Sunday, March 4, 2018

Instant Russian Tea

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As the long winter months have drawn on, I've been looking for warming drinks to change up my routine. I was getting a little bored with some of the teas I usually drink and I adore bone broth, but that was getting a little tedious day after day as well. I also have to be a bit careful with herbal teas, as I have a sensitivity to chamomile and have noticed that some other herbal teas give me a similar "itchy" mouth. So, I started hunting around and came across a recipe for Russian tea. This was an "instant" mix though and absolutely filled with terrible ingredients, like "orange drink powder," "instant powdered tea," and "cinnamon drops" (you know, those red, spicy candies). I did a little research into the flavors associated with Russian tea and came up with this healthier version.

One thing to note, this does call for black tea. Caffeine is allowed, but can be tricky on AIP. Read the introduction on this recipe for a little background detail here and to determine if you might want to swap a decaffeinated tea in when enjoying this mix.

Instant Russian Tea
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 1¼ cups
  1. Using a spice or coffee grinder, grind loose tea into a fine powder. Add to a clean glass jar.
  2. Add sugar and all three spices to grinder, grind to a fine powder. Add to jar.
  3. Add collagen to jar.
  4. Add dried lemon zest to grinder, grind to a fine powder. Do the same with the orange zest. Add to jar.
  5. Seal jar and shake well to combine.
  6. To serve, pour 1½ cups hot coconut milk or water into a blender. Add 1 tablespoon Instant Russia Tea.
  7. Blend 30 seconds, until frothy.
  8. Allow to steep and sediment to settle for 3-5 minutes. Alternatively, pour through cheese cloth to strain sediment.
To dry citrus zest, simply spread zest over parchment paper on a baking sheet. Dry in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15-20 minutes.


The post Instant Russian Tea appeared first on Autoimmune Wellness.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

How Our Microbiota Keep Us Healthy

Annex Naturopathic

How Our Microbiota Keep Us Healthy | Annex Naturopathic Clinic | Toronto Naturopathic Doctors

I’m going to be writing more on the new research that I read on the microbiome.

The existing and emerging research continuously reinforces the fascinatingly strong influence these bugs have on our current health and heath outcomes.

I will get in to specifics in future blogs, but today I wanted to give a brief synopsis on how the microbiome influences our health.

This dynamic, complex system (technically, organ) of bacteria, known as the Microbiome, that resides all over and inside our bodies has been found to have such an important role in our health and the way we adapt to our external environment.

The largest portion of the human microbiome is housed in the large intestine (the gut), containing over 10 trillion bacteria (to put that in to context, that is about 10 times more than the amount of human cells in your body).

One of the most important roles of the gut microbiota is the influence on our immune system.

The our immune cells read “codes” called Pathogen Associated Molecular Patterns (PAMPs) on the bacteria that tell our immune systems what to do - these codes are specific to each bacteria - good “commensal”  teaches our immune system to be balanced, and pathogenic bacteria contain codes that signal dysregulation.

Imbalances in the immune system play a role in virtually every disease.

Many seemingly separate conditions have been tied to the same imbalances of the immune system; inflammation and it’s role in hypertension, mental health and the development of cancer, and autoimmune processes and their affinity on multiple organ systems in the body.

What’s interesting about the microbiome is that these bugs are what teach our immune systems how to react and adapt to the given environment.

We have a mutualistic interaction with our microbiome, especially the gut microbiome. When the microbiome is well-balanced, nourished and overall healthy, we are the same.

The interactions of a healthy microbiome with the “host” (us) results in immune regulation/balance, efficient energy production and metabolism, great digestive health and a well-functioning liver.

Healthy microbes teach the immune system how to properly adapt to the environment, preventing unnecessary inflammation, and they also produce biochemicals and vitamins that help our bodies function efficiently.

Our Microbiota image | Annex Naturopathic Clinic | Toronto Naturopathic Doctors

A healthy microbiome will also protect you from invasive pathogens that want in on the real estate.

When the microbiome becomes “dysbiotic” (which means overgrowth with bad kinds of microbes, or even too much of a good type), it sends the immune system the wrong signals, promoting inflammation, and producing noxious metabolites that burden our bodies rather than helping it.

Dysbiosis of the gut microbiome in particular has been linked to many diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, allergies, autoimmune disease and asthma.

Dysbiosis can be caused by many different factors.

For many people it actually starts from birth.

It’s been established and well-accepted by the scientific community that babies born via C-section, or who are not breast-fed, have a different, dysbiotic, gut microbiome than babies who were born vaginally or are exclusively breast fed, leading to higher rates of asthma, allergies, Celiac disease and obesity.

This is why it’s important to intervene early with probiotics a child is not born vaginally or is not breast-fed for many reasons.

Dysbiosis can also be caused by taking multiple rounds of antibiotics, especially if not counteracted by using probiotic during and after using the antibiotics.

As antibiotics wipe out the infective bacteria, it wipes out some of our good bacteria with it, leaving space.

This type of dysbiosis makes us more susceptible to catching bad, invasive bacteria and parasites that now have opportunity to occupy this space.

Dysbiosis can also occur if you’ve caught a parasite, or some invasive bug while drinking water in a different part of the world, or if you eat something not quite cooked.

Most importantly, dysbiosis is highly promoted by an unhealthy diet.

Just like us, your microbiome needs to be fed the right substances to be healthy, strong and efficient.

If you feed it bad food, such as refined sugars and starches, transfats, a diet full of meat, and nutrient-void foods, your microbiome will not be strong, leading to poor health.

You’d be surprised how many of our everyday foods actually are considered “prebiotics” and aid in the health of our gut microbiome.

You won’t be surprised to hear that colour fruits and vegetables, healthy fibres from non-GMO grains, and colour spices are great sources of prebiotics.

Fermented foods such as saurkraut, kimchi, kefir, and properly made yogurts are major sources of prebiotics if you want to get serious about feeding the microbiome.

Naturopathic doctors have been aware of and treating the microbiome for decades - we are excellent sources for dietary recommendations on how to maintain the health of your microbiome as well as strategic treatments on how to rebalance your gut microbial flora.

Obvious signs that you might have problems with the balance of your microbiome include digestive problems, or recurrent infections of any sort - if you suffer from these afflictions, it would be helpful to consult with a doctor that can help you rebalance your flora and prevent chronic disease.

Stay tuned for more up-to-date information and interesting research on the microbiome and its affect on your daily health.


If you’re curious to learn more about this subject or would like to consult with one of our NDs feel free to book a visit or contact us.

Yours in Health,

Annex Naturopathic Clinic
572 Bloor St W #201, Toronto, ON M6G 1K1


  • Azad MB et. al. Gut microbiota of healthy Canadian infants: profiles by mode of delivery and infant diet at 4 months. 2013 Mar 19;185(5):385-94
  • Min YW, Rhee PL.The Role of Microbiota on the Gut Immunology.Clin Ther. 2015 May 1;37(5):968-75.
  • Palm NW et. al. Immune-microbiota interactions in health and disease.Clin Immunol. 2015 Aug;159(2):122-127
  • Rutayisire E. et. al. The mode of delivery affects the diversity and colonization pattern of the gut microbiota during the first year of infants' life: a systematic review.BMC Gastroenterol. 2016 Jul 30;16(1):86
  • Schnabl B, Brenner DA. Interactions between the intestinal microbiome and liver diseases. 2014 May;146(6):1513-24

To discover more ways about health, wellness, and alternative medicine, please visit us here: ontario naturopath

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Botanical of the Month – Maiden Hair tree (Gingko biloba)

Annex Naturopathic

Gingko biloba benefits | Annex Naturopathic Clinic | Toronto Naturopathic Doctors

As a naturopath, when I think of Gingko biloba, I think of words such as hope, vitality, resiliency, and patience.

This majestic tree has shown us that it embodies these exact words in the most horrific circumstances - 1945 Hiroshima atomic bomb destroyed everything within its epicentre, except six Gingko biloba trees, which even sprouted new greenery days after the terrible event.

This example of the resilience and vitality of this beautiful herb is translated in to its medicinal use and how it can help us become representations of these words.

Gingko biloba produces fruit that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine.

When they fall and start to decay, they produce a very unpleasant odour, one could compare to a pair of stinky feet.

So many who front this tree on their lawns must bare with this one downfall of having this tree in their presence.

This downfall, however, is completely superseded by the amazing beauty, elegance and medicine benefit of being around such a remarkable creation of nature.

Parts Used

Leaf, (seeds in Chinese medicine, not typically used in Western Medicine)


Astringent, Bitter, Warming, Moving



Ginkgo is not considered an edible plant


The actions of Gingko biloba on the human body can be represented as low and slow, and requires patience.

The medicinal properties of this tree are the strongest when used over a course of time.

Memory and circulation

The most commonly known medicinal property for Gingko leaves is its effect on memory, making this herb a “nootropic”.

Gingko has been heavily marketed to the public to be used to “improve and strengthen memory”, as people bought in to this claim, it’s not surprising the feedback that many found that they didn’t feel this at all worked.

Gingko indeed does improve memory but the application of this herb in this context is flawed.

This herbs works slow - expectations that this herb will work within a few weeks is not accurate - so if you’re a student looking to strengthen your memory in a week for an exam, gingko is NOT the herb for you.

Ginkgo has it’s best effect when used over a long period of time to establish its effects in the body and it works on memory in two ways: 1) Vasodilation and 2) Reducing blood viscosity.

This means that the biochemicals in Gingko will help open up the blood vessels as well has thinning the blood, allowing blood to flow more freely within the vessel, increasing microperfusion to the brain - more blood flow to and within the brain means more oxygen and protection to the brain.

Gingko also protects the brain through antioxidant biochemicals, protecting the brain from tissues damage caused by lack of oxygen, and increasing mitochondrial function therefore increasing energy production in the brain.

There is a plethora of research supporting the effect of Gingko in the improvement of memory and cognitive function in those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, especially if these conditions are a result of vascular insufficiency.

However there are many trials that do not support this, resulting in review studies performed between 2003-2014 concluding the research is too inconsistent to support Gingko in this context.

The varying results come from inconsistencies in dosage, administration and inclusion criteria set out by each trial.

One of the most recent meta-analysis on Gingko biloba research performed by Tan et. al (2015) took in to account these flaws and came to the conclusion that 240mg of standardized Ginkgo daily improved cognitive function and prevented decline in patients with dementia after 24 weeks, especially for those who also exhibited neuropsychiatric symptoms.

Another recent review study by Yuan et. al (2017) also concluded similar results that Gingko biloba improved cognitive function in those with Alzheimer’s at a dose over 200mg/day if taken for at least 5 weeks.

These review show promise and exemplify the need for higher quality, larger-scale studies in order to demonstrate the efficacy of Gingko biloba in the treatment of dementia.

Prevention of cognitive decline in healthy individuals is still not well represented in the research, but traditional use and anecdotal evidence supports the use of this herb for this purpose.

The effect of Gingko on blood flow doesn’t just stop at memory.

These properties translate in to effects on the peripheral body as well.

There are promising outcomes represented in the research of using Gingko in the treatment of cerebral insufficiency in stroke victims, peripheral artery disease, prevention of coronary artery disease by reducing plaque formation, diabetic neuropathy, Raynauds and thrombosis (blood clots).


There are claims that Gingko can be useful in the treatment of tinnitus, though studies are limited and results are inconsisent.

The most recent Cochrane Review on Gingko and Tinnitus found Ginkgo only to be beneficial when tinnitus is associated with dementia, not when tinnitus is the sole symptom.

This reflects back to the circulatory actions of gingko - when tinnitus is a result of poor cerebrovascular circulation, appears to be effective.

If it’s due to other reasons, the effects of Gingko appear to be less impactful on tinnitus symptoms.

benefits of Gingko biloba | Annex Naturopathic Clinic | Toronto Naturopathic Doctors


Traditionally Gingko biloba taken through infusion (tea) - this application is best for people who want to use Gingko for daily prevention of cognitive decline.

Tinctures of Gingko leaf also provides a gentle and supportive effect.

I typically use these forms for healthy, older individuals who want to keep their memory sharp and encourage blood flow to the brain.

Much of the research on Gingko biloba use and support standardized extracts of Gingko at dosages of 120-240mg/day.

Extremely potent extracts of Gingko (50:1) are considered pharmaceutical grade substances and should not be dosed unless monitored by a health care professional.


Gingko biloba is considered a safe herb to use if used at the standard recommended dose (see above)


The blood-thinning effects of Ginkgo has made many clinicians weary about using this herb with blood thinning pharmaceuticals.

However, it has been found that the blood-thinning effects of Gingko are not related to reducing platelet count, but inhibiting platelet aggregating factor (PAF), so the that use with blood thinners may not be as detrimental as previously thought, with many studies demonstrating using Ginkgo (up to 240mg) in conjunction with blood thinning medication does not increase bleeding risk or influence coagulation time.

Nonetheless, do no use Gingko if you are on blood thinners and consult with a physician that is familiar with herb-drug interactions before use of this herb - one of the only cases of increased bleeding is when using the extremely potent extract (50:1) in combination with blood thinners

Do not use with drug exhibiting monoamine-oxidase activity (such as certain antidepressants), or anti-epileptic drugs.

Always consult a physician familiar with herb-drug interaction if you’re on medication and are considering using this herb.


If you’re curious to learn more about this subject or would like to consult with one of our NDs feel free to book a visit or contact us.

Yours in Health,

Annex Naturopathic Clinic
572 Bloor St W #201, Toronto, ON M6G 1K1


  1. Hoffman D. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 2003.
  2. Bone K. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2000.
  3. Carlson JJ et. al. Safety and efficacy of a ginkgo biloba-containing dietary supplement on cognitive function, quality of life, and platelet function in healthy, cognitively intact older adults.J Am Diet Assoc. 2007 Mar;107(3):422-32.
  4. Hilton MP, Zimmermann EF, Hunt WT.Ginkgo biloba for tinnitus.Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Mar 28;(3)
  5. Tan MS et. al. Efficacy and adverse effects of ginkgo biloba for cognitive impairment and dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis.J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;43(2):589-603
  6. Yuan Q al Effects of Ginkgo biloba on dementia: An overview of systematic reviews.J Ethnopharmacol. 2017 Jan 4;195:1-9


To see more information about health, wellness, and alternative medicine, please visit us here: toronto naturopathic

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Baked Acorn Squash Recipe

Annex Naturopathic

Healthy acorn squash recipe | Annex Naturopathic Clinic | Toronto Naturopathic Doctors

Winter squashes and pumpkins are robust “fruits” that are harvested in the fall so we can use them throughout the winter.

Keeping them in a dark cool place will preserve these foods to give us nutrient-packed meals that are warming, healthy and delicious.

One of my favourite things to eat during the winter are winter squashes - particularly acorn squash, due to it’s abundance in vegetable markets in Ontario and for it’s sweet, buttery taste.

I use these in casseroles, bakes, mash them in place of white potato or simply bake them in the oven.

Acorn squash is a great source of low glycemic-load carbohydrates - this means that despite it being a source of carbohydrates, it won’t spike your blood sugar (therefore insulin) to the extent other carbohydrates such as wheat-based carbohydrates (and other grains) will increase your blood sugars after eating.

They are also easier to digest than grains, which makes it suitable carbohydrate source for people who experience a lot of bloating and bowel movement problems.

Acorn squash is rich in antioxidant vitamins C and A (beta-carotene, hence the orange colour!), potassium (great for lowering high blood pressure) and a great source of fibre (valuble for those with diabetes and cardiovascular disease).

Healthy acorn squash dish | Annex Naturopathic Clinic | Toronto Naturopathic Doctors


  • I medium acorn squash
  • 1 tbsp of grass-fed/organic butter (or olive oil)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic - minced
  • pinch of sea salt
  • pinch of dried rosemary
  • pinch of dried thyme
  • fresh cracked black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Use a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (or lightly oil the cookie sheet to prevent sticking) and place the acorn squash upside down (flesh side down). Once the oven is preheated, place the acorn squash in the oven and let it bake for about 30 minutes (it will be slightly soft)
  3. In the meantime if using butter - lightly liquify the butter in a small pan over low heat with the minced garlic (don’t overheat!), soon before (about 10 minutes before) you pull the squash out of the oven (no need to heat if you’re using olive oil).
    If you’re using olive oil, combine the garlic with the olive oil when first placing the squash in to the oven to allow the garlic to infuse in to the oil for 30 mins
  4. Pull the acorn squash out of the oven. Carefully turn the squash flesh side up, and generously brush the butter/olive oil and garlic mixture over the entire flesh surface of the squash. Make sure the garlic also makes it on to the flesh
  5. Sprinkle salt, thyme and rosemary all over the flesh side of the acorn squash and place the squash back in to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes
  6. After 30 minutes, pull the squash from the oven, season with freshly cracked black pepper, wait 5-10 minutes to allow the squash to cool and serve!

If you’re curious to learn more about this subject or would like to consult with one of our NDs feel free to book a visit or contact us.

Yours in Health,

Annex Naturopathic Clinic
572 Bloor St W #201, Toronto, ON M6G 1K1

To find additional info about health, wellness, and alternative medicine, please visit us here: natural health doctors

Sunday, January 7, 2018

High Intensity Workouts are Good for Memory

Node Smith, ND

Exercise and movement are great for our health

Studies have shown that exercise is linked to improvements in virtually every health marker you can think of – cardiovascular health, brain health, blood sugar, weight, emotional health, etc. Exercise even helps us sleep and rest better. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that exercise is good for our memory either.

H.I.T Increases an Important Neuropeptide in the Brain

In a recent research study, it was seen that high intensity workout training could improve memory as well as increase a very important neuropeptide in the brain in as little as 6 weeks.

A group of 95 non-active young adults were enrolled in a study to observe the effects that a 6-week high intensity workout program had on memory and cognition. The workout sessions consisted of 1-minute periods of high intensity activity alternating with recovery periods of 1-minute. The sessions were only 20-minutes total time, and were conducted 3 times a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). Before and after the study, memory was measured using standard questionnaires as well as blood concentration of brain derived neurotrophic factor.

Hippocampus Likely Enhanced with Exercise

The study found that the ability to form and keep high fidelity memory with little interference improved with exercise. In other words, the participants could remember things with better clarity and more accurately. Brain derived neurotrophic factor was also increased in many of the participants. Brain derived neurotrophic factor is typically low in conditions which are marked by memory deficits, such as Alzheimer's disease. The region of the brain responsible for these types of memories is the hippocampus, which is what is likely enhanced with exercise.

Study Could be Used as First  Line Defense in Exercise Regimes for Cognitive Decline Disorders

The researchers are hopeful that this study, and others like it will support a move toward using exercise regimes as first line preventative strategies against Alzheimer's and other disorders of cognitive decline. Exercising earlier in life may have the very real benefit of lowering the risk of developing some of these conditions.

Image Copyright: luckybusiness / 123RF Stock Photo

Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

The post High Intensity Workouts are Good for Memory appeared first on NaturalPath.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Why You Have Insufficient Vitamin D If You Live In Canada

Annex Naturopathic

You Have Insufficient Vitamin D In Canada | Annex Naturopathic Clinic | Toronto Naturopathic Doctors

Most people are aware that they should supplement with vitamin D.

Few people are actually taking the appropriate dose to correct for vitamin deficiency or attain optimal levels.

Here are the facts about vitamin D.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is very different from other nutrients because unlike other vitamins, it is NOT naturally occurring in most of the foods we eat.

Very small amounts can be found in fish, beef liver, egg yolks and fortified foods.

Alternatively, humans (and other mammals) require the sun’s UVB radiation to synthesize Vitamin D in the the skin.

Here’s how UVB radiation from the sun to makes contact with our skin and  produce vitamin D:

  • We have ample amounts of the vitamin D precursor “7-dehydro-cholesterol” circulating in our blood stream - and it is specifically concentrated within our skin.
  • When UVB radiation hits our skin, it converts the “7-dehydro-cholesterol” to “Cholecalciferol” aka Vitamin D3.

Factors that influence Vitamin D conversion via the sun.

  • Skin colour: it takes about 20 minutes to convert 10 000 of vitamin D in someone with light skin, and up to 120 minutes in someone with dark skin.
  • How high the sun is in the sky: the shadow your body casts must be shorter in length than your height in order for synthesis to occur.
  • Latitude and season: building off the point above, at certain latitudes during certain seasons, the sun is never high enough in the sky to be able to convert vitamin D in your skin. For example, in Toronto, Canada, at a latitude of 43 degree North, there is no vitamin D conversion from November through February.

When we take vitamin D supplements, we are orally ingesting “cholecalciferol” or “Vitamin D3” and thus we no longer require the sun’s help for conversion.

However, the “cholecalciferol” is not the end point for vitamin D as there are a few more steps to get to the active form vitamin D.

Conversion of Cholecalciferol to 25-Hydroxy-Vitamin D

The Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3) travels to the liver and is converted to “Calcidiol” (aka 25-Hydroxy-Vitamin D.

25-Hydroxy-Vitamin D is the component in our blood that is used as a marker for Vitamin D status.

Conversion of 25-Hydroxy-Vitamin D to Calcitriol

The calcidiol, or 25-Hydroxy-Vitamin D, is like a blank piece of paper and must be converted by the kidneys and other tissues to the active form “calcitriol”.

It is is this form of vitamin D that exerts different effects on the body - acting more like a hormone than a vitamin in the way that it interacts with different receptors.

Actions of Calcitriol- the biologically active form of Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays an essential role in calcium utilization and metabolism of calcium and therefore is important in the maintenance of healthy bones.

As more research emerges, there are many “non-classical” actions vitamin D exerts on the body including:

  • Modulation of immune function.
  • Regulation of cell proliferation and differentiation.
  • Control of other hormonal systems

Therefore, it is not surprising that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with:

  • Immunological diseases (infections, autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes).
  • Cancer and increased mortality.
  • Cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

Insufficient Vitamin D | Annex Naturopathic Clinic | Toronto Naturopathic Doctors

Importance of Testing for Vitamin D Status

Health Canada recommends a daily intake of  400 IU for infants, 600 IU for children and adults, and 800 IU for adults over 70.

Supplementation at these amounts will not correct for deficiency, let alone maintain adequate status during the winter months.

Implementation of high dose vitamin D may be required to achieve optimal levels to improve overall health.

It is important to assess Vitamin D status by running blood work that includes 25-Hydroxy-Vitamin D prior to implementing high dose supplementation.

This test is not covered by OHIP, nor is it routinely run by MDs.

Naturopathic doctors routinely run serum Vitamin D in order to safely prescribe high doses (often up to 10 000 IU daily)  in those individuals who are deficient.

What should you do?

Most people can safely supplement with up to 4000 IU daily.

However, to achieve optimal levels and ensure safety it is important have a thorough assessment done, including testing for vitamin D.

Seeking guidance from a local naturopath is an effective option.


If you’re curious to learn more about this subject or would like to consult with one of our NDs feel free to book a visit or contact us.

Yours in Health,

Annex Naturopathic Clinic
572 Bloor St W #201, Toronto, ON M6G 1K1

To see additional tips on health, wellness, and alternative medicine, please visit us here: naturopathic dr

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Have You Ever Wondered Why Your Blood Is Red?

By Dr. Mercola

The range of color in nature is amazing. Hues of all colors may be found in animals as a form of camouflage, protection, sexual behavior and even communication. Some animals are even translucent in order to improve their ability to escape predators.1

In the human body, color is an important way to differentiate tissues, organs, bones, tendon and muscle. Pathologists have a unique need to be aware of color differences as this sometimes translates into pathological processes that require identification for appropriate treatment. These color differences are evident in gross examination. In microscopic evaluation, cells often appear colorless.

In an effort to help pathologists differentiate the colors of healthy and abnormal tissue and to answer the question why human organs have different colors, researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Center wrote a review article.2 Their objective was to start answering these questions and establish a groundwork of knowledge from which further study can grow.

Color variations may have been the foundation of the "humorism theory of disease," prevalent in ancient times.3 This theory was systematized in ancient Greece and central to the teachings of Hippocrates. It continued to influence medical practice well into the 1800s. Although initially integrated into medical practice, the four humours also found a place in psychological evaluation4 and in Shakespearean analysis of personality.5

How You See Color

This short video explains the small portion of light on the color spectrum that is available to the human eye and how we perceive specific colors. Your brain interprets color based on the wavelength of light transmitted from your retina to your brain. As light passes through your eye, it hits color cells called cones.

Your eye has three color cones that enable you to see a variety of color based on how the wavelengths are mixed. Your cones can see green, blue and red. When a light hits an object, some of the light is absorbed and some bounces back off the object.6 If that object is a red apple, most of the light wavelengths, except red, are absorbed and the red light bounces off. Your eye then sees the apple as red.

You have between 6 and 7 million cones, or photoreceptors, in your retinas that are concentrated into a small area, approximately 0.3 mm wide. With three different color cones, humans see color better than most mammals. However, there are other animals that see more of the light spectrum, such as some insects that may see ultraviolet light that is invisible to humans, or birds that have four types of cones, enabling them to see shorter wavelengths than humans.

The Importance of Color in Biology

While humans see only a short section of the light spectrum, the colors we do see are important in the evaluation and diagnosing of disease. The perception of color is also important in nature. For instance, as might be expected, when color perception in bees was altered genetically, their ability to perform daily tasks was significantly hampered.7

How we respond to color has roots in biology, while the way we group colors is determined by the culture in which you live.8 Alice Skelton, research and doctoral candidate at the University of Sussex, and her colleagues analyzed the response of over 175 babies between the ages of 4 and 6 months to learn what connects the way humans see color and how it is categorized as adults talk about color.

The results of the study9 suggest there is a biological origin to how color is categorized by different cultures, and also perceived. For instance, while babies can see the difference between green and blue within the first six months of life, Skelton says:10

"If you [use] a language that doesn't make a distinction between green and blue, for example, then as they grow up babies and children learn to no longer make that distinction."

This difference in how cultures differentiate color in their respective languages may have an impact in communication between cultures. Asifa Majid of Radboud University in the Netherlands believes the colors children are exposed to as infants may also predispose them to categorize color in different ways. This information may point to differences that need to be addressed as pathologists move forward in their quest to categorize pathological tissue based on color differentiation.

What Is in Your Blood?

The color of human tissue is not related to the color of your blood, even though blood flows through the tissue. For instance, drained of blood, your liver, spleen and kidneys are a red-brown color, your bones are white and your brain nuclei are brown-black.11

When you see blood it is actually composed of several different types of molecules. One of those is plasma, a yellow colored liquid that consists mostly of water and transports nutrients and hormones throughout your body.12 White blood cells fight infection, and platelets help your body to stop bleeding if you get cut. The cells in your blood that give it the red color are red blood cells (RBCs).

Your RBCs account for between 40 and 45 percent of the total volume of your blood.13 Each cell contains a hemoglobin protein that helps to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Once oxygen is released at the cell level, the hemoglobin molecule picks up carbon dioxide, the result of cellular metabolism, and returns to the lungs where it can be exhaled.

The concentration, or percentage, of whole blood volume that is made of your red blood cells is called your hematocrit. This common measure of red blood cell level helps your physician diagnose anemia, long-term or recent blood loss, vitamin deficiencies, dehydration or lung or heart diseases.14 Your red blood cells have several characteristics that make them unusual:15

Red blood cells are shaped like a biconcave disc that appears like a round, flat shallow bowl

RBCs have no nucleus

Red cells have an amazing ability to change shape without rupturing or breaking as they move single file through small capillaries

The hemoglobin molecule can bind with up to four oxygen molecules as it makes a circuit from your lungs and around your body

What the Heme Molecule Binds to Changes the Color of Your Blood

The color of your blood is related to the structure of the hemoglobin molecule and the metal attached. To bind oxygen to the hemoglobin, each chain binds with one iron atom and each iron atom may bind with one molecule of oxygen. It is the iron on your hemoglobin molecule on your red blood cell that gives your blood its distinctive red color.16

However, in some animals the oxygen-binding molecule fixes to other metals, thereby changing the color of the blood. For instance, several species of octopuses have copper-rich protein that carries the oxygen in their blood, called hemocyanin, giving their blood a distinctive blue color.17

The ocellated ice fish lives in frigid waters off Antarctica and has blood that is colorless. It's transparent because it has neither hemoglobin nor hemocyanin. Since cold water has the ability to hold more concentrated amounts of oxygen than warm water, this fish doesn't need either molecule to transport oxygen. The ocellated ice fish also lacks scales, which scientists believe helps oxygen diffuse into the fish's body more readily.18

Blood also comes in the color green in Papua, New Guinea. The skink, a relative to the lizard family, uses hemoglobin and iron to carry oxygen through their body in the same way most mammals do. Used hemoglobin is then broken down in the liver into bilirubin and biliverdin. However, unlike humans who excrete these waste products in the intestines, the skink absorbs and thrives on high levels of biliverdin, to a point that the waste product turns the blood green. This amount of biliverdin in a human would be fatal.

How Your Blood Is Made

The production of your red blood cells is initiated in your kidneys. Your bone marrow produces stem cells that may grow into red cells, white cells or platelets. Special cells in your kidney, called peritubular cells, sense a drop in oxygen level in your blood as older red cells are cleaned up in the liver, or after blood loss, such as an injury or blood donation.19 These special cells trigger the secretion of erythropoietin, which then sends a message to the marrow stem cells to develop into red blood cells instead of white cells or platelets.

The hemoglobin molecule in your RBCs are encoded with genetic material. When there are mutations to those genes it may result in diseases such as thalassemia or sickle cell anemia.20 Thalassemia is an inherited disorder where the hemoglobin your body produces is abnormal and unable to efficiently transport oxygen. It also results in destruction of large numbers of red cells, leading to anemia.21

Sickle cell anemia is a genetic condition in which your red blood cells are abnormally shaped.22 To have the condition you must have two sickle cell genes, one from each parent. If you have one gene, you carry the sickle cell trait. The RBCs are shaped like a sickle and don't have a normal life span, leading to anemia. Children with sickle cell disease often do not live past childhood as the shape of the blood cells leads to clumping and sickle cell crisis, resulting in intense pain and organ damage.23

What Determines Your Blood Type?

Although all human blood is red, not all red blood is the same. There are eight different types of RBCs, differentiated by two different proteins on the cell. Blood type is identified by one or two letters and a positive or negative sign.24

The proteins on your RBCs are antigens involved in your immune system. Prior to 1901, without knowledge of these different antigens, blood transfusions were very dangerous. When different blood types were mixed during transfusion, it resulted in clumping of the blood and toxic reactions. On the surface of the RBC are one, two or no antigens. Scientists have labeled these antigens:25

Group A - only antigen A on the red cells (and B antibody in the plasma)

Group B - only antigen B on the red cells (and A antibody in the plasma)

Group AB - both antigens A and B on the red cells (but neither A nor B antibody in the plasma)

Group O - neither antigens A nor B on the red cells (but both A and B antibody are in the plasma)

In addition to these, you also have an Rh antigen that is either present (positive) or not present (negative). Both the A/AB/B/O and Rh antigens are genetically passed from both parents to their children. The Rh antigen is an important factor during pregnancy. If there is comingling of blood between an Rh- mother with an Rh+ baby during her pregnancy, the mother's body produces antibodies that affect the RBC production in her next baby. Untreated, this may result in severe anemia, brain damage, heart failure and even death.26

Rh incompatibility can now be treated with Rh immune-globulin injections to the mother during her 28th week of pregnancy and within the first 72 hours after giving birth. Today physicians test a new mother's blood type early in pregnancy to initiate treatment protocols and prevent damage to her future children.