Episode 11 – Vegan Athlete Diet with Former NHL Player TJ Galiardi

Episode 11 – Vegan Athlete Diet with Former NHL Player TJ Galiardi

Listen to “Vegan Athlete Diet with Former NHL Player TJ Galiardi” on Spreaker.
Have you ever wondered what pro athletes eat or whether vegan diets are good for athletes? In this episode, former NHL hockey player TJ Galiardi provides a window into what he and his teammates ate before and after games, when and why he became vegan and the changes that resulted. You’ll hear TJ’s sports nutrition insights and even if you’re not a professional athlete, you’ll get some tips on what to eat to achieve optimal results when exercising or engaging in sports.

In this episode you’ll hear:

1:50 – TJ’s story on becoming a vegan while playing professional hockey in the NHLM

6:00 – Plant-based & vegan in the NHL today

7:30 – When and what TJ and his teammates ate before a game or practice

11:20 – TJ’s current favorite recreational sport and what he eats

14:00 – Best ways to hydrate for exercise and sports

15:50 – Recovery foods postgame or after training

19:00 – TJ’s opinion on the need for supplements for vegan athletes

20:20 – Can a teen be vegan and excel at sports

Episode 10 – Healthy Snack Recipes

Episode 10 – Healthy Snack Recipes

Listen to “Healthy Snack Recipes” on Spreaker.


Learn how to make two plant-based healthy snack recipes, one savoury and one sweet, with Physician & Culinary Medicine Expert Dr. Sabrina Falquier. The savoury snack being made during this podcast is popcorn and the sweeter snack is chocolate bark. You can join along in your kitchen or simply listen and save this episode for another time when you’re ready to make these guilt-free snacks.

Popcorn Ingredients:

  • Air popped popcorn or microwave popcorn. You’ll need ½ cup dried kernels and a paper bag (like a lunch paper bag) if you’re popping the popcorn in a microwave, or 1 store-bought bag of plain popcorn.
  • 1 ½ tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tsp Tajin (which is a Mexican spice) or Chili powder
  • Lemon or lime rind (optional)

Chocolate Bark Ingredients

  • 1 – 10 oz. bag chocolate chips or a 2 – 4 oz. bar of dark chocolate (total about 2 cups chopped, before melting), cut into rough 1/4-1/2 inch pieces. If you want this to be vegan, make sure you are using vegan chocolate.
  • Toppings of your choice. Some suggestions;
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit of your choice (dark cherries, apricots), roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup nuts of your choice (pecans, walnuts), roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup dried, unsweetened shredded coconut
  • Fresh berries of your choice like blueberries or raspberries which are lower sugar fruits

Episode 9 – Indoor Vegetable and Herb Garden Tips

Episode 9 – Indoor Vegetable and Herb Garden Tips

Listen to “Indoor Vegetable and Herb Garden Tips” on Spreaker.

Whether you’re considering growing vegetables and herbs indoors on a window sill, using hydroponics or smart gardens, horticulturist and guest Paul Zammit discusses realistic expectations that one should have for an indoor garden plus some indoor growing tips.

In this podcast you’ll hear:
1:20 – What to keep in mind when growing an indoor vegetable garden

3:20 – What direction should the indoor garden face if using natural light?

4:05 – Paul’s tips on growing lights

5:10 – Hydroponics explained

7:10 – Smart gardens

8:10 – Best vegetables and herbs to grow indoors

10:10 – Air purifying plants

11:40 – Toxic house plants for small children and pets

Backyard Vegetable Garden Tips

Listen to the full episode 8.

Plant Based Diet | Show Notes | Interview With Paul Zammit

Outdoor vegetable gardening is gaining in popularity for many reasons including its mental and physical health benefits. What better way to increase the vegetable varieties in your plant-based diet than to plant them at home? In this Alternative Food Network podcast, horticulturist, professor and radio guest Paul Zammit offers tips for successful outdoor vegetable growing.

What should people be thinking about when starting an outdoor vegetable garden? 

  • Seeds and plants
  • Sunlight
  • Soil type
  • Water
  • In-ground or raised beds

When it comes to sunlight, Paul recommends looking at your garden, mapping it out and seeing how much sun it actually gets. Ideally, to be most successful with most of the vegetables, you  want a good six to eight hours or more of sunlight. Depending on where you are in city environments, often there are large trees or buildings that can create shade.

Understanding your soil type is also very important. Do you have a very sandy soil or clay based soil? It’s easy enough to test – go out there and grab a handful of soil. When you squeeze it, does it crumble or does it take the shape of your hand?

Also, if someone is new to vegetable gardening, Paul suggests not necessarily starting by planting a giant garden. Start small and work your way up.

For water, think about your water source. Paul encourages people to think about capturing water; perhaps installing something like a rain barrel, or see how you can capture and conserve moisture.

First-time vegetable gardeners:  Raised beds, in-ground or containers?
While Paul encourages people to use containers when they don’t have access to a traditional garden, he wants people to connect with the soil. So if there is an option for in-ground gardening, he suggests investing in creating the garden in the ground. However, he adds “don’t dismiss a couple of pots, perhaps filled with some delicious herbs, right by the doorway or by the barbecue where it’s easy to reach.”  

Should people start seeds indoors or outdoors?
This is an area where there tends to be a lot of confusion according to Paul. The answer depends on what you’re growing. Some need warmer soil so vegetables like tomatoes in a northern climate may not have a long enough growing season if first planted outside in the garden. Get a head start by starting tomato seeds indoors on a windowsill or under artificial light six to eight weeks before planting them outside. If you grow leeks, start those inside twelve to fourteen weeks before you’re going to plant them outside. Eggplants, peppers, onions and cabbages can also be slow so you’d often start inside in a northern climate.

Having said that, Paul mentions a number of plants that like to grow fairly cold such as chard, leaf lettuce and peas. Those are vegetables that can be started directly in the garden.

Some plants do not like to be transplanted such as beans and cucumbers so wait to plant in-ground when the soil begins to warm up because they do not like cool conditions. Some folks start cucumbers inside. If you do this, Paul recommends starting them in a fairly large container so that you do minimal root damage when transferring outside.

If you’re waiting to grow vegetables in-ground that require warmer soil, Paul suggests growing leaf lettuces and radishes in that space first. Radishes have a harvest date of twenty days which means they can be grown, pulled out and then vegetables like beans and cucumbers that like the warmer soil can be planted. “It’s about crop rotation as well,” says Paul.

For warmer climates, the longer the growing season, the more you can start directly in the ground.

Soil Preparation
Evidence is starting to show that turning soil over is not necessarily beneficial, from the standpoint that the soil is filled with millions of micro-organisms, bacteria, fungus, nematodes, protozoa, all which do have a very important role. So if the space is already existing, do minimal cultivation. However, if it is a new space, loosen up that hard soil and dig.

Feeding the soil is also important. Plants are growing and they demand nutrients. One of the most fundamental things that we can do in the vegetable garden is add organic matter. That can come in a few different forms:

  • Compost at home
  • Buy mushroom compost
  • Buy aged

With sufficient amounts of organic matter, Paul says you really don’t need to feed throughout the rest of the summer. You just need to be very conscious of how and when you’re watering and perhaps using some mulch to help to conserve moisture in the vegetable garden.

Fertilizer for the Vegetable Garden
Paul’s motto is “learn to feed the garden from the garden” by adding organic matter, whether it comes from food compost, composted manures or even shredded leaves, and allow those to break down.

One variable to note is the soil’s pH. pH can vary and some vegetables prefer one pH versus another. So it might be a good idea to have a soil pH test done.

In terms of fertilizing, many vegetables tend to be heavy feeders, so you really want to add as much organic matter as you can in the ground. In Paul’s opinion, once organic matter has been added in the ground in the spring, it usually carries the garden for the whole season.

Paul also mentions the importance of crop rotation. “Don’t grow tomatoes in the same spot that you grew tomatoes last year because tomatoes will feed on very specific nutrients. And if you put tomatoes there next year, that soil has already been somewhat depleted of those nutrients.”

There is a tendency to water more frequently raised beds and containers because they will dry out more often. Any of the nutrients that are there are leached so do not use topsoil or triple mix in containers. It’s far too heavy. The roots can’t breathe and the plants don’t do well. A container mix is needed or a medium that is fairly porous and absorbs moisture. And in that case, this is where Paul says fertilization becomes really important; using an all-purpose or vegetable fertilizer or an organic water soluble fertilizer becomes really key.  Follow the recommended rates as well. Some people think they should just add a little bit extra but according to Paul, a little extra fertilizer is not a good thing.

What is the best time of day to water a garden?
Depending on where one lives geographically, Paul suggests looking at water with a critical lens and realizing that every drop matters. Water when the plants are going to be able to utilize it and try save as much water as possible. This means:

  • Watering in the early morning or up until midday as opposed to the hottest part of the day when a lot of the water is going to evaporate;
  • Water at the base of plants, as opposed to using overhead sprinklers that put a lot of moisture into the air or on the leaves of the plants, which will then just evaporate.

Another reason for watering in the morning relates to pests. Watering can actually encourage pests and diseases since many of the fungal pests need moisture on their leaves to spread, which they tend to do in the evenings or through the night. So it’s really important that the plants go into the evening with dry leaves. If it rains, no need to worry. Rain is the best kind of moisture we can get. But try to get the plants to go into the evening dry so that these pathogens, such as some of the fungi or the bacteria, don’t have the opportunity to spread on the moist damp leaves.

Another tip to conserve moisture is to use mulches in your garden such as shredded leaves, straw or shredded cedar.  Mulch prevents a lot of moisture from evaporating from the soil surface. It keeps the ground a little bit cooler and moister which is more ideal for the plant. Plus mulch can also help reduce some disease that splashes up from the soil onto the plants.

Protecting a vegetable garden from insect pests and animals
With so much investment in a garden, we want it protected from insect pests and animals. In terms of insect pests, Paul reminds that there are a lot of insects that we often refer to as pests that are actually very beneficial to have in the garden. We should actually be encouraging them or attracting them in the garden because they can help us to control some of the less favorable pests that do more damage. People should learn to identify the pest and then evaluate whether it needs to be controlled.

Paul also thinks people should be a little bit less picky and realize just because a plant has a hole in the leaf doesn’t mean it’s any less nutritious.

Protective coverings are an option. For example, coverings can protect against leaf beetles or flea beetles that attack things like radishes or tomatoes. However, there are some plants that need to be pollinated, so a protective covering would not work on cucumbers, because you need to get the bees in there.

When it comes to animals such as deer, rabbits, squirrels and racoons, Paul cautions that people need to realize we are sharing our homes with these creatures. They are part of an ecosystem that we share.

There are deterrents such as water sprays and physical barriers such as hard wire cloth or chicken mesh. Paul is not a fan of cayenne pepper which some people use around the garden. Paul suggests looking at foods that animals don’t eat and grow those vegetables. Another idea is to grow vegetables that animals like in containers closer to your house as the animals might be less likely to come close to the house.

Consider building a frame to enclose some of the more sensitive edibles such as lettuce, cucumbers, chard, beats or strawberries. However, Paul says he rarely sees tomatoes, eggplants or peppers getting eaten so he is not concerned about putting them under a cover.

How to deal with weeds in the garden
Paul recommends learning to identify the weeds because some of them are annuals so they just live for one year, drop seeds and die. Others are perennial and they run underneath the ground. How you manage them becomes very different. Ideally, you do want to get rid of as many of the weeds as possible by digging them out or gently pulling them out. In early spring watch the soil surface. Usually what you’ll see is tons of little seedlings. By quickly taking a shovel or a cultivator and just scratching the surface, you will actually kill many of them and start to cut into the cycle. And if you do have issues with weeds in the garden, even if you can’t necessarily get to pull them out, what’s really important is not to let them go to seed. So when they flower and they begin to produce seed pods, cut those seed pods off and discard them. You want to prevent them from producing hundreds if not thousands of seeds, which are just going to be a source of problem the following year.

Top 10 list of easy-to-grow vegetables outside

  1. Chard
  2. Kale
  3. Lettuce
  4. Spinach
  5. Arugula
  6. Tomatoes
  7. Cucumbers
  8. Peas
  9. Beets
  10. Radishes

Listen To The Full Podcast Episode 8

The Role of Nutrition In Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Chronic Disease

Listen to the full episode 10.

Doctors+ | Show Notes | Interview with Dr. Mel Litman, MD

In this Alternative Food Network interview with Dr. Mel Litman, MD, a family physician whose practice follows the principles of orthomolecular medicine, listeners will learn about the connection between mitochondrial dysfunction and chronic disease, and the importance of choosing clean and nutrient dense foods that help us “get the good stuff in and the bad stuff out”.

 What is orthomolecular medicine?

“Nutrition comes first in medical diagnosis and treatment.” This is the first cardinal rule of orthomolecular medicine, first coined by bio-chemist Linus Pauling. Orthomolecular means the correct molecule or in other words, treating diseases using substances that are a normal part of the functioning of the body such as using vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and hormone balance which are involved in our normal biochemistry and physiology.

How nutrition is used to affect our whole functioning is the foundation of the whole approach. Nutrients are the materials that our biochemistry needs in order to do what it needs to do. So nutrition is first in terms of getting the nutrients you need and also not getting toxins that you don’t need.

Another cardinal principle of orthomolecular medicine is “Hope is an indispensable ally of the physician and an absolute right of the patient.”  Normally one does not think of hope as a biochemical treatment. But, there is a lot of work being done on the effects of what’s going on in your head on your physiology. Dr. Litman goes on to give an example of the placebo effect where a person gets better because of the belief they’re going to get better. The other side of this is the ‘nocebo’ effect; a person believes a treatment won’t work and that person makes themselves sick because of the belief that he or she will be sick. These beliefs can actually affect one’s biochemistry. According to Dr. Litman, “we can actually be negatively affecting people by the kind of hope that we give or destroy”.

Is orthomolecular medicine the same as functional medicine?
There is a lot of overlap. The person who started functional medicine, Dr. Jeffrey Bland, was a student of Linus Pauling. According to Dr. Litman, the thinking that when we look at diseases we’re looking at the underlying processes, is similar in both orthomolecular medicine and functional medicine.

What are mitochondria?
Mitochondria are the parts of our cells that produce most of the energy for the cells to function. They are also involved in regulating gene expression, cell communication, some hormone production and apoptosis or cell death.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction & Chronic Disease
If the mitochondria aren’t doing their job properly, we see things breaking down. Mitochondrial dysfunction underlies many chronic diseases according to Dr. Litman such as neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular problems, auto-immune diseases and psychiatric problems.

Nutrient Deficiencies and Toxins
Nutrients are what the mitochondria use in order to do their job. Nutrient deficiencies due to poor diets plus the toxins in our world today are damaging to the mitochondria. According to Dr. Litman we need to eat food to provide the nutrients and to be as clean as possible so that we’re not picking up the toxins that will mess with our health.

In addition to nutrition and reduction in toxins, other factors that support the functioning of the mitochondria are exercise, sleep and stress.

What is Toxic to the Mitochondria?
According to Dr. Litman, we are getting exposed to a lot of toxins including heavy metals, pesticides, plastics and certain medications.

Can we get the recommended nutrients from diet alone?
The nutrients in our food supply have gone down a fair bit according to Dr. Litman. “What we had 100 years ago is not what we have now.” When asked the reason, Dr. Litman stated today’s farming methods, the shipping of food long distances and pesticides as reasons why our food lacks critical nutrients.  To compensate for some of the toxic exposure, Dr. Litman says we need even more (nutrients) and we’re getting less. This is where supplements come into play such as a good multivitamin, CoQ10, PQQ, L-Carnitine, NAC and Alpha-Lipoic Acid. The combination of CoQ10 and PQQ is currently being studied mostly for the brain and memory function. Some of these supplements are in formal clinical trials and some information is from informal case studies according to Dr. Litman. It is important to get guidance from healthcare professionals with experience in this field as it can get complicated suggests Dr. Litman.

Mitochondria and Cancer
In episode 10 of the Doctors+ podcast, Dr. Litman mentions a new and active area of work which is looking at mitochondrial damage as a large component in cancer.

Additional Resources
Dr. Mel Litman Website:

Linus Pauling Institute:


All content provided or opinions expressed are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please see advice from a qualified healthcare practitioner.

Episode 8 – Backyard Vegetable Garden Tips

Episode 8 – Backyard Vegetable Garden Tips

Listen to “Backyard Vegetable Garden Tips” on Spreaker.

Outdoor vegetable gardening is gaining in popularity for many reasons including its mental and physical health benefits. What better way to increase the vegetable varieties in your plant-based diet than to plant them at home? In this episode about how to prepare a vegetable garden, horticulturist, professor and radio guest Paul Zammit offers tips for outdoor vegetable growing. From seeds to soil, this episode will help you plant a successful vegetable garden.

In this podcast you’ll hear:
1:20 – Bridging culinary and horticulture

3:15 – The high demand for seeds

3:40 – The importance of sunlight

4:10 – Understanding soil type

4:40 – Consider your water source

5:05 – In-ground, raised beds and container gardening

6:40 – Should people start planting seeds indoors or outdoors?

11:00 – Preparing the soil

14:15 – Fertilizing

15:50 – Best time to water

17:50 – Using mulch to conserve moisture

18:30 – Protecting the garden from insect pests and animals

25:00 – Dealing with weeds

26:50 – Top 10 easy-to-grow vegetables

Episode 6 – What is a Functional Food?

Episode 6 – What is a Functional Food?

Listen to “What is a Functional Food?” on Spreaker.

People are increasingly looking to be proactive in supporting their health and are seeking functional foods. But what are functional foods exactly? In this episode,
founder and CEO of functional food brand JOYA, Ruth Elnekave, along with Kate Taylor Martin, owner of superfood café nutbar, provide their insights on this rising product category.

In this podcast you’ll hear:
2:00 – Kate’s journey to opening superfood café nutbar
6:30 – Ruth’s path to founding functional food brand JOYA
10:45 – What are functional foods?
12:45 – Functional foods you already have at home
14:45 – Medicinal mushrooms
16:30 – Matcha
17:00 – Fermented foods
17:50 – Can collagen be vegan?
19:00 – Are functional foods expensive?
26:20 – Misleading information about functional foods
32:00 – What are adaptogens?
36:30 – Is chocolate a functional food?
44:45 – Ruth and Kate’s top 3 functional foods

Covid Recovery: What To Eat And Drink

Listen to the full episode.

Doctors+ | Show Notes | Interview With Dr. Esther Konigsberg, MD

In this Alternative Food Network podcast, Esther Garfin interviews integrative physician Dr. Esther Konigsberg, MD, about what people should be eating and drinking during COVID-19 recovery. Unfortunately, many COVID patients or long-haulers continue to have lingering symptoms. The doctor provides credible tips on fighting infection and treating fatigue, respiratory issues, gastro issues and muscle and joint pain resulting from this coronavirus.

What does the body need when fighting infection?
To give the body the best chance for recovery and to boost the immune system, Dr. Konigsberg reminds the audience of the basics:

  • Minimize stress
  • Rest
  • Physical activity to the extent it’s possible
  • Proper nutrition

When it comes to foods, there is much data on fruits and vegetables increasing immunity and decreasing inflammation. According to Dr. Konigsberg, “we really want to bring down the inflammatory response because that often is one of the main underlying phenomena for long-haul issues”. Fruits and vegetables are rich in a substance called flavonoids.

Also important are omega-3 fatty acids which are found in foods like cold water fish, legumes, flax seeds and walnuts. They help to bring down the inflammatory response which is desired for reducing pain and improving breathing ability, says Dr. Konigsberg.

Other tips from Dr. Konigsberg of what to include in your diet are:

  • Garlic
  • Medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake and maitake mushrooms
  • Turmeric

Foods to avoid include:

  • Processed foods
  • Saturated fats like red meat; If you’re going to eat meat, eat leaner meats such as white chicken
  • Sugar -viruses and bacteria love to grow in a sweet environment.
  • Dairy – For people having respiratory problems, sometimes too much dairy can increase mucus production.

Fatigue from Coronavirus
As in a lot of viral illnesses, one of the predominant features can be fatigue. Dr. Konigsberg suggests adaptogens or an adrenal support as potentially being beneficial for people recovering from COVID to help repair the body and help improve energy. One example is red ginseng.

It has anti-inflammatory properties, anti-blood clotting properties and helps to support energy and the adrenal system. 

Dr. Konigsberg stresses the importance of consulting a healthcare professional because sometimes supplements can interact with medications and certain conditions. It’s also important to consult with a healthcare professional who understands the role of adaptogens. In Dr. Konigsberg’s experience, she has found that adaptogens can help to improve energy in somebody who is recovering from COVID.

Prolonged Respiratory Issues from COVID
COVID tends to have some major effects on the respiratory tract. People during the recovery period may notice shortness of breath. They may notice a worsening of asthma especially if they already have asthma, or a chronic cough. According to Dr. Konigsberg, a wonderful supplement to improve respiratory function is boswellia. She states that boswellia does a great job of decreasing the inflammatory substances called cytokines and it works very well for the lungs. For people who have asthma it can help decrease their use of inhalers.

In addition to boswellia, another good supplement according to Dr. Konigsberg is NAC, N-Acetyl Cysteine. NAC can help not only reduce inflammation but also mucus production in the respiratory tract. So NAC is something else that could be used in addition to boswellia if predominant symptoms are the respiratory problems following COVID.

Digestive Problems After COVID
Dr. Konigsberg mentions that she has had some patients who have new issues with their digestive systems after COVID that they never had before. Examples include:

  • Indigestion
  • Suddenly becoming intolerant to foods that one had no problems eating before
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation

“Make sure you have fiber in your diet”, suggests Dr. Konigsberg.  She says fiber gets broken down in our gut to form the friendly bacteria and we really need that friendly bacteria in order to properly digest our foods. Therefore, having a lot of fiber in the diet, such as whole grains and fruits and vegetables, is beneficial.

In addition, boswellia can help to reduce inflammation especially for those who’ve had diarrhea.

For people who are having problems with indigestion, sometimes using a good digestive enzyme can help. In addition, having a little swig of apple cider vinegar and water before a meal can also help break down food better. By breaking our food down, it doesn’t come back up into our esophagus so we don’t get that reflux or indigestion.

Dr. Konigsberg mentions another supplement called deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) that helps to bolster the mucous layer of the digestive tract and helps to reduce indigestion.

Joint and Muscle Pain After COVID
Pain tends to be something that a lot of people notice after COVID. It could be joint pain. It could be muscle pain. Dr. Konigsberg mentions the role of exercise, specifically yoga for stretching the muscles and bringing blood flow to the muscles.

For people having muscle cramps, Dr. Konigsberg says taking a magnesium supplement can be very helpful. However, she cautions to be very careful with the magnesium you choose because some magnesium compounds like magnesium citrate can increase diarrhea. If you’re having issues with diarrhea, a magnesium bisglycinate is an option that does not create problems with the gut. Magnesium not only helps relax the muscles. It helps relax the mind and is fabulous for sleep as well.

Turmeric is a wonderful anti-inflammatory that can also help to reduce inflammation and pain.

Regarding omega-3 fatty acids that can be found in fish, Dr. Konigsberg suggests that to really have it work on a medicinal level, one could also get omega 3’s in a supplement form to get a much higher dosage of the components of omega-3s that are important which are EPA and DHA.

Vitamin D
Quite a few studies have been done about Vitamin D and coronavirus, most of them observational says Dr. Konigsberg. Based on the studies, Dr. Konigsberg suggests that taking vitamin D would be prudent and continuing to take it if you get COVID would be prudent as well.

Dr. Konigsberg routinely tests the vitamin D levels of her patients as it gives her the opportunity to be more targeted in how much vitamin D an individual should be taking.

Dr. Konigsberg advises to consult with your own healthcare practitioner before taking any supplements.


All content provided or opinions expressed are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please see advice from a qualified healthcare practitioner.

The Hormone-Food Connection

Listen to the full episode.

Doctors+ | Show Notes | Interview With Dr. Kyrin Dunston, Md

In this Alternative Food Network interview with Dr. Kyrin Dunston, MD, a board certified OBGYN and Functional Medicine practitioner, listeners will learn about the various hormones in our body and why diet can play an important role in hormonal balance. Dr. Dunston shares her own personal and professional journey to achieving better health outcomes and offers diet tips to balance hormones. 

Why Dr. Dunston switched from practising as an OBGYN to becoming a functional medicine practitioner
Dr. Dunston went into gynecology because she fell in love with the specialty when she was a medical student. She loved participating in women’s lives and being a part of their families in one of the most important events of their life. However, with a challenging schedule and a family of her own, her own health started suffering. She was overweight, suffered with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression. “I wasn’t able to participate in life. I wasn’t able to be a mom and a wife, and I really became a stranger in my own life”, says Dr. Dunston. She checked her thyroid at least 10 times, and it was “normal”. Other tests came back “normal”. She felt like she was living in a shell of a body that used to be vital and healthy and alive, and her vitality had just gone away. Upon her discovery of functional medicine, everything changed.

What is functional medicine?
According to Dr. Dunston, traditional Western medicine is all about symptom management. If your blood pressure is high, you’re given a medication to bring your blood pressure down. Nobody digs into why do you have high blood pressure.

Functional medicine is concerned with the ‘why’.
Dr. Dunston breaks down the ‘why’ into four categories:

  • Hormone imbalance
  • Toxicity
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Energetic imbalance

Dr. Dunston claims that mainstream doctors are not educated in this. “I don’t blame them. They’re doing the best that they can with the information they’re given, and that’s what I did for years. But like Oprah says, “when you know better you do better”.

When asked if most functional medicine practitioners are MD’s, Dr. Dunston says no. There are two main organizations that train and certify functional medicine practitioners and they allow different levels of medical providers to become certified.

Dr. Dunston wants listeners to know that if they have symptoms and their health is not vital and alive with bountiful energy, a normal weight and no prescription medications, then there’s a reason why they are not feeling well. “If you’re not getting the answers that you need at your regular doctor’s office, seek out other answers, and functional medicine just might be a part of the answer for you”.

What are symptoms of hormonal imbalance?
In a 20-year-old woman, she could have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which symptoms might be heavy, painful and very irregular periods, acne, bloating, and infertility. A perimenopausal woman at 45 could have heavy, irregular periods with moodiness and/or low sex drive. A menopausal woman who’s 60 could have lack of sex drive, poor memory and fatigue.

Every woman has estrogen, and there could be varying degrees of dysfunctional levels. Every woman has progesterone and there could be varying degrees of dysfunction. Every woman has the stress hormone cortisol and there can be varying degrees of dysfunction with that. There’s always root causes.

Types of hormone replacement therapy
Dr. Dunston says the average age at which menopause occurs is 51 in the United States, and perimenopause can start 5 to 10 years before that.

Hormone replacement therapy is designed to replace hormones that the body naturally makes when in an optimal state. There are different types of hormone replacement therapy explains Dr. Dunston. There’s the traditional mainstream hormone replacement therapy that includes what started over 50 years ago as horse estrogen which was taken from pregnant horses. The estrogen was extracted and they started giving it to women. But when it was realized there was an increased risk for uterine cancer, something was needed to counteract the effect of estrogen. So they went into the lab and took the body’s natural progesterone and chemically modified it. It is commercially sold as Provera with the goal of counteracting the effects of the estrogen on the uterus so women wouldn’t get uterine cancer. This has been shown in large scale studies to have serious side effects and increase the risk of many diseases, including cardiovascular diseases and strokes, and not to be beneficial to women according to Dr. Dunston. There was a big move many years ago with a Women’s Health Initiative study to get women off of this traditional hormone replacement therapy.

Another type of hormone therapy is bioidentical hormone replacement which means that hormones are replaced with something identical to what a woman’s body naturally makes. Dr. Dunston says there is enough data now to show that health outcomes for women and quality of life are markedly improved with biologically identical hormone replacement.

Dr. Dunston thinks women have been left out to dry and perimenopausal and menopausal women are totally underserved because there is no standard of care for checking hormone levels. A woman should have her hormone levels checked by someone who knows what they’re doing and then evaluated. Dr. Dunston indicates that she is by no means someone who says that every woman needs hormone replacement. There are some women who go through menopause and they’re fine. Dr. Dunston acknowledges that hormone replacement therapy is a very big and controversial topic.

At what age should a woman test her sex hormone levels?

It is Dr. Dunston’s position that women’s hormone levels should be checked throughout the life cycle. “We want to know where women are when they’re in their younger years and teens, and then we have something to compare it to. We want to know where they are in their twenties thirties, forties and fifties. It should be checked as standard of care.”

What are the various types of hormones?
There are many hormones, not just the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. The other four major hormones that Dr. Dunston evaluates when assessing someone for hormone imbalance are: 1) thyroid 2) insulin 3) cortisol and 4) DHEA.

Hormonal imbalance and diet
When it comes to eating, insulin is the hormone that is primarily affected. A strategy for eating to help balance hormones involves helping insulin and cortisol to function better. One might think that sex hormones don’t have anything to do with these other hormones. They do. They’re all interrelated according to Dr. Dunston. So if you take care of your insulin and your cortisol, it helps your sex hormones and your thyroid.

Insulin is the hormone that is given the task of keeping blood sugar from going too high. Blood sugar is a main fuel source that cells use to make energy to do anything. A secondary fuel source is fat. Sugar comes from the food that we eat in varying degrees. Every time you eat, you get some degree of sugar. If you eat high glycemic index or high sugar content foods, you get more sugar, like white rice, potatoes, cakes, candies, cookies, bread and pasta. If you eat low sugar containing foods with a low glycemic index like broccoli and green beans, you get a bit of sugar.

Blood sugar roller coaster
Whatever you eat in a meal is going to give you your dose of sugar or glucose, and then your insulin is going to come in to tell you what to do with that glucose. It keeps your blood sugar from going too high because too high blood sugar is a problem. One of the biggest issues worldwide is diabetes. For the majority of people who have diabetes type two, they consume too much sugar, and the insulin cannot keep up with the level of sugar that they’re consuming. So insulin starts going up to try handle the high level of sugar, and eventually it can’t do its job and the cells in the pancreas that make insulin start dying because it’s like they’re being blown out.

The problem is that as insulin goes up, what goes up must come down. Blood sugar goes up and the higher it goes and the faster it goes up, the faster it goes down and the lower it goes. And when it comes down, there are a couple of hormones that are tasked with bringing it back up. One is glucagon and the other is cortisol.

Cortisol is the stress hormone. It regulates the sleep-wake cycle. It helps to regulate blood sugar, energy level, weight and how the immune system functions or does not function. Blood sugar has to be maintained in a very narrow range. You could die if your blood sugar goes too low. Your body considers that an emergency. Cortisol is the emergency hormone. You eat too many high glycemic index foods, blood sugar goes up, and then it crashes down and then cortisol is stressed out and you go up and down. This is the blood sugar roller coaster.

How does one know if they’re on the blood sugar roller coaster? You get hangry; you get angry, irritable and feel all out of sorts.

How should we be eating?

Dr. Dunston loves what she calls a modified paleo diet – primarily plant based.
In her opinion, vegan diets can have health benefits if you do them for 3, 6 or in certain circumstances, 9 or 12 months. But in her opinion, it’s not something that is a viable option as a lifestyle. She says there are certain nutrients that one can only get from animal protein. Supplements can be taken but Dr. Dunston thinks most people who are vegans do not supplement properly. (For another opinion, listen to vegan dietician Ashley in Alternative Food Network’s podcast, Plant Based Diet, episode 1.)

Dr. Dunston continues to explain that eating vegan is a tool to use, but as a lifestyle, to just do that and not do it under medical supervision without proper assessments and support, it’s probably in the long run going to cause problems.

It’s a volatile issue because people are very attached to their philosophical and political views and rightly so says Dr. Dunston. But as a physician, if you take dogma out of it, Dr. Dunston thinks the body really does need animal protein. However, she will sometimes suggest a vegan diet as a medicinal tool for a finite period of time as there can be a lot of benefit to it.  

The problem with today’s standard diet
Several hundred years ago, all we had was food from the earth. It was primarily plant food that was seasonal and local. We didn’t have meat in the degree that we now have. We way overeat meat. The standard American diet, which has been adopted by many countries around the world, is really pretty nutrient deficient and it’s just out of balance.
Dr. Dunston uses orange juice as an example. We love orange juice because we’re biologically predisposed to love sugar, and then we make that a part of our everyday, and what we’re not paying attention to is what this is doing to our body. It’s spiking our insulin and it’s dinging our cortisol and if we stay on that path to diabetes long enough, first we become insulin resistant, and then we become diabetic.

Dr. Dunston’s top food picks

  • Vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables – spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens. Dunson tells people to get nine servings of vegetables per day.
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Spices -turmeric, curcumin, oregano
  • Berries
  • Healthy proteins

Additional Resources
The Diet Deceptive Dozen: 12 Foods Flying Under Your Radar by Kyrin Dunston