The Natural Doc

Naturopathic Doctor; Home-cook; Fashion & Culture Romantic -

How to tell if you have the cold or flu

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I commonly hear people thinking that the way to tell if you have a cold vs the flu or a bacterial infection is to check the color of your nasal discharge.  If it’s clear it’s likely a cold (viral infection), and if its green/yellow/white it’s something more severe like a bacterial infection or the flu.  Well, this is actually fairly inaccurate.  Actually, it’s mostly inaccurate. 

As shown by the Berg Prediction tool used by health care providers, colored discharge coming out of both nostrils, in and of itself, has a 15% predictive value of a bacterial infection.  That’s not very predictive.  If I was an investment banker and I told you I had a 15% success rate at picking the right investments, you probably wouldn’t hire me!

So what’s the difference between a cold and the flu?  This table does a great comparison: (from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care website)

The last part about annual immunizations for the flu as prevention…the flu shot isn’t THAT effective, and there are some rare side effects but for some segments of the population it can be a useful tool (benefit outweighs the possibility of those rare adverse effects).  That’s another can of worms. 

So how can you treat colds/influenza?  Antibiotics don’t work because in both cases the cause is a virus.  Antibiotics only work on bacteria.  Which is why the typical recommendation of rest, and lots of fluids is given.  Luckily, naturopathic medicine can give you some extra tools to speed up your recovery.

Herbs - Many herbs such as licorice have anti-viral components in them that can actually help inhibit viral replication.  The dose and type of herb depends on your presentation

Vitamin/Minerals - Although vitamin C has largely been debunked as treatment for cold/flu, it does have a small benefit at LARGE doses.  Even larger of an effect when given IV.  Zinc lozenges can help too.

Immune Boosting Herbs -Some herbs like Echinacea work by stimulating the immune system, rather than killing off the virus.  Either way this helps you get over the infection quicker.
So there you go, now you have a little more knowledge to take on this year’s cold and flu season!

Note:  I offer 15 min check ups for people with cold and flus who want some naturopathic help.  This mini visit is $45!

Natural Ways to Fight Fatigue

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If you’re in university or out in the real world, you know what I’m talking about.  By the time you get home, you’re probably EXHAUSTED!  Or maybe you get that elusive mid-afternoon crash that takes a good 1-2 hours to recover from.  Either way, there are many reasons why you’re running on low energy, and even more ways to treat it!

First off, it’s important to visit your ND or MD to get some basic blood work done and rule out common causes of fatigue.  These are:

- Underactive thyroid gland (Your thyroid is involved in helping you feel energetic, and metabolize food…among other things!)

- Low iron/Low Vitamin B12 

- Depression

- Abnormal blood sugar levels (if your diabetic or pre-diabetic and you don’t know it, you’re going to feel like crap!)

- Side-effect of medication

- Infections

- Other conditions like heart disease, or liver disease, which are less likely in an otherwise healthy person with no pre-existing medical conditions

So, let’s say everything comes back negative.  Then what?  I get patients like this all the time.  They go to their MD, and everything has come back negative.  Phew!  That’s a good sign…but then again, these patients still feel fatigued.  What gives?  Well…this is when we have to explore lifestyle causes (which natural medicine is great at):

- Sleep issues

- Diet (food combining, TIMING of foods, and what types of foods you’re consuming can have a significant impact on energy.  Especially if you are consuming foods that you’re sensitive to, which most people don’t know they are until they go on a restricted diet or do certain lab tests.)

- High stress

Sleep issues can be treated by teaching proper sleep hygiene to maximize melatonin production (the hormone that makes you sleepy).  Herbs like valerian and passionflower can also help you fall asleep and maintain sleep.  Even a (proper) 10 minute meditation before bed can be a powerful sleep inducer.

Diet:  I usually do a diet overall with fatigued patients.  Often times, these patients have some amount of digestive issues present indicative of some low-grade inflammation in the gut.  What does that do?  If you have inflammation in the gut, you’re not absorbing all the nutrients you’re eating through your food.  So obviously you’re not going to feel as good.

Stress treatments are a bit different.  Stress management is more like a muscle that you have to train in order to use it effectively.  Along the way though, there are herbs like licorice, rhodiola, and ashwaghanda that can really help even out your energy levels so you don’t feel like you’re on the brink of exhaustion every time you go to work!

So there you go, some natural ways to fight that fatigue. =)

How To Reduce Cholesterol Naturally


With rates such as 1 out of 3 North Americans having high  cholesterol, it’s no wonder that rates of heart disease are high.  According to the CDC, approximately 33.5% of Americans have high LDL (“bad” cholesterol), but less than half are actually getting it treated.  This factor ALONE can double your risk of heart disease.  A lot of people don’t want to be on cholesterol medication for the rest of their life, so here are some tips of what I do with patients to reduce cholesterol levels:

1. Diet:  We all know this is important.  In fact, conventional treatment guidelines for medical doctors recommend 6 months of dietary modification BEFORE going on cholesterol medication to see if it will reduce levels.  I can tell you, from my own experience, and the experience of my patients, that this route is not adequately explored.  Patients aren’t told HOW to modify their diet beyond eating less meat and cholesterol containing foods (speaking of which, NO, eggs do not increase your cholesterol levels – more about that in blogs to come).  Dietary counseling cannot adequately happen in a doctor’s visit that spans 10 minutes and with doctors who often have inadequate training in nutrition.  And, without recipes and tools to implement dietary changes, we are setting up patients to fail.  If you truly want to give diet a chance at reducing your cholesterol levels, go to an ND or nutritionist to get properly coached on how to do this.

2. Plant Sterols:  Plants make their own version of cholesterol, and what’s great is that when we eat enough of their version (sterols), it reduces our body’s production of cholesterol!  This is why companies like Becel are marketing their products like margarine to include plant sterols.  Don’t fall for the gimmick though – Becel does not contain enough plant sterols to decrease your cholesterol levels – you need it in supplement form.

3. Vitamin B5:  High doses of pantethine (vitamin B5) have been shown in research to reduce bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol AND lower triglycerides.  This can be a good thing to supplement in addition to diet modification for someone wants to try the natural route first.

4. Vitamin B3:  Niacin (vitamin B3) has long been known to help with cholesterol levels.  It can affect your liver at high doses, so it should (as with any high dose vitamin) be administered by a healthcare professional, and not by self-dosing.

5. Red Yeast Rice Extract:  This is a supplement that is basically the natural version of cholesterol lowering drugs (called “statins”).  Both the drug and red yeast rice extract lower the activity of an enzyme in the body that produces cholesterol.  Red yeast rice extract tends to have less side effects compared to the drugs such as muscle pain/aches.

How to tell if you’re lactose intolerant

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I often get asked by patients if I think their digestive symptoms are due to lactose intolerance.  Well, the truth is around 75% of the adult population is lactose intolerant, so it likely is a factor but lactose intolerance actually doesn’t account for all of people’s digestive upset from dairy. 

There are many ways you can be sensitive to dairy.  Here are 3 main categories:

1.  Diary Allergy: This is the most severe and immediate of reactions to dairy.  In a nut shell, your immune system inappropriately recognizes a protein in dairy (casein) as an intruder and launches an attack on it.  In the process, it causes a bunch of chemical reactions in the body which cause shortness of breath, hives, itchiness, and in extreme cases anaphylactic shock.  Vomiting and diarrhea can occur as well.  A true diary allergy will present with more symptoms than just digestive upset.

A lab test done can be done to determine if a dairy allergy is present.

2. Lactose Intolerance:Lactose intolerance is NOT caused by the immune system.  Lactose is a sugar, and just like any other big sugar molecule, our body needs to digest it with a specific enzyme.  When we’re little our body produces this enzyme (lactase), however, as we grow older, most of us produce less of it or barely any at all. 

The result is that lactose, the sugar in milk, isn’t digested by our body - which means our gut bacteria gets an all-you-can-eat buffet!  When gut bacteria digest lactose, they produce gas (bloating), and diarrhea.  Thus the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Key features of lactose intolerance: 

- You should be fine with small amounts of milk (1/4-1/3 of a cup) or milk products (it takes a sufficient quantity of undigested lactose to produce the symptoms)

- If you take an over-the-counter lactaid (pills that contain the enzyme lactase) with dairy products, you should NOT experience digestive symptoms, or they should be dramatically reduced.

3.  Casein/Whey Sensitivity: Milk has 20 different types of proteins in it which our bodies can be sensitive to.  In this case, our immune system again inappropriately recognizes the protein as an intruder but launches a DIFFERENT kind of attack on it (for those with immunology backgrounds - it is an IgG antibody reaction).

This produces a delayed reaction that usually involves bloating, digestive issues (diarrhea or constipation), but can also involve fatigue, and impaired concentration after dairy consumption. 

A simple blood test done by your naturopathic doctor can determine if you are sensitive to casein or whey.

So there you go!  Why does it matter which one you have?  Well, the treatments are different, and the amount of dairy you can have differs as well depending on the diagnosis.  People with a diary allergy can’t have any at all, people with lactose intolerance can have small amounts, and people with casein/whey sensitivities can have small to moderate amounts depending on how severe their reaction is!

The Health Benefits of Growing a Beard

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What??  That hipster beard of yours that your partner hates can actually be excused on the account of health?  Yes!  It turns out beards can do more than make you look masculine.  Here are 5 ways beards make you healthier:

1. Sun Protection:  Although this depends on the fullness and thickness of your beard, research from University of Southern Queensland shows that beards can block up to 95% of UV rays!  Now, you should still apply sunscreen all over your face, but this can decrease the signs of aging (wrinkles, sun spots, etc.) on the bottom half of your face.  From your nose down, you’ll have glowing skin well into your 60s!  

2. Asthma and Allergy Filter: Facial hair can act as a filter (especially a mustache), for men who have asthma or allergies.  Compounds that trigger allergic reactions (dust, pollen, other allergens) get trapped in the hair and don’t make it to your respiratory tract.  That means your immune system doesn’t get activated, which means the allergic response doesn’t happen.  Try a beard in the spring when allergies tend to be at their worst.

3. Blemish-free Skin:Shaving, particularly for men who have sensitive skin, can cause irritation, ingrown hairs and folliculitis - all of which can cause blemishes and scars to appear on the skin.  Improper shaving techniques (not using enough shaving cream, shaving against the grain for men who have curly hair, etc.) can also increase the risk of blemishes.  Not shaving (a.k.a. having a beard), will naturally reduce the likelihood of irritation, ingrown hairs and folliculitis from occurring.

4. Retain More Moisture:One thing hair does (no matter where on the body its on) is trap moisture.  Our sebaceous glands in the skin, produce oil (sebum) which keeps our skin healthy and smooth.  Body hair helps keep this oil in the skin where it belongs!

5. Reduce Skin Cancer Risk:Skin cancer’s MAIN cause is sun damage.  This is why 4 out of 5 cases of basal cell carcinomas in men (the most common type of skin cancer) occur on the face, head, or neck.  As discussed before, a thick beard can reduce UV damage to the skin, which means it can also reduce the risk of skin cancer in the area covered by hair.

So there you go.  Now you can wear your beard as a fashion statement, and a health cause. =)

Foods that help with dry hair and nails


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I often get patients coming in to my practice asking me what they should take or eat to improve their hair & nail health.  While there’s no magic bullet, there are foods that can certainly improve the quality and texture of your hair and nails.  Often, thin and brittle hair/nails are a symptom of an underlying issue so make sure you go to a naturopathic doctor to assess the cause.  I find once that issue is corrected (whether it’s hypothyroidism, digestive issues causing malabsorption, poor diet, or something else), naturopathic medicine is highly effective in getting your hair and nails healthy, shiny, and smooth.  In the meantime, here are some nourishing foods/vitamins for your hair and nails.

1.  Biotin:

Biotin, is a type of B vitamin that has been shown in some studies to boost nail thickness up to 25%!  Although a biotin deficiency is quite rare, foods like bananas, beans, eggs, and cauliflower are jam packed with biotin.

2.  Fish Oils:

Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, you’ve probably heard of fish oils and their awesomeness for heart disease, inflammation, and skin health.  Fish oils are also good for your hair and nails.  I find patients who are on a proper dose and proper extract of fish oils, notice a difference in the moisture of the skin, hair and nails within 3 months.  Professional products matter here.  Don’t expect the same results with a Costco brand.

3.  Protein:

Adequate amounts of protein are essential for proper hair and nail development as both contain an ingredient called keratin which is a type of protein.  Vegan and/or vegetarian patients are usually prone to this… not because a vegan or vegetarian diet is unhealthy, but because many people don’t know how to execute these diets properly.  You can still have high levels of protein in your diet on vegetarian sources alone.

4.  Zinc:

Zinc is an essential mineral that mediates the reactions in your body which take protein and put it into hair and nails.  Having adequate amounts of zinc are not only good for your hair and nails, but it’s also good for strong immune health!  Oysters have a whopping 493% of your daily recommended intake of zinc.  Cashews, grains, and green beans have a healthy amount of zinc too.

5.  Essential Oil Mixture:

As simple as it sounds, a combination of 3 specific essential oils applied topically to the scalp in patients who were losing hair was found to improve hair regrowth in research compared to not doing anything at all.  Some theorize the essential oils stimulate new blood vessel growth which then improves circulation to the scalp.  More circulation = better chance for hair growth.  It’s like adding more fertile soil to a pot to help a seed grow!

Lastly, if all these things aren’t enough - there are cocktail injections available to help stimulate the regrowth of hair on the scalp.  These cocktails contain a combination of vitamins and herbs and can help you get you get your thick, voluminous hair back!

6 Most Nutritionally Dense Foods

We often read about what foods to avoid, and which foods promote disease, but what about foods that promote health?  Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are healthy, but beyond that - which are the best ones to eat?  What makes them so nutritionally dense?  In this blog, I’ll be listing my top 6 nutritionally dense foods, and explaining why they make it on the list.  I always find that once patients understand why a certain food promotes health, they are more likely to eat it long-term, and to enjoy it as well!

1.  Chocolate:  I actually have a whole PowerPoint presentation dedicated to the health benefits of chocolate!  First consumed by the Mayans, dark chocolate is jam packed with antioxidants (the compounds that protect us from aging and damage to the body).  It can decrease blood pressure, and has been shown to make clinically significant reductions in the risk of heart disease!


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2.  Kale:  I’ve talked about kale many times in my blog, and because I consider kale the superhero of all vegetables, it would be a disservice to not include it in this list.  Kale has more bio-available calcium than a serving of milk, as well as high amounts of vitamin A, vitamin K, and vitamin C.  It’s high in fiber as well which helps with your bowel movements and risk of colon cancer.

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3.  Broccoli:  This vegetable comes from the same family as Kale, so it delivers a packed punch when it comes to nutrition.  It’s high in vitamin A, vitamin K, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C and folate.  Broccoli (and kale) also contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol which has been shown to help with estrogen metabolism and decrease the risk of cancer.


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4.  Chia Seed Powder:  The Aztecs had it right with this one.  Because of the high amount of antioxidant content, chia seeds can last a long time as long as they’re stored in cool place (or if they have been grounded - as long as they’re stored in the fridge/freezer).  Chia seed powder is packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber.  This soluble fiber gives your stool bulk, but it also helps reduce cholesterol, inflammation, and it aids in toxin removal.


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5.  Quinoa:  Quinoa has been consumed for over 3000 years by humans, clearly making it worthy of the title of an ancient “grain”.  Though it is used and referred to as a grain, it’s technically a seed.  This makes it high in protein, essential fatty acids, iron, and manganese.  Quinoa also contains a good amount of fiber as well!  It’s a great substitute for white rice, or processed oatmeal.


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6.  Berries:  Though they are fruits, berries are fairly low-calorie foods compared to their counterparts.  They contain an extremely high amount of antioxidants and phytonutrients, which as we talked about before help prevent aging and cellular damage.  


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7 Food Hacks That Will Change The Way You Cook!

So, I’m sure you all have seen the Facebook/Buzzfeed articles about food hacks ranging from “bacon bowls” to cutting sponge bread with floss.  But what works, and what doesn’t?  I wanted to make a food hack blog based on what I’ve tried and what has worked!

1.  Regrow Your Green Onions


I’ve seen this on many food hack articles, and tried it for the first time - the picture above shows the results after just 7 days.  As you can see, it really does work!  All you need to do is put the white bulbs (the ends of the green onion) in some water.  Green onions are one of those grocery items that many of us (including myself) tend to forget, and having them regrow in your kitchen is the perfect way to fix the problem. =)

2.  Avocado Ripeness


I always measured avocado ripeness by pressing into the avocado to see how soft it was.  I’ve been using this hack for a while now ever since I read it.  I can tell it’s catching on because when I’m looking at avocados in the grocery store, 1/3 of them have the ends taken off!

3.  Banana Masking


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Often when I tell patients to try to have kale or spinach smoothies in the morning, my suggestion is met with a look of disgust.  I admit, spinach isn’t the best tasting thing to put in your smoothie, but when paired with overpowering fruit like bananas, you can’t even tell the difference!  Add 1 ripe banana for 1 loose cup of spinach in your smoothie and I promise you will barely taste the spinach.

4.  Reducing Spiciness


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Ever accidentally made your dish too spicy?  We all know dairy is the best way too cool your palate down - it’s cold temperature and fatty content helps dissolve the fat soluble spicy compounds that are irritating your taste buds.  But what do you do if dairy doesn’t go with the dish you’re serving?  It might seem counter-intuitive, but adding an acid can help cut the spicy flavor.  Lemon juice is most common, and actually most Indian curries have a small amount of lemon juice (or mango powder, which is equally as sour) to help balance the flavor of the dish.

5.  Soak Your Canned Beans


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Find you get really bloated from beans?  If you are using canned beans in cooking, it’s important to wash and SOAK them for 10 minutes before using it.  Not only because you don’t want to consume the liquid it’s soaked in (contains preservatives), but also because beans contain compounds that promote bloating.  Some of these compounds are released when soaked, so if you don’t bother to wash the beans (let alone re-soak them), ALL of those compounds are going into the dish you’re cooking.  

6.  Chia Seed Water


Looking for a calorie-free drink that will help you feel fuller?  Soaking chia seeds and fresh mint in water overnight and then chilling it in the fridge can make for a refreshing drink.  The chia seeds swell up like bubble tea tapioca pearls and give you some extra fiber to help you to feel fuller for a longer period of time!

7.  Best Way to Eat a Mandarin


I haven’t tried this, but it looks like the only way I should eat a mandarin!!!

Why I don’t prescribe Multivitamins


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I often get asked by patients which multivitamin is the best.  And my answer thus far has  always been “none”.  This may shock you since I’m a Naturopathic Doctor and I’m in the industry of prescribing vitamins.  But, there are three main reasons why I generally don’t like people on multivitamins:

1.  Multivitamins do not excuse poor nutrition.

If you don’t eat 5-10 servings of fruits/vegetables per day, you can’t add a “good” multivitamin to your diet and think that it even SOMEWHAT balances out.  Most people intuitively know this, but still think they there is some equaling out.  NO.  Good nutrition is more than just calories and milligrams of vitamins and minerals going in.  If it were, boy, would my job be easy.  Good nutrition is MANY things such as:

- Fiber (which improves digestive health, reduces cardiovascular risk, modulates immune health via gut bacteria, reduces the amount of calories you consume and more)

- Phytonutrients (molecules that decrease our risk of cancer, and fight the damage of aging)

- Reducing inflammation (some foods promote inflammation in the gut via food sensitivities, while other foods decrease inflammation)

- Hormone modulating (foods have an impact on the levels of hormones in the body like estrogen (organic fermented soy) and cortisol (decreasing refined sugar).

- Providing building blocks (neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin (involved in happiness, and ability to fall asleep) depend on adequate amounts of protein to be produced in the body.)

Oh yeah.  And, lastly, it’s about vitamin and mineral intake.  So to answer the question of which multi is the best:

The best multivitamin is a diet OVERHAUL.  

2.  Most multivitamins are CRAP.  

It is incredibly difficult to get the right FORMS of vitamins (because, for example, vitamin D2 is relatively useless in your body compared to vitamin D3) AND the right dosages in a one-a-day pill for $20 or less.  It’s just not realistic to expect that.  And if you’re willing to pay $50 for a good quality multi, you may have to take it 2-3x in the day just to get sufficient amounts of each nutrient.  Even if  you do, the amount your body is actually absorbing depends on your gut health.  In other words what it says on the label isn’t necessarily what is getting into your blood. 

3.  Taking a one-a-day multivitamin doesn’t do much.

In three recent studies: one found no benefit in preventing early death, another found multivitamins did not prevent cognitive decline and yet another found multi’s did not prevent heart attacks from occurring in patients who already had had heart attacks in the past.

Does this mean that vitamin therapy is useless?  Of course not.  It just means that you can’t throw the kitchen sink of cheap, one-a-day, insufficient dosage vitamins and expect it to do anything.  Any supplements you take should be carefully chosen depending on your health concerns and medical history. 

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