Can Naturopathic Medicine Help My CrossFit?

Spoiler Alert: probably.
Whenever I tell people what I do, mostly I get a polite, but puzzled response.
“Oh, that’s great!” they say.
I ask them if they know what a Naturopathic Doctor is.
“Uh…no…” they reply.
I hope to change that with this post.
People have all sorts of misconceptions about what I do. Some people think I’m a wheatgrass-juice swilling hippie who lives and breathes yoga and talks about the healing power of crystals and hates vaccines. Other people think I’m a homeopath, or a nutritionist, or a personal trainer, or someone who took an aromatherapy course one weekend two years ago.
None of that is accurate.
The most brief explanation I can give is that I practice medicine without drugs.
Turns out, there’s an entire world of medicine beyond antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. East Asian and South Asian folks have been using different systems of medicine for ages to great effect. Most drugs were developed from natural sources anyway, so pharmaceutical companies were really just borrowing from the healing properties of plants in the first place.
But there’s a whole lot more to my toolkit. When you go to the doctor, they can generally do three things when you have a complaint: prescribe a drug, remove the culprit surgically, or refer you to a specialist who can also do those two things. Don’t get me wrong, conventional medicine, pharmaceuticals, and medical doctors are integral to our health care system, especially in an emergency. They are great at preserving life.
I am great at preserving quality of life.
I use herbs, nutrients, diet, exercise, acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, physical medicine, and then some in order to make sure you live the healthiest, happiest life you can. While I do a lot of digging in scientific research to find the right fix for your problem, I also help you to make connections between your mental and physical state and understand how that affects your health. I also want to teach and explain to you about how you can heal your own body, because knowledge is power.
Turns out, naturopathic medicine is really good at treating the stuff that conventional medicine does not treat very well, such as:
  • Skin conditions such as  eczema or psoriasis
  • Hormone conditions such as irregular or painful menstrual cycles, fibroids, ovarian cysts, infertility (ladies, The Pill is just a Band-Aid for your symptoms, it does not solve the issue!)
  • Immune conditions such as allergies and asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Thyroid conditions – hypo and hyper
  • Digestive concerns such as IBS, SIBO, candida, and acid reflux
  • Mood and mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety
  • Chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease
  • Weight concerns and healthy eating
  • Chronic or adrenal fatigue, burnout, and other effects of stress
  • Infection treatment and prevention of cold and flu, ear infections, UTIs
  • Pain such as arthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia
  • Side effects of cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemo
  • Surgical recovery and healing
Likely, if you or anyone you know has gone the conventional route with these conditions, they’ll often wind up frustrated with the options available. Naturopathic medicine offers more hope.
And, most importantly, the right naturopathic care can help you in the gym!
Yup. Some Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) like me also receive extra training in sports medicine. So, in addition to treating any of your medical concerns (which will likely make you a better athlete anyway), I can also help you with your gains. Given the broad scope of their training, a good sport-minded Naturopathic doctor is well equipped to help you with nearly all your athletic requirements.
  • We can teach you how to fuel before, after and between workouts to optimize strength, endurance, or weight
  • We can treat acute injury and support your healing with a variety of tools
  • We can show you how to eat, move, and live in order to hurt less
  • We can recommend exercises to help minimize imbalances and to prevent injury
  • We can help you maximize recovery and sleep so that you can get back to the gym pronto
  • We can help tune up your immune system during high-volume training cycles (which, in case you didn’t know, supresses your immunity)
  • We can help you navigate that perplexing world of sports supplementation, and determine whether that pre-workout is right for you
  • We can also treat any condition or illness that comes up that might get in the way of training
Cheesy as it sounds, we’re a one-stop shop for your health and athletic needs! I wasn’t kidding when I said I was a Health Genius!
I hope that I’ve dispelled some misconceptions about the type of care that I provide. Given the rampant misinformation, especially by some ultra-conservative media outlets, it’s important for me to disseminate more accurate information about the benefits of complimentary forms of medicine. Chances are if you’ve been CrossFitting for a bit, you’ve seen a chiropractor, osteopath, massage therapist, physiotherapist, or acupuncturist for an injury. Let a Naturopathic Doctor fill in the gaps in your health care so you can focus on training and living a healthy life.  naturopathic medicine crossfit

Non-CrossFit Functional Fitness Solutions

In case you haven’t seen any of my social media posts lately, I’m 2/3 through a hormone detox because my hormones are…messed up. There are many scientifically-validated reasons why this is the case (I spent a lot of time on PubMed reading papers on this), but I’ve decided to address the issues through food and other lifestyle choices. I’m trying to detox my body and my life.

2015-10-25 09.50.53

This is me after running some hill sprints – a great workout with no gym required!

So an interesting thing happened during this detox. Maybe it was the rebound fatigue from cutting out caffeine, or the “low-carb flu”, or the sprained back that prevents me from squatting heavy right now, but I’ve lost most of the desire to go to the gym. I’ve been happier doing other more low-key activities like yoga, rock climbing, walking and running. It’s interesting to me.

Now I love CrossFit, and this by no means is a sign of the end, but CrossFit is stressful! You’re constantly chasing your goals, and you get butterflies in your stomach and waves of panic before the wod begins, and you beat up on yourself even just a little if your performance is not up to your already high expectations. Sometimes I just enjoy exercise for exercise’s sake, rather than for constant improvement.

I also haven’t been loving the energy and vibe of the gym lately. This is my fault. Everyone else has been the same, but I’ve let my insecurities take over recently, especially since I’ve been sitting around, stagnating, waiting for my license so that I may begin work. It’s horrible, and I’ve let those fears and negative thoughts spill over into other aspects of my life.

The obvious solution was to get outside and sweat on my own, and on my own terms. It’s been great! This morning I did 8 hill sprints (where during the last sprint I felt I was practically crawling up the hill) and 250m of walking lunges. I worked my lungs and posterior chain pretty hard, in 30 minutes, and I’m ready to begin my day.

Maybe re-discovering solo workouts means I will wod a little less. I still can’t wait to get back to heavy lifting, but I have to honour my body in its current state. I didn’t really expect this detox to have such overreaching effects on my fitness choices (or even my thoughts), but it’s nice and I’m going to roll with it for now.

Do you trust Dr. Internet for health advice?

Stahp! Please, for the love of…anything…please stahp!

I have done years and years and years and years and years of post-secondary education to get to a point where I can make some decent evidence-based recommendations to people about their health, and then some internet schmo who reads Food Babe propagates their sensationalist, unscientific beliefs.

But of course you’ll listen to the sponsored Ads or glossy blog who got loads of followers by spouting nonsense.

Ugh.

Everyone’s trying to be an ND. It’s very clear from the content of this “article” that the author knows very little about modern nutrition. Low fat? Lowering HDL cholesterol? Saturated fat and heart disease? Whole wheat? Get with the times.

My beef with the protein debate

Every few months a medical journalist has to make a quick buck; the result is some horribly misinformed, fear-mongering, polarizing nonsense that eclipses good, moderate health decisions among the general public. One moment, one macronutrient group is valorized while another is demonized (think low-fat, then low-carb, high fat). Quite frankly, it’s irritating, especially because then the media needs to rescue the once-maligned macro to restore equilibrium and help everyone sleep at night. First, fat is terrible for you and causes heart disease, now it is necessary for fighting diabetes. Carbs were the devil among Paleo folk, and now everyone is eating rice again. Higher protein diets have been advocated by an increasing amount of fitness professionals and health care providers alike, and now this Maclean’s article is claiming that increased protein will kill you faster, and that we’re eating too much of it.

Welcome to this never-ending cycle of macro-nutrient wars. On a long enough timeline any and all extreme claims about one macro-nutrient are eventually balanced out and everyone regains their sanity for a few moments before casting their suspicions on another food, which will inevitably be blamed for all of our obesity, heart disease and cancer before we realize that those assumptions were premature and reasonable amounts of said food are either benign or healthful.

Why waste all this energy on such a hamster wheel of pseudo-science and sensationalism in the first place?

Here’s the thing: nutritional research is inherently and notoriously flawed. If it weren’t, we would have figured out the ideal human diet by now. As it stands, nutrition is a highly complex field riddled with research that is either designed or executed poorly and is subject to the limitations of having autonomous free-living human beings as study subjects. It’s a recipe for bad science. Add to that the sheer volume of scientific research going on today and you’re left with a vast sea of incomplete knowledge to support nearly any conclusion you’d like to support.

Enter the Maclean’s article, which uses a few studies to show some of the potential dangers of protein consumption. I can find just as many, if not more, studies to support the benefits of protein consumption on longevity parameters and chronic metabolic diseases. It’s all a matter of what you’re looking for. It’s also fairly naive to trust the conclusions of a study without asking some important questions about its design, assumptions, and repercussions.

So I’m going to go toe-to-toe with this article and point out some pretty dangerous assumptions it makes in hopes that you, too, will question what you read.

Firstly, this article is promoting someone’s new book. I’m just pointing out that this is as much of a press release as it is science journalism. The author then goes on to state Canadian dietary guidelines from 1939, as if this makes the too-much protein claim more legitimate. As far as scientific evidence goes, what was gospel in the past is not always correct now. In fact, it is often downright wrong. Only thirty years ago, science textbooks claimed our genome is made of hundreds of genes; now we know the human genome to have tens of thousands of protein-coding genes.

Next, the author goes into volumetrics, which is based on the calorie argument. The body of evidence stating that weight loss comes from a caloric deficit is so robust it’s virtually irrefutable, so consuming fewer calories is an important concern and often achieved by high-volume, low-calorie foods such as vegetables and fruit. It is also true that, per gram, protein and fat contain more calories than carbohydrate. However, a very important factor that this author ignores is the hormone effect, which is almost as big a player in the weight-loss and disease prevention game as calories. Insulin regulation is an important factor in diabetes treatment and prevention; this hormone dictates whether we turn energy into muscle or fat, and is highly influenced by the macronutrient profile of foods. Fats, proteins and carbohydrates are metabolized very differently, a crucial point which this author conveniently omits. This article ignores basic knowledge of physiology.

Both this author and I can agree about processed protein foods being more harmful than helpful. It is also true that the average sedentary person needn’t chug extra protein shakes, but the research that informs the International Society of Sports Nutrition states that supplemental protein in the form of whey isolate activates muscle-building pathways. Furthermore, the ISSN released a study that showed a high protein-fed group of subjects did not change body composition compared to a moderate protein-fed group. Protein has a very different effect on the body than carbs, and the author misses the subtleties of human metabolism. Although I do not intend to excuse the author, I do admit that from a research perspective, we still have much to learn about human nutrition.

So yes, meat is energy-dense, but this energy-dense food is also nutrient-dense. There’s a bunch of food out there today for which we cannot say the same. We live in a world of nutrient-poor energy-dense foods, and we should avoid these types of food. Protein-based foods, so long as they come from whole foods, should not be eschewed. In fact, the types of fats in pasture raised red meat, such as CLA and omegas 3 fats, are associated with lean body mass. What’s more, even though for years we thought red meat caused heart disease, this appears to be false. This meta-analysis (aka the most powerful,meaningful type of research study, from a very well-respected cardiac researcher no less) states that processed meat, not red meat, is associated with heart disease. Therefore, it is clearly the quality of the food sources that matters. Is this a surprise to anyone here?

This author has made no distinction between the industrial sources of meat consumed by the majority of the population and ethically raised pastured eats raised on foods they were born to eat rather than those which make them sick. By purchasing conventionally raised meat, we are buying and ingesting antibiotics and hormones that we did not bargain for. This is not particularly healthy, so I agree with the author on this point. However, clean sources of protein and conventionally raised proteins are two very, very different animals (literally), and one mustn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

What bothers me about this article is that it is so reactionary. People have been maligning carbs for too long which has now become stale news, so the media must now make protein the new pariah. Knowing what I know about scientific research (that there’s enough of it to support virtually any conclusion), I look for trends and common denominators among it all and combine it with traditional wisdom and clinical experience. In so doing, I have come up with the following conclusions:

There is no such thing as one perfect diet. What works really well for one person can be a terrible idea for another; this is because we are all vastly different in all the ways that we interact with food. This news should actually be very encouraging. The author of this article cites Okinawa and Sardinia as places where people eat little meat and are healthy; these examples are simply two of many traditional diets which are very healthy for the indigenous societies and contain a varying array of animal products. The Weston A Price foundation continues the work of the eponymous dentist who traveled the world to study the traditional diets of indigenous cultures with shockingly low rates of chronic metabolic disease. He found incredibly healthy people thriving on diets high in bread, butter, even marine mammal blubber. These societies knew how to use their resources and lived long, healthy lives.

In almost every case, you need to eat more vegetables. I don’t care if they’re organic or not, but vegetables protect against cancer, balance your hormones, help scavenge free-radicals that contribute to aging and disease. It’s not sexy or controversial, so it doesn’t get much press unfortunately, but no one is saying we are vegetable-deficient, and that is the scarier reality to me. You would absolutely do better to replace one serving of protein for vegetables, but more because of the benefits of vegetables than the harms of protein – that’s where this article misses the mark.

Processed food is also terrible, upon this we both agree. What upsets me so much is that people get so worked up about maliging or defending low-carb that we lose sight of the fact that we need to just eat foods that are made up of things that also used to be foods. Some of these scare-tactic articles pumped out by media outlets really miss the forest for the trees. Remember this article about subway using “yoga mat chemical” in their bread? Then the response to normalize the situation and calm everyone down went something like this. Yes, frightened public, azidocarbamide is in loads of industrially baked breads, so it’s okay. I question why it’s okay to have something in bread that is not flour, yeast, water, sugar and oil? Food should resemble food. Sometimes we get so worked up in the minutiae that we need some perspective. Eat real food. Usually, the rest works itself out.

No one is saying that protein should be eaten with reckless abandon; after all, the difference between medicine and poison is simply the dose. In general, I would say we overeat practically all types of food except vegetables. This is understandable when delicious foods are in practically limitless supply. However, protein and fat are essential to our diets, carbohydrates less so (you can make carbohydrates from fats and from proteins, they’re called ketone bodies, hence the ketogenic diet). There is nothing inherently wrong with any macronutrient. Carbs, fats, and protein are all fairly important for eating well and meeting your body’s needs. Aim instead for quality. Procure oils from oily things, Also know that science hasn’t yet figured out the best proportion of these macronutrients for any given person, and maybe that’s because a one-size-fits-all solution does not exist. You actually have to determine for yourself what works.

Clinically, I’ve found that people tend to eat an abundance of carbs, so I’m not sure where all this protein mania is coming from. I’ve been vegetarian for 1.5 years and thoroughly enjoyed it…but my body hated it. I developed nutrient deficiencies from not consuming enough iron and vitamin B12, which are basically only available in any appreciable form in animal products. I’ve also helped many people who have suffered from blood sugar imbalances by encouraging them to include a source of protein in their morning routine. Mood disorders and depression are practically endemic among teenage girls who “go vegan” to be healthier and subsequently cause themselves serious nutrient deficiencies. Furthermore, I shake my head when diabetes patients are encouraged to eat a giant bowl of carbs for breakfast with no protein or fat – what a terribly balanced meal.

I’ve taken issue with this whole radical dogmatic approach to food we seem to have taken lately. Nowadays, your food choices seem to intertwine with your identity. We don’t say “I eat paleo” or “I eat vegan”, we instead say “I’m vegan”, or “Are you paleo?” as if your dietary habits are part of who you are. The whole “this isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle” thing seems funny to me now. It’s not a lifestyle; it’s simply your food choices, and congratulations on making smart ones. That’s awesome, but it gets a little out of hand when people start taking things too far and when the media feeds this unnecessary fire. Then, if we don’t eat the way we’ve vowed to eat, we feel terrible about ourselves because it was our cousin’s boyfriend’s birthday and we had some ice cream made with milk. The horror!

In conclusion, I just want everyone to drop the insanity and overthinking and obsession over food. Probably the stress of it all is raising your cortisol levels and predisposing you to disease and weight gain (fact). Eat the most quality foods that you can, and if you can get it from a farm instead of a grocery store, all the better.

Michael Pollan said it best, so I will leave this one here for you to ponder. It’s the most robust diet philosophy I’ve read: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”