Thursday, February 22, 2018

Making your own non-toxic deodorant

Looking to make your own non-toxic deodorant? Want a product that's safe on your skin, composed mostly of moisturizers, with no artificial or synthetic fragrances? Today I whipped up a batch of homemade deodorant; A recipe that I've been using now for years with great success. Of course, every body is different, but this formula is a great starting point for those with sensitive and/or dry skin.

First, let's briefly go over the differences between a deodorant and an antiperspirant:

Deodorants help to prevent or eliminate body odor. They often contain baking powder, or other substances that help to eliminate bacterial growth and/or eliminate odours from bacteria.

Antiperspirants prevent sweating. They contain aluminum complexes (the active ingredient) that induce blockages of sweat ducts. No sweat, no smell.

There are 2 main problems with antiperspirants:

1) Your body is supposed to sweat. This is one way we eliminate and get rid of detoxified metabolites such as phthalates. Sweating when the body is heated (when exposed to heat via weather sauna, or during exercise) is a part of a normal, healthy, functioning body.

2) The safety of aluminum-containing products is still a little uncertain. Several studies have suggested that aluminum exposure (the active ingredient in antiperspirants) may cause toxicity in humans. Patients with Alzheimer's disease have been found to have higher amounts of aluminum in the brain, but it's unknown whether the aluminum is a "cause" or factor in the progression of dementia, or, if aluminum build-up is a sequelae of having dementia. It is still to be determined how much of a risk comes from antiperspirant use, but the idea of using aluminum to block sweat ducts is still unnerving.

What's the solution? Making your own deodorant! It's simple to do, and can be very cost-effective (especially if buying ingredients in larger sizes/bulk.).

Here's what you'll need:

  • Baking soda
  • Arrowroot powder/starch
  • Coconut oil
  • Shea butter
  • Essential oil(s) of your choice
  • 2 non-plastic bowls: one that can fit inside the other 
  • A stirring spoon and/or tablespoons
  • 2oz or similar glass container/jar with lid. 


1.   Measure about 2 tbsp of shea butter and 1.5 tbsp of coconut oil and add both to the small bowl. Pour about 1/2-1 cup of HOT water into the large bowl and set the smaller bowl inside. This is to melt the oil - but don't allow any water into your small bowl with the oils. Continue to stir the oils together until they are both melted.

2.    Remove the small bowl from the water bowl and add about 8-10 drops of your essential oils. In today's batch I mixed 6 drops of Jasmine with 4 drops of Lavender.

3.    Add in 2 tbsp of the Arrowroot starch and about 1-1.5 tbsp of baking soda. Mix well. 

4.   Pour mixture into your small glass jar and fasten the lid on. Place the jar in the fridge or freezer for a few hours or overnight to re-solidfy the oils. 

5. That's it! Use a skinny popsicle stick to obtain a dab of your new deodorant from its container and apply with clean fingers/hands to prevent contamination. Because we're not adding any preservatives, it's important not to "double-dip" into the jar. Always use a clean stick and clean fingers.  

Friday, February 16, 2018

How to trick yourself into doing something difficult and loving it

Today I woke up with this feeling that I wanted to run hills today, and I wanted it to be a long run. I visualized what that would look like: What trail would I be happy on? What would that journey look like? And then I went out, knowing I was going to hammer out a minimum of 8km, but with a goal of 10km, starting at the end that has the greatest rises and falls in elevation. How did it go?

I did it. Of course I knew I would because I've play this same psychological game with myself every single run. The game is:

How to trick myself into doing something difficult and love it. 

Step 1: Figure out what your goal is. Listen to your body and your emotions and figure out what it is that you need. I have some days where I need to challenge myself with hill training. I have other days where I want a flat and easy path. I have days where I want a long but slow run where I can take my time, not caring about speed, but only the distance.

There are times I want solitude, and other times where I don't mind running into other people. There is typically an option for every mood and every need. If you're not a runner, that doesn't matter - you can still follow these steps for whatever your workout activities and goals are.

Step 2: Visualize the activity. Steps 1 and 2 can actually occur at the same time. It may sound hippie-dippie but the psychology behind visualizations are extremely important and lead to more positive outcomes. Before any run, I literally go through in my head what that experience is going to look like. I picture myself on the trail, moving along, in each section, hills, valleys, areas that have uneven or difficult terrain... everything. If I'm not satisfied that a particular route will be fulfilling for me that day, I try another route or another trail and see if that fulfils my goal. But the practice of mentally going through the route/routine prepares me for what I'm about to do.

Once I've made my decision and set my goal, it's set. Time to get ready.

Step 3: Get your gear on and make sure you're prepared. This step involves what I consider to be the "point of no return." Once I'm in my workout or running gear, there's no way I'm not going out. Even if it's pouring rain out, I know I'll still be glad I made the effort and got out there, but I'll dress appropriately for the weather. In this case, it also helps to visualize finishing your goal. For me, that means a yummy protein shake waiting for me at the end, a nice hot shower, warm fresh clothes and then a really awesome big meal (typically breakfast), all that will accompany my sense of accomplishment, feeling strong, and a runner's high. It's a pretty epic deal.

Step 4: Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Exercise isn't always going to be easy. It's not suppose to be. That's the whole point: you're training your body. But this is also an exercise in mental strength as well. Get yourself into a groove, relax your body where you can, and hold strong the areas that require your power (ie. for running, it's my core and hips that I hold strong, while my upper body is relaxed.) During the tough spots, tell yourself not to quit. You can quit if you want to... a lot of people do... but that doesn't have to be you. Can you go another minute? Another 5 minutes? Longer? Do you need to quit, or are you just tired of being uncomfortable? This is the game I play in my head: realizing that I don't need to quit yet. Get comfortable in your stride, get comfortable in your body, even though you're working hard! Then once you achieve your goal, you'll feel huge sense of pride and accomplishment.

Step 5: Always take that moment after you finish a workout or run to appreciate what you just did. Savour that moment. Stretch out your body and feel every single muscle. Feel your breath, and just how easy it is to breathe again. Enjoy every aspect of what you just did, and give yourself a high-five (not kidding, I do it all the time... when no one else is around or looking). Remember how good this feels. That way, next time, you can reflect back on this experience and let that be a driving force for repeating steps 1-4.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Treating skin conditions: Part 2 - From the inside, out

Although soothing and cleansing your skin with creams and oils can make a huge difference in skin healing, the root cause of many inflammatory skin conditions comes from inside the body.

The challenge is in figuring out which part of your system has been compromised, as there are multiple reasons why we break out in acne, psoriasis, or eczema. Although each one of these disorders is unique, they all share the common thread of being inflammatory in nature, and typically arising from an internal disorder.

Common culprits of inflammatory skin disorders:

  • Food sensitivities: IgG immune system reactions
  • Stress, leading to chronically abnormal cortisol levels
  • Hormonal fluctuations, as with estrogen and testosterone
  • Dietary nutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies, such as, essential fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin B5, vitamin D, and zinc.
  • Compromised or delayed liver detoxification pathways leading to increased toxin and/or metabolite burden.
  • Oxidative damage from an imbalance in free radical production vs antioxidant action.
  • Insulin resistance
  • Inflammatory bowel disorders: causes a barrier disruption and give substances like toxins, allergens, and microbes greater access to your system. 
  • An immune system imbalance, promoting a greater TH2 response and suppressing TH1 responses --> more serum IgE --> "allergic diseases" including eczema and asthma.
The detective work can be frustrating for a lot of people. A medical doctor can give you a steroid cream and they work really well at suppressing skin inflammation. Lesions will easily disappear in a matter of hours or days. But once you stop using them, many eczema sufferers find their lesions come right back, just as fast. So, by needing to take weeks, or even months, to get to the root cause of the problem without the use of steroid creams, it can be frustrating for many. 

It is also important to note that steroid creams can cause skin thinning, and therefore should be avoided on or around delicate skin (like around the eyes).

The bright side is that it can get better. A lot better. Treatment requires patience but is well worth it when you realize that you're not only fixing your skin, but you're creating a healthier body inside as well. 

For example, you might resolve skin lesions by changing the diet and improving the gut microbiome. In treating the gut as the root cause, we also improve digestion and can lessen symptoms of IBS like gas and bloating. 

As another example, in treating the immune system, and promoting TH1 responses with substances such as echinacea, reishi mushroom, plant sterols, and others, we could potentially see a decrease in concurrent asthma or sinusitis symptoms. 

There are multiple ways to treat skin conditions internally, but figuring out the root cause and correcting it is a process. The good news is that we are not limited only to the quick-fix of steroid creams - though they can be helpful at times! 

What can you expect when you see a naturopathic doctor (ND)?

An initial appointment is often 60-90 minutes in order to get a full picture of your health and health history. A physical exam may be warranted, at least to visualize any current lesions. In some cases, your ND may feel it necessary (or will give you the option) of having tests run to rule out specific causes. 

Examples of tests that may be run:
  • Blood glucose/sugar levels, testing fasting blood glucose, HbA1C, and fasting blood insulin
  • IgG Food Sensitivity test (often done as a finger prick or blood test): Can outline each specific food that your immune system is reacting to. 
  • 4-point cortisol test to monitor your cortisol levels throughout the day
  • A blood test for the hormones such as FSH, LH, and androgens (to help rule out PCOS and androgen-related acne)
Otherwise, treatment is often started right away based on your intake information and physical exam. This may include:
  • Dietary changes and modifying eating habits
  • Modifying the gut microbiome with probiotics or probiotic foods to improve immune responses
  • Botanicals and medicinal mushrooms to promote TH1 responses
  • Antioxidant, vitamin and nutrient supplementation
  • Working on stress management 
  • Avoiding exposure to toxins and irritants
  • Promoting phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification pathways with either food or supplementation
(Be sure to seek individualized advice and treatment from a licensed naturopathic doctor before starting any supplement or major dietary change. The above is for educational purposes only)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Treating skin conditions: Part 1 - Topical (lotion/cream) help

Troublesome skin has been a huge part of my life. My mom will tell baby stories of me with more than the average diaper rash: angry, red eczema covering huge portions of my body. She changed detergents, could only buy very specific brands of wipes and diapers, using "hypoallergenic" lotions and creams... but everything made my skin angry. I grew up with eczema and dry skin in general; always patchy, but it always came back.

The most troublesome spot was the inside of my elbows, and it was awful seeing as how everyone in gym class and at school in general could see it. Sometimes it would move to the backs of my hands and knuckles, to my stomach, under my arms. It was unrelenting.

Steroid creams like hydrocortisone definitely helped. Of course they should! They suppress inflammation. So after 2 days the patches would be gone, but just a few days later and we'd be starting all over again with itchiness, redness, dry, scaly and patchy skin, and then it was back to the steroids.

This is something I see often in practice and the problem is how we treat the skin. We think because skin is on the "outside" that we should treat skin conditions solely with topical treatments, but this isn't the case. In fact, more than 90% of the cases of acne and eczema that come into the clinic are not due to any external irritant. These eruptions of inflammation are telling us that something is wrong on the INSIDE (I'll talk more about this next week in "Part 2").

Of course, changing your detergent and body products can still have a big impact, and that's in part because some of these chemicals and substances can be absorbed through the skin and get into our bodies (and blood streams). Sometimes we forget that all of these things are linked: what we expose our bodies to (internally, like food, and externally, such as body products), can affect our hormones and elicit immune responses like inflammation.

What should you avoid in skin care products?

  • I tend to toss away any product that has a high amount of alcohol in it. Alcohol is drying and on eczema, it can cause burning and stinging. Eczema is already a dry skin condition, no need to dry things out even more. 
    • Avoid products that have any type of alcohol listed in the first 5 ingredients. This is more common in lotions, as opposed to creams. 
  • Fragrance and Parfum/parfumes: these tend to be chemical irritants. Look out for them in body products and try to pick fragrance-free products, or those that only contain natural essential oils 
    • Side note on essential oils: There are some that can still be irritating for skin, especially in concentrated forms. Avoid oils that have a "pine" scent as these can be more irritating and astringent. 
  • Parabens ( including methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben: These are known hormone disruptors. 
  • Propylene glycol: can be a skin irritant
  • Triclosan: a skin irritant that also may disrupt hormones
Growing up with this type of inflammation, it's an understatement to say that I've tried out a LOT of products. I found I had to rotate my moisturizers on a continual basis. From all of that experimenting I have come to the conclusion that: 

Products with the most "natural" ingredients and oils seem to give way better results than those that are "dermatologist recommended" or "pharmaceutically designed" --> Even if it says "hypoallergenic" on the label. 

All the Cetaphil, Aveeno, and Vaseline in the world couldn't help me and instead my skin just burned and itched even more. 

Look to the following helpful ingredients either on their own or in combination:
  • Shea butter
  • Cocoa butter
  • Vitamin E oil
  • Aloe vera
  • Avocado oil
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Vegetable Glycerin (especially for soaps - I've gone back to Natural bar soaps!)
  • Avena sativa (oat) extracts
My favourite products at the moment are Scentuals Scent-free Hand & Body Lotion, and Aleva's Daily Soothing Moisturizer (pictured below):

For my face and hands, I primarily use oils. This is also a great added treatment for eczema lesions. As often as you can, apply small amounts of coconut oil, shea butter, vitamin E oil to damaged and itching skin. Oftentimes I'll even incorporate a natural diaper rash cream (something with Zinc Oxide and Calendula) for skin healing and the zinc to decrease itching. 

These ingredients are meant to heal skin, provide anti-inflammatory support, and nourish damaged tissue. While we nourish our skin from the outside, we must treat it on the inside (see Part 2 next week).

The goal is to be consistent, and often I'll have patients apply these products as often as they can throughout the day (at least twice daily, but up to 4 times can give better results).

For an individualized plan and prescribing, I suggest seeing a licensed naturopathic doctor as not all of these options will be right for everyone (especially in the case of allergies or sensitivities).

In "Part 2" of Treating Skin Conditions, we'll review treating the body from the inside out for both acne and eczema. Check in next week!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Is condo-living taking us too far from the earth?

I feel like new condominiums are going up in Toronto everyday. It's crazy to look at the space of cleared land, and to think about how many floors will be in this building... how many condos, and therefore people, on each floor? ... People stacked on top of each other way up into the sky.

It may be one of the least expensive ways to own a living space in the city, but being so high up physically separates ourselves from the ground... from the earth! That's not to say that there aren't perks to living in the city this way, but the amount of concrete we surround ourselves with isn't natural. Again, that's not to say that living in a concrete city centre is terrible, but I find a lot of city-dwellers don't get the amount of exposure to nature as they would like.

What's the easiest way to get that balance back? Ground yourself. Literally. Get back to the earth, walk, barefoot if possible, through the grass. Visit a nearby park or conservation area. Put your hand on a tree; Hug it! Physically put yourself in touch with nature. Even now, in the middle of Canadian winter, you can enhance your mental well-being by getting outside (dressed appropriately, of course). Bundle up, and walk along a trail with a hot tea. Take the dog or the family with you if you want company.

It's like when you're on a boat or an airplane for long periods of time and you finally touch ground, step off and your feet hit the earth. It can make you feel grateful, steady, safe.

For those of us completely surrounded by concrete in our everyday lives, or living on the 20th floor, you'd be amazed at how liberating it can feel getting back to nature.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The importance of how we view food

Food is incredibly important to many of us. It serves as a means of gathering family and friends together. It's nourishment; It's tradition; It's comfort; and so much more.

Where we can get into trouble with our health is when we stop making conscious decisions with what we put in our bodies. Food is so incredibly important to me personally because I've had such a difficult time with foods. My diet is constantly evolving, changing with what my body needs and what it is able to digest.

With a slew of digestive troubles since I was a teen, food has been a constant battle. There was the Candida diet, the diet based on Food Sensitivity testing, the Vegan diet, the Paleo diet, a modified Paleo diet, and now, a low-FODMAP diet. Some people might say I've been cursed with a severely dysfunctional immune system, with multiple autoimmune reactions and conditions, but to me, all of these "problems" serve as a way of making sure I make conscious decisions with what I feed my body.

It's unrealistic to say that those of us with dietary restrictions are perfect with our diets 100% of the time. And no, in general, we're not depriving ourselves. Of course there are some foods I wish I could enjoy, and then there are ones that I'm glad I'm not tempted by because I know how terrible they can make me feel (typically, anything deep-fried). The reason being that when you eat "bad" (ie pain-making, pro-inflammatory) foods, you learn that sometimes the mouth-pleasure you get from eating something isn't worth the consequences (IBS symptoms, eczema breakouts, acne breakouts, energy crashes, migraines, ... etc) that come with it.

This is why I'm so passionate about food and diet. We all have the capacity to choose what we eat, and it can be incredibly empowering to understand this concept. But it's also a wonderful challenge to create meals and snacks that are healthy, that our bodies can easily digest and be happy with.

There is great joy in being able to show others how many options there actually are for those with dietary restrictions. Food is a part of our culture, a part of our everyday lives. At the same time, we need to understand that it's impossible to create a single diet that's best for everyone; We're all so different. So instead, I implore you to listen to your gut. Experiment with foods. Pull away from ones that don't make you feel great, and incorporate the foods (maybe even new foods) that you know you should incorporate (like more vegetables, or good-quality proteins). Remember that the signs and symptoms of food sensitivities are there to give us an indication that something isn't right, internally.

Nourish your body, love your body, and create something delicious in the kitchen today!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Taking a bath for your health

Baths are my secret weapon for self-care. When I bring this up to a lot of people, I often get the response of "but you're just stewing in your own filth." Obviously they haven't had a really good bath - one that is actually composed of the proper elements for physical and mental well-being.

But don't you just sit in a tub of hot water? No! If that's what you're doing, you're not giving yourself an optimal experience. It's like that old episode of Friends, "The one where Chandler takes a bath." Monica is able to create an atmosphere of relaxation with bath salts, aromatherapy, ambiance... But when Chandler tries to re-create this experience, his salts don't dissolve, the water isn't the right temperature. It's easy to overlook important details that can really make or break the experience.

Which brings me to my next point: There are different types of baths! Create the right conditions for your own personal needs. Here are some elements that can change the outcome of a self-care bath:

Elements of a Self-care Bath: Detoxifying and Relaxing

1) Water temperatures and application:

In general, hot/warm water in extended time periods (20-60 minutes) helps to relax the nervous system and your body. If you feel like you need help decompressing and getting to sleep, a hot bath is a great way to prep the body for bed.

If you're looking to invigorate your circulation and give yourself a bit of a "wake-up", follow that hot bath with 1-2 minutes of a cool/cold shower. The water doesn't need to be freezing, we're not looking to shock your system. We want it cold enough that it's a noticeable change from the bath, but not intolerable. For some individuals, even 30 seconds of cold water application is enough to change circulation, and at the least, the neck down should be exposed to the water.

Hot water tends to bring circulation to the surface, allowing your body to try to cool itself down. Whereas afterwards, if you apply cold water, you then force all of that warm blood back from your extremities and from the surface, back to central circulation.

2) Salts and Minerals:

Epsom salts, used externally, are a fantastic way of creating a mineral rich medium in which to soak your body. In particular, Epsom salts contain Magnesium sulfate. By soaking in this solution for 20-40 minutes, your body can absorb magnesium (and sulfates), which can act as a natural muscle relaxant. The trick is in adding the right amount of salts.

A full bathtub needs 2 full measured cups of Epsom salts. Other benefits of Epsom salts include a calming effect on the mind and nervous system, relaxing sore muscles and aches, and a detoxification effect on the body as it promotes pathways of elimination. Make sure to swish the salts around until they are fully dissolved into the water.

3) Oils (carrier/moisturizers and aromatherapy)

Oils are an excellent way of elevating the wellness aspect of your bath. Mix a handful of Epsom salts with some olive oil and rub gently over skin as a softener and exfoliator.
Essential oils can be added to the bath (just about 5-10 drops) as well for mood support and relaxation.

The Recipe for a perfect Detox-Relax Bath

We do a lot of detoxifying through our skin! Which is also why sweating can be beneficial and healthy. A detox bath can be accomplished just by using our Epsom salts, and by soaking for at least 30 minutes. The relaxation part will take a small amount of work on your part, to create the atmosphere you need. 
  • First, you'll need to set up your bathroom: grab a big fluffy towel, light a few candles if you wish, brew a cup of tea or get a cup of lemon water to sip on while you're in the tub. 
  • Try to eliminate distractions. Play relaxation instrumental music in the background, but avoid screens (tv, tablets, phones). Allow yourself this time just for you. It's your time to recharge - build up your Yin!
  • Fill your tub with warm/hot water 
  • Add 2 cups epsom salts, swished in bath and dissolved.
  • Add 5-10 drops of essential oils
  • Alternatively or additionally, you can add dried herb to your bath. 
    • Add in calendula or chamomile flowers to help ease skin irritations, and ease an angry tummy; Add dried lavender if you don't have the essential oils on hand. 
    • Note: I recommend cheesecloth to contain the flowers if you want to make clean-up easier in the end. You can use quite a bit of them, about 3-6 heaping tablespoons. 
  • Soak and relax for at least 30 minutes. Up to 45 or 60 minutes if you're looking to relax more before bed. 
  • Rinse off or just towel dry, making sure to be gentle on the skin. End with a slow gentle body massage with your favourite moisturizer or oil. Even if you don't have an extra set of hands to massage you, self-massage to apply a moisturizer will do just fine.