By Dr. Amber Merrick, N.D.

Lazy Days – Never Feel Guilty Again!

The rare occasion this doc gets a whole weekday off is of course the day she gets sick! But there is still so much to accomplish today! Laundry, groceries, a family outing, writing, research…on and on it goes! Rest to me always fills me with guilt about not accomplishing my to-do list.  I feel lazy, unmotivated, a non-contributing member of society!  I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Most of my patients lead busy lives and are expected to perform until they crash at the end of the day.  Even then, they inevitably wake between 2-4 am, as their cortisol (stress hormone) is unnaturally high.  Why do we find it so difficult to take a time out?

A patient (you know who you are my dear) recently said to me:

“REST IS A VERB.  It is not the act of doing nothing, but doing something! Rest is the act of allowing the body to heal.”


This notion applies to those days of acute viral illness (me, today), chronic disease, chronic stress, or overwork! Take time for yourself, to ACTIVELY REST and recover.  If you find it difficult to settle down, re-frame the act of rest in your mind from doing nothing, to doing SOMETHING, actively allowing the body to heal.  Rest is just as important as exercise and eating well to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to prevent age or stress related illnesses like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, IBS, depression or anxiety.

Try 20 minutes of “Yin Building” each day…make it a priority! This time can be used for:

  • Doing NOTHING
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Restorative yoga
  • Deep Breathing
  • Meditation
  • Going for a GENTLE walk

Remember, taking time to do nothing is not lazy or over-indulgent, but a vital part of your healthy lifestyle.  Listen to your body, and give yourself a little TLC.

Today I will be enjoying a tea, a bowl of soup, and a Netflix marathon.  I may even take a nap! No guilt Dr. Amber, you get better!

avocado halves on plate

By Dr. Amber Merrick, N.D.

Low Fat Diets: the Myth That’s Hurting our Health

For years we have been told to consume low fat diets to maintain a healthy weight, and decrease our risks of many chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease (CVD).  This nutrition myth was based on flimsy evidence, and we now know that fat is an incredibly important part of a heart healthy diet (1).

Why were we told fat is bad?

The theory is as follows:

  • Saturated fat raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in the blood.
  • LDL cholesterol lodges in the arteries, causing atherosclerosis and eventually, heart disease.

This theory has never been proven, despite it having been the cornerstone of dietary recommendations since 1977.  In fact, NO research exists correlating intake of dietary fats, including saturated fats, with risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or CVD (2).

Why fat is actually beneficial for our health!

Fat has many roles in the human body:

  • Protection: insulation to regulate body temperature and cushioning to protect body organs
  • Promotes growth and development, as well as maintaining cell membranes
  • Digestion of vitamins A, D, E, and K (fat soluble)

Problems with a low fat diet.

Low fat foods tend to leave us hungry and unsatisfied, and we will likely eat more sugar and carbohydrates to compensate.  This leaves our blood sugar prone to highs and lows, with subsequent carbohydrate and sugar cravings.  Fats slow the release of sugar into the blood stream and provide us with high levels of nutrients and healthy calories.

HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol and is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Studies show that a low-fat diet reduces blood levels of HDL (3).

Elevated LDL levels are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease; however, new data is showing that there are subtypes of LDL. We have small, dense LDL and Large LDL.  The small, dense LDL (sdLDL) contribute to heart disease, NOT the large ones (4, 5).  A high intake of carbohydrates (especially refined carbohydrates and sugar) increases sdLDL, while dietary saturated fat and cholesterol change the particles from the small, dense (bad) LDL to the large (benign) LDL (6, 7, 8).

Testosterone is the main sex hormone in males, but it is important for women too.  One of the side effects of a low-fat diet is significantly reduced testosterone levels (9).  Having low testosterone levels can lead to decreased muscle mass, increased body fat, osteoporosis, depression, and decreased libido, among others.

But not all fats are created equal…

Of course, there are some bad fats in the diet that actually DO raise the risk of heart disease.

  • Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been put through a hydrogenation process, which increases their shelf life and makes them resemble saturated fats in consistency. Trans fats, found mainly in processed foods, are strongly associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Vegetable oils like soybean and corn oil that are very high in Omega-6 fatty acids are also strongly associated with heart disease risk and inflammation.

So what should you eat?

One of the best diets to decrease risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes is the Mediterranean diet (10, 11).  This diet is very high in colorful vegetables, and fruit, some high fiber whole grains (I recommend no more than 3 servings per day), fish, meats, eggs, legumes, dairy, nuts and seeds.  It is quite low in sugary, processed foods, although it does incorporate the occasional glass of red wine.  It also promotes regular physical activity, and a pleasant, social eating environment.

As for fats, I generally recommend women consume approximately 1-2 thumb size servings of fat per meal and men 2-4 per meal.  You should choose heart healthy saturated and monounsaturated fats and oils like avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, almonds and walnuts.  Eat some Omega-3s from fish and grass-fed animals, but stay away from trans fats and vegetable oils.

By Dr. Amber Merrick, N.D.

Is there any truth to an aphrodisiac?

Across all cultures, religions, gender and age, humanity is interested in having better sex.  It’s important to the survival of our species, to bring us closer together, and because people like it! Plain and simple!  To that end, humanity is constantly searching for anything to improve our sex lives and sexual experience.  But does anything specific really work?

First of all, what is an aphrodisiac?

An aphrodisiac is anything that stimulates sexual desire, be it food, drink, music, etc.  The word is derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation.  A lot of foods and herbs have been touted as having aphrodisiac properties through the years.  The following is a list that you may want to try tonight:




Pretty standard on a list of aphrodisiacs…but they work!  Oysters contain copious amounts of zinc (approximately 20mg per oyster according to the USDA), a mineral important for the production of testosterone, which has been linked to a higher sex drive.

Chili pepper

Capsaicin, a chemical found in spicy peppers, increases blood circulation and stimulates nerve endings so you’ll feel more aroused.


The vitamin E in avocado helps your body produce hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, which circulate in your bloodstream and stimulate sexual responses like clitoral swelling and vaginal lubrication.


A classic choice, one in which most women will agree. Dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa may help increase dopamine levels, your brain’s pleasure chemical.  A rise in dopamine lifts mood, relaxes, and improves the body’s response to stimulation.

Red Wine:

Red wine contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that helps boost blood flow and improves circulation before and during intercourse.  A 6 oz glass per day is typically what I tell my patients to enjoy.



Maca Root

This herb cultivated from the Andes has been used for centuries to stimulate sexual arousal.  Maca’s high iodine and zinc content support sex hormone balance.  Further, women who took maca root in a 2008 study in the CNS Neuroscience journal reported improved sexual experiences and satisfaction.

Tribulus terrestris

Studies of women who use this herb report greater desire, arousal, vaginal lubrication, more intense orgasms, and satisfaction (DARU Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 2014).  Tribulus stimulates androgen receptors in the brain making the body much more responsive to sex hormones. It also helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

Ashwaganda Root

The Kama Sutra mentions ashwagandha as a potent igniter of passion and desire; however, its popularity presently has more to do with its effect on libido and sexual satisfaction. The herb may increase blood flow to the clitoris and other sexual organs, creating an intense sexual experience.  This herb is also helpful for stress, relaxation and thyroid function.

There are also many herbs and supplements for stress, relaxation, hormone balancing and/or mood if any of these are impacting sexual health and arousal.  Talk to your ND or other functional medicine practitioner for advice.


Relaxation and Imagination

The BEST aphrodisiac is feeling healthy, well rested, and stimulating your mind!  Have a chat with your partner about what you really enjoy… hands down they are going to love it!  Michael Hines, creator of, and partner in crime of yours truly, says, “Communication is key.  Sex is one of the most intimate things you can do with another person.  If you’re comfortable having sex with someone, you should surely be comfortable enough to communicate with your partner about your preferences, desires, and fantasies.”  Nicely said!  If you like long romantic kisses, foreplay, lap dances, or anything a little more risqué, talk about it with your partner.


Why is sex important anyways?

This may be up for debate in your household, but there is a of good evidence that orgasms are very beneficial for your health.

Mood and Relaxation

An orgasm will release oxytocin, the “love hormone” which leaves one with a feeling of warmth, relaxation and well-being.  The sexual hormones that are released during intercourse may lower rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.  Additionally, a study by scientists at Groningen University in the Netherlands found that when women experience an orgasm, the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with fear and anxiety, shows little to no activity.

Further, the subsequent drop in blood pressure and sedative effect of some neurochemicals released from an orgasm can improve sleep.  A study by Ellison reported that 32% of US women masturbate in order to fall asleep.

Pain management

A study by Beverly Whipple, found that women’s pain tolerance and pain detection increased by 74.6% and 106.7% respectively, when those women masturbated to orgasm.  Love those endorphins!

Immune function

Regular sex is linked to higher levels of the antibody immunoglobulin A, which may protect us from common colds by boosting the immune system.  Further, in men, a study in Germany found that an orgasm could increase the number of circulating leukocytes (white blood cells) important for immune function.

Oxytocin has also been shown to possibly prevent breast cancer cells from developing into a tumor. And don’t forget the foreplay! Breast and nipple stimulation produces even more oxytocin.

Brain and Memory

Orgasms will get your blood pumping, and that includes circulation to your brain! Rutgers researchers recently asked female subjects to masturbate while lying in a MRI machine that measured blood flow to the brain. When the subjects had an orgasm, it increased blood flow to all parts of the brain, increasing oxygenation and nutrient availability to their brain cells.


Sex will increase DHEA and human growth hormone, hormones that can improve elasticity of the skin and blood vessels.  A 10-year study by Dr. Weeks at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, found that those who reported having sex 50 percent more than other respondents looked 7-10 years younger than their actual age according to study volunteers.

Several further studies found that middle-aged men who have more orgasms (2 per week) died at half the rate of those who had less than 1 orgasm per month. Another 20-year study found that women who reported a higher frequency of orgasms lived longer than those women who reported being less sexually fulfilled.

Happy Valentine’s Day my loves…GET IT ON, for your health of course!!


Here’s a Little Recipe:

A little trip to St. Lawrence market yesterday inspired a Valentine’s day appetizer for two, with fresh oysters from Malpeque Bay, PEI.  Try it when you want to set the mood:

Oysters with mignonette sauce

A dozen oysters

2 shallots minced

¼ cup rice wine vinegar

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

Pinch of sugar

Pinch of sea salt and fresh ground pepper


Mix all ingredients and keep in refrigerator for up to 6 hours

Serve a spoonful on each oyster with lemon and hot sauce if desired

Check out YouTube for how to shuck your oysters, or ask your helpful fishmonger who sells you the oysters for tips.

Amber Merrick eating a happy meal at German McDonalds

By Dr. Amber Merrick, N.D.

Kale at McDonald’s? What is this world coming to??

The CBC recently posted an article comparing the nutritional content of McDonald’s new “Asiago Crispy Chicken Salad” with kale to a Double Big Mac and the news is not great.  The new kale salad (with dressing) has more calories, fat and sodium than a Double Big Mac.  Yikes…but is it really?

Thank you to CBC for raising awareness regarding nutritional content.  However, if faced with the decision of what to eat at McDonalds, the kale salad is still probably a better choice.  I applaud McDonald’s for trying to add nutrient value to some of their menu options.  McDonald’s is an easy target as it is high up on the “fast-food” chain but they are not the only ones directly responsible for the obesity epidemic.  There are plenty of other calorie-laden, sugar packed, saturated fatty, preservative filled fast food, processed snack companies world-wide!  McDonald’s has a lot of haters, and is top o’ the list when we think about rising health care costs, chronic disease and obesity.

But adding kale to the menu? Brilliant!!  Let’s not take a crap on kale folks…it’s a “trendy superfood”, but this is what makes kale SUPER:

  • Nutrient dense – Kale is full of vitamin A, C, K and B vitamins, Iron and Calcium, just to name a few. It is one of the most nutrient packed foods per calorie, which makes it SUPER!
  • High fiber – Kale can help keep your bowel movements regular and can help lower cholesterol
  • Low glycemic index – Kale is a great addition if you’re trying to manage weight and decrease blood sugar
  • Antioxidants – Kale contains cancer-fighting and anti-aging nutrients like quercetin, sulforaphane

So, the Double Big Mac may have fewer calories, but it does not have the nutrient value the kale salad has.  Further, not all calories and fat are created equal!

An average adult should eat approximately 2000 calories per day (this will differ depending on your age, size and activity level).  In order to consume these calories, I recommend to my patients that they consume at least 1g/kg of protein per day, which is approximately 75g per day for a 160lb adult, an equal portion of carbohydrates from whole grains and starches, and unlimited vegetables and fruit.

I also recommend fats!! Fats are essential for our bodies and brains to function optimally.  The fats we need to limit are saturated fats (fats that are solid at room temperature, ie. margarine) and trans fats (found in meats, processed foods, and “hydrogenated oils”). These types of fats raise the level of “bad” cholesterol in your blood, which in return increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. We should all limit our daily intake of saturated fats to 10% of our daily caloric intake (approx. 20 grams/day for most adults), and trans fats to less than 1% if any.  Further, we should likely not consume more than 2300 mg of sodium per day according to health Canada.

Check out the comparison (CBC):


They don’t tell you much about the actual nutrient profile of each choice, however.  Bottom line, these 2 choices are comparable in all macronutrient values, but the salad has more micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and less preservatives.  Have you seen what’s in a Big Mac?  A laundry list of preservatives in the bun alone, which in and of themselves can contribute to weight gain and health concerns.  What they didn’t include in the above comparison is the other kale options on the menu, including the grilled chicken version of the Caesar salad (drastically cutting down on carbs, fat and calories), or the Greek kale salad option.

If you are on the go, on a road trip or the kids are late for hockey, McDonald’s may be the choice tonight. But should you just get the Double Big Mac because it’s the same calorie content as the Caesar salad? I wouldn’t. That Big Mac is full of saturated and trans fats, tons of preservatives, and sodium.  If it was my choice, I’d have the Greek kale salad with grilled chicken.  It’s made with kale, a lettuce blend, red peppers, cucumber, couscous, pita chips and feta (skip the pita chips if you want). If you only use half of the dressing, here’s what that looks like:

  • 350 calories
  • 19g fat (4.25g saturated fat, 0.2g trans fat)
  • 925mg sodium (cut back on the feta if this is too high for you)
  • surprisingly not a lot of preservatives (they’re still in there though)

Check out the McDonald’s Nutrition Centre:

Stay informed and make the best choices you can! And have a happy meal once in a while… 🙂

Amber Merrick as zombie doctor on Halloween

By Dr. Amber Merrick, N.D.

How to enjoy the Tricks AND TREATS this Halloween, while avoiding Type 2 Diabetes

What kind of sadistic monster talks about Diabetes on Halloween…well, surprise surprise, it’s Dr. Amber…aka Debbie Downer.  I will preface this diatribe with a caveat…enjoy your tricks AND treats this Halloween…but, in a way that doesn’t impact your blood sugar or waist-line (or your children’s either).

In March of this year, the World Health Organization issued a statement that we should limit our intake of sugar to <50g per day to avoid obesity and tooth decay.  The WHO’s recommendations cover free sugars such as glucose and fructose, and sucrose or table sugar added to processed foods and drinks. They do not cover sugar found naturally in fresh fruit, vegetables and milk.  Limiting sugar has the added bonus of reducing risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, chronic infections, cancer and cardiovascular disease.  Why is Type 2 Diabetes so bad anyway?  I won’t scare you too much (Halloween joke), but Diabetes can lead to a lot of complications if not addressed, like increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, impotence, kidney failure, blindness and even loss of limbs!

How does eating sugar contribute to weight gain and developing Type 2 Diabetes?

When we eat a sugary meal or snack, a large volume of glucose enters our bloodstream.  As a result, our body releases insulin to tell our cells to take up the sugar/glucose so our cells can use it for fuel.  Unfortunately, the more sugar we eat the more insulin we release.  This extra insulin will then hang out in the bloodstream with no sugar to support.  As a result, the insulin will do a few things…

  1. Contribute to FAT GAIN
  2. Cause hypoglycemia (“Hangry”)
  3. Stimulate further carbohydrate and sugar cravings

And over time, that extra insulin hanging around all the time gets really annoying to the cells.  Like that annoying houseguest that just WON’T LEAVE.  The cells then stop caring about what insulin has to say; they don’t open the door when he knocks, even if he “really has sugar for them this time”.  “Yeah right insulin, we’ve heard it a thousand times”, says the cell.  This is now Type 2 diabetes.

So, how can we treat ourselves this Halloween and not worry about the dreaded FAT GAIN and TYPE 2 diabetes?

By avoiding sugar spikes!

When you eat your candy, have it with your meals.  Ensure you eat it with enough:

  1. Protein: 1g protein/kg body weight (try for 1-2 palms per meal)
  2. Fat: about 2 thumbs per meal (coconut oil, butter, ghee, olive oil, avocado)
  3. Fiber: several handfuls of your fave veggies (not including potatoes)

Canadian Diabetes Association also recommends exercise.  Low physical fitness is as strong a risk factor for mortality (dying younger) as smoking.  Also, physical activity can be as powerful as glucose-lowering medication… but with fewer side effects!

Regular physical activity, in conjunction with healthy eating and weight control, can reduce type 2 diabetes incidence by 60 per cent.  Good news!  I would aim for 150 minutes per week of physical activity; some cardiovascular activity (interval sprints, either running, biking, jumping rope or climbing stairs), but with the emphasis on resistance training (building muscle using gravity, resistance bands, weights, or machines).  We are definitely not strong enough as North Americans, and increasing our muscle mass has a very beneficial impact on our long-term health!

Finally, give yourself a limit of candy per meal.  The daily limit of 50g is an easy number to reach, so try to avoid going overboard.  How much sugar is in your favorite Halloween treats you might be wondering…(here are some of my faves…all in mini Halloween sizes of course)

  • Peanut M&Ms – 9g sugar
  • Kit Kat – 6 g sugar
  • Smarties – 6g sugar
  • Skittles – 11g
  • Sour Patch Kids – 10g
  • Twizzlers – 6g

Seems to me each piece is less than 50g of sugar – more good news!

Pick your favorite candy from your bowl of leftovers (or from your kid’s stash) and get rid of the rest.  Have your kid pick their favorites, and give the rest away, or have them exchange it for a non-candy treat, like a new toy.  If it’s in the house, you’ll probably eat it!

So, enjoy some candy this year…but let’s avoid the sugar spikes shall we.  Have a spook-tastic Halloween!

“Halloween was confusing. All my life my parents said, “Never take candy from strangers.” And then they dressed me up and said, “Go beg for it.” I didn’t know what to do. I’d knock on people’s doors and go, “Trick or treat . . . no thank you.” ~ Rita Rudner


plate with cured meat, cheese, and pickles

By Dr. Amber Merrick, N.D.

Can I still eat bacon? A Naturopathic Perspective on the recent WHO colon cancer findings

The World Health Organization issued a statement today that eating processed meats, including bacon and sausage, can increase your risk of colon cancer.  As a lover of homemade cured meats, and charcuterie plates I was very upset by this news.   As a devoted naturopathic doctor, however, I decided that health is more important to my patients and myself.  Knowing colon cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer in Canada and the second most common cause of cancer death, I wanted to delve deeper into the findings.

The France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the WHO, places processed meat in the Group 1 list as “carcinogenic to humans.”   Tobacco, asbestos and diesel fumes are also on the Group 1 list.   Processed meat refers to that which has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation.   The report’s authors said eating 50 grams of processed meat a day (about 2 pieces of bacon) increased the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.

18% sounds scary…but what do these numbers really mean?

An average human has about a 5% lifetime risk of developing colon cancer (1 in 20).  This risk increases if we are over the age of 50, if you are a man, have a family history of colon cancer or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s or Colitis).

An 18% increased risk for an average person means that we may increase our lifetime risk from 1 in 20 to about 1 in 16.  So basically, if 16 people ate a high processed meat diet, 1 might develop colon cancer while 15 will not.

Further, there are other factors at play here.  Obesity, and lack of exercise will also increase risk of colon cancer by 30% (1 in 15) in men, and 10% (1 in 18) in women.  This risk increases as waist circumference increases (as high as 1 in 10 for men).

Smoking, alcohol and sugar consumption can also increase risk.

So does anything decrease risk…the answer is an emphatic YES!

Fish, 80 g per day (about one serving) decreases risk of colon cancer by 30% (1 in 30).  2.5 servings of fruits and veggies per day can decrease risk by 60% (1 in 60).  If you have a low fiber diet, doubling your intake to 25 grams per day can decrease risk by 40% (1 in 35).  Also, calcium and vitamin D rich foods (whole dairy, not including milk) can decrease risk of colon cancer by 20% (1 in 25).

Also, 90% of colon cancer can be cured if caught early!  Currently, Cancer Care Ontario recommends regular colon cancer screening for those over the age of 50.  So see your doctor for a fecal occult blood test (FOBT), and/or a screening colonoscopy (for those at higher risk).

So, bottom line, should you stop eating processed meats? I’m not going to. My plan will be to continue to consume 3-5 servings of veggies and fruits per day, exercise for 3 hours per week, eat fish twice per week, drink some red wine and abstain from smoking.  When I’m 50 I’ll get a colonoscopy.  And I will continue to enjoy my cured meat charcuterie and bacon a few days per week.  Happy Eating!!

By Dr. Amber Merrick, N.D.

You want me to swallow what??

“German Ingenuity”…a stereotype?  It seems to be a real thing! As a nation they are on the cutting edge of technology, economy, business and health care.  Praising efficient and practical ideas, whether they be based on the latest research or a traditional tried and true approach.

One such approach, I learned while shadowing Dr. Hagen Huneke in Mannheim.  Neural Therapy, the injection of procaine into “irritation centers” to treat chronic pain and illness, is his main approach for treatment of his patients.  However, he also uses Procaine in another “novel” way.  I say  “novel” as to me it was a fresh idea, simple in its application, and apparently very efficacious.  However, according to Dr. Huneke, this “novel” use of procaine was discovered in 1935 by researchers at the University of Frankfurt.

Procaine, a local anesthetic, is usually injected intramuscularly, intravenously or as a nerve block for its analgesic properties.  It was first synthesized by a German chemist, Dr. Albert Einhorn in 1905, as a non-addictive alternative to cocaine for anesthetizing patients.  The benefits of taking procaine by mouth, however, were discovered several years later.

In 1911, Zeliony and Sawitsch found that topical anesthetics inhibited the formation of gastrin (hormone that stimulates secretion of stomach acid), which Bayer then introduced for the treatment of peptic ulcers (Rheault, 1965).  Oral procaine was also shown to cause relaxation of the pyloric sphincter (the valve controlling the emptying of stomach contents into the small intestine) while allowing stomach movements to remain intact (Roka, 1950).  This decreased episodes of vomiting, GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), and intestinal/stomach spasms irrespective of stomach acidity (whether too low or high).

Dr. Huneke uses a procaine drink for a wide variety of digestive concerns, and finds it very useful in almost all of his patients.  He attributes the efficacy of oral procaine for digestive concerns to its ability to decrease gastrointestinal spasm, and its effect as an anti-inflammatory.  Inflammation of the gut can be caused by many things; including infections, medications, stress, food allergies and environmental toxins.  This inflammation can cause GI distress, and unfortunately many other systemic issues, such as skin problems, headache, fatigue, arthritis, mental illness and autoimmune conditions (see photo above).  Research over the past decade has shown that anesthetics such as procaine have extensive anti-inflammatory effects.  Casserto (2006) found that local anesthetics were superior to NSAIDs as anti-inflammatories with fewer side effects.

Oral procaine has also gained some popularity as an anti-aging supplement.  This has been attributed to PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), the metabolite of procaine.  PABA has been taken for skin conditions including vitiligo, Peyronie’s disease, and scleroderma. PABA is also used to treat infertility in women, arthritis, constipation, and headaches.  It is also used to darken gray hair, prevent hair loss, make skin look younger, and prevent sunburn (when applied topically).  I do not believe if much evidence exists for oral procaine for anti-aging, however, a Cochrane review in 2008 of procaine use for cognition and dementia found that oral procaine treatment might improve memory in persons without cognitive impairment, but they concluded that more research is needed.

Procaine is not very well absorbed by the GI tract, which may be why it works so well locally on the mucous membranes and digestive system.  However, by decreasing inflammation of the GI tract, and allowing the gut to heal, many systemic conditions may be alleviated.  For example, Luddeke (1951) used oral procaine with Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in the treatment of pruritis (severe itching of the skin associated with allergies and/or eczema).

Oral procaine has very little side effects, however, one should always consult a health care practitioner before trying such regimen and to ensure there are no drug interactions with medications you are currently taking.  Definitely use caution if you have an allergy to certain local anesthetics, or are diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematous or Myasthenia Gravis.

Dr. Hueneke prescribes his procaine drink based on a protocol from 1935, discovered in Frankfurt, for most digestive concerns.  He instructs his patients to take the procaine drink on an empty stomach for 10 days.  In this time, he finds that most concerns are alleviated for years.  If it does not work, he will always consider h.pylori or some other chronic health issue, or a tumour, as a cause of the GI distress.  Tried and true, a simple method for treating numerous conditions, in the most direct way possible.  Indeed “German ingenuity” truly exists!


By Dr. Amber Merrick, N.D.

Dr. Huneke and Neural Therapy

Well, I’m in Germany…what can I learn from the medical professionals here that I cannot learn in Canada? As it turns out…A LOT!!

Germany has a reputation for “cutting edge” medical research and treatment.  Much of it “functional medicine”, which is how I practice as a Naturopathic Doctor in Canada!  I decided to find some (English speaking) MDs and “naturheilpraktikers” who could expand my knowledge base of functional medicine, and who offered treatments not readily available in North America.  That is how I came to find the practice of Dr. Hagen Huneke in Mannheim, Germany.

Dr. Huneke is the youngest son of Dr. Ferdinand Huneke, the founder of Neural Therapy (developed 1925-1940); and is a long-term board member of the International Society for Neural Therapy after Huneke (IGNH).  He did his doctoral thesis in 1984 on Neural Therapy and has written many papers and articles over the years on Neural Therapy and its effects.  If I was going to learn NT, this was the man I should see!

What is Neural Therapy, you ask? 

NT is a treatment modality using injections with local anesthetics (mostly procaine) for diagnosis and therapy (functional disorders, inflammatory diseases and acute and chronic pain).   It is based on the theory that trauma can produce long-standing disturbances in the electrochemical function of tissues (disturbances in scars, nerves or nerve clusters “ganglions”).  It is the doctor’s goal to find the electrochemically disturbed tissue and administer the procaine injection.  A correctly administered injection can often quickly resolve chronic illness and pain, with lasting effects.  Dr. Huneke uses Neural Therapy for many indications such as chronic back pain, migraines, joint pain, as well as other medical illnesses such as allergies, chronic bowel problems, kidney disease, prostate and female problems, infertility, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), etc.

How does Neural Therapy work?

A German neurophysiologist, Albert Fleckenstein, demonstrated that the cells in scar tissue have a different “membrane potential” (electrical circuitry of the cell) from normal body cells.  Whenever a cell has lost its normal membrane potential, ion pumps in the cell wall stop working which allows abnormal minerals and toxins to accumulate inside the cell. As a result, the cell loses the ability to heal itself and resume normal functioning. Procaine acts on the faulty cell wall to restore the normal membrane potential. By reestablishing the normal electrical condition of cells and nerves, the disturbed functions are also restored to normality, and the patient returns to health as far as this is anatomically still possible. The neat part of Neural Therapy is that the site being treated can be very far away from the tissue in the body that is not functioning properly. For example, an appendix scar can affect the shoulder. This is possible because of the vast network of nerves called the Autonomic Nervous System.  Procaine can also travel through microtubules in the “cellular matrix” to deeper nerves and structures.

“Dr. Huneke, how do you know where to inject?”

The doctor is always on the lookout for “interference fields” or “areas of irritation”.  This is an area that has a disturbed membrane potential (as above).  What causes an “area of irritation”? It can be a whole host of things, such as infection, emotional trauma, physical trauma (surgery, accident, deep cuts, biopsy, child birth, dental procedures, vaccinations, burns, tattoos, etc.). Sometimes these areas of irritation do not disrupt the autonomic nervous system, and the individual requires no intervention.  However, general stress from illness, malnutrition, emotional stress, food sensitivities, pregnancy, etc. can convert an inactive field to a disturbed “interference field”.

To identify the patterns, the doctor takes a detailed history, with particular importance placed on progression of the illness or disease, surgeries, and trauma.  He often starts with injections locally at the site of pain and/or trauma.  If this is unsuccessful he will move to other sites, for example scars, or areas of inflammation in the mouth and gums from infection or dental procedures.  He also uses thermography scans to identify “hot spots” throughout the body that may be active and require procaine.  Even “emotional” stress and trauma will produce pain syndromes and illness.  If a patient complains of “inner contraction”, which I took to mean “anxiety” in English, from stress, he will inject procaine directly in the thyroid gland.  Patients feel extreme relief and he will often not need to see them again for years.

How many treatments are needed?

This is largely dependent on the individual and how quickly the “area of irritation” is elucidated.  Many individuals will feel relief immediately while others may require several injections over a period of several weeks to months.  According to a study published in 2015 in BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 280 chronic pain patients were treated with NT and the average number of consultations per patient was 9.  After one year, in 60 patients pain was unchanged, 52 patients reported a slight improvement, 126 were considerably better, and 41 pain-free.  At the same time, 74.1% of the patients who took pain medication before starting NT needed less or no more medication at all.

Dr. Huneke reports that he rarely see’s any side effects form this form of therapy and that the results he gets are remarkable.  He combines neural therapy with other therapies as needed to treat chronic infections and hormone imbalances that are difficult to treat with NT alone.  One patient I saw had been suffering from Hepatitis C (a viral infection resulting in severe cirrhosis of the liver and potentially liver cancer) for over 20 years.  She began seeing Dr. Huneke right away in the hopes or preventing any long-term damage.  She is now in her 60’s and her doctors are AMAZED at her state of health.  She feels great every day, and has no symptoms of chronic liver damage from the infection.  The doctor’s patients adore him, and the relief and hope he brings to their lives.  It was a privilege to work with Dr. Huneke and his associates, and to bring Neural Therapy to Canada.

By Dr. Amber Merrick, N.D.

The German Sauna…and my exploration of public nudity!

Hydrotherapy has been a mainstay of “medical treatments” for thousands of years.  Much of the health benefits touted in historical manuscripts have been debunked by modern science, however, there is much evidence that hydrotherapy, and sweating is actually very beneficial for health.  North Americans as a whole do not seem to embrace the hydrotherapy and sauna culture, but it is still very popular all over the world, and especially in Germany.

During my stay in Germany I visited 4 saunas, each with their own distinctive personalities, but all with the same underlying ideals, and well-known conventions.

My first visit, however, proved to be both overwhelming and the most therapeutic day of my life, both physically and emotionally.  It was our first day off while in Germany, and it was the first warm and sunny day we had.  I was surprised with a “trip” to a neighboring city, where we would be going “somewhere”.  I was told to bring a bathing suit, towel and flip flops.  A beach or water-park maybe? We arrive at Gut Sternholtz, a spa in rural Hamm.  I was elated! I definitely wanted to learn more about “water cure” while we were in Germany, and I was told a German spa is a MUST!  After all the father of modern hydrotherapy, Sebastian Kneipp, was German.  As a naturopathic doctor, I owe it to my profession to be thorough in my research of German lifestyle and health…(wink…)

After our arrival, we were shown the way to the locker room…a common locker room.  I thought, “Where is the ladies room? And wait, who is this naked gentleman?” A pressing doom loomed over me as I slowly realized “Oh no…I have to be naked?” How did I not know this? I’ve never been naked in public in my life! What was I going to do? Is sweating really this important?

Turns out it is.  I wondered why, so I looked into some of the research behind this simple innate action, beyond just cooling ourselves down when our body overheats:

  1. DETOXIFICATION: A 2011 study published in the journal Archives of Environmental and Contamination Toxicology found that many toxic elements appear to be preferentially excreted through sweat; elements not found in blood tests, and/or urine. A further 2012 study published in the journal of Environmental and public health found similar results: Sweating can help eliminate phthalates (plastic toys, cooking utensils, fragrances, nail polish, cosmetics and paints) and BPA (clear plastics, cash register receipts, water pipes, electronics, and eyeglass lenses) to which exposure has been linked to obesity, early puberty, sexual dysfunction, and miscarriage; as well as heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury, present in water, food, dental amalgams, cigarettes, and industrial emissions) confirmed or suspected carcinogens which are toxic in all sorts of ways to your body. They are known to harm the heart, brain, kidney, and immunological systems.
  2. KILLS MICROBES: Sweat contains antimicrobial peptides, which can kill viruses, bacteria, and fungi. A 2013 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proved the peptide is a highly effective tool to fight not only tuberculosis germs but also other potentially dangerous microbes. The researchers believe these natural substances are more effective in the long-term than traditional antibiotics because germs are not capable of quickly developing resistance to them. Sweating and heat exposure can also kill viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in temperatures above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. CIRCULATION: Hydrotherapy increases blood circulation, including circulation of the immune system’s white blood cells. It also increases the body’s production endorphins. Enhanced circulation and increased endorphins strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, heal injured tissue and energize the body. Hydrotherapy also supplies nutrients and oxygen to injured tissue and helps with the removal of waste products. In injuries, alternate applications of heat and cold accelerate healing by improving blood vessel strength and muscle tone. Heat causes the blood vessels to dilate and subsequent cold exposure causes these blood vessels to constrict and drives blood back to the organs.

It is normal to sweat about 6-15L of sweat per day (depending on physical demands).  Any less or more than this may become dangerous.  If you don’t sweat enough, many toxic, fat-soluble substances may not be excreted efficiently, and more importantly one may suffer from overheating and heat stoke.  Further, if you sweat too much in a day without properly hydrating, one may suffer from complications of dehydration, such as dizziness, muscle cramps, seizure, kidney failure or coma.  Sweating is natural and good, but STAY HYDRATED!

I surmised that sweating and hydrotherapy is incredibly important for health, energy and vitality (not to mention that lovely glow ones skin gets after a day at the spa), so I’ll give it a try, but I decide to wear my bathing suit bottoms.  I wander down the hall to the outdoor space and I am immediately overwhelmed by the vast array of naked flesh before my eyes.  I went to medical school, but this is more nudity than I have ever seen all at once.  Desperately clutching to my bathrobe, I wander around trying to find a comfortable lounge chair, away from stray eyes.  Unfortunately, as it was such a beautiful day, the place was packed.  I carefully laid out my towel, and we take in the scenery.  Once the breasts and scrotums were ignored, the meadow we now found ourselves in was serene.  Large grassland speckled with natural ponds, fountains and surrounded by trees and gardens.  There were 6 different saunas of varying temperatures, humidity’s, sizes and styles, from a traditional Finnish sauna to a Himalayan salt sauna.

Eventually I decided I needed to actually get started on my first “circuit”.  We chose a large 90-degree sauna that was empty! I took a deep breath and dropped my bathrobe.  I draped my towel over the bench and under my feet, as no part of the skin is allowed to touch the sauna as the body’s oils can damage the wood.  We were also told this is why bathing suits are frowned upon, as the wet, sweaty suit harbors bacteria, and the wet suits will soak through towels and damage the wood.  After 10 minutes of a good sweat, patrons are expected to shower off, and take a cold plunge.  As above, the cold shower or plunge is the most important part of the circuit for improving circulation.  The German folks at Gut Sternholtz, and in saunas all over Germany, all seem to understand the convention and etiquette of the sauna; how to sit, shower and plunge properly.  They didn’t seem to take notice that anyone was naked, and in fact I felt stranger with my bathing suit bottoms on!

Into our second circuit, the sauna started filling with people.  I couldn’t understand why all at once everyone was so interested in the sauna we were seated in.  Sweaty bodies piling in, stepping behind you to find an empty seat, trying not to smack you in the face with their wet buttocks.  A fully clothed woman walked in with a bucket of liquid, and told the crowd of 30 packed into the sauna side by side, that this was an “aufguss” ritual.  She poured ladleful’s of water infused with orange essential oils onto the hot rocks and waved the steam around the room with a towel, a process she repeated 3 times.  After what felt like a hot, sweaty eternity, the crowd piled out of the sauna to consume fresh oranges and rub ice all over our bodies.  Turns out, they had an aufguss with a different oil every 30 minutes in several of the saunas throughout the day.  One can plan the ceremonies they wish to attend while at the spa; how very German to schedule relaxation.

By midday, I was becoming increasingly more comfortable with the nudity and with my own body.  Throughout the day I was exposed to many different body types, all shapes, sizes, ages and races; real people, enjoying nature.  Nobody seemed to notice or care that others are naked.  I saw what seemed to be 2 grandparents with their teenage granddaughter, a notion a North American would find shocking.  The sauna is a place of health, not judgment.  My stereotypical North American shame about how I look almost interfered with an amazing day of health and relaxation.  The German patrons at the sauna were praising their bodies, and enjoying health, and what their magnificent bodies were able to do for them.  I even took off my bottoms, and swam in the nude.  This moment was a turning point for me; I thanked my Maker for making me who I am, and giving me the healthy body I am so blessed to have.

Hydrotherapy is such a primal, simple, natural healing modality; humans have such a connection with water, that we are made of so many water molecules, and that fluid makes up much of our being is indeed the best evidence for its use for our health and well-being!

So get out there and get sweating! Happy Schwitzen!

Amber Merrick in field in Germany

By Dr. Amber Merrick, N.D.

How did I get here…and what the heck is “Freizeit”??

What’s in a name? Some are meaningless tags; inherent in some are vast warehouses of information. Can you always judge a book by the cover? In this case…perhaps!

Dame der Freizeit (dah-meh dair frai-tsait), translated into German is “lady of free-time”, or as North Americans would call it, “Lady of Leisure”. The name conjures up images of ladies lunching, playing tennis and donning ornate chapeaus. The type of person with much free time on their hands for self-care, pampering, and fabulous lunches with their equally fabulous friends. So how did this woman, a naturopathic doctor, and type A workaholic come to be a lady of leisure in Germany? Well, here is my story…

As a naturopath, my goal in life is to help my patients live the healthiest and happiest life they can. My treatment recommendations are often assisting my patients achieve balance in their lives. A balance of work, life, rest and play. More often than not, however, many of us, naturopaths not exempt, have a skewed relationship with the notion of balance. Putting work ahead of everything else. For myself, in particular, as a person who can also never say no, free time seemed like a fairy tale to me. A wonderful ideal that I KNOW is good for health, and very good for my patients; something I could eventually work towards. If I worked hard enough, had a busy practice, paid off my student debt, car, mortgage, office equipment, etc…then I DESERVED some free time. Time to relax and do all of the things I’ve always wanted with my life. Things like extensive travel, to broaden my horizons, and seek peace within myself. I wouldn’t have time for these things until my life was “settled” and my “business was successful” and I was “financially sound”. It may sound hectic and unachievable, but I don’t think it’s a notion that differs much from the opinion of most North Americans. Always striving for the “next thing”, always wanting better. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with this opinion; self-improvement is a worthy goal, and helps us get up in the morning. However, before any of us is truly “happy”, we feel there is so much more to do and to achieve. By the time we accomplish all of our “goals”, our life is winding down, we blinked and 20 years have flown by. What do we have to show for it? Hopefully some memories and meaningful relationships, but if our life lacks balance, many of life’s more fruitful opportunities may have slipped through our fingers.

When the opportunity to travel to Germany for 3 months with my partner presented itself, my gut reaction was “Well, no…I have a practice to run, patients to see, I’m just getting busy, I have bills to pay…etc…”. Despite always wanting to travel the world, and truly experience another way of living, I was afraid to give up what I was working towards…But the more I thought about it, I wasn’t sure what I was working towards anymore…what were my life goals again? What would I want to say about my life 50 years from now? Would missing 3 months of work, in the grand scheme of things, really be that important? So, I decided to go! Now is the time, for me to learn and grow, and face my fears. Did I hear conflicting opinions?…yes…was I afraid my patients would not return to me after my leave?…yes…was I afraid that I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills if I took time off?…yes…but was I afraid of passing up this potentially once in a lifetime opportunity?…YES. I don’t want to live a life of regret, so off I went, and flew to Germany.

Upon arriving, one can clearly see the balance inherent in the German lifestyle. They absolutely take care of business, as their international reputation for hard work and ingenuity precedes them. However, they really know how to live life too. Often taking two-hour lunches, walking and biking everywhere, Wandern (hiking), casual beers or cake and coffee with friends and family; working to live and not the other way around.

So I’ve decided to use the time to live a life of leisure; to learn what I can from the German lifestyle, and to learn something new about myself. I am here to relax, learn from local doctors, naturopaths, and local German people about how to balance work and life, how to relax, and ultimately live a life worth living! I am also going to share this information with you. So you too can slow down a bit, and incorporate some “Freizeit” into your lives as well.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” – John Lennon

Lazy Days – Never Feel Guilty Again!
avocado halves on plate
Low Fat Diets: the Myth That’s Hurting our Health
Is there any truth to an aphrodisiac?
Amber Merrick eating a happy meal at German McDonalds
Kale at McDonald’s? What is this world coming to??
Amber Merrick as zombie doctor on Halloween
How to enjoy the Tricks AND TREATS this Halloween, while avoiding Type 2 Diabetes
plate with cured meat, cheese, and pickles
Can I still eat bacon? A Naturopathic Perspective on the recent WHO colon cancer findings
You want me to swallow what??
Dr. Huneke and Neural Therapy
The German Sauna…and my exploration of public nudity!
Amber Merrick in field in Germany
How did I get here…and what the heck is “Freizeit”??