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3039 Davis Road
Fairbanks, AK, 99709
United States of America

(907) 452-3600

Located in Fairbanks, the Alaska Center for Natural Medicine provides a balanced approach to healthcare, including naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic care, counseling, massage and spa services, and more.

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ACNM Blog

The Alaska Center for Natural Medicine Blog features health-related articles by our staff practitioners, including naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists, chiropractic doctors, nurse practitioners, counselors, and massage therapists. 

10 Reasons Why You Need A Naturopathic Doctor

Dr. Kristen Agg, ND

  

  

  

I’m often asked the question “So what exactly is a naturopathic doctor, what do they do and can they really help me?” Many people are surprised to hear that naturopathic doctors are primary care providers and that their scope of practice is so broad. Read on to find out how a naturopathic doctor can help you and why you need to have one as part of your health care team.

1. In today’s health care climate, everyone needs to be his or her own health advocate.

A naturopathic doctor (ND) will empower you to take charge of your own health and become your own advocate. They will educate you on how to obtain the information you require, ask the right questions and seek the health care you need. Think of a naturopathic doctor as your advocate as well, a member of you health team that truly cares about your health and provides options for care from other providers that you may not have considered.

2. A naturopathic doctor will dig deep to get to the root cause of your illness.

If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, naturopathic medicine can help:

  1. Are you not feeling your best and no one has been able to figure out why?
  2. Are you tired of getting temporary relief of your symptoms?
  3. Do you feel like sometimes you are simply putting a band-aid on your issues but desire deeper healing?
  4. Do you have a chronic condition and have been told it is just something you will have to live with?

A naturopathic doctor will work with you and take a look at your bigger picture. They will then put the pieces together to figure out the root cause of what ails you. Once you know the cause, it is much more effective to treat from this perspective and in doing so, can provide long-lasting relief from your symptoms and oftentimes resolution of your illness.

Dr. Ashley May, ND listening to his patient at the Alaska Center for Natural Medicine.

Dr. Ashley May, ND listening to his patient at the Alaska Center for Natural Medicine.

3. A naturopathic doctor has the luxury of spending time with you.

In the first visit with an ND, there is time to get to know you, do a thorough health history, physical exam and talk to you about your health concerns. There is time to provide answers to your questions, explain why you may be feeling they way you are and what you can do about it. The more you know as a patient, the better equipped you are to improve your health.  The therapeutic relationship between a naturopathic doctor and patient is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of the medicine.

4. Naturopathic doctors have many tools in our toolbox.

Naturopathic doctors tailor treatment plans to suit your individual health goals and personal preferences.  Dietary and lifestyle changes are usually foundational, as well as the hardest to changes to make long-term. Don’t worry, naturopathic doctors will be your health cheerleaders and motivate you to stay on track.

An ND will determine your individual needs, whether it’s correcting nutritional deficiencies with supplementation, botanical medicine to help boost your body’s immune system or balance your hormones, homeopathy to help shift a stubborn condition and enable other therapies to become more effective or perhaps acupuncture for your migraine headaches (and just about any other condition you can think of). If you are going through a tough period in your life and need some support, naturopathic doctors are experts in stress management and counseling, while also providing the resources for additional care when required.

5. You take medications and are experiencing side effects.

Perhaps you are even taking medications to counter the side effects of medications. While taking pharmaceuticals might be a requirement of your condition (and even save your life), naturopathic medicine can help to manage many of the side effects from pharmaceuticals. Some side effects can also be caused by drug-induced nutrient depletions and can be effectively and safely managed by correcting for these deficiencies.

It’s also important to note here that naturopathic doctors are not anti-pharmaceutical. We advocate for their use when required. And yes, there are times where your condition requires them or, as I mentioned above, they can save your life. We endeavor to help you manage your condition before it gets to the point where pharmaceuticals are required. Do not put off seeing a naturopathic doctor. Further to this point, in Ontario, many naturopathic doctors now have prescribing rights, which means we can now access and prescribe certain controlled substances.

6. You are in pain and need some relief.

Naturopathic medicine has a lot to offer in terms pain relief and addressing the root cause of pain. We have safe and effective therapies to target chronic pain (caused by conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease) and acute pain (caused by conditions such as muscular tension, post-surgery, injuries and low back pain). An ND will also take a look into physical, mental and emotional factors that may play a role in your experience of pain.

7. You are generally healthy, but want to optimize your health & mental wellness, boost your energy and feel your best.

Don’t wait until you’re sick to see a naturopathic doctor. Many patients who feel healthy often remark that they didn’t know how poor they were actually feeling until they felt better. Naturopathic doctors can help you set up or strengthen the foundational pillars of health in your life and assist your body to run like a well-oiled machine. A commonly used analogy is that the body is like a car. If you take care of it with regular tune-ups and oil changes, you will be able to enjoy driving it for much longer than would simply fixing things when they go wrong or break down. You deserve to take good care of your health. You deserve to live life to the fullest and feel your best. Make sure you are proactive and put your health first. You are worth it.

8. You are trying to get pregnant or are pregnant and would like support through this time.

Naturopathic medicine has a lot to offer in terms of prepping the body for pregnancy. Ideally, this process should begin about a year from when you desire to conceive and at latest four to six months prior. There are also evidence-based therapies for moms-to-be to provide the best start for baby. A naturopathic doctor can help guide you and also offer resources for additional health care options throughout your pregnancy in addition to your primary care provider during this time – and OB/GYN or midwife - such as a doula or pelvic floor therapist.

Struggling with infertility? It can be the most frustrating and trying time in a couple’s lives. Naturopathic doctors can support you through this period, offer therapies designed to boost fertility or uncover the root cause of fertility issues. Naturopathic doctors can also utilize therapies such as acupuncture to help to increase the effectiveness of in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

9. You have any of the following conditions (or any condition for that matter).

  • An autoimmune condition
  • Digestive issues, heartburn or an upset stomach
  • You feel depressed or anxious or are having problems sleeping at night
  • You feel like your hormones are all over the place
  • You are tired. All. The. Time.
  • Cancer

Cancer deserves special mention here. Naturopathic medicine is used as an adjunctive therapy with regards to cancer, to help mitigate the many effects of the medications currently used in cancer therapy and to prevent recurrence. There are naturopathic doctors who have a special interest in cancer and have devoted their practice to naturopathic oncology and helping patients with cancer.

10. You want a primary care doctor who can provide a second opinion and help you to improve your quality life in the long run.

Naturopathic doctors are primary care providers, meaning we can be the only health care provider a patient sees. We are trained to treat what is within our scope and recognize when we need to refer out. We can order lab work and specialized tests when required. We are happy to work along with a medical doctor and other members of your health care team. We can also provide a second opinion on the state of your health or medical diagnoses. Oftentimes a less invasive approach may be tried in an effort to shift your health back into balance. If not, we will have that discussion and provide education surrounding what your next options are.

For naturopathic doctors prevention is paramount. This is conceivably the most important point of them all. Preventing illness or disease from occurring in the first place and enjoying a fulfilling quality of life from beginning to end are perhaps the most important health goals you can have. If you agree, it’s time to become your own health advocate and seek out a naturopathic doctor to join your health care team 


Dr. Kristen Agg, ND is a licensed naturopathic doctor with a general family practice in Burlington, ON, Canada. She is passionate about helping her patients feel their very best. You can contact Dr. Agg by calling 1.905.634.5495 or emailing her practice at info@drkristenagg.com. To learn more about here, visit her website, here

Dr. May Says Goodbye, Leaves 5 Tips for a Healthier You

Dr. Ashley May, N.D.

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Ah! Spring has sprung. Bird are chirping. Days are noticeably longer. There is an excitement in the air. This manic energy is almost palpable. With spring and its rejuvenation, comes a renewed sense of purpose and self-actualization.

In that spirit and with a dichotomous heart, heavy and excited, I announce I will be leaving the Alaska Center for Natural Medicine (ACNM). It has been a wonderful 6 years and I can not say enough about the opportunity to attain experience, friendships, and develop as a person. For these reasons, I am a better doctor and now have a refined business acumen. With a sense of confidence, I can pursue my ambition of opening my own clinic. I attribute that to my time at ACNM.

Before moving on, I would like to share FIVE WAYS TO MAKE YOUR SPRING A LITTLE HEALTHIER.

TRY NEW FRUITS AND VEGGIES.  Eating a variety of these foods will give you a more comprehensive span of micronutrients. Each different color carries a unique antioxidant spectrum. The best way to do this is to become part of community-supported agriculture (CSA). This is a share of a local farm, where you get a portion of the harvest each week (or however often you want). I have done this for years and love it! I would have never tried bok choy or kohlrabi if were not for CSAs. Click HERE for a list of local ones.

TAKE UP A NEW HOBBY OR OUTDOOR EXERCISE. Whether it is taking advantage of our incredible single track in Goldstream or participating in a woodworking class at the Folk School, new activities can facilitate new neuronal connections in the brain leading to better muscular balance and may even make you smarter. Plus, it may help maintain your motivation toward those new years resolutions.

MAKE A NEW FRIEND. Research regarding the impact of social connection on health is vast. A study by the University of Michigan showed a lack of social connection as a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. Researchers at Brigham Young University completed a meta-analysis of 148 studies and concluded a strong social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity. Several other studies have shown it can strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, and protect against anxiety and depression.

USE NATURAL CLEANING PRODUCTS. Tis' the season for “spring” cleaning. Be careful. There are many chemicals in products that are considered neurotoxic (nerve damaging) and endocrine disruptors (interrupts hormone signaling). For instance, triclosan can be found in many liquid dishwashing detergents and hand soaps. It can promote bacterial resistance (think superbugs), is an endocrine disruptor, a probable carcinogen (cancer-related), and kills algae in lakes and rivers. Vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils can go a long way. Find other safe alternatives HERE.

DRINK PLENTY OF CLEAN WATER. I know this is sort of a given. However, I am how surprised the majority of patients I test are at least mildly dehydrated. The dry environment we live in, plus heated homes can suck the moisture right out of us. You want to shoot for about half your weight in ounces of water per day. Add another 8 ounces for every cup of coffee/alcohol or 15 minutes of sweating. Also, make sure the water you are drinking and bathing in is clean. Arsenic can contaminate wells and there are a number of chemicals municipal utilities do not test or filter out. The U.S. Geological Survey tested water in 9 states across the country in 2008 and found 85 man-made chemicals, including birth control and other medications, in tap water. Click HERE for the EWG’s water filter buying guide. Also be aware that if you use a reverse osmosis filter, which strips minerals from water, you may want to use a remineralization filter as well.


Dr. Ashley May, ND is a practicing naturopathic doctor in Fairbanks, Alaska. To learn more about Dr. May and his new practice, go to www.doctormaynd.com.

Postpartum Depression: How to Prepare for a Healthly Postpartum with Nutrition

Dr. Emily Bennett, ND

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Good morning! Today in honor of Bell Let's Talk I thought I'd write a post focusing on postpartum depression (PPD). The onset of PPD can be insidious and hard to distinguish from the so-called "baby blues" for a new parent, but the effects can be severe and frequently go untreated. Although the symptoms of fatigue, sadness, irritability, and disinterest in parenting can show up as early as 4 weeks, it's not uncommon for parents to not be diagnosed until 3 months after their baby arrives. If this resonates with you please reach out to both your MD and ND, as soon as you can.

The direct causes of PPD are not entirely clear but there are obvious contributing factors: increased stress in the early postpartum period, lack of social support, sleep deprivation, postpartum thyroiditis, or a personal and/or family history of mental health concerns.

However, there's another important aspect of postpartum health that can contribute to PPD that often goes unchecked: nutritional deficiencies.

Although the research available is equivocal with respect to the ability of supplementation to treat PPD, overall the evidence suggests that certain micronutrient deficiencies contribute to the development of postpartum depression. Here are a few to be aware of:

1. Iron

There's a good possibility you have experienced iron-deficiency anemia before as it's the most common nutrient deficiency affecting over 30% of the world's population in countries both rich & poor.  Chances are then that you are aware of the symptoms of iron-deficiency, e.g. fatigue, altered cognition, and depressed mood. 

One of the strongest predictors of postpartum anemia is anemia during pregnancy, as iron stores tend to remain low for several months after childbirth. This is compounded if you experienced significant blood loss during delivery. 

Take home message: Ensure that if you are diagnosed with low iron or have iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy that in addition to increasing iron-rich foods in your diet you diligently take your iron supplement. The #1 reason I find people stop taking their iron supplements is due to digestive upset so make sure you choose one that is well absorbed and better tolerated, e.g. a ferrous bisglycinate vs. the variety found in something like Palafer (#constipationcity).

2. Omega-3 fatty acids

Do you eat 2-3 servings (8+ oz) of fatty fish (sardine, mackerel, herring...) a week? If you're like most of us living in middle Canada, I'm going to guess no.  If I'm right, then you are probably not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids (a.k.a. DHA & EPA) in your diet. Add to this that when you're pregnant, maternal stores of DHA decrease by 50% and do not return to pre-pregnancy levels until 6 months postpartum. 

What does that mean for you? Well, the association between depression and omega-3's is well-established: the less a population has in its diet, the higher the incidence of depression.  And though the research is varied with respect to how effective omega-3's are as a treatment for PPD there is no doubt that it is worth your while to ensure you have enough in your diet during the perinatal period

Take home message: If consistently eating fatty fish doesn't feel like an option for you, start supplementing with a therapeutic grade, third party tested omega-3 supplement that provides at least 1250 mg of omega-3s (EPA & DHA) per dose through the perinatal and postpartum periods. 

3. Vitamin D

If you are living in Canada and are not already supplementing with vitamin D, I'm hoping to sell it to you right now: this Statistics Canada 2012-2013 survey found that nearly 40% of adult Canadians do not have adequate levels of vitamin D to maintain bone health (≥ 50nmol/L). And vitamin D does way more than just keep your bones healthy; it prevents and treats autoimmune conditions, can help you get rid of that nasty & lingering sinusitis, and contributes to healthy mood.

And specific to our conversation here: it plays an important role in preventing and PPD. One study even found that low vitamin D levels tested in mid-pregnancy can be predictive of postpartum depression.

Take home message: Take vitamin D. Take it every day. Take a variety that is emulsified or encapsulated with oil as it is a fat-soluble vitamin. And don't forget to continue taking it after childbirth

4. Vitamin B12, B6, Folate, Selenium, Zinc...

Deficiency or inadequate intake of other vitamins and minerals may also impact the incidence of PPD. To fill in any nutrient gaps in your diet, take a good quality prenatal vitamin, take it every day, and take it through the "fourth trimester" as well.  

Take away message: Pretty much what I said above, but here is a few more details about what to look for when choosing a prenatal vitamin:

  • Increase absorbability and get more bang for your buck by choosing a multivitamin that requires several capsules/day vs just 1 enormous pill
  • Choose capsules over tablets, because they are easier for your digestive system to break down than pressed tablets 
  • Choose a product that uses active forms of the B-vitamins


Dr. Emily Bennett, ND is a naturopathic doctor working out of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada at Inland Island Community Wellness Centre. She has graciously allowed us to post this article on ACNM's website. To learn more about Dr. Bennett, ND, click here. You can find out more about her clinic, click here.

A Fortunate Cat Teaches Us About Our Genes (and Ourselves)

Dr. Ken Sharlin, MD

My wife Valerie walks our dog Rudy on Sequiota Park trail just down the road from our home in Springfield, Missouri. One day when fall was in in full force here in the southern Midwest, and the leaves in the park at their peak of color, she encountered Beatrice, a silky-haired calico cat, who introduced herself to my wife and Rudy in a laid-back but friendly manner. Beatrice made it known that she had no collar and no home, and that she was ready for some lunch, thank you very much.

Her healthy appearance and young age concerned my wife that she had been abandoned in the park. She was cheerful enough, and her patched coat of white and black shot through with burnt–orange seemed chosen just for the season. When Valerie brought the cat home to join our small family it got me thinking about why it is that calicos can only be females and how much the interesting genetics of this cat can teach us about our genes and ourselves.

A hot topic in functional medicine is the recognition that genes can be influenced by lifestyle. Although genes, the code of life found deep within each cell, play a role in our health it is estimated that their overall impact is relatively small. The ability to turn on good genes and turn off bad genes is based on the science of epigenetics, and runs counter to the idea that control of our future is determined by our genes.

To learn a little bit more let’s start with a lesson from Beatrice the calico cat. Genetic information is located on paired structures inside every cell called chromosomes. There are 19 pairs of chromosomes in the cat (23 pairs of chromosomes in humans). A mother and father each provide one of the chromosome pairs to their offspring. The chromosomes that determine gender are assigned the letters X and Y. Beatrice is a female cat because she has two X-chromosomes. Male cats have one X- and one Y-chromosome. Because fur color is located on the X-chromosome, and it takes two X’s to make the calico pattern (one X for tan fur and one X for black fur), normal male cats can never be calico. Nature produces Beatrice’s tan and black patchwork by randomly turning off the gene for color on one of the chromosomes while the other remains active. In other words, both fur color genes are present, but only one is expressed. Nature has changed the expression of genes without changing the genes themselves. This is the principle of epigenetics.

How does this happen? The selection of color is accomplished by an “off switch” called a methyl group, a molecule that consists of a carbon atom with three hydrogen atoms attached. It is one of the puzzle pieces needed to understand how we can have so much influence over our genes. When a methyl group attaches to a specific area on the chromosome, a process called methylation, it turns off specific genes. The influence of lifestyle on methylation, it turns out, helps to explain away the idea of genetic destiny. In the case of my calico cat Beatrice the methyl group that turns off one color gene does so randomly. But in human beings the story is different. We are beginning to understand that genetic expression can be influenced. By taking specific steps we can turn on the genes that benefit us, and switch off those that potentially harm us. It turns out that food, movement, sleep, and clean air all influence methylation.

Here are a few examples:

Dr. Ken Sharlin, MD practices at Sharlin Health and Neurology

Dr. Ken Sharlin, MD practices at Sharlin Health and Neurology

  • Eat plenty of folate-rich vegetables. Legumes like lentils, and vegetables rich in folate like spinach, parsley, romaine lettuce, broccoli, asparagus and cauliflower help our body meet its requirements for this essential nutrient. Folate plays an important role in methylation because it is required to synthesize S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e), the body’s main source of methyl groups. One of the most intriguing roles for folate-driven methylation is the benefit in helping to prevent certain types of cancers involving the pancreas, cervix, stomach, and mouth.1, 2, 3, 4 Other powerful foods that have an epigenetic cancer-fighting effect include green tea5 and soy.6

  • Exercise regularly. Methylation levels have been found to change significantly after exercise. This includes genes involved in metabolism, energy production, fuel usage, muscle growth, the creation of new blood cells, and inflammation.7 It turns out these changes occur even after a single bout of exercise. Exercise intensity does appear to make a difference. Consider a program of High Intensity Interval Training8 involving short periods of very hard exercise (enough to make you feel out of breath) alternated by less intense recovery periods.

  • Get enough sleep. Far from a time of inactivity sleep is critical for normal energy metabolism, tissue building and healing, hormone function, immune function, and the organization of memories. Having a good night of sleep depends, in part, upon the function of our internal clock which, in turn, is affected by gene methylation.9

  • Breathe clean air. Take time to enjoy a walk in the country. While many benefits arise from the availability of methyl groups for gene methylation city traffic exhaust may lower methylation.10, 11 which has been associated with the risk of death from heart attack and stroke.12

Humans have an advantage over cats, of course. As we begin to understand the complex science of epigenetics, we learn that we have the ability, in many cases, to manipulate the expression of our own genetic code. The challenge is to learn what exactly constitutes this healthy lifestyle in the setting of “in your face” marketing that too often sends contradictory messages. But when we do we can turn on the genes that benefit us and switch off those that potentially harm us allowing us to rise above our genetic destiny. While we can’t change our own eye color or hair color (at least not without cosmetic manipulation) any more than a calico cat can change her patchwork coat, we just might be on the verge of learning how to thwart disease and life longer and better. We may not have nine lives, but if we have one long and vibrant one, well…isn’t that almost as good?


Vitamin "D"eficiancy Under the 3PM Darkness

Dr. Jade Robins, ND

At local latitude of 65, most of us are all too aware of the risk of Vitamin D deficiency during the winter months. In fact, the state of Alaska could single-handedly keep the makers of the “Happy Light” in business. Vitamin D plays an important role in mood regulation (i.e. seasonal affective disorder), bone health, and maintaining a healthy immune system. But did you also know that Vitamin D is essential for reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, and autoimmune disease - just to name a few?

I am a recent transplant from Arizona where there is never a shortage of sunshine, and interestingly, even there, Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic. So this begs the question…why? Although sunshine is the most effective way to absorb Vitamin D, we must consider other factors. These include: Genetics, fortified foods, poor gut absorption, and inflammation.

Tips for Optimizing Vitamin D levels

  • Ask your doctor to perform a simple blood test to check your Vitamin D levels to make sure that you are taking the right dose. Too little or too much Vitamin D can be a bad thing. Like most things in life, balance is what we are looking for. The optimal dose varies from person to person; so testing is the best way to monitor your individual response to treatment.
  • Eat more fatty fish during the winter months. Fatty fish is not only a great source of Vitamin D, but of all of the fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamin A, D, E, K). It is also a rich source of inflammation fighting Omega 3’s. Lucky for us, wild caught Alaskan salmon is readily available here! Wild sardines are another great option. But even if you are not a fish eater, no worries! You can easily supplement it with fish oil or cod liver oil. Some are even, dare I say it…. tasty!
  • Avoid synthetic Vitamin D2, which is added to nearly all dairy and dairy alternatives. Synthetic Vitamin D2 competes with the active form, Vitamin D3. Instead, consider making your own nut milk that is not supplemented with the synthetic form. Bonus: It tastes way better than store bought and does not contain preservatives or other GI irritants such as carrageenan found in many commercially available products!
  • Order a genetic test through 23andme.com to check for Vitamin D receptor mutations (VDR). This test is relatively inexpensive ($99) and yields a lot of other great information pertaining to your health and nutritional needs. It will also provide you with other fun information, including your heritage and percentage of DNA shared with Neanderthals. Once your results are in, contact one of the Alaska Center for Natural Medicine's doctors trained in Nutrigenomics to guide you in interpreting the results.
  • Address gut inflammation. The health implications of poor gut function are far reaching. Many are surprised to learn that a large percentage of our immune function and neurotransmitter production (i.e. dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine) takes place in the gut. Vitamin D is intricately involved in the production of dopamine in particular, which plays an important role in mood, motivation, and focus. One simple step to improving gut function is to implement a quality probiotic. Testing for food allergies and sensitivities is another important step to identifying and removing sources of inflammation that result in poor absorption!

As you are probably starting to gather, this one essential vitamin, packs a big health promoting punch! Therefore, reaching optimal Vitamin D status is a very worthwhile endeavor and a great investment in your health and happiness!


Dr. Jade Robins, ND is a naturopathic doctor practicing at the Alaska Center for Natural Medicine. Specializing in Nutrigenomics, gastrointestinal issues, and environmental health. You can schedule an appointment with Dr. Robins, ND by calling the Alaska Center for Natural Medicine at 907.452.3600.