload to working to may long hours, which all add up to too much cortisol production.

The challenge: Cortisol encourages your body to hold onto weight and store fat in your mid section.

Wait, what? Yes, that’s right and the result is – a jiggly belly and when insulin regulation is also poor, the signalling in the body promotes the development of, what my clients like to call, the “muffin top and love handles”.

Still don’t think you are stressed? Look at a typical day:

The alarm goes off = stressor = cortisol = signal the body to store fat

Scramble to get yourself and others in the house dressed = stressor = cortisol = signal the body to store fat

Commute to work = stressor = cortisol = signal the body to store fat

Deadline or meeting with boss = stressor = cortisol = signal the body to store fat

Rush home to pick up kids = stressor = cortisol = signal the body to store fat

What do you eat? = stressor = cortisol = signal the body to store fat

Act as your child’s taxi taking them too and from activities = stressor = cortisol = signal the body to store fat

Late night Netflix and snack attack = lack of sleep and empty calories = stressor = cortisol = signal the body to store fat

Okay, so I’m a little stressed and maybe my cortisol is off and my belly is growing, but how does this affect my other hormones?

Breaking down the HPA Axis a little more, we can see that the ovaries (in men – testes), adrenal glands and thyroid are also intimately connected and co-dependant upon each other.

With stress – the adrenal glands produce adrenaline and cortisol[i].  If the Adrenals work over time the demand for cortisol can “steal” progesterone, leaving an opportunity for estrogen to be imbalanced and in excess. Estrogen excess can lead to weight gain around the hips and thighs.

The result of chronic stress: Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue include difficulty waking, afternoon dips in energy and waking in the night.  Fluctuations in energy can create a vicious cycle leaving us too tired to work out. Other symptoms include anxiety, depression, insomnia, brain fog, joint pain and exercise intolerance, and of course weight gain.

The Solution:

  • Eating complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and quinoa.
  • To balance insulin levels add 1 tbsp of cinnamon to smoothies, roasted fruit, tea, etc.
  • Yoga or workouts under 45 minutes. Longer workouts (such as distance running) that are not properly balanced can elicit the same stress response.
  • 6-8 hours of solid sleep. Charles Poliquin determined that Cankles may indicate low growth hormone[iii]. Sleep is this solution since this hormone is only produced during this time.
  • Before each meal take 4 big breathes. Breathing in for a count of four and out for a count of four to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and relaxation.
  • Mediation or Yoga. I personally enjoy Bikram Yoga. Exercising in a hot environment causes you to sweat out those toxins!
  • Acupuncture – Can restore balance to your hormones by redirecting energy so the body can heal itself. A series of 6 acupuncture sessions can reduce fatigue, improve mood, minimize PMS symptoms, reduce cravings and encourage appropriate weight loss.
  • Supplements to consider: B Complex, Ashwaganda, Rhodiola or Relora. Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor.
Your Thyroid, the regulator of your metabolism, controls how many calories you burn is a day.

The thyroid has a hefty job.  The hormones it secretes plays a role in skin health, heart rate and metabolism.

The result of thyroid stress:  Cold body temperature, sugar intolerance, dry skin, hair loss, feeling run down and tired which may leave you predisposed to depression.

Weight gain pattern:   Bulging back fat and overall weight gain[iv].

The Solution:

  • Eliminating gluten and eating a Paleo style diet.
  • High Intensity Interval Training or boot camp style classes to kick start your metabolism.
  • Contrast Showers: At the end of your shower, alternate hot (3 seconds) and cold (1 second). Repeat 3 times and finish on cold to stimulate your immune, temperature AND metabolism.
  • Begin a Grateful Journal – Many people with thyroid conditions have a difficult time expressing themselves. Anxiety and negative thoughts promote resistance to weight loss. Love yourself and those around you and the number of negative thoughts will begin to reduce.
  • Supplements to consider: Zinc, Selenium, Vitamin E, Vitamin B12 and L-Tyrosine.

When the ovaries are affected, PMS hits like a bomb.  Too much cortisol from stress can “steal” progesterone, leaving an opportunity for estrogen to be produced in excess.  Estrogen is stored in our fat cells. Therefore, the more fat we have, the more access we have to Estrogen.  Estrogen  is also sensitive to environmental pollutants – such as plastics.

The result: Imbalances in estrogen, testosterone and progesterone can lead to cravings and over eating. Other symptoms may include heavy or painful periods, endometriosis, irregular or missed periods, menopausal symptoms and acne.  Remember, although these symptoms are common, they are not normal.

Weight gain pattern: Flappy arms can indicate not enough testosterone. Large thighs and pear-shaped bottom can indicate higher levels of estrogen.

The Solution:

  • Swap out soy. Eating soy in excess is commonly seen in new vegetarians. Eliminating your soy intake can reduce cramping. Choose nuts, lentils and legumes as plant based proteins.
  • 1 cup of Beets roasted, jarred or steamed can be a delicious addition to your favourite meal.
  • Add 2 tbsps of Pumpkin seeds to your favourite salad or trail mix. Throw in a few chunks of dark chocolate for Magnesium. Pumpkin seed butter is delicious on toasted spelt bread with thinly sliced apples and cinnamon. These tiny seeds are packed full of testosterone boosting zinc.  Quite often I have my patients add these into their diet in the winter months to further support immune function.
  • Low fat diets take a toll on proper hormone development. Hormones depend on healthy fats, such as Omega 3 fatty acids. Try swapping margarine and other Omega 6 oils (canola, peanut, cotton, etc) for coconut or flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil can be added after cooking.  Include these great fats in your meals: avocado, grass fed meats, chia seeds and wild fish.
  • Wine Decline. I can change everything, but don’t touch my glass of red wine. Sound familiar? Alcohol can lower testosterone levels making you “softer”. So, pick a month and ditch the booze.
  • Strength training to support proper muscle development.
  • A proper weight loss plan incorporates more than just weight loss. It is important to reach an ideal body composition which includes muscle mass. Using tools such as a BioImpedance Analysis (BIA) allows you to track your progress in both fat loss and muscle gain.
  • Switch your xenoestrogen containing Plastics containers for glass and stainless steel.
  • Supplements to Consider: Vitex, Black Cohosh, Probiotics, Omega 3’s, Magnesium, Vitamin D
Are there tests to tell me if my Hormones functioning correctly?

A thorough intake and testing would be required to determine which system is struggling and at which point in the endocrine triangle to focus our treatments.

The DUTCH Test is a wonderful test to determine hormonal pathways and how they may be affecting our metabolism.

Other lab tests to consider would be fasting blood glucose, a thyroid panel, estrogen, testosterone and cortisol levels.  If deficiencies are suspected, additional tests could be run such as Vitamin D or Zinc.

What are my next steps for to Balancing my Hormones for Weight Loss?

You are unique so your treatment plan should be too. Book an appointment with your Naturopathic Doctor to determine what your tipping point is. Get started today and tip the scales in your favour!


The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.


[i] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16353426

[ii] http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/stresscortisol.html

[iii] http://main.poliquingroup.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/1314/Understand_Your_Hormones_.aspx

[iv] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3821486/

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!


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Feb 22

Progesterone Deficiency

Hormone imbalances can feel like a mystery in modern medicine.  Finding answers to our hormone problems seems like mission impossible: “it’s just your age”, “this happens to every woman”, “try these antidepressants”.

But hormone imbalances are not in your head – they are in every cell in your body. If you suspect your hormones are out of balance, it’s time to solve the puzzle once and for all.

Today we’re focusing on a common hormone imbalance – progesterone deficiency. So whether you are just interested in learning more about hormones, or hoping to identify some of your own signs and symptoms in this article, read on and get ready to learn how to heal your progesterone deficiency.

What is Progesterone?

As women we have two main reproductive hormones – estrogen and progesterone. We’ve all heard about estrogen, but progesterone is more of a mystery.

Progesterone, our “pro-gestation hormone” – it is produced in the ovaries after ovulation to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. But it is used by the body for so much more than just pregnancy.

What Does Progesterone Do?

Progesterone prepares the body for pregnancy by stimulating the production of proteins that prepare the uterine lining for implantation. What happens if there’s no implantation? Progesterone levels drop off and a menstrual period will result. This means that progesterone also regulates our menstrual cycle.

Beyond pregnancy support, progesterone has many other functions. Progesterone receptors are found all over the body including the brain, breasts, blood vessels, and bones. Progesterone is also a great balancer for estrogen – it balances estrogen levels to prevent estrogen levels from exerting too many growth-stimulating effects on our tissues.

One of the biggest impacts that progesterone has is it’s anti-anxiety and anti-stress effects.  As a direct precursor to the hormone cortisol, progesterone is one super-calming hormone.  Every time your mind and body cope with stress, you have a therapeutic sleep, and are relaxed; you can thank progesterone for doing its job without us even knowing it.

Changes in Progesterone Hormone Balance

So it supports pregnancy, regulates our menstrual cycle, and helps our stress response. I know what you’re thinking – but Dr. Lisa what happens to progesterone during menopause? Production of progesterone peaks in our mid-reproductive years – around 25 years of age. After that age we see steady declines in progesterone production until perimenopause and menopause when production drops off almost entirely.

We can also suspect low levels of progesterone in women who do not experience regular periods or women who are not ovulating as we would expect them to.

Symptoms of Progesterone Deficiency

For many women, symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and PMS can be caused by an imbalance in progesterone levels. Oftentimes, these symptoms are not taken seriously by doctors. Can you identify with any of the following symptoms? If you do, it’s time to get to the root cause of your progesterone deficiency and solve these problems once and for all.

Symptoms of Progesterone Deficiency
  • Premenstrual mood changes
  • Painful or lumpy breasts
  • Insomnia
  • Premenstrual headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Infertility
  • Recurrent miscarriage
  • Unexplained weight gain

Hormone Healing for Progesterone Deficiency

We’ve talked about what progesterone does, how it influences other hormones, and what progesterone deficiency looks like. Now we’re at the part where I can answer your burning question –what can we do about progesterone deficiency? As with all hormone management, laboratory testing is necessary for all women seeking treatment. It is imperative to understand the balance in the different hormones before starting any type of hormone treatment.

Of course the foundation to improving progesterone levels is your lifestyle. Decreasing stress levels, encouraging a healthy diet that provides adequate protein and healthy fats, and engaging in regular exercise are all important to balancing progesterone levels.

Beyond lifestyle changes, there are a number of nutrients and plant-based botanicals that can influence the production of progesterone. If you’re working with a qualified Naturopathic Doctor, another option is to choose bio-identical progesterone cream to manage the imbalance. Let’s look at some of our options:


Magnesium is necessary for detoxification of hormones, especially estrogen. If you are deficient in magnesium you may have higher circulating levels of estrogen, resulting in a relative progesterone deficiency. Food sources of magnesium include pumpkin seeds, leafy greens, soy beans, sunflower seeds, and beans.

Vitamin B6

Ovulation, and subsequent progesterone production, requires appropriate Vitamin B6 levels. That’s why we want to ensure adequate intake levels through food sources such as tuna, salmon, turkey, chicken, sweet potato, sunflower seeds, and dark leafy greens. If you suspect progesterone deficiency, a Vitamin B6 deficiency may be one of the root causes of it.

Chaste berry (Vitex agnus-castus)

Chaste berry (or chaste tree) is a very well known botanical medicine for hormonal imbalances. Chaste berry has been found to increase progesterone levels during the second half of the menstrual cycle. This is important because the second half of the menstrual cycle is when progesterone is the dominant reproductive hormone. Beyond progesterone, chaste berry can also balance prolactin. Like with all botanical medicines, it is important to consult with your naturopath to decide if chaste berry is right for you.

Bioidentical progesterone cream

Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) uses hormones that are identical to those in your body to balance your hormones and relief symptoms of hormone imbalance. Bioidentical progesterone is made from wild yams or soybean and is typically applied in cream form during the second half of the menstrual cycle.

Transdermal progesterone results in effective absorption of progesterone and movement of progesterone to the target tissues – brain, uterus, breast and blood vessels – to decrease symptoms. It is typically used twice per day and dosages vary – your Naturopath will work with you and a compounding pharmacy to establish your proper balance of hormones.

Next Steps

Women’s health is both the focus of my naturopathic practice and a passion in my life. There is no topic I am more excited to talk about, read about and learn about. And within women’s health there is no more important topic than hormone balancing. It’s one thing to identify symptoms of a hormonal imbalance, such as progesterone deficiency. It’s another to properly address and treat the condition. If you think your hormones are out of balance, talk to an experienced and qualified Naturopathic Doctor to help you find your optimal balance.

Dr. Lisa Watson delivers health care that supports balanced and attainable health at all ages and stages of life. Of primary importance is health care that nurtures the body, mind, spirit, family and community. As a Naturopathic Doctor and mother, Lisa believes that health care and a healthy lifestyle are intrinsically linked and that each serves to support the other. Dr. Watson practices at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto.

Check out Dr Watson’s blog: www.drlisawatson.com


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Feb 14

The Natural Skin Solution: Hormonal Acne

If you suffer from hormonal acne, you are not alone. Up to 23% of adult women experience acne! Now there are many different factors that affect acne. Inflammation is very important. Gut health is important. Anti-oxidant status is supremely important! But hormones make all the difference for women.

Below are the 7 steps I use with patients to resolve their frustrating and embarrassing hormonal acne.

Step 1 – Is your acne actually hormonal?

How do you know if your acne is hormonal or not? This is a very important question to ask. You don’t want to try to fix something that isn’t broken.

 Here are some things to look out for to determine if your acne is hormonal:
  • if your acne fluctuates with your monthly cycle
  • if your acne is cystic and located around your chin, mouth, and jaw
  • if your acne has also spread to your shoulders, upper back, and buttocks
  • If you experience other hormonal symptoms like irregular menstrual cycles, male pattern hair growth (facial hair), balding, PMS, mood swings, hypothyroidism, or difficulty maintaining or losing weight

Step 2 – Know the causes

This is the hardest part of hormonal acne treatment, but it is the most important, and the aspect that makes your healing the most effective in the long run.

Hormonal acne is caused by an underlying hormone imbalance. Period, that’s it, no questions about it! The only questions remaining are: what type of imbalance is it, and what caused the imbalance?

Hormones can become imbalanced a number of different ways. The fastest way to heal is to figure out why your hormones are imbalanced, and then correct that problem.

The most common hormonal imbalances contributing to the development of acne include:

Elevated Testosterone

Testosterone is one of the primary causes of female acne. Testosterone causes oil production in the pores of your skin to increase. Excess oil causes pore-clogging. This in turn creates more food for bacteria to eat, and therefore more possibilities for infection.

How does testosterone get elevated?

Insulin signals to the ovaries to produce testosterone. Testosterone often becomes elevated as a result of insulin spikes and insulin resistance. This means that insulin-related problems are one of the primary causes of hormonal acne for women!

Elevated DHEA-S

DHEA-S is another male sex hormone, so it has the same oil-enhancing effects on the skin as testosterone does. DHEA-S is unique however because it is produced by the stress glands, instead of reproductive organs.

DHEA-S rises in response to all different kinds of stress, from the mental to the physiological.

Reduced Estrogen

Estrogen is important for clear skin because it provides a counterbalance to testosterone. It is one of the best molecules out there for creating dewy, radiant skin.

Estrogen levels can fall for any number of reasons. Menopause is one big reason. Low body fat percentage, extreme weight loss, excessive dieting, calorie restriction, and excessive exercise are some others. Estrogen levels may also fall as a result of birth control pill usage (especially when you come off of the pill).

Estrogen Dominance (elevated estrogen and low progesterone)

Just as too little estrogen can contribute to the development of acne so can a relative excess. Excess estrogen is extremely common for adult women and contributes to an array of issues such as acne.  Stress and aging cause testosterone and progesterone levels to decline, while estrogen levels increase, leading to estrogen dominance.

Too much estrogen alone is not solely responsible for hormonal acne. Estrogen dominance is a more accurate term, as it’s not necessarily about having high estrogen levels as it is about having a higher amount of estrogen compared to progesterone. Having low progesterone in relation to estrogen is usually the cause behind pre-menstrual breakouts and the acne that some women experience when going off birth control. Low progesterone levels are a big problem because of the protective mechanism that progesterone exhibits against acne. A balanced amount of progesterone helps regulate the production of 5 Alpha Reductase, preventing testosterone from turning into DHT.


Hypothyroidism is not a hormone problem in the sense that sex hormones are produced by the reproductive cycle, but it is a hormone problem in the sense that thyroid function is intimately tied to reproductive function. The components of the thyroid system that are the most important for effective thyroid function are considered hormones, too.

Hypothyroidism causes cells to weaken and be susceptible to DNA damage and inflammation. It can be caused by a low carbohydrate diet, by stress, or by an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

Step 3 – Don’t guess, test

Which of the forementioned causes of hormonal acne is yours? It could be just one of them, or it could be all four.

You could simply guess which problem is your own based on the information I provided, but I recommend having appropriate testing done to get the most accurate assessment of your hormone levels. In my practice, I often recommend either salivary hormone testing which tests estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and cortisol or the DUTCH test (dried urine test for comprehensive hormones), which provides a more detailed assessment of hormone levels and metabolites as well as adrenal function.

Other valuable tests to consider running to get a better estimation of the underlying cause of your acne include:

  • Fasting insulin (indicative of blood sugar imbalance as well as a cause of elevated testosterone)
  • Thyroid function tests (TSH, T3, T4 and Anti-TPO)

Step 4 – Restore balance

Once you know which hormone imbalance issue you have, you can work on correcting it.

This may include making dietary modifications to support appropriate hormone production, support healthy blood sugar balance or reduce exposure to certain toxic chemicals, which may be contributing to your concerns. Additional treatments recommended by your Naturopathic Doctor may also include targeted supplementation with nutrients and botanicals, bioidentical hormones, lifestyle changes and/or acupuncture.

Step 5 – Address other factors

Hormones are a big factor in acne, but they are not the only one. At the beginning of this post I mentioned a number of other contributing factors to the development of acne.

Acne is impacted by stress, UV ray exposure, heat, dairy, inflammatory foods, phytoestrogens, topical irritants, sleep, and low carb diets.

This step can be challenging to navigate alone so I highly recommend consulting with a Naturopathic Doctor to help guide you.

Step 6 – Smart skincare

While you heal your underlying hormone imbalances, it is also important to attack acne from other angles. One is to use the best topical regimens, treatments and products possible.

Check out my list of pore clogging ingredients that may contribute to the development or worsening of acne.

Step 7 – Practice patience

Overcoming acne takes time. Many different things can affect acne, so it will take you a little while to figure out which ones are the most important for you to address. Each person has their own unique combination of causes and triggers so I encourage patients to be patient with the process.

If you are struggling with acne, I highly recommend that you book a free 15 minute consultation to learn more about your options for treating it and getting the clear, healthy skin you want.

Dr. Jen Newell, ND is the founder of the Naturopathic Skin Care Clinic at the Integrative Health Institute. She is committed to helping others resolve frustrating skin issues because she struggled with hormonal cystic acne and mild rosacea for over 10 years. Dissatisfied with the results from oral contraceptives, antibiotics and other conventional treatments, Jen decided to take matters in her own hands and find a safer and more sustainable solution to achieve healthy, glowing skin. She is now a leader in her field and a pioneer for a holistic approach to skin care.

Dr. Newell has extensive experience in skin, hormonal and digestive health. She understands how the health of these systems is often integrated and the impact these issues can have on quality of life. She is passionate about helping people look and feel their best by combining her knowledge and expertise to develop customized and comprehensive plans for optimal health.

Dr. Jen Newell is a graduate of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and the University of Ottawa. She is a member of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors, the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors and International Association of Corneotherapy. Jen has additional certification in Collagen Induction Therapy/Microneedling, Facial Rejuvenation Acupuncture, and Culinary Nutrition.

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