Categories > Nutrition

Mindful Eating

What is Mindful Eating

One of the ancient secrets to optimal health and longevity in the classical Chinese medicine texts is mindful eating. Scientists have more recently discovered what the ancient sages have known for thousands of years: if we slow down, we are able to be present with food and our relationship to food and we begin to know the true meaning of healthful eating.

Studies conclude that stress negatively impacts the GI tract by disrupting GI movement, increasing visceral irritability, altering the rate and extent of various GI secretions, modifying permeability of the intestinal barrier, disrupting blood flow, and increasing intestinal bacterial counts.

Mindful eating is relaxing. We live such fast paced lives, eating becomes an auto-pilot activity. We tend to unconsciously take one bite after another with the objective of finishing the meal, or we multi-task as we eat, get caught up in conversations, surf the Internet, or check our phone for text messages. But when we slow down and check in with ourselves, we are more in touch with what foods feel healthy to eat, how much of it our bodies really need, and/or why we are eating it.  

Mindful eating is not necessarily limited to what we eat  – it is also about how we eat, why we eat, when we eat, where we eat and how much we eat. It is also about having a connection with our food. Knowing and appreciating where our food comes from, what has gone into bringing it onto our plates, preparing it with intention and then of course savouring it!

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, there is no point in eating healthy food if the body is unable to absorb the nutrients properly. Being present with your food as opposed to multi-tasking while eating allows the body to focus its attention on digesting and transforming the food into energy. Eating slowly and chewing thoroughly not only facilitates this process, it also allows us to truly savour our food. Researchers have found that being present with the flavour and texture of food and reflecting on the purpose of each bite as we relish it can improve assimilation and help address obesity.  

Practicing Mindful Eating can be intimidating so you can start simple. It’s a practice, and sounds relatively easy but can certainly prove to be more of a challenge. It could be as simple as stopping to enjoy a cup of your favourite tea or even just the first few sips of it, and the effects of slowing down for no matter how short a period of time helps to cultivate a healthy practice of self awareness.  

Mindful Eating Tips

  1. Simply eat. Avoid multi-tasking while you’re eating.
  2. Chew thoroughly. Make sure each bite is well-chewed before swallowing it. Aim for 25-30 bites.
  3. Quiet. Consider eating in silence, even if it’s just for the first 5 minutes of your meal.
  4. Routine. Set a particular time aside each week to truly savour a few sips or bites, or a favourite beverage or meal.
  5. Bon Appetit!

Canada’s Food Guide also offers the following Mindful eating habits:

Think about the last meal or snack that you had. Can you describe:

How you ate?
            Did you eat slowly?
            Were you distracted?
            Did you eat with others?

Why you ate?
            Were you hungry?
            Was it offered to you?

What you ate?
            What food and drink did you have?

When you ate?
            What time was it?
            How long had it been since the last you ate?

Where you ate?
            Were you in a space meant for eating?

How much you ate?
            How much food and drink did you have?

In support of Men’s health during the month of Movember, we are co-hosting an event with Chef Blair Lebsack, owner of Edmonton’s popular restaurant Rge Rd. Come and join us in learning how to make a mindful meal that is healthy and easy to prepare.

Check out our events page for more info.

Call to register 780-756-7736

Space is limited!

3 Supplements for Fertility

Upon the occasion that I clean and clear out my cupboards, I used to come across the dreaded “supplement graveyard” – you know, the old supplements that were purchased in a spur of the moment attempt to correct some mild physical ailment.  Without a clear clinical direction, I would take these with little understanding of how they would interact with the other various supplements I was taking, or how they would truly affect my unique physiology.  

This changed a number of years ago when my mentor and Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor prescribed me a combination of supplements that made a huge impact on my expression of health.  Within weeks I could feel a profound difference in my energy levels, my mood and the symptoms that ailed me. I was surprised to realize that the approach I had taken while attaining my own supplements was not as effective as it could have been.  What a difference it can make, to follow the guidance of a practitioner who is well acquainted with one’s particular constellation of symptoms.

The quality, quantity and combinations of supplements are unique and responsive to each individual situation and constitution.  A directed and specific treatment plan can have remarkable physiological effects, however, a supplement that might be effective for one person, might be completely unsuitable for another.  Even the dosages recommended by a knowledgeable professional can vary from the suggestions on the bottle. When it comes to following a supplemental regimen, it is wise to step into it with the guidance of an expert. 

At Whole Family Health, we carry a carefully curated collection of supplements and vitamins.  With due diligence to research, we stay on the cutting edge of supplemental medicine, especially where fertility support is concerned.

3 Fertility Supplements:

Here are a few snippets of research that support three of the products that we carry, illustrated within the researched field of reproductive health:

  • Coenzyme Q10 was shown in a 2015 study to restore mitochondrial function and fertile potential in the oocytes of human females. (1)  Another randomized controlled trial showed that treatment with Coenzyme Q10 in the preconception stages improved ovarian response and embryo quality in women with decreased ovarian reserves.  (2)
  • A study in 2011 showed that an increased intake of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the preconception stage can improve embryo morphology as well as the number of follicles maturing in an IVF cycle. (3) Another 2008 study discusses the importance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in fetal and newborn neurodevelopment, the lack of dietary intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids as well as the importance of supplementation. (4)
  • An evidence based review, conducted in 2016, indicates that oral antioxidant supplements improve sperm concentration, motility, morphology, DNA damage and fertility rate.  Many of these vitamins and antioxidants are included in a Male Fertility SAP supplement. (5)

It is comforting to know that there is valid and thorough research backing up your supplemental treatment strategy!  I am proud of my current supplement cupboard. Each item inside of my cupboard has been carefully chosen in response to my current physiological condition.  

If you are curious about which supplements might support your unique constitution, please book in for a free 15 minute phone Q & A.  

1.  Ben-Meir, A., Burstein, E., Borrego-Alvarez, A., Chong, J., Wong, E., Yavorska, T., … Jurisicova, A. (2015). Coenzyme Q10 restores oocyte mitochondrial function and fertility during reproductive aging. Aging cell, 14(5), 887–895. doi:10.1111/acel.12368

2. Xu, Y., Nisenblat, V., Lu, C., Li, R., Qiao, J., Zhen, X., & Wang, S. (2018). Pretreatment with coenzyme Q10 improves ovarian response and embryo quality in low-prognosis young women with decreased ovarian reserve: a randomized controlled trial. Reproductive biology and endocrinology : RB&E, 16(1), 29. doi:10.1186/s12958-018-0343-0

3.  Hammiche, Fatima et al. (2011). Increased preconception omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake improves embryo morphology, Fertility and Sterility, Volume 95, Issue 5, 1820 – 1823

4. Greenberg, James A et al. “Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation during pregnancy.” Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology vol. 1,4 (2008): 162-9.

5. Ahmadi, S., Bashiri, R., Ghadiri-Anari, A., & Nadjarzadeh, A. (2016). Antioxidant supplements and semen parameters: An evidence based review. International Journal of Reproductive BioMedicine, 14(12), 729-736. doi:10.29252/ijrm.14.12.729

Supplements for Optimizing Sperm Health


Pay attention. Fertility acupuncture seems like a girl thing right? Well it’s true that a lot of our patients are women, because let’s face it, things with us girls are a bit more complicated. BUT! GUYS, pay attention!

I know your wife might be dragging you to this Initial Consultation and you’d probably rather be anywhere else instead of talking to me about your sperm health but the statistics aren’t wrong.

Did you know that 40% of all infertility diagnosis is due to male factor and 20% is due to combined female and male factor? So basically male and female factors play an equal role. That’s a heck of a lot more than you expected right?

If you suffer from male factor infertility you are NOT ALONE!

But it’s okay, there are things you can do to optimize your sperm health.  Aside from regular acupuncture treatments and diet, there are many supplements we recommend to increase sperm parameters including motility, concentration and health.

Here are a few supplements to consider when optimizing sperm health:

Coenzyme Q10

Studies show that COQ10 improves sperm motility and fertilization rates. COQ10 is actually found in the mitochondria of the midpiece of the sperm. All sperm cell activity, processes and movement depend on CoQ10 and its availability within the cell. So the more CoQ10 you have, the better your sperm cells can function. In fact, the more CoQ10 there is, the better the sperm cell can travel to the egg for fertilization.

Ubiquinol- the active form of CoQ10 is also a well known antioxidant which plays a huge part in maintaining the health of your cells. Antioxidants neutralize free-radicals which actually steal electrons from the lipids (or fat) in your cell membrane, which results in cell damage. We need healthy sperm to make healthy babies!

Studies show that increasing our antioxidant intake with supplementation and diet can have a profound effect on the health of your sperm cells.


You’ve probably heard a lot about Omega-3 fatty acids and its overall health benefits from decreasing inflammation in the body, increasing brain and nerve development in infants, and lowering the risk of heart disease. In fact- I bet you are already taking it. But did you know that studies show this incredible supplement is also being used to increase sperm concentration and motility? There are different types of Essential Fatty Acids but EPA and DHA are the ones you should be consuming.

Vitamin D

Over the years Vitamin D has been well known for maintaining calcium homeostasis within the body and promoting bone health and mineralization. There is also evidence that Vitamin D helps balance reproductive processes in both men and women. In fact, vitamin D receptors have actually been found inside the reproductive tissues of men and women. This vitamin is known to help increase testosterone levels and increase sperm quality and motility by promoting the synthesis of ATP, or energy supply within the sperm cell.

And it’s simple. In fact it’s never been easier to get these over-the-counter supplements from you fertility acupuncturist.  Although we do recommend to book in for an Initial Consultation with one of our Registered Acupuncturists before starting any supplement regime just to make sure these are right for you.

But you’re in luck! In honour of all those men out there suffering with infertility Whole Family Health will be offering 50% off all Initial Consultations booked from June 10-16th! Book in today!

Hope to see you all in the clinic soon!

The Fertility Diet

By Paige Wyatt

What do I eat if I’m trying to conceive?

Real talk for a minute.

Diet. Ugh! I hate that word. Diet is defined as the action of restricting oneself of certain foods to lose weight. The word definitely takes on a negative connotation for me. Instead I’d like to look at the body in a different way.

Food = Fuel

If we think of food in this way, we can deduce that the food we eat gives our body and cells the energy that it needs to physiologically function. That’s essentially why we as a species needs to eat. Eating nutritiously doesn’t just help us to conceive and grow a healthy baby, it also helps keep us alive and optimally functioning.

Ever heard that old saying “you are what you eat”? Well this is without a doubt, absolutely true! The food we eat provides energy to our cells so that they can carry out their physiological functions in the body.

So, imagine with me for one second the cells in our bodies. Now imagine a pizza pop. Although delicious, it’s not very nutrient dense, high in unhealthy fats, and minimal vitamins and minerals. Now imagine feeding those cells with those said pizza pops for every meal. Think of how you feel after a pizza pop; lethargic, foggy minded, maybe a stomach ache? Think of how your cells may feel. Possibly the same? Now imagine you’re eating a giant bowl of steamed organic veggies, sweet potato, and a perfectly cooked moist free-run, hormone free chicken breast (anyone else hungry?).

Now think of the sperm and egg cell that is relying on this nutrition and Qi to create an embryo and eventually a baby!

Have I gotten your attention?

The Role of Food in Chinese Medicine

Food plays a big part in our digestion, the ‘center’ and one of the main Energy Pathways and Organs in Traditional Chinese Medicine. All our ‘Qi’ or ‘energy’ is made from the foods that we eat in our Spleen and Stomach. The Stomach contains the food and rottens and ripens it to make Qi. This Qi is then sent to the Spleen where it is transforms and transports the Qi to the organs in our bodies so they can carry out their physiological function. The energy our lungs need to breath is created by these nutrients. Our immune system, our heart, and even our reproductive organs rely on this Qi too. Food consumption and what we put IN to our bodies is essential to make adequate good quality Qi for these organs to function properly and optimaly.  Nutrition is essential in Traditional Chinese Medicine and can be used to treat conditions therapeutically as well. Although certain fertility nutrition and lifestyle is recommended not one suggestion may apply to everyone.

Okay, we get it! So, what do we eat?

Here at Whole Family Health nutrition recommendations are generally made on a case by case basis. A practitioner will go over and sometimes recommend to fill out a food diary to see what you consume in a day, and offer therapeutic suggestions in regards to your overall health and Traditional Chinese Medicine Diagnosis.  Foods will be chosen and recommendations made to optimize fertility, and balance hormones.

Haven’t booked in for an Initial Consultation yet?

Below are general nutrition guidelines and recommendations you can incorporate into your life to optimize fertility.

Recommendation #1: Eat Alkaline rather than Acidic

                Did you know Acidic Cervical Mucous may become hostile to sperm?

Food sources: Avoid sugar, refined carbohydrates, limit red meat, and unhealthy oils.

Recommendation #2: Get Plenty of Essential Fatty Acids

Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) linoleic (omega 6) and alpha-linoleic (Omega 3s – EPA and DHA) are essential to every cell in the body.

Omega 3s encourages blood flow to tissues including the uterus, boosts immunity and reduces immune cells (killer cells) which prevent implantation as well as fights inflammation. Omega 3s are also key in the releasing of the egg during ovulation. EPA and DHA are essential to fetal brain development.

Good sources: Fish, fish oil, non-hydrogenated cold-pressed oils (flaxseed oil, pumpkin seed), eggs, soy products, raw nuts and seeds, dark green veggies, kale, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, cabbage, turnips, rutabaga, brussels sprouts.

Recommendation #3: Eat Organic and Hormone Free whenever possible

                Conventional meats and animal products contain synthetic estrogen which can have a negative effect on our endocrine systems. Processed food eliminates most of it its natural vitamins and minerals.

Recommendation #4: Add more Cruciferous Vegetables

                These vegetables contain DIM (diindolylmethane) which is a plant-based chemical that stimulates more efficient use of estrogen in the body by increasing the metabolism of estradiol- a form of estrogen. These are great for estrogen dominant conditions including weight gain, breast & uterine cancer, low libido, PMS, Endometriosis and fibroids.

Increase your bioflavonoids found in many organic fruits and vegetables which help the formation of healthy blood vessels.  This can help the uterus prep for implantation and prevent miscarriage.

Good sources: Arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, radish, turnip.

Recommendation #5: Eliminate Caffeine and Alcohol

Keep caffeine intake below 200 mg each day. This is equal to about 12 fluid oz of coffee.

Alcohol should be avoided altogether when trying to conceive. Even modest amounts can delay conception.

Remember everyone is different and it is always best to come for an Initial Consultation with one of our Registered Acupuncturists in order to find out what health plan and nutrition guideline works best for you!

Moving Forward From Pregnancy Loss: 4 Things That Help

October is Pregnancy and Infancy Loss Awareness Month, and in honor of heartbroken parents, blessed little lost ones, and all dear folk touched by this grief, we recognize this all too commonly shared experience.

We all process this kind of loss in our own way, and in our own time. One of life’s humbling mysteries – sometimes there is an explanation, and other times there is not. Either way, we are left to grapple with that which we don’t have control over, and to practice with somehow making peace with it, while sorting out how to move forward.

Often losses can be isolating, held close and private, locked in the silent hope of the first trimester. Hopefully to be spoken of later, perhaps when a little less emotionally raw.

While later term losses or stillbirths may be collectively grieved; empty-armed parents, navigating how to move forward at the mercy of often unpredictable waves of emotion. Moving through a life unchanged and yet forever changed – buoyed or sunken by the community’s varying depth of understanding and expectation.

It is said that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage by age 35, and once we start talking about it, we realize that everyone knows at least one person who has suffered a loss- if they haven’t experienced one themselves.

What does life after loss look like? There is no right or wrong way to grieve, we all do it in our own way and in our own time. Some of us are de-railed for a short time, and others of us never quite ‘get over it.’ Some of us need potato chips, while some of us need long walks, or both. Whatever it may be, allow the time and space to be with it in whatever way works best.

Here are some things that will help in the wake of pregnancy loss:

1. Breathe. Studies show that Mindful breathing exercises shift us out of fight or flight and activate our pre-frontal cortex- which is responsible for higher executive functioning. This supports our recovery from traumatic events and helps us to be present with and to integrate these experiences in a healthy way.

Mindfulness allows us to have the perspective we need to see our way through difficult times, without avoiding or being completely high-jacked by the negative impacts of the associated stress. Accessing resources like a Mindfulness class or a Mindfulness App like Headspace have far-reaching benefits.

2. Nourish and renew. Pregnancy loss and stillbirth can be draining both physically and emotionally. Eat replenishing foods, that are nutrient-rich and tonifying. Try to stay away from refined and processed foods, while gravitating toward a whole foods diet.

Stick to warm and cooked meals, especially in the colder seasons. These are more easily digested, and your body doesn’t have to work as hard to metabolize them. Bone broths, which are rich in amino acids, vitamins and minerals are easily absorbed, rehydrating, and fortifying.

3. Follow up. Follow up with your doctor. Especially if bleeding or pain persists or if your energy levels are slow to recover. Your doctor can run standard blood-work to check on hormone and iron levels after a loss. He or she can also determine if there is any indication for ultrasound imaging to ensure that no pregnancy products remain and/or that healing from any procedure is going smoothly.

If you have had more than one loss, your doctor will likely want to run a Recurrent Pregnancy Loss Panel, to rule out any potential contributing physiological factors.

4. Acupuncture. Acupuncture promotes blood flow, regulates inflammation, supports hormone balance, and decreases stress. It helps with recovery from both spontaneous miscarriage, procedures and stillbirths, as well as supports regulation of your cycle after loss.

Treatment plans are individualized, based on factors relevant to your particular case, and can include regular acupuncture, customized Chinese herbs, and a review of recommended supplements, diet and exercise.

If a Western diagnosis has been identified, and/or Western Medical treatment is necessary, we make modifications to support this process. The primary aim is to help your body re-set. Should you plan to create and carry another healthy pregnancy, then we also help to prepare for this, while supporting the mental-emotional process and doing what we can to prevent another loss.

Pregnancy and infancy loss is not uncommon, and the more we speak to it, the better
we are able to understand and support one another. Bless the hearts of those who know
this kind of loss first-hand and bless the hearts of those who love and support them.


Dr. Alda Ngo

For more information on how we can support recovery and prevention of pregnancy
loss, please feel free to contact us for a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Integrative Fertility Symposium 2016 Highlights

Our team just got home from the 2016 Integrative Fertility Symposium and wanted to share some highlights. (more…)

The Natural Path to Chronic Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

If you’re a woman, your chance of getting a urinary tract infection is extremely high and many can lead into chronic infections that are recurrent, sometimes for years. There are two types are UTIs, bladder infections (BIs) and kidney infections (KIs). I will be specifically chatting about BIs, since KIs should be treated promptly with antibiotics.

UTIs are bacterial infections that are not to be taken lightly. If you have had the joy of experiencing one…you know how incredibly debilitating they are. Common symptoms of a UTI are:

  • Frequent and/or intense urge to urinate
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Pain or pressure in the lower back or abdomen
  • Cloudy, dark, bloody, or strange-smelling urine
  • Symptoms of shaky or feeling tired
  • Fever or chills, nausea and vomiting (likely a sign that the infection has gone to the kidneys) 

If you suspect you have a UTI, it is imperative that you head to the medical doctor to get a urine sample to confirm. In younger, sexually active women, sudden onset of painful urination can also be due to chlamydia infection or gonorrhea (rarely), so getting a urine culture as well is beneficial. The majority of UTIs are bacterial in origin so medical doctor’s prescribe antibiotics during an acute episode. Some women who have chronic BIs are given long-term antibiotics for preventative measures. However, frequent antibiotic use, especially in women with chronic BIs, has been shown to alter intestinal and vaginal flora and increase the rate of antibiotic resistance.

Naturopathic approaches should be strongly considered in cases where chronic BIs are still a problem. Naturopathic doctors can treat acute, single episodes of BIs, but you want to be under the supervision of a doctor since these infections can quickly develop into kidney infections, which are very dangerous and can only be treated with antibiotics.

Housekeeping Rules for your lady parts:

  • If you were ever told to wipe from front to back after using the washroom, listen! This is a key factor in preventing recurrent BIs.  Since the urethra (where you pee) is located close to the anus in women, bacteria from the large intestine are in perfect position to escape the anus and invade the urethra. Some women have shorter urethras allowing bacteria to ascend more easily to the bladder, making them more prone to BIs.
  • Another housekeeping tip is to urinate after sex. Having sex can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract, again causing an infection in the urethra.
  • Avoid vaginal hygiene products (ie. douches), which can be irritating to the urethral area and alter the vaginal flora.
  • Research has shown that wearing cotton underwear can reduce the chance of UTIs since it is more breathable.

Dietary recommendations:

  • Increase your intake of water to ensure you are peeing regularly to flush out bacteria and prevent their adherence to the urethra.
  • Add in some UNSWEETENED PURE cranberry juice (not the Welch’s cranberry or any “cranberry cocktail” drinks). It is a known anti-adhesion agent, meaning it can prevent the bacteria from setting up shop in your urethra. It can be found in different forms: juice, tablets or capsules. You want to be drinking about 250-300ml/day, which you can dilute in some water since the pure cranberry juice can be quite tart. Cranberry juice is also safe and effective for the prevention of UTI’s in pregnancy, which is important since they tend to be more common.
  • Your GUT and VAGINAL flora are key players in preventing recurrent BIs, therefore keep your diet low in sugar and high in fiber, specifically from dark leafy greens.
  • To reduce the susceptibility to bladder infections it may be necessary to address and remove food sensitivities.

Supplement Recommendations:

  • Probiotics: can help keep the vaginal and gut flora balanced. You want to make sure the probiotics specifically contain the Lactobacillus species. One of my favorites is the UltraFlora’s Women’s by Metagenics that contains a 50:50 blend of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri, once/day. This targets healthy vaginal flora by increasing the number of beneficial lactobacilli. Lactobacillus generates an acidic vaginal pH and interferes with the adhesion of common urinary bacteria. Vaginal probiotic suppositories have been used weekly and shown to reduce the incidence of UTIs after 12 months.
  • D-Mannose: a simple sugar that acts similarly to cranberry in that is prevents the adherence of bacteria. It can be used for treating acute BIs and for prophylaxis in women prone to recurrent infections. It has been shown to be more or just as effective as antibiotics when used for chronic BIs but with a much lower incidence of side effects. A general dose is around 2 grams of powder/day during an acute infection.
  • A healthy immune system can help the body resist infections. Specific vitamins I recommend are Vitamin C. Studies have shown that it increases the release of nitric oxide in the urine, which acts as a bacterial killing agent against the most common bacteria that causes UTIs, E.Coli. General dose is around 1-2grams/day. Vitamin A and Zinc are other common recommendations for supporting the immune system.

Herbal Recommendations:

  • For acute bladder infections, berberine extracts (found in various plants – Hydrastis Canadensis and Berberis vulgaris) have significant antimicrobial activity. It inhibits the growth of several bacteria, including resistant E.Coli (common in chronic BI patients). Berberine can also act as an antimicrobial to treat dysbiosis (altered bacterial flora in the gut), which can indirectly reduce the occurrence of BIs since dysbiosis can increase the incidence of BIs.
  • Other great anti-septics used in acute cases are: Uva Ursi and Yarrow. Can be done as an infusion/tea so they can be flushed through the urinary tract. The addition of marshmallow root can be added if symptoms of burning are present. These preparations can also be taken in capsule form.
  • If stress is associated with your chronic BI, it is beneficial to incorporate herbs that specifically work at supporting your stress response while ensuring your immune system stays in check.
  • Just a note: recurrent bladder infections are common in postmenopausal women due to the decrease in estrogen and its role in maintaining healthy vaginal flora and mucosa. There are many herbal recommendations that can help support this hormone imbalance and important to address these changes to reduce the reoccurrence of UTIs.

This information given is not to discourage antibiotic use, since in some cases it is absolutely necessary. It is to provide you with more preventative strategies and other naturopathic alternatives for treating chronic UTIs, all of which have much lower side effects compared to long-term antibiotics.

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment at Whole Family Health, please contact us today!

How and Why Gluten Wreaks Havoc on our Bodies

Why is gluten such a problem now??
To put it simply, we’re no longer eating the wheat that our parents ate.   (more…)

The Hypothyroid Series Part 3: the Relationship Between Insulin and Thyroid Function

If you have read all my past articles on thyroid health, you likely already know the importance of it’s function and how stress can be a huge contributor to hypothyroidism.  (more…)

The Hypothyroid Series: the Effects of Stress  


In this article series, I wanted to address how stress can greatly effect the functioning of the thyroid gland. My last article on hypothyroidism covered the anatomy of the thyroid gland and how routine lab testing may not be the most reliable indicator of thyroid status.

There are many factors that can lead to hypothyroidism but stress is one of the most important causes since it is something we all experience in our lives. The obvious stressors we encounter on a daily basis are situations like driving in traffic, rushing to an appointment, busy schedules, or losing a job. One thing I want to point out is other physiological stressor’s that people don’t really consider being an actual “stress,” but in fact they can trigger that same stress response. These include food sensitivities (intolerance), autoimmune issues, digestive issues, blood sugar swings, and underlying inflammation. All these conditions will alert your stress system to turn ON.

Specific hormones (cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine) are secreted from the adrenal glands (small glands that sit on our kidneys) to regulate our stress response. These hormones that are secreted play a crucial role in the proper functioning of the thyroid, therefore when stress becomes chronic, our adrenal glands become overworked and therefore throw off the proper functioning of the thyroid gland (explain later in more detail).

Some common symptoms and signs that indicate overworked adrenals:

  • Fatigue (with adequate sleep)
  • Headaches
  • Sugar and caffeine cravings
  • Sleep issues
  • Mood swings
  • Chronically sick
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Feeling wired or burnt out
  • Low sex drive
  • Decreased recovery from exercise
  • Increased allergies

Adrenal stress can mimic symptoms of hypothyroidism therefore it is important to consider your adrenal health. Typically it is a combination of both glands being involved, especially if stress is part of your case. This can occur commonly when patients do not improve with synthroid or other thyroid medications, since the adrenals themselves require some support in order to improve thyroid health.

How adrenal stress can directly impact thyroid function:

In my previous article on hypothyroidism I explained the importance of T3 and T4 (our thyroid hormones). The conversion from T4 to T3 is very important since T3 is the active form and the only form that can be used up by our cells.

When our stress response turns ON, inflammatory cytokines (immune factors that initiate responses against infections) interfere with the conversion of T4 to T3. These inflammatory cytokines have also shown to suppress thyroid receptor site sensitivity. This means the thyroid hormones are unable to be used by your cells properly resulting in hypothyroidism (in this case, lab markers TSH, T4, and T3 are usually normal).

Our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is what controls the body’s reaction to stress and as the name implies, it consists of a network of interactions between the hypothalamus, the pituitary and the adrenal glands. When chronic stress is present, it has been shown that the hypothalamus and pituitary gland function decreases. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are also both involved in the synthesis of thyroid hormones therefore a disruption in the HPA axis will also cause a decrease in thyroid production, leading to hypothyroid symptoms. The inflammatory cytokines mentioned above also down-regulate the HPA axis and has shown to decrease TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone).

One of the most common causes of hormonal imbalance, seen in the clinic, is due to chronic stress. Cortisol (one of the stress hormones) can decrease the liver’s ability to clear excess estrogens from the body. This excess estrogen in the body increases levels of something called thyroid binding globulin (TBG), which attaches to the thyroid hormone making it inactive and not usable to activate any cellular processes. A high TBG can cause a low T3 and low T4/T3. Birth control pills and estrogen replacements (eg. Premarin) can cause an elevated TBG as well.

When stressed, you are likely more vulnerable to autoimmune thyroid conditions (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Grave’s disease).  This autoimmune response can cause the thyroid to make too much thyroid hormone, especially after a sudden, stressful change (Grave’s disease). This is why you typically see significant weight loss after say a divorce or death in the family. Excessive, chronic stress can produce the opposite (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis). Adrenal stress can have a profound effect on the immune system regulation. Therefore, if regulation is out of whack, you become more prone to autoimmune diseases.

How to balance your adrenal glands?

Must address all the conditions that cause stress, not just the psychological and emotional stressors, but also the physiological stressors, such as: food intolerances, gut dysfunction, inflammation, blood sugar imbalances, fatty acid deficiencies and anemia.

Some general guidelines:

  • Stabilize blood sugar (low carbohydrate diet)
  • Stress management and relaxation techniques
  • Avoid dietary causes of inflammation (food sensitivities, refined sugars, etc)
  • Minimize any stimulants (caffeine)
  • Adequate DHA and EPA (Omega-3’s)
  • Adequate B vitamins (depleted with chronic stress)

Specific adaptogenic herbs and supplements are typically used to help modulate the stress response and support the adrenal glands. Some include Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Ginseng, Holy Basil, and Schisandra. These herbs are potent and have a significant effect on the body therefore they should be taken under the supervision of a health care practitioner.

Adrenal Function Testing is also another tool typically used by naturopathic doctors to assess the stage of your adrenal stress. This can further specify what herbs/nutrients would be indicated since treatment does change based on what stage your at currently.

If you are interested in a consultation to learn more about how naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help with thyroid issues, please feel free to contact us today!

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