Jan 26

Five Key Nutrients for Headaches

2332755401_091ac67b7c_oby Dr Lisa Watson, ND

Almost half of all adults suffer from headaches and the mental, emotional and physical impacts of headaches are often under recognized and under-treated by medical professionals.

The majority (90%) of headaches are vascular or tension-type, or a mixture of the two. Vascular headaches include both migraines and cluster headaches. The remaining 10% of headaches are due to other conditions such as trauma, dental pain, visual strain, TMJ disorders, neck disorders, sinus inflammation or tumours.

As a Naturopathic Doctor it is important that each person with a headache receive an appropriate intake and assessment to determine underlying causes and precipitating factors impacting their headaches.

In addition to understanding the possible causes of headache, understanding the impact of five key nutrients on headaches allows your Naturopath to assess your diet and recommend supplements where needed.


Low levels of magnesium are typically found in patients with vascular (migraine and cluster headache) and tension type headaches. Increasing dietary magnesium, or using a magnesium supplement can decrease the pain associated with magnesium.

Magnesium also acts as a muscle relaxant and can decrease the tension associated with tension headaches.

Foods that are rich in magnesium include pumpkin and sesame seeds, leafy green vegetables, soy beans, black beans, quinoa, cashews, squash, brown rice, barley, millet and oats.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

One of the suspected underlying causes of migraine headaches is impaired mitochondrial function in the brain and in muscles. Riboflavin is necessary for the function of two enzymes involved in this process and can improve the energy reserves of the mitochondria without altering the excitability of neurons.

Riboflavin is used as a prevention for migraine headaches but will not change headache duration or intensity once it is occurring.

Food sources of riboflavin include soy beans, leafy green vegetables, yogurt, mushrooms, eggs, asparagus, almonds, turkey, broccoli, green beans, bell peppers, green peas and sea vegetables.

CoEnzyme Q10 (CoQ10, Ubiquinone)

Similar to riboflavin, CoQ10 also enhances the energy-related mitochondrial processes that are impaired in patients with migraine headaches. Taking a daily CoQ10 supplement can prevent migraines but will not impact a headache once it is occurring. Digestive upset can occur with CoQ10 supplements and they should only be taken under supervision by a Naturopathic Doctor.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

One of the best things you can do for headaches is to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats, found in cold water fish and flax seeds, have many benefits for both vascular and tension headaches. Omega-3s are powerful anti-inflammatories, decreasing the production of inflammatory molecules in your body. They are also vasorelaxant and decrease platelet aggregation – two of the underlying physiological changes in migraine headaches.

Clinical studies have suggested that fish oil can reduce headache frequency dramatically as well and decreasing duration and severity.

Omega-3 supplements are readily available and food sources include flaxseeds, walnuts, sardines, salmon, soy beans, fortified eggs and grass fed beef.

Vitamin D

Many more Canadians are becoming aware of the importance of vitamin D. It is necessary for immune function, bone health, diabetes and cancer prevention. It is also required for the production and response to serotonin.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter with multiple influences on headaches. Altered serotonin release is known to be one of the many physiological results of migraine headaches and low serotonin production, or low response to serotonin can decrease pain threshold.

All Canadians should be taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter months, but those suffering with headaches should be sure to have their vitamin D levels tested and take a supplement based on their individual needs. Often the recommended daily allowance (600-800IU) is inadequate for people suffering with headaches.

Putting It Together

Working with a Naturopathic Doctor is your best chance for successful management of headaches. Focusing on lifestyle, diet, exercise, nutrients and integrating other therapies such as massage therapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture and botanical medicines can turn your life around and stop the headache cycle once and for all.



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.


LwatsonDr. 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.

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

Photo Credit: aldoaldoz via Compfight cc

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Jan 19

4 Reasons Your Thyroid May Contributing to Infertility

8515615966_abf608b976_oBy Dr Jen Newell, ND

Since my recent experience at the Restorative Medicine conference in Santa Fe, I have been seeing more and more professional women at my office suffering from the symptoms associated with low thyroid function. These driven, successful women are most often concerned about of fatigue, increased body fat (especially around their stomachs), low mood, menstrual irregularities and difficulty conceiving. They just “don’t feel like themselves” anymore. I recently saw a very successful woman in a highly stressful career who was struggling to get pregnant; this has become an all too common concern of the women I regularly see so my focus recently has been on optimizing their adrenal and thyroid health to support fertility.

Underactive thyroid symptoms and infertility symptoms are very similar; women having fertility challenges may have underlying thyroid dysfunction even when lab values of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) are normal.

Here are 4 reasons your thyroid may be keeping you from getting pregnant:

  1. Anovulation

The inability to ovulate midway through the menstrual cycle (typically around day 14) is a very common symptom of hypothyroidism.

  1. Luteal Phase Defect

Often with subclinical and clinical hypothyroidism the second half of the cycle, after ovulation, is too short. This prevents a fertilized egg from implanting securely within the uterine lining. Often this results in the period that follows to be heavy and later than expected.

  1. Elevated Prolactin

Thyroid releasing hormone (TRH) is released from the hypothalamus and acts on the pituitary. When TRH levels are high it drives an elevation of prolactin (produced in the pituitary gland) which suppresses ovulation.

  1. Estrogen Dominance

Hormonal imbalances can affect the efficiency of the thyroid. Having a relative excess of estrogen inhibits the ability of the thyroid to produce hormones. This is a double whammy affecting fertility as estrogen dominance often is paired with low levels of progesterone, which is necessary for a successful pregnancy.

Signs of estrogen dominance (these look a lot like the symptoms of subclinical hypothyroidism):

–       weight gain

–       PMS (painful cramps especially)

–       mood swings

–       heavy flow with periods

–       breast tenderness

–       decreased libido

–       headaches and migraines

–       insomnia

Check your thyroid function here.


Dr. Jen Newell is passionate about helping people embrace health, feel amazing and easily incorporate “real” food into their busy lives. Her mission is to make health accessible and achievable, and to inspire patients to live an active, vibrant and healthy life.

Jen has a clinical focus on digestive health, food sensitivities and healthy nutrition; mental health and stress-related illness; women’s health, hormone balance and fertility; optimal aging; and dermatology. She focuses on integrating healthy foods into one’s diet in a medicinal and therapeutic capacity and providing individuals with nutritional support that is easy to incorporate into a busy day. Dr. Newell practices at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto.

Photo Credit: VinothChandar via Compfight cc

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Jan 12

Eight Benefits of Hula Hooping

IMG_0265Dr Lisa Watson, ND

Exercise crazes come and go. One year you are sweating to the oldies, the next you are Zumba dancing your heart out. You may have tried kick boxing, tae bo, the ab roller, or even the thigh master. But have you tried hula hooping?

Hula hooping began as a child’s toy in 1958 and enjoyed a brief heyday through the late fifties and early sixties. But adults and teens around the world have taken this wonderful toy and given it a renaissance. We are hoopers!

I want to share with you eight reasons you should try hula hooping. It goes far beyond exercise and I want to tell you why.

  1. It’s a Full Body Workout

You may think that hula hooping is done mostly on your waist, and while that may be true for beginners, most hula hoopers enjoy using the hoop on their whole body. You can hoop on your chest, shoulders, hips, knees, arms, hands, feet and more. Even just hooping on your waist works as many as 30 different muscles!


  1. It Builds a Killer Core

Waist hooping works your core like no other exercise. Using muscles both in your abdomen (upper and lower abdominal muscles) as well as muscles in your back you can strengthen the core as well as burn nasty abdominal fat.


  1. Hooping Burns a Crazy Amount of Calories

The amazing team over at the American Council on Exercise did a study that showed waist hooping can burn over 400 calories per hour. To give you some perspective that’s similar to an hour of tennis, hiking, stationary rowing or elliptical training.


  1. Hooping Gets Your Heart Pumping

Cardiovascular exercise (aka “cardio”, aka “aerobic exercise”) results in improved heart health by both strengthening and enlarging the heart muscle, allowing it to pump more efficiently and reducing both heart rate and blood pressure. Engaging in cardiovascular exercise has been shown to have many benefits for lifelong health and can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Who knew a hoop could do all that?


  1. Hooping Improves Hand-Eye Coordination

I don’t know about you, but this was something I was not expecting when I picked up my first hoop! But looking around at all the amazing hoopers in my hoop class I knew I needed to learn some tricks!   From hand hooping to doubles and escalators and vortexes, you really challenge your brain and your body and build those connections that will last you a lifetime. It’s just like riding a bike!


  1. Improves Flexibility

Hula hooping can improve flexibility of your spine, hips and entire body. Waist hooping is a rhythmic movement requiring purposeful (but not rigid!) back and forward, or side to side, movements. As you progress in your skill as a hooper you improve flexibility, not just through your core but through your hips, chest, shoulders and extremities.


  1. Connect Your Mind and Body

The relaxation response that is elicited during yoga and meditation can also be achieved with rhythmic aerobic exercise – like hula hooping! The movement of hooping can be very meditative and it’s easy to spend 30 minutes with your hoop, connecting to your body and the music while relaxing and de-stressing your mind.


  1. Hula Hooping Brings Happiness

There is no better reason to try hula hooping than that it is fun. There may be many many health benefits to hooping, but the reason that most of us pick up our hoops day after day is that we feel happy while we’re hooping. For me hula hooping brings out a spontaneous playful side that I’ve brought into my life as a mother, wife and doctor. I tell people that hooping boosts my Qi – the life force inside all of us. I feel more happy and more alive when I’m hooping regularly.

And the hooping community is amazing as well! I’ve made friends from Toronto and around the world through hula hooping. I dare you to try it and not love it!


Holthusen, Jordan, John Porcari, Carl Foster, Scott Doberstein, and Mark Anders. “ACE-sponsored Research: HOOPING– Effective Workout or Child’s Play?.” American Council on Exercise: Fitness. Available online at: http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1094/


LwatsonDr. 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.

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


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Jan 5

Pilates: An Approach for Low Back Pain

6449976919_1c25f489cb_bBy Yvette Marcek, Pilates Instructor, RMT

Current studies continue to show that low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, with the majority of cases considered ‘nonspecific’ low back pain. Many experts are suggesting that core strength (abdominal muscles, muscles of the low back, pelvic floor and hips) and flexibility are important to maintain back health.

[Enter] [drum roll]

Pilates has benefits for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. Conscious movement, stability, and alignment of the spine and pelvis are an essential focus in Pilates – precisely what is involved in strengthening the core, as the experts suggest. With Pilates you won’t break into a sweat to fast pumping music, and the weights you use (if any) won’t be more than five pounds. Pilates is based on concentration, control, and breathing, to help activate the deep core stabilizing muscles.

Think about your muscles based on what they do — their function. Muscles can be grouped into two functional categories: stabilizers (local and global) and movers. The stabilizers make up our core musculature, and strengthening the stabilizers provides more support for the spine and pelvis. One very important core stabilizer, highlighted in the Pilates method, is the deepest of the four abdominal muscles: the transversus abdominis, whose fibers run horizontally across the abdomen acting as a corset of support.

Pilates is a holistic method for back health by not only strengthening the core, but working on overall body awareness and proper alignment for the rest of the body. Pilates was developed for spinal rehabilitation during World War I. Its founder, Joseph Pilates, was so successful at getting bedridden soldiers to move that he was asked to train German and British military.

In Pilates the exercises are not rigid, so they can and must be modified to avoid aggravating positions and exercises, and put more emphasis on relieving positions. General group Pilates classes may not be suitable for people with back pain, since they may involve positions, exercises, and progressions that are not appropriate for back pain. Consider some private instruction for exercises tailored to your needs, or consider joining with a friend for semi-private classes. If the private lesson route is not right for you our small group classes are no larger than 5 students, and still provide some personal attention. Take advantage of our Pilates expertise.


Integrative-017-199x300Yvette Marcek is a Registered Massage Therapist, Pilates Practitioner and Reiki Practitioner; she often incorporates each of these modalities with her clients. Recognizing that each person who comes in the treatment room has unique requirements and goals, her priority is to create a therapeutic environment that is safe, healing, and positive.

Despite viewing laughter as the best form of medicine, Yvette sees the healing of massage therapy and touch as an international language, spoken without barriers and greatly benefiting anyone. She is particularly passionate about increasing body awareness, believing that consciousness of our physical body and the world around us is an integral part of maintaining our health and happiness.

You can email Yvette for more info on her Pilates classes, Reiki or her RMT practice here

Photo Credit: Robert Bejil Productions via Compfight cc

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Dec 29

Natural Beauty – Dude Edition

UntitledBy Dr Jen Newell, ND

I am a beauty product junkie and by association the men in my life have become the guinea pigs for natural products for men. There has been an influx of personal care products marketed towards men in the last few years…there is even a small corner at Sephora for men. Unfortunately, many of these products contain ingredients that I don’t want my loved ones using such as parabens, artificial fragrances and colours, chemical preservatives, and petrochemicals. What I have found is that the easiest way to get men on-board with natural grooming products is to provide them with products that have neutral, masculine packaging and don’t reek of flowers. Below are a few of my favourite personal care products that I have given to my favourite men:


This is a great, inexpensive alternative to Axe body wash and comes in an unscented variety as well as a number of different scents such as almond, peppermint and citrus….I would pass on the lavender or rose scents though J.

This is product has an invigorating scent of citrus and fir and leaves skin feeling fresh all day. It is slightly astringent so, ladies, I wouldn’t recommend stealing this product from your man.

This aluminum-free deodorant pray has a natural, somewhat herbal scent that eliminates odor all day and it doesn’t stain clothes. This is a great product when transitioning from antiperspirants to natural products.

This deodorant is also aluminum- and propylene glycol- free but comes as a stick like traditional deodorants rather than as a spray. Tom’s is very transparent about their ingredients and their sources.

This is a product that anyone can use. It’s a 100% plant-based fragrance-free body lotion that is gentle enough for those with sensitive skin. Its vegan, gluten-free and non-toxic. The packaging is a bit more feminine than the previous products but is chic enough to display on a bathroom shelf without a man feeling self-conscious.


I love the products from this company and this cleanser is a favourite for men as the sage oil reduces sebum production while the willow bark, licorice root and witch hazel reduce redness and inflammation. It leaves your face feeling squeaky clean.

This is a great product for men who want multi-tasking products that reduce the number of steps in their grooming routine. It calms and moisturizes dry, sensitive skin and also foams to prevent irritation from shaving.

This moisturizer hydrates dry, tough skin but also absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave a greasy feeling. Men like this product because it doesn’t leave a shine on the skin.

This is my personal favourite moisturizer because it absorbs quickly and leaves a sheer matte finish without any residue on the skin. It also helps to decongest and unclog pores.


This 2-in-1 helps to fight flakes and alleviates itchy scalp. This is a particularly useful product for the cold, dry winter months.

This is shampoo designed to address thinning hair. It eliminates debris and excess sebum that block hair follicles and also stimulates the scalp to promote hair growth.

What are your favourite men’s or unisex natural personal care products? Do the men in your life steal your products?

Dr. Jen Newell is passionate about helping people embrace health, feel amazing and easily incorporate “real” food into their busy lives. Her mission is to make health accessible and achievable, and to inspire patients to live an active, vibrant and healthy life.

Jen has a clinical focus on digestive health, food sensitivities and healthy nutrition; mental health and stress-related illness; women’s health, hormone balance and fertility; optimal aging; and dermatology. She focuses on integrating healthy foods into one’s diet in a medicinal and therapeutic capacity and providing individuals with nutritional support that is easy to incorporate into a busy day. Dr. Newell practices at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto.

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Dec 22

The Importance of Calcium in Pregnancy

Pretty pregnant woman holding a bowl of salad while standingBy Dr Lisa Watson, ND

One of the most important nutrients for human health is calcium. Calcium is necessary for the maintenance of strong bones and teeth, for heart health and blood pressure, for your nervous system and for your muscles.

During pregnancy we focus on calcium both as a nutrient necessary for your baby’s development and for maintaining healthy bones across mom’s lifetime. If your calcium levels aren’t adequate during pregnancy your baby will take the calcium from your bones, possibly leading to osteoporosis later in life.

Functions of Calcium

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body! 99% of it is stored in the bones and teeth and is necessary for maintaining a strong bone matrix. But calcium does so much more than that!

Calcium helps to relax muscles – including the heart muscle. Deficiencies of calcium in pregnancy can lead to muscle cramping and increased blood pressure (gestational hypertension) which can lead to pre-eclampsia.

Calcium is also involved in the formation of blood clots. This is of particular importance during labour and delivery when changes in blood clotting can lead to increased blood loss.

Calcium in Pregnancy

Canada guidelines suggest the daily recommended intake for elemental calcium during pregnancy is 1000mg for women over 18 and 1300mg for women under 18 (this reflects the increased need for calcium during adolesence). This amount is the same as is recommended for non-pregnant women because the absorption of calcium goes up during pregnancy!

The upper tolerable limit for calcium during pregnancy is 2500mg. There is an upper tolerable limit established because excess levels of calcium can decrease the absorption of iron and zinc (two very important minerals during pregnancy), lead to constipation and potentially increase the risk of kidney stones.

Should I Supplement Calcium During Pregnancy?

The importance of calcium in pregnancy can not be underestimated. However, supplements are not always necessary to meet your calcium needs.

The World Health Organization suggests that women at risk for gestational hypertension (high blood pressure in pregnancy) should take calcium supplements to prevent the development of pre-eclampsia. Women with one or more of the following risk factors may be at increased risk for gestational hypertension:

  • Obesity
  • previous pre-eclampsia
  • diabetes
  • chronic high blood pressure
  • kidney disease
  • autoimmune disease
  • first pregnancy
  • advanced maternal age
  • adolescent pregnancy
  • conditions associated with large placenta (twin pregnancy)

For the majority of pregnant women close attention to the diet is all that is required to get enough calcium during pregnancy. Many prenatal vitamins also contain a small amount of calcium in order to ensure women are reaching their recommended daily intake of calcium.

QUOTE: In populations where consumption of calcium on average meets the recommended dietary calcium intake, either through calcium-rich foods or fortified staple foods, calcium supplementation is not encouraged as it may not improve the outcomes related to pre-eclampsia and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy but might increase the risk of adverse effects. – World Health Organization


Dietary Sources of Calcium

The best thing about calcium is how abundant it is in our food supply! So many foods contain calcium – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and dairy products. Diets that eliminate dairy do NOT eliminate calcium!

Below are some phenomenal food sources of calcium.

Food Calcium content (mg)
Tofu (4 ounces) 774
Sesame seeds (1/4 cup) 351
Sardines (3 ounces) 347
Ricotta cheese (1/2 cup) 337
Orange juice (calcium fortified – 1 cup) 300
Yogurt (1 cup) 296
Collard greens (1 cup) 268
Spinach (1 cup) 245
Cheese (1 ounce) 204
Turnip greens (1 cup) 197
Mustard greens (1 cup) 165
Beet greens (1 cup) 164
Bok choy (1 cup) 158
Cow’s milk (1 cup) 138
Swiss chard (1 cup) 101
Kale (1 cup) 94
Almonds (1 ounce) 75
Cabbage (1 cup) 63
Broccoli (1 cup) 62
Brussels sprouts (1 cup) 56
Green beans (1 cup) 55
Cinnamon (2 tsp) 52
Oranges (1 medium) 52
Summer squash (1 cup) 48
Fennel (1 cup) 43
Asparagus (1 cup) 41
Celery (1 cup) 40
Leeks (1 cup) 31


Additionally, supplementing with a vitamin D supplement can increase the absorption of calcium and is recommended for all pregnant Canadians during the winter months.

If you are unsure you are meeting your calcium needs during pregnancy, consult with a Naturopathic Doctor who can guide you and help optimize your diet, your health, and the health of your baby.


Lassi et al. Essential pre-pregnancy and pregnancy interventions for improved maternal, newborn and child health. Repro Health2014;11 (Supp):S2

O’Brien et al. Serum 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D and calcium intake affect rates of bone calcium deposition during pregnancy and the early postpartum period. Am J Clin Nutr 2012;96:64-72.

WHO. Guideline: Calcium supplementation in pregnant women. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2013.
Health Canada. Vitamin D and Calcium: Updated dietary reference intakes. 2012. Available online at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/vitamin/vita-d-eng.php



LwatsonDr. 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.
Follow Dr. Watson on Twitter
Check out Dr Watson’s blog: www.drlisawatson.com


Photo Credit: zinlin33 via Compfight cc

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Dec 15

There’s an App for That! – Women’s Health

dab17e994be1be8eecba3005b4d2-400x337By Dr Jen Newell, ND

This is the second in Dr. Newell’s series ‘There’s an App for That!’ Check out her recommendations for fitness apps here

Health support is available at our fingertips these days. If you want to lose weight, get in shape, track your diet or your menstrual cycle there’s an app for that! Apps geared towards women’s health provide self-awareness and empowerment so women can take control of their well-being. Below are 3 of my favourite women’s health apps:

Period Tracker:

The lite version of this app is completely free. It allows the user to track their menstrual cycle, symptoms of choice (including bloating, cramps and spotting) and their mood throughout the month. Based on the information that is input the app creates a calendar the shows predicted dates for menses, ovulation, and fertile window. This app is very popular among my patients and makes monitoring your menstrual cycle very easy.


Calm.com began as a website intended to help stressed, busy, overwhelmed individuals take a much needed mental break. The website offers guided mediations to promote relaxation in various time intervals depending on how much time you have. The app offers a portable version of the website that can be easily used on your commute or in the office. Guided sessions range from 3-30 minutes in length. Everyone needs a moment of quiet and calm in our busy lives.


Most people have heard about Lumosity or seen the television adds for this app. Lumosity is a training program created by neurologists to exercise your brain and improve cognitive function. It uses fun and challenging games to work various cognitive skills and parts of the brain. This is a way to play games on you phone and improve your cognitive health.


This app was designed to help users work through steps to control their anxiety. The user will learn how to relax and develop more helpful ways of thinking about situations that can be anxiety provoking. MindShift is the work of a joint collaboration between AnxietyBC, a non-profit organization devoted to increasing the public’s awareness and access to evidence-based resources on anxiety disorders, and BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority.


Dr. Jen Newell is passionate about helping people embrace health, feel amazing and easily incorporate “real” food into their busy lives. Her mission is to make health accessible and achievable, and to inspire patients to live an active, vibrant and healthy life.

Jen has a clinical focus on digestive health, food sensitivities and healthy nutrition; mental health and stress-related illness; women’s health, hormone balance and fertility; optimal aging; and dermatology. She focuses on integrating healthy foods into one’s diet in a medicinal and therapeutic capacity and providing individuals with nutritional support that is easy to incorporate into a busy day. Dr. Newell practices at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto.

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Dec 8


Screen shot 2014-11-04 at 10.28.48 AMBy Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW

Pay attention. What emotional reaction do you get when your e-mail ringtone goes off on your phone? Excitement? Dread? Concern? Although the use of technology is important in our society, we also seem to be having emotional reactions. Perhaps the average teenager gets a little rush or sense of excitement when they hear their text ringtone. The average 30somethings working on Bay Street may notice their stomachs clench at every e-mail alert. Why? It seems that the more an event happens (stressful late night e-mail) and there is an alert that we associate with it (cell phone “ding”), we pair the two together, making the alert set off the reaction that the event would have set off… However, the alert in itself is nothing about which to be stressed. But we are! Like Pavlov’s dogs, we are creating associations. When they are attached to our phones — which are always attached to us! — it seems to lead to a stress response overload that may very well be unnecessary. Just because you hear your e-mail alert at 9:00PM doesn’t mean that you’ve been assigned a new work task; but you may fear that you have. So your notification from amazon.ca or your Evite from Aunt Sally to a holiday party gets the same reaction from you — probably one of stress or anxiety — that is unnecessary. Why is this a problem? Well, we all seem to have enough stress in our lives without creating extra, unnecessary stress from being afraid of our phones!

The good news is that this stress can be avoided. At a designated time during the evening (I’d recommend between 7:00-8:00PM), silence your phone’s notifications. This way, you can check your phone at your leisure without feeling dread if your ringtone goes off. Also, you will easily see and identify where your e-mail is coming from, rather than agonizing for the short period between hearing your ringtone and actually checking your phone. The bonus of this tip is that you may feel like you’re getting your evenings back and detaching from your phone! While this is scary for some, many find it a welcome change from being constantly “plugged in” or overly available. Try this simple solution for one week and notice how you feel by Friday.

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

main image from Flickr via Creative Commons.


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Dec 1

Naturopathic Concussion Management

concussionBy Shannon Vander Doelen, HBSc, ND

Concussions are an injury that we hear a lot about due to their prevalence amongst NHL and NFL stars. Despite the fact that it is one of the most common neurological disorders in athletes and non-athletes alike, little research has been done in the field of non-sport concussions, and this is why physicians often have difficulty treating people with these injuries. The good news is that we can take sport related concussion research and “return-to-play” protocols and adapt it for proper management of non-sport related concussions.

Maybe you fell off your bike, slipped on some ice, tripped when you were walking, were playing a sport with your friends or kids, or even fainted – if you hit your head, you might have had a concussion. And if you’ve had a concussion, it’s likely that you will experience some undesirable symptoms, and perhaps you’ll need a “return-to-life” protocol before you can start to feel better.

A concussion, or a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), is defined as a complex pathophysiological process that affects the brain due to some type of biomechanical force (either a direct blow to the head, face, or neck, or to another part of the body with an “impulsive” force that gets transmitted to the head). In more simple terms, a concussion is an injury that causes the brain to shake in the skull and results in symptoms that are related to the disruption of normal brain function, and are not necessarily due to any structural injury of the brain.
Once your medical doctor has ruled out any complications, such as bleeding or fracture, you may be wondering what the next steps are in terms of managing your injury. It is estimated that 80-90% of patients who get a concussion recover in 7-10 days. However, that means 10-20% of these people will have persistent post-concussion symptoms for weeks or even months.
After a concussion there may be many physiological processes and reactions that are not functioning normally. This can be due to inflammation, disruptions to our neurotransmitters that are responsible for how we think and react, oxidative stress that may lead to cellular damage, “excitotoxicity” or excessive neuron stimulation, and mitochondrial dysfunction leading to decreased energy produced for brain cells. Additionally, there may be post-traumatic deficiency of certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients due to their increased use by the body after the injury. Ultimately, all of these factors can contribute to any number of symptoms that are associated with concussions, including:
Light or noise sensitivity
Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
Visual disturbance (blurring, stars)
Difficulty with balance
Depression or anxiety
Difficulty with sleep (too much or too little)
Difficulty concentrating
Brain Fog, or just not feeling like yourself
Neck and shoulder pain or stiffness

I’m still not feeling right, what should I do?

Naturopathic medicine focuses on treating the cause of your symptoms. Though nothing can reverse your head injury, figuring out what physiological processes are contributing to your symptoms is critical. With this knowledge, an evidence-based treatment plan can be developed that will help you to return-to-life symptom free.

Lifestyle Modifications

Think of your brain injury like a broken bone. In order to heal, it needs rest. Immediately after a concussion you need complete physical and cognitive rest. If you are still having symptoms after a few days, it is likely a sign that you are doing too much too soon. You need a step-by-step protocol in place where you don’t move on to the next step until you are symptom free. You may require strategies to help you get back to work or school, manage stress or anxiety, get adequate sleep, and modify your exercise plan to promote optimal brain health and recovery. An important habit to adopt if experiencing symptoms is to limit your screen time to an absolute minimum (TV, cell phone, tablets, and computers). Not only are screens incredibly stimulating to our brain, they can contribute to headaches, visual disturbances, light sensitivity and sleep issues that result from concussions.


Changing our diet is one of the best ways to mitigate inflammation. It is helpful to adopt a diet where you avoid foods that promote inflammation like red meat, sugar and dairy, and add foods that decrease inflammation such as herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables. Additionally, if you have any food sensitivities, consuming those foods may result in additional inflammation for you. This may include eggs, gluten, or certain fruits and vegetables.
Did you know that your brain is surrounded by fluid? So remember to also stay hydrated, drinking at least 1.5-2L of water per day to keep the environment around your brain as healthy as possible.


Though diet and lifestyle changes are often profound in their effect, supplementation is also important to correct for any deficiencies and address some of the dysfunctional processes that are occurring in our brain. Fish oil has been show to be very important for brain health and recovery after a concussion. Antioxidants like curcumin and resveratrol can be supplemented in concentrated doses to help counteract oxidative stress. Certain vitamins and minerals may also help to correct any faulty physiological reactions. Vitamin D and magnesium have been shown to help decrease inflammation and decrease neuron excitability respectively.


Acupuncture is incredibly effective at treating the nervous system, and helping to calm down any neurological “excitability” that may be present. It is helpful for sleep disturbances, headaches and anxiety. Furthermore, certain acupuncture points increase blood flow to specific areas of the brain. When the brain gets adequate blood flow, there is proper delivery of nutrients for repair and removal of waste products that will help to decrease inflammation.

Soft-Tissue Therapy

After any injury our soft tissue structures like muscles, tendons and ligaments may react by tightening up or by under-performing. If you are experiencing headaches, neck or shoulder pain and stiffness, seeking out additional physical therapy from a chiropractor, registered massage therapist or osteopath may help to correct any soft-tissue dysfunction.
Suffering from a concussion can be very difficult both physically and emotionally. It is important for your long term brain health that you manage this correctly! Your naturopathic doctor can make specific and individualized recommendations along with monitoring your progress so that you can feel better and return-to-life symptom free.

Marshall S, Bayley M, McCullagh S, Velikonja D, Berrigan L. Clinical practice guidelines for mild traumatic brain injury and persistent symptoms. Can Fam Physician 2012;58:257-67.
McCrory P, et al. Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport – the 4th International Conference on Concussion in Sport. Clin J Sport Med 2013;23:89–117.
Maroon JC, Blaylock R, Bost J, LePere D. Post Concussion Syndrome – Pathophysiology and Non-Pharmacological Approaches to Treatment. 2011;1-23.
Cernkovich Barrett E, McBurney MI, Ciappio ED. Omega 3 Fatty Acid Supplementation as a Potential Therapeutic Aid for the Recovery from Mild Traumatic Brain Injury/Concussion. Adv. Nutr. S 2014;5:268-277.

IMG_2905_2Shannon will work with you to help you live your healthiest and happiest life. Since this means something different to everyone, she is excited about exploring your individual needs and working with you to create a treatment plan that is unique and sustainable for you and your busy lifestyle. Shannon is passionate about health and happiness and believes that the two go hand-in-hand.

Clinically, Shannon practices functional medicine. She maintains a general family practice, with a special interest in managing fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression; digestive health; skin health; irregular or painful menstruation; and endocrine/hormonal disorders.
Photo Credit: mislav-m via Compfight cc

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Nov 24

Let Life Romance You

WOMANby Corinne K., Authentic Living Coach & Reiki Practitioner

In many shamanic societies, if you go to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited or depressed, they don’t throw a couple of pink pills at you and tell you to come back again in a month if things don’t get better. Instead, they ask you the following questions:

When did you stop dancing?

When did you stop singing?

When did you stop being enchanted by stories?

When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?

Dancing, singing, storytelling and silence are the four universal salves. When we’re depressed, anxious, rundown and stuck, we can look to play, creativity and mindfulness techniques to get us feeling like ourselves again.

When we’re stuck, we fail to see new perspectives.

When we’re stuck, we live in our heads and create scenarios and situations to worry about, that haven’t even happened yet.

When we’re stuck, we’re disconnected from ourselves, others and the world.

Getting unstuck is about getting back to basics: loosening up, tossing out the thoughts, things, people and situations that no longer serve us and getting reconnected to what our gut is telling us we need.

Living is more than following a daily routine. Truly living is about appreciating every moment in the day. It’s about noticing the change in the seasons – the Fall colours. It’s about being grateful for what we’ve got. It’s about focusing on the good. It’s about enjoying moments and making memories.

Getting unstuck and truly living is about letting life romance you again.

Bio PicCorinne K.
Change Catalyst. Reiki Practitioner. Soul Healer.

I help my clients live more authentic and full lives by encouraging them to embrace change and life holistically.  My coaching is a mix of straight-up conversations, goal setting, Reiki, creativity and fun. For more information on Corinne, please check out her website.

Corinne is hosting a seminar, ‘Getting Unstuck’ at IHI Thursday, November 27th 6:30-7:30pm. Sign up here!

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