The Foundations of Immune Health: Part 2 – Stress

Our immune systems are changeable and adaptable. What we do, how we live and what we think plays a direct impact on our immune systems. Because of this, working on the foundational building blocks of the immune system is important in preventing illness.

These foundations include….

  • A good night’s sleep
  • Stress management
  • A healthy diet
  • Exercise and time outdoors
  • Appropriate supplementation.

In part 2 of our immune foundations series, we will be going over how stress affects the immune system and some tips for improving the immune system through stress management.

How stress affects the immune system

Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of how thoughts affect our bodies and physical health. It is a fascinating science that helps to show that health is really more than just the physical, it’s a combination of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of our life. The impact stress has on the immune system works through a couple of different mechanisms. First, nerves in the brain that sense stress goes directly to our lymphatic organs, including the bone marrow, thymus, lymph nodes and spleen which is where our immune cells are created and stored. Secondly, when we are stressed, our bodies release hormones and neurotransmitters (norepinephrine, epinephrine and cortisol). These substances can then attach to specific receptors on the immune cells, which reduce their ability to protect the body. Additionally, stress can cause a change in behaviours, such as poor diet, changes in sleeping patterns, drinking alcohol, decreased exercise and smoking which can all lead to lower immune function. In order to optimize the immune system, it is important to identify your stressors and learn how to manage them.

Tips for Stress Reduction

Stressors are all around us. There are a lot of stressors in life that we can’t control  but we can control how we cope with these stressors. Here are some tips on how to reduce your stress and manage the stress that you can’t control.

1. Eliminate unnecessary commitments

This is possibly one of the most important tips for stress reduction.  We all need to learn how to say “no”. You only have so much time and energy, so make sure you are doing things you enjoy and that are within your current capacity. Having time to rest is a necessary commitment.  Remember you don’t have to please everyone.

2. Reframe your thoughts

After you have eliminated unnecessary commitments, identify your stressors. Although we may not be able to eliminate these things from our lives, we can learn how to reframe our thoughts so what was once stressful is now just an opportunity for growth. You can learn about reframing your thoughts here.

3. Breathe

When you take deep breathes, you are activating the parasympathetic or relaxing part of the nervous system. It helps to lower your stress response. There are a number of different ways you can deep breathe. One of our favourites is belly breathing. To do this, place one hand on your abdomen and one on your heart. Try to keep the hand over your heart still, and only move the hand on your abdomen with each breath. As you breathe in, you should feel your abdomen expand and as you breathe out you should feel it go back in. Stopping what you are doing and taking 10 deep breathes once an hour is a great way to keep stress low.

4. Journaling

Set aside time every day to journal. This is your scheduled time to worry. Right down everything you are thinking, the stresses you are feeling and the things that are on your mind. Getting it out on paper will help you to see your stressors and help to reduce the amount of space they take up in your thoughts. For an extra stress management, end your journaling with writing down 3 things you are grateful for.

5. Meditate

Meditation is a great way to bring your mind into the present moment and take a break from focusing on your stressors. There are a couple ways to meditate. You can find a guided meditation on YouTube, or meditate by focusing on your breath or mentally scanning your whole body. Make sure when you are meditating you are sitting in a comfortable position. Sitting on the ground with crossed legs or sitting on a chair with your back supported and feet flat on the ground are great options. Take the time to slow down your breathing and focus on you and your body in the current moment.

6. Schedule time for yourself and practice self-care

Doing things that you love and make you feel good are important for your health. Prioritizing you and your health will help to reduce stress to make you a better parent, spouse, child and/or employee.

To get help with stress management, or learning more about what you can do to keep your immune system healthy, book an appointment with one of our naturopathic doctors.

 

Don’t Wait to Get Your Frozen Shoulder Treated

“Will I ever be able to reach that shelf in the kitchen?”

When you have a frozen shoulder, even simple everyday tasks like putting away your groceries are daunting, painful, or simply impossible.

Frozen shoulder can be extremely painful in its early stage; it becomes even more debilitating when the lack of range of motion sets in later on. Recovery from this condition can take months – sometimes years – for full recovery.

Although frozen shoulder is a very common condition, there are some things that are mysterious about it. Typically frozen shoulder tends to affect one side, usually the non-dominant side, but some develop the condition in both shoulders. In rare cases, patients develop frozen shoulder on the other side within five years.

It’s important to seek treatment early for frozen shoulder to avoid permanent damage to the joint. During the many months of decreased shoulder mobility the rotator cuff muscles weaken and the joint capsule tissue surrounding these muscles stiffens. This can place the shoulder at significant risk for cuff tears, arthritis, and possible osteopenia or thinning of the bones.

Without treatment, the shoulder joint can actually deteriorate to a point where full recovery becomes very difficult – if not impossible.

The risk of permanent damage however can be reduced with early physical therapy, with a focus on shoulder mobility under the guidance of a skilled health care professional. The therapist might recommend strengthening the rotator cuff muscles. A strong rotator cuff can help support your shoulder and allow it to move more freely. They might also give you exercises to work on your scapula. (One way to diagnose frozen shoulder is by observing if the scapula or shoulder blade moves excessively when you reach to the side or above you head.)

It’s important to keep mobilizing your shoulder – but don’t overdo it by making up strenuous exercises at the gym.

A Naturopathic Doctor might suggest prolotherapy – both non-surgical injection treatments that can greatly reduce pain and speed the healing process. In a prolotherapy treatment, dextrose is injected into the affected area to bring immune factors to the area and effectively stimulate the body’s own healing capacities.

Take it slow. Remember that your frozen shoulder didn’t develop overnight – it will take some time and patience to repair it with a little help from a skilled health care professional. Dr. Michael Mason-Wood, ND and the team at Natural Terrain Naturopathic Clinic are trained in alleviating joint pain. Click here to find out more about prolotherapy. 

How do you know if you have a frozen shoulder?

“The pain in my shoulder seemed to come out of nowhere – and it’s gradually been getting worse.”

“I can’t seem to lift my right arm enough to blow-dry my hair!”

“I have a dull ache in my left shoulder and down my upper arm.”

If any of these statements sound familiar, you might have a musculoskeletal condition known as frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis.

The tissue surrounding your shoulder joint that holds everything together is called the shoulder capsule. With a frozen shoulder, the capsule becomes inflamed, thickens and tightens so that the shoulder bones aren’t able to move freely in the joint.  

Frozen shoulder is a bit of a mystery in that the causes are uncertain, but certain risk factors – age, gender, recovery from stroke or surgery, diabetes, shoulder trauma, Parkinson’s disease, cardiac disease, hyperthyroidism and smoking – increase the chances of developing the condition.

Although it’s best to consult a health-care professional to confirm a diagnosis, here are the three stages of frozen shoulder:

Freezing Stage

This is the first sign of trouble, characterized by pain in the shoulder or the upper arm. Pain generally worsens, causing a gradual loss of range of motion or “freezing” of the shoulder. This stage typically lasts six weeks to nine months.

Frozen Stage

This is a 4-6 month stage where stiffness increases and arm movements are severely restricted. Rotation of the shoulder joint is particularly difficult, making daily activities such as washing hair, getting dressed or reaching for a seat belt, difficult. Pain gradually decreases in this stage.

Thawing Stage

This stage is the longest, as the thawing process can take up to two years. In this phase, the capsule of the shoulder joint is thick and tight, but over time it gradually loosens. You can start to see a gradual increase in mobility and a decrease in pain symptoms.

Whatever stage your frozen shoulder is in, Naturopathic Doctors can help. Dr. Michael Mason-Wood, ND and the team at Natural Terrain Naturopathic Clinic focus on effectively alleviating joint pain through purely natural means.

 

A Naturopathic Approach to Pain

Chronic pain can be a debilitating condition. Last week we discussed some of the science behind pain, this week we will look into the naturopathic approach to pain.
 
There are lots of different reasons why a person may be experiencing pain. It is important to take the time to identify the root cause so that it can be targeted in the treatment.  For some people chronic pain is a musculoskeletal problem, for others, it’s a problem within the nervous system, immune system, digestive system, circulatory system, respiratory system or multiple of these. In an appointment for pain, you can expect a full workup with detailed questioning, a review of systems and physical exams.
 
It is also important to remember that pain affects everyone’s life differently.  Just like taking Tylenol won’t work for everyone’s pain, neither will prescribing the same treatments. Looking at a comprehensive overview of a person’s medical history and their lifestyle helps naturopathic doctors to create individualized treatment plans.
 
Dr. Mason-Wood, ND uses these principles of finding the root cause and individuality to guide the management of chronic pain. On top of graduating as a Naturopathic Doctor, he has taken multiple additional courses to further his learning and is able to provide some of the best pain treatments. Based on his evaluation of the patient, different modalities may be utilized, such as diet, counselling, botanicals, neural therapyozone therapybiopuncture, acupuncture, prolotherapy or prolozone therapy. To get a personalized pain management treatment, book your appointment with Dr. Mason-Wood, ND today!

What is Pain?

We have all experienced pain sometime in our lives. Pain can be a protective measure that helps us know something is wrong. However, when pain lasts for a long time, it can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. 1 in 5  Canadians live with chronic pain and it is one of the major sources of disability in the country.  In this article, we will break down a bit of the science behind pain.

Nociception

In our skin, tissue and organs,  there are nerve cells that sense harmful substances. These nerve cells, called nociceptors, will send a message to the brain that we perceive as pain.  Nociception causes sudden, short-lasting pain.

Nociception is also responsible for a protective mechanism called the withdrawal reflex. When we come in contact with something harmful, like stepping on a tack or touching a hot pot, our bodies react moving away from the “danger” without even thinking. Shortly after this reflex, the nociceptors send messages to the brain to recognize that experience as a painful experience which helps us learn not to do it again.

Chemical Signaling of Pain 

In addition to the nerve stimulation of pain through nociception, there are also chemical messengers that are released. These chemicals are released around the “problem areas” and can cause inflammation and make the nociceptors more sensitive to pain. These chemicals signal the body’s immune cells to gather at the problem area, provide nutrients and promote healing.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is pain lasting longer than 3 months. It is a very complex problem and can be debilitating to almost all aspects of a person’s life. There are many different causes and body systems involved. Some of the different reasons why a person may be experiencing chronic pain include…

  • increased sensitivity of the pain nerve fibres
  • the body not being able to block pain signals after there is no longer the threat
  • An underlying issue that causes pain (ex: fibromyalgia, nerve damage and arthritis)

There are many other reasons that may cause chronic pain as well. Chronic pain management requires an in-depth investigation and a multimodal approach. At Natural Terrain, Dr. Mason-Wood treats chronic pain. Book your appointment today!

Concussions: Naturopathic Doctors can support you in your healing

Concussions are injuries to the brain after a traumatic injury. In fact, concussions are also known as mild traumatic brain injuries. But for a lot of people living with concussions, the symptoms and effects on daily life are anything but mild.  Trauma such as a car accident, sports injury or a fall causes the brain to shift abruptly in the skull. This causes there to be a shearing force on the brain causing neurological imbalances in the brain and can damage brain cells, resulting in what we call a concussion. While the brain is recovering after a concussion, it is more sensitive to the stimulus around it which can cause symptoms such as sensitivity to light, vision problems, nausea and vomiting, altered mental state, memory problems, and many more.

While concussions generally resolve on their own in 7 – 10 days, long term consequences can occur that can last months or years after the initial brain trauma. In Post-Concussion Syndrome, not only are many of the concussion symptoms persisting, but a person may also be experiencing personality changes, mental health issues, sleeping problems, and problems with staying focused. These symptoms can make it difficult to carry out daily functions such as working, going to school or interacting with others.

If you are dealing with a concussion or post-concussion syndrome, Naturopathic Medicine might be right for you. At Natural Terrain, Dr. Mason-Wood, ND is an experienced practitioner in treating concussions and post-concussion syndrome. Book your appointment today!

Healing is in the Feeling

When talking to my mom the other day, we were having a discussion about our family dynamics with particular reference to the current season of Christmas. This is often a time when emotions can be running higher than normal for many reasons: expectations, past hurts or disappointments, pressure to see and do too much in a short period of time, over indulgences in foods and drinks that we don’t normally consume outside our regular routines, etc. For me personally, Christmas was such a joyous time as a child. My parents did such a wonderful job at creating the magic of it all for my brother and I. I was always so excited for Christmas day and setting out the cookies for Santa and his reindeers. To this day, I find myself reminiscing about the traditions they created for my brother and I. From the “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree that my dad and brother would usually cut from our property or the forest, from me forcing the question of “Who is the Jesus character anyways and why is He so important?”, from the most scrumptious Christmas treats my mom would bake and the turkey feast we would eat, the meaningful decorations around the house, visiting with my family from both sides, and of course, waiting for Dad to have his morning coffee and something to eat before we could open any presents (and I should mention that I was usually up first, as the youngest member of the household and the rest of my family would tell me to go back to sleep until the more “reasonable” hour of 6 am).

When I was a teenager, I started to notice more things. My parents didn’t seem that happy in their relationship. My brother, who is 4 years older than me, seemed to be up to no good with his teenage antics and he served as a wonderful teacher to me as to what NOT to do when I was his age. Eventually, my brother went traveling when he was 19 to Australia for an indefinite period and my parents divorced that same fall – the year I entered another new school and started grade 11 at Senior High School (1983). And from 1983 until 1990, Christmas was really not much fun anymore for me. I felt torn between my dad and mom, I felt obligated to make Christmas a “joyous” time for my mom and I wanted everyone to get along.

Over time, my mom shared with me why Christmas was such a hard time for her. She grew up in an alcoholic home, with a father that drank away the income he earned and a mother that had to sneak out of the house to get a job to feed her children. She looked after her younger brother because of this and did most of the household chores so that her father would not take his anger out on them anymore. It is completely understandable why she has bad memories and equally understandable why she sought a better experience for her own children when they were young. Interestingly enough, my grandfather died in December 1967, six months after I was born and my parents adopted me, in a drunk driving accident at the age of 50. Thankfully, only he died and only the telephone pole and vehicle were the collateral carnage in the wreck. Emotionally, my mother was able to relax a little knowing the worry of her fathers antics were finally over and the healing of the first 21 years of her life could finally begin.
And, at the age of 66, she is still healing. As she said to me the other day on the phone, “I don’t get it, I keep busy, I keep on doing things and then out of the blue, the feelings just whelm up inside of me and the tears start flowing. I know where it stems from – my dad, and now your brother”. My response to her was this: “Mom, the wound from the memory of your dad is so deep that it cuts to the center of your being. The healing comes when you fully stop, let all the tears flow and on the other side, you will find joy. The reason you keep so busy is to avoid feeling. God forbid any of us should stop and truly feel the pain of life. The healing is in the feeling.

It takes time, sometimes it takes a lifetime, but you only have this one life to live – so it is your choice, keep on doing and running. Or STOP and feel it – all of it. Let the tears flow like a stream, river, lake, ocean, fountain or tsunami and trust in the healing process. Trust me, eventually you will feel better and the tears will stop flowing. Right now, it is like you have a dam or wall of protection built up inside you from the experience of your first 25 years on the planet. You don’t have to defend yourself anymore and you can release that pain for good. Visualize all the pain that these two have caused you like a sack of rocks that you have been carrying over your shoulders for 66 years. It is pretty heavy. Now, imagine setting that sack down, walking away and notice the lightness you are able to feel in your being when you sigh a deep breath of relief – just one breath – from letting go. Now is the time to let go of Grandpa and of my brother, Greg. May you finally have peace this Christmas, even if I am not there to hug you”.

And the best part of this story, my mom is taking my 3 year old step-niece to the neighborhood church in their Swedish town this Christmas to introduce her to the music and the true meaning of this season.

Peace and good will to all
May everyone create meaningful memories and traditions this Holiday season.

Dr. Christina Bjorndal, Leader in Optimizing Health

Mind Body Spirit – Give Yourself the Gift of Health

The reason I became a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) is simple: I was sick and tired of being tired and sick. I had a high profile job reporting to a high profile CEO in the investment management industry and had been diagnosed with several health challenges: cancer, depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure due to stress. In addition, I was recovering from an eating disorder and an addiction to exercise given my talent as a track competitor at the National level and Ironman triathlete background.

I was used to the “traditional” medical model – go to your MD, get referred to specialist A, B, C or D and stay in the “system”. After 15 years of being in “the system” and not getting satisfactory results, I conceded to my friends requests and agreed that there MUST be another way to address all my health problems – including my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual states. I started seeing an ND in 1996, after waiting 2 years to get an appointment. And, I have not looked back. I even made an extremely difficult choice when I was 33 years of age and passed up an incredible job opportunity after asking myself one question: “If money didn’t matter, what would I be doing with my life, career-wise?” The answer came immediately to me: Become a Naturopathic Doctor and help people recover from the same illnesses you have dealt with using a balanced approach that involves more than simply suppressing symptoms with pharmaceuticals.

This issue of Connect is about your Mind, Body and Spirit – to date, Naturopathic Medicine is the only medical model that I know of, that addresses all these aspects in an individual. Naturopathic medicine refers to a distinct system of primary healthcare that uses natural methods and substances to support and stimulate the body’s inherent self-healing process. It is a system of medicine that is based on prevention and promotes the optimum health and wellness of individuals by taking into account the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of one’s life when diagnosing and developing a treatment plan.

Naturopathic doctors view individuals as an integral whole where symptoms are seen as warning signals of improper functioning or imbalances in the body and with one’s environment. The objective of Naturopathic medicine is to address the root or underlying cause of disease, rather than to simply treat or suppress symptoms and we work as leaders on your health care team, in conjunction with medical doctors and specialists, for your benefit. Give yourself the most important gift of a lifetime – the gift of health. Consult with a Naturopathic doctor today to optimize your health – do it for yourself, your family and perform better at work as a positive side effect!

Naturopathic Guidelines for Depression & Anxiety

Statistics report that 1 in 4 people experience depression or anxiety in their lifetime. The good news is that it is a very treatable condition. The naturopathic approach to depression and anxiety focuses on identifying and treating the cause using a combination of dietary, lifestyle and herbal/supplement recommendations, as well as cognitive-behavioural therapy.

Nowadays, the terms “depression” and “anxiety” are used loosely so both internal and external imbalances can be the cause. By internal influences I am referring to an imbalance in brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that leads to distorted moods, thinking, and behaviour. That is why a person who seemingly has everything going for them with no apparent reason to be depressed or anxious can be.

There are many alternatives to treating depression and anxiety. Our diet has a significant influence on our brain’s behaviour. A poor diet, especially one high in junk food, is often a contributing factor.

The levels of neurotransmitters in our brain are controlled by what we eat. One very important neurotransmitter is serotonin – serotonin plays a role in mood, sleep, and appetite. Low levels of serotonin may result from diets too high in simple sugars/ carbohydrates (e.g., white sugar, white flour, sweets, and processed foods) and lead to depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

Diets high in complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, help to increase serotonin and elevate mood. In general, eat a diet that is high in raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains (e.g., brown rice, oats, and millet), raw unsalted nuts and seeds, and legumes (e.g., chick peas, kidney beans, peas, lentils). Such a diet will ensure adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates to increase and balance serotonin levels in the brain.