Every day we injure ourselves. This may sound like a very basic statement, but it is true. We are injured daily as part of a normal day of being alive. Most of the time, these injuries are microscopic and don’t lead to any immediate damage that cannot be fixed. These are the injuries that can add up over the course of years and decades to contribute to larger problems. In this week’s article, we will take a look at some of the most basic ways you can help support your body heal from the inevitable minor traumas that result from simply being alive.
1. Support Your Immune System
The immune system is a complex network of white blood cells, proteins, acids, and even complimentary species of bacteria. Most people think of the immune system in terms of fighting off colds and flu. However, the immune system does so much more. In fact, our immune system is the aspect of the body that heals wounds and helps us recover from injuries of all types. If the immune system is compromised by any means, your body’s ability to heal from daily trauma or major injury will be compromised. Many athletes encounter performance plateaus over training and the related fatigue that compromises the immune system. My favourite nutrients for supporting the integrity of the immune system include vitamin D, astragalus, reishi mushroom, echinacea root, cat’s claw, ashwaganda, and rodeola.
The term anti-inflammatory has really caught on in the past 10 years or so. Many over the counter pain medications are versions of anti-inflammatories. While anti-inflammatories may be helpful at reducing pain and allowing you to temporarily do an activity, they are not helpful for promoting proper healing. In fact, anti-inflammatories, by nature, inhibit proper healing. Nutrients that modulate inflammation, however, may be very useful at promoting healing. Modulating inflammation means speeding up or enhancing the immune system’s inflammatory healing mechanisms. Nutrients that modulate inflammation for our benefit include curcumin (turmeric), ginger, boswelia, MSM, and devil’s claw.
3. The Building Blocks
Whenever something needs to be built you need to have the raw materials with which to build it from. There is no exception in the human body. Most of the tissues that need to be repaired daily are comprised largely of protein. This makes daily protein intake crucial for proper healing. In fact, one of the signs of significant protein malnourishment is poor healing and the wasting of muscle, bone, and connective tissue. The most important micronutrients for proper healing include calcium, magnesium, trace minerals, vitamin C, branch chain amino acids, glutamine, and sulfur-based nutrients like MSM, chondroitin, and glucosamine.
You can put all the best stuff into your mouth, but if you are not absorbing those nutrients and delivering them throughout the body properly you will not heal optimally. Circulation is critical to proper healing. This is highlighted in high level sports and is the reason most athletes spend a great deal of time in ice tubs and hot tubs after games and while recovering from injuries. When I played university football, we had a very low-tech solution for improving circulation. It was a collection of about 15-20 kegs full of ice water sitting outside our locker room after each practice in training camp. Most professional teams and many universities now have high end hydrotherapy pools for their athletes to use daily both in the season and off season. I encourage most of my patients to use their shower, bathtub, or hot tub as their own hydrotherapy spa in order to promote ideal circulation and healing.
If you have any questions about how you can heal from injury better or would like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Barlow please contact him at his office at 250-448-5610.
More and more new patients are coming into my office seeking advice on what they think may be a problem with their thyroid gland. In most cases, their intuition is correct; they do indeed have a concern with their thyroid. However, a very common phrase I’ll hear from them is, “They say my thyroid is fine because I’ve had the thyroid test and nothing showed up.” This test they are referring to is the TSH test, which is more of a screen for the thyroid as opposed to a definitive test. There really is no such thing as a thyroid test that tells you if your thyroid is working. In this week’s article, we will discuss how the thyroid gland can be evaluated with more thorough and accurate testing.
In my opinion, thyroid symptoms are very meaningful regardless of what any single test says. All doctors are trained to take all the information from several sources and put it together with the patient’s individual characteristics to make a proper assessment. Unfortunately, this does not happen as well as it should in the conventional system in part because there is an over-reliance on the TSH test. I’ve had dozens and dozens of patients in the past year with thyroid symptoms only to be told their thyroid gland is fine because the TSH is normal. In many of these cases, I ordered a full thyroid panel of tests and discovered the contrary.
There are at least four individual tests that should be performed in order to thoroughly assess the thyroid gland. These include TSH, free T4, free T3, and Thyroperoxidase.
TSH is a hormonal signal sent from the pituitary gland to the thyroid. The higher the number, the more the pituitary is working to get your thyroid to work. When the number increases it usually indicates a hypothyroid situation. One of the concerns with the TSH test is the range of acceptability. In BC it is considered normal to have a TSH from 0.1 to 5.0. However, many doctors consider a number above 2.5 to be suspicious and worthy of further evaluation, especially if the patient has hypothyroid symptoms.
Free T4 is the hormone the thyroid gland makes in most abundance. It is an inactive hormone that floats in the blood until it binds to a receptor in or on a cell membrane. At this point the T4 converts to T3 and the thyroid hormone does its work in the cell. When T4 levels are normal the TSH levels should be normal as well. Unfortunately, this does not mean you will be without thyroid symptoms. If T4 is not converting to T3 properly a person can suffer from hypothyroid symptoms not because of their thyroid gland but because of poor conversion in the rest of the cells in the body.
Free T3 is produced in the thyroid gland but represents the minority of thyroid hormone compared to T4. T3 is active and ready to stimulate metabolic activity. As mentioned above, T3 is created from T4 at the binding of receptors in a cell. It’s important to know your T3 levels if you have hypothyroid symptoms because if T3 is low, regardless of what the TSH and T4 levels are, consequences are likely to occur.
Thryoperoxidasae is an autoimmune marker for the thyroid. When this number is elevated it represents an attack from your own immune system on the thyroid. The most common autoimmune condition producing hypothyroid symptoms is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Autoimmune thyroid conditions are likely to result in some randomness with symptoms. This often brings normal periods of time mixed with episodes of fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, sluggish digestion, and loss of hair to name a few.
If you suspect your thyroid gland or thyroid hormones may be contributing to your health concerns I’d recommend you speak with a physician who can order a thorough thyroid evaluation in order to determine to proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
If you have any questions about the thyroid or would like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Barlow please contact his office at 250-448-5610.
It is well known in the general public that “thick blood” can lead to high blood pressure. Most people are familiar with the use of blood thinners like warfarin for this issue. In fact, many people have either first hand or with a loved one temporarily used blood thinners as part of a surgery or other medical procedure. However, most people don’t really know what “thick blood” is and how it can raise blood pressure.
What is Thick Blood?
Defining thick blood is and isn’t as simple as it sounds. Thick blood may be defined as blood that is more viscous due to various factors. However, for the most part, thick blood is a result of more clotting factors in the blood stream. This may make the blood slightly more viscous but the real issue is that it leads to more clotting in the arteries. The type of clotting I’m talking about here is the same clotting that could cause a stroke or heart attack. However, this type of clotting also happens all over our bodies every second of the day as part of our normal function. The problem with “thick blood” is that it puts us at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and/or other cardiovascular disease over the long-term.
How Does Thick blood Raise Blood Pressure?
Thick blood raises blood pressure because of two main mechanisms. In the short run, when blood is more viscous it requires more pressure from the heart to push it throughout the arteries. Secondly and more important over the long run, thick blood causes inflammatory damage to the lining of the arteries, which leads to atherosclerosis and plaque formation. These mechanisms harden the arteries and reduce the space for blood to flow through.
What Causes Thick Blood?
Many of the causes of “thick blood” are aspects of our life that we can control like nutrition and blood sugar regulation. Many of these causes also lead to inflammation, which enhances the long term cardiovascular concern. The most common causes of include poor blood sugar regulation (pre-diabetes), diabetes, pro-inflammatory diets, smoking, and excess alcohol intake. There certainly appears to be genetic factors at play that may be separate to causes that we can control.
How Do You Treat Thick Blood?
The naturopathic treatment for “thick blood” focuses on identifying and treating the factors that contribute to making the blood thick in the first place. Instead of relying on blood thinners for long-term use, I try to make it possible for a patient not to need to depend on them. Most of this work involves identifying sources of inflammation in a patient’s diet and environment. When we need treatment for “thick blood” it is very important to recommend what is in the patient’s best interest. This may actually be a prescription for a blood thinner. However, there are other options we can consider if a prescription is not needed. The nutrients to consider include fish oil, wobenzyme, serrapeptidase, and curcumin to name a few.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Barlow please contact his office at 250-448-5610.
Last week a prospective new patient emailed a question to me about blood pressure treatments that inspired me to write this week’s column. The initial question asked was about my general approach to treating high blood pressure. The follow up question wondered if natural treatments could be as effective as medications and if the natural route was even worth pursuing. I think these questions were great ones to be asked because this is on everyone’s mind who has an issue with high blood pressure and is seeking advice on the non-prescription side of things.
All doctors, MDs or NDs, are trained to think of blood pressure in two very basic ways. First of all, is the blood pressure so high currently that we need to prescribe something immediately or else a consequence might happen? Secondly, is the blood pressure suspicious but we have time to figure things out further? Typically, NDs and MDs should treat the patient with critical high blood pressure very similarly with some type of immediate intervention. However, the big difference is usually with the patients who are not in a critical situation but may have a chronic blood pressure concern.
The most important first step in treating someone with suspected high blood pressure is to ask them to take a few weeks to obtain at least 20-50 individual blood pressure readings at home, work, or the pharmacy. They should get these readings mostly at random times so we can get a sense of where their blood pressure is during their typical day. No matter what the answers are, the readings are much more accurate than 1-5 readings in the office. In fact, at our spring convention in 2014, UBC Pharmacy School instructed the NDs in attendance to quit relying on office readings and focus on several home readings instead.
Once we have established that blood pressure is higher than it really should be the most important next step is to try to figure out why. If we just jump into treatment, whether it’s natural or prescription, we are merely treating the symptom and the patient is likely to depend on that treatment for the long-term or even lifelong. Blood pressure is largely regulated by only a few mechanisms in the body. Therefore, the key to successful treatment is to see if one of those mechanisms is being harmed and blood pressure is rising as a consequence.
An example of this involves the kidney as the kidney plays a major role in regulating blood pressure. If the kidney does not receive enough blood supply it will cause the release of blood pressure-raising hormones called rennin and aldosterone. Certain blood pressure medications like ramipril (Altace) work on lowering these hormones. However, this approach in no way identifies or treats the reason the lack of blood flow to the kidney. It merely, inhibits the signal from the kidney to the cardiovascular system. In my opinion, the better long-term strategy should focus on identifying the underlying reasons for poor circulation to the kidney.
It’s our daily lifestyle habits that we should examine first to see if they are leading to poor circulation to the kidney. These include poor nutrition, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, digestive disorders, food allergies/sensitivities, sluggish liver metabolism, atherosclerosis.
Natural treatments are very successful at treating high blood pressure because they revolve around identifying the cause of high blood pressure and supporting the body’s mechanisms for regulating blood pressure. In next week’s column, I will expand on the other mechanisms in the body for regulating blood pressure.
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