Is this the number one toxin for your heart?

Seventy-five percent of Americans report they’re exposed to moderate or high levels of it. We encounter it nearly everywhere: in the office, at home, in traffic—even (maybe especially?) at school drop-off. And it can be toxic.

It’s stress.

Skyrocketing stress levels seem like a symptom of modern living. But the body’s stress response is actually quite old, rooted in a time when stressors tended to be life-threatening. Today, our stressors tend to be less serious. (No matter how harrowing your commute feels, you’re probably not spotting a saber-toothed tiger on the B train.) But the stress response, once triggered, is much the same.

And what a response it is. During a stressful event, an incredible sequence of hormonal, cardiovascular and other physiological changes occurs. Heart rate increases (you know that thudding sensation in your chest). Blood pressure elevates and energy stores are made available (the classic “fight or flight” mode). In the short term, this can be a good thing: it can help you nail that interview or deliver an extra compelling presentation. And—just like in ancient times—it can even ensure your survival when you’re faced with a serious threat.

But what happens if stressors keep popping up and those changes happen in the body over and over?

Stress that lasts for prolonged periods (aka chronic stress) can lead to diabetes, major depression and low immune function. And your heart can really pay the price.

How your heart is affected depends on many factors, including your sex. In one study, men showed more changes in blood pressure and heart rate in response to stress, while women exhibited decreased blood flow to the heart and an increase in the beginnings of blood clot formation.

Other research shows ongoing strife and failure to resolve negative emotions may lead to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) and even accelerate atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of arteries). And that’s just the beginning.

What stress can do to your heart

Increased blood pressure & higher risk of stroke

When the heart is exposed to elevated stress hormones like epinephrine for long periods, damage to the arteries and blood vessels can occur, along with increases in blood pressure and heart rate, as well as a higher risk of heart attack or stroke.

In one study of civil servants, those who believed stress impacted their health “a lot or extremely” had double the risk of heart attack compared to those who believed it didn’t.

Emotionally triggered cardiac events

Emotional triggers have been shown to precipitate cardiac events. The underlying source of stress can vary.


The risk of experiencing cardiovascular incidents may increase in the months following the death of a spouse.


Chronic work-related stresses like high demands or low salary can pose a two- to three-fold higher risk of cardiac events.


There is a higher rate of cardiovascular events in the two hours following angry outbursts.

Broken heart syndrome

A broken heart isn’t just a figure of speech. The intense grief or anger experienced by those suffering from heartbreak can cause a release of stress hormones that stuns the heart and impedes blood flow to the body, leading to “broken heart syndrome.” The hallmark of this condition is the heart assuming a bulging, balloon-like shape, and it can cause symptoms similar to a heart attack. But unlike a heart attack, broken heart syndrome is temporary with no evidence of blocked coronary arteries. A quick and full recovery usually follows.

What you can do about your stress

You can put the brakes on stress by tapping into your body’s relaxation response. Here’s how.


Try meditation, yoga, tai chi or breathing exercises. Mindfulness allows you to experience calmness, focus, clarity and general mental well-being.


Do some form of daily exercise. This releases mood-elevating endorphins and helps to “work off steam” when you’re feeling agitated or angry.


Eat more fruits and vegetables. The higher levels of vitamin C in citrus fruits and leafy greens help lower blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone.


Avoid heart-harming behaviors like smoking, physical inactivity and alcohol consumption.


Build a strong network of family and friends. Discussing problems and expressing feelings reduces conflict and the stress associated with it.


Make time for enjoyable activities daily. A lower perceived level of life enjoyment has been linked with higher risks of cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality, particularly in men.


Botanical medicines categorized as “adaptogens” have been shown to improve the body’s response to and recovery from stress.

Eleuthero is one such adaptogen, with evidence pointing to its ability to help the body accommodate adverse physical conditions and improve mental performance.

Ashwagandha is a favorite adaptogen from the Ayurvedic tradition. In preliminary research, it has shown anti-stress effects.

Rhodiola rosea may improve physical performance and mitigate mental fatigue. Win-win.

Consult your health care practitioner before taking supplements to ensure they are right for you.

Aging Positively

Canada now has more adults over 65 than it does children under 15. It’s never too early to learn how to age positively.

People are living longer, and living well. The face of aging in Canada is changing dramatically as life expectancy increases, with an average increase of five years between 1990 and 2012, according to World Health Organization statistics.

With the ongoing pursuit of knowledge to slow down the biological clock, several new insights have helped uncover the science behind aging and its related diseases, unlocking an array of exciting antiaging strategies.

What do free radicals have to do with it?

The secrets of true antiaging lie in the health of our cells. Several vital cellular elements are involved in aging that determine lifespan and longevity. Among the various theories put forth to explain the phenomenon of aging, the “free radical theory” has gained the most acceptance.

Free radicals damage cellular components and DNA, resulting in altered and compromised cell function. This process is continuous and increases with age, causing oxidative damage to tissues that leads to inflammation.

This cellular inflammation and dysfunction has been linked with cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and neurological diseases. Antioxidants are said to deactivate or quench free radicals to neutralize them before they attack cells.

Recent research has shown that oxidative stress causes mutations in DNA, which further perpetuate a decline in cellular energy, and an ongoing production of free radicals. Natural antioxidants are proving to be powerful warriors in the fight against cellular aging.

What do telomeres have to do with it?

Telomere length is another intriguing concept that contributes to cellular health. A telomere is a repeating sequence of DNA that forms a protective cap at the end of a chromosome, much like the tags at the end of shoelaces.

Telomeres play a critical role in maintaining the integrity and stability of the genome, and telomere length is a unique marker of biological age. As each cell divides and replicates, the telomeres shorten. This process continues until the telomere runs out, rendering a poor state of cell health that eventually brings about dysfunction and cell death.

Cardiovascular morbidities, neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and some cancers have been associated, in studies, with telomere shortening; this is further accelerated by oxidative stress and free-radical damage.

Nutrients that combat aging

Science is now revealing the remarkable capacity of certain nutrients to slow down biological aging, restore optimal cell health, and protect and promote telomere lengthening. Embrace healthy aging by incorporating the following 10 age-defying nutrients into your diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Multiple studies have shown the cardioprotective benefits associated with high intakes of marine omega-3 fatty acids. They exert lipid-lowering effects, reduce blood pressure, and resolve inflammation.

In a study of 608 cardiovascular patients followed over a five-year period, those with the highest intakes of DHA/EPA (docosahexaenoic acid/eicosapentaenoic acid) had the slowest rate of telomere shortening. Omega-3 fats may also play a role in activating telomerase, the enzyme responsible for reversing telomere shortening.

A recent clinical trial with 71 diabetic women showed that omega-3 fatty acids lower serum glycosylated hemoglobin levels (HbA1c)—the standard test for monitoring glucose control. The findings also showed an increase in antioxidant capacity, which reduces diabetic complications.


Famous for its role in the so-called French paradox (French wine drinkers with a low incidence of heart disease despite a high-fat diet), resveratrol is a polyphenol found in grapes, other berries, and peanuts. Its mighty antioxidant activity not only scavenges free radicals, but also enhances the production of another powerful antioxidant, glutathione, which is said to facilitate detoxification.

A major constituent of red wine, resveratrol enhances pancreatic function and improves insulin sensitivity in lab studies. Its anti-inflammatory activity may also have applications as a topical cream to treat aging skin.


Curcumin, the most active constituent of turmeric, a herb used in spicy Indian cuisine, has been extensively studied for its benefits in fighting cancer and in relieving pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. In particular, curcumin enhances immune activity and protects brain mitochondria against oxidative stress and amyloid plaque formation associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

This antioxidant is vital for several functions in the body and is ubiquitous (used by every cell). CoQ10 is involved in producing cellular energy and protects mitochondria from damage. Its use in improving vascular function in heart disease is well known.

Its relevance in the health of hair provides a novel use for this nutrient due to its positive effects on the mature hair follicle. CoQ10 stimulates the production of hair keratin, which is an essential component for strong and healthy hair.

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)

ALA displays strong antioxidant activity, improves blood flow to nerves, and increases glucose uptake in cells, making it an effective antidiabetic agent. Several clinical trials have shown its use as an effective vasodilator for hypertensive individuals, with promising results in improving cardiac function and reducing atherosclerotic burden.

Vitamin D

In a study of 2,100 female twins, those with the highest vitamin D levels had the longest telomeres compared to those with low intakes and associated shorter telomeres. Declining vitamin D levels are also correlated with higher inflammatory markers—a double whammy that increases the risk for developing autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

The good news is that adequate vitamin D levels inhibit inflammation, thereby offering protection from many diseases.


Widely used as a qi-invigorating herb in Chinese medicine to alleviate fatigue and weakness, astragalus is also known for its antiviral actions. A compound using astragalus as a prime active ingredient has been shown in lab tests to boost the production of telomerase in cells, which allows dividing cells to replace lost bits of DNA, and even restore healthy cell division.

Folic acid

Telomere length is also influenced by processes called DNA integrity and methylation; both involve folate, and this association has been reported in men and women. Chronic stress is also linked to a lack of adequate methylation, which affects mood and energy, while low serotonin levels and depression also correlate with folate deficiency.

Low folate levels also lead to elevated homocysteine levels, which contribute to heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Supplement with folic acid if your folate levels are low.

Vitamin K

Most people aren’t getting enough of this nutrient, which is found in green leafy vegetables and natto (fermented Japanese soybeans). Vitamin K is known for its role in blood clotting, and studies are pointing out its significance in decreasing bone loss and fracture risk among postmenopausal women.

Calcification of arteries leading to cardiovascular disease and formation of varicose veins are also linked to inadequate vitamin K levels. New research is now illuminating the protective effects of this vitamin in prostate cancer.


Interleukin-6 (IL-6), an inflammatory cytokine strongly associated with age-related loss of strength and muscle mass, is exacerbated with free-radical formation, leading to joint pain. Exercise decreases inflammation, but for older individuals the ability to recover from exercise can be challenging, enhancing the inflammatory cascade. Taurine is an amino acid that acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory and reduces IL-6 production to enable proper recovery and sufficient energy for those who enjoy being active.

Modern Day Stress

When you feel like you’re drowning in a bottomless sea of deadlines, expectations, and long to-do lists, do you reach for more caffeine or sugar-laden snacks to give you a lift? Read on to find much more effective solutions.

Do you feel like you’re drowning in a bottomless sea of deadlines, expectations, and long to-do lists? Are low energy and fatigue common complaints? And are you susceptible to negative moods including irritability or frustration under stress?

Temporary solutions

You should know that what you think will be the gratifying promise of energy from that mid-afternoon candy bar or third cup of coffee is really only a temporary solution to lagging energy or low mood.

Over time, excess caffeine and sugar-laden snacks coupled with stress and a sedentary lifestyle brew up the perfect storm, resulting in a cycle of fatigue, nutrient imbalances, and poor stress response.

Stress can be good

Stress affects everyone and is an inescapable part of life. The susceptibility to stress varies from person to person, as does the response to stress. Short bursts of stress to overcome lethargy or to enhance performance constitute a positive and healthy stress response.

Hans Selye, one of the pioneers of the modern study of stress, referred to this as “eustress,” describing it as a positive force to enhance adaptation mechanisms to stress, as well as to alert the body to make necessary lifestyle changes. This action-stimulating stress gives a hockey player the competitive edge or enables a singer to project enthusiastically, creating a sense of mastery and accomplishment.

Stress can be bad

On the flip side, stress is perceived as a negative experience when it fatigues the body, causes behavioural and physical problems, and contributes to chronic disease. This state of “distress” can produce overreaction, confusion, poor concentration, and anxiety. Neurons in the brain generally “talk” to each other, but during sustained stress over time, these neuronal processes are halted, affecting memory, ability to learn, and the stress response.

Physiologically, human beings are designed to respond to short-term emergencies. The “fight or flight” response initiated by the adrenal glands mobilizes adrenalin and cortisol to release blood sugar and increases blood pressure and heart rate for better oxygen perfusion to the muscles.

Once the crisis is over, the body activates immune responses and calming neurotransmitters to recover from the stress. Harmful effects occur when the stress response system remains in the “on position” chronically, leading to a host of stress-related diseases. Traffic jams, marital strife, financial woes, and other stressors can create an imbalance in homeostasis, the state in which the body maintains a particular balanced physiology.

Interestingly, for cognitively sophisticated humans, the stress-response can also be activated simply by thinking about a stressful situation. Based purely on anticipation, it’s possible to turn on a stress response as robust as if the event had actually occurred! Anticipatory stress can result in anxiety, paranoia, and even depression.

Understanding the physiology of ongoing stress

When stress is prolonged, the adrenal glands eventually become exhausted and depleted, and adrenal fatigue results. The excess cortisol that is released strains body parts and weakens the immune system, which can then cause blood sugar imbalances, insulin resistance, mood and sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, frequent colds or infection, and weight gain.

Ongoing or excessive stress responses can eventually manifest as autoimmune disease, peptic ulcers, cardiovascular disease, or even cancer.

Workplace stress: increasing global concern

This physiological model of stress holds true in the modern workplace, where multiple pressures to perform, economic upheaval, layoffs, downsizing, pay cuts, and increased workloads along with job dissatisfaction or lack of support are all major sources of stress.


Work-related stress is defined by the World Health Organization as “the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities, and which challenge their ability to cope.”

In Canada, 62 percent of highly stressed workers identify work as their main source of stress. This growing concern is also reflected globally; Japan and China, where long working hours are expected, each have a word for death by overwork: karoshi and guolaosi, respectively.

Learning to adapt to stress

Developing the ability to predict stressors and build self-control by using effective communication, considered a form of emotional intelligence, minimizes stress. Emotional support through leisure time and social connections can also counteract some of the negative effects of stress.



Natural substances known as adaptogens, used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to promote a sense of well-being by regulating the adrenal stress response, may help reduce the intensity and negative impacts of stress.

Ashwagandha is an anti-inflammatory and calming tonic that is believed to protect against oxidative stress and prevent premature aging.

Rhodiola is an antianxiety adaptogen that is taken to help boost the immune system and improve mental and physical stamina.

Holy basil (or tulsi) may help promote longevity, relieve fatigue, and elevate mood.

Shatavari is referred to as the queen of herbs because of its traditional use for rejuvenating female hormonal health and normalizing sleep disturbances and insulin secretion.

Simple lifestyle strategies

Focus on these lifestyle factors to help boost resilience, well-being, and balance between work and family or personal life.

Eleuthero is used as a performance and focus enhancer to increase mental alertness and concentration.

Exercise increases endorphins (feel-good neurotransmitters) and helps shed daily tensions.

Good quality sleep helps improve mood and reduce stress.

Mindfulness practices such as meditation can restore calm and peace even after just a few minutes.

Spending time in nature helps buffer against stress and correlates with higher rates of happiness and cognitive performance.

Focus on Fibre

Soluble or insoluble? Fibre of any type is not a glamorous topic, but lowly fibre is essential for gastrointestinal health, and it provides many other health benefits.

Often described as “roughage,” fibre was considered to be an inert part of food that simply passed through our intestinal tracts undigested, with little to offer in the way of nutrition. Over time, research has shown that fibre is an essential nutrient with widespread health benefits, making it a vital part of healthy eating. ?

What’s so great about fibre?

Many of us know fibre is important, but we may still be confused about exactly what it is and how it benefits us.

In the field of dietary research, several studies point to the intake of high fibre, particularly from whole grains, as an important dietary intervention for health maintenance. Whole grain foods are an excellent source of fibre, an indigestible carbohydrate, containing many bioactive compounds that offer protection from disease.

The fibre hypothesis

Interest in fibre’s health benefits began in the 1970s when physicians Burkitt and Trowell identified differences between disease patterns in Africa and the Western world. They observed that the Africans studied had a lower prevalence of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer than did Westerners. The researchers attributed this to the plant-based diet eaten by the African population, giving rise to the “fibre hypothesis” suggesting that whole grains, fruits, and vegetables provide fibre that is necessary for optimal health.

According to Canadian guidelines, healthy adults need 21 to 38 g of fibre daily. The average intake is currently about 14 g daily.

For improved health and digestion, both soluble and insoluble fibre should be consumed.

Soluble fibre

This type of fibre attracts water and turns to gel during digestion, which slows down the digestive process. This decreases the absorption of nutrients such as starch and sugar, resulting in lower cholesterol levels over time, as well as improved glucose tolerance.

Insoluble fibre

On the other hand, insoluble fibre gives stool its bulk and speeds its passage through the gut. Like a sponge, it absorbs many times its weight in water, swelling up and eliminating feces, thereby regulating bowel function.

Benefits of consuming fibre

Fibre-rich foods contain antioxidants, magnesium, selenium, vitamin E, and phytic acid, which help maintain glucose and insulin homeostasis, while also suppressing oxidative damage and reducing inflammation.

Recent research indicates that a generous intake of dietary fibre reduces the risk of developing

  1. cardiovascular disease (CVD)
  2. hypertension
  3. stroke
  4. diabetes
  5. obesity
  6. certain gastrointestinal disorders

Heart health

Multiple observational studies substantiate the protective effects of fibre on heart health. Seven cohort studies comprising over 158,000 individuals indicate that CVD prevalence is 29 percent lower in individuals with the highest intake of dietary fibre compared to those with the lowest intake.

Blood pressure

Studies on the effects of increasing oat fibre intake on blood pressure resulted in a modest to moderate reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.


Ischemic stroke has been shown to be reduced by 26 percent in other studies.

Hardening of the arteries

In one study of 229 postmenopausal women, six or more servings of whole grain products per week decreased coronary atherosclerotic progression, commonly called hardening of the arteries, by 40 percent.

Cholesterol levels

Soluble fibres have significant cholesterol-lowering effects, as shown in studies using psyllium or oat beta glucan, where LDL (“bad”) cholesterol is reduced without affecting HDL (“good”) cholesterol. In the small intestine, these fibres increase viscosity and bind bile acids, decreasing their absorption and reducing the amount of cholesterol available for LDL synthesis.

Metabolic syndrome

Elevated blood lipid levels along with high insulin levels, excess abdominal fat, and high blood pressure are a constellation of factors describing metabolic syndrome. This condition has been shown to improve when fibre intake is increased.


The incidence of diabetes continues to rise worldwide. A wealth of evidence links high fibre intake with reduced glucose and insulin responses and increased insulin sensitivity. Recently, the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study reported a trial in which individuals with the highest level of fibre consumption had a 62 percent reduction in the progression from prediabetes to diabetes over a four-year period compared to those with the lowest fibre intake.

Furthermore, glycemic control has been shown to improve in diabetics, reducing the need for medication and insulin in these individuals. Findings from a systematic review indicated a 26 percent reduction in the development of type 2 diabetes among individuals consuming three to five servings of fibre daily.

Weight loss

Whole foods are digested more slowly, allowing for greater nutrient absorption, and make us feel full sooner than processed foods do. Given that approximately 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are obese, weight loss is a high priority for diabetes management. A large French cross-sectional study of 5,961 subjects revealed that low fibre intake was associated with elevated body mass index and higher waist-to-hip ratios.

Gastrointestinal health

Dietary fibres elicit a wide variety of actions in the gastrointestinal tract, which is also our largest immune organ. In the colon, fermentable fibres interact with gut flora to promote healthy bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. These generate short-chain fatty acids that stimulate the immune system, aid in digestion, and facilitate the absorption of nutrients.

Constipation, acid reflux, and hemorrhoids are commonly prevented and treated with high fibre intake. Evidence also supports a reduced risk for developing colorectal cancer when a high fibre diet is consumed. The protective effects are due to the ability of fibre to dilute fecal carcinogens and bind carcinogenic bile acids, allowing for their excretion.

It’s abundantly clear that fibre-rich foods have health-protective benefits. These foods often have a low fat content, are rich in micronutrients, and exert a significant impact on the prevention and treatment of various diseases.

Drink more water

For optimal health, we should consume at least 25 g of fibre daily. Of equal importance when consuming more fibre is to drink eight to 10 glasses of water per day, as fibre absorbs water. Increase fibre consumption gradually to avoid bloating and abdominal cramps.

Research confirms the benefits of fibre. Incorporating this simple nutrient into our diet is a simple way to maintain good health.

Benefits of whole grains

Whole grains consist of bran, germ, and endosperm components. Refined carbohydrates typically retain the endosperm, but remove other biologically active agents such as fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, plant compounds such as lignans and phytosterols, as well as the bran and germ. It is these components, however, that benefit health through their effects on glucose balance, lipid and lipoprotein reduction, endothelial function, and other mechanisms.

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Testosterone does more for men than rev up their sex drive. It’s also an important hormone for cardiovascular health. Learn how to improve testosterone levels naturally.

Intriguing and often misunderstood, testosterone is primarily a male hormone with quite the personality. Associated with all that is stereotypically masculine, such as strength, muscular power, virility, dominance, and even aggression, it stands out as the hormone of sexual desire and motivation in men.

King of hormones


Known as the “king of hormones,” it is certainly the most important of the male hormones, called androgens, that create and support masculinity. Prior to birth, testosterone influences the sex of a baby, and its function peaks at puberty, during which male secondary sex characteristics develop.


Moving beyond the sexual realm in adulthood, this hormone also governs intellect, thought patterns, self-confidence, assertiveness, and drive in men. It is necessary for the health of bones and muscle mass, proper immune function, elevated energy and mood, and several cognitive functions ranging from memory and attention to strategic planning.


Recent research is highlighting this powerful hormone as a significant factor in the health of the heart and blood vessels. Current evidence strongly suggests that testosterone exhibits many cardioprotective actions.

Low levels = cardiovascular disease?

Although the age-related decline of testosterone is well established among many male populations, there appears to be a link between low levels of this hormone and the onset or progression of cardiovascular disease in men. In recent findings, as many as one in four men found to have cardiovascular heart disease (CHD) have low serum levels of testosterone, a condition generally termed hypogonadism.

Testosterone is a male hormone produced from cholesterol and is abundant during adolescence, with levels declining after the age of 30. While the levels drop gradually (about 1 percent per year after age 30), a 2006 American study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows levels in men have been declining steadily over the past two decades. Of even greater significance is the steeper fall of the biologically active fraction of this hormone, which is the free testosterone known to modulate much of this hormone’s biological effects.

What’s the connection?

So how exactly does testosterone exert its numerous effects? Much like a “lock and key,” the hormone binds to receptor sites that exist all over the body. Interestingly, coronary vessels have the most testosterone receptors. And this is where many of the actions related to cardiovascular function are mediated by this hormone.

Coronary artery narrowing

Dilation of the vessels causing relaxation of the arterial wall, and therefore increased blood flow, is one such effect. Again in cases of coronary obstruction, a direct relationship between coronary artery narrowing and reduced testosterone levels has been shown. It should be noted that testosterone converts to estradiol that stimulates nitric oxide—also a potent vasodilator.

Increased arterial thickness

Testosterone deficiency appears to exacerbate risk factors for developing atherosclerosis and insulin resistance. In examining this relationship, an increase in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, as well as rising blood pressure, increased thickness of the arterial wall, and an increase in the production of proinflammatory factors have been reported.

Endothelial damage leads to plaque buildup

Low serum testosterone is associated with high blood pressure in older men, as well as stiffness of the arteries, which subsequently leads to damage inside the blood vessel. This endothelial damage triggers inflammation in the vessels, eventually causing the buildup of plaques that, if unstable, can erupt at any time, resulting in a rather abrupt and unpleasant outcome.

Atherosclerosis is not typically a problem of cholesterol; rather, it is a problem of oxidative stress and inflammation. And so it comes as no surprise that certain inflammatory mediators are actually inhibited by testosterone.

Studies have also demonstrated that when men were treated with testosterone, all of the parameters mentioned above improved, suggesting the importance of this hormone in preserving cardiovascular health in men.

Body composition changes

Testosterone influences body composition in men, which is altered in the presence of low levels, resulting in increased waist circumference, central obesity, and waist-to-hip ratios, as well as a decrease in muscle mass.

Symptoms of low testosterone

So how does one determine if testosterone deficiency is a health concern? The following are among the most prevalent symptoms:

  1. low energy or strength
  2. decrease in sexual sensation and performance
  3. depression and mood changes
  4. lack of mental clarity and motivation
  5. sleep disturbances
  6. decreased axillary, facial, or pubic hair
  7. weakness, increased fat, and decreased muscle mass
  8. osteopenia or osteoporosis


Evaluation of total and free testosterone levels is the standard choice for screening for deficiency. This hormone typically demonstrates a circadian rhythm, so serum measurements are taken in the morning, depending on the man’s age. It is important to consult with a knowledgeable health practitioner for appropriate lab work and thorough assessment of other possible underlying conditions.

Testosterone is a multifaceted hormone that extends beyond its sexual attributes and is a broad-spectrum player necessary in several aspects of men’s health. It has been described by men’s health doctors as “jet fuel that keeps a man running” and is vital to a man’s sense of physical, emotional, and mental well-being. 

Improving testosterone levels naturally

Natural health strategies can improve testosterone levels and enhance cardiovascular health.


Increase protein intake and healthy fats from foods including

  1. nuts
  2. seeds
  3. salmon
  4. avocados

Get more zinc from foods such as

  1. oysters
  2. pumpkin seeds
  3. legumes


Crucial for heart health and normal lipid metabolism:

  1. high quality omega-3 fatty acids
  2. antioxidants such as vitamin C
  3. fibre


Botanicals that have traditionally been used to enhance sexual vitality, balance hormones, and improve circulation include

  1. maca
  2. hawthorn
  3. Ginkgo biloba
  4. horny goat weed
  5. Tribulus terrestris
  6. Ginseng is widely reputed for its antistress and adaptogenic properties, because stress stimulates cortisol production, which blocks the effects of testosterone.


Of course, lifestyle factors such as adequate sleep and strength training exercises enhance heart health and boost testosterone levels naturally.

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Prevent or Reverse Diabetes Naturally

Type II Diabetes is a chronic disease with several complications, that has reached epidemic proportions. Improper and unhealthy dietary habits result in an overproduction of Insulin making cells resistant and incapable of regulating glucose levels effectively. This then leads to prediabetes, although millions of individuals are undiagnosed until serious symptoms and organ damage take place. The good news is that Naturopathic strategies are very effective at reversing and preventing Type II Diabetes and Insulin Resistance if diagnosed early. Addressing mineral deficiencies is a key factor, and the use of correct dietary therapy and botanicals are also important.

What about his Fertility?

Up to half of all causes of infertility are related to the male partner. We explore the causes, diagnoses, and natural remedies to increase male fertility.

Reproduction and childbirth are important decisions for many couples, and having a baby can be a wonderful and fulfilling experience. But when conception and pregnancy don’t come easily, feelings of anxiety, distress, and frustration often arise. It is estimated that up to half of all cases of infertility are due to factors related to the male partner. Here are some possible causes and solutions.

Infertility is widespread

Globally, as many as 14 percent of couples are infertile, which is defined as the inability of a sexually active couple to get pregnant after one year of regular, unprotected intercourse.

While social factors (such as the increasing age at which people marry) are at play, environmental factors, such as pollution and environmental toxins are other influences behind the prevalence of couples facing infertility today. Thankfully, there are simple things men can do to help boost their fertility.


When infertility is in question, how is it diagnosed? Getting a thorough reproductive checkup is always a good first step. Typically, a health care practitioner will begin with a medical history, including concerns such as past infections or sexually transmitted diseases, damage to the reproductive organs, medications, and exposure to toxins.

A physical exam and a semen analysis are also done to look for the number, movement, and shape of the sperm. A sperm count of approximately less than 20 million/mL usually confirms the diagnosis. An absence of sperm in the ejaculate, also known as azoospermia, occurs in approximately 10 percent of cases.

Other tests that may be done include a scrotal or transrectal ultrasound to assess any blockages in the sperm pathway, or blood tests to determine any hormonal deficiencies.

Causes and solutions

Many different conditions can lead to infertility—some that you may be able to address yourself, and some that require expert assessment and treatment.

Examples of infertility causes that need to be addressed by a qualified health care practitioner include

  1. enlarged veins in the testes (varicocele)
  2. genetic disorders
  3. blockages in the passage of the sperm from the testes to the penis
  4. sexually transmitted diseases
  5. prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate)
  6. mumps orchitis (inflamed testicles due to mumps)
  7. hormone problems (see below)

Hormone problems

Hormones play a vital role in initiating and maintaining male reproductive function.

  1. Testosterone is essential for the growth and division of germinal cells that form into healthy sperm; a deficiency of this hormone contributes to infertility.
  2. The interplay of other hormones such as LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) comprise the delicate endocrine balance necessary for maturation of sperm cells.
  3. The quality of semen is also associated with another hormone, known as inhibin B.
  4. Research also identifies thyroid hormone receptors on the testes, suggesting the significant impact of this hormonal system on the male reproductive tract. An abnormal thyroid profile can affect semen quality and fertility by compromising testicular size, sperm motility, and ejaculate volume.

Oxidative stress

Male infertility is a complex process often diagnosed as “idiopathic” meaning that standard evaluations can’t determine a cause. Considerable evidence is now pointing toward oxidative stress as a factor in male infertility.

Oxygen is essential to sustain life, and as part of the normal metabolic process, sperm produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are necessary to maintain normal cell function. However, when ROS are present in excessive amounts, either due to increased generation or impaired clearance, they reduce sperm motility and cause extensive sperm DNA damage.

Seminal fluid contains the highest concentration of antioxidants of any human fluid. Antioxidants protect from damage caused by ROS, and several clinical trials support the use of antioxidant therapy such as vitamins C and E, zinc, coenzyme Q10, and carnitine to improve sperm parameters. Of course, always consult a health care practitioner before taking new supplements. Here are some examples of this recent research.

  1. Vitamin C neutralizes free radicals, protecting against DNA damage. One 2006 study found that administering vitamin C daily for two months increased sperm count in men.
  2. Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant that helps protect the sperm against oxidative damage and supports cellular bioenergetics by providing important fuel for sperm motility.
  3. Carnitine is a key transporter molecule that also has antioxidant effects. Many studies have suggested that carnitine can help improve sperm concentration and motility (giving weak sperm a much-needed energy boost) and increase pregnancy rate.
  4. Zinc plays a role in testicular development, sperm maturation, and production of testosterone. A 2008 study found that zinc supplementation improved sperm motility and prevented oxidative damage. Another study, this one from 2012, found that older men with higher dietary zinc intake produced sperm with less DNA damage.

Environmental toxins

Infertility in men is also influenced by occupational elements and environmental pollutants. Male reproductive function can be compromised by exposure to chemicals such as heavy metals, pesticides, and xenoestrogens.

Many toxic chemicals act as endocrine disruptors—interfering with hormonal processes—and subsequently impair sperm function. Bisphenol A (BPA) is an example of a compound that may impact male fertility. This widespread chemical can be found in plastic bottles and food containers, the lining of cans, thermal paper (receipts), medical equipment, and electronics.

Phthalates are another group of widely used substances (in soft plastics products such as shower curtains and skin care products) that have been shown to inhibit testosterone synthesis.

Limit your toxic load by avoiding the aforementioned products when possible or choosing nontoxic options. For instance, opt for organic to reduce your pesticide exposure, choose canned goods labelled with the words “BPA-free,” and look for “phthalate-free” on skin care products.


Lifestyle factors play a pivotal role in the overall health and well-being of a man’s reproductive function.

  1. Weight: Obese men are three times more likely to exhibit low sperm quality than men of a healthy weight. Overweight men, too, exhibit increased DNA damage to sperm.
  2. Exercise: A healthy amount of exercise (at least three times a week for about an hour) is beneficial to improve all sperm parameters—but too much rigorous exercise may be detrimental.
  3. Nutrition: Try to consume a diet rich in whole foods, fibre, folate, and lycopene-containing fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and watermelon.
  4. Smoking and drinking: Find support to help stop smoking, and limit your alcohol and caffeine consumption.
  5. Stress: Also consider reducing your stress levels by engaging in mindfulness-based exercises or attending counselling.

A complementary approach

Addressing infertility can be a very stressful and complicated process. Working with a medical doctor, urologist, psychologist, or other qualified health professional is essential to address the various elements involved.

Naturopathic doctors are also well-trained in assessing and managing this condition and often conduct an environmental toxin assay or oxidative stress test, along with using botanicals and other natural medicines to address hormonal imbalances. Ultimately, knowledge and support are instrumental in successfully overcoming infertility.

Fact or fiction?

While the type of underwear men wear likely won’t make a difference to sperm count, there are a few surprising things that can—at least temporarily—reduce sperm count by overheating the testicles, including

  1. frequent sauna and hot tub use
  2. using a laptop computer for a prolonged period of time
  3. cycling for a long duration

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Healthy Weight Loss

Have a resolution to shed some pounds? Rather than trying a fad diet, use these long-term, healthy weight loss strategies that work.

Among the most popular resolutions are the ongoing pursuit of weight loss and better fitness. Hundreds of fad diets and weight loss programs continue to promise quick and long-lasting results. For those of us who resolve to improve our health in 2015, all that’s needed is a strategy for success.

Gaining and losing

Despite the billions of dollars spent on weight loss regimens, more than half of Canadian adults are still overweight or obese—a trend that is gradually inching upward, much like our expanding waistlines. Losing weight is an uphill battle for most; even more challenging is the commitment to maintain weight loss using healthy strategies.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion adults are overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) above 25. With nearly 500 million individuals ranking as truly obese (BMI above 30), obesity continues to represent a major risk factor for the development of serious medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.

Effective dietary changes and an increase in energy expenditure in the form of exercise remain the foundation for successful weight loss—but could this simple reality obscure other factors that may play a key role in achieving a slimmer waistline?

What causes weight gain?

The dynamics of weight gain comprise a myriad of other factors, including systemic and metabolic imbalances, poor sleep and stress management, and emotional triggers with respect to food. Much like a tangled web, unravelling these possibilities is equally important for successful weight loss.

Effective strategies

When it comes to dietary strategies to shed those unsightly pounds, recommendations that emphasize low-fat diets have been largely challenged. On the contrary, recent studies demonstrate that diets low in refined carbohydrates and higher in healthy fats result in greater weight loss.

Abdominal fat in particular is associated with insulin resistance, diabetes, high cholesterol, and even cancer. A low carbohydrate/higher fat diet may accelerate belly fat loss; raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol; and reduce blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels. Dips in blood sugar levels are also avoided with this type of low-glycemic diet, resulting in appetite suppression.

Focus on whole foods

The principle of “a calorie is a calorie” is worth examining given the benefits of a low carbohydrate/higher fat diet when it comes to weight loss. The source of calories is important, as are the effects that macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—have on triggers for hunger and satiety. After all, eating 1,200 calories of junk or processed food yields very different results compared to eating 1,200 calories of balanced nutrition.

In essence, the main components of this dietary strategy include

  1. high quality fats from avocados, fish such as salmon, and nuts and seeds
  2. protein from organic, pasture-fed meat and vegetarian sources such as beans
  3. plenty of vegetables

Avoiding refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, and rice, as well as sugary treats remains the key to healthy weight loss.

Try intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting, a weight loss regimen that has gained popularity recently, involves short spells of restricting approximately 75 percent of daily energy intake for one or two days per week. Reductions in body weight and fat mass have been observed with this strategy.

A 2011 study of women between the ages of 30 and 45 observed reductions in body weight by 7 percent (13 lb/6 kg), fat mass by 13 percent (9 lb/4 kg), and waist circumference by 6 percent (2 in/6 cm). The subjects underwent two days of a very low calorie diet each week for 24 weeks along with portion control on other days. Structured guidance from a knowledgeable health care professional is highly recommended when embarking on such a strategy.

Use high intensity interval training

The benefits of exercise in weight control are well established; however, most protocols designed to induce fat loss focus on moderately intense exercises such as jogging or walking. Disappointingly, these steady-state exercises may not be the most effective choice for weight loss.

The concept of high intensity interval training (HIIT), which is characterized by brief, repeated bursts of vigorous exercise interspersed with short rest periods, is emerging as an attractive alternative to more traditional and time-consuming exercises. HIIT typically centres on exercises such as sprinting or biking, sometimes paired with weight training at a higher heart rate, to build muscle while maximizing fat loss.

This is partly achieved through the production of hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol, and growth hormone. The rise in epinephrine and norepinephrine is an important feature of interval training because these hormones drive substantial fat loss. They may be particularly helpful in reducing abdominal fat. Elevated growth hormone levels in turn burn more fat and contribute to increased energy expenditure.

Other intriguing effects of HIIT are apparent on insulin resistance, showing increases in insulin sensitivity of between 23 percent and 58 percent.

Address unique needs

Recognizing individual differences and the uniqueness of each person’s physiology is an essential component of any weight loss regimen. Endocrine disturbances such as hypothyroidism, excess cortisol production due to adrenal dysfunction, or alterations in glucose and insulin metabolism in diabetics, for example, may be at the core of unsuccessful weight loss attempts.

Furthermore, the hormonal systems are interdependent and interconnected, so it may not be unusual for an individual with low 
thyroid function to manifest insulin resistance as well. Addressing these imbalances with a health care practitioner is vital for sustained weight loss.

Sleep more

Body weight is also influenced by lifestyle factors such as sleep and stress management. It is now known that excess fat functions like an endocrine organ, releasing hormones of its own; of these, appetite-suppressing leptin and hunger-stimulating ghrelin are among the most important.

Sleep deprivation has been recognized as a contributing factor to weight gain, with approximately 30 percent of adults reporting six or fewer hours of sleep per night. Studies have clearly shown that fragmented sleep alters glucose metabolism, increases ghrelin levels, and decreases leptin levels—thereby elevating BMI and increasing appetite.

Stress less

Ongoing chronic stress raises cortisol, which contributes to a spare tire in the midsection for many who struggle with weight loss. The combination of high cortisol levels and the desire to eat comfort foods during stressful events further influences the hunger hormone ghrelin, by blunting its effects and subsequently prolonging eating episodes.

Practising sound stress-management techniques, such as meditation or yoga, and improving sleep hygiene are integral elements in the pursuit of better health and greater fitness. 

Herbs and supplements for weight loss

Omega-3 fatty acids

Incorporating certain nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils has shown significant reductions in fat mass in healthy adults, as reported in a 2010 study. Moreover, the research describes an increase in lean muscle mass. Combining fish oil supplementation with interval training and suggested dietary changes appears to boost this effect—a study with 15 overweight women observed a 6 lb (2.6 kg) reduction in fat and a 36 percent increase in insulin sensitivity.


Another novel nutrient showing promise in this regard is magnesium, where a deficiency has been associated with higher abdominal fat, insulin resistance, and impairments in energy metabolism. Interestingly, food sources containing chlorophyll, such as green vegetables, are highest in dietary magnesium, followed by legumes, nuts, seeds, and animal protein.

Herbs and spices

Using spices such as ginger and cayenne or herbs such as fenugreek and holy basil may augment weight loss by improving digestion, balancing blood sugar levels, and moderating the stress response.

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DNA Genetic Testing

True personalized medicine is predictive, precise, preventive and participatory.  Genetic testing and nutrigenomics are the future of individualized healthcare.  The impact of diet, lifestyle, exercise and environment on an individual’s genetic makeup influences how the genes function and subsequently results in outcomes related to health or disease.

Genes are made up of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) providing two copies of each gene, one inherited from each parent.  DNA consists of nucleotides, 99% of which are identical between individuals, but the remaining 1% contain small variations known as SNPs (singl nucleotide polymorphisms). These genetic variations or SNPs can have profound effects on how genes function and in turn affect the biological pathway in which the gene is active.  Metabolic areas requiring intervention and support can then be identified to enhance a state of health.  This is a powerful advantage in assembling a naturopathic protocol that is truly customized to the individual.

Acid Reflux Disorders

Millions of us suffer from acid reflux disorders, such as heartburn. However, there are natural remedies and solutions.

Almost everyone experiences some form of digestive disturbance during their lifetime. For many, minor indigestion or heartburn is often manageable. However, when these seemingly mild symptoms become more than a simple annoyance, something more critical may be developing.

Several million Canadians suffer from more serious digestive disorders known as acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and gastric ulcers.

Heartburn explained

Approximately one-quarter of the population experiences heartburn daily or more often. Much like water bubbling into a sink from a plugged drain, most heartburn occurs when the stomach is full and there is a reverse flow of gastric contents into the esophagus due to a compromise in the sphincter, or muscular valve, of the lower esophagus.

When does heartburn happen?

A burning pain behind the breastbone that ascends into the throat, coupled with regurgitation and an acidic taste in the mouth are tell-tale symptoms of acid-related digestive disorders. Characterized as heartburn, these sensations arise during common day-to-day events such as

  1. eating
  2. bending over
  3. lying down
  4. certain physical activities
  5. pregnancy

What are the symptoms of heartburn?

The stomach’s digestive juices contain hydrochloric acid, hence the term acid reflux. When the refluxed stomach contents touch the lining of the esophagus, a burning sensation is felt in the mid-chest or in the upper part of the abdomen. This can be accompanied by indigestion or abdominal pain, also known as dyspepsia.

A constellation of various symptoms also describe a broader disorder known as GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease:

  1. bloating
  2. discomfort
  3. early satiety
  4. nausea
  5. heartburn
  6. postprandial fullness (prolonged persistence of food in the stomach)

What is GERD?

GERD is an often misunderstood disorder, with a prevalence of approximately 13 percent among Canadians, involving the reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus, oropharynx, larynx, or airway. Heartburn is the predominant feature, and is considered an expression of GERD when it becomes troublesome and severe, occurring two or more times per week.

GERD involves a highly efficient barrier, known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), between the stomach and the esophagus, which acts as a valve that normally prevents reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus.

The LES can become abnormally relaxed over time due to various factors such as obesity, smoking, pregnancy, certain medications, and hiatal hernia (when the upper part of the stomach slips through an opening in the diaphragm into the chest).

This results in prolonged exposure of gastric juices refluxing into the esophagus, which can injure the esophageal lining and underlying muscle. Besides abdominal pain and vomiting, the harmful refluxed hydrochloric acid can also enter the airways and lungs from the throat, causing respiratory symptoms such as hoarseness, asthma, pneumonia, laryngitis, and difficulty swallowing.

It is important to note that longstanding gastroesophageal reflux can cause damage to the tissues of the esophagus, resulting in complications such as Barrett’s Esophagus, esophageal ulcer, or esophageal adenocarcinoma—one of the fastest growing cancers in the western world.

Acid suppressants— a double-edged sword?

Medications for the spectrum of reflux disorders include acid suppression, usually with over-the-counter antacids, H2-receptor antagonists, and proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs). PPIs work by blocking hydrochloric acid; however, many safety concerns have arisen regarding adverse effects and the long-term harm associated with prolonged periods of acid suppression.

This is because stomach acid is necessary for the absorption of nutrients such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamin B12. Several studies point to health problems arising from these nutrient deficiencies as a result of treatment with gastric acid suppressants.

  1. Vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiencies can lead to neurological problems, anemia, and depression.
  2. Considerable evidence shows increased risk of hip, spine, and wrist fractures as well as osteoporosis and bone loss with calcium deficiency.
  3. Iron-deficiency anemia is a consequence of decreased iron absorption.
  4. Symptoms such as fatigue, seizures, and cardiac arrhythmias can develop from magnesium deficiency.
  5. Inadequate stomach acid secretion also influences the pH of the small intestine and may contribute to the overgrowth of fungus and bacteria such as clostridium difficile.

Try natural treatments instead

Bitter herbs

Stimulating the secretion of stomach acid is an effective approach in improving nutrient digestion and absorption, often achieved by using bitter herbs such as dandelion and artichoke. Both have been used traditionally for thousands of years to treat heartburn and dyspepsia by activating receptors on the tongue, which in turn trigger the release of pancreatic enzymes, gastric acid, bile salts, and other compounds necessary for optimal digestion.

Artichoke leaf

Artichoke leaf minimizes damage to gastric tissues through its antioxidant action. In a prospective cohort study of 311 patients with dyspepsia, 38 percent reported significant reduction of symptoms after 60 days of treatment using a blend of dry extracts of artichoke leaf, dandelion, turmeric, and rosemary.


Melatonin’s many beneficial properties include its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and relaxation actions in the digestive tract. Shown to diminish the symptoms of esophageal reflux disease, melatonin may also prevent the development of gastric ulcers due to its protective action on the mucosal barrier.


Other healing herbs known as demulcents have been used traditionally to soothe an inflamed digestive tract; they also exhibit anti-ulcer benefits. Some of these demulcents include

  1. licorice
  2. marshmallow
  3. slippery elm


Consuming more probiotic-rich foods, or supplementation with capsules or powders, also ameliorates digestive symptoms. Probiotics are live bacteria that alter gut ecology, producing beneficial short-chain fatty acids and deconjugating and absorbing bile acids while limiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

Probiotics exert potent anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing effects, and evidence from trials shows improvement in digestive symptoms and abdominal pain. Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, tempeh, and sauerkraut are rich in probiotics, and supplemental probiotic powders and capsules are also widely available.

Lifestyle changes

Sometimes lifestyle modifications have a dramatic effect in reducing symptoms of heartburn. Understanding that drinking alcohol and smoking can play a large role in triggering or exacerbating symptoms is a good first step.


  1. Avoid trigger foods such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate, spicy or fatty foods, and carbonated drinks.
  2. Replenish lost nutrients such as vitamin B12, calcium, and magnesium.
  3. Reduce weight, if overweight.


Engaging in exercises such as yoga has shown a positive impact on digestive disorders. Yoga exercises such as Kapalbhati and Agnisar Kriya have been demonstrated to be beneficial in GERD as they increase diaphragmatic tone, thereby decreasing esophageal reflux.

These types of pranayama (breathing control techniques) strengthen the diaphragm and LES tone, and improve gastrointestinal motility. Stress triggers gastric acid secretion which may aggravate peptic ulcers and other digestive complaints. The physiological relaxation response induced by yoga also makes this an ideal practice to improve digestion.

These strategies are effective alternatives to reliance on pharmaceutical interventions that often come with side effects. A healthy digestive tract is the first line of defence, and an imbalance in this system is usually at the root of most other health disturbances.

The body’s delicate messaging system typically alerts us toward these imbalances, but if left ignored, recurring digestive symptoms can lead to more chronic and serious disorders. Seeking guidance from a knowledgeable health practitioner is also an essential aspect of effective self-care.

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