Beating the Winter Blues PartII – 5 Lifestyle Changes to Help You Win the Winter Battle

polar-bear-sleeping_666_990x742As a continuation to last week’s “Beating the Winter Blues Part 1”, in this blog we will look at the relationship between light, melatonin, sleep and mood.  Included, are 5 easy, realistic changes you can make to prevent and manage the winter blues to thrive till spring.

Next week we will look at supplements and herbs that benefit sleep, and mood during the winter season.



Melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep, is regulated by light and darkness. The night time darkness allows us to produce more melatonin and get sleepier, while daytime light suppresses melatonin and allows us to feel more awake.

Because our bodies and biological clocks are tuned to the rising and setting of the sun through hormones like melatonin, during the winter, as night approaches earlier we tend to feel drowsy earlier, while in the gloomy winter mornings it becomes harder to get up.

Establishing a healthy sleep regimen that gives consistent signals to our biological clocks allows us to achieve better rest, wake up more refreshed and feel less doom despite the winter gloom.

5 ways to establish a healthy sleep regimen

1.  Take a walk: This is an easy, cheap and effective way to get more sun exposure during the day to ward of the winter depression, plus it has the added benefit of helping you get more exercise. In fact, A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorder has found that natural light exposure in the form of a 1 hour morning walk was able to improve symptoms of depression associated with SAD when compared with artificial light therapy.

2. Establish regular bedtime hours.  According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the most important hours for rest and restoration are between 10:00pm to 2:00am, So decide on a bedtime that is realistic for you (ideally before 11pm) and go to bed at that time consistently.

night tv3. Turn off your electronic devices and reduce your screen exposure 1-2 hours before bed.  This is one habit that I am personally guilty of and is common amongst my patients. Exposure to light emitted from the screens of TVs, ipads, computers and phones suppresses melatonin and really mess with our sleep and mood.  Studies in Sweden, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Finland have all found a link between late night electronic use, sleep disturbance, depression and lower measures of well-being.  In light of this (pun intended) try to keep your pre-bedtime screentime to a minimum.

4. Start winding down 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed.  Some great alternatives to late night screen time include taking a warm bath, breathing exercises or meditation, light reading and/or listening to some gentle music.

Note: For those who insist on sending out a last minute email or playing a final round of candy crush, Twilight by Urbanandroid is an app that provides a filter for blue light (a wavelength of light that suppresses melatonin and conflicts with our biological clocks) to support healthy sleep.

5. Darken your bedroom.  Not only is screen exposure disruptive of sleep, so is ambient light. Even a small amount of light (ex. Flashing power lights or glowing alarm clock numbers)can disrupt melatonin production and potentially interrupt sleep. Use blackout curtains and block excess light at night.

Making change is never easy, so start small by choosing one or two of the 5 recommendations and build a healthy sleep routine gradually.  Happy snoozing!

Sophie, ND


Stay tuned next week for supplements and herbs that help beat the winter blues!




My Purpose as a Naturopathic Doctor

There are many challenges to be faced when committing to a new relationship, but the biggest challenge is recognizing and sharing the expectations you have for yourself and the other party. This is true for all relationships including that of the doctor and patient.


This piece is dedicated to myself and my patients as a reminder of the intent I hold each time I engage in a therapeutic relationship.  Some may say that this should be obvious to a doctor, but even clear waters can be muddied and the simplest matters complicated.  I would like to use the personal guidelines outlined below as a beacon to help me stay true to my patients as an ND.

My purpose as a naturopathic doctor:

To provide hope for my patients.

To share knowledge so that my patients can effectively participate in their treatment.

To help my patients recognize their strengths so that they are inspired to advocate for their own health.

To create a space safe enough for my patients to explore their fears so that they are empowered to achieve true healing.

To ensure my patients leave each visit with a sense that they are cared for.

This is my purpose as a naturopathic doctor.  As I move forward in my career, I do not and cannot guarantee a cure but I aim to provide the next best thing:  Hope, care and health through knowledge, inspiration and empowerment.

In good health,

Sophia Ma, ND

A naturopathic doctor’s return to the blogging world

  Welcome back,

After a long hiatus I have returned to the wonderful world of blogging.  During the months away I’ve graduated from naturopathic medical school, survived an intense set of licensing exams and now am finally SOPHIA MA, ND ( cue: streamers and balloons)!


Never have I been more excited about my career as a naturopathic doctor. I have set to work lining up a series of interesting topics ranging from dealing with the flu to men and women’s health, diabetes to anti-aging.  I will be blogging weekly around a specific topic each month.  If there are topics that you are interested in reading about please feel free to comment and make a suggestion.

I’d also like to introduce my new website:  Here, you can check out the naturopathic services I offer and find the answers to your burning questions about naturopathic medicine.

I will be available at The Corrective Healthcare Group, Monday, Wednesday and Thursdays from 10:00am – 7:00pm.  To schedule an appointment please call (416) 281-0640 or email

Look out for my upcoming blog on my purpose as an ND.


Dairy and gluten and soy, oh my!

elim dietBeing the awesome naturopathic intern that I am, I have spent the last 4 years adeptly avoiding the ‘Oz’ of naturopathic medicine: the Elim Diet.

A term familiar to all naturopathic students and a concept repelling to patients, the ‘elim diet’ (a.k.a. the hypoallergenic or elimination diet) is used by NDs to identify food sensitivities.

While food allergies are more easily identified (eat a peanut, throat closes) food sensitivities are less obvious because of the delayed and more subtle symptoms that follow (eat toast, stomach bloats 30 minutes later).

Allergies are mediated by IgE antibodies resulting in immediate and acute reactions (ex. anaphylactic shock, rashes, or tongue swelling). Sensitivities on the other hand are triggered by IgG antibodies causing delayed and/or low grade reactions (ex. bloating, acne, headaches, fatigue, poor concentration, and possibly even joint pain) that are harder to pinpoint.

As a tool, the elimination diet is used to determine the common food allergens that a person might be sensitive to. Foods such as egg, wheat, gluten, dairy, soy, sugar and caffeine are taken out of the diet (note: this is the shortlist of common allergens avoided in the elim) for a period of 3-4 weeks after which each type of allergenic food is brought back one at a time while on the lookout for any possible symptoms indicating sensitivity.

As the dedicated naturopathic student that I am, I was coerced into trying the elim diet and lasted 3 weeks without noticing a large difference, mainly because I caved and ate everything in sight at a wedding putting an end to my attempt at the elim.

Recently I decided to try a different route and dished out roughly $200 dollars for IgG testing. All that was required, aside from the $200, was 5 drops of blood used to check for IgG antibodies to 96 common allergenic foods. Lo and behold I was sensitive to everything:

  • all dairy (milk, butter, cheese, goat’s milk, yogurt, ice cream)
  • gluten & gliadin (protein content found in grains such as wheat, barley, spelt, kamut)
  • eggs
  • citrus fruits (lemons, oranges, grapefruit)
  • nuts (including peanuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, pistachios)
  • a large proportion of legumes
  • soy (including soy sauce, tofu, soy beans, miso, soy milk)
  • honey
  • bell peppers
  • tuna
  • crab

To make matters worse, I was also diagnosed with Candida (a yeast-like infection) forcing me to also eliminate

  • all sources of sugar (including natural sugars such as carrots, peas, and all fruits)
  • caffeine including black tea
  • starchy carbohydrates and glutinous foods (wheat, spelt, rye, brown rice, pasta, corn, potato)
  • mushrooms
  • yeast containing foods
  • fermented vinegar
  • alcohol
  • pork and processed meats
  • any foods containing citric acid
  • condiments (only natural spices allowed)

Through some miraculous spark of motivation it has been 2 1/2 weeks since I’ve been on this stream-lined diet. So far my skin has cleared and noticeably improved, I’ve had fewer PMS symptoms and my chronic joint pain (which started since age 8) has almost completely disappeared.  ThElim diet2ough not part of the plan, I’ve also lost 3lbs and on the whole am feeling quite good.  Despite all the noted health benefits I still crave sweets, dairy, gluten and my sidekick cup of coffee.

Besides spending time online looking at delicious cakes and pastries I am often researching recipes that are suitable for my current diet and have become pretty creative at adapting recipes to create delicious dishes that are nowhere near lacking.

I can’t say that this experience has been  easy as I am constantly cooking to keep up with my suddenly effective digestion and eating out has been basically impossible, but the benefits that I’m experiencing are invaluable and I am now wholeheartedly encouraging my patients to consider it as well.