General Silliness

A New Kind of Contagion: An Invitation to Mirth, Surrender and General Silliness

If there was ever a time to find levity in our circumstances, it’s now. It is no secret that laughter is good medicine, but beyond improving mood and alleviating stress, it also happens to be good for our immune systems? Let’s unpack this ….

In 1964, a political journalist named Norman Cousins, managed and eventually cured (according to his own perception) his Ankylosing Spondylitis (an autoimmune condition affecting the spine). He did this though good nutrition, massive doses of Vitamin C and scheduled boughts of hysterical belly laughter courtesy of “The Three Stooges”. He reports: “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep”. Further, “When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval”.

Really? Laughter? In the words of Bernie Siegel, an internationally recognized expert in the field of cancer treatment and complementary holistic medicine: “The simple truth is that happy people generally don’t get sick.

Bernie Siegel quote

Taking a dive into the medical literature we find that laughter exerts it effects primarily by engaging the diaphragm (you know, that massive muscle that allows you to breathe?). It just so happens that when the diaphragm is working, the rate of lymphatic circulation increases about 10-15x it’s normal rate.

“What’s lymph?”, you ask. Our lymphatic system is a series of vessels and nodes located throughout the entirety of your body. These are the guys that get swollen and tender under your jaw when you have a sore throat. They clear away metabolic waste, excess fluids, dead cells and even a few microorganisms. More crucially, they make the cells that protect your body from future infection: your ANTIBODIES.

Our blood circulates through a network of vessels with the heart as a pump. The lymphatic system, also a network of vessels, does not have a pump. Instead, lymph gets moved by physical manipulation (a little dry skin brushing anyone?), muscular contraction and…. wait for it: BREATHING!! The deeper we breathe, the more lymph we move and thus production of those precious antibodies is increased.

Turns out that laughing heartily is correlated with (among other things) the following:

  • Increases baseline sIgA levels; this is the MOST ABUNDANT ANTIBODY in your immune system.
  • Increases Natural Killer cell ‘cytotoxicity’; particularly helpful in fighting viruses.
  • Increases the number and activation of ‘T-cells’ destroying cells that are infected by a virus/bacteria
  • Increased levels of B cells – the cells that make antibodies (they require activation by T-cells)

And lastly, anything that engages the diaphragm also engages the parasympathetic response. This is the “rest and digest” portion of the autonomic nervous system. That makes it a great stress reliever. I’m not sure about you, but I could use a little more stress relief in my life!!

The takeaway message is NOT that a good hearty chuckle is all that’s required to help bolster our body’s immune system. Instead, the point is that laughter is a critical tool by which our body’s defenses are enhanced making it harder for infection to take up residence. So your Covid-19 tool bag might include: painstaking handwashing, using oil of oregano, Vitamin C, wearing a protective mask, physically distancing, zinc, echinacea and…..some time with Napoleon Dynamite (OMGoodness – can I just tell you how much that movie makes me laugh??).

The Right Question in the Darkest Hour

Like most people coping with this new reality, my family and I have settled into a new routine that includes strings of pajama days, eating and sleeping at odd hours, and rationing out chores lest I run out of things to do (did I mention that my house is REALLY clean? LOL). I’ll even admit to a little Netflix coma now and then when things get desperate. During one such moment, a movie I was watching was able to rouse me out of my stupor and inspire this blog post.the darkest hour

You may have noticed that our clinic has grown up in recent months. New décor, new website and now a concerted content strategy to educate and stay connected to our community. But what to write?

In the film “The Darkest Hour”, from the king down to his closest advisors under treat of resignation, Winston Churchill faced ENORMOUS pressure during the War Cabinet Crisis of May 1940 to sign an armistice with Hitler. After the Nazi advance over much of Europe, England’s defeat seemed all but certain. Churchill had one choice: sign the treaty and hand over the country to a madman, or fight to the end. After suggesting he was open to a peace agreement, he still could not bring himself to draft the letter knowing that by doing so he would be surrendering the soul of England. One night, still unsure of how to proceed, he decided to evade his chaperones and steal away to London’s ‘Underground’ (the subway) for the first time in his life and put the dilemma to its passengers. What to do? Not surprisingly, they responded with a resounding “H**L NO! Fight!!” and that was that. The exchange birthed “We shall fight on the beaches”, the second of his most memorable speeches effectively uniting a fractured British Parliament in the fight against Hitler and characterized England’s stubborn resistance to the Nazi advance.

Okay – so we’re not in an armed conflict, but we’re certainly in a version of one. I was struck by the humility of acknowledging that just because you’re in a position to lead doesn’t mean you have all the answers and sometimes the simplest thing to do when you don’t know is, well… ask.

COVID-19 has certainly done an effective job at sucking all the oxygen out of the room, but here’s the thing, there’s life and love beyond a pandemic and what we want to know is: What’s important to you these days? What kind of information are you hungry for in the crazy human time that we’re all living through? Let us know and we will diligently try and find the best possible answers for you!

Germ theory vs Terrain? Pasteur and Beauchamp duke it out

Germ theory vs Terrain? Pasteur and Bechamp duke it out!

Ever wonder to yourself why you can have two people with similar exposure to a certain pathogen yet one person has only mild symptoms and the other is laid up for weeks on end?

The Father of Microbiology

Western Medicine, insofar as it relates to infection, is based primarily on Louis Pasteur’s work on pasteurization (he is AKA the “Father of Microbiology”) The theory goes like this: The body is sterile, vulnerable to attack by external pathogens, and should said pathogens take up residence in the body, a clear clinical course associated with that pathogen ensues. Further, the rationale suggests that in order to be truly well, we need to kill all the bugs and do whatever we can to avoid contact with said bugs in the first place.

This body of work led to the framework for modern medicine: antibiotics, vaccines, sterilization, all tools we are familiar with. This mindset places ALL the emphasis on the bug but says nothing of the terrain into which it’s introduced. One would be forgiven for thinking that if this were the case, things like nutrition and sleep are basically pointless.

Of course, we know this to be untrue. We are starting to see the limits of this theory. More antibiotic resistant infections, skin rashes (bacterial in origin) because of overuse of alcohol-based hand rubs killing protective microbes, and more susceptibility to infections in general because of poor immunity are now some of the mainstays of visits to the doctor’s office.

Enter Antoine Bechamp

Looking into Antoine Bechamp’s work (a contemporary of Louis Pasteur) you will find he was widely regarded as a quack, that the body of his work is “comprehensively wrong” as one author put it. Yet there are millions and millions of dollars being funnelled into research investigating the role of the microbiome and the resultant susceptibility to disease.

The thinking basically goes, and this is something I think you will find timely during these precarious times, is that the severity of the infection will correlate with the patient’s health status. In other words, the unhealthier the lifestyle, the more out of balance a body is, the more susceptible they will be to disease. Further, the disease will be much more severe in that person compared to a body that is physiologically stable and healthy.

So far, what we’ve gathered with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, is that the ones who are experiencing the most severe symptoms and thus dying from this virus, are men. Looking closer, the working theory is that men are more likely to binge drink, eat poorly, smoke, and keep erratic hours (women, by the way, would be just as vulnerable if they chose to engage in these behaviours). Knowing the impact that these habits have on our body is it any surprise that this group is more vulnerable to complications?  As of last night (March 26, 2020) CTV reported that more young people are contracting the virus and experiencing complications. The common denominator? Vaping.

It’s important to keep in mind that there are only a few STRICT pathogens out there, one where, if you get exposure to these microbes, you WILL GET SYMPTOMS, no matter who you are. These include malaria, HIV, and syphilis. MOST other microbes are what we call ‘opportunistic’ in that the severity will be determined by your susceptibility to infection in the first place. Is COVID-19 a ‘strict’ pathogen? That remains to be seen. Who should you believe? Pasteur or Bechamp? Believe them both. Neither of them is wrong. It’s all about the context. Here’s some food for thought though: Louis Pasteur is rumoured to have said on his deathbed in a moment of inspired lucidity, “the terrain, the terrain!”. The modern medicine machine was well underway by then.

germ theory vs terrain theory

If you want more more info on the subject see:

GOT GUTS? Every Tuesday Night!

The Skinny on Intermittent Fasting: One Size Fits All?

By Marika Geis, BSc, ND

Even if you’re remotely interested in clean living and whole foods, you’ve probably come across the concept of intermittent fasting. It’s all the rage these days and with good reason. It balances hormones, improves sleep, boosts mood and mental clarity, promotes weight loss and increases energy. What’s not to love? But it’s also not for everyone, and the method of intermittent fasting might look differently from one person to the next. One need only to consider the various spiritual traditions that use it as a practice to get a sense of all the different ways it can be implemented. The B’hai faith requires a 19-20 day fast from sunrise to sundown, similar to the Muslim holiday of Ramadan which requires a 30 day fast. In Judaism, we have many obligatory fasting days, the most notable being Yom Kippur. As Roman Catholics we are familiar with the season of Lent which evolved from a one week fast prior to Easter to a month with no meat on Fridays.

Beyond some of the assumptions we can make about what it was like to live thousands of years ago, clearly, we have a long historical record of fasting. Yet we have been conditioned to believe that fasting is something to avoid at all costs. It presumably poses a significant challenge to maintaining health in that the ‘starving’ state poses an unnecessary stress on our bodies. We’ve thus trained our bodies to eat every 2-3 hours out of perceived ‘necessity’. I ask you, how well would that strategy have served us as we evolved as bi-pedal primates over 2 million years? We certainly didn’t have Safeway, corner stores, refrigeration and semi-truck-trailers bringing food from around the globe. Yet we survived and thrived. How? We needed a metabolic strategy to keep us going when food was scarce and one when food was plentiful. Intermittent fasting allowed for the metabolic flexibility required to survive the ever-changing landscape that was our home. Simply put, we are built for intermittent fasting and by training our bodies as we have done in modern times, we lose that metabolic flexibility and herein lies one of the root causes of the so called ‘diseases of civilization’, but I digress…..

Intermittent fasting loosely defined is any period of time without eating lasting more than 14 hours and no more than 24 hours with a ‘feeding window’- the amount of time within 24 hours not occupied by fasting (eg. 16 hours of fasting with 8 hours of ‘feeding’). The easiest way to do this is to simply skip breakfast (as hours spent sleeping are included in the fast) and gradually work up to the desired interval. HOLD THE PHONE!!! WHAT?! You say? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! It well might be if you’ve trained your body to rely solely on carbohydrates for fuel (like most of us). Your body does not have the metabolic framework to access the energy rich fats in your body and diet and relies on regular doses of carbohydrates to keep going.

Skipping breakfast might very well feel like dying for some, however, once a few of the obvious imbalances have been addressed (a little farther down), intermittent fasting can curb cravings, restore energy, promote deeper sleep, correct inflammation and destroy bacteria and viruses otherwise refractory to treatment. Add to this list the following:

  • Improves longevity
  • Improves insulin sensitivity – Dr. Jason Fung, nephrologist and co-founder of the ‘IDM Program’ in Toronto, routinely gets insulin dependent type 2 diabetics OFF their insulin injections.
  • Lowers cholesterol, triglycerides and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c): a 3-month measure of blood sugar regulation.
  • Fighting/preventing cancer.  There is some evidence that fasting before chemotherapy can help reduce side effects.
  • Increasing growth hormone secretion (which builds muscle/bone and burns fat).
  • Normalizes expression of the ‘hunger’ hormone ghrelin, thereby reducing appetite.
  • Promotes brain and nervous system health by increasing neuronal plasticity (adaptation) and promoting neurogenesis (creation of new nerves), thus boosting mood, memory, and mental clarity.
  • Increases dopamine production. This boosts mood and increases anticipation and response to rewards (meaning we get more enjoyment from less food).

So, how does intermittent fasting work, anyway? ‘Autophagy’ is the process by which weak cells break down dysfunctional components. Remnants are reallocated to neighboring cells and recycled making cells healthier and more efficient. This process of autophagy is what allows for the destruction of bacteria and viruses that would otherwise have either gone undetected or were refractory to pharmacological treatments. Autophagy plays a critical role in managing both the beneficial and detrimental effects of inflammation as mediated by the immune system. In other words, it protects us against infectious disease, autoimmune and other inflammatory conditions.

There are many options to intermittent fasting. There are even benefits to doing it occasionally. Regardless of what you choose, generally speaking, it can be done once to three times weekly safely (barring confounding health concerns, discussed below). Clear fluids are allowed, including bone broth (without the fat- for FASTING ONLY. Otherwise, drink it all up). Intermittent fasting daily is no longer an intermittent fast; your body will adapt to the caloric intake of ‘the season’ and the benefits will be dulled. More isn’t necessarily better either. Play it by ear and see how you feel.

Who SHOULD NOT intermittent fast?

  • Anyone with a history of disordered eating: anorexia nervosa, bulimia, orthorexia. Any kind of restriction can trigger old patterns, especially if they are in recovery.
  • Absence of menses. It’s very important to realize that the mind needs to register ‘safety’ in order to carry out its housekeeping functions. Having a period is no different. So, if you’ve experienced extreme, rapid weight loss, excessive calorie restriction or if you have a known hypothalamic disorder (part of the brain that orchestrates hormone function), then intermittent fasting should wait.
  • If you have to ‘push’ yourself to do it. Feeling hungry is a normal part of fasting, however if you start manifesting symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), then this problem needs to be corrected prior to starting any type of fasting program, intermittent or otherwise.
  • Adrenal dysfunction. Adrenal glands (the guys that rule our stress response) require a tremendous amount of nourishment. They need to be stable and well functioning, in other words – register ‘safety’ – in order NOT to be a factor when fasting. Fasting can worsen adrenal issues if the body doesn’t first have capacity for this physical stress. Likewise, if you’re experiencing unusual amounts of stress, intermittent fasting should probably wait.
  • Breastfeeding
  • Pregnancy
  • Thyroid dysfunction – as this is tied to adrenal function. They work in tandem to manage energy and metabolism in the body.
  • Sleep changes – this likely indicates a hormonal imbalance or may point to the need for a ‘carb up’ if you’re following a high fat, low carbohydrate lifestyle.
  • Gut imbalances (egs: leaky gut, bacterial overgrowth, allergies) – simply MUST be corrected first as too many health issues that destabilize the body stem from this crucial system. Remember that in order for intermittent fasting to be successful, the body must first have all it’s needs met. In other words: safety.

You may have the impression, after reading this list, that no one has the capacity to fast intermittently. I would agree that MANY people struggle with stress, gut, and hormonal issues such that health appears to be the exception and not the rule. However, when we align our body with how it wants to live, not how we think it should live, many of these problems can be repaired given the right intervention. For the lay person, fasting might feel extreme, but I’m wondering if there might be a little room for perspective. Intermittent fasting requires that we remove 1 (sometimes 2) meals a day 2-3 times a week. Out of 21 meals (and for some, more), this style of fasting requires you to limit a grand total of 14% less food in a week (this is if you’re doing it three times weekly, at one meal/fast). Not a big deal. If you’re the person that does intermittent fasting 1-2 times per month, then that number is even less. Intermittent fasting allows you to simplify your schedule, correct insulin resistance, promotes weight loss, and boosts cognitive function. So, if you’ve got the green light, what are we missing, really? And what do we gain? I’ll let you decide.

For the full article you can download it here: The Skinny on Intermittent Fasting.

Healthy by Nature: Using ‘Therapeutic Order’ to Navigate Health Choices

By Dr. Marika Geis, BSc, ND

It starts out gradually enough. You hear that vitamin C is a good thing to take during cold and flu season or that as Canadians, we are deficient in vitamin D. The next thing you know you’re taking 20 different supplements every morning. Often, our clients will bring in their supplements to regain some clarity as to what they should take and why. Usually, they’re unsure whether they need them anymore or are unclear as to their benefit. Using natural health products is certainly preferable to using harsh chemical treatments to manage troublesome symptoms, however, just like pharmacologic therapies, natural treatments need to be administered appropriately; the right supplement, in the right dosage for the right person at the right time via the right delivery method. The model that defines the naturopathic approach, the ‘Therapeutic Order’, takes this one step further by addressing the environment which created the dysfunction in the first place. Take, for example, a cut finger. We can either create the conditions required for healing or we can create the conditions that result in infection. Both are equally complex, however, as long as conditions that foster infection persist, no amount of medication will heal the cut. In the context of chronic diseases: adult-onset diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, unexplained infertility, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome or autoimmune disorders (to name a few), you simply cannot drug a body back to health. Dr. Pizzorno and Snider wrote: “We are natural organisms, our genomes developed and expressed in the natural world. The patterns and processes inherent in nature are inherent in us”. In the case of our cut finger, even in the presence of the proposed antibiotic ointment (natural or pharmacologic) which would push back the bacteria creating the pain, swelling, and inflammation, your body is ultimately responsible for the final step of healing. Naturopathic Medicine is fundamentally oriented to restoring health as opposed to ‘treating disease’. We tend to see illness as a process. Nature cure assumes, correctly, that illness manifests as a result of factors that disrupt health and that ‘symptoms’ are the body’s attempt to achieve equilibrium based on the conditions at the time. By creating the framework for health, we make it harder for ‘disease’ to manifest. To this end, we use Dr.’s Jared Zeff and Pamela Snider’s ‘Therapeutic Order’. This not only helps us prioritize which modalities would best serve our clients but also lets us know when we can move on.

Chronic Illness generally takes hold when any or all three of the following conditions exist.

  • The persistence of so-called ‘disturbing factors’, most notably poor diet and long term stress,
  • The body’s reactive potential is blocked, usually by pharmacologic treatments (e.g.: acetaminophen for fever) and,
  • The body’s constitution is too weak in order to mount an appropriate response.

The cumulative effect is such that our tissues sustain damage leading to chronic inflammation and possible scar tissue or tumour formation. Reversal of chronic conditions can rarely be accomplished through drugging the disease state. The more that you or your clinician can identify these ‘disturbing factors’ the more we can slowly peel back the layers that led to the development of the disease in the first place. We use every opportunity to establish the conditions for healing and tap into the body’s tendency to a healthy balance. With this in mind the first step of the Therapeutic Order is to 1) remove obstacles to health, specifically, diet/sleep, stress and spiritual disharmony. How can we stand a chance at treating mental exhaustion and fatigue when we are eating whatever comes our way, falling asleep in front of the television and feeling isolated because we’ve moved away from our family home? An antidepressant can help with the symptoms of depression (a sometimes necessary respite) but we run the risk of ignoring the ‘disturbing factors’ that could lead to more serious consequences.

Next, we are tasked with 2) stimulating the body’s self-healing mechanisms. Modalities such as hydrotherapy (various methods that combine the use of hot and cold water), movement (Tai Chi or Qi Gong), Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Homeopathy work with whatever vitality is present in order to augment the body’s response to the now absent obstacles to health. Given that we exist as complex patterns of matter, energy, and spirit, exposure to the appropriate rhythms and forces of nature strengthen our vitality, stimulates the healing power of nature and is thus a natural ally for our clients. Alerted to this momentum, our bodies are in a better position to respond to our attempts to 3) strengthening weakened or damaged systems. To this end, nutraceuticals, botanical medicine and glandular, are indispensable resources when trying to restore function. Occasionally, attempts at restoring function are blocked by 4) derangements in structural integrity. Some ND’s, more so south-of-the-border, use ‘Naturopathic Manipulation’ or ‘Naturopathic Bodywork’ to address this issue. However, should this need attention, more often than not, clients will leave with a referral to a physiotherapist, osteopath, registered massage therapist, or chiropractor. At this point, many find that steps 1-4 are enough to bring our clients to a place of independence and flexibility, all with a minimum of supplementation. Additional treatments may be warranted though in which case we aim to 5) address true pathology. Natural health products provide a vast arsenal in which to treat everything from headaches to parasitic infections, to endometriosis, to allergies, but unless applied in the context of the Therapeutic Order, one cannot expect long term results. We would essentially be practicing what Naturopath’s call ‘green allopathy’, i.e.: using natural products as substitutes for pharmacologic intervention.

What comes next may surprise some of you. So long as steps 1-5 are addressed it can be further indicated to use 6) pharmacotherapy and/or surgery to preserve life and limb. This is the reasoning behind the expanding scope of Naturopathic Medicine in Canada. In fact, the original intention behind using drugs and surgery was only to use them when diet and lifestyle failed to yield results. In this limited context, one could say the naturopathic and allopathic models are aligned and that perhaps it isn’t necessary to differentiate between them. We could collectively refer to either of these models as ‘people medicine’ thus establishing the foundation for future collaboration among all professionals in the health care field. Lastly, at times it may be necessary to 7) supress the pathology altogether, in order to preserve life and limb, but as you may have already concluded, these methods keep you alive but with long term consequences (prednisone as an example).

So how do we decide which system to prioritize? In a society that routinely normalizes malaise and encourages us to ignore our instincts, deciding where to focus our energy may be the first hurdle. How much sleep is enough sleep? What makes a healthy diet healthy? Keeping true to the guiding principle of ‘docere’ or ‘doctor as teacher’, the Cathedral Centre for Wellness offers several courses to help guide you through the labyrinthine world of superfoods, supplements, detoxification, diets and even supports for the spiritual/emotional issues that impede the health strategies we know will serve us well. Throughout the year, I will be offering a curriculum that addresses the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of healthy living at every stage of life. The topics range from optimizing fertility to the link between gut health and allergies, to bolstering immune function, to ageing healthfully, and everything in between. Allopathic or Naturopathic, my newly coined ‘people medicine’ respects the individual’s unique healing order and their values as a context for applying the Therapeutic Order to clinical decision making. This, combined with a frame of reference that clarifies what optimal function looks like, you will become your own best advocate. You will know where you are in relation to healthful function when to recognize disruptions in that balance and how to get yourself back on track. I look forward to sharing my evenings with you as we embark on your own unique, healing journey.

Coming Full Circle: The Enduring Beauty of Bone Broth

By Dr. Marika Geis, ND

I’ve once heard it said that a good bone broth can bring someone back from the dead. After seeing a variety of conditions improve with this form of nutrition despite an entire arsenal of naturopathic therapies, I wholeheartedly believe it. In an age where we seek to understand our natural world by breaking down complex scenarios into increasingly smaller, simpler, and thus tractable units, we fail to appreciate the characteristics of the system being acted upon. Put another way, do we necessarily need to find the ‘magic bullet’ for those troublesome symptoms or can we get out of the way of our body’s attempts to heal and broaden our scope to include the system in question? The beauty of the naturopathic model is that it allows for exactly this type of approach and is central to many of our interventions. While bone broth lacks the specificity of being an agent to say, decrease inflammation or fight infection, the synergism of its compounds work to rebuild tissue (particularly our gut lining) literally from the ground up so that the system functions better as a whole regardless of how problems manifest. When used in conjunction with targeted dietary interventions we see our clients improve on a number of levels sooner than with foods and digestive aids alone. Further, in cases of severe inflammatory bowel disease, bone broth might be the only food our clients can tolerate without compromising nutrition. So what is it about bone broth that allows it to persist as a functional food?

You may already know that bone broths have been around for as long as anyone can remember. I personally recall the perpetual pot of chicken broth on my grandmother’s stove when I was a child. Nothing was left to waste! What you may not realize though is that bone broths have been around for as long as there have been people. Archaeological evidence reveals the use of animal stomachs stuffed with herbs, meat, bones and animal fat being placed over hot rocks to yield the first primitive bone broth. Over time the practice evolved and grew to touch every known modern culture. Meat and fish broths play a central role in French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, African, South American, Middle Eastern, and Russian cuisines. References to its medicinal properties can be found as far back as 12th century Egypt when it was used to treat colds and asthma. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, bone broths were used to treat ulcers, tuberculosis, diabetes, infections, muscle diseases, jaundice and cancer. Babies were known to experience less digestive upsets when bone broth was added to milk. When meat and vegetables were scarce during the 4-month long siege of Paris in 1870, families were able to survive in good health with nothing more than bone broth and added fat. Formal research into its health properties started in 17th century France and persisted until 1950 when food producers found cheaper ways to duplicate meat flavours in the lab thus removing bone broth and all its health benefits from their cuisine.

One might think that the healing and immune enhancing properties of bone broths are attributable to its mineral content (why wouldn’t you? You’re boiling up bones after all), however the benefits derive mainly from the presence of collagen, our body’s most abundant protein; the principle building block of bones, cartilage, skin, arteries, corneas, placentas and just about every other structure in our body. It’s true that bone broth supplies easily absorbable minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silica, and sulphur among others. However, they are not present in substantial amounts and yet bone broth is said to be beneficial for our bones and tissues. Why is this? Using bones as an example, these highly bioavailable minerals get woven into the greater collagen matrix that provides our bones with tensile strength and resists fractures (Think of collagen as the rebar in concrete). Research from the Czech Republic, Germany and the United States have verified this showing that collagen supplementation significantly reduced the rate of bone turnover and fracture risk in those suffering from osteoporosis and osteopenia. As an aside, one may ask whether or not there is something missing in so called ‘bone building’ supplements as the bigger issue seems to be the ratios/source and not the amounts of the minerals themselves that have the bigger impact on bone health?

When a bone broth is properly prepared the collagen present in joints, skin, meat and bones gets broken down into two principle amino acids: glycine and proline which ultimately serve as building blocks for our bodies own collagen production. They are not considered ‘essential’ amino acids but given the fact that most people cannot produce enough to keep up with the demand for tissue repair, think: big wounds, microscopic damage to the gut and vasculature by inflammation, infection and a disordered immune response, top researchers are opting to call them ‘conditionally essential’. Indeed, people falling into any of these categories (read: most of us) benefit greatly from supplementation of proline and glycine rich foods. This is especially true as we age when our tissues become drier, less pliant, thinner and weaker, all due to our body’s decrease in collagen production.

Beyond it’s effect on tissue repair, glycine has numerous other benefits. It aids digestion by regulating the production of bile salts and secretion of gastric juices likely contributing to it’s label as ‘the digestor’ in 17th century France. Further, glycine is required for glutathione production (the most abundant antioxidant in the body) by the liver in addition to regulating glucose production in the same organ. Low levels of glycine render the immune system more prone to activation (think eczema, allergies, and asthma along with autoimmune disorders). It has multiple effects on our nervous system. It calms our excitatory neurotransmitters, improves mental alertness, memory and mood thereby collectively reducing the harmful effects of stress. Additionally, while this discussion has focused mainly on the effects of glycine and proline, bone broths’ benefits can be extended to include joint repair due to the presence of glucosamine and chondroitin.

The successes of the reductionist model that characterizes modern medicine are undeniable. Where would we be without insulin for diabetes or epinephrine for anaphylactic shock? When the human body is viewed as a collection of components, the natural inclination of medicine is to isolate the single factor most responsible for the observed condition. Much like a mechanic who repairs a broken car by locating the defective part, physicians typically treat disease by identifying an isolated abnormality. Implicit within this practice is the deeply rooted belief that each disease has a single target for medical treatment. Without contextual information, one might see the folly of approaching all issues in the same fashion and say that we are attempting to understand the forest by studying the trees alone. Using bones again as an example, we see how the focus on mineralization has lead to over-supplementation of large, hard to digest and absorb compounds that fall short of their desired intent in the absence of a full complement of bone building trace minerals and collagen. Simply taking a small step back and understanding osteoporosis as a disorder of connective tissue and not the bone itself provided researchers the perspective that allowed them to confirm that something was missing from conventional approaches. Likewise, when it comes to seeking out therapies that are going to yield the maximum possible benefit to our bodies as a whole, they need to function on multiple levels. Looking to Mother Nature for solutions provides us time and again with remedies that do just that and bone broth is no exception. It reminds me of a comic that I often find hanging on the walls of labs and medical reception desks. You may have seen it?

A Short History of Medicine

“I have a headache”:

  • 2000 BCE: Here, eat this root.
  • 1000 AD: That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.
  • 1850 AD: That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.
  • 1940 AD: That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.
  • 1985 AD: That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic.
  • 2011 AD: That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.


Chicken Stock

(Both recipes excerpted from Sally Fallon’s Broth is Beautiful article for the Weston A Price Foundation)

  • 1 whole free-range chicken or 2 to 3 pounds of bony chicken parts, such as necks, backs, breastbones and wings*
    gizzards from one chicken (optional)
  • 2-4 chicken feet (optional)
  • 4 quarts cold filtered water
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley

*Note: Farm-raised, free-range chickens give the best results. Many battery-raised chickens will not produce stock that gels.

If you are using a whole chicken, cut off the wings and remove the neck, fat glands and the gizzards from the cavity. Cut chicken parts into several pieces. (If you are using a whole chicken, remove the neck and wings and cut them into several pieces.) Place chicken or chicken pieces in a large stainless steel pot with water, vinegar and all vegetables except parsley. Let stand 30 minutes to 1 hour. Bring to a boil, and remove scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 6 to 8 hours. The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it will be. About 10 minutes before finishing the stock, add parsley. This will impart additional mineral ions to the broth.

Remove whole chicken or pieces with a slotted spoon. If you are using a whole chicken, let cool and remove chicken meat from the carcass. Reserve for other uses, such as chicken salads, enchiladas, sandwiches or curries. Strain the stock into a large bowl and reserve in your refrigerator until the fat rises to the top and congeals. Skim off this fat and reserve the stock in covered containers in your refrigerator or freezer.

Beef Stock

  • About 4 pounds beef marrow and knuckle bones
  • 1 calves foot, cut into pieces (optional)
  • 3 pounds meaty rib or neck bones
  • 4 or more quarts cold filtered water
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 3 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 3 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • several sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together
  • 1 teaspoon dried green peppercorns, crushed
  • l bunch parsley

Place the knuckle and marrow bones and optional calves foot in a very large pot with vinegar and cover with water. Let stand for one hour. Meanwhile, place the meaty bones in a roasting pan and brown at 350 degrees in the oven. When well browned, add to the pot along with the vegetables. Pour the fat out of the roasting pan, add cold water to the pan, set over a high flame and bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon to loosen up coagulated juices. Add this liquid to the pot. Add additional water, if necessary, to cover the bones; but the liquid should come no higher than within one inch of the rim of the pot, as the volume expands slightly during cooking. Bring to a boil. A large amount of scum will come to the top, and it is important to remove this with a spoon. After you have skimmed, reduce heat and add the thyme and crushed peppercorns.

Simmer stock for at least 12 and as long as 72 hours. Just before finishing, add the parsley and simmer another 10 minutes. You will now have a pot of rather repulsive-looking brown liquid containing globs of gelatinous and fatty material. It doesn’t even smell particularly good. But don’t despair. After straining you will have a delicious and nourishing clear broth that forms the basis for many other recipes in this book.

Remove bones with tongs or a slotted spoon. Strain the stock into a large bowl. Let cool in the refrigerator and remove the congealed fat that rises to the top. Transfer to smaller containers and to the freezer for long-term storage.

Moms To Be: Don’t Forget Your Probiotics!!

By: Dr. Marika Geis BSc, ND

Breastmilk is widely acknowledged as being the most complete form of nutrition for infants. Beyond the perfect combination of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and nutrition that change continuously according to the needs of a growing baby – it is responsible for several significant outcomes regarding immune function. In infancy these will manifest as:

  • A threefold decreased risk of respiratory infection
  • A three to fourfold decreased risk of diarrheal disease
  • A decrease in the incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
  • A decrease in the incidence of atopic conditions (eczema, asthma and allergies)
  • Cumulatively, in developing countries, breastfeeding appears to be a critical factor in a baby’s survival. Infants in Brazil are fourteen times more likely to die if not breastfed.

Later in life, the immunological benefits of breastfeeding for 6 months or more are associated with:

  • Decreased incidence of food allergy/sensitivity
  • Decreased incidence of ear infections
  • Decreased incidence of obesity
  • Decreased risk of developing autoimmune disease
  • An eightfold decreased risk of developing cancer prior to the age of 15

While conventional wisdom attributed the majority of these effects to the various compounds present within human breastmilk, namely immunoglobulins (antibodies derived mainly from maternal gut and lungs), lactoferrin (inhibits growth of bacteria, viruses and fungi) and lysozymes (directly toxic to pathogenic organisms), little thought was given as to whether or not commensal (symbiotic) or beneficial bacteria could be a factor since breastmilk was thought of as sterile. However, in 2003, a Spanish study published in the Journal of Pediatrics revealed breastmilk to be a major source of lactic acid bacteria for the infant gut. Beyond the vital exposure to commensal/beneficial bacteria that babies receive as a result of a vaginal birth (vagina/rectum/skin), it appears that babies consume as much as 100,000 to 10 million bacteria daily (based on an average consumption of 26 ounces daily).  This is hardly surprising given that non-human micro-organisms greatly outnumber our own cells; three to one by some estimates.

If one were to take a cursory look at the available research on the benefits of probiotics, they would likely find a striking similarity between their supplementation and the effects observed above among many others. Yet while the research shows that breastfeeding and probiotics (and even probiotics during pregnancy) reduce the likelihood of developing the conditions listed above, to date, research linking the two variables is sparse. This is presumably due to the fact that up until recently, researchers had yet to explain how something residing solely on the so-called external environments of our body (gut, lungs, genitals, oral, skin), made their way into breastmilk.

What the research suggests is something of a pathway that exists between the maternal gut and mammary glands via the immune system. Firstly, white blood cells that normally serve a ‘Pac Man’-like function (engulf and destroy foreign material) alter their activity and instead ‘sip’ the environment of the maternal gut, take samples of the resident bacteria, travel through the bloodstream, and deposit their contents in the mammary glands. Indeed, small numbers of bacteria can reside inside these cells for several days prior to reaching their destination. Changes to maternal physiology, specifically, weakness in the gut wall, increased permeability of the gut wall, and decreased motility allow for this incredible process starting in the third trimester and continues up until the point of weaning. Once these bacteria reach the infant gut, there are literally no barriers to colonization. It’s warm and moist with an endless supply of food- the complex sugars of the mother’s breastmilk.


So what are the implications of this profound relationship between mother and baby? It’s important to realize that the first month of breastfeeding is a critical period for establishing the bacterial profile of the infant gut. Samples taken from eight and nine year olds show that the streptococcus and staphylococcus profiles established within the first month of life remain intact. This finding lends new insight to the negative impact that antibiotic use, modern diets, and stress have on the maternal microbiome and the potential for chronic disease in children. Given what we know of the benefits of probiotics and that breastfeeding is a principle source of beneficial bacteria for the newborn, the utmost care must be taken to protect this sensitive and diverse ecosystem. As naturopaths, we often talk about the healing power of nature. While conception, pregnancy, and birth aren’t necessarily conditions that require healing, this is just one more example of how the wisdom of Mother Nature manifests to ensure that we are able to survive the environment we’re born into.

Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis: Naturopathic Medicine in Action

A Case of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis AKA Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.

By Dr Marika Geis, ND

When I think of two years old, a vision of the Merry Melodies Tasmanian Devil comes to mind: A screaming whirlwind of dust levelling everything in its path or in the case of my own children, launching themselves off the couch and flushing my watch down the toilet along with a whole roll of toilet paper. The last thing I would imagine would be a child cautious about moving too fast because their joints were hot and swollen, or having to take breaks several times throughout the day to recharge because it takes so much to work through the discomfort and stiffness of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Yet this was exactly the case when I met little Katie in August of last year. Her parents had noticed that her big toe was quite swollen and didn’t seem to be going away on its own. Two weeks later her parents noticed that Katie would move carefully in the morning and take her time initiating movement. To them, it seemed as she was moving like someone sore and stiff. A week after that her knees became involved; they were swollen and warm to touch. Her mother, a registered nurse, promptly took her daughter to the doctor and did some preliminary bloodwork. The results showed that inflammation was present but did not point to a cause. Treatment options at the time were to prescribe Naproxen (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory or NSAID associated with bleeding in the digestive tract), to do cortisone shots in the affected joints which, with repeated use, degrades connective tissue and lastly to prescribe prednisone, a steroid drug associated with several damaging side effects. The parents opted for the naproxen with the intention of buying a little time before the other treatments become necessary. At this point, they came to our clinic looking for ways to augment her treatment given that, despite the naproxen, the number of joints involved was growing.

It’s important to understand the prognosis of kids with JIA/JRA as these children are at increased risk for the
involvement of other organ systems, have mobility issues stemming from chronic inflammation and potential joint deformities. Conventional treatment is ‘comprehensive’ in that it involves pharmacotherapy, physical therapy, academic counselling, occupational therapy and psychological counselling. For kids with more than one joint involved complete remission is rare. Although Katie’s parents were absolutely prepared to do whatever was required of them they couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t something that was being overlooked.

Up until Katie, I had never treated anyone with JIA/JRA but as naturopaths, we routinely treat multiple manifestations of autoimmune disease of which JIA/JRA is one. The working naturopathic theory behind autoimmunity is one that I am sure you’ve heard of before although perhaps in different contexts. Leaky gut syndrome or gastrointestinal permeability is a process by which material from the cavity of the intestines enters into the bloodstream through the tissue wall before it’s intended to. Once in the bloodstream, the regional lymphatic tissue, correctly recognizing it as foreign, begins making an abundance of antibodies in an attempt to neutralize this ‘threat’. The problem is that in certain populations where the genetic susceptibility exists, those antibodies, having a similar structure to some of our body’s own tissues will now go and attack various systems throughout the body. The thyroid in Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, the myelin sheath in Multiple Sclerosis, the joint capsule in Rheumatoid Arthritis, the colon in Crohn’s Disease, The liver in Autoimmune Hepatitis….the list goes on. From a naturopath’s point of view, it matters less how it manifests and more that it’s autoimmune in nature.

There are several ways by which permeability in the gut arises. In children, one of the more common ways is through foods. At birth and by design, babies are born with several gaps in the tissue lining the intestines as this is how babies absorb proteins and fat from mom’s breast milk. As the baby grows and their intestines mature they can gradually begin to tolerate different foods provided that the food matches their capacity to digest it. In many cases, however, foods – often allergenic foods – get introduced too early, are recognized as ‘foreign’ and the above process of antibody production begins. In Katie’s case, it wasn’t so easy to pinpoint possible food sensitivities given that gluten, a common allergen wasn’t introduced until 8 months of age and dairy wasn’t introduced until 12 months of age. She did not present with any significant digestive concerns although she did manifest eczema, a classic sign of ‘leaky gut’. This, despite the parents, has done all the right things.

We discussed the possibility of starting a hypoallergenic diet prefaced by a Food Sensitivity test for what’s called an IgG response (or ‘delayed’ immune response) to 96 different foods. This, in addition, a small number of supplements to help heal the gut and modulate the immune response. They did the test and began the dairy, soy, corn, egg, gluten, and sugar-free diet in earnest. What they noticed initially was that the swelling was on its way down. However, Katie was also still taking Naproxen so it was difficult to tell what was helping. When the results came back it allowed Katie’s family to further refine her diet. As it turned out grapes and citrus were high on the list as were the foods she was already avoiding. Remarkably, her eczema disappeared indicating to her mother that her gut was indeed permeable and in the process of healing. Another significant development was that Katie was able to have a fever during a cold without aggravating her joint symptoms, something that previously went hand in hand. Slowly but surely the swelling was going down and her range of motion was improving. Finally, to do away with the residual inflammation, Katie’s parents opted to proceed with the cortisone shots allowing for a full recovery of her range of motion. To date, Katie is now in complete remission, off the Naproxen, bouncing off the walls and threating to flush her mother`s watch down the toilet. There have not been any further flare-ups in her joints or skin, she is sleeping better, has more energy and is fearless in her exploits.

This story has a tremendous ending. It’s a testament to what children can endure and how well and completely they can heal once the true cause has been found. These parents have literally changed the trajectory of their daughter’s life. I feel so fortunate to have participated in this family`s journey and witness our body`s innate wisdom and the healing power of nature. Thank you, Katie!

The Benefits of Water in Your Life

By: Marika Geis, BSc, ND

Beverage wars. With the multitudes of choices out there, sodas, ‘vitamin water’, sugar laden antioxidant juices, white teas promoting ‘anti-aging’ benefits, it’s a safe bet that water remains the healthiest choice. However, when it comes to water, consumers often are faced with mixed messages. You’re making a healthier choice sure, but at what expense? Each time we dispose of a plastic bottle, we are told that it remains in a landfill for a minimum of 700 years before it begins to decompose. Coupled with the fact that 80% of bottles are not recycled, the environmental impact is significant to say the least. Space in the landfill is not the only issue. 24 million gallons of oil are needed to produce a billion plastic bottles.

The average Canadian consumes approximately 167 bottles per year. So what to do? According to David Suzuki, who insists on drinking municipal water wherever he goes, drinking bottled water is an unimaginable waste not to mention a significant health hazard, and that the only way to mitigate the damage is to drink tap water. Increasingly, Canadians fear that their water is unsafe. The Environmental Working Group states that there are over 315 pollutants in municipal tap water. More than half of the chemicals detected are not subject to health or safety regulations and can legally be present in any amount. While the federal government in the United States has health guidelines for some, at least 49 of these contaminants have been found in one place or another at levels above those guidelines, polluting the tap water for 53.6 million Americans. Despite these infractions, at least the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) guidelines for maximum contaminant levels in water are standards enforced by law. In Canada, our water quality guidelines are at best, recommendations which do not necessarily have the force of law behind them; responsibility for water quality rests with the administrators of the myriad local and municipal water systems across Canada. One only need be reminded of the May 2000 Walkerton E-coli outbreak that resulted in seven deaths and 2000 illnesses, to want to take control of their water quality.

Water filters are becoming an increasingly popular way to reconcile the need for less waste with healthier and safer water. But how to choose? Just like the myriad of choices available to you when choosing a beverage, choices of water filters are equally overwhelming not to mention the confusing selection criteria. What follows is an attempt to demystify the selection process and give you a few guidelines to begin choosing which filtration system is right for you.

The first step is to choose a filter that is independently certified. At a minimum filters (available in two types: point of entry or point of use) should meet NSF 53 (National Sanitation Foundation) certification. NSF 53 is designed to reduce specific health-related contaminants, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, lead, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether), that may be present in public or private drinking water.

The second step is to choose your filtration process. There are a variety of ways to meet or exceed the NSF 53 standard although only 4-5 options are available to the general public. Activated carbon filters are positively charged and highly absorbent. They reduce bad tastes and odors, including chlorine. NSF 53 activated carbon filters can substantially reduce many hazardous contaminants, including heavy metals such as copper, lead and mercury (although it should be mentioned that a solid carbon block cannot achieve this – it must be combined with a KDF, see below); disinfection by- products; parasites such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium ; pesticides; radon; and volatile organic chemicals such as methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE), dichlorobenzene and trichloroethylene (TCE). The advantage of using activated carbon as a filter is that it retains all the positively charged minerals (what makes water ‘hard’ or ‘alkaline’) such as calcium, magnesium potassium and sodium; minerals necessary to maintain optimal health.

KDF resin filtration has limited utility in that it needs long exposure to untreated water and large amounts of the resin in order for it to exert its effects; mainly to remove chlorine. As such, KDF resin is usually applied in point of entry systems and in some cases shower heads to reduce chlorine exposure. One of the disadvantages of using KDF resin as a filter is that in some cases it can leach copper and zinc into the water as both minerals are used to reduce bacterial growth within the filter itself. KDF filters also clog fairly easily and require huge amounts of hot water to decongest the apparatus with no way to stem the flow of the dislodged pollutants into the treated water.

Distillation is an expensive process that heats the water to the vapor point and aids in removing some impurities from the water. The process itself requires electricity and adequate water, since it wastes gallons of water for every gallon produced. However the main disadvantage is that it leaves the water ‘soft’ or mineral free. If drunk over a long period the body tends to lend its own minerals to balance the effect on the body’s pH. Bones and teeth get weak with time. Another disadvantage is that distillation is not effective at removing VOC’s because many of them re-condense back into liquid just like water does. For this reason, a distiller is usually combined with a carbon filter to remove additional chemicals.

Reverse osmosis was developed to remove salt from sea water for military submarines. The reverse osmosis process draws water through a membrane. Salt water is put on one side of the membrane and pressure is applied to stop, and then “reverse,” the osmotic process. It generally takes a lot of pressure and is fairly slow removing all minerals in the process (similar to distilled water). For every one gallon of water produced, 10 gallons of water is used in the RO process. It does however get rid of most contaminants such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia; heavy metals: cadmium, copper, lead, mercury and other pollutants including arsenic, barium, nitrites, perchlorate and selenium.

UV Disinfection uses ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and viruses. Class A systems protect against harmful bacteria and viruses, including Cryptosporidium and Giardia, while Class B systems are designed to make non-disease-causing bacteria inactive. Unfortunately, it is not effective against parasites, heavy metals and VOC’s. Because of this it is often used in combination with a carbon filter and sediment screen.

Once you have decided on your filter, it’s important to maintain it properly as its performance will decrease over time as contaminants build up and potentially back up into your ‘treated’ water. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s maintenance directions. Some filters only require a cartridge change, while others are better maintained by a certified professional. Many filter distributors offer maintenance and service contracts for their products. Before buying any water treatment system, compare not only filter prices, but also operating and maintenance costs for the different units.

Here’s to your good health! Dr. Marika Geis, ND