The naturopathic approach was never something I considered. I mean, growing up I would ask my family doctor everything. I’d walk into the office with a list of 12-15 “issues”, mutter away, and get through my appointment in less than 10 minutes. It was always a quick in and out visit, and often, a quick fix. But what about long-term? What about the effects of my environment? My emotional state? And, what about my lifestyle overall? Don’t these have to be considered? Guaranteed, most of the issues I experienced growing up were directly correlated with at least one of those factors.
Fast forward, hit 30, and begin to wonder if your environment and lifestyle does in fact play a significant role in your overall health. When I finally began to ask these questions, I went on a Google search frenzy to get some answers. I found a lot of articles on functional medicine and lifestyle medicine, noticing a more personal approach that digs deeper into the factors that contribute to your overall health! I was intrigued. I knew that I was putting my body through the ringer and running it into the ground. My constant bloating, fatigue, and overall health was suffering. I knew what supplements I could take but didn’t want to self-diagnose. I wanted someone to dig deeper, I wanted to understand my body, and I wanted to start now and stop suffering through my days.
So, over a year ago, I met with Dr. Lisa Watson at Integrative Health Institute, I came across her 'About Me’ and loved everything about her and her approach to women’s health. Not only is she a total bad ass, but she was also voted the Best Doctor in Toronto 2017 in the Now Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards – an award she told me she was nominated for after our second appointment (woot, my ND is awesome). During our first appointment, she put me in my place. I was ignoring an iron deficiency, ignoring my 2 out of 4-week periods, and eating dairy even though it made me unwell. There were a lot of head shakes and the “you know what I’m thinking” looks. I couldn’t agree with her more. I wasn’t taking my health seriously and if I didn’t get a handle on it now, I could have some serious long-term repercussions. We worked from top-down, she drew a lot of crazy diagrams and pictures of my gut-brain connection (which below in an art gallery, btw), and helped me focus on the internal rather than the physical appearance of my body. Although we are still tackling the issue that is my digestive system, we are doing it with a lot of TLC and patience. To be perfectly honest, a year and a half later and I’m a totally different human. It was really just about getting back to the basics and seeking advice and assistance when it mattered.
Now the fun part, I recently asked what everyone would like to ask a naturopath, and Dr. Lisa Watson gladly agreed to answer – because she’s an angel. Below are the top six questions you’re looking to have answered:
Q1: How can one naturally boost their energy? It can’t all be a good night’s rest, can it?
A1: Energy is a HUGE topic. It’s one of the most common concerns that patients mention when they see their MD or ND. A lot of factors go into how much our body makes energy – our macronutrients (protein, fats, carbs), our micronutrients (like Iron, B12), our hormone balance, our sleep patterns, our moods and stress.
But also, I like to look at where are we giving our energy, and where are we getting it? Are you giving all of your energy to your work to your relationships, to your Netflix? Where are you getting energy from – are you exercising, meditating, sleeping well, living a fulfilling life?
A quick mnemonic that I use when I talk about energy is SHINE – it stands for Sleep, Hormones, Inflammation, Nutrition, and Exercise/Emotions. These are the KEY factors for determining how to optimize your energy. And if you are struggling to have enough energy, the best place to start is with an inventory of those six key factors.
Q2: What is the most important supplement? And, which supplement should every athlete be taking – magnesium??
A2: On an individual basis this is a tricky question. What is important for one person may be less important for another. In Canada I’d say hands down that Vitamin D is the most important supplement (read about Vitamin D here). Vitamin D is unique because it’s not only a vitamin, it’s also a hormone. That means it has HUGE impacts on our function – not just our immune system, bones and for cancer prevention – but also hormone imbalances and auto-immune diseases.
For athletes, and high performers, magnesium is a dream. The impact it has on calming the nervous system, relaxing muscles, supporting energy production, producing antioxidants and so many many other essential actions in our bodies makes it a desirable supplement for many people. Add to that, more than 50% of us aren’t getting enough in our diets.
Q3: Stomach is constantly bloating! Is that a sign of an intolerance? What should I do? Can I fix an intolerance and reset my digestive system if I am in-fact intolerant?
A3: Bloating can be a sign of so many different things. It’s very important when trying to determine the cause of gas, bloating and other digestive ailments that you take a systematic approach – don’t just try throwing different supplements at it and hoping for improvements.
When I’m working with people who have bloating I take a top-down approach. We discuss the digestive tract through a functional mode – we look at the way it is meant to function, and how different symptoms can tell us about where the function has gone wrong. Sometimes, it’s low stomach acid, sometimes it’s poor enzyme production, sometimes it’s food sensitivities or celiac disease and sometimes it’s dysbiosis. With this model we can identify the cause and treat that, rather than just trying to eliminate symptoms.
If we identify a food sensitivity (different than an intolerance which is a lack of an enzyme) then we use an approach called the 4 R Approach to healing the gut which in many cases allows us to reintroduce the foods in the future. But you need to put in the work first!
Q4: Why shouldn’t you keep eating what you’re intolerant to? If you’re willing to have a bloated stomach and brave the pain, why not?
A4: The main issue is that we’re generally talking about an immune system issue when we talk about food sensitives. While the symptoms occur in the gut, they are due to inflammation produced by the immune system (70% of which is found in the gut associated lymphatic tissue, or GALT). F’ing with your immune system is NEVER a good idea. Rates of autoimmune disease are skyrocketing and most doctors agree that the integrity of our gut health is imperative for reducing the risk of autoimmune disease.
Additionally, inflammation is a significant consequence of food sensitivities. And we know that inflammation is the root cause of the vast majority of chronic disease and the negative aspects of aging. So, it’s so much more than managing a bloated belly…it’s a way to proactively support your health now, and in the future.
Q5: Is fasting all that it’s cracked up to be? Pros and cons?
A5: I love fasting. I find it incredibly fascinating that instead of calling it “sleep”, we’re now calling it intermittent fasting. It’s a great example of how in our modern times we’re all looking for newer and better things, when intermittent fasting has been something we has humans have been doing for millenia.
But yes. The research does suggest a lot of benefits for intermittent fasting. Reducing the number of eating hours (12 or fewer eating hours) can improve our metabolism, support fat burning, decrease inflammation and slow the aging process. All good things.
Q6: Why should I go see a naturopathic doctor vs family doctor?
A6: It’s never an us vs them scenario. MDs and NDs are doing very different things for a similar outcome – improving the health of their patients. MDs have a different paradigm – they focus on diagnosing medical conditions and using medications and surgery to manage those conditions. They have lifesaving forms of medicine and are so important in our health care community.
NDs are different. We focus more on functional medicine – looking at improving the function of the body so that symptoms no longer occur or do not develop. We have a very proactive view on health – optimizing our body’s function now so that symptoms don’t develop in the future. We also practice more lifestyle medicine – looking at your diet, your habits, your thoughts, emotions and stress – and how all of those factors can contribute to your health, either positively or negatively.
Big THANK YOU to Dr. Lisa Watson.