Back At Shovelling

It snowed for the first time this season in Toronto this past weekend so it has most of us searching for those snow shovels we packed away last spring. When you do find them and it starts to snow enough that we have to use them there are several things that we have to remember when we are out there.

Shovelling is just like any other manual labour task or exercise regime. Stretching is key to keeping our muscles moving properly and come away ache and pain free. Stretching your low back, shoulders, hip, and knees both before and after shovelling will go a long way to keep you pain-free this winter.

Stretching
For your low back, place your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly bend down to touch your toes (or as close are you can get them). Hold this position for three big, slow stomach breaths. Walk your hands over to the left leg and foot and hold this position for three breaths. Walk your hands over to the right leg and foot and hold for three breaths then walk your hands back to the centre and rise back up slowly to a standing position.

Stand up straight and roll your shoulders in circles backwards ten times then forward ten times. Next, bring your right arm across your body at the same level as your shoulder and use your left arm to hold it there for three big stomach breaths. Repeat this with the left. Reach behind your head with your right hand and behind your back with your left and try to bring your hands together. Hold this position for three stomach breaths again then switch arms and repeat.

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and take a long step forward with your right foot. Keep your left knee straight and press your hips forward and down. You should feel a stretch along the front of your thigh and up into your abdomen. Hold this stretch for three big stomach breaths then stand back up and repeat it with your feet reversed.

Stand near a wall and steady yourself with your left hand on the wall. Lift your right foot behind you and grasp it with your right hand. Pull your foot up until you feel a stretch along the front of your thigh. Hold this for three stomach breaths then lower your foot to the ground and repeat with your left.

Shovelling
When you are out there shovelling remember a few things. It is better for your body to push the snow to the edges of the driveway than it is to lift and throw it. If you do have to throw it to get it off the driveway then be sure to lift properly. Keep your back straight and your core tight then bend at the hips and knees to grip the shovel and then extend the knees and hips. Once you are back up straight take steps to turn in the direction you want rather than twisting your low back, and then throw the snow where you want it to end up.

Be sure to take lots of breaks to keep your muscles from getting overly tired. One of the best ways I find to do this is to have some good music playing through some headphones that keeps your bopping along at a good pace but gives you a better idea of the passage of time. Stop every 5-10 songs and give yourself a break. Just stand and take deep breaths or grab a drink of water. The music will also help to keep you in a positive frame of mind which is very good for preventing and relieving pain.

The Ontario Chiropractic Association has an educational pamphlet on shovelling with some good information here.

Stay warm and dry out there this winter and protect your back.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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Getting The Most From Our Food

In this blog I talk about food and nutrition a lot but we don’t get into how we digest it all the often. So today we are going to focus on the way we digest our food and how this process is broken and can be fixed. If I were to ask you where digestion starts many people would say the stomach. A few less would say the mouth. They would all be wrong. The correct answer is your mind. That’s right! Digestion of our food starts in our minds.

There are three phases to our digestion. The first is the “Cephalic Phase” (Cephalic means head) which is where we think about food. It may sound silly but this is actually the first step. Thinking about a meal, whether it’s planning what to make or choosing from a menu, stimulates the production of acid in our stomachs and starts the production of digestive enzymes in the pancreas. This effect continues in the mouth as the stimulation of the tastebuds tells the stomach and pancreas what the approximate nutrient make-up of the food is. That allows our digestive tract to be better prepared for what is heading its way and digest it fully.

The problems we run into in the Cephalic Phase are more sociological than physiological. In society we have become distracted from our nutrition and food as well as demanding shorter wait times for our food. These have limited the impact of the Cephalic Phase on our digestive abilities because we are now watching TV or working at our desks while eating rather than focusing on the food in front of us. Studies have shown that a dinner around a table with family and friends or sitting on a park bench alone will be digested and absorbed better than those in front of a screen. As well, the shorter waiting times for food have decreased our anticipation of the sustenance thus decreasing our time spent getting the salivary enzymes, stomach acid, and pancreatic enzymes primed and ready for food.

Being more mindful and purposeful in what and how we eat will serve us well when it comes to digestion and the nutrients we receive.

The second phase of digestion is the “Gastric Phase” (Gastric means stomach). After we chew and swallow our food it makes its way down into the stomach where it is churned around like it’s on tumble dry. Acid and a few enzymes are excreted by the stomach wall to chemically breakdown the food particles and the stomach walls rhythmically contract to help out by mechanically breaking up the food and mixing it with the acid and enzymes. As the solid food is digested into a more liquid state it gets pushed out of the end of the stomach and into the small intestine.

The main problem we encounter in the Gastric Phase of digestion is well known as Acid Reflux (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disorder – “GERD”). GERD is often thought of as the over production of acid during a meal, which it can be, but many experts believe that it is much more common to have an under production of acid in the stomach which causes the burning sensation of Acid Reflux. The body is filled with sensory tissues that feed back to regulate activities throughout the body. As the food exits the stomach and lands in the intestines it hits a patch of such sensory tissues. They judge the acidity of the food and let the pancreas know how much base to add to neutralize it so that the lining of the intestines is not damaged. It also tells the stomach if there is not enough acid or only partially digested food coming out of the stomach which causes the stomach to produce more acid. All in all it’s a fairly simple system but when the last of the food passes out of the stomach then stimulating the stomach to produce more acid we come upon the problem. The acid is churned around and can push out the upper end of the stomach causing acid reflux. So this issue bridges the Cephalic Phase where we should be producing the acid needed but we have truncated this process and the Gastric Phase where we should be using the acid provided previously.

Taking more time to focus on and enjoy our food more will help to alleviate the distress of GERD as well as a shot glass of vinegar immediately before eating which will provide some acid for the stomach and aid the chemical digestion when acid production is low.

The other problem associated with the Gastric Phase of digestion is Ulcers, which are damaged of the lining of the stomach by the acid it secretes. Normally, the stomach lining is protected by a layer of mucus that is maintained to buffer the acid that approaches the stomach wall. Ulcers can occur when the mucus is not maintained or when the acid is produced in greater quantities than needed, which is the less likely of the two. Mucus can be degraded by outside influences (like bacterial infections) or internal functions like stress. Taking time for ourselves is always a good idea because stress has such a strong influence on our health. Also, a well balanced diet will help to maintain a good mucus layer to protect against damage.

The final phase of digestion is the “Intestinal Phase” which is where the vast majority of the nutrient absorption happens. When the partially digested food passes into the intestines it is dosed with an amount of base to neutralize the acid of the stomach, a good portion of digestive enzymes, and enough bile to mix in with the fats in the food for easier digestion and absorption. This mess of stuff gets passed along the intestines as the excreted chemicals work away at the food. Nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine leaving mostly water and fibre and waste products for the large intestine. In the large intestine the water is reabsorbed as needed and our gut bacteria get to work on the fibre digesting it and passing on the absorbable sugars to us.

The things that can go wrong in the intestines can fill a textbook all by themselves so I want to focus on the two simpler problems that affect most people in the world. Constipation and Diarrhea can range from chronic problems to occasional irritants. Most diarrhea is caused by some irritant in the bowels that our body is trying to get rid of quickly but this is not the type of diarrhea I am talking about today. Today I want to focus on loose watery bowel movements that have very little substance to them. This type of diarrhea is not caused by irritation but by diet. Constipation is the other end of this spectrum and can just as equally be caused by diet. The main factors here are fibre and water. The balance of these two is very important for the ease and health of our poop. Fibre holds our feces together providing structure but also trapping toxins and chemicals inside so that they are not absorbed as easily. Water keeps the intestinal contents soft and flowing. If we don’t have enough fibre in our diets we can, depending on what our diet consists of, get stopped up or have watery stool, neither of which is a great situation to be in, and water allows the fibre to move along as well as help with nutrient retrieval from within the fibre tangle. Fibre in our diet can also help to lower cholesterol.

Constipation can also be the result of imbalance between the two sides of our involuntary nervous system; the Sympathetic (Fight or Flight) and the Parasympathetic (Rest and Digest). In our world of non-stop stimulation and activity we are all Sympathetic dominant if we don’t actively try to balance ourselves. This means that our Parasympathetic stimulation is lower than it should be and this means there is less movement of the intestinal muscles. Deep breathing exercises, walking, and sipping water throughout the day will stimulate the Parasympathetics as well as activities like meditation and yoga.

I know that this was a long post this week and I hope that makes up for missing that last two. Thanks for hanging in with me. The best things we can do with our digestion is to slow down, focus on our food more, and take some time for ourselves to just breath and relax every day.

As always, thanks for reading and happy eating.
Dr. Ben

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Halloween Health Tips

Well, the day has arrived. It is finally Halloween! This night Ghouls, Ghosts, and Vampires will roam the streets looking for sweet things to sink their teeth into. This night is not a great night for health though and more than just the reasons you’re probably thinking of.

Sure there will be tonnes upon tonnes of candy and sugar tonight but I’m going to focus on the more physical and immediate concerns of the night. First off, let’s look at the costumes. We put on some crazy stuff one night a year and sometimes these costumes can be quite cumbersome and restrictive. IT is important to not sacrifice your body for the sake of a good outfit (this holds true on all days of the year too). A restraining costume can increase the probability of falling or tripping, especially if we can’t see our feet. On top of this a restrictive costume can make it difficult to catch ourselves when we fall increasing the risk of injury.

Costumes should also be balanced in their weight. We will be wearing them for a long time with parties or trick-or-treating so it is important to ensure that it will not be a strain to keep them up. If the weight of the costume is more on one side we can hurt back, shoulders, and/or neck. This is especially true if we are drinking alcohol because we could injure our body and take less notice, thus aggravating the injury.

Even if you are not dressing up this year there are certain things to be aware of. If you are taking kids trick-or-treating then be sure that you are ready for a long walk. This doesn’t sound too daunting, but remember what you may encounter on this journey. You can be delegated as the candy carrier and sometimes even the tired child carrier. This definitely makes the trip a lot harder. Be sure to stretch your shoulders, low back, and legs before heading out and when you get home again. Make sure you have good, supportive shoes as well, as these can make all the difference.

With everyone running around it is important to remember how tired the kids and even we can get. Carry a small pack of water bottles and snacks with you to keep everyone full of energy and enjoying the night. Letting kids eat some of their candy while out trick-or-treating still will help them in the short run but the sugar crash that follows will just make it worse. Healthy snacks will keep them going for much longer and make them much less irritable at the end of the night.

Happy Halloween and safe trick-or-treating everyone.
Dr. Ben

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The Power of Prevention

Continuing on from last week’s topic a little bit I’m going to hop up on my soap box for a brief moment and talk about something that is really important to me. We all know the worn out phrase, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and probably all roll our eyes when someone says it. But I really want you to sit and think about what it means. It is not just something that our mothers say to us when we are being foolish and could hurt ourselves.

It means that the cure is more work than avoiding the condition, disease, or injury.

It means that prevention is far stronger than the cure.

It means that willpower is better than pain.

Prevention is what we call lifestyle therapy, which primarily means diet and exercise. At this point almost everyone is rolling their eyes again. Sure, you’ve heard it over and over that, “You should eat better and exercise more.” But the simple truth is that these two things can decrease out risk of chronic illness (and even some minor injuries) drastically.

Women who exercise regularly (even just walking) decrease their risk of developing breast cancer (1).

Adults who eat plenty of dietary Omega-3 fats daily decrease their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (sorry, no percentage available on this one) (2,3).

People who have fibre from cereal grains and fruits in their diet a reduced risk of developing colon cancer (4).

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce our risk of heart disease at any age (5,6,7).

These are just some of the statistics out there and there is so much more that research has shown us. However, we as a society have gotten ourselves into a rut and it is difficult to get out of it because that rut provides us with easy and cheap fast food and lots of activities and distractions that keep us too busy for exercise.

This path also lends itself to our collective fallacy of, “I don’t feel sick, therefore I am healthy.” We have to stop thinking this and remember that Health is NOT the absence of pain. Health is the optimal functioning of our bodies so that we may perform at our best at all times. Now, I’m not saying that we should all be Olympians. Optimal functioning means that we can meet the basic needs for survival and have plenty of energy and ability left over to rise to any challenge that is presented to us.

Most alternative medicines are based heavily in preventative care. Seeing a naturopath, massage therapist, or chiropractor on a regular basis can help to increase our ability to meet the challenges we face and decrease our risks of certain conditions and diseases even further.

So what is your plan for making your future the brightest it can be? I challenge you to go out and walk for 20 minutes, three days this week and take a look at your meals and make one thing on your plate healthier. Take that first step and see the difference it makes. Changing our habits and lifestyle is an uphill battle but it is far easier than dealing with the consequences of not doing it.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

References
1. Wu Y, Zhang D, and Kang S. Physical activity and risk of breast cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2013;137(3):869-882

2. Dacks PA, Shineman DW, and Fillit HM. Current evidence for the clinical use of long-chain polyunsaturated n-3 fatty acids to prevent age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. The Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging 2013;17(3):240-251

3. Gillette-Guyonnet S, Secher M, and Vellas B. Nutrition and neurodegeneration: epidemiological evidence challenges for future research. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 2013;75(3):738-755

4. Murphy N, Norat T, Ferrari P, Jenab M, Bueno-de-Mesquita B, Skeie G, Dahm CC, Overvad K, Olsen A, Tjønneland A, Clavel-Chapelon F, Boutron-Ruault MC, Racine A, Kaaks R, Teucher B, Boeing H, Bergmann MM, Trichopoulou A, Trichopoulos D, Lagiou P, Palli D, Pala V, Panico S, Tumino R, Vineis P, Siersema P, van Duijnhoven F, Peeters PH, Hjartaker A, Engeset D, González CA, Sánchez MJ, Dorronsoro M, Navarro C, Ardanaz E, Quirós JR, Sonestedt E, Ericson U, Nilsson L, Palmqvist R, Khaw KT, Wareham N, Key TJ, Crowe FL, Fedirko V, Wark PA, Chuang SC, and Riboli E. Dietary fibre intake and risks of cancers of the colon and rectum in the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition (EPIC). PLoS One 2012;7(6):e39361

5.Lamina S, Okoye CG, and Hanif SM. Randomised controlled trial: effects of aerobic exercise training programme on indices of adiposity and metabolic markers in hypertension. The Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association. 2013;63(6):680-687

6. Fakhry F, Rouwet EV, den Hoed PT, Hunink MG, and Spronk S. Long-term clinical effectiveness of supervised exercise therapy versus endovascular revascularization for intermittent claudication from a randomized clinical trial. The British Journal of Surgery. 2013;100(9):1164-1171

7. Back DT, Casey DP, Martin JS, Emerson BD, and Braith RW. Exercise training improves endothelial function in young prehypertensives. Experimental Biology and Medicine. 2013;238(4):433-441

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Health For Your Career

This week I went to see the Mirvish production of Les Miserables (it was absolutely wonderful and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys musical theatre) and it got me thinking about health, as many things do being the health nerd that I am. The performing arts can be absolutely brutal on your body, just like sports, and to have a prosperous career you need to maintain a very healthy lifestyle to meet the challenges that face you.

But this rule does not only apply to performers and athletes. We all need to lead a healthy lifestyle to maintain our career if you think about it. Diet, posture, and activity all play a central role in the deterioration or upkeep of our body. If we sit at a desk all day, hunch by our computer, and get very little activity our body will feel the stress just as quickly as someone who operates a jackhammer all day. This means that our bodies will accumulate damage (“microinjuries”) over time and certain activities will no longer be easy or comfortable for us. This accumulation will limit our ability to do our jobs and could lead to serious disability and potentially losing all ability to work.

Pain, limited range of motion, weakness, numbness, and other downstream effects of these microinjuries all impact our ability to work. So what are we to do about it? Are these effects just an unavoidable by-product of working?

Why not look at it the same way these performers and athletes do? I need my body (and my mind) to do my job so let’s look after my body (and mind) the best that I can so that I can continue doing my job. We hear about so many major league athletes turning to alternative medicine for preventative and injury care but there are just as many performers out there who do the same.

Through prevention we can avoid nasty complications later down the road and keep our ability to work as strong as ever. This will pretty much guarantee a good career (aside from non-health/ability related issues, of course) in whatever field you choose. On top of this, early intervention is key to limiting the impact injuries have on our future ability to work. The longer we put off finding appropriate care the greater the impact an injury will have on our body.

So if you are looking for a long career take good care of your body because it’s the only one you’ve got. Get a little exercise every day, maintain a healthy diet, and make sure you treat your body right with good posture, deep breathing, and a calm, stress-free attitude. Think of yourself as a performer on our own little stage and the lifestyle will follow.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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Staying Level Headed

When we talk about posture it is generally in terms of front to back discrepancies in the balance but side to side is just as important. A side to side postural imbalance is called Scoliosis. I’m not going to talk about structural scoliosis, where the bones of the spine have developed in such a way that the spine cannot stand vertically. Today I will be discussing functional imbalances that are more common than we think in the general population.

Our side to side movements and balance come solely from our spine and the muscles that run up and down it as well as out from it. An imbalance in these muscles or an outside influence can lead to a curve towards one side or another and this puts a lot of uneven pressure through the joints of the spine.

First of all, those squishy intervertebral discs that we have talked about so many times before will be pushed to the outer edge of this new curve and create uneven pressure on the outer tissue of the disc itself. If prolonged, this pressure will eventually weaken these tissues and increase the likelihood of the intervertebral discs herniating.

The pressure in the joints of the spine also increases the wear and tear they experience which leads to degeneration of the joints and the development of arthritis. The most noticeable and immediate symptom of this imbalance is sore and spasmed muscles up and down the spine. Really muscle spasms and functional scoliosis are a chicken/egg debate that is different for each individual but they definitely go hand-in-hand.

Functional scoliosis can be influenced and/or caused by multiple different factors. The main culprits are bags that are carried on one side like purses, messenger bags, or briefcases. This added weight unbalanced us and puts an outside pressure across the spine. Backpacks on the other hand, when worn on both shoulders balance their weight evenly across the shoulders and low back so that the pressure is vertical and not horizontal. If the backpack is not packed evenly then this protection disappears, of course. This is why it is important to distribute the weight in your pack evenly on both sides.

Our shoes can even be the problem that leads to functional scoliosis. If they wear down unevenly then it’s the same as walking along an uneven surface. This can happen if our gait is off for any reason.

If you think that you have a functional scoliosis take a look in the mirror and really examine how level your body is at all points. Take a good look at your ears, shoulders, and hips as these are generally good indicators of balance horizontally. At our shoulders there is always a little discrepancy because the muscles of our dominant arm will be mildly bigger than the non-dominant one just from frequent use. In fact, we all have a very small mild scoliosis in our upper back which curves towards our dominant arm for this reason. That scoliosis is harmless as the body has adapted to it since childhood and found a balance around it.

So what can we do about it? Really the only help that we can get fixing a functional scoliosis is through rehabilitation and chiropractic care. A chiropractor or physiotherapist can determine if a functional scoliosis is appropriate or the result of an imbalance which should be removed. Through training and manipulation an inappropriate scoliosis and its root cause(s) can be alleviated and resolved. The only thing that we can do at home by ourselves is to make sure that when we work out we stretch and exercises both sides of our body evenly.

So take a good look at the mirror now and then and honestly answer this question, “How level headed am I?”

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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The True Meaning of Multidisciplinary

When navigating the world of healthcare you have probably run into something called a “Multidisciplinary Clinic”. This means that there are multiple different professions working under one roof. The first thing that comes to most peoples’ minds is, “Well, that’s convenient!” but in the end it really isn’t that much better than having all of these professionals working in different locations. Within most multidisciplinary clinics there is just as much miscommunication as there is when they are separate.

The problem lies in the definition of “Multidisciplinary”. When these clinics started popping up they were supposed to be organized efforts to bring together teams of professionals to work together rather than just work next to each other. A truly multidisciplinary clinic will encourage and foster communication and collaboration which benefits the patient much more than one doctor working alone. This has been lost in the healthcare community but is being brought back through multiple different efforts from different groups (one of which, I am proud to say, is the Ontario Chiropractic Association).

The theory behind Multidisciplinary clinics is that doctors working in collaboration with easy communication and access will be able to provide better quality care to the patients. Through this there will be decreased wait times, increased patient and professional satisfaction, and improved prognosis for the patient’s condition. There is a very small body of research that supports these theories at the moment but more is being conducted all the time.

The other aspect of Multidisciplinary team care is knowledge of other professionals’ skill sets. Outside of the specialties within their own professions most healthcare practitioners do not know what other professionals are capable of. Multidisciplinary clinics allow practitioners to get comfortable with other professionals and know where others may be able to treat a patient better than they can themselves. This allows multidisciplinary teams to cover holes in patient care that might otherwise go undiscovered.

It is really important to check out any clinic you go to that promotes itself as multidisciplinary to ensure they embrace the true meaning of the term rather than just working in the same location. If not then you are not getting any extra benefit from it beyond only having to remember one address.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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Friends, Family, and Faster Healing

Guess what this post is! It’s Post #100! The blog is just a little over 2 years old now and we have finally reached the triple digits. Because of this I’m going to step away from the chiropractic and nutrition for a minute and talk about something completely different today.

One of the questions on my intake forms as a doctor is “Do you have close friends and/or family?” It’s down there in the lifestyle section with questions about smoking and drinking and occupation. When people come across that one they often give me a weird look and ask me why that matters. Well, it really does matter in physical health as well as mental health.

Having someone around to check in on you is the most obvious benefit. Someone to keep you on track with your health goals and maybe work towards them with you. Moral support is great for getting where you want to and healing but on top of that research has repeatedly shown that people with a healthy social life and support network heal faster. Crazy, I know.

Our emotions play a role in our healing and we humans are social creatures. So when we have a social environment we feel safe in we are generally happier and calmer, which allows our bodies to heal faster. I don’t know the exact science behind WHY this happens but the research is out there. A positive outlook has been linked with better prognosis for patients with chronic conditions for a long time.

Similarly, research has shown that people who are happier have a measurably higher pain tolerance than those who are sad or depressed. So a social life and support network to keep you happy will also keep you healthy. Pets can have this effect on healing times, too. Research suggests that animals in the house decrease healing time and actually decrease the frequency of becoming sick as well. This may be due to the fact that pets make us be more active and clean more frequently, so it’s kind of like living with a hairy (or feathered) physiotherapist in your house.

So whether it is coming home to snuggle up to your loved one on the couch or just grabbing a coffee with a friend, make sure that you have a positive social support system in place for the next time you get hurt. Go ahead, grab the next friend you see, give them a big hug and say, “Thanks for making me healthy!”

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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What Are B Vitamins?

In our current nutritional culture Vitamins are kind of a mystery category and people don’t generally know what they are other than these miracle nutrients we need for some undisclosed reason. The B Vitamins are a good example of this. Previously we talked about Vitamin C and one of its lesser known roles in the body. Today I would like to clear up some of the mystery around our B Vitamins and show you just how great they are.

The B Vitamins are a group of vitamins rather than a single molecule like Vitamin D or C. They were originally thought to be a single molecule but later discovered to be multiple molecules with similar actions from similar foods. When this was discovered there were even more chemicals listed under the Vitamin B flag but many were discovered to not fit the definition of a vitamin and so there are holes in the numbers associated with the current list of B Vitamins. In general, B Vitamins are small molecules that are absolutely essential to the daily grind of a human cell.

Let’s take a second and break down what a cell is and how it works in our bodies. We tend to think of cells are these static little balls that are squished together into organs and bones and someone magically function together. Well, the function of an organ actually comes from the functions within each cell. Different organs have different structures to their cells and this can alter their functions but every cell in our body has a core of basic functions that are essential to their existence. These basic functions are how cells maintain their structure, process the energy they need to function, and repair their DNA. This is where B Vitamins have their biggest impact.

All cellular functions are based in chemical reactions like breaking apart or fusing together molecules. These processes can be either very simple or pretty complicated. The simple ones can occur on their own but the complicated ones require the help of other molecules to make sure the reaction is controlled and goes according to plan. B Vitamins are these molecules, called “Catalysts” which exert a controlling force on these chemical reactions.

Some of the more specific roles that B vitamins take on include energy release (the break down of absorbed nutrients into usable energy) and the creation of red blood cells. Folic acid (vitamin B9) has been firmly linked to the development of the neural tube (the part of the fetus that becomes the spinal cord, the surrounding layers of tissue, and the boney spine) and is highly recommended for anyone who is thinking of becoming pregnant or already is.

Niacin (Vitamin B3) has created some mixed results in the research over the years as a potential therapy for those with high cholesterol levels. This has sparked a lot of debate in the medical community over the use of vitamins vs pharmaceuticals (that’s a conspiracy theory for another time though).

Some research exists connecting B Vitamins, specifically Folaic acid and B12 (“Cobalamin”), supplementation with improvements in memory and mood. This and increased energy are the main reasons I suggest B Vitamins to almost all of my patients.

Our B Vitamins can be found in both animal products and those dark green leafy veggies that I’m always talking about. As in so many things with nutrition variety is the key. It is possible to lead a vegetarian and/or vegan lifestyle while still receive healthy doses of our B vitamins but it does take planning and work. As always, please consult a professional before taking or ceasing a supplemental regimen.

So that is the general story of our Vitamin B’s. It’s just a peak through the door but I hope that it gives you a better appreciation for these essential nutrients. They are everywhere in our lives and effect so much.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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How Low Can You Go? – Water and the Body

I’ve mentioned it before as part of other topics but I wanted to take some time this week to about water. Water is such a common thing in our lives that we tend not to think about it but I would go so far as to say that it is the single most important nutrient in our diet. All the processes in our body, from copying DNA for cell replication to contracting a muscle to walk forward, are chemical reactions and all of these chemical reactions take place in water. In chemistry terms water is acting as the “solvent”.

In this way water plays a passive role in every single thing that happens inside of us. Water is also actively used in many different tasks throughout the body such as filtration of the blood through the kidneys. Water is pumped out of the arteries into the kidneys and then, depending on the needs of the body, a certain amount is brought back into the veins so that it is not wasted. For example, if we have a high concentration of sodium in our blood we will push more water out and reabsorb less back in so that we can excrete that sodium. If we are dehydrated then our body will try to retain as much water it can as the sacrifice of threes filtration processes. This means that if we do not have enough water in the day then we end up keeping some chemicals in our blood that should be filtered out and some that should be kept end up being lost. Good hydration will ensure proper filtration of our blood and avoid build-up of chemicals that can lead to problems later on.

The liver, as most people know, is the processing plan of the entire body. It detoxifies us, creates essential hormones and chemicals, and manages the level of fat in our blood. It is a very busy place. Every cell of the liver is continually working to make our body perfect. This means that the liver cells have a lot of chemical reactions going on all the time and that means they need water. In a dehydrated state these chemical reactions will slow down (not drastically but still some) and just like a factory that is working at only part of its potential, the liver will not be able to keep up with the demand placed upon it. This is not to say that simple dehydration will lead to jaundice but hormones will be slower to respond, blood toxicity will increase slightly, and fat levels in our blood will be higher than appropriate. None of these will cause immediate signs or symptoms but over time they will cause problems. Regular water breaks will help to keep our body functioning at peak performance.

Water and our level of hydration is directly related to our energy levels as well. This is because of our blood. The volume of our blood is dependent on our level of hydration as water is needed throughout the body and does not stay concentrated in our cardiovascular system. We are not talking about changes like the tides here, just minor fluctuations in the overall system, but these fluctuations are enough to make a noticeable difference. Our oxygen is carried throughout the body in the blood and its transference from the lungs to the blood and from the blood to the tissues is based on concentration. So when there is a decrease in blood volume the amount of oxygen needed to reach maximum concentration decreases as well. This means that there is less oxygen that is making it to our muscles and brain. Again, this is not a drastic decrease but definitely enough to make us feel drained and tired and decreases our mental focus. Also, it increases the likelihood of getting a headaches and sore muscles. Staying hydrated can save us a lot of pain in the end and make being active much easier without as many aches and pains.

Probably the most commonly thought of use of water in the body is sweating. Sweat is designed to help us maintain an appropriate core temperature by releasing heat. It is one of the very few water based processes in our body that is not cut back on when we are dehydrated. This makes it even more important to stay hydrated on hot days when we are sweating more. Drinking good amounts of water throughout the day will help to ensure that we don’t become dehydrated through the regular functions of our own body.

Water also plays several important roles in our digestion. First of all it moistens the food and allows it to be chewed and squished into the soft ball it needs to be to reach the stomach where the acids can digest it. As the food reaches the intestines water is very important as it allows the digested particles to move around and get absorbed by the intestinal walls. In the large intestine water is absorbed into the body as we need it. So in a dehydrated state we will absorb more water from our feces. This leads to hard and dry poop which is much harder to pass and can make you strain just to get some relief. Drinking water regularly can help to alleviate some constipation and make those uncomfortable moments much easier.

Drinking water throughout the day will also keep our stomach walls stretched which will trigger the release of the hormone called “ghrelin” (the “I’m full” signal) which will help to decrease the amount that we snack on during the day. So water can even help us to lose weight!

Many people struggle for a “hydrated” look to their skin and so try all kinds of creams and ointments to achieve it but they generally ignore one big factor. Skin is an organ of our body just like any other but in the grand scheme of things it is significantly less important than any of the other ones. So long as the skin is intact and keeping the outside world out then it’s fine. This means that the body will shunt resources away from the skin to keep other organs working. So really to have a “hydrated” look on the outside we need to be hydrated on the inside. Always having a glass of water on hand (not just sitting there but actually drinking it) will go a long way towards the look we all want of healthy skin.

So you don’t have to remember all of these details and mechanisms that we’ve been talking about today. All you really need to know is that your body doesn’t work without water. So drink up! It’s one of the best things we can do for our health.

Making sure that there is always a glass of water within reach is a good way to start getting enough water in our day. If it is there we will think about it more and drink more. As a rule of thumb it is a good idea to drink enough water that your urine is consistently a very light yellow colour or clear.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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