Health Blog

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Product Review — Kombucha tea

kombucha tea product reviewIn March I went to the CHFA (Canadian Health Food Association) show held in Vancouver (they have one in Toronto every year too). Only retailers and health professionals are allowed entry, not general public, because these are the companies that sell to the stores and clinics who then sell to the consumer. I go so that I can see what’s new in the land of natural health products and foods, and every year I learn about at least a few products that I hadn’t known prior.

I’ve been meaning to write about a few of the products I’ve tried, so finally, a couple of months later, here I start.

Kombucha—“Immortal Health Elixir”

Kombucha is one of those food/drink products that has been around for a very long time, but didn’t hit mainstream (well, relatively mainstream) until recently. It may not make you immortal, but because it’s rich in antioxidants, vitamins, phytonutrients, and probiotics, it has been shown to help improve joint health, support good digestion, boost under-functioning immune systems, aid detoxification, and perhaps even prevent cancer.

Kombucha is a fermented sweetened tea. Ya, I know, that doesn’t sound yummy, but you’ll find a wide variety of brands and flavours now available in the refrigerated section of many grocery stores. The most common brand I’ve seen is called Synergy. It comes in flavours like Gingerberry, Guava Goddess, and Cosmic Cranberry. Some of them also come with chia seeds that make the drink thicker and more filling—you get a bonus of essential fats, fibre, and protein. These latter options are a much healthier alternative to sugar laden bubble tea with those little balls of tapioca.

I had only tried Synergy before and I prefer it not with the chia seeds. I find that you can taste a bit of a fermented bite—vinegary—with this brand. I like it, but it might not suit everyone’s tastebuds. It does taste “authentic” though, and there are a ton of flavour options, so you can try a different one if the first one you try doesn’t click for you.

At the CHFA show I picked up a bottle of Rise Kombucha in Hibiscus and Rosehips flavour and a bottle of Brew Dr. Kombucha in “Clear Mind” option.

What I like about the Rise Kombucha is that it has a lighter taste, so I think it probably will have a wider audience. I’ve tried some other Rise products and could taste the flavours in each—Mint & Chlorophyll, Rose and Schizandra, and of course Ginger. I think I need to buy the Lemongrass one next, as the Rise website lists a couple of recipes (a salad dressing and a marinade for veggies) that use that Lemongrass Rise Kombucha. It’s also nice that it’s a Canadian product—from my home province, Quebec.

The Brew Dr. Kombucha is made in Portland, Oregon, as you might guess. It’s bottled in brown glass stubbies, like old school beer. If you check out their website, you’ll get a definite hipster vibe. But don’t hold that against them ;). This brand tasted more like a beer to me. So, if you want a healthy drink that will sub in for a beer and actually help your brain, rather than kill off brain cells, try the Clear Mind Brew Dr. Kombucha.

Oh, and for each of these, I have 2 tips.

  1. Don’t shake the bottle vigourously or you’ll be cleaning up a mess. Rise Kombucha recommends you turn the bottle upside down and gentle swirl it to mix in the sediment (the “mother”—the good stuff!).
  2. I usually find a whole bottle too much for one sitting for me. I pour about half into a glass and cap the remainder to keep in the fridge.

Let me know if you have a fave kombucha and if you have your own tips.


Paleo, vegetarianism, and other dietary debates

scary foodI’ve been writing for 24 Hours Vancouver for more than 2 years now. Wow! I hadn’t realized how long it had been until I looked it up to write this blog. I’ve written about health topics as diverse as kidney health, hot or cold application for pain, and workplace wellness. A number of those articles have also included food suggestions.

But few of them have created as much controversy and dialogue as my most recent article–Meat-less in May–on eating less meat or going meatless for a month. I mentioned that my husband and I are doing a Meatless May, and I wrote about the health benefits and challenges of going vegetarian.

Within a few days of the online and in print edition of my article on 24 Hours I started receiving emails and comments about it. The comments from meat eaters include, “Please stop preaching to me what I should eat and not eat. I will be the one that decides.” Vegetarians criticize me. I’m asked, “Wonder why this article wasn’t more truthful” because I stated that vegans and vegetarians need to be aware that they may be deficient in certain nutrients if they don’t make the right food choices and, in some cases, supplement (e.g. B12 if vegan). 

And today, within 5 minutes of sending out my newsletter with a link to that article, one of my friends unsubscribed from my newsletter. She believes that we are evolving into carnivores and some people eat too many vegetables. 

So, why are people so persnickety when it comes to their food choices?

I am not a vegetarian, but I am an animal lover. Like everyone else, I’m trying to find my own path, making choices that reflect a balance of what I know, think, and feel. I do not presume to know what is the right diet for everyone. I do not believe that there is ONE right diet for everyone. We are all different. 

This is why paleo followers can be healthy and heal their illnesses with their food choices; why vegans can do the same; why macrobiotic ditto; why raw (yes, even raw meat for some) also. This is why nutrition is so darn confusing. 

Generally, those who eat real, whole foods, limiting processed foods, are healthier. There are those who eat junk regularly and seem to get away with it. Sometimes just for awhile. Sometimes for longer than one would have foreseen. But, what is beautiful about food is that there is such a diversity and you can find what works best for you.

In case you want to know my responses to those people…

To those who don’t want me to tell them what to eat: 
No problem. Eat what you like. But if you have health problems and come see me in clinic, I’m probably going to offer you suggestions. If you don’t like what I write in an article, stop reading, or offer me a valid point of information that I can work with.

To those who believe that we are evolving into carnivores and some of us eat too many vegetables:
Yes, we are not like rabbits. We have very different digestive systems. And yes, rabbits may have a hard time digesting all the fibre they eat. But fibre is meant to help absorb substances and toxins and move them out of our bodies, so we aren’t meant to absorb it all. That is not proof that we are more like carnivores. Gorillas are omnivores who eat a lot of vegetable matter. We are more like primates than lagomorphs (the order for rabbits; I thought they were rodents, but they aren’t).

My response to the vegetarian who thought I was basing my article on my opinion, trying to scare vegetarians and vegans about nutrient deficiencies. This is what I wrote to one:
I was not trying to scare people into eating meat or not eating meat. My article was meant to provide information, as we currently understand, about different dietary choices. I am not a vegetarian, but am enjoying the start of my month of vegetarianism. I eat little meat normally, but am committed to this Meatless May. I do not presume to know what is the right diet for everyone. I do not believe there is one right diet for everyone, as we are all different. My choice to go vegetarian this month is for ethical reasons with regard to animals, not related to my health, though my article is about health because that is what I’m asked to write about.

Carnosine is found in our bodies, particularly muscle and brain tissue. When people eat meat, they are consuming carnosine. Vegetarians do not consume carnosine, and as a result may have less of this in their tissues. and We don’t fully understand the possible impacts of this, but carnosine has been found to be a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent AGEs, compounds that accelerate the aging of cells, contribute to inflammation, and more.

For this reason, it might be suitable for some vegetarians to supplement, probably in the form of the amino acid beta-alanine. But that depends on the individual, so I won’t recommend that to all in the form of a 400 word article to general public.

A vegan diet does not contain B12 that can be absorbed by our bodies, so supplementation is important for vegans. Vegetarians and vegans can certainly obtain the other nutrients I listed (zinc, protein, omega 3s, calcium, and iron) from their foods, but they need to be more conscious of healthy eating, not just assume that not eating meat is necessarily always healthy. Some vegetarians do not eat enough vegetables, are may be better names pastatarians or breadatarians. It is not as simple as being meatless. Of course many people who do eat meat make unhealthy choices as well.

I agree that we are not carnivores. We have the teeth of an omnivore (eating meat and vegetable matter, both). This is not my opinion. Our gut microbiome (bacteria) also indicate that we are most like omnivorous primates.

However, some of us choose to avoid eating animal tissue. I know many vegetarians and vegans and support their food choices. The same for my patients. I make sure that if I suggest any course of treatment or supplementation to any of my patients, that they understand what they are for. Each of us are ultimately responsible for our own health and well-being.

I do appreciate your passion for protecting animals by not eating them. We are all on our own journey.

I hope that clarifies my article a bit more for you.


Apple Mint Lassi and Simple Bean Burger

Apple Mint Lassi
Perfect for the warmer weather we're loving in Vancouver! Cucumber, mint, apple, lemon, and yogurt are all cooling. This is also a great detox cleansing shake. Easy to make and delicious too!
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  1. 4 red apples
  2. 1 lemon
  3. 1/4 cucumber
  4. 1 handful of fresh mint
  5. 1 handful of spinach
  6. 2 Tbsp (30 mL) unflavoured yogourt (choose organic, if possible)
  7. 1 tsp (5 mL) green food powder
  8. Ice (optional)
  1. Simple: Blend and drink.
Adapted from Alive Magazine
Adapted from Alive Magazine
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC
Modifiable Bean Burger
I tried the Southwestern version I've written here, but check the link for other options. Or make your own version.
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  1. 2 cans (15.5 ounces each) black, white, or pinto beans or black-eyed peas (I used black beans)
  2. 1 cup dried breadcrumbs (I used gluten-free)
  3. 2 large eggs, lightly beaten (free range, organic preferred)
  4. 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  5. 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  6. 1/2 cup prepared salsa (if you're wimpy like me, choose mild)
  7. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  8. 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  1. Rinse and drain the cans of beans and mash them in a bowl. They don't need to be completely mashed; some whole ones will add texture.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl.
  3. If necessary, add a little more salsa if too dry or bread crumbs if too wet.
  4. Mix until the mixture holds together but is not wet.
  5. Divide into 6 equal portions and shape into 4-inch patties.
  6. Heat coconut or grape oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat.
  7. Add the patties and cook, turning only once, until a crisp brown crust forms on both sides, about 6 minutes total.
  8. Top the burgers as desired.
Adapted from Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC


Meat-less in May

veggie TRexMy husband and I recently volunteered for Furbearer Defenders, and though that organization focuses on wildlife with fur, like coyotes, beavers, foxes, and wolves, spending more time thinking about animals beyond our dogs got us thinking about the animals we are eating. We’ve never been vegetarians, though we don’t eat a lot of meat. For just one month (to start, anyway) we’ve decided to go meatless. We’re calling it “Meatless May.” If you’ve ever thought about going vegetarian (or if you are already), this article addresses the benefits and cautions about going meatless. But perhaps you might just try meat-less (i.e. less meat) for a month and see how you feel. For more, check out my 24 Hours Vancouver article: Consider going meatless in May.


Boosting fertility with Whole Systems TCM

24 Hours Traditional Chinese Medicine and AcupunctureNot really surprising to those of us who practice Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), “whole systems” TCM–or what we TCM practitioners call simply “TCM”–is more effective than 1-2 basic cookbook style acupuncture sessions done around IVF (in vitro fertilization) embryo implantation. Yes, there are points that are indicated to use to support fertility. Part of that reason is that in order to do a study, it’s easier to choose the same points and apply them to many people. But, of course, we’re all different. So, as it turns out, a recent study found that acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments are most effective when a knowledgeable TCM professional assess each individual and customizes treatment appropriately. For more, check out my article in 24 Hours Vancouver newspaper: Natural Methods Can Boost Fertility.


Is it acupuncture?

is it acupunctureSometimes I think that it would be helpful if we all wore “My Name Is” nametags. I’m horrible with names. I try, but it’s something I continue to have to work to improve. If you ever catch me stumbling with your name, please don’t be insulted. You aren’t the first time I’ve pulled that embarrassing blank. But, please know as well that I’ve also grown used to being called by the wrong name. For some reason, people often think my name is Michelle.

Now, on to my TCM story. Don’t worry, I’ll connect the dots at the end.

I was at a health trade show recently, wearing a nametag with my title, “Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine.” At a health product booth, one guy noted that his sister is a TCM as well, and that he loves acupuncture. For the remainder of my story, I’ll call him my “TCM step brother” because I like to call my TCM colleagues my TCM sisters and brothers—I’ve done this ever since one of my first TCM teachers suggested that idea years and years ago. The other guy there said that he’s had acupuncture too, but it was really intense and painful. We’ll call him “The Other Guy.”

Surprised, my TCM Step Brother and I raised our eyebrows and said that it shouldn’t be painful like that. We asked The Other Guy more about his “acupuncture” experience.

He said, “Well, the needles were put in and moved around until my muscle cramped up really painfully, and then he took the needle out.”

“Oh,” I said. “That sounds like IMS. Was it a physio who did your treatment?”

“Yes,” he replied. “How did you know?”

I knew because the treatment that The Other Guy received is a common physiotherapist treatment called intramuscular stimulation, or IMS, for short. IMS involves the insertion of a needle into tight and tender muscle bands. When the muscle is too contracted it will cause the muscle to grab and produce an intense cramp. The needle is soon after removed.

Some of my patients have described IMS as so painful that they cry during treatment. My physio friends have even confirmed this.

Acupuncture should not be this painful. Sometimes a needle does suddenly grab and create a “travelling” sensation or muscle twitch. But I have never made a patient cry because of pain.

IMS only needles into specific tight muscles. Acupuncture can treat tight muscles locally (in the tight muscle) or distally (at another location away from the tight muscle). Acupuncture professionals also look at whole systems for assessment and treatment. For example, if tight muscles are due to chronic stress, acupuncture (and TCM) can help with stress management. If stress is also causing digestive issues, acupuncture can work on that issue simultaneously–we treat the whole you, not just parts of you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, IMS can be very effective. The Other Guy told TCM step brother and me that the treatment helped him. And some of my patients get both IMS from a physio and acupuncture from me.

So, here’s the thing. I told you I would tie it all together. Michelle is a very nice name. I know several Michelles that I like very much. But my name isn’t Michelle. Similarly, IMS is IMS, not acupuncture. Acupuncture is acupuncture, and is very much a part of a whole diagnostic and treatment system called Traditional Chinese Medicine. 

Regardless, I hope that you get the treatment that works for you and heals your pain!


Dear “me”

Beautiful. Heart opening. Profound. 

This is the poetry of Shane Koyczan. You might remember him from the Vancouver 2010 Olympics opening ceremony. His is one of the performances I remember most from those memorable couple of weeks, and that’s saying a lot because a lot happened over that short time–including me getting to carry the Olympic torch, volunteer as part of the medical team at the athletes village, and seeing some of my figure skating heroes in person!

A patient of mine recently reminded me of Shane Koyczan because he was taking his family to see Shane perform in person. They enjoyed it immensely, not a surprise! I decided to check out more of Shane’s work online and I could spend hours watching his YouTube posts.

But back to the reason for this post. If you or someone you know suffers from depression or even just needs a bit of a lift (or a lot of a lift), check this out and share it.  






Prevent and treat sports injuries

24 Hours Traditional Chinese Medicine and AcupunctureIf you are planning on participating in any of the many athletic events of spring or summer–from Tough Mudder to BMO Marathon, SunRun to GranFondo, or beach volleyball tournies to Grouse Grind Challenge–you are probably in training now, or at least thinking about it. Nothing will stop your plans faster than an injury. You may be making your best times one minute and having to stop to heal up an injury the next. While you’re pushing your limits, consider that your body may need a little extra TLC. Read on about things you can do to prevent injuries: Mitigate Vancouver Training Injuries Or skip that and just come in for acupuncture 😉


Getting High on Acupuncture Research

acupuncture crazyI read this article and have decided that I need to meet the woman who wrote this. Brilliant! Funny! Poignant! 

Science should be unbiased. But unfortunately, people certainly can be. And people present their version of science. But this writer, Mel Hopper Koppelman, says it all so much better than I do, so please read this. And see if you don’t get a kick out of what she has to say.

The Journal of Chinese Medicine: Getting High on Acupuncture Research


Is it allergies or a cold?

24 Hours Traditional Chinese Medicine and AcupunctureYou’re sneezing and sniffling. Perhaps you have a headache or cough. Is it a cold or allergies? With the flu and cold season still going on, while spring allergy season has also arrived, it’s hard to tell what’s going on. There are, however, some key symptoms that can point you in one direction or the other. There are also natural remedies that can treat both health issues, making sure you get some relief, no matter whether your immune system is under-active or overactive. Read my most recent article in 24 Hours for more: Allergy Season Arrives Early in Vancouver.

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