Help for Anxiety – Naturally

Anxiety is certainly part of the human condition. We are, after all, animals with very few physical defences, so we need an alarm system to keep us safe.  The physical responses to fear make us ready to run from predators, fight back, or in some cases freeze and “play dead”.  When that normal fear response becomes a regular pattern of anxiety, it can be overwhelming.  In my practice, I regularly talk with patients who are experiencing a level of anxiety that is distressing to them.  Once people experience anxiety, they often become afraid of experiencing it again, and go to great lengths to avoid trigger situations. The good news is that there are very effective tools for breaking free of the cycle of anxiety without having to limit your life.

As a physician, my first inclination is to rule out physical causes of anxiety, such as certain medications or health conditions.  The most obvious physical trigger is caffeine intake.  People who are prone to anxiety are wise to avoid caffeine as its effect on the body magnifies nervous tension.  Another very common trigger, especially in young people, is low blood sugar or hypoglycemia.  Skipping meals or eating refined flour and sugars can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar.  When that happens, the brain tells the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which causes rapid heart rate, sweating, and anxiety.  Thyroid conditions, both hyper and hypo, can contribute to anxiety.  Patients love that I am able to run up to six blood tests to rule out thyroid conditions as opposed to the one test that is generally covered by MSP.  Blood tests can also help to identify anemia, B vitamin or vitamin D deficiencies, all of which can affect brain chemistry profoundly. I often hear from patients that the hormone balancing work we do helps their mood and anxiety levels.

Relaxation techniques are an important part of learning to deal with anxiety.  Meditation is simply learning to observe your mind and make choices about where it is focusing.  Mindfullness Based Stress Reduction is a program that has been rigorously studied to show superior benefits to anxiety over medication. Adding an element of self- compassion into your daily self-talk practice takes the process deeper and is very effective.  Dr. Kirsten Neff’s Ted Talk is a good place to start to explore the practice of self-compassion.

Learning strategies for dealing with life stresses such as relationship issues, future uncertainties, past trauma, addiction and more can help to reduce anxiety.  Counselling and personal development work isn’t just for people with mental illness, it’s for anyone who wants to live life more fully and be the best they can be.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a set of incredibly practical life skills for anyone wanting to be more clear and calm in their lives. The website anxietybc.com is one of the best on the subject.

As a naturopathic physician, I also offer my patients natural medicines that help to heal the nervous system, balance brain chemistry, and normalize the adrenal stress response. These herbs, vitamins and amino acids can be the leg up that people need to get a handle on stress.

Often a person with anxiety can feel overwhelmed by how their mind and body reacts to stress, and with help, they can develop confidence in their ability to be resilient in the face of life challenges.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician who has practiced in downtown Courtenay for 20 years.  www.getwellhere.com 250 897-0235.

 

 

Help with Cravings and Stubborn Weight

miceWe all have trillions of bacteria, yeasts and fungi in our bodies, particularly in our intestines.  The mix of these microbes makes up our microbiome.  New research shows that this microbiome may have more to do with your weight than what you eat.  Farmers around the world have long known that feeding antibiotics to chicken and cows fattens them up.  Human trials have shown the same thing and scientists now have the research to find out why. Antibiotics, as well as certain dietary choices, change the bacterial lining of the intestines.  Those changes allow more calories to be extracted from food.  They also increase cravings and appetite by changing hormones.  This research gives hope to those who wish to bolster their ability to lose weight.  You can change your intestinal microbiome and therefore help your body lose weight.

We now know that our intestinal microbiome affects many important processes, such as digestion, destruction of parasites, mood and brain function, immune system regulation, and prevention of autoimmune diseases.  Naturopathic physicians have been working for decades to educate patients about the importance of the microbiome and now scientists around the world are using new technology to understand the microbiome and learn how to foster and protect it.

Why is it that some people seem to put on weight while others lose weight easily?  The answer may be that those who lack good bacteria in the intestines seem to extract more calories from food.  Recent research shows that thin mice who receive a microbiome transfer from obese mice, gain weight, despite being on a calorie controlled diet.  It appears that the microbiome of the obese mice has an increased capacity to harvest energy from the diet.

Another factor in weight gain is the appetite stimulating hormone ghrelin. A healthy microbiome regulates appetite by reducing this hormone.  But using antibiotics that alter the microbiome increases ghrelin and is associated with weight gain.

So how do we encourage the growth of an abundant and diverse microbiome?  We need to begin at birth.  Babies in the womb are “sterile”.  The birth canal provides the baby’s first inoculation with the bacteria he or she will need to digest breast milk. Babies born by c-section, who miss out on that bacteria, may be more prone to weight problems as they age.  C-sections are a welcome lifesaver at times but I recommend all my c-section babies be given appropriate probiotic supplements (intestinal microbiome powder) as soon as possible after birth.

Humans given antibiotics are more prone to weight gain, just like chickens.  Of course antibiotics are another modern medical necessity in some cases.  The benefit of antibiotics is generally perceived to be much greater than it actually is for common infections.  There are natural medicines that can strengthen the immune system and fight infection without damaging the microbiome.  So try to avoid antibiotics and take probiotics if you can’t avoid them.

The foods we eat also cause our microbiome to adapt and change.  High refined sugar diets promote the growth of bacteria that influence ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone.  Healthier diets help the healthier bacterial to grow.  Cats fed higher carbohydrate diets had kittens which ate more and became fatter.  (Since we are finding now that mothers can pass on their microbiome to their children, women are well advised to work on enhancing their microbiome even prior to conception.)  A whole food diet that is low in both refined carbohydrates and animal fat promotes the healthiest microbiome thus helping to regulate appetite.

I have found that many patients who had difficulty losing weight have an altered microbiome.  They often have related symptoms such as digestive issues, allergies, or depression. There are simple tests that can help determine the state of the microbiome.  If needed, I coach patients on how to use low carb nutrition and helpful supplements to re-establish the healthy microbiome.  When the microbiome comes into balance, cravings are lessened and weight loss is much more easily attained.

My doctor says my thyroid is normal but…

Every week people arrive at the clinic wondering if their thyroid is okay.  They’ve often had their conventional doctor check their thyroid, and are told that everything is fine.  However, they aren’t convinced.  They feel tired, cold, achy, gain weight easily, have headaches, depression and more symptoms that seem to reflect low thyroid function.

As a naturopathic physician, I offer these patients a full thyroid panel.  When we test further, we often find that the thyroid really isn’t working optimally.  Why the different in approaches?

Our MSP system only allow conventional doctors to run one test to screen for thyroid problems.  Naturopathic physicians prefer a full panel to test for TSH, T4 (inactive thyroid hormone), T3 (active thyroid hormone) and a thyroid antibody called TPO.  Often we are able to unveil issues in the complex dance of the thyroid hormones, which can then be treated in a variety of ways, both holistic and pharmaceutical.

Our philosophy is to try to determine if your thyroid is working optimally, not just wait until it is diseased.

Curious about your thyroid?  You can book an appointment by emailing back or calling Terry at (250) 897-0235.