Natasha Klemm ND

Combining the wisdom of nature and art of science, Naturopathic Medicine is your healthcare solution.


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How Stress Affects Your Hormones.

By. Dr. Natasha Klemm ND

As you know, stress has a far-reaching impact on our whole body. Chronic stress leads to increased weight, mood changes, fatigue, recurrent infections and menstrual irregularities. It is the relationship that cortisol, our stress hormone, has with many hormones that leads to whole body dysfunction.

Thyroid Hormone

The major symptoms for which patients seek medical care are fatigue and weight gain. Couple this with changes in sleep and constipation and your doctor will rightfully order blood TSH levels, aka Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. TSH is produced by the brain and stimulates your thyroid gland to produce T4, which is converted to active thyroid gland, T3. Since TSH production is controlled by adequate amounts of T4 and T3, increased levels of TSH indicate reduced thyroid hormone output. If this occurs, patients are given synthetic thyroid hormone and may feel great initially, but require increasing doses to feel energetic. The problem is that excess cortisol levels are often at the root of thyroid dysfunction. Under highly stimulated and stressful states, the body wants to conserve nutrients and energy so cortisol turns its attention to the thyroid gland to slow down metabolism. Excess cortisol prevents the conversion of T4 to T3 and often promotes the conversion of T4 to an inactive form, called reverse T3. In addition, thyroid binding globulin protein increases, tying up any free thyroid hormone, making it unavailable for use.

Insulin

Cortisol has a major impact on blood sugar regulation and insulin output, leading to increased diabetes risk. Increased cortisol output causes high blood sugar levels in an attempt to provide the body with more energy. But this leads to dysregulated release of insulin—the hormone that promotes sugar uptake into cells for energy production. And much of the sugar is not used for energy, but instead turns into fat around the abdomen—the fat that surrounds your vital organs. This leads to a roller coaster of high and low blood sugar levels that characterize a pre-diabetic state.

Estrogen & Progesterone

Women intuitively know that stress affects their menstrual cycle and PMS. Cortisol is produced from progesterone, a major female hormone. With chronic cortisol output, the progesterone steal occurs, leading to progesterone deficiency as all of it is shunted to cortisol production. This decline in progesterone is a major reason for female infertility, acne and PMS. In addition, this creates a relative imbalance whereby estrogen levels are higher than progesterone, causing a state known as estrogen dominance. With estrogen dominance, fibroids, ovarian cysts, irregular periods, and excess weight around the hips occurs, in addition to increased allergies and autoimmune diseases.

Adrenal_steroid_hormone_synthesis

Testosterone

As the body continues to output cortisol, the need for other steroid hormones, such as progesterone, estrogen and testosterone declines. With a decline in testosterone levels, libido invariably declines. The testosterone that is produced is converted to a stronger acting make hormone, DHT. High DHT levels contribute to acne, facial hair and hair loss is women.

Aldosterone

Lastly, The adrenal glands function to maintain blood pressure through the release of aldosterone. This hormone stimulates sodium retention, allowing water to follow suit, maintaining blood volume and thus blood pressure. When the adrenals are in overdrive they also produce high amounts of aldosterone, leading to sodium and water retention, and creating a feeling of bloatedness. Rings feel tighter, socks leave impressions and pants don’t zip up as easily. But as adrenal gland function declines, the production of aldosterone is reduced, leading to sodium and water loss. With less water, aka dehydration, blood volume is reduced and so is blood pressure. A hallmark of adrenal exhaustion is persistent low blood pressure and dizziness upon standing. Unfortunately at this stage, many of us feel so fatigued that we reach for coffee and tea to perk us up, which as diuretics, further perpetuate the state of dehydration and low blood pressure.

We have been told, time and time again that stress has a major impact on our body and intuitively we see how stress affects our waistlines, mood, energy levels and sexual function. With this knowledge, there is no better time to take action and reduce your stress levels!


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The Stages to Adrenal Burnout

By Natasha Klemm ND

You have probably experienced burnout at some point in your life. You may even be experiencing it now. And while it is a common term around the water cooler, you may not know that being burned out or chronically fatigued is just one symptom the far-reaching and often serious consequences of chronic stress.

Burnout is the final stage along the continuum of chronic stress. And before you experience burnout, you may already be suffering from symptoms that impair your daily life—anxiety, depression, weight gain, apathy and recurrent infections—as a result of chronically high cortisol output.

Cortisol, our stress hormone, is produced by the adrenal glands. Naturally, cortisol has a daily pattern, whereby it is high in the morning, providing us with physical energy and mental clarity to bound out of bed (how many of you actually bound out of bed?). And as the day progresses, cortisol levels naturally decline, allowing for its sister hormone, melatonin, to kick in, promoting a sweet and restful slumber. (How many of you get adequate zzz’s?).

The Alarm Stage

The problem is that cortisol is also released when we experience a stressful event. Along with adrenalin, it implores our body to react to the stressor in an appropriate manner. This made sense for our hunter and gatherer ancestors who would come across a bear and either eat it or be eaten—a pretty stressful event. This event elicited the fight or flight response, increasing our energy and mental sharpness to either kill the bear or run away, saving ourselves in the process.

But then the stressor is gone and our ancestors had time to recover and rejuvenate as cortisol levels stabilized. If we are not able to rest, fatigue starts to occur, a symptom that we mask with a socially accepted morning Starbucks and afternoon chocolate bar.

The Resistance Stage

Since we experience stress on a daily basis, with little time to recover, our cortisol levels remain very high for extended periods of time. It is during this Resistance Stage, where our body tries to resist or compensate for the negative effects of stress. This state requires a lot of nutrients and calories so cortisol starts to slow-down the production of thyroid hormone, as a way to conserve calories and nutrients. As this occurs, we gain weight and have difficulties losing it. Anxiety and insomnia creep in due to the constantly stimulated state. And cortisol suppresses our immune system causing recurrent and prolonged infections—a cold quickly becomes bronchitis and lasts for weeks instead of days. Cortisol is produced from progesterone, and excessive cortisol requirements lead to reduced progesterone, resulting in PMS and menstrual irregularities. And with high cortisol output, your blood sugar levels rise to provide energy, leading to insulin dysregulation. Not all this extra sugar is used so much of it gets stored as fat around the abdomen. And we have not reached burnout yet…

The Exhaustion Stage

Eventually your body says STOP. After an extended period of chronic stress, your adrenal glands no longer have the nutrients or stamina to keep up and the production of cortisol declines and may even plummet. The adrenal glands struggle to maintain even a little bit of cortisol output in the morning, so you feel tired when you wake up and of course you will feel tired throughout the day. And dealing with an acute stressor…forget about it! Your body is in a state of adrenal exhaustion. And not just physical fatigue, but mental as well—brain fog, difficulties focusing, and lack of motivation are very common. Exercise becomes non-existent because A) you have no physical energy and B) you have no motivation. Depression and excessive somnolence sets in. And after asking your body for calories from sugar to keep up in the early stages of burnout, your insulin output and blood sugar reach a new level of dysfunction leading to a pre-diabetic state.

Adrenal fatigue does not occur overnight, but rather experiences a slow and steady decline. And with societal expectations and social norms of drinking coffee, sipping wine after work, eating fast food and ignoring weekday sleep requirements, the onset is insidious.

When you experience burnout, your body is telling you to wake up! Which you would be happy to oblige, but hey, you are exhausted!! All kidding aside, you need to take your health and lifestyle back to basics: sleep 8-9 hours EVERY night, eat protein at breakfast and never skip meals, perform gentle activity, like yoga or Pilates, and breathe deeply to nourish your adrenals, body and mind.


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Is it Your Thyroid or Adrenals?

By Natasha Klemm ND

Do you feel tired? Do you experience sleep disturbances? Have you noticed changes in your mood? Has your hair become thinner? What about your weight? Do you have difficulties concentrating?

Sleeping business girl

If you experience some or all of these symptoms, your thyroid function may be impaired. But poor adrenal gland function could also cause these symptoms. Hair loss, muscle pain, low motivation, and poor focus could also be attributed to both hypothyroidism and poor adrenal function. Determining if it is your thyroid , adrenal glands or both is imperative for treatment.

The thyroid gland receives much attention in both conventional and naturopathic medicine because symptoms of an under-functioning thyroid—fatigue, weight gain and mood changes—are chief symptoms for which patients seek medical attention.

The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone, which is responsible for your metabolism and how efficiently your body utilizes energy. If production is sub-optimal, your metabolism slows down and your body becomes sluggish.

As many of you know, the thyroid lab ranges are nonsensically large, so despite your levels being within “normal” range, your thyroid function may still be impaired and symptoms will persist. Being aware of this challenge, naturopaths are keen to address thyroid function.

The problem with addressing thyroid function first, is that as a hormone it is intimately connected to other hormones, including cortisol, your stress hormone. And oftentimes your stress hormone may be at the root of your thyroid dysfunction.

The adrenals, two glands that sit atop each kidney, are responsible for producing cortisol in the morning and during times of acute stress as a way to mobilize your energy and mental focus. This was a great evolutionary mechanism for our ancestors, but not for those in the 21st century that experience persistent stress. Under these conditions, the cortisol output remains chronically high, depleting the body of many nutrients. The high cortisol contributes to anxiety, sleep disturbances, fatigue and weight gain. Weight gain occurs as high cortisol causes blood sugar imbalance and insulin resistance, as well as estrogen and progesterone imbalance. In addition, high cortisol levels lead the body into conservation mode, protecting vital nutrients and calories by blocking thyroid hormone production and effectively slowing down metabolism.

If the body does not produce enough active thyroid hormone, blood tests may indicated an underactive thyroid, prompting immediate attention and medical intervention. However, if the true cause of thyroid dysfunction is in fact adrenal dysfunction, patients can experience increased heart palpitations and discomfort on thyroid medication or treatment may work initially, but the dose will have to increase regularly to maintain these improvements.

How do you determine if both organs or just one are not functioning optimally? Although many symptoms are shared, there are symptoms specific to each gland. Thyroid dysfunction can cause thinning of the eyebrows, swollen eyes, and high cholesterol, whereas adrenal dysfunction can cause light sensitivity, menstrual irregularities, blood sugar imbalance, low blood pressure and poor thermoregulation.

In combination with your symptoms, objective blood and salivary hormone tests demonstrate the level of dysfunction in either your thyroid gland, adrenal glands or both creating a comprehensive and effective treatment plan.


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Why Choose Organic?

By Natasha Klemm ND

As Kellogg’s recently settled to pay 5 million dollars over false claims that its Kashi cereal was “all-natural”, consumers are increasingly confused about food labels and what is really healthy for them. Natural vs. organic—what is the difference?

It is assumed that foods labeled “natural” are minimally processed and contain no chemicals. While the guidelines for natural foods eliminate artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and genetic modification, there is no governmental body that enforces these rules. Instead they are used as loose recommendations, leading to deception and confusion amongst consumers.

In Canada, all organic food is regulated by the Organic Product Regulations and enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, using third party inspections and testing.

A product can only be labeled organic if its production ensures that no toxic synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers are used, as well as no antibiotics or growth hormones given to animals.

Exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones in our food has been linked with increased risk of autism and developmental disorders, cancer, and infertility to name just a few.

In addition to the human health benefits, organic food is healthier for the environment, maintaining a clean water supply and soil and using up to 50% less energy, reducing the carbon footprint.

Don’t let labels fool you! Organic is best for you, your family and the environment…


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What is Happening in My Gut?

The majority of my practice includes patients with digestive concerns. After months and sometimes years of persistent bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation, they can ignore the symptoms and discomfort no longer. Digestive disturbances, although very common, often lead to a long list of complications if left untreated. With the essential function of absorbing nutrients, the digestive system is the foundation of your health—any dysfunction can lead to dysfunction and illness elsewhere in the body.

Imbalances in the Gut

Food Intolerance:

A food intolerance occurs when your body produces an inadequate amount of an enzyme needed to break down a specific food. The classic example is an intolerance to lactose; an individual lacks the enzyme, lactase, to break down lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. The food travels along your gut, partially digested, until it contacts gut bacteria. The bacteria feed on the undigested food, causing fermentation and putrefaction. Subsequently, this leads to bloating, gas, pain, inflammation and diarrhea. As we age, our body’s ability to produce enzymes decreases, leading to food intolerances later in life. Excessive stress, rushed eating, as well as coffee, tobacco and alcohol also prevent the body from producing digestive enzymes.

Food Allergy:

Food allergies are the most well-known food reactions. The symptoms are specific—hives, swollen lips, difficulty breathing, anaphylaxis—and they occur almost immediately after exposure to the allergenic food. This overactive immune response occurs because roughly 70% of your immune system is present in the gut. If your immune system sees something you ingest as foreign, it may mount a response by releasing antibodies. The most common allergenic foods include peanuts, shellfish, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, and wheat.

Food Sensitivity:

Food sensitivities are different types of immune responses to food within the gut. Here, antibodies are produced against certain foods, but unlike an allergic reaction, the symptoms are non-specific and delayed, occurring an hour to 2 days after ingesting a food. Symptoms include bloating and gas, bowel irregularity, headaches, brain fog, fatigue, skin conditions, such as eczema and acne, and joint pain. Because these symptoms are non-specific and do not arise immediately, food sensitivities can be difficult to determine through dietary changes alone.

Hypochlorhydria:

This refers to a reduced production of stomach acid. Stomach acid aids in the activation of an enzyme needed to break down protein, while the acidity itself aids the disintegration of tough protein fibres. Furthermore, it provides protection against foreign microbes, like bacteria and viruses, as the acidity can directly kill an infection.

Heartburn is a common condition in North America—just count the number of Tums commercials during a football game—and it’s widely thought that the burning sensation is caused by too much stomach acid travelling into the esophagus. In reality, many individuals with heartburn have low stomach acid production. When you eat, stomach acid acts as the stimulus that closes the connection between your esophagus and stomach, causing food, acid and enzymes to flow in only one direction, down. But with low stomach acid, the stimulus is inadequate and the connection remains open, allowing food, enzymes and what stomach acid is present to flow up. To complicate things further, patients are often given antacids, which suppress the symptoms of heartburn, but in the long-term, exacerbate the depletion of stomach acid. Stomach acid can be reduced for a number of reasons, including excessive stress and medications (including anti-histamines).

Dysbiosis

Your digestive system is lined with over a 1000 different species of friendly bacteria, amounting to over 100 trillion bacterial cells. Each species has a specific function. Some species produce enzymes that humans cannot, aiding in the digestion of food and regular bowel movements. Others produce certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin K. Lastly, the bacteria have a major role in our immune system, crowding out foreign and pathogenic bacteria, preventing infection.

dysbiosis-definedUnfortunately, the friendly bacterial population can be disturbed with excessive stress, poor eating habits and food choices, medications, sugar and toxins and esepcially with the use of antibiotics, which kill both bad and good bacteria. When the good bacteria is destroyed, other species of bacteria flourish. This leads to an overgrowth of certain bacterial species at the expense of others. This imbalance is known as dysbiosis: dys = imbalance or dysregulation, and biosis = living organism.

When dysbiosis occurs, the function of the digestive system becomes severely disturbed. Bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation are very common symptoms, as are skin conditions, brain fog, weight gain, anxiety, depression, nutrient depletion and recurrent infections. IBS, which has no structural or functional cause within the scope of conventional medicine, is associated with dysbiosis.

Candidiasis

Candidiasis is a form of dysbiosis, where the yeast species overgrow at the expense of other microbes. This is often seen after a women takes antibiotics for a bladder infection, only to contract a vaginal yeast infection right afterwards—good bacteria was consequently killed by the antibiotics, allowing Candida to overgrow. Heavy metals and exogenous hormones from birth control pills are risk factors for candida overgrowth.

Endotoxins

Any living organism produces waste products and gut bacteria and yeast are no exception. When dysbiosis occurs, the microbes produce compounds, known as endotoxins, which in excess impede normal function.

Leaky Gut – The Consequence of Digestive Disturbances

The effects of food reactions, impaired stomach acid production, dysbiosis and endotoxins all lead to inflammation within the digestive tract, by stimulating immune cells that inhabit the gut. This inflammation causes the cells of the intestine, which are normally tightly packed together, to pull apart. As these cells pull apart and the natural barrier of your gut is disturbed, food particles, pathogens, and endotoxins can freely travel between the cells (instead of being processed through the cells) where they have direct access to the blood and immune system. This is known as leaky gut syndrome.leakyGut_large

It is the presence of foreign compounds from the gut in the bloodstream that can stimulate inflammation in other parts of the body, and the result is an “itis”–thyroiditis, arthritis, sinusitis. Endotoxins, if not eliminated from the body by the liver, can also deposit in fat tissue, leading to weight gain and muscle leading to pain and weakness.

If you heard that your digestive system is at the root of illness and UN-wellness…now you know why!

What Causes Digestive Disturbances?

The major cause of dysfunction within our digestive system is our diet. Our diet is laden with sugar, which is pro-inflammatory. Our diet contains multiple sources of highly processed, refined and allergenic foods, including gluten, dairy and processed meats. Our diet is covered with pesticides, chemicals and other toxins. And our diet is nutrient poor. This undermines the proper functioning of our digestive system. Add stress and busy lifestyles, which oppose optimal digestive function and you see how easy it is for imbalances to occur. Now add medications, such as antacids, anti-inflammatories, steroids and an over-zealous prescription of antibiotics and the snowball of dysfunction grows larger as it rolls faster down the proverbial mountain of illness.

How Can I Heal My Gut?

A healthy gut starts before birth by maintaining a healthy microbial maternal environment. The infant is first inoculated with good bacteria as she travels through the birth canal. Then, through skin to skin contact and breast feeding, her gut and immune system continue to mature. Avoiding unnecessary antibiotics and medications is extremely important. Sitting down for dinner, chewing food properly and not being rushed are dining skills that should be re-adopted from earlier generations. This places your body in a state of “rest” to digest, which is the opposite of stressed!

The Four Pillars of Healing the Gut

If you suffer from digestive dysfunction, there are four pillars that need to be addressed to gain back your gut’s vitality.

  1. Remove: Remove the injurious foods, chemicals and toxins your digestive system is exposed to.
  1. Replace: Replace the healing nutrients and enzymes that your body is not adequately producing. Also, replace the refined, processed and chemical-laden diet, with a whole foods diet—food is picked from a tree, plucked from the ground or shot in a field.
  1. Reinoculate: Reinoculate the friendly gut bacteria.
  1. Repair: Repair the gut lining and eliminate inflammation.

As you embark on treatment and dietary changes to heal your gut, it is important that you see it as a journey. You will be given the tools to optimize your digestive function and re-establish a healthy norm. These tools are not only meant for you to feel better, but to maintain your digestive health. Knowing the various causes of impaired gut function, you can prevent digestive imbalances from occurring again!


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Osteoporosis-it’s not all about calcium

By Natasha Klemm ND

Thirty years ago, calcium supplementation was all the rage. Take it for strong bones, women were told. And yet the risk of osteoporosis continued to climb…

Then the balance with magnesium (ideally 1:1) was better understood. Too much calcium, (found in supplements with 2:1 ratio) or too little magnesium (a common nutrient deficiency) led to muscle cramping and even heart attacks and strokes. And the rate of osteoporosis still did not decline.

Five years ago, when Vitamin D was the greatest thing since sliced bread, its inclusion in bone health products sky-rocketed. Without Vitamin D, calcium cannot be absorbed and utilized by bone. But high-dose Vitamin D can be toxic and even cause magnesium deficiency…

Then, like all things in science and medicine, our understanding of nutrient balance grew. For reduced osteoporosis risk, not only should you be consuming calcium, magnesium and vitamin D in correct proportions, but also Vitamin K2. Vitamin K2, produced by bacteria in your gut, moves calcium to appropriate parts of the body, like bone, keeping it away from blood vessels where it causes vessel hardening and heart disease risk.

No one nutrient is the panacea for all disease. Balance in your diet; balance in your supplements; balance in your life is the key to preventing disease.


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Acid/Alkaline Balance—End the confusion.

If you are confused about acid and alkaline balance in your body, you are not alone. A search on Dr. Google reveals confusing and often heated discussions on the merits of balancing your body’s pH—people feeling “acidic” and others dismissing any relevance. Here are the cliff notes on how acidity and alkalinity effect your health.

Your body wants to maintain a balanced pH in all tissues. pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity—a value below 7 (7=neutral and the pH of water) indicates an acidic environment and above 7 is alkaline or basic. Each tissue has a pH range for which it functions optimally. When cellular pH experiences an acidic shift, enzymatic reactions are disrupted.

The pH within cells and urine fluctuates, whereas blood pH is tightly regulated. For this reason, blood is not an ideal medium to measure pH. Clinically it is very difficult to measure pH of your cells. Thus, urine strips are used in practice to measure the body’s net acidic load.

The greatest influencer of body pH is your diet. The North American Diet is high in protein, dairy and table salt, which are acidic-forming. Alkaline-forming foods include fruits and vegetables and this has large implications for bone health.

Normally the bicarbonate ion (a component of baking soda) is used to balance acidity within the body, but when the diet is acid-forming, a greater reservoir of alkaline compounds is required. This is where calcium, our bone builder, steps up. Calcium salts, which are alkaline in nature, are leeched from bone to offset the net acidity. This leeching contributes to not only osteoporosis, but also kidney-stone formation.

Many studies have shown that the standard North American Diet contributes to a greater risk of osteoporosis and that a vegetarian diet (ie: alkaline-forming) is protective. By connecting the dots between your existing diet and urine pH, a shift in your diet and potential alkali supplementation is often required. Yet another reason why a plant-based diet is important for optimal health!

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