Ask the Expert: Naturopathic doctor Sara Kinnon

Welcome to part three of our Ask the Expert series. To help you simplify your life, we’re asking experts to answer questions about eating well, staying healthy and achieving goals

Ask the Expert: Naturopathic doctor Sara Kinnon

Source: Web exclusive: May 2011

We invited Sara Kinnon, a licensed naturopathic doctor in West Vancouver, B.C., to answer questions about digestive health, submitted by readers via Facebook and Twitter.

Q: Do you have any advice on dealing with acid reflux?

A: Acid reflux is a condition that can take the joy out of eating. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Naturopathic physicians can help you find and treat the cause, while soothing irritation caused by the acid.

In my practice, I rule out aggravating factors, such as being overweight, smoking, poor diet and stress. Food allergies can also cause acid reflux; common allergens such as dairy, wheat (gluten), soy, corn and eggs can wreak havoc three hours to three days after you’ve consumed them. If you suffer from acid reflux or suspect you do, consult your naturopathic physician to determine whether allergies are contributing.

There are many strategies to cope with acid reflux. One of the most popular treatments is proton pump inhibitors (PPI). These drugs decrease the amount of stomach acid produced, and thus decrease the acid returning up the esophagus. If you are on a PPI, ask your naturopathic doctor about preventing nutrient deficiencies associated with the medication, and how to heal your digestive system in order to decrease your need for the PPI.

Some other options include:

‘ Chewing deglycyrrhizinated licorice root extract (DGL) before meals helps heal mucosal tissue and prevent and soothe the burning caused by acid.
Probiotics are a key component in helping to restore and optimize immune and digestive function. Other herbs that heal and soothe esophageal tissue include slippery elm, althea and plantain.
‘ Recent studies suggest the use of melatonin is effective in relieving the pain and discomfort of heartburn.
‘ Drinking a glass of water upon waking, standing on your toes and dropping your heels to the ground is a physical technique that helps return the stomach to a healthy position. Along these lines, if reflux is a problem at night, try eating smaller meals and elevating your bed at the head.

Q: Why do I feel bloated after eating and how can I relieve symptoms?

A: Bloating after eating is common and can be caused by a number of factors. Disruption to the digestive system can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, medications, food allergies or a lack of enzymes necessary for digestion.

To relieve symptoms, identify and eliminate foods that cause bloating. Some of the most common culprits are wheat, dairy, soy, corn and eggs. Ask your naturopathic doctor about an allergy test, or keep a journal of what you’re eating and what symptoms you experience each day. If you feel bloated after eating spaghetti, for example, try cutting out pasta and other gluten-containing foods. Keep notes on how you feel, then add the foods back to your diet after three weeks and see if there is a change.

Meals with higher protein and fat content can put added pressure on the digestive process, so try eating smaller, well-balanced meals.

Other steps to reduce bloating include:

Limit liquid intake during meals to avoid diluting digestive enzymes.
‘ Take probiotic capsules with meals. A probiotic is a supplement of live bacteria’the same kind that populates the gastrointestinal tract. They are important for digestive and immune function.
‘ Take a digestive enzyme complex. This is a supplement containing enzymes that help us digest carbs, fats and proteins.  
Sip tea after meals; some calming herbal teas, such as mint and chamomile, can reduce the pain and discomfort of post-meal bloating.

Q: More people seem to be avoiding dairy products. Are there reasons why I should consume less?

Dairy has long been considered a dietary staple in many cultures; it provides children with calcium for strong bones, and prevents bone decay in adults. Some people, however, are sensitive to dairy. It is thought to contribute to increased mucus production, which means more congestion, coughing and allergy or cold-like symptoms. If you suffer from asthma, eczema or frequent colds, this may be linked to dairy consumption.

For many people, dairy can also cause digestive upset. This may come in the form of increased gas and bloating, constipation or diarrhea. A naturopathic doctor can help determine whether you have a dairy allergy or intolerance, or if you are unable to digest lactose. After the cause is determined, he or she can guide you on how to proceed. This may include a customized eating plan.

Contaminants in dairy products are also a concern. In Canada, cows are not injected with growth hormones; however, that doesn’t mean they’re contaminant-free. The health of the cow is reflected in its milk. Milk can contain chemicals such as PCBs, flame retardants and other pesticides and environmental contaminants. These can disrupt our endocrine systems, leading to hormonal changes. Many contaminants are carcinogenic, and some have been linked to neurological conditions.

Naturopathic medicine emphasizes education on food sources; being informed will help you make wiser choices and decrease your risk of developing illness. When grocery shopping, keep in mind that we want to consume foods in as natural a state as possible. Choose organic, in-season and locally produced food whenever possible. If organic is outside of your food budget, consider buying organic versions of just the “dirty dozen.”

Dr. Sara Kinnon (@DrSara) is a licensed naturopathic physician at Bellevue Natural Health Clinic in West Vancouver, B.C. She received her degree in naturopathic medicine from North America’s most esteemed naturopathic medical school, Bastyr University in Seattle, Wa. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of British Columbia. Dr. Kinnon specialties include women’s and children’s health issues, allergies, digestive disturbances, detoxification and environmental medicine.

Don’t miss out! Sign up for our free weekly newsletters and get nutritious recipes, healthy weight-loss tips, easy ways to stay in shape and all the health news you need, delivered straight to your inbox.