Friday, January 20, 2017

Beat Winter Lethargy with Ayurveda

by Dr. Leena Athparia, ND

Have you every wondered why it’s hard to feel energized in the winter? Do you make excuses to avoid the gym or to avoid stepping out?

There are certain reasons why you might be feeling lethargic and slow in the winter. According to Ayurveda, an ancient system of wellness, the forces and principles found in nature also exist in humans.  For example, when it is cold outside, you feel cold more easily.  If you pay attention to your body, you will notice that you feel different during the various seasons. You might notice that health issues resurface more in one season than another, or you might notice that you feel more energetic in the spring than in the summer.

Ayurveda outlines three fundamental energies (doshas) that govern the outer environment and influence one’s physical and mental constitution: vata, pitta and kapha. In the winter season, kapha is dominant, characterized with these qualities: cool, slow, heavy, stable and soft. These qualities exist in nature but also within you, influencing your body and mind. You are more likely to feel the qualities of accumulating kapha during the winter which may manifest in different ways such as: difficulty getting up in the morning, low energy, low mood and other concerns.

 Signs of Kapha Excess :

  • Lethargy: Do you have difficulty getting out of bed?
  • Dullness: Do you feel like watching TV all evening?
  • Lack of motivation: Do you make excuses to put off exercise?
  • Cold: Do you need to wear lots of layers?
  • Cravings: Do you crave sweet, salty, oily, creamy or heavy food, or bend towards emotional eating?
  • Weight gain: Do you put on weight more easily in winter?
  • Low mood: Do you feel more down, depressed or sad in winter?
  • Respiratory or sinus issues: Do you have a tendency towards coughs, colds, sinus infections?
If kapha isn’t addressed, it can accumulate and lead to more serious health concerns. Think of it as a leaking faucet – one drop can go unnoticed, but once the bucket is full, it overflows and spreads. This same analogy happens in the body as well. When the first signs of imbalance are noticed, you need to act on it before it turns into a more serious health issue.

 Tips for Balancing Kapha :

Winter is the time when you need to play a close check on kapha. The good news is that if you take care of balancing kapha, you can prevent winter lethargy and minimize health concerns such as weight gain, low mood and lack of motivation. To restore balance, kapha management is centered around the qualities of warming, drying and lightening. Read below for more tips. 

  • Eat a kapha balancing diet: To beat winter lethargy, avoid foods that are heavy, cold, damp and hard to digest (deep fried food, dairy) and include warm foods that are easier to digest (soups, broths, grilled veggies). Flavours that are spicy, bitter and astringent can help you feel lighter and more energized in winter. Some examples of spices that you can include in your cooking are: turmeric, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, black pepper, thyme, cloves and cinnamon. Speak to your naturopathic doctor to learn more about a customized diet for you in winter.
  • Stay active: Schedule exercise daily - ideally early in the morning to move the stagnant quality of kapha. If you find yourself making excuses to put it off, join an exercise or yoga class that you can commit to, or make a plan with a friend to go together. Once you get moving, you will feel more flexible, energized and you will feel good about it. If you can get moving outdoors, you will have the added benefit of sunshine to boost your vitamin D levels. 
  • Wear bright colours: Winter colours tend to be dark and heavy (brown, grey, black). Notice how you feel with the clothing you are wearing. Adding bright colours into your wardrobe can help you feel more energized and motivated. How do you feel in yellow, orange or red? If you're hesitant about making a bold change to your wardrobe, try adding a splash of colour such as a scarf, a tie, socks, a hat, etc. 
  • Get motivated: This is a good time of the year to start a new project or hobby to help you get motivated. Find something that you are excited about. This is also a great time of the year to plan for the upcoming months and book appointments. For example, putting off your appointments with excuses such as "it's too cold" or "I'll wait until spring to detox", may be further adding to your lethargy.  If you plan your appointments now, you will feel more committed and motivated to stepping out.
  • Declutter: You might be putting off your cleaning until spring, but winter is a good time to change things. You may want to change furniture around to create more space in your home. This helps cut through the dullness you may be experiencing, and remove old baggage from the past as you start the new year. 

Wellbeing, according to Ayurveda, is a delicate balance between the body, mind, spirit and the environment. If your constitution is dominant in kapha, try making some changes this winter and you will notice more energy and vitality! A kapha diet and lifestyle should be lively, full of energy and stimulation - this is the time to beat winter lethargy, start exercising, wearing bright colours, adding spices to your food and staying warm.

If you have tried the above tips and are still struggling with health issues such as low mood, weight gain, lack of motivation, it is best that you work with your naturopathic doctor to identify your imbalances and treat them. What you should eat and when you should eat, along with daily routine suggestions and therapies, can all be customized based on your unique constitution. Maintaining balance is essential to feeling healthy and enjoying the winter season!

Dr. Leena Athparia is a naturopathic doctor with specialized training in Ayurveda and can help you identify your constitution to guide you on a customized health plan – whether you have specific health concerns or just want to promote general wellness. Please contact Naturopathic Foundations Health Clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Winter's "Vomiting" Bug

by Kimberley Ramberan, ND

This year's flu season has been a particular "doozy", running through households like wild fire.  We can owe the "stomach flu" or what they are calling the "winter vomiting bug" to a very contagious virus called the Norovirus.  This virus typically lasts 1-2 days and causes the typical digestive symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain along with weakness, fever and body aches.

These symptoms are due to an inflammatory process that is caused by the immune system in order to clear the virus from the body.  It is very important that the virus is completely cleared from the digestive system so that the inflammation can subside.  If the virus is not cleared and left to "hang around", the immune system will continue to mount a low level inflammatory response causing local damage in the gastro-intestinal tract and its gut flora.

Over 70% of the human immune system is found in the gastro-intestinal tract and its proper function is dependant on the health of our gut flora.  When the gut flora becomes disrupted by inflammation or wiped out with the use of antibiotics (often over prescribed at the first signs of being sick with a viral infection), there is a perfect environment for a cascade of catastrophic events such as intestinal hyper-permeability, systemic inflammation and insulin insensitivity.  These states in the body are at the root of some of the chronic autoimmune diseases we see today.

Here are 4 easy tips to implement to keep your immune system strong by strengthening your gastro-intestinal tract this flu season.

  1. Clean up your diet. You have to clean up your diet in order to strengthen your immune system.  Poor choices can disrupt the gut flora and cause inflammation in the gastro-intestinal tract.  Talk with your ND about food sensitivity testing and the right diet choices for you. Avoiding a diet high in refined sugars, chemicals, excessive alcohol and preservatives is usually a good start for everyone.  
  2. Get enough sleep.  Allow your body to shut down, reset and recharge.  Try going to bed before 12:00am and getting at least 6-8 hours of sleep per night with dark shades, no artificial lighting and no potential interruptions.
  3. Ask your naturopathic doctor about getting on the right probiotics for you.  Probiotics improve the host's intestinal microbial balance.  You don't have to take a probiotic every day of your life, but definitely take it during stressful times, after antibiotics or if you're feeling under the weather.  
  4. Heal the gut.  Whenever the digestive system is inflamed, it disrupts the mucous membranes of the gut.  Even though the digestive symptoms improve, the mucous membranes are often still inflamed to some degree. It is important to use an anti-imflammatory supplement along side  soothing healing herbs to restore proper function and to prevent digestive problems in the future.   

While prevention is important, supporting your body during and after the flu is just as, if not more, important especially if you already have a compromised immune system or gastro-intestinal condition.  If you notice yourself not feeling well since the flu, just not back to normal or if you realize that you have never been well since a flu or infection, it is an indication that you would benefit from supporting the healing of your digestive system.  Book an individualized treatment by a Naturopathic Doctor to get to the root of the issue and support the body's healing process.  Much like your computer doesn't run well with a virus, neither does your body.

Now let's de-bug your system;)!

To book an appointment with Dr. Ramberan to talk about your gut health, please contact Naturopathic Foundations Health Clinic at 905.940.2727

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hypertension Basics

by Iva Lloyd, ND

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects about 25% of Canadian adults under fifty and over 50% of those over the age of sixty. It also accounts for about 20% of deaths in Canada. Hypertension is considered a lifestyle disorder as it is strongly affected by diet, exercise, stress, smoking and other factors.

Whether you choose to treat your hypertension with prescription medication or natural therapies it is important to be aware of the impact that caffeine and salt have on your blood pressure.

There is a lot of debate as to the long-term risk and/or benefits of consuming caffeine on cardiovascular health, but what is known for sure is that for many individuals with hypertension there can be a significant short-term (roughly 3 hours) spike in blood pressure after drinking a coffee or having a caffeine drink (cola). The spike in blood pressure generally affects both the systolic and the diastolic aspects of blood pressure.

Consuming too much salt can not only spike blood pressure but it can put additional strain on the heart, arteries, kidneys and the brain. The impact of a high-salt meal on your blood pressure can last for hours or even a day or more.

Measuring The Impact of Caffeine on Blood Pressure

To measure the impact of caffeine on your blood pressure follow these steps:

  1. Either first thing in the morning (ideally) or three hours after a meal (without caffeine) take your blood pressure.
  2. Have your cup of coffee or other caffeine drink (cola).
  3. Thirty (30) minutes later take your blood pressure again.
If your blood pressure increases more than 10 points you may have caffeine-induced hypertension.  If you have been diagnosed with hypertension and if your blood pressure rises with caffeine you may want to reduce your caffeine consumption. The more profound the spike in blood pressure the more cautious you need to be with your total caffeine consumption.

Measuring The Impact of Salt on Blood Pressure

To determine the impact of salt on your blood pressure follow these steps:

  1. Ensure that you have at least two days with minimal salt and no caffeine in your diet.
  2. First thing in the morning take your blood pressure.
  3. Have a meal with added salt.
  4. Thirty (30) minutes later take your blood pressure again.
  5. Continue taking your blood pressure twice a day to determine how long it takes for your blood pressure to return to normal.  
If your blood pressure increases more than 10 points you may have salt-induced hypertension. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension and if your blood pressure rises with salt you may want to reduce your salt consumption.

Because both salt and caffeine are known to spike blood pressure it is helpful if you test them separately.  When determining the impact of caffeine, avoid salt.  When determining the impact of salt, avoid caffeine.  Generally you only have to do the test once. A person's response to salt and caffeine is fairly consistent.  If your blood pressure rises due to consumption of either one, it will generally always rise when you consume them.

The Perfect Storm

Most heart attacks and strokes occur due to a sharp rise in blood pressure over a short period of time due to multiple factors that have a cumulative effect. The more that you are aware of the factors that increase your blood pressure, the more control you will have over your blood pressure.

It is not always advisable or feasible to take your blood pressure multiple times a day, or even frequently during a week, but if you have been diagnosed with hypertension it is important to know your typical blood pressure and what affects you. Unless advised otherwise by your doctor, monitoring your blood pressure means taking your readings once or twice a month under the same conditions - i.e., same time of day.  Whenever you change medication or change a treatment plan for hypertension it is important to monitor more frequently (often daily or at least a couple times a week) to understand the impact of the new treatment on your blood pressure. 

To really understand what affects your hypertension, I recommend that you take a couple of weeks and do the following:
  • Monitor the impact of caffeine and salt on your blood pressure.
  • If you work out, take your blood pressure before and after a normal workout.  A "good" work-out will decrease your blood pressure as you are improving the circulation of blood throughout the body.  If your exercise regimen is too intensive, too focused on weights versus cardio or if you are dehydrated after your workout you may find that your workout is actually increasing your blood pressure. 
  • Stress can have a significant impact on blood pressure. During an acute stressful situation take your blood pressure so that you know the impact that it is having on your readings.
  • Being dehydrated will generally increase your blood pressure. If you have a day that you know was more dehydrating -- lack of drinking water, higher stress, diet that was dehydrating, a busy day, etc - take your blood pressure at the end of the day and monitor the impact.
  • Whenever you feel lightheaded, have a strange headache or feel weak, take your blood pressure and see if there is any correlation.  If you suffer with any of these symptoms frequently, you are best to talk to your naturopathic doctor.
The value of knowing the impact that different lifestyle factors have on your blood pressure is that you can avoid doing multiple things that increase your blood pressure simultaneously.  For example, when under stress you would know whether or not to avoid that extra cup of coffee and the high-salt meal.  You would know whether going to the gym will add to the problem or whether it would be beneficial. 

Knowing the impact that different lifestyle factors have on your blood pressure also allows your naturopathic doctor to tailor a treatment plan specifically for you.  For example, hypertension that is driven more by stress than by dietary factors would benefit from herbs or nutraceuticals focused on stress management.  Treating chronic dehydration (a common cause of hypertension) requires a different treatment approach than if the cause of hypertension if due to a high-salt diet or chronic stress.

Other Resources

To learn more about hypertension check out the following other resources:
Talk to your naturopathic doctor to learn more about how to manage your hypertension and to receive a treatment plan tailored specifically to you.

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