Adressing Concerns About Folate And Autism

folic acidHave you seen the frightening headlines saying that high folate levels in pregnant mothers are associated with an increased risk of their child having Autism? Once again, there is so much more to the story than meets the eye.

1) This is only a preliminary study and it looked at blood levels of folate, NOT how much folate a woman was taking while pregnant. The evidence associating high levels are folate and Autism is premature and the real story is much more complicated than the study from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health  suggests.

2) High levels of folate in the blood are often related to slow metabolism of folic acid. Slow folic acid metabolism is linked to a number of genetic mutations collectively called MTHFR, which we already know are associated with an increased risk for Autism. The MTHFR mutation is VERY common and may affect up up 40% of Caucasians. MTHFR mutations are also associated with a higher risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, ADHD, neurological disorders, migraines, miscarriage, infertility, lymphoma, and leukemia.

3) Women are told to take folic acid in pregnancy  to prevent birth defects, but if they have an MTHFR mutation they will be less able to utilize this form of the vitamin. When folic acid is not properly activated and used by the body for normal functions it is more likely to hang around in the blood, showing up as high serum folate. To complicate matters even more, many processed foods (bread, tortillas, crackers, protein bars, energy drinks, etc.) are fortified with folic acid. This was a public health decision that has successfully decreased neural tube defects like spina bifida, but may be detrimental to the many people with MTHFR mutations.

4) Fortunately there are forms of folate (and other B vitamins) that people with MTHFR can properly metabolize. Folate is extremely important for blood cell development, neurotransmitter function, and detoxification pathways.

5) I recommend that all women who are considering pregnancy be tested for MTHFR mutations so that they can start appropriate supplements before they become pregnant.

Just to reiterate, high levels of folic acid in the bloodstream are most likely the result of a genetic mutation associated with autism and are NOT the cause of Autism.

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Creamy Paleo Butternut Squash Soup

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This dairy-free Paleo butternut squash soup gets it’s creaminess from coconut milk. This soup is slightly sweet and full of flavor. It’s one of my favorite comfort foods and it’s super easy to make. Butternut squash is a great source  of Beta-carotene and Vitamin C, nutrients that are important for immune function and healthy skin. Butternut squash also contains Vitamin B6, Magnesium, and Calcium, which are beneficial for promoting a calm, relaxed mood.

Serves 4-5

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, and chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 apple, peeled, seeds removed, and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
  • 1 quart chicken stock or bone broth
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 4 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped finely
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the coconut oil in a large stock pot over medium low heat. Sauté the squash for 10 minutes, or until slightly softened, stirring occasionally to prevent it from burning. Add the onion and apple, and cook for about 5 more minutes. Then add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Pour in the stock or broth and bring it to a boil, before reducing the stove temperature to allow the soup to simmer for 5-10 more minutes. When the apple and squash are tender, add the spices and coconut milk and remove the soup from heat. Blend the mixture using an immersion hand blender, or if using a tabletop jar blender, allow the soup to cool slightly before carefully transferring to the blender. Serve warm.

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What Makes You Come Alive?

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive..jpg

Have I mentioned how much I love being a naturopathic doctor? It’s amazing to watch the transformations that people make in their lives to optimize happiness and health! Sometimes the best prescription is finding out what makes you happy, and then going out and doing it. Spring is the perfect time to try something new!

Spicy Black Bean Soup

blackbeansThis delicious black bean soup has just enough of a kick to warm you up on a cold night. Black beans contain lots of healthy fiber and protein as well as a wide array of vitamins and minerals like Folate, Vitamin B1, Magnesium, and Iron.

Serves 4-5

Note: If you have leftover soup try freezing it in a glass mason jar. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of airspace at the top to help prevent the glass jar from breaking during freezing.

 

  • 2 cups dry black turtle beans
  • 4 cups water + extra for soaking beans
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 2 cups tomatoes, diced
  • 2 Tbs coconut oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 Tbs cumin powder
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1/2 tsp allspice powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Soak beans in a large bowl with enough water to fully cover for 8-24 hours. Drain and rinse the beans. Place beans and 4 cups of cold water in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until beans begin to soften. Add the broth, tomatoes, and spices (except for salt and pepper) and simmer for 30 more minutes. Meanwhile, melt the coconut oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Saute the onion, celery, carrot, and bell pepper for 5-7 minutes until vegetables start to soften and onion becomes translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook 2 more minutes, then remove from heat. Add the veggies to the beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, cilantro, and lime juice. Discard the bay leaves. Try serving with sliced avocado or small amount of organic sour cream.

 

Get Rid of Seasonal Allergies…Naturally!

butterfly-flowerSeasonal allergies, hay fever, pollen allergy, allergic rhinitis; whatever you call it, the symptoms of swollen and itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and brain fog can be miserable!

Did you know that the best time to start managing seasonal allergy symptoms is before they begin?

Although there are some geographical differences, pollen counts typically rise in spring followed by another surge in fall. For many areas of the country February is the perfect time to start getting your body ready for the seasonal assault to come.

What are Allergies?

Allergies are a reaction by your immune system to substances that it considers foreign, but that aren’t actually harmful. When your body encounters an allergen for the first time it produces antibodies (IgE) that that are specific to the harmless substance. The next time that you encounter the allergen, these IgE antibodies signal to mast cells in your body to release histamine and other inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals then cause the characteristic signs and symptoms of hay fever: runny nose, itchy eyes, sore throat, fatigue, cough, brain fog, etc. In large amounts, histamine can also cause your airways to constrict, which is what happens in asthma.

Why do Allergies Develop?

natural_allergy_reliefOkay, it’s time for a metaphor: Imagine that your body is a bucket that can only hold so much. Everything that goes into the bucket needs to be processed in some way, either to make it into something useful or to allow the substance to be properly eliminated. Many of these functions and metabolic pathways require certain nutrients, called co-factors, in order to operate smoothly. If your bucket becomes filled up with things that require a lot of processing these co-factors can get used up, slowing down the pathways and making it challenging to deal with new things as they come in. When this happens it can cause a state of generalized inflammation. Higher numbers of circulating inflammatory chemicals in your body can set off a spiral of additional inflammatory reactions and you may start to have an exaggerated response to things that aren’t truly threatening (like pollen). This is called the “bucket theory”, and although it is an over-simplification, it may help explain why seasonal allergies occur.

Natural Ways to Decrease Seasonal Allergies

So, what can you do? The basic idea is to put things into your body that are healthy and easy to process, while limiting things that are challenging to process. Substances like alcohol, wheat, sugar, and dairy tend to be inflammatory for most people and can add to your body’s overall burden. You may feel better if you limit or avoid these foods. An elimination diet can also help you discover the specific foods that your body is sensitive to, which may be aggravating your seasonal allergy symptoms. Dr. Aviva Romm also has a great article that explains how improving your digestive health can help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms.

The products that you put on your body and use in your home can also make a big difference. Try to use products that are natural and free of toxic chemicals to reduce your body’s overall burden. Check out the amazing resources at the Environmental Working Group to find non-toxic beauty and household products.

Reducing Exposure to Allergens

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During allergy season you may find that you are more comfortable if you sleep with the windows closed to limit the amount of pollen that gets into your house. You can also look for a high quality air filter to help purify the air. Taking a shower before bed can also help by rinsing off the pollen that you have come into contact with all day so that it doesn’t continue to irritate your body during the hours while you sleep.

Saline nasal rinses like a Neti pot or NeilMed can also be effective for managing seasonal allergies. Saline rinses literally wash the sinus passages and can remove pollen and irritants. If you want to make your own saline solution, be careful to always use distilled or sterilized water. Regular tap water may contain small amounts of bacteria, protozoa, or other contaminants that are dangerous to introduce into your sinus passages.

Desensitizing Your Body to Allergens

Through the use of allergy shots, Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)), or homeopathic remedies, it may be possible to gradually reduce your body’s sensitivity to pollen and other allergies. These type of therapies should always be done under medical supervision and may not be suitable for people with anaphylactic type reactions. If you’d like more information on desensitization therapies for allergies, consult an allergist, or a licensed naturopathic doctor trained in homeopathy.

Natural Vitamins and Herbs to Relieve Allergy Symptoms

There are many wonderful natural therapies to reduce histamine and relieve allergy symptoms:

  • Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica): The same plant that is the bane of many hikers is also a nutritious and effective way to lower histamine. Stinging nettle stabilizes mast cells  so that they are less likely to dump their histamine and make you miserable. The most effective form of the plant is the freeze-dried variety, usually found in capsules. Drinking strong hot water infusions can also be effective, with the added bonus of providing a number of healthy minerals.
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is important for normal immune function. It is also a natural anti-histamine and may help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms.
  • Quercetin: Quercetin is an anti-inflammatory plant pigment that helps reduce the production and release of histamine.
  • N-Acetyl Cysteine (N.A.C.): N.A.C. is an amino acid that has profound effects on detoxification and the respiratory system. N.A.C. is a natural decongestant that thins mucus to reduce congestion. N.A.C. also naturally boosts glutathione, which aids in detoxification pathways.

If you’d like help with a comprehensive and individualized health plan to address your allergies and other health concerns, schedule an appointment with me at Hillsboro Naturopathic Clinic.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informational. It is not meant to represent a treatment, prevention, or cure for a specific disease or health condition and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen. Please never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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Paleo Persimmon Cookies

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These cookies are a winter tradition for me and I have made them almost every year without fail for the past 17 years. The recipe is from my Great-Aunt, via my Grandmother, and is a family favorite. I adapted the recipe to be grain and dairy free and they are just as delicious as the ones I grew up loving.

Note: The recipe calls for Hachiya persimmons, which are the tear-dropped shaped variety that is used mostly for baking. Hachiya persimmons  are extremely astringent until they are VERY ripe and they will usually need to ripen on the counter for 1 to 2 weeks before they are ready to use. Don’t worry if they develop small black spots on the outer skin, this is common while they are ripening.

Makes 2.5 dozen cookies

  • 2 very ripe Hachiya persimmons
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare the persimmons by removing the stems and peeling them. Place the inner persimmon flesh in a blender and blend until smooth. Transfer the persimmon pulp to a small bowl (you should have 1 cup of pulp) and mix in the baking soda; let stand. In a large bowl, mix together the flours, salt, and spices. In a separate bowl, blend the coconut oil and sweetener using a hand mixer. Mix in the eggs and persimmon pulp mixture. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the pecans and raisins. Oil two cookie sheets and spoon the cookie dough onto the sheets. Bake the cookies for 35-40 minutes, or until done.

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Change Your Diet, Transform Your Life

healthy-cup-fruits-raspberries.jpgA recent article written by Danielle Walker, author of the popular Paleo cookbook, Against All Grain, tells an inspiring story of how she completely turned around her health and her life through dietary changes. Walker suffered from a debilitating digestive illness called Ulcerative Colitis and found herself in constant pain and unable to care for her family. After working with a naturopathic doctor and eliminating grains, dairy, refined sugars, and other foods that she was sensitive to, she was able to get off her medications and prevent surgeries and further hospitalizations.

paleo-healthy-dietThe Paleo diet has gotten a lot of attention in the popular press lately and it can be easy to dismiss as simply one more fad diet. The basic premise of Paleo is to eat unprocessed whole foods and to avoid grains, dairy, and other foods that tend to promote inflammation. Inflammation in the body can cause chronic pain and has been shown to trigger a myriad of chronic diseases. I have personally seen the benefits of the Paleo diet in people with autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). By replacing inflammatory foods with healthy, whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, lean protein, and good fats, you can build a strong foundation of health and wellness.

Dietary changes unfortunately aren’t usually a quick fix and it can take months of sticking to a new plan before the true results become obvious. However, with patience and motivation, the benefits of diet are often profound and long lasting.

I often recommend a basic whole-foods-based diet like the Whole30, which cuts out sugar, diary, alcohol, grains, legumes, and processed foods in favor of vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat, nuts, and seeds. Although it is billed as a 30 day detox and diet plan, many people find that they feel so well eating this way that they incorporate these changes into their long-term eating choices.

Some people with autoimmune diseases find that they feel best when they also avoid tree nuts and vegetables in the nightshade family (i.e. peppers, eggplant, potatoes, and tomatoes). Although these foods do not cause inflammation in everyone, some people find that they don’t tolerate them well, especially when their disease is in a flare. This diet is called the autoimmune paleo protocol, and although it can be challenging to stick to, many people experience a significant decrease in pain and other symptoms when they follow it.

There are many variations on healthy, whole-foods-based diets. If you are interested in finding an individualized diet plan to help you feel your best, consider working with a naturopathic doctor or a nutritionist who is trained in whole-foods nutrition. Practitioners who are trained in nutrition can help make sure that you are eating a balanced diet with sufficient nutrients.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informational. It is not meant to represent a treatment, prevention, or cure for a specific disease or health condition and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen. Please never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Herbed Turkey Hash

acorn-squash-938936_1920This is one of my go-to recipes for Autumn dinners and it is always a favorite in my house. The hash is also delicious for breakfast over a bed of sauteed greens and topped with a fried egg. Acorn squash is a wonderful seasonal vegetable that contains lots of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and Magnesium.

Serves 2-4

  • 1 acorn squash
  • 1/2 lb ground turkey (I prefer dark meat for this recipe, but white meat is fine too)
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 Tbs coconut oil
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs dried sage
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper + small pinch for the squash
  • 1/4 tsp salt + small pinch for the squash

Preheat oven to 375 F. Carefully split the squash in half length-wise with a sharp kitchen knife. Scoop out the seeds and discard or reserve for roasting (they are delicious and taste very similar to pumpkin seeds!). Place the two halves of the squash in a glass or ceramic baking dish, cut side down. Bake uncovered for 45-60 minutes or until the squash softens. Use a fork to test if it is done.

While the squash bakes, heat the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion, celery, and carrot for 5 minutes or until the vegetables soften. Stir occasionally to ensure even cooking and to prevent burning. Set the vegetables aside in a medium bowl and mix in the sage, thyme, marjoram, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1 tsp of black pepper.

Using the same skillet you sauteed the vegetables in, cook the ground turkey. Break up large pieces and stir occasionally until the turkey is cooked through and no longer pink, approximately 4 to 6 minutes. Mix the cooked turkey into the vegetable mixture and set aside.

Once the acorn squash is cooked, remove from the oven. Turn them over and drizzle a small amount of olive oil over each half and then season with salt and black pepper. Fill each half with a portion of the turkey hash and return them to the oven to bake for 5 more minutes. Each half can easily feed two if served with other vegetables or another side dish.

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Healthy Strategies for Cancer Prevention

With all the talk in the news lately about meat causing cancer (spoiler alert: the increased risk is minimal), it seems like a good time to look at the role that diet and lifestyle can play in cancer prevention. Cancer has become an epidemic in the United States. Recent statistics from the American Cancer Society estimate a lifetime risk of developing cancer at 1 in 2 for males and 1 in 3 for females. The likelihood of dying from cancer is approximately 1 in 4 for males and 1 in 5 for females.

Cancer is undiscriminating and there is often no rhyme or reason to why some people develop cancers and others do not. Genetics and predisposition play a big role in some cancers, but there are also many things you can do every day to decrease your risk.

Optimize Your Diet:

healthy-diet-cancer-preventionWhen it comes to diet, it is important to taste the rainbow! Eating a variety of fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits provides many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants with potent health benefits. Foods of different colors tend to have different types of these nutrients, so be sure to add a variety of different colors to your plate.

Choose fruits and vegetables that are lower in carbohydrates and high in potent antioxidants called flavonoids. One type of flavonoid that has received a lot of attention for cancer prevention is a group of blue and purple pigments called Anthocyanins that are found in red grapes, blackberries, blueberries, plums, cranberries, and red cabbage. Typically the brighter or darker the color, the more cancer fighting potential it has.

Fiber is also very important when it comes to cancer prevention. There are two main forms of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is the kind that attracts water and makes things slimy (like flax, chia, oats, and psyllium). Insoluble fiber is often called “roughage” and is found in green vegetables, lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds. Fiber is like a scrub brush for the intestines and rids your body of toxins and excess blood sugar, cholesterol, and hormones, all of which helps to prevent certain types of cancer.

Move Your Body:

exercise-cancer-preventionResearch has found that increased physical activity is correlated to a lower incidence of many types of cancer including colon, lung, breast, uterine, and prostate cancers. A good goal for most people is 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity. Exercise also significantly improves cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels, and mood. You should exercise at a level of your safe target heart rate and talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Vitamin D:

Optimizing your vitamin D status is one of the easiest things you can do to prevent cancer. If you’ve never had your Vitamin D levels tested, there’s no better time than the present. Supplementing Vitamin D to get your blood levels in an optimum range of 40-70 ng/mL can decrease your risk of breast, colon, ovarian, or prostate cancer by as much as 50 percent.

Avoid Toxic Cleaning and Beauty Products:

natural-nontoxic-makeupHousehold cleaners and beauty products are often full of chemicals known to be carcinogenic (i.e. cancer causing) and endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with your body’s natural hormones. Many endocrine disruptors mimic estrogen and may increase the risk for certain hormonal cancers like breast and ovarian cancers. One major endocrine disruptor is Dioxin, which is a byproduct of the bleaching process and found in many feminine hygiene products. Another potent endocrine disruptor is BPA, a component of many plastics and food and drink containers.

For yourself and your family, choose natural home cleaning products or make your own using simple ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. The Environmental Working Group maintains amazing resources for finding non-toxic household products and cosmetics.

Don’t Use Tobacco:

Tobacco causes more than just lung cancer. It also increases your risk of head and neck, stomach, kidney, bladder, pancreatic, ovarian, and cervical cancers. Quitting can be hard, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are many medications, supplements, and acupuncture treatments that may make it easier to quit.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informational and is not meant to represent a treatment, prevention, or cure for a specific disease or health condition and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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Paleo Pumpkin Pancakes

IMG_3281These grain-free pumpkin pancakes are delicious any time of the year, but are an especially satisfying treat on cool Autumn mornings. Try serving them with a small amount of Grade B pure maple syrup and chopped hazelnuts. Pumpkin is a great source of fiber, beta-carotene, and Vitamin C and a wonderful way to eat seasonally.

Serves 4

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 can pumpkin puree or 2 cups cooked pumpkin
  • 3 Tbs butter or coconut oil, melted
  • 1 Tbs honey (optional)
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • approx 1 Tbs coconut oil for cooking

Beat eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Add pumpkin puree, honey, and 3 Tbs melted butter or oil and mix well. In another bowl mix the flour, baking soda, and spices. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and blend well. Melt a small amount of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. When the skillet is hot but the oil is not smoking, pour 1/3 cup portions of pancake batter into the pan so that the pancakes fill the pan but don’t touch.

Cover the skillet with a lid and allow the pancakes to cook for approximately 3 to 5 minutes before flipping to cook the second side. Test the pancakes before flipping by sliding a spatula under them. They are ready to flip when the bottom has browned and the spatula easily slides under. Cover and cook the second side for an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until both sides are browned but not burnt, and the pancake is no longer wet in the middle. The pancakes can be kept warm in a low oven (150-200 degrees F) while you cook the rest of the batter. Add more coconut oil to the skillet as needed so the pancakes don’t stick.

Note: Grain-free pancakes are more delicate than typical pancakes. They burn more easily and should be cooked at a lower temperature. They cook more evenly when the batter is carefully spread out in the pan with the back of a spoon.