Chilling Adventures: Cold Water Immersion for Health

In recent years, cold water immersion has gained popularity as a health practice that offers a myriad of benefits when done correctly. In the Comox Valley, you can regularly see brave souls venturing into the bracing waters of our rivers, lakes and ocean throughout the year. As someone who has always considered themselves to be “thermally challenged”, I was reluctant to try cold water swimming, but the health benefits, plus the rave reviews of people who do it regularly, convinced me to try it. I was amazed by the increase in my vitality after cold water swimming and decided to do a little more research on cold water immersion.  As a naturopathic physician I am interested in practices that help my patients tap into their health potential and improve longevity. Cold water immersion, when practiced safely, is a way to utilize the healing power of nature. We’ll explore the health benefits, risks, and how to safely practice cold water immersion, whether in the ocean, lakes, rivers, or at home.

Wim Hof, a Dutchman, brought the ancient practice of cold-water immersion back into the limelight through his extraordinary feats of endurance in extreme cold environments. He introduced his Wim Hof Method, a combination of breathing exercises, meditation, and cold exposure, to the world. His method has garnered followers worldwide, who have experienced improved physical and mental well-being by embracing cold water therapy.

Cold water immersion is not a new concept; it has roots in naturopathic hydrotherapy, a practice that has been used for centuries to promote health and healing. Naturopathic physicians have long believed in the body’s innate ability to heal itself and the role of natural elements like water to promote this process.

Modern science supports these ancient beliefs. Cold water immersion is now backed by scientific studies that show a range of health benefits. It can boost the immune system, improve circulation, reduce inflammation, improve blood sugars and even alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. People who do it report increased energy and alertness. The practice has also been associated with enhanced recovery from exercise and injury, and improved sleep quality.

To practice cold water immersion outdoors, find a safe body of water with cold temperatures. Ensure there are no strong currents or dangerous wildlife. Make sure you go with an experienced buddy to two. Start with short, controlled dips, gradually increasing your time in the water as you become acclimated. It’s essential to focus on controlled breathing to manage the shock of cold water. You can also practice at home in the shower or bath. Start with a warm shower to relax your muscles and gradually decrease the temperature. You can also try alternating between hot and cold water for a ‘contrast hydrotherapy’ effect. Always end with cold water to stimulate your body’s response to the change in temperature.

Not sure if you’re the right person for this health practice? It’s vital to acknowledge potential risks which include hypothermia and excessive cold shock if it is not done correctly. It may have increased risk for individuals with certain medical conditions like heart problems, Raynaud’s disease, or cold urticaria (hives). I vet my patients carefully before recommending cold water immersion practices.

Whether in the wild or within the comfort of your own home, cold water immersions practices can be a refreshing addition to your holistic approach to health and wellness. Check out the Facebook group “Point Holmes Wild Swimmers” for more local information and discuss your suitability for the practice with your naturopathic physician.

Meal Planning: The Key to Healthy Eating

It’s never to late too embark on new healthy habits, especially regarding nutrition and menu planning – a concept I wholeheartedly support in my practice as a naturopathic physician.

Menu planning might sound like a chore, but its benefits are far-reaching.  It’s a powerful tool to enhance your nutrition, save time and money, and foster family involvement in the kitchen. I find it’s one of the best ways to improve your nutrition or stick to a new dietary regime. When you plan your meals, you take control of what goes into your body. Menu planning allows you to make conscious choices about ingredients, ensuring a balanced and nutritious diet. You can incorporate more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains into your meals, leading to improved health. It saves you time and money. How often have you found yourself wandering the supermarket aisles, aimlessly grabbing whatever looks good? Menu planning eliminates this wasteful habit. Creating a shopping list based on your weekly menu not only saves you money but also precious time. No more midweek grocery store rushes. You’re also less likely to cave in and eat out, pick up fast food or order food in, which will save both your money and your waistline. Menu planning also helps engage family members and models and is an important life skill to children. I recommend involving your family or roommates in the process. It’s a wonderful way to bond and instill healthy eating habits in children. Plus, it takes the pressure off the primary cook. Get the kids to help choose recipes and assist with food prep. 

Whether you’re feeding a family or flying solo, these practical tips can help you get started with menu planning. For families, I recommend gathering your family for a weekly meal planning session. Discuss everyone’s preferences and dietary needs. Try theme nights when you dedicate specific nights to themes like Taco Tuesdays or Meatless Mondays. It adds variety and simplifies planning. Then you can meal prep together; kids can wash veggies, while adults handle the cooking. For singles, I encourage preparing larger quantities of meals and freezing individual portions for future use. It reduces cooking time during the week. For ideas, explore meal planning apps like that offer single-serving recipes and shopping lists tailored to your needs. Plan to repurpose leftovers into new meals to reduce waste and save time. For instance, baked chicken breasts can be made into a chicken salad or stir-fry the next night. Roasted vegetables are delicious in a salad the next day. 

I underscore the importance of menu planning in my naturopathic practice. Menu planning is a cornerstone strategy when I coach my patients on nutrition. It empowers them to make lasting changes to their eating habits and supports their overall well-being. So, if September feels like your chance to embrace a fresh start, then try scheduling a time each week to practice menu planning. You’ll reap the rewards of improved nutrition, time and money savings, and enhanced family involvement in the kitchen. Happy menu planning and bon appétit!

The Power of Mindset: How Your Mind Influences Your Health Choices

Let’s face it, what we know we should do for our health and what we actually do are often quite different. When it comes to making healthy choices, we often focus on external factors like finding the right diet plans, exercise routines, or medical advice. While these factors are undoubtedly important, one key determinant of success that often goes overlooked is the power of our mindset. The way we think and perceive ourselves and the world around us can have a profound impact on our health choices. As a naturopathic physician, I see the fascinating connection between mindset and health. I’ve learned that it is imperative that the doctor-patient relationship include good coaching on how to cultivate a positive, empowered mindset towards our choices, our bodies and our health.

The choices we make regarding our health are deeply rooted in our mindset. Our beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions about ourselves and our bodies shape our daily habits. For example, if we have a negative mindset and believe that we are incapable of making lasting changes, we are more likely to give in to unhealthy temptations, procrastinate, or give up on our goals. However, with effective coaching towards a more positive mindset, we can develop a proactive approach to our health, set achievable goals, and cultivate healthy habits that support our well-being.

One fundamental step towards creating a more intentional lifestyle is mindfulness. Learning to be more aware of your inner self and practicing being fully present in the moment can positively impact health choices. For instance, when we cultivate mindfulness, we become more attuned to our body’s signals of hunger, fullness, and overall well-being. This awareness enables us to make informed choices about what, when, and how much we eat, resulting in a healthier relationship with food and a better understanding of our body’s needs.

The mind and body are deeply interconnected, and research increasingly shows that our thoughts and emotions can influence our physical health. Negative emotions like stress, anxiety, and pessimism can weaken the immune system, increase the risk of chronic diseases, and slow down the body’s healing process. On the other hand, a positive mindset, characterized by optimism, self-belief, and resilience, can enhance our overall well-being and even influence recovery from illnesses.

Naturopathic medicine is all about empowering people to become informed about their health and coaching them on how to live a lifestyle conducive to good health, including using natural medicines when needed or for health optimization. The old medical model was to wait until you got sick, then expect the doctor to provide a magic pill. My patients come when they are sick and when they are well. They are eager to have an in depth health investigation and create a program to move towards greater health. Fundamental to success, is adopting a positive mindset conducive to making informed decisions, overcoming challenges, and cultivating sustainable life habits.

Developing self-awareness, practicing mindfulness, and fostering self-compassion are essential steps in harnessing the power of mindset to achieve optimal well-being. As a naturopathic doctor, I am just as likely to coach a patient on these important practices as I am to prescribe an herb, vitamin or prescription drug. Remember, your mindset can be a catalyst for positive change, leading you on a path towards a healthier and happier life. 

Early Cancer Testing You Should Know About

Part of being a health-conscious person is being aware of the early signs of cancer and taking advantage of cancer screening. Cancers caught early are often treatable. An estimated two in five Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and about one in four will die from cancer, making it the leading cause of death in Canada. Having a relationship with a doctor who can provide regular checkups, blood work, and cancer screening simply saves lives. But because fewer people in the Comox Valley have a family doctor, these non-urgent conversations happen less often. People without a family doctor often only use the walk-in clinics for urgent concerns and miss out on regular screening. And what woman wants to go to a stranger at a walk-in clinic for intimate exams? As a naturopathic physician, more of my patients are accessing my services for basic medical screening tests and exams and I’m glad they have options. Here I’ll remind you of the key symptoms you should watch for and tests you should do regularly to screen for cancer. 

Paying attention to changes in your body and not ignoring them is important. It’s better to have a symptom checked out and found to be normal than ignore it and have it progress into overt issues. Symptoms that warrant investigation include unexplained: fatigue or weight loss, persistent lymph node enlargement, persistent hoarseness or coughing, bladder changes, any vaginal bleeding after menopause, easy bleeding or bruising, difficulty swallowing, unusual lumps, digestive issues, night sweats, neurological symptoms, changes to moles, white areas in the mouth and more.

Regular testing offers the chance to pick up cancer before it becomes serious. For women, PAP smears test the cervix for abnormal cells that can be or become cervical cancer. Current guidelines are for women aged 25-69 to do a PAP smear every three years. MDs or NDs can offer this service. Only about 75% of eligible Canadian women are up to date on this important test. 

Mammograms save lives. Women can just call the Comox Valley North Island Hospital. They can use an MD or an ND as the doctor who receives the results. Since one in five cases of breast cancer is found in women under 50, I agree that women in their 40s should be screened every two years.

The FIT test is a simple stool test that picks up invisible blood in the stool, which can be a sign of colon cancer. About one in 17 Canadians will get colon cancer, so it makes sense to regularly screen for it. Your MD or ND can provide the requisition for this test.

Prostate cancer screening is controversial because the harms associated with testing for and treating prostate cancer can outweigh the benefits. That said, research shows that screening blood tests do save lives, especially for high-risk populations.

I regularly provide skin cancer checks as part of a yearly physical exam, especially a patient has light-coloured skin, eyes and hair, has many moles or freckles, or report having had several blistering sunburns as a child. MDs can refer patients to dermatologists or skin specialists for diligent tracking or treatment of suspicious spots. 

I also recommend an annual full basic blood work-up, physical exam and discussion of any health issues that may be cropping up. It’s not possible to do good cancer screening when patients can only bring up one symptom, since it is often the constellation of symptoms that provides the clues needed to suspect cancer. Plus we want to be discussing healthy lifestyle practices to increase the chances of living long and well.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician who has practiced in downtown Courtenay since 1997. 250 897-0235 or

The Many Faces of Food Intolerances

We all know that eating healthy food is essential to maintaining our health. But sometimes, what is healthy food for one person, can be a cause of physical distress for another. Deciphering which foods are causing problems can be a frustrating task. But in my 24 years of practicing naturopathic medicine, I’ve found that helping my patients to identify and eliminate food intolerances can often be a powerful key to unlocking better health. 

 The trouble is that often, people’s food intolerances don’t fit the usual stereotype of a person who has an immediate and dramatic reaction to certain foods like peanuts or shellfish.  Those immediate hypersensitivity reactions are usually easy to identify and can be tested. But there are about 15 different ways that people can react to foods, and only a few of them can be tested through conventional lab tests. 

 The most common food reaction I see is delayed hypersensitivity reactions. I have helped countless people overcome eczema by identifying food reactions. Sinus or mucous-related conditions are often aggravated by food reactions, as are many digestive issues. Chronic fatigue and “brain fog” are red flags that food sensitivities may be at play. There are tests available through naturopathic physicians that can begin the process of elimination and reintroduction needed to pin down the culprits. 

 Celiac disease is actually an autoimmune disease in which gluten triggers a variety of symptoms that are digestive, neurological, psychiatric and autoimmune. A blood test or upper intestinal biopsy can diagnose this often overlooked condition. 

 In some people, the issue isn’t so much allergies as it is an inability to digest certain foods properly. For instance, people with a (fixable) microbiome imbalance in the small intestine can have excessive fermentation of certain starches which then creates gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and more. The foods most likely to ferment have been categorized under the acronym FODMAP foods, which include lactose-containing dairy products, onions and garlic, beans, cabbage family vegetables and more. 

For my patients with chronic hives, flushing, digestive issues, headaches, anxiety and more, we also look at the possibility of a histamine intolerance. There are certain foods that contain histamine, which is normally broken down by the body. Foods that are aged or fermented like deli meats, yogurt, beer, wine and others can be especially triggering. 

Oxalates are naturally high in spinach, strawberries, rhubarb and more.  For people with chronic bladder pain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and kidney stones oxalates can be a trigger. The intestinal microbiome is supposed to metabolize the oxalates in our foods, but an imbalance in the microbiome can prevent that process, causing a building up of oxalates in the blood and urine. 

Food additives can cause an incredible range of symptoms from temper tantrums, hives, swelling, migraines and more.  Key culprits to consider are MSG (there are many ways food manufacturers hide MSG on food labels), sulphites (used as a preservative in dried fruit, wine, vinegar, commercial baking) and nitrates (found in deli meats, bacon, ham, and food dyes. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame can create issues for some, as can the sweeteners called sugar alcohols like sorbitol and maltitol. I especially see the latter causing gas and diarrhea.  

 Acidic foods can trigger irritation of already sensitive tissues. For instance, excessive orange juice intake can trigger bladder issues, and acid reflux can be triggered by caffeine, alcohol, tomatoes and more.  

 Salicylates are naturally occurring chemicals in fruits, vegetables, spices and some medicines. But for some people, they can trigger asthma and allergies as well as digestive distress and headaches. 

 So if you have a dead-end diagnosis like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, chronic headaches, asthma or Chronic Fatigue syndrome or you just don’t feel your best, consider investigating the array of food intolerances as a possible way to unlock some of your health and vitality. 

Naturopathic physicians have extensive training in nutrition and regularly use custom nutrition plans as medicine.  We make sure that you know what you CAN eat as well as help you pin down specific foods to avoid.

5 Things to Know about Infertility

More and more couples are starting families later in life and thus the number of people experiencing infertility has gone up significantly over the last two decades. People can have trouble having their first child, but equally heartbreaking is the inability to conceive or carry a second or third child. Naturopathic physicians are in a unique position to help couples uncover the cause of their infertility and enhance their health to increase the chances of becoming and staying pregnant. Depending on the cause, treatment strategies can incorporate healthy options like lifestyle changes and natural medicines to enhance male and female fertility. There are five things you should consider if you are trying to conceive. 


  1. Don’t wait to get help.  Medical workup for infertility usually begins after a year of unsuccessfully “trying.” But for women who are over 35 it is recommended to start investigations after 6 months, or sooner if they are approaching 40. Anyone with very irregular cycles shouldn’t wait at all. With my patients, I usually start with a thorough history and physical exam to look for clues. Then I recommend comprehensive lab work to look for the cause. Gynecologists can do imaging to help find anatomical issues. 

  1. Don’t forget the guy. Almost half the time, infertility is due to the “male factor”. Semen analysis can identify issues. For male infertility, once we rule out anatomical problems, there are science-backed lifestyle factors and natural medicines to improve sperm quality and quantity. For instance, the herb Ashwagandha was shown in a placebo-controlled study to increase sperm count by 167% and to increase sperm motility by 57% in three months.

  2. If a woman isn’t cycling regularly, she may not be ovulating, or may not be able to support a pregnancy. Hormone imbalance can be caused by many issues, including excess stress, weight loss, over-exercising, toxin exposure and more. In addition, PCOS is a pituitary disorder that causes excess androgens (“male” hormones). Menstruation can be less frequent or non-existent and ovulation is sporadic. Naturopathic medicine has excellent strategies to address these types of hormone issues safely and effectively. For instance, Chaste tree helps balance the pituitary gland while N-acetyl cysteine can safely enhance ovulation. Most conventional medicines for PCOS and irregular menstruation are contraindicated in pregnancy, so they are not helpful for women trying to conceive. 

  1. Heavy or painful periods can be a clue. Endometriosis can cause very painful periods and can affect fertility. Fibroid tumours are a common cause of heavy periods and can affect conception or increase miscarriages. Naturopathic physicians seek to address the underlying causes of these issues in safe ways (see my blog article and video about endometriosis). 

  1. Remember to check for autoimmune conditions.  Low thyroid can affect other hormones, anti-sperm antibodies can prevent conception, and autoimmune blood clotting disorders like anti-phospholipid syndrome can be a cause of recurrent miscarriages. 

For couples who want to take an active role in enhancing their fertility, there are ways to narrow down any issues and use safe naturopathic strategies to get on track. There’s nothing more satisfying as a doctor than helping a couple to get pregnant, and providing them adjunctive naturopathic medical care during pregnancy and beyond.


Energy for Peak Performance

Many of us feel an extra boost of energy in the summer. We spend more time outside, soaking up the sun and getting fresh air. Many folks play more sports, go camping or boating, and BBQ in the backyard.  We often have more leisure time to explore the things we love doing.

All of this sun, fresh air, and activity can improve our physical and mental energy.

As we head back to work and kids head back to school, how can we maintain this energy?  With increased demands on our time, how can we optimize our physical and mental performance?

Utilizing preventative strategies, we can support a few main systems in the body that help to keep our energy stable and consistent throughout the day and days.

Breakfast is the place to begin.  As is true for many of us in Canada, breakfast contains primarily carbohydrates.  Breads, bagels, cereals and the like are all high in carbs which can wreak havoc on our energy.  This is because carbs are easily absorbed causing both a spike in our blood sugar and our energy but a resulting crash afterwards.  This leads to grabbing a mid-morning snack or extra coffee to keep our energy up.  The key is to balance breakfast carbohydrates with healthy protein and fats.  This helps to delay the absorption of sugar in to our blood resulting in a steady energy increase over time.

Throughout the day, managing stress is the key to consistent energy and a sharp mind.  Many of the folks I see have increased levels of stress on a day-to-day basis.  Over time, the consistent and prolonged elevation in our cortisol levels (our stress hormone) can lead to difficulty concentrating, irritability, energy crashes, and impaired sleep.  Elevated cortisol further imbalances our blood sugar causing us to reach for that afternoon doughnut and coffee.  And the cycle continues.

As a naturopathic doctor, managing stress is key to optimizing physical and mental performance.  The secret to success is offering a treatment that is individualized to each person.  That may include promoting stress-reduction techniques like meditation and a walk in the park or using specific herbal medicines and supplements.  The key is that each person is different and requires an individualized approach.

Testing cortisol levels and ordering other lab tests can help me determine if stress is impacting one’s sleep.  Promoting a restful sleep, improving insomnia, and reducing elevated nighttime cortisol levels can all improve energy the next day and keep you performing at your best.

As a naturopathic doctor, many of the folks I see have concerns of fatigue, disturbed sleep, and increased stress.  These three factors are often linked together and can lead to a reduction in physical and mental performance.  Improvement in all of these areas together is key to success.

Contact Dr. Peters for a free “meet the doctor” visit to see if naturopathic medicine is right for you.

Breakthroughs in Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS pictureIrritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS as it’s commonly called, may not be the most exciting topic to read about. But for the 5 million Canadians who suffer from it, learning about breakthroughs in treatment is definitely news worth reading. Medical research has made the connection now between IBS and the microbiome, the immune system and the nervous system. While stress and food intake may confound an IBS problem, breakthroughs in our understanding of the microbes in our intestines are helping to solve the deeper issues that can drive this health condition.

IBS symptoms can include bloating, excess gas and burping, some degree of constipation, diarrhea or both, and often an element of abdominal pain or discomfort. As a naturopathic physician, I regularly treat patients who have been told they have IBS, and that there’s not much they can do about it. The fact is, there are potential solutions to these issues. My first step is to explain that IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning we must rule out overt infection, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, reproductive issues and more. Once we’ve done that, we can take steps to find out what is causing that person’s IBS.

Some of my patients respond well to avoiding certain foods, so we usually work to identify food triggers. Some MDs are sharing the research out of Monash University about the FODMAP diet which are foods known to cause IBS symptoms in some people. These foods can provide the fuel to our intestinal bacteria to make gas. But people with a healthy gut can handle those foods just fine, and many FODMAP foods are healthy foods, like broccoli, apples and garlic. If someone feels better on a FODMAP elimination diet, I see that not as a solution, but as a clue that their intestinal microbiome needs work.

By far the most common cause of IBS in my experience is an imbalance in the bacterial lining of the intestines called the microbiome. The large intestine is supposed to have a lot of bacteria and it is normal to ferment the leftover foods there. But the 12 feet of the small intestine are supposed to be relatively bacteria-free. Even if bacteria that is normal to have in the large intestine ends up growing in the small intestine, these bacteria will ferment the normal healthy foods we eat and create gas, intestinal irritation and nutritional issues.

What can cause bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine? There are many factors, but the most common one is a history of gastrointestinal infection. Even a case of traveller’s diarrhea, food poisoning, or viral gastroenteritis that resolves nicely can trigger an autoimmune reaction in about 20% of people. That autoimmune reaction can attack the nerves that stimulate the muscles that cause the sweeping motion inside the small intestine that moves food along between meals. Without this motion, food pools in the small intestine, bacteria can migrate upward from the large intestine, a ‘compost’ is formed, and excess bacteria blooms. Studies of military personal showed that prior gastrointestinal infection was a much stronger predictor of who would get IBS than stress level. Other studies have shown that GI infections can lead to motility disorders in the esophagus and intestines.

Brain injuries are also a potential cause of Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). The brain orchestrates the motility of the small intestine, so a brain injury can hamper its ability to coordinate the flushing of the small intestine, allowing a bacterial overgrowth to ensue. Autoimmune disease can also be connected, as well as abdominal surgeries, long term diabetes and more.

Fortunately, there is a specialized test for SIBO that can be ordered through naturopathic physicians. The gold standard test is a series of breath tests that looks for hydrogen and methane gases that have formed in the gut, been absorbed into the blood and are then breathed out. If a test comes back positive, I coach my patients on a four-step program. The first step is to prepare the intestine by opening up the biofilm that the bacteria hide out in. Then we use prescription or herbal antibacterial agents that exclusively target the bacteria in the small intestine. When that phase is complete, patients’ IBS symptoms are significantly better and we work on addressing the underlying cause, which is the motility disorder in the small intestine. There are prescription and herbal “pro-kinetic” agents that rehabilitate the muscles of the inner small intestine so the problem will stay away for good. In addition, we work to heal the intestinal lining to make it more resilient using natural medicines and SIBO specific probiotics.

People who live with IBS deserve to understand why they have these symptoms and what they can do about it. The goal is to repair the gut once and for all, not just manage symptoms. When we understand and treat the underlying issues, lasting resolution is possible.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician practicing in downtown Courtenay. 250 897-0235

Buyer Beware of Chemicals in Your Home

There are an estimated 84,000 different chemicals in our environment and 700 new ones are released every year.  The majority of these have never been tested for safety.  Chemicals that are tested are done in isolation, yet in the real world are bodies are bombarded by hundreds of chemicals and it is the total toxic burden that overwhelms our body’s natural defences. These chemicals enter our bodies every day through food, water, air, health and beauty aids, furniture, clothing and more. Scientific evidence is pointing to chemical exposures as major contributors to cancer, reproductive problems, early puberty, autoimmune disease, Autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological and metabolic disruptions.

Our bodies have not yet evolved the mechanisms to defend against the assault of modern chemicals. I had a patient who was a very tough military veteran.  He had survived the unimaginable and was quite psychologically resilient.  But the mosquito coils that he slept with for years in while posted in Germany emitted a potent neurotoxin intended to paralyze mosquitos.  Unfortunately the mosquito coils also poisoned his nervous system and was the likely cause of the rare neuro-muscular disorder he developed, and eventually succumbed to. As tough as he was as a person, his physical systems had never evolved the mechanisms to withstand these toxins.
Canadians spend 90% of their time inside, which means we spend most of our daily lives exposed to chemicals found in common household items and dust. We all have of toxins stored in our body and are passing them to our children. Babies are being born with chemicals in their system.  In a US study, there were an average of 287 chemicals detected in umbilical cord blood, 217 of which are toxic to the brain and nervous system.  At Simon Fraser University, research showed that those babies whose mother’s had the highest concentration of chemicals had a lower IQ at age five.

Some chemical exposure is beyond our control, but we can choose which chemicals are entering our homes through the products we buy. Environmental Defence, a Canadian organization that promotes environmental health, has created a list of the chemicals in consumer products that cause the worst damage to human health. These “Toxic Ten” include flame retardants, parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, silicone (the latter four are commonly found in over the counter skin and hair care products), and perfluorinated compounds (PFC, PFAS – found in water resistant products such as Scotchguard, Gore-tex, Teflon, raincoats, food wrappers, and microwave popcorn bags).

According to Health Canada, flame retardants are found in many consumer products including foam in mattresses, pillows and stuffed toys, in fabrics such as  clothing, tents, rugs, and upholstery, and other products like computers, plastics, paint, foam used in construction, glues and more. Health Canada states that the health effects of these chemicals may include effects on development, reproduction and increased risk of cancer. Research has shown that they are hormone disruptors, can alter thyroid function in pregnant women, and can cause neurodevelopmental problems in children (such as lowered IQ, Autism, and ADHD).

Parabens can easily be absorbed through the skin and are commonly found in lipstick and other make-up, skin care products and deodorant.  Parabens are strong estrogen mimickers, androgen (male hormone) disruptors, blockers of detoxifying agents in the body, and more. For instance, they are known to disrupt five out of the seven mechanisms cells use to protect themselves from breast cancer.
BPA’s are found in plastic food and water containers, tin / soda can lining, cash register receipts and more.  They are known hormone and immune system disruptors, and the newer BPA substitutes may be just as bad.  Consumers have demanded the reduction of BPA’s in food packaging and are buying metal water bottles instead of drinking from plastic water bottles.  Educated consumer using their buying power will be what moves our society from a toxic soup to a cleaner world.

These household toxins combine to create an unprecedented toxic burden to our bodies, and I haven’t even gotten started talking about pesticides in foods, chemicals in medicines, and the toxins we knowingly ingest in artificial sweeteners, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. They all adds up.  But you can make a difference. Knowledge is power.

Naturopathic doctors help their patients to prevent and address disease by engaging them in strategies to remove stresses on the body, including the build-up of chemical toxins.  We can test you for toxic burden (“CORE” by Genova Diagnostics) and support you in a program to detoxify your home and your body. Next month we’ll talk about steps you can take to reduce your exposure to toxins in your home. Also check out the Toxic Ten Pocket Guide at

Gas is No Laughing Matter

While twelve-year-old boys may revel in the sound of their own gas, those plagued by excess gas will find that it is nothing to laugh about.  Excessive burping, bloating and flatulence bring distress and discomfort to more people than would like to admit it.  Despite the significant problem gas can cause, patients are often told something to the effect of, “Well, you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and you’re just going to have to live with it.”  I prefer to find and treat the underlying issues which cause gastrointestinal unrest.

Digestive dysfunction on a number of levels can contribute to excess gas.  Some people lack adequate stomach acid, or take acid-blocking medication for acid reflux.  Indigestion and gas problems can occur due to improper break down of food.  Further down, inadequate flow of digestive enzymes or bile can cause food to sit and ferment into gasses.  Constipation, diabetes, parasites, helicobactor pylori, multiple sclerosis and other medical conditions can cause excess gas.

Gas results from the production of gas by intestinal bacteria when they digest sugars and other carbohydrates.  Imbalances in the bacterial lining of the intestines, called the microbiome, can be a significant source of gas and bloating, as well as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Immune issues, poor diet, c-sections, antibiotics and acid-blocking drugs can alter the microbiome .  In Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, also known as SIBO, excess gas is a key symptom. Also, a common yeast called Candida albicans can proliferate  to a level that can cause excess fermentation, leading to gas and other symptoms.

Some people’s gas is attributable to food allergies which can be determined with the help of a naturopathic physician.  Celiac disease, or intolerance to lactose, fructose or artificial sweeteners can each result in gas and bloating.  It also probably comes as no surprise that beer and other carbonated beverages have the same affect. Lastly, as any vegetarian knows, beans can cause gas, along with the cabbage family vegetables.

In short, don’t let gas get you down.  It is often a symptom of an underlying disorder which can often respond well to proper treatment.  Anyone who says otherwise, quite frankly, is full of hot air.