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Exposed: The truth about anti-depressants from a Naturopathic Doctor

Even here in Canada, we've seen the US style big pharma commercials touting the latest and greatest cure for all that ails you. Lately, it seems that many research papers have come out against one drug or another. How can that be, you ask? These drugs undergo years of clinical trials and have to pass stringent requirements to get on the market. Even in naturopathic medical school, we were taught that anti-depressants work, albeit not without side effects and should not be used as first line treatment for most cases.

As a naturopathic doctor, I can tell you that there are many people out there on anti-depressants for all sorts of psychological conditions.....some of it may be warranted, but I definitely believe that it is over-prescribed, much like Ritalin for children with supposed signs and symptoms of ADHD.

The premise behind selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is that it helps to balance a deficiency of serotonin in the brain. And this deficiency of this feel good hormone leads us to become depressed or overly anxious. It makes logical sense, except that science has failed to prove that depressed people have this serotonin deficiency! The serotonin deficiency hypothesis is based on evidence that because SSRIs help depressed people, then there must be low levels of serotonin in the brain. To demonstrate the flawed logic in this proof, I will quote Lacasse & Leo in their essay entitled "Serotonin and Depression: A Disconnect between the Advertisements and the Scientific Literature":

"the fact that aspirin cures headaches does not prove that headaches are due to low levels of aspirin in the brain."

The latest, most comprehensive set of data to date about anti-depressants have started to make the news and the results don't look promising for these drugs. Dr. Irving Kirsch & colleagues have analyzed 47 clinical trials incorporating data not released by drug companies and conclude that anti-depressants are no better than placebo for all but the most severe cases of depression. This is a big blow to the pharmaceutical industry and they will no doubt fight this research vehemently.

The reductionist model of health has always been that if you have a disease then there is a "simple" answer. In depression cases, it's that these people have a simple neurochemical deficiency. Unfortunately, our brains, our bodies and our health aren't so simple. There can be several factors contributing to a person's depression and a naturopathic doctor will investigate all these aspects before heading down the path of prescription anti-depressants.

There usually is no such thing as a one pill cure all for anything in life. Remember that next time you're bombarded with advertisements for drugs claiming to fix all of your concerns.

Winter Nutrition: A TCM Perspective

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and naturopathic medicine are similar in that they both adhere to the principle of balance. You’ve heard of yin and yang, good and evil. Well, the same concept applies to the foods that we eat: “hot” foods versus “cold” foods.

A general premise during the winter season states that because the outside environment is cold, we need to ingest foods that are more warming to the body and avoid foods with a cold nature. Foods with cold properties include raw fruits and vegetables and treats like ice cream. In TCM, the properties of foods can be changed by the cooking process, so TCM does not advocate avoiding fruits and veggies, it merely states that a balance has to be struck. It’s still important to get in your intake of fruits, but rather than eating cold salads or greens, it is preferable that you cook your vegetables. Warming foods include soups, meats, peppers, ginger and spices like turmeric (the yellow colour found in curry dishes).

Here is a basic congee recipe to keep you warm during the winter season. Congee can be viewed as a substitute for chicken noodle soup. Enjoy!

Basic Congee Recipe:
1 cup rice
9 cups water
1 tsp salt
ginger, garlic, etc… (optional)

In a large pot, bring the water and rice to a boil.
When the rice is boiling, turn the heat down to medium low.
Cook on medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice has a thick, creamy texture of porridge (1 – 1.5 hours). Garnish with green onions or add chopped coriander leaves at the end.

You can add anything to congee from different meats, seafood, vegetables and spices. If adding meats, do so at the beginning.

The “winter blues” getting your down?

Have you ever noticed that people are a lot cheerier in the summer than they are in the winter? One of the reasons attributed to that is the decrease in sunlight that we get in the winter months. Some people are more vulnerable to the change in sunlight and are vulnerable to a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This seasonal pattern begins in the autumn months as the days become shorter and can last until spring. It is estimated that two to three percent of the Canadian population suffers from this condition and a higher percentage suffer from a less serious version commonly known as the “winter blues.”

Who is at risk?

Women are twice as likely to suffer from SAD as men and as with most forms of depression, a familial history of it is common and increases the likelihood of being afflicted by “the blues”. It is also known that the latitude you live at plays a factor. The farther you live from the Earth’s equator, whether it be higher or lower latitudes, the greater the risk for developing SAD.

What are the possible symptoms of SAD?
• Low mood
• Fatigue, low energy
• Reduced interest in usual activities
• Decreased concentration
• Weight gain
• Increased appetite
• Increased sleep

Please see a health care professional or a naturopath if you feel that you may have seasonal affective disorder. Paint those winter blues away!

Probiotics and Prebiotics....What is it? And why do we Need it?

Have you swallowed any beneficial bacteria today? This is the latest health fad sweeping the food industry. You see it everywhere - bread containing “prebiotics” and yogurt with “live active probiotic cultures”.

Until a few decades ago, our diet provided good bacteria for the healthy functioning of our gut. We used to eat lots of fermented products because that was the way we preserved our food and we also ate far more root vegetables and plant based foods that contained prebiotics – indigestible foods like chicory root, whole grains and fermented cabbage that stimulates the growth of good bacteria. Unfortunately, food processing has changed all of that and combined with the rampant misuse of antibiotics (from doctor over-prescription and in the animals we eat), the beneficial bacteria and the flora in our gut has been disrupted.

Scientists estimate that there is 2 lbs of bacteria and over 1500 types of bacteria in the human colon. Most of these are beneficial or harmless bacteria that outnumber our cells 10 to 1. What’s interesting is that when we defecate, half of what comes out is bacteria so it is important to replenish and feed that supply.

Here are the proven benefits of probiotic therapy:

•Good bacteria can aid digestion and helps maintain a strong immune system especially during the cold and flu season.

•It impacts the well-being of some tissues and organs like the brain, skin & vagina.

•Significant anti-inflammatory benefits have been seen in patients with inflammatory bowel diseases like crohns and ulcerative colitis.

•Probiotics help resolve diarrhea, flatulence and nausea. It is especially useful in HIV positive individuals who suffer these symptoms.

•Combined with antibiotic/antifungal therapy (be it pharmaceutical or natural antibiotics), women with bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infections have a greater chance of being cured than those taking antibiotics alone.

•Probiotics bring into harmony an overactive immune system in people suffering with allergies.

•Lab studies in rats have shown their cholesterol drops by 8-10% without side effects

When it comes to buying probiotics in supplements form, it is "caveat emptor - buyer beware." Not all probiotics are created equal. Do your research and ask a knowledgeable health care provider or your naturopath about which companies/brands have a good reputations for having live bacteria that can withstand the acidic environment of the stomach.

TIP: It's best to take your probiotics with meals as the food will dampen the acidity of the environment and will allow more of the good bacteria to reach your small intestines where they will start to work their magic.

When it comes to Happiness: More is NOT Better! The Science of Happiness.

Many psychological and economic research papers have come out noting that wealth is not quite as big a determinant of happiness as many believe. I'm sure some of you wonder why you're not as happy as people surveyed from less well off countries. A few months ago, I remember seeing on the CBC news that individuals in "richer" areas of Canada (ie. Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, etc...) were not as content with their lives as people from Newfoundland or Nova Scotia who do not have as much material wealth as their big city cousins.

Yesterday, I had a discussion with my naturopathic colleagues about the topic of happiness. I've noticed that in North America and other "first world countries" we always want MORE. It seems like the more money we make, the more we need. That's because as people make more money, they begin to buy luxury vehicles and bigger, more expensive houses. With that comes the increased burden of more expensive insurance, higher debt & utitilies, etc...

For many, the act of shopping releases feel good chemicals in our brains which leads to a euphoric high and it is one way of achieving happiness. Unfortunately, that euphoria is short-lived and many people are off to the shopping malls to try to regain some of that feeling. If people are constantly shopping for pleasure, it leads me to believe that there is a void in their lives that needs to be filled. I suspect that in North America, it's the lack of human contact and personal time. We're too busy and too stressed these days - at least, that's what my patients have told me. Time spent with family and friends has diminished over time. We spend our days cooped up at our desks rarely seeing the sun and a lot of us eat at our desks, devouring our food - rarely do we sit down and savour the flavours and aromas that emanate from them. How can anyone be happy under these circumstances?

Remember: Health and wellbeing is more than the sum of your physical parts. Yes, it's important that your liver functions well and that your kidneys properly filter all the fluids that you consume, but it's also important that you nourish your mind and spirit. How do we accomplish this? It begins with simple steps such as savouring your food and being thankful for all that you have (no matter how little is may seem compared to the movie stars that we see on tv). Appreciate the beauty of nature and the architecture around you. Get out and enjoy the sunlight, even during the winter months! Do something that you love! MAKE TIME for that hobby that you "just don't have the time for". Address any underlying "issues" that might be hindering your progress. Masking or avoiding these issues does not address the root cause of the problem, something all Naturopathic Doctors feel is of vital importance. And then one day, you'll wake up with a smile on your face. You won't need to 'keep up with the Jones' anymore' and nor will you need to buy things to make you happy. Happiness comes from within. Begin your journey today!

This brief video is a good addition to the comments mentioned above. Click on the title of this blog to go to the video. Enjoy!

Cough Medicines: Do they really work?

When we come down with a cough or a cold, what do we do? More often than not, mothers and fathers will reach for the medicine cabinet and pull out one of the slew of over the counter meds available at your local pharmacy. But do they really work?

Recent news state that cough medicines should not be given to children under two years of age as there are reported cases of overdose and even deaths in this bracket of the population. In the last few years, many scientists and health professionals have raised concerns over the effectiveness of most over the counter cough medications, regardless of which population group is taking these substances. Dr. Knut Schroeder, M.D., a researcher at the University of Bristol, England has analyzed results of 15 trials, concluding that “there is little evidence for or against the effectiveness of over-the-counter cough medicines.” His research study appeared many years ago in the February 9/2002 issue of the British Medical Journal. Yet, many folks continue to reach for these over-the-counter remedies.

The use of cough expectorants or suppressants does not follow the naturopathic principle of Treating the Cause! As the name suggests, these pharmacological agents suppress one’s symptoms and does not address the underlying cause of the cough or mucous – that is, the immune system’s inability to fight off the foreign microbes invading your body. The ideal method of fighting a cold is to boost your immune system rather than suppressing the symptoms.

For more information on how you can do that, please ask your Naturopathic Doctor.

Proof positive of how our thoughts affect change.

It was my first year in naturopathic medical school when I was introduced to something miraculous. A professor of mine introduced our class to the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto. At first I didn't believe it, his research seemed magical.

We watched a video of Dr. Emoto performing experiments with water and photographing frozen water crystals. His hypothesis was that our thoughts and words can affect change even down to the molecular level. To prove this, he wrote negative words like 'hate' & 'sadness' onto glass containing water. He also wrote positive words like 'love' & 'respect' on other glass containers. After a couple of days, he froze the water and began to take photographs of the water crystals. The result was that water that had been exposed to positive thoughts and words formed beautiful, symmetrical water crystals whereas those exposed to negativity produced shapes that weren't as pleasing to look at. Don't believe me, next time you're at the bookstore, look through his published photograph collection entitled The Message from Water. You too will be astounded. Some of you may have heard of the saying "energy follows thought" and I believe that this is an example of that.

Visit Dr. Emoto's website to learn more about his work and don't forget to check out the 'Water Crystal of the month'. This month's featured word is "courtesy".

Living to 100 may be easier than we once thought.

A study printed in the medical journal Archives of Internal Medicine (Feb 2008) states that “the probability of a 72-year-old to reach age 90 years was 54% in the absence of 5 key adverse factors.” Those factors are smoking, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and living a sedentary lifestyle. In contrast, having all 5 factors dropped the probability to 4%.

As a Naturopathic Doctor, this study highlights the importance of starting the journey towards a healthier lifestyle. These 5 factors are for the most part controlled by lifestyle & dietary choices that YOU make. Yes, genetics can increase your risk of developing diabetes, obesity and even hypertension. For people with a family history of these conditions, it’s even more important that you begin your new journey today. The future does not have to unfold as is written by your genetic code.

Here are my 7 keys to living a long, healthy life:

  1. Eat right – lots of fruits & veggies. In North America, meat is the centre piece of a meal and veggies are the sides. It should be reversed!
  2. Drink right! When you’re thirsty, reach for a glass of water or make some fresh juice from your juicer. Stay away from the soft drinks and the fake juices out there.
  3. Sleep right. Make sure you get at least 7-8hrs of shut eye at night. Sleep shuts down the mind and body and allows it to repair itself.
  4. Move right. In today’s day and age, many people live an inactive lifestyle. This has contributed to the ever expanding waist lines of North Americans. Begin by increasing the amount of movement you do during the day: park far from your work entrance and walk, take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a brisk lunch hour walk with a co-worker. The goal is to get you moving again! Once you’ve done that, you can then begin lifting weights and start a cardiovascular exercise regime.
  5. De-stress! Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Human beings need a certain amount of stress to function at peak efficiency. The problem arises when we are constantly stressed and have no outlet to dissipate this pent-up energy. Meditation works well for some people as do yoga and qi-gong. For me, exercise seems to do the trick.
  6. Share your life with people you love – family, friends, a spouse and even a pet.
  7. Perform regular check-ups with your health care practitioners and let them know if anything is bothering you. Then try to figure out the cause(s) of the problem(s) together. It’s not enough if you can get rid of the symptoms, you must always try to address the causes of disease.

There you have it folks. The above advice seems simple and many people tell me that they know all this, yet few have taken the initiative towards achieving optimal health. Be good to yourself, start your journey today and you too may live to be 100.