Oct 9

I Have A Gut Feeling…

I HAVE A GUT FEELING…

Did you know that your state of mind can affect your digestion? There is a huge connection between what is in our minds and how our digestive system responds. The gut-brain connection has been studied intensively in the last twenty years and it has opened new ways to help us feel better. The integrative health care services we offer at IHI, are at the forefront of health care because they offer a way to look at this connection from many angles. How does this work? How can this benefit you?

We know now that our moods are connected to our metabolism. When we feel intense emotions, the brain sends messages to the gut that can get it going or get it out of whack. If you want quick proof of this connection, just think about a tasty food, and suddenly you will notice that your intestinal juices are flowing? Maybe you are salivating? There is an instant and powerful connection!

The digestive system (or “gut”) has a complex neuronal network. Part of the system is connected to the brain and central nervous system. The Vagus nerve system is part of this connection. Another component is the “enteric” neuronal system that lines the intestinal walls. Psychological changes have a direct effect on gut physiology through these pathways, and can cause digestive havoc or help regulate it.

Dr. Steven Porges has been studying the Vagus nerve system (or Polyvagal system), its impact on wellbeing and its connection with trauma. His research is used widely to help people who get stuck in stress modes. For example, when you feel “butterflies in your stomach”, your digestive system is sending the brain messages in response to the nervous system’s state of alert, which is highly influenced by the brain as well.

When we feel depressed, the body responds to the low moods and low energy by modifying the way it fulfills vegetative needs (eating and sleeping). Some individuals with depression change the food they want to eat, for example, and start consuming more carbs. Others feel less appetite. Others sleep less, or more. Mood states have other direct impacts on our gut, too.

Mindset also affects weight gain. People who eat mindfully have 20% less weight concerns than those who don’t. Anxiety states, and fear, interrupt the digestive process and coopt blood flow to send to other areas of the body.  This is similar to what happens under stress, and why managing stress is so important.

The physiological effects of moods can range from impact on swallowing, enzymes release (like when we imagine tasting a food) and how the digestive system processes foods. Mindset also affects the muscular components of the gut.

Changes in stress levels can affect how muscles in the gut move. Peristaltic movement (that pushes food along) and contractions are affected. Stress can also increase inflammation and symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders (IBS, IBD, GERD).

Uncomfortable symptoms like heartburn, bloating, pain, indigestion, acid reflux, diarrhea can also increase. It affects constipation, too.

The mind-gut connection also goes in the other direction. It affects how the gut alters the nervous system and the brain. When someone’s digestion is not going well, information from the enteric neuronal system triggers emotional changes.

Studies show that a higher-than-average percentage of people with digestive problems develop depression and anxiety. Recent studies have linked gut biome populations to different mood states, so make sure you eat in a way that keep this balanced! The fact that it is a two-way street can be good news.

For many people, psychotherapy and counselling can help improve your mood, which in turn can affect digestive conditions. This is why when people work on reducing stress and anxiety in my office, they start eating better and sleeping well.

For those with chronic conditions, working with a psychotherapist or counsellor can help them cope with the symptoms and suffer less distress. Psychotherapy and counselling can help minimize the psychological effects of stress and, as a result, on the body.

Aside from reducing distress, being in an integrative clinic allows us to communicate with the other health providers to provide all-around care, when the patient desires. This way we can harness stress management techniques such as naturopathic tests and hormonal support, exercise, mindfulness, sleep management, massage, acupuncture, and diet, to help you live in the best way you can.

If you believe that your digestive health may be negatively impacted by your mental health, it’s important that you speak with me, or any one of the other knowledgeable and empathic psychotherapists and counsellors at IHI. We all offer you free no-obligation “meet and greet” sessions called Discovery sessions.

These are great for meeting us and give you a chance to ask questions and start the road to an optimal state of mind. I invite you to take-action: a Discovery call can get you the information you need and start you on the way of feeling better. Make your appointment now. Let’s talk about we can help you feel better!

Ariel Blau has a formidable passion for helping his clients energize a joyful, loving and creative life. He has more than 30 years of experience helping people bloom. His formal education includes a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University, a Master’s in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, and a great number of workshops, certificates and seminars. He has been studying mindfulness and how to bring compassion into the world for more than 15 years. His passion for helping others is matched by his enormous drive for continuous learning. Ariel completed his professional clinical training at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital and served as  Lead Clinician at the Jewish Family Service of Greater New Haven.

Book an appointment with Ariel here.

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Oct 9

The Impact of Hormones on Digestion

My journey towards becoming a Naturopathic Doctor had a lot to do with my gut.  Not just a gut feeling that this profession was my calling, but a sick feeling in my gut that caused me to vomit every day for over a year.  

I was a 17 year old, living in Kingston – a new city far from home, and coping with typical teen stress and angst.  But on top of it all, I was losing my hair and I was so digestively unwell that I was vomiting every day.  Every day.  I knew that was not normal.  

Some of you know how this story goes.  I saw medical doctors, they ran pregnancy tests and told me I likely had an eating disorder – because I was a vegetarian.  Seriously.  That was it.  If I wasn’t pregnant, I was somehow making myself vomit every day, even though it most certainly wasn’t voluntary.  

I was lucky enough to have a grandmother who was obsessed with natural healing, who turned me on to the idea that maybe, just maybe, there was another approach to understanding what was happening in my gut.  

I am so glad I had her.  I discovered naturopathic medicine, healed my gut (it was 100% stress related), regrew my hair (it’s GD glorious now), and found a career where I could serve others and change lives.  Thanks Grandma – I miss you every day.

The Hormones of Digestion

My expertise is hormones.  I have spent over a decade building a depth of knowledge in this topic.  While many people think of periods, menopause, and PMS when they think of hormones, hormones actually control just about everything in your body – including digestion.

Five main hormones control digestion.  

  • Gastrin, a hormone that stimulates your stomach to make the all-important stomach acid.  
  • Secretin, a hormone produced by the small intestines that stimulates the liver and pancreas to produce digestive enzymes
  • Cholecytokinin, slows down our digestive movement so that we can more completely digest our food 
  • Gastric inhibitory peptide, which inhibits gastrin production and stimulates insulin so that we can start to use some of the nutrients we have digested
  • Motilin, a hormone that causes our bellies to rumble when they are empty and remind us that we are hungry

But I don’t think this is what women are really asking about when they ask me about how hormones influence digestion.  

Hormones and Digestion 

A woman’s hormones 100% impact her digestion.  We know that gender plays a role in many digestive conditions – women are twice as likely to have IBS as men.  And women on the birth control pill are more likely to develop inflammatory bowel disease, especially Crohn’s disease.  Women often have worse digestive symptoms at different times in the menstrual cycle, and even women with healthy digestion are often subject to the “period poops” – loose or urgent bowel movements on the first day or two of their period.  

The main menstrual hormone that impacts our digestion is progesterone.  Progesterone is produced after ovulation, for the last two weeks of our period.  One of the main effects of progesterone is to relax smooth muscle tissue.  This is hella important to prevent our uterus from contracting and rejecting any potential pregnancy.  However, this impact doesn’t just stay in our uterus.  It also causes our digestive smooth muscle to relax, reducing peristalsis (the contraction that moves food along our digestive tract), causing an increase in constipation.  When the progesterone disappears with our period, that is when the dreaded period poops arrive.  

Another hormonal issue impacting digestion also occurs during our periods.  During our period we make an abundance of a compound that has hormone-like effects, called a prostaglandin.  Prostaglandins are responsible for pain and inflammation, and are unfortunately necessary to signal our uterine wall to contract and expel the lining during our period.  Some women make more prostaglandins than others (you can read about this in my article on Pain Free Periods) and these prostaglandins can move through the bloodstream, hitting the bowels and causing them to contract and cause pain, inflammation, cramping, and diarrhea.  Sigh.  Because that is what a woman needs during her period.  

Stress and Digestion

Let’s not forget the hormonal imbalance that started my story – stress.  While we may not think of stress as a hormone imbalance, it is one of the most common ones impacting both men and women (and children and teens.) Stress is managed in our body through a balance of hormones, most notably cortisol.  During stress, when our body is producing high levels of cortisol to help us cope, our body shuts down digestion, shunting our resources towards survival – blood rushes to our brain, our eyes, and our muscles to help us escape or fight back.  

With our stress system shutting down digestion the results can be unpredictable.  Some people experience what I like to think of as “the emergency evacuation system” where any food in the digestive tract is expelled via diarrhea or, in my case, vomiting.  Other people experience constipation during stress when the digestive system just ceases all activity, leading to infrequent bowel movements, gas and bloating.  

In either case, reducing the stressor, and calming the stress response can improve digestion.  However, with so many of us in a perpetual state of stress, this can be a major impact on digestion.  

Help for Hormones, and Digestion

Digestion is a topic we naturopathic doctors are passionate about.  Digestion is paramount to health – if you can’t get nutrients from your food we are pretty much shot at being able to achieve abundant health.  Our digestive tract also produces most of our feel-good neurotransmitters, controls inflammation, and regulates our immune system.  It’s pretty damn important.  If you are experiencing digestive issues, speak to a Naturopathic Doctor.  It changed my life, in oh-so-many way, and it can change yours too.  

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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Sep 7

Resiliency & Clarity

All of us are showing a lot of resilience during these COVID-19 times. Every day brings new challenges. How we will survive this pandemic depends on many factors, but it definitely depends on the level of resilience we can muster.

One of the big differences between people that are more resilient and those that are less resilient is our capacity to imagine ourselves overcoming whatever is happening.

If you think you will not be able to withstand the stressor, you might be priming yourself to giving up sooner. You might believe that whatever is happening is too much for you. This belief tends to be erroneous, because humans have an amazing capacity to adapt.

There is a big difference between what you actually can overcome, which is a lot, and what you believe you can, which in many cases is a lot less than your potential.

Awareness of your huge capacity is more helpful than the belief in limitations in terms of supporting your efforts.

Another difference between people that have more or less ability to overcome adversity is whether one has something to live for. This has to do with whether one knows what one is living for, since everybody does have something to live for. Why is this important for resilience?

Viktor Frankl, wrote about the connection between resilience and goals in his famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning” (yes…the title is very dated, it should read “The Human Search for Meaning”). What he figured out is incredibly interesting.

In this book, Frankl shares what he discovered in the Nazi concentration camps about the human mind. He noticed that some people floundered and others pushed harder to survive. He built a whole theory of psychology on this realization.

He figured out something important about one of the elements of resilience. He learned that people that had something they wanted to accomplish or do after the ordeal of being in the concentration camps were more likely to survive.

Knowing that they had a life goal, a project to finish, or someone to reunite with, helped them feel they could do whatever was in their power to live one more day.

Frankl himself is a great example of what he found out. In the middle of adversity, he followed his love for psychology and transformed the horrors of the concentration camps into an experiment for learning about human beings!

Others who had lost hope and had less clarity about what they hoped to do after the terrible experience, were less likely to keep going. Frankl lived to write his book.

Maybe at this moment you are checking in with yourself to figure out whether you are the person who can keep going or the person that gives up.

Are you clear about what life you are forging during and after the pandemic is over? Are you curious about what each moment brings? Are you working towards something meaningful to you?

Or are you feeling despondent, hopeless and living every day as it is a burden? Are you paralyzed by fear?

We are all feeling rather stressed these days. You would be a block of wood if you did not. Any perceptive and aware person has to have some level of worry now.

While negative feelings might not be surprising, they are not conducive to keeping your life moving. Uncertain times require that we develop as much resilience as we can, so when this is over, we can move on, and not waste our precious life.

We need to know what to act for and not waste the opportunity to regroup. The team here at IHI, can help you in this journey by working on your whole being.

In sessions with a social worker, you can work through doubts you may have, clarify your life goals, and get yourself moving in the direction of your dreams.

You can work on feelings you have left on your back burner, and use the time available to center and strengthen yourself psychically.

This is also a good time to work on your physical needs, get yourself straightened-up about your health, and prioritize being in top shape. Getting your mind around self-care is a very worthwhile goal right now.

Getting focused on self-care is not a choice, really. Self-care is fundamental for resilience. It allows you to integrate your experience, and thoughts with your body’s needs.

You can do that right now. You can take action. You can take the first step, and get the support you need.

No need to go about all this alone. We are here to support and help you get there.

Ariel Blau has a formidable passion for helping his clients energize a joyful, loving and creative life. He has more than 30 years of experience helping people bloom. His formal education includes a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University, a Master’s in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, and a great number of workshops, certificates and seminars. He has been studying mindfulness and how to bring compassion into the world for more than 15 years. His passion for helping others is matched by his enormous drive for continuous learning. Ariel completed his professional clinical training at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital and served as  Lead Clinician at the Jewish Family Service of Greater New Haven.

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Sep 2

Pain: What Is It Good For?

There’s nothing more damaging to a human, a society, or a culture than a suitcase word. Something that is so big that you can throw everything in it with no approximation to control it. 

Pain can be one of these concepts. It covers such an array of areas and has such a broad association of meanings that we don’t know how to deal with it. Yet when we see in most imaging studies that there is no correlation between pain and degree of tissue damage, we can look to our knowledge of the brain for greater insight. 

When we look at different types of pain, we acknowledge both physical pain and psychological pain, and that either can become chronic. Looking at the biopsychosocial model can also help us to better understand our experience of pain, as we can see how hyper-integrated the system is and how everything is interwoven in the things that influence it. 

Bear in mind, this is not meant as a diagnosis, but an overall view of what pain is and how the brain responds to it. It’s complicated, but this is meant as a helpful invitation to understand pain in a different way and, while it might not land for you as an individual, this is what we collectively understand of pain. 

Biological 

We must recognize that there are genetic prompts that influence pain. Yet, when we look at the factors that affect our genetic expression, we can see immediately how difficult it is to uncouple the psychological and social aspects, as we look at developmental patterns which form early in life. 

The social element of our family culture plays an important role. If we are raised to understand pain as something from which there is recovery and has an endpoint, versus a catch-all term of pain that reflects an ongoing state, we have a better framework to begin. 

When it comes to the role of the brain, ideally, we want to have positive experiences with movement and relationships in early childhood to set you up to be less reactive to pain. If we think of successful aging beginning in our 30s and 40s, successful interpretation, resiliency, and reaction to pain should start at a very young age. 

In the absence of that, we may have a tendency from a psychological perspective to catastrophize pain, which tends to magnify degeneration as we move through life. For the part of the brain, we don’t want to centrally sensitize pain—that is to say that we don’t want it to become a core part of our being which governs everything else. 

When pain becomes chronic, being able to project into the future to predict if it will get better is a skill which is predictive of recovery. Yet, if we did not have that template from early childhood, it becomes something that we must cultivate. 

Psychological 

Benjamin Franklin said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.” 

But, in order to understand the instructions, we need to understand our brain. And its primary functions are to predict and protect. 

Pain is protection. It keeps us from doing the things that our brain perceives as dangerous. The brain doesn’t actually sense pain, it interprets data (based on your physiology, your memory, and your emotions) and it organizes a pain response. 

In attempting to be predictive, we can become very hyper-vigilant in the presence of pain, like a smoke alarm that is very sensitive, and also very hyper-responsive to new things, whether they are good or bad. It is also in the desire to anticipate that we may become anxious about the recurrence of pain, which can be one of the most challenging parts of the rehabilitative process. 

In addition to safety, the brain is also very concerned with conservation of energy through allocation of resources. 

As a result, pain affects our working memory and decision-making capacity, so people with pain tend to lose confidence in their ability to make decisions. And while we may simply desire to feel better, we may not really have a sense of what that means. 

It also likes to use old tracks and patterns. It is a clever system that allows it to bootstrap new things onto existing pathways; however, it can also make it challenging to form new habits in times of conservation. 

To further save energy, we have a more limited capacity to understand new information when we are in pain as well, so a cautionary tale about the information your consume with regards to researching your symptoms. While it may feel helpful and empowering to know what is going on, it can also create a feedback loop that only drives the cycle. 

Because the brain is also an amplifier. Any emotional, social, or general life conflict that we have intensifies this psychological aspect and amplifies the experience of physical pain, as our emotional and physiological state are the same. In this context, a practice of strategic awareness and consistent forgiveness is the antidote to the vicious cycle of shame and blame that we all have in common as human beings, regardless of pain. 

Social 

We touched on the role of family and culture in how they affect the formation of our perception and experience of pain, and those continue to affect us throughout our lives. Our ideas of how we should deal with pain are also very society driven. 

From a rehabilitation standpoint, there are multiple studies that demonstrate that the number one determinant of recovery post-knee surgery is social support, and I think this tends to be overlooked. In our more vulnerable times, we all need someone to help us up the stairs or get us a drink of water when we cannot do it for ourselves. People who boost our spirits and help give us hope are important. 

While it is an area that we do not always have control over, it is worth noting how you are affected by the people you are surrounded by, and if they are contributing to the psychological elements we talked about. 

Though biologically we are social creatures and are hard-wired for connection, it is also important to remember that you have to be the most important person on your team. 

And while this all may seem like a lot to manage, there are things that you can do to help yourself in the day to day. 

From a Brainfullness perspective, these are some tips for navigating pain: 

Practice feeling without story. Often the meaning that we give our pain only feeds the cycle of it. 

Incorporate purposeful movement that celebrates aliveness. You will experience less pain if you are lifting that suitcase to go visit your grandchildren as opposed to going to aquafit class. 

Optimize other aspects of health. Because any pain is such a total experience that there is that stacking effect, if you optimize other aspects of well-being, such as sleep or nutrition, you are able to have a positive effect

Don’t overcook it. Throughout evolution, pain was used as a signal to change behavior. Challenge your behavior without provoking your pain. 

Knowing what your own goals are in terms of what you hope to optimize is a useful way to guide your course of action and what type of practitioner you are looking for to help you. In that way, we can divide the suitcase up into more manageable categories for your immediate practical usage. If you are looking to be preventative and minimize future risk, wanting to be pain-free or minimize pain at work, that may be a different process than seeing your pain as a window to your emotions. 

But also know that the bias of the brain will always have us looking for the ‘silver bullet’, that is the magic pill or practitioner that will be the key; yet it is often the multi-disciplinary and multi-factorial approach that is most useful for pain. 

There is a nuance and care to successfully navigating the puzzle of pain. It is important to know that, even though we have no control over the foundation we have and the magnitude of pain may seem overwhelming, we can still build a construct in which we can overcome it, and we can minimize the disability we may have during the process. 

In looking at what pain is good for, it can bring us into the present moment and, like the brain, prioritize what is important. Health issues have a way of testing your resiliency and your perseverance, and they force you to have a reason to learn about yourself. 

But it is also worth noting that people often make the mistake of thinking that when they are pain-free, they will ‘feel good’, and that is also a multi-faceted construct. 

My aim is to not turn you into a fragilista by overwhelming you with information and prognoses. It is important that the interventions, whether in self-care or prescribed, are designed to have impact and to have the right dosage. Dealing with persistent pain can be challenging, but to be able to keep going is the main thing. 

While it can be daunting to carry the suitcase alone, if you are looking for a practitioner to help you 

build that framework with deliberate and efficient strategies, feel free to book an appointment. 

I have designed Brainfullness to help you create a better interface between your brain and your body through your sensory system in order to have sovereignty in treating your pain. Through simple neurological resets you are generally more able to manage stress and handle life better. I will be offering 45 minute virtual appointments in which we will do an overall assessment of health, and personalize some moves and techniques to help you in a way that is user-friendly and fits your lifestyle.

Join us at our Virtual Launch Party on October 1st at 7pm here.

I look forward to seeing you online!

Click here to book an appointment.

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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Jun 24

Racism & Me

By Dr. Tabrizi BA, DC, DO

As someone who likes to make sense of things, the world is a difficult place right now. On the topic of systemic racism, I neither want to preach nor project, but can only speak from my own experience.

I could easily be accused of making a judgement error. That I am virtual signalling and that I should lend this platform to African American people. But I do not feel that I am making a normative mistake.

I don’t feel that shame, or fear of feeling stupid or not woke enough can lead to anything positive. It is important to not be complacent, and to take an honest inventory of our own behavior.

As part of a visible minority myself, I have experienced racism in my own life, yet I realize that does not give me a free pass in terms of checking my own biases with regards to other people. Having lived in parts of Asia and the Middle East, I have seen how global this issue is in the systems of inequality and the attitudes of superiority between different cultural groups.

Growing up in my dad’s village when I was very young, there were a lot of refugees and, as the locals, there was the sense that we were somehow ‘higher’. But as the travels of my youth took me to various places, I always felt like an imposter myself—like I had to adapt to fit in. When I first came to this country, being surrounded by the overwhelming positive messaging about being white, it felt like I had to apologize for everything I was not. In looking different and not speaking English, I was not immune to racial slurs and even being physically beaten.

In going to school in the U.S., I remember being in anatomy lab late one night with friends, and seeing the security guard ask for the ID of only my black friend.

And I have come to realize the effects this can have across a lifespan. The ways that it shrinks you as an adult and makes you feel small. Bruises heal, but losing your voice and being marginalized is a much bigger price to pay.

This is not meant to elicit pity. Or even empathy or understanding. It’s not about comparative suffering. It is about being able to learn to trust each other, and in recognition of a pain that we can all connect to in some shape or form.

Because without trust, we continue to jump to immediate judgement.

Those experiences prime your nervous system and make you hyper-aware. Whether they are physical or emotional, blatant or subtle, once or repeatedly—racism is not a monolith, but a spectrum of beliefs and behaviors that show up in many ways. And they leave a mark on how we see ourselves.

If I could have a conversation with my younger self, I would say the things I wish I would have known back then. As children we see things. Your parents tried to shield you, but didn’t teach you how to deal with it. I wish you had someone tell you, not just the empty words of ‘it gets better’, but show you how to metabolize it.

As an adult, I try to have the discipline to not reduce this issue to blaming colonialism or even white privilege without truly understanding it. I try to acknowledge the complexity of how we got here without being distracted from what we need to do to move forward.

In recognizing that our brains focus on the negative over the positive, we tend to recognize only our headwind and not our tailwind. Examining the ways in which we have privilege and acknowledging that, sadly, we are not alone in our suffering can generate the awareness needed for change.

There will be awkward conversations ahead, including the ones we have with ourselves. They are imperative for the wellness of our community and society. As we neither discount nor reduce our own experiences, while being courteous, open-minded, and human in recognizing someone else’s struggles.

The challenge is to try to be open to what is happening in life now. We can forgive ourselves for the technical errors and the judgement errors—those being the errors we make from not quite understanding the scope of the issue or in misjudging a moment. As long as we are honest with ourselves and proceed with the intention to learn and be better.

I believe people should not be defined by their mistakes and, as long as we continue to evolve, it’s a good thing.

But we must be committed to examining and eliminating the normative errors. The ones in which we over-generalize and make assumptions and try to cover up for what we don’t know. There are times when we don’t have the bandwidth to fully understand or simply don’t want to feel stupid. Even though it may not be based on malice, the capacity for harm remains. Anytime we index ourselves against someone or something, we may, consciously or unconsciously, exercise micro-aggressions or injustices against other people.

We have often chosen self-preservation over doing the right thing but, in this case, they are both the same. Because when we lose trust in the basic constructs of civility and society, no one wins.

Historically, humans have been very tribal beings, with a tribe being defined as a group of people that are self-sufficient. But that level of tribalism or romanticism of the past has little value to where we are now, as we have seen through the pandemic how we need each other.

It is not about giving lip service to the term ‘ally’, but doing the personal work so we can exercise sovereignty in our actions. Supporting those people and organizations that really understand and have lived this experience so that trust can be regained.

For a better understanding and more education around this complex issue, joincampaignzero.org is one of many resources.

Join our Virtual Town Hall this week on Tuesday June 30th at 12pm to continue this important discussion: Click Here

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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Apr 13

Anxiety Action Plan: Coronavirus Edition

By Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW

The topic on everyone’s lips around the world is Coronavirus and, if you’re like me, you might be finding it all a tad overwhelming.  Widespread health care scares can induce anxiety symptoms in the most chilled out people, so those who regularly experience anxiety may not be feeling so hot right now.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed or helpless, know that you’re not alone.  I’ve got some strategies that can help you breathe a little easier while we move through this funky time.  Keep reading for my top tips on reducing anxiety amidst COVID-19 (Coronavirus).

1. Remember: You are not powerless

The idea that you’re definitely going to contract COVID-19 (or have your business or social life suffer as a result of quarantines) no matter what you do is incredibly defeating.  While curling into a ball and waiting for the world to end may seem like all that’s left to do, it’s not.  There are ways to take control that help minimize your risk, and therefore minimize your anxiety to healthy levels.  The simplest measures can be the most empowering.  The advice agreed upon by most health care professionals right now is to wash your hands well and avoid touching your face.  This is a concrete action you can take, and that makes you more powerful.  Avoiding touching others in business settings (bub bye, cold fish hand shake) or social settings (see ya, uncomfortable cheek kiss) seems very wise now.  How to get around these social norms?  Use your words.  Again, this is a way to exercise your power and feel in control.  Here’s your script: “Hello, it’s such a pleasure to meet you!  Please excuse me for not shaking hands today, but I think we’re all trying to avoid extra touching right now.”  This is direct and to-the-point, and I bet you that the other person will feel just as relieved as you.  Picking up a few extra canned or frozen goods when at the grocery store helps feeling prepared in case of a quarantine situation.  Preparedness leads to empowerment, as it reminds us there is a plan in place.  Planning ahead relieves anxiety symptoms, especially if you use your self-talk (your inner dialogue) to remind yourself of your plan. 

2. Turn off the news.

Ah, the media.  While we depend on media to, you know, give us the news, it’s not a secret that media outlets have a way of catastrophizing everything.  While COVID-19 is not something to be taken lightly, many agree that the extent to which the news may be causing fear is heightened.  Regardless, there is a difference between being informed and being bombarded.  Checking in on the updates twice a day seems very reasonable.  Checking Twitter every 15 minutes is not.  This just keeps the issue top of mind when your brainpower is likely better spent on other tasks, such as your work, your hobbies, and keeping up with you friends and family.  If you find the conversation is frequently turning to Coronavirus as a substitute for small talk or gossip, feel free to direct the conversation away (again, this puts you in a position of power over what you’re consuming and therefore puts you in control of your mental health).  This also applies to social media.  Take more tech breaks in your day to reduce exposure to the bombardment.

3. Let’s get physical.

Your body is more than just a willing host for a virus.  It is a crazy awesome machine with systems in place to help you stave off illness, stay mentally healthy, and thrive.  Tap into these resources!  My personal fave is to engage in deep breathing.  This is a quick and effective way to calm the mind and body by reminding us to relax and release excess tension.  Focus on inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 6.  Feel your belly expand as your lungs fill with fresh air.  Feel your belly contract slightly as it expels old air and energy.  Try this for about a minute and notice how you feel.  Now that you’ve set the stage for calmness, connect with a physical exercise that you enjoy.  Dance, hike, lift, or yoga pose your way to some relieving endorphins.  Show yourself how strong and powerful your body is.

4. Clear out the clutter.

When panic seeps in, logic goes out the window.  If your mind is feeling cluttered with overexposure and anxiety is riding high, just pause for a moment.  Take a breath.  Imagine your mind is like an Etch-A-Sketch.  Now give your head a good shake, and imagine that Etch-A-Sketch is now completely clear – a clean slate.  With another deep breath, remind yourself that you are a person who is capable of handling tough things.  Find a mantra that serves you during this time and reminds you that you are in charge of your thoughts.  My suggestions? “Precaution over panic.” “I am safe.”  “My mind and body are strong.”   This brings us back to my first point of reminding ourselves that we are not powerless here.  Whenever thoughts seem overwhelming, remember that they are just thoughts – they are not truths.  Bust out the Etch-A-Sketch imagery as necessary to clear your mind so you can replace the clutter with simple, soothing words instead.

5. Be social – safely.

As the recommendations have been changing daily regarding being in public places, we can quickly become isolated.  While some physical isolation may be prudent now, we’re fortunate to be in an age when technology can keep us connected.  Humans are inherently social creatures, so finding alternatives to the usual get-togethers is crucial.  Phone a friend.  Text.  FaceTime.  Take funny videos and send them to your friends and family.  Frequently check in on those more likely to feel isolated and lonely, such as elderly grandparents.  Not only will this help keep up your morale, but it will give you the same positive feeling as doing a good deed.  Remember: even if physical isolation is needed, we do not need to shut down communication.  Engaging in your relationships safely reduce lower depression symptoms and can even boost immunity (bonus!). 

6. Find the positives. 

They are there.  A great way to remember that there are good things in your life is to record them in a gratitude journal or list them to yourself at the end of the day.  These positives may include anything that makes you feel good, such as a favourite new song on the radio, holding a plank for 60 seconds, feeling accomplished in a work task, getting laughs after telling a good joke… if it brings a smile to your face, then it was a positive in your day; and it had nothing to do with Coronavirus. 


While concern is natural and our daily routines may temporarily change, consider how you’re handling your mental health.  My rule of thumb?  Consider if your thoughts and actions are helpful or unhelpful.  By categorizing them this way, you’ll be able to find what works for you.  If you’re really struggling to cope, reach out to your mental health professionals.  I personally am offering online counselling to provide people with support and individualized psychological solutions to make it through this time feeling strong.  Try out my top tips and notice how empowered and mentally strong you feel.

**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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Apr 13

Keep Calm, Wash Your Hands, and Clean Your Cellphone

Our brains are primed to notice everything going wrong. The diagnosis of athletes and celebrities, and being out of toilet paper.

In times of fear, our brains like certainty and can send us on the search for more information. Yet research shows that being obsessed with the news can create anxiety and stress that can be damaging to the immune system.

In the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, it is times like these that we are challenged to practice enhancing our self-management skills to manage any symptoms and also to gain some degree of control.

In light of that, I wanted to provide a bit of information about what we know about the virus, and some steps that we can take to soothe our brains and boost our immunity.

This COVID-19 virus binds to receptors in our bodies known as ACE-2 receptors, found in the kidneys, blood vessels, heart, lungs, epithelial cells, and gastrointestinal tract. Outside of the body, it can live on multiple surfaces for 8-72 hours—about 24 hours on plastic, copper, or iron.

Data in Holland shows most people getting it are under the age of 50, but those most at risk are people over 70, and people with co-morbid conditions such as metabolic diseases, diabetes, hypertension, heart conditions, and those on immuno-suppressive therapy. Likewise, health care professionals and first responders who care for the sick are more likely to be infected.

The mortality rate is 4-20% higher than influenza for most people and 10-20% higher in the elderly population. According to research out of Johns Hopkins University, 97.5% of people will develop symptoms within 11.5 days of contracting the virus, so that is the idea behind the 14 day isolation period.

While none of this is great news, in order to step back from the fear and into responsible vigilance, it is important to give our brains simple, actionable steps that give us somewhere to turn our focus.

We have all heard about hand washing and covering your cough, but we can also be more aware of ourselves in our immediate environment. Being more conscious of what we are touching if we are outside of our homes and the cleanliness of items that we are bringing in is helpful. Things like cleaning your cellphone and not putting your bags on your table or countertop can also help prevent the spread of germs.

And there are also some very basic things that we can do to boost our immunity.

Nasal breathing helps to filter the air and also helps with calmness. Getting enough sleep is important to give our bodies and brains enough rest to recover and regenerate, particularly in times of extra stress. Protecting your gut keeps a healthy balance of the good bacteria to ward off these other things.

Research by Ronald Pero from the Preventive Medicine Institute in New York also suggests that, generally speaking, getting treatment and especially spinal care can also contribute to greater immune system competence.

Movement is very important. Pathogens, inflammatory substances, and metabolic waste are removed via the closed system circuits of the lymphatic system and the circulatory system. As 90% is removed by the venous system, being able to do some form of exercise to get your heart rate up is physiologically beneficial.

But when we keep moving we are also able to have better thoughts and manage our anxiety. When we engage in movement in which we hold our muscles, myokines (otherwise known as ‘hope molecules’) are released into the bloodstream, which is one of the reasons exercise is helpful in the recovery from trauma, as well as for stress and mood disorders like anxiety and depression.

This is a time to move in a way that is going to positively influence our inner ocean, both from an emotional and a circulatory perspective, to enhance the performance of our immune system. Rhythmic movement, such as dancing, has a calming effect and can be done with others virtually to create a social bonding effect.

Because although social distancing is recommended, that is not the same as social isolation, and there are still many ways to stay connected with friends, family, and reliable sources of information as needed. In times like this we must be creative in our social interactions, as it is our civic duty to think of the more at risk populations, and be more community-conscious in our behaviors to try to prevent the spread—more in the South Korea and Singapore model of containment.

Like viruses, hope, calmness, and love can also spread. We are not helpless or alone. And we are in this situation together even though we are apart.

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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Apr 13

Vitamin D and Immune Health

Vitamin D, often called the “sunshine vitamin” has a lot more to do with our health than just improving our mood on sunny summer days.  It is actually an incredibly important nutrient with impacts on just about every cell in our bodies.

Actions of Vitamin D

While we think of vitamin D as a vitamin, it actually acts in our bodies as a hormone!  We call it a vitamin because we can’t make it ourselves – at least not without sunlight.  But in our bodies it acts as a hormone – influencing bone health, insulin secretion, skin health and immune function.  But our heart, muscles, breasts, liver, and lungs all need vitamin D as well.

Vitamin D and the Immune System

The impact that vitamin D has on the immune system cannot be understated.  Without adequate vitamin D both the innate immune system and the acquired immune system cannot function normally.  Most of our immune cells have receptors for vitamin D and we recognize that vitamin D can regulate the function of these cells – as well as influencing how many of these cells our body makes. 

One of the most important things vitamin D does, especially notable during times of COVID 19 and other viral infections, is increase the production of defensins.  Defensins are small peptides on our skin and mucous membranes, that are involved in our first line of immune defense.  Defensins have both direct antimicrobial activity, and increase signaling amongst cells, alerting them to the presence of the invading virus.  Having high levels of defensins can help our immune system to destroy a virus on contact. 

Research is being done worldwide looking at the impact of vitamin D on preventing viral infections, and lessening severity of those infections.  Animal studies have shown significant benefit and human studies consistently show that low vitamin D is a risk factor for viral infections. 

Getting Enough D

For most Canadians our primary source of vitamin D is through supplements, or foods containing added vitamin D (mainly dairy).  In the winter months, I strongly suggest every Canadian, big and small, take a vitamin D supplement to support their immune health.  A general rule of thumb is to take 35IU per kg of body weight and to have your levels tested every winter to ensure you are getting enough.  Speak to your Naturopathic Doctor about increasing this dose during cold and flu season or during times when there is an increased risk of viral infections. 

Selected Resources

De Sa Del Fiol F, Barberato S, et al. Vitamin D and respiratory infections J Infect Dev Ctries 2015; 9(4):355-361. doi:10.3855/jidc.5711 https://jidc.org/index.php/journal/article/view/25881523

Bilkle D. Vitamin D: Production, Metabolism, and Mechanisms of Action.  Endotext. 2017.  Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK278935/

Teymoori-Rad M, Shokri F, Salimi V, Marashi SM. The interplay between vitamin D and viral infections.  Rev Med Virol. 2019 Mar;29(2):e2032. doi: 10.1002/rmv.2032. Epub 2019 Jan 6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30614127

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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Apr 13

Soothe Your Stress Levels in an Epsom Salt Bath

As we work together in our time of self isolation to flatten the curve,  I invite you to consider an Epsom salt bath is one simple solution to help ease heightened stress levels for you and your loved ones!

Heightened stress levels in the body causes a depletion of the body’s magnesium levels.  An Epsom salt bath is a relaxing way to increase your body’s healthy levels of magnesium and sulfate.  Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant while sulfate draws out toxins.

According to a study from the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham, the magnesium and sulfate found in Epsom salt are absorbed through your skin.Named for the spring in the town of Epsom in Surrey, England, these naturally occurring minerals offer a passive self-care option. Of course, it might not be so passive if you have to clean out your tub first, persevere, it’s so worth the effort!

As a Registered Massage Therapist, I rely on the healing powers of Epsom salt as one of many ways to assist a challenged body, mind and spirit to let go of tension. Doctors and researchers agree that a nurturing warm bath with Epsom salt envelops the body, mind and spirit to safely replenish magnesium levels, which in turn assists in easing stress. As an added bonus, the presence of magnesium aids in the chemical release of the mood elevating hormone serotonin, which promotes a state of well-being and relaxation.

 If you struggle with cardiovascular issues or are pregnant before your soak it up in an Epsom salt bath, please consult with your doctor. Once you’ve got the green light to salt it up, dump 2 cups of Epsom salt (purchased from your local pharmacy or health food store) into hot running water and let the soaking begin! Relax in the bath for 10 to 20 minutes. While in the bath, I invite you to drink some water from a non-breakable glass to keep hydrated and spend some time visualizing all the stresses of your day just melting away!The IHI team is here for you!  Please contact us if you need support during this weird and challenging time.  

I love helping people and I love a challenge! Experience has taught me that by therapeutically listening to my patients, the craft of Massage Therapy profoundly aids in the relief of physical, emotional and spiritual tension and fosters consciousness of the self. I have developed this holistic philosophy of treatment by combining the dual diversities of my professional training. There are many tools in my therapeutic toolbox that can be uniquely applied to your specific condition. With your expressed consent, it’s my pleasure to be in touch with other members of your self-care team to contribute to the big picture of your health journey. Together, we can form an alliance for your well-being!

Nancy J Brooks RMT nbrooks@integrativehealthinstitute.ca

Sources:

Daniluk, Julie RHN, NNCP: Meals That Heal Inflammation p.259

http://www.EpsomSaltCouncil.org

http://www.EpsomSaltCouncil.org/articles/report_on_absorption_of_magnesium_sulfate.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnesium_sulfate

http://www.livestrong.com/article/278847-how-do-epsom-salts-reduce-swelling/

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Mar 31

Immune Food Shopping List

Grocery stores right now can be a bit intense to navigate, Dr. Tanner has put together a list of Immune boosting foods to help support your immune system. With some tips on how to incorporate each of these foods in your meals.

Root Veggies

Root vegetables have an extended shelf life in comparison to other vegetables. Onions are high in Vitamin C, fiber and anti-oxidants. Sweet potatoes offer Vitamin A. Turnips also have Vitamin C which has been shown to shorten the severity of respiratory infections. Beets can help dilate blood vessels lowering blood pressure. Other root veggies to stock up on: garlic, ginger, celeriac, carrots and rutabaga.

Purple Cabbage

Purple cabbage can improve your immune defenses by stimulating the activity of white blood cells. You can shred a few strips and add to salads, coleslaw, stir fries, or make fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi. Fermented foods are chocked full of probiotics. These health microbes provide support for your immune system and tummy. Besides, I don’t think there is a line up of people waiting to buy cabbage!

Blueberries

Frozen blueberries can allow you to buy in bulk. Blueberries are rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, potassium, dietary fiber and mangnanese. Blueberries also have an antioxidant called flavonoids. This feature can help reduce damage to cells and boost your immune system. Add 1/2 cup to smoothies, yoghurt parfaits, breakfast foods or just as a snack on their own. I use them to make eyeballs on my kids pancakes.

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds offer a source of plant based protein, zinc, and magnesium. Zinc plays a central role in the development of neutrophils and natural killer cells – crucial for ideal immune functioning. Add 2 tbsp to a trail mix or salad and spread pumpkin seed butter on toast. If you are ambitious roast the pumpkin and harvest the seeds for roasting! Add 1 cup of pumpkin puree to smoothies, pancakes and muffins for additional nutrition.

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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