Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Balancing Vata in Fall

As the seasons change, and the climate shifts to cooler days, you may notice changes in your body, your thoughts and your emotions.  The change of seasons influences people differently depending on the individual constitution that they were born with.  According to Ayurveda there are 3 vital bio-energies (doshas) that make up a person's constitution: vata, pitta, kapha - each made up of a combination of the 5 elements (earth, air, fire, water, space). 

The 3 doshas are not only found within us, but also exist around us in nature. As we prepare for fall, it is helpful to understand the impact that the change of the seasons can have on your health.  Fall is considered vata season because the qualities that characterize vata - dry and cold - are dominant at this time of the year.  The weather changes are apparent with colder days, dry wind, lightness in the air and crackling leaves. 

Characteristics of Vata

Vata is made up of the air and space elements and has the qualities of dry, cold, light, moving, irregular, subtle, rough and quick.

Vata loosely translates as "wind" and its function is movement - one can think of vata being their internal wind that keeps things moving. Vata body types are active and mobile, and they often find themselves doing many activities at once. Physically, those with a vata constitution tend to be thin with a light frame and energetic in bursts. They tend to be lively and creative when in balance. 

Functions of Vata

As vata is responsible for movement, some of the functions in the body include:
  • Circulation
  • Movement in the digestive tract
  • Sensory perception
  • Speech
  • Nerve impulses
  • Breathing
If any of these functions are not functioning optimally, it is likely that an imbalance with vata is involved.  Due to vata's mobile nature, it is the easiest dosha to experience imbalance. 

Common Health Conditions

Vata tends to become unbalanced and accumulates in the body and mind when there is too much Vata in our life. Irregular eating or sleeping, concerns with stress, erratic schedules, overstimulation and excess worry can contribute to a vata imbalance.  In addition, seasonal and weather changes can impact the balance of vata, pitta & kapha.  An excess of Vata can manifest in a variety of health concerns which include (but are not limited to): 
Though all individuals are susceptible to the changes brought on by fall, individuals with a constitution that is vata dominant, are more susceptible to aggravation as the environmental factors add to tendencies that already exist internally.  

To help keep vata in balance during fall, incorporating daily lifestyle routines and eating according to your constitution can ease the transition into the cold season. 

5 Suggestions to Balance Vata in Fall

The following suggestions are important for those with a Vata constitution, but are also valuable for other constitutions during the Vata seasons of fall and winter.

  • Stay warm: Dressing in layers and drinking warm liquids can help keep us warm as the temperatures dip.  Drink herbal teas during the day and incorporate nourishing soups, stews and broths. Avoid cold foods and excess raw food.
  • Eat a Vata-balancing diet: Choose seasonal foods that are organic and local, such as apples, squashes and root vegetables.  Warming spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and black pepper, can also be a great addition to your meals.  Flavours that are naturally sweet, salty & sour help pacify vata.
  • Establish routine: Fall can get busy and we are soon swept off our feet and find our heads buzzing with erratic schedules.  Waking up and sleeping at consistent times and eating meals at the same time each day can bring stability and help keep us grounded during fall.
  • Choose rejuvenating activities: Plan time in your schedule to get sufficient rest and relaxation time. Activities that are relaxing and rejuvenating, such as curling up with a book as you sip ginger tea, taking a hot bath with essential oils in the evening or embracing meditation into your routine, are valuable at this time. Plan to get to sleep earlier as the body needs more sleep in the winter than in the summer.
  • Enjoy oils: Healthy oils are essential in counteracting the dryness associated with fall. Internally, oils such as ghee (clarified butter) or olive oil, can pacify vata when added to your meals. Externally, warm oil massage (abhyanga) with oils can be a wonderful way to relax and nourish the skin. This can be done in the morning or evening on your own, or abhyanga can be done by a qualified practitioner with customized oils to suit your constitution.

Keeping the 3 doshas balanced within ourselves is vital in staying healthy as seasons change.  Ayurveda offers many tools to balance vata dosha.  Only when we understand our unique constitution can we do the necessary groundwork to stay healthy in fall.  When we can make changes that support our constitution, we can enjoy fall while staying healthy and energized ! 

If you would like a comprehensive healthcare plan which includes understanding your Ayurvedic constitution and how that impacts your health, you can book an appointment with Dr. Leena Athparia, ND, at Naturopathic Foundations Health Clinic: 905-940-2727.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Part 3: Food Sensitivity Testing

By: Dr. Kimberley Ramberan, ND

There are several laboratory tests that provide value in assisting with the management of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and that provide supporting information to assist in determining the best treatment plan.  Standard laboratory tests are markers that allow your doctor or naturopathic doctor to assess for inflammation, nutritional status and to look for deficiencies of necessary vitamins and minerals.  Most of this testing in Ontario is considered standard of care and should be done on a somewhat regular basis.  However, there are very specific tests that are generally not part of conventional medicine that can be done by naturopathic doctors to provide specific information about foods, the way you break down your food and pathological microbes that could contribute to the onset of disease and the progression of disease.

This blog is part of a series on IBD and my personal journey on learning how to live with it. Please check out my previous blogs:

IBD Part 1: My Story
IBD Part 2: Food Does Matter

File:Bread wheat.jpg

Now, remember when I said I had more lessons to learn...

While studying to become a naturopathic doctor, I experienced symptoms of IBD for about two and a half years and then it went into remission for two years. For me, the stress of school, performance and grades triggered an IBD flare. While stress was a contributing factor to my flare, I knew that I had to also get my diet back on track.  Like most people with IBD, when symptoms go away for a long enough time, the thought is that we can "cheat" a bit with the foods we eat, which is the trap I fell into. 

Being in school and learning about the different types of therapeutic diet regimes, I decided I would try the "Hypoallergenic Diet", also known as the Elimination Diet.  This is a diet that has great clinical value in establishing what and how foods affect you.  I use this diet in practice regularly with patients.  However, for some it may not be specific enough and may be too labour intensive.  

After being on the hypoallergenic diet for awhile, I noticed improvements but not remission.  I was disappointed and could not understand why I was still having symptoms.  I was eating gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and still not feeling 100%. One of my naturopathic professors told me about a blood food sensitivity test that was commonly used by naturopathic doctors in order to determine what foods the immune system was overreacting to and, therefore, causing inflammation in the body. 

Food Sensitivity Testing

The immune system exists to defend the body against bacteria, viruses and any other potentially harmful organisms.  It protects the body by producing cells called immunoglobulins, also called antibodies.  There are five major immunoglobulins: IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG and IgM.  Each one of these components produces a different kind of physical reaction in the body. Let's compare. 

Food Allergy vs Food Sensitivity 

When you go to the medical doctor or an Allergist to test for food allergies, they will typically perform a skin prick test or a double-blind, placebo-controlled oral food challenge in order to test for IgE reactions.  IgE reactions are considered true food allergies.  IgE reactions typically occur within minutes of exposure to or ingestion of a food antigen.  Commonly observed IgE reactions include: hives, itchy watery eyes and breathing difficulties.  They are considered anaphylactic-type reactions.

Food Sensitivity is a term that usually refers to delayed immune reactions to foods.  For example, IgG and IgA reactions to foods are commonly referred to as food sensitivities because they don't always cause immediate reactions.  They can take anywhere from the time the food hits our digestive tract to 3 days later.  The reactions can vary and compound based on the amount and combination of foods we consume.

In an IgG reaction, the IgG antibodies attach themselves to the food antigen and create an anti-body-antigen complex.  Special cells called macrophages normally remove these complexes.  However, if they are present in large numbers and the reactive food is still being consumed, the macrophages can't remove them quickly enough.  The food antigen-antibody complexes accumulate and are deposited in body tissues.  Once in tissue, these complexes cause inflammation which plays a role in numerous disease and conditions.

Of the five major antibodies circulating in the bloodstream, IgA is produced in the greatest quantity on a daily basis.  IgA antibodies are the first line of defence against suspected disease-causing agents like viruses and bacteria.  IgA antibodies to specific foods may form when the lining of the intestinal tract becomes inflamed or damaged due to stress, alcohol, medications or other inflammation-causing conditions.  Elevated IgA to specific foods is widely believed to be a sign of damage to the mucous membranes in the gut.  Individuals with Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis, or even those with suspected "leaky gut", may benefit from testing IgA food reactions.

Allow me to illustrate this case in point with Sumo wrestlers:

Imagine your body is a pool.  Now imagine Sumo wrestlers have decided to have a pool party using your pool.  The 1st Sumo wrestler named "Dairy" cannonball jumps into the pool.  He makes a big splash.  Then the water calms down fairly quickly, but the water level of the pool rises.  Then the 2nd Sumo wrestler, "Eggs", dives in.  The water levels rises a bit more.  Now here comes the 3rd, "Gluten", who gracefully slips in.  Now the water level is as high as the pool can hold.  Now comes along skinny little "Sesame". He is all ready with his water noodle and jumps right in the middle of all the Sumo wrestlers. YOUR POOL EXPLODES!

So, whose fault is it that the pool exploded?  
The answer: EVERYONE

Your body is like a pool, in the sense that it is designed to hold a certain load.  We all have different foods that cause our systems to reach capacity.  So, when that happens, symptoms of inflammation occur (i.e. the pool exploding).  This is what happens when our body is having an IgG/IgA reaction.

I will often hear patients say "Sometimes foods bother me and sometimes they don't.  I can't figure it out!"  That is how I felt before I completed a food sensitivity test and discovered that I had an extremely high sensitivity to sesame seeds!  Five to ten years ago there were not many options for gluten-free or dairy-free foods that did not contain sesame seeds. No wonder I wasn't getting better.  After my food sensitivity test, I adjusted my diet accordingly and very quickly saw and felt the benefits.  I never would have figured that out without doing a food sensitivity test.

Food sensitivity testing is a valuable and cost-effective way of determining what specific foods you should be avoiding, whether you are dealing with IBD, Crohn's disease or any other symptoms or conditions.  Many naturopathic doctors recommend determining your food sensitivities as the starting point to creating a treatment plan that works for you.

To find out more about food sensitivity testing, contact Naturopathic Foundations at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment with Dr. Kimberley Ramberan, ND.

This is the third in a 12-part series on the Irritable Bowel Disease.  We encourage you to check out the other blogs by Dr. Kimberley Ramberan, ND.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Nature Cure: Health Benefits of Time Spent in Nature

Getting outside into nature has been one of the primary prescriptions naturopathic doctors have been giving their patients across centuries.  This simple, affordable and accessible ‘treatment’ is starting to gain support in the research community as well.  Most recently, research being done out of Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto is focusing on the effects of time spent in nature on memory and cognition.  This research shows that a 50-minute walk in nature can improve memory and focus by 20%.  Interestingly, the positive effects were even more pronounced in individuals diagnosed with depression.  A walk in a busy urban environment, on the other hand, doesn’t have any significant effects on either memory or cognition.  Don’t think that the benefits of being out in the trees can only be found on sunny days.  The same benefits are observed in February as in June, despite participants reporting not enjoying their winter walks as much.
Benefits of Spending Time in Nature (check-out www.ndhealthfacts.org)

  • Synchronizes Circadian Rhythm
  • Helps you to stay grounded
  • Increases energy
  • Improves sleep
  • Improved mental/emotional sense of well-being
  • Increased Vitamin D levels
  • Improved vision
  • Increased immune function

Other researchers are finding the benefits of being in nature extend well beyond memory.  Getting outside in nature helps with ADHD, surgery recovery, breast cancer, elevated cortisol (our stress hormone) and high blood pressure.

So why is being in nature so good for us?  Our current understanding is that time in nature acts in a “softly fascinating” way.  Looking at trees, leaves, water and clouds holds our attention, but not too much.  This balance lets us de-focus and self-reflect in a way that the bore of a dark room or the over-stimulation of TV wont allow. 

It’s clear that finding ways to spend time in nature is one of the most important things you can do for your health.  Take ‘green breaks’ at work and go for a walk in a park or a green space near you.  Schedule a walk on the weekend with friends rather then going for coffee.  There are countless ways to incorporate nature into your daily routine.

For more information on the benefits of being in nature, or for some tips on how to work your 30 minutes in every day, please talk to one of our naturopathic doctors.