Top 10 Herbs for Healthy Kids

Looking for alternatives to over the counter pain relievers, decongestants, and cough syrups for your kids? Herbal remedies have been safely used for thousands of years to treat common ailments from cold and flu to upset stomach. Herbs can be especially great for kids, but not all herbs are safe for children. Children are more sensitive to medications than adults and respond well to gentle and mild remedies. Here are a list of my 10 absolute favorite herbs to have in your family’s medicine closet!

1. Chamomile

chamomile-flowersChamomile (Matricaria chamomilla, Matricaria recutita) is a star children’s herb and has historically been used for everything from colds, teething, colic, indigestion, restlessness, anxiety, and irritability. It is the perfect herb for cranky infants and toddlers who are in pain and can’t get to sleep. Chamomile has a mild sweet flavor with just a hint of bitterness. In part, it’s the bitter flavor that helps to relieve gas pain and digestive upset. Chamomile tea is readily available from many grocery and natural health stores. A small amount of honey can be added for children over 12 months to make the tea even tastier. Chamomile tea is generally considered safe, even in infants (6 months and older). Because Chamomile is in the Asteraceae (i.e. daisy) family, it shouldn’t be given to anyone with an allergy to other species in this family.

2. Echinacea

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustofolia) is a superb immune herb and can be used both orally and topically to treat and prevent infections. Echinacea is most useful for treating infections when used at the first sign of illness. You can find Echinacea in tea, tincture, glycerite, and even chewable tablet form. You can also use Echinacea tea or tincture to clean cuts and scrapes, but if you think a wound might be infected or if the wound was caused by a bite (human or animal) you should always seek medical attention.

3. California Poppy137_1050

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a very gentle and safe herb to calm the nervous system. It’s useful for restlessness, ADD/ADHD, pain, and sleeplessness. Although related to other types of poppies, California Poppy is a different species from the Papaver varieties and does NOT contain opium. California Poppy is best used in children over the age of 2 years.

4. Peppermint

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is a tasty medicinal and culinary herb. It supports healthy digestion, relieves gas pain, and can even slow down bouts of diarrhea. Peppermint can also be used to soothe fever or relieve congestion. Peppermint is best used in children over the age of 2 years. My favorite form of peppermint is as a tea. A small amount of honey can be added for taste. Honey can also help to calm cough and studies have shown that it’s more effective than over-the-counter cough syrups.

5. Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis) has a refreshing lemony mint flavor and is calming to both the digestive and nervous systems. It can be useful for colic, stomach upset, restlessness, anxiety, irritability, and fever. In folk medicine, Melissa is often referred to as the Gladdening Herb. You can use lemon balm as a tea, tincture, or glycerite. Lemon balm is also easy to grow in your home garden!

6. Elderberry

elderberriesElderberry (Sambucus nigra) is a powerful immune booster and natural anti-viral. Because it’s also a food, elderberry is gentle enough to take daily during cold and flu season to prevent illness. Studies have even shown Elderberry to be effective at fighting the H1N1 flu virus (aka “Swine Flu”). Elderberry has a sweet, pleasant, fruity flavor that most kids love. Syrup of the cooked fruit is my favorite way to take this amazing medicine, although it’s also available in other forms including tablets, gummies, tinctures, glycerites, and powdered drinks.

7. Calendula

calendula

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a perfect herb to have in your first aid kit. It’s very soothing to the skin and helps to reduce inflammation and kill germs. Calendula is commonly used to heal diaper rashes, minor burns, and cuts and scrapes. Calendula tincture can be applied topically to small wounds. For sensitive or very irritated skin, you can use a calendula cream or salve.

8. Mullein

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is a common plant found growing wild in many gardens and roadside areas. Mullein is often used in tincture form to soothe dry, irritated coughs. The oil of mullein leaves and flowers can also be used to relieve the pain of ear aches. Commercial preparations of mullein oil often have added garlic and/or St. John’s Wort to improve effectiveness.

NOTE: Don’t use ear oils or other over-the-counter products if the ear drum has ruptured. Because of the risk of complications, I always recommend seeing a medical professional for any suspected ear infection.

9. Thyme

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a lovely respiratory herb that is also anti-microbial (i.e. it kills germs). The fresh or dried herb can be made into a tea to relieve cough and congestion or you can add a few sprigs to a pot of hot water to use as a decongestant steam inhalation.

10. Nettle Leaf

stingingnettleThe leaves of the stinging nettle plant (Urtica dioca) are high in protein and minerals and are nourishing to many systems in the body. Freeze-dried nettles or strong nettle tea can be effective for relieving seasonal allergy symptoms. Nettle acts as a mast-cell stabilizer, reducing the release of histamine in the body. For children you can open up nettle capsules into applesauce or combine nettle powder with nut butter and honey to make medicine balls.

NOTE: If you’re collecting your own nettles, make sure they are from a clean location because this plant can absorb heavy metals from the soil.

Herbal Medicine in Children

It’s worth saying that although the herbs mentioned above are generally regarded as safe every child is different and no medication, herbal or otherwise, is right for every body. Talk with a licensed naturopathic physician or integrative medical doctor about appropriate herbs and dosages for your child’s age, weight, and health conditions.

Herbal Definitions

  • Tea: Herbs steeped in hot water to extract the taste and medicinal properties. For bulk herbs, use 1 heaping tablespoon in 8 oz of boiling water.
  • Tincture: A medicinal liquid herbal extract made from steeping plant material in alcohol and then straining.
  • Glycerite: A non-alcoholic liquid herbal extract made from vegetable glycerine. Many children’s formulas are glycerites rather than tinctures. Glycerites have a naturally sweet flavor.
  • Syrup: A concentrated extract made by boiling juice with added sugar or honey.
  • Salve: A thick ointment used to promote healing of the skin. Salves often contain oils, herbal extracts, and beeswax and are for topical use only.

Selected Resources for Further Reading

 

Save

Save

Advertisements

Naturopathic Pediatrics: Holistic Health for Kids and Families

I am excited to announce that I am now a contributing writer for the wonderful website Naturopathic Pediatrics! Naturopathic Pediatrics is an online resource filled with natural health tips for the whole family, all written by licensed naturopathic doctors who are experts at treating children with natural medicine. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do! You are bound to find lots of useful information from how to treat fevers without Tylenol to how you can safely use essential oils with your child. And while you’re there you can read my latest article, “MTHFR: The Link Between ADD/ADHD, Folate, and Genetics“. Find out why issues with folate metabolism may play a key role in managing ADD and ADHD in kids and adults.

Baby_Face

Save

Save

Adressing Concerns About Folate And Autism

folic acidHave you seen the frightening headlines saying that high folate levels in pregnant mothers are associated with an increased risk of their child having Autism? Once again, there is so much more to the story than meets the eye.

1) This is only a preliminary study and it looked at blood levels of folate, NOT how much folate a woman was taking while pregnant. The evidence associating high levels are folate and Autism is premature and the real story is much more complicated than the study from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health  suggests.

2) High levels of folate in the blood are often related to slow metabolism of folic acid. Slow folic acid metabolism is linked to a number of genetic mutations collectively called MTHFR, which we already know are associated with an increased risk for Autism. The MTHFR mutation is VERY common and may affect up up 40% of Caucasians. MTHFR mutations are also associated with a higher risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, ADHD, neurological disorders, migraines, miscarriage, infertility, lymphoma, and leukemia.

3) Women are told to take folic acid in pregnancy  to prevent birth defects, but if they have an MTHFR mutation they will be less able to utilize this form of the vitamin. When folic acid is not properly activated and used by the body for normal functions it is more likely to hang around in the blood, showing up as high serum folate. To complicate matters even more, many processed foods (bread, tortillas, crackers, protein bars, energy drinks, etc.) are fortified with folic acid. This was a public health decision that has successfully decreased neural tube defects like spina bifida, but may be detrimental to the many people with MTHFR mutations.

4) Fortunately there are forms of folate (and other B vitamins) that people with MTHFR can properly metabolize. Folate is extremely important for blood cell development, neurotransmitter function, and detoxification pathways.

5) I recommend that all women who are considering pregnancy be tested for MTHFR mutations so that they can start appropriate supplements before they become pregnant.

Just to reiterate, high levels of folic acid in the bloodstream are most likely the result of a genetic mutation associated with autism and are NOT the cause of Autism.

pregnancy

Save

Save

Get Rid of Seasonal Allergies…Naturally!

butterfly-flowerSeasonal allergies, hay fever, pollen allergy, allergic rhinitis; whatever you call it, the symptoms of swollen and itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and brain fog can be miserable!

Did you know that the best time to start managing seasonal allergy symptoms is before they begin?

Although there are some geographical differences, pollen counts typically rise in spring followed by another surge in fall. For many areas of the country February is the perfect time to start getting your body ready for the seasonal assault to come.

What are Allergies?

Allergies are a reaction by your immune system to substances that it considers foreign, but that aren’t actually harmful. When your body encounters an allergen for the first time it produces antibodies (IgE) that that are specific to the harmless substance. The next time that you encounter the allergen, these IgE antibodies signal to mast cells in your body to release histamine and other inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals then cause the characteristic signs and symptoms of hay fever: runny nose, itchy eyes, sore throat, fatigue, cough, brain fog, etc. In large amounts, histamine can also cause your airways to constrict, which is what happens in asthma.

Why do Allergies Develop?

natural_allergy_reliefOkay, it’s time for a metaphor: Imagine that your body is a bucket that can only hold so much. Everything that goes into the bucket needs to be processed in some way, either to make it into something useful or to allow the substance to be properly eliminated. Many of these functions and metabolic pathways require certain nutrients, called co-factors, in order to operate smoothly. If your bucket becomes filled up with things that require a lot of processing these co-factors can get used up, slowing down the pathways and making it challenging to deal with new things as they come in. When this happens it can cause a state of generalized inflammation. Higher numbers of circulating inflammatory chemicals in your body can set off a spiral of additional inflammatory reactions and you may start to have an exaggerated response to things that aren’t truly threatening (like pollen). This is called the “bucket theory”, and although it is an over-simplification, it may help explain why seasonal allergies occur.

Natural Ways to Decrease Seasonal Allergies

So, what can you do? The basic idea is to put things into your body that are healthy and easy to process, while limiting things that are challenging to process. Substances like alcohol, wheat, sugar, and dairy tend to be inflammatory for most people and can add to your body’s overall burden. You may feel better if you limit or avoid these foods. An elimination diet can also help you discover the specific foods that your body is sensitive to, which may be aggravating your seasonal allergy symptoms. Dr. Aviva Romm also has a great article that explains how improving your digestive health can help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms.

The products that you put on your body and use in your home can also make a big difference. Try to use products that are natural and free of toxic chemicals to reduce your body’s overall burden. Check out the amazing resources at the Environmental Working Group to find non-toxic beauty and household products.

Reducing Exposure to Allergens

netipot

During allergy season you may find that you are more comfortable if you sleep with the windows closed to limit the amount of pollen that gets into your house. You can also look for a high quality air filter to help purify the air. Taking a shower before bed can also help by rinsing off the pollen that you have come into contact with all day so that it doesn’t continue to irritate your body during the hours while you sleep.

Saline nasal rinses like a Neti pot or NeilMed can also be effective for managing seasonal allergies. Saline rinses literally wash the sinus passages and can remove pollen and irritants. If you want to make your own saline solution, be careful to always use distilled or sterilized water. Regular tap water may contain small amounts of bacteria, protozoa, or other contaminants that are dangerous to introduce into your sinus passages.

Desensitizing Your Body to Allergens

Through the use of allergy shots, Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)), or homeopathic remedies, it may be possible to gradually reduce your body’s sensitivity to pollen and other allergies. These type of therapies should always be done under medical supervision and may not be suitable for people with anaphylactic type reactions. If you’d like more information on desensitization therapies for allergies, consult an allergist, or a licensed naturopathic doctor trained in homeopathy.

Natural Vitamins and Herbs to Relieve Allergy Symptoms

There are many wonderful natural therapies to reduce histamine and relieve allergy symptoms:

  • Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica): The same plant that is the bane of many hikers is also a nutritious and effective way to lower histamine. Stinging nettle stabilizes mast cells  so that they are less likely to dump their histamine and make you miserable. The most effective form of the plant is the freeze-dried variety, usually found in capsules. Drinking strong hot water infusions can also be effective, with the added bonus of providing a number of healthy minerals.
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is important for normal immune function. It is also a natural anti-histamine and may help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms.
  • Quercetin: Quercetin is an anti-inflammatory plant pigment that helps reduce the production and release of histamine.
  • N-Acetyl Cysteine (N.A.C.): N.A.C. is an amino acid that has profound effects on detoxification and the respiratory system. N.A.C. is a natural decongestant that thins mucus to reduce congestion. N.A.C. also naturally boosts glutathione, which aids in detoxification pathways.

If you’d like help with a comprehensive and individualized health plan to address your allergies and other health concerns, schedule an appointment with me at Hillsboro Naturopathic Clinic.

cropped-field-flowers-yellow-agriculture.jpg

Disclaimer: This article is purely informational. It is not meant to represent a treatment, prevention, or cure for a specific disease or health condition and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen. Please never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Save

Save

Save

Change Your Diet, Transform Your Life

healthy-cup-fruits-raspberries.jpgA recent article written by Danielle Walker, author of the popular Paleo cookbook, Against All Grain, tells an inspiring story of how she completely turned around her health and her life through dietary changes. Walker suffered from a debilitating digestive illness called Ulcerative Colitis and found herself in constant pain and unable to care for her family. After working with a naturopathic doctor and eliminating grains, dairy, refined sugars, and other foods that she was sensitive to, she was able to get off her medications and prevent surgeries and further hospitalizations.

paleo-healthy-dietThe Paleo diet has gotten a lot of attention in the popular press lately and it can be easy to dismiss as simply one more fad diet. The basic premise of Paleo is to eat unprocessed whole foods and to avoid grains, dairy, and other foods that tend to promote inflammation. Inflammation in the body can cause chronic pain and has been shown to trigger a myriad of chronic diseases. I have personally seen the benefits of the Paleo diet in people with autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). By replacing inflammatory foods with healthy, whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, lean protein, and good fats, you can build a strong foundation of health and wellness.

Dietary changes unfortunately aren’t usually a quick fix and it can take months of sticking to a new plan before the true results become obvious. However, with patience and motivation, the benefits of diet are often profound and long lasting.

I often recommend a basic whole-foods-based diet like the Whole30, which cuts out sugar, diary, alcohol, grains, legumes, and processed foods in favor of vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat, nuts, and seeds. Although it is billed as a 30 day detox and diet plan, many people find that they feel so well eating this way that they incorporate these changes into their long-term eating choices.

Some people with autoimmune diseases find that they feel best when they also avoid tree nuts and vegetables in the nightshade family (i.e. peppers, eggplant, potatoes, and tomatoes). Although these foods do not cause inflammation in everyone, some people find that they don’t tolerate them well, especially when their disease is in a flare. This diet is called the autoimmune paleo protocol, and although it can be challenging to stick to, many people experience a significant decrease in pain and other symptoms when they follow it.

There are many variations on healthy, whole-foods-based diets. If you are interested in finding an individualized diet plan to help you feel your best, consider working with a naturopathic doctor or a nutritionist who is trained in whole-foods nutrition. Practitioners who are trained in nutrition can help make sure that you are eating a balanced diet with sufficient nutrients.

producebasket.jpg

Disclaimer: This article is purely informational. It is not meant to represent a treatment, prevention, or cure for a specific disease or health condition and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen. Please never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Healthy Strategies for Cancer Prevention

With all the talk in the news lately about meat causing cancer (spoiler alert: the increased risk is minimal), it seems like a good time to look at the role that diet and lifestyle can play in cancer prevention. Cancer has become an epidemic in the United States. Recent statistics from the American Cancer Society estimate a lifetime risk of developing cancer at 1 in 2 for males and 1 in 3 for females. The likelihood of dying from cancer is approximately 1 in 4 for males and 1 in 5 for females.

Cancer is undiscriminating and there is often no rhyme or reason to why some people develop cancers and others do not. Genetics and predisposition play a big role in some cancers, but there are also many things you can do every day to decrease your risk.

Optimize Your Diet:

healthy-diet-cancer-preventionWhen it comes to diet, it is important to taste the rainbow! Eating a variety of fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits provides many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants with potent health benefits. Foods of different colors tend to have different types of these nutrients, so be sure to add a variety of different colors to your plate.

Choose fruits and vegetables that are lower in carbohydrates and high in potent antioxidants called flavonoids. One type of flavonoid that has received a lot of attention for cancer prevention is a group of blue and purple pigments called Anthocyanins that are found in red grapes, blackberries, blueberries, plums, cranberries, and red cabbage. Typically the brighter or darker the color, the more cancer fighting potential it has.

Fiber is also very important when it comes to cancer prevention. There are two main forms of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is the kind that attracts water and makes things slimy (like flax, chia, oats, and psyllium). Insoluble fiber is often called “roughage” and is found in green vegetables, lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds. Fiber is like a scrub brush for the intestines and rids your body of toxins and excess blood sugar, cholesterol, and hormones, all of which helps to prevent certain types of cancer.

Move Your Body:

exercise-cancer-preventionResearch has found that increased physical activity is correlated to a lower incidence of many types of cancer including colon, lung, breast, uterine, and prostate cancers. A good goal for most people is 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity. Exercise also significantly improves cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels, and mood. You should exercise at a level of your safe target heart rate and talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Vitamin D:

Optimizing your vitamin D status is one of the easiest things you can do to prevent cancer. If you’ve never had your Vitamin D levels tested, there’s no better time than the present. Supplementing Vitamin D to get your blood levels in an optimum range of 40-70 ng/mL can decrease your risk of breast, colon, ovarian, or prostate cancer by as much as 50 percent.

Avoid Toxic Cleaning and Beauty Products:

natural-nontoxic-makeupHousehold cleaners and beauty products are often full of chemicals known to be carcinogenic (i.e. cancer causing) and endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with your body’s natural hormones. Many endocrine disruptors mimic estrogen and may increase the risk for certain hormonal cancers like breast and ovarian cancers. One major endocrine disruptor is Dioxin, which is a byproduct of the bleaching process and found in many feminine hygiene products. Another potent endocrine disruptor is BPA, a component of many plastics and food and drink containers.

For yourself and your family, choose natural home cleaning products or make your own using simple ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. The Environmental Working Group maintains amazing resources for finding non-toxic household products and cosmetics.

Don’t Use Tobacco:

Tobacco causes more than just lung cancer. It also increases your risk of head and neck, stomach, kidney, bladder, pancreatic, ovarian, and cervical cancers. Quitting can be hard, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are many medications, supplements, and acupuncture treatments that may make it easier to quit.

wellness-naturopath

Disclaimer: This article is purely informational and is not meant to represent a treatment, prevention, or cure for a specific disease or health condition and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Save

Celebrating Naturopathic Medicine

October 5th-11th is Naturopathic Medicine Week!

Are you curious about personalized healthcare that honors your body’s innate ability to heal? This poster sums up what naturopathic primary care is all about.

NatMedWeek2015Schedule an appointment with Dr. Cori Burke to see how an integrative approach to health can help you and your family.

Hawthorn for Heart Health!

IMGHawthorn is one of my favorite medicinal plants. It is a beautiful tree with uniquely shaped leaves that belongs to the rose family. In the spring, Hawthorne trees come to life with delicate white or pink flowers and in the fall, the trees produce abundant bright red berries. Besides having tremendous aesthetic value, Hawthorn also contains powerful medicinal properties. The leaves, flowers, and berries are strongly nourishing to the heart and the berries has long been used as a food and medicine in Europe and Asia.

Hawthorn is traditionally used as part of an adjunctive treatment for many heart conditions, from high blood pressure, to angina, to congestive heart failure (CHF). Although Hawthorn is not a replacement for medications, the herb may help to strengthen the heart muscle, improve blood flow to the heart, and reduce symptoms related to heart disease.

The Cochrane Heart Group conducted a meta-analysis of studies looking at the use of Hawthorn for individuals with CHF and concluded that there was significant improvement in symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue. They also found that Hawthorn increased cardiac output and exercise tolerance, and decreased the oxygen demands of heart muscle cells. These are all important clinical markers in CHF.

Hawthorn contains large amounts of potent antioxidant flavanoids, helping to protect the heart and cardiovascular system from oxidative stress and inflammation — two of the major components in the development of atherosclerotic plaques (i.e. “hardened arteries”) and myocardial ischemia (a decrease in blood flow to the heart). Hawthorn has also been shown to lower levels of LDL-cholesterol, the type of cholesterol that is most contributory to heart disease.

Hawthorn also increases levels of nitric oxide (NO) and endothelium derived hyperpolarizing factor (EDHF), both of which have an effect in the body of dilating blood vessels. This is likely how Hawthorn is able to help improve blood flow to the heart and reduce systemic blood pressure.

In addition to Hawthorn’s physiologic effects on the heart, it is also said to benefit the emotions of the heart. Many herbalists use Hawthorn to soothe a broken heart and to help people move through stages of grief. Hawthorn may also be useful in episodes of mild, situational depression.

Hawthorn is usually dried and processed into an alcohol extract (tincture), solid extract, or tea. It has a mild, sweet, and slightly astringent flavor.

hawthorne hands

Sources:

Guo, R., Pittler, M., & Ernst, E. (2008). Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Reviews.

Disclaimer: This article is purely informational and is not meant to represent a treatment, prevention, or cure for a specific disease or health condition and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Save

Brazil Nuts and Thyroid Health: Selenium as a Treatment for Autoimmune Thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s)

Do you have hypothyroidism? If so, you are not alone. Depending on the study you look at, hypothyroidism effects between 3% and 10% of the U.S. population. Hypothyroidism is a deficiency of thyroid hormones and is usually caused by under functioning of the thyroid gland. The disorder can cause symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, constipation, cold intolerance, dry skin and hair, hair loss, and irregular menstrual cycles.

ThyroidWhat is the Thyroid?

The thyroid is a small gland located in the front of neck and is a power house for the body. The thyroid gland produces our thyroid hormones, namely triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). T3 and T4 are synthesized from tyrosine, iodine, and various proteins. T3 is the most biologically active form of the hormone and receptors for T3 are located on cells all over the body. Thyroid hormones regulate the body’s metabolic functions, telling our cells how much energy to use, as well as controlling other hormonal systems.

The Thyroid and the HPA axis

Thyroid function is coordinated by two areas in the brain, the anterior pituitary and the hypothalamus. The pituitary gland and hypothalamus are two components of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (i.e. HPA) axis, which also includes the adrenal glands. The HPA axis is a complex relationship of hormones that control many functions in our bodies, including metabolism and reproductive functions.

The hypothalumus is responsible for producing thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), which then stimulates the pituitary gland to release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones, T3 and T4. Normally, this process is a well-oiled machine with many efficient feedback loops, but there is the potential at any point for dysfunction to occur.

Thyroid_system

Causes of Hypothyroidism and Low Thyroid Function

Hypothyroidism is a medical term for low thyroid function. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough T3 and T4 hormones. Most people with hypothyroidism will have elevated levels of TSH because the pituiatry gland will try to trigger the thyroid gland to function normally.

Hypothyroidism can have many causes. In developing countries, the most common cause of hypothyroidism is iodine deficiency. Iodine is a naturally occurring mineral found in many foods including seaweeds, milk and dairy products, fish and seafood, and eggs. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for iodine is 150 mcg for most adults, except for pregnant and breastfeeding women who should consume 200 mcg daily. In the United States and many other countries iodine intake is generally adequate because this nutrient is added to table salt. Therefore, in the U.S. the most common cause of a low functioning thyroid gland is Autoimmune Thyroiditis, also called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

Hashimoto’s and Autoimmune Thyroiditis

Autoimmune diseases occur when the body creates autoantibodies and starts to attack its own tissues, organs, or glands. In Autoimmune Thyroiditis, antibodies may be produced to Thyroid Peroxidase (called Anti-TPO anitbodies) and/or Thyroglobulin (Anti-TG antibodies). Thyroglobulin is the primary protein component of thyroid hormones. Thyroid Peroxidase is an enzyme that helps iodine molecules attach to thyroglobulin in order to make the thyroid hormones T4 and T3. When the body cannot make enough thyroglobulin or thyroid peroxidase, hypothyroidism often occurs.

Unfortunately, we don’t know for sure what causes autoimmune diseases. There is often a genetic component, with some disorders being more common in families. There may also be environmental triggers such as toxic exposures, reactions to medications, or periods of prolonged stress. For most people, there is likely a combination of triggers along with a genetic predisposition that eventually tips the scales in favor of autoimmune reactions.

Treatments for Hypothyroidism

The typical treatment for Hypothyroidism is replacement of one or more of the thyroid hormones. Common medications include Levoythyroxine (containing only T4), USP Glandular Thyroid (containing both T3 and T4), or Liothyronine (only T3).

Selenium as a Treatment for Autoimmune Thyroiditis

Less is known about how to treat the autoimmune process that is taking place in Hashimoto’s, but a promising study published in the Society for Endocrinology shows that moderate supplementation with the nutrient selenium may decrease thyroid antibodies in Autoimmune Thyroiditis. The study showed the most benefit from taking daily selenium doses of 200mcg, which decreased levels of both Anti-TPO and Anti-TG antibodies.

Natural Sources of Selenium

Selenium is naturally found in many foods, although the levels generally reflect the amount of the mineral found in the soil where the food is grown. The best dietary source of selenium is Brazil nuts and eating 3 nuts per day gets you to approximately 200 mcg of selenium. Other sources of selenium include tuna, sardines, ham, shrimp and halibut, but the levels in these foods is much lower. For those with Autoimmune Thyroiditis, selenium may be an important supportive treatment to use in conjunction with thyroid hormone replacement therapies.

brazil nuts

Resources

Vitamin D May Improve Insulin Resistance in Teens

A recent study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that giving Vitamin D to adolescents may improve insulin resistance. The study looked at multiple markers for insulin resistance in obese teens over a 6-month time period. The teens who were supplemented with Vitamin D instead of placebo had significantly lower markers of insulin resistance at the end of the 6-month period. This is important because insulin resistance can lead to other health conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

Vitamin D may improve insulin resistance by helping to reduce inflammation and enhancing the body’s ability to utilize sugars. When blood sugar increases, this normally triggers pancreatic cells to release insulin. It’s insulin’s job to help transport sugar out of the bloodstream and into cells, where it can be used as energy or stored for later. When blood sugar is chronically high, it often leads to chronically elevated insulin. Now, imagine someone constantly knocking at your door. And when you go to open the door, there is a pesky salesperson that you’d rather not talk to. Eventually after this happens day after day, you would probably put in ear plugs or turn up the volume on the music in your house and simply ignore the knocking. This is similar to what the body does when there is chronically high amounts of insulin around–eventually the body stops listening. This situation is called insulin resistance, and it leads to high blood sugar as well as other associated health issues.

There are currently more than 29 million individuals with Type 2 Diabetes in the United States and it is a growing problem in children and teens. The rate of Type 2 Diabetes in adolescents has increased by 30.5 percent between 2001 and 2009. There are many causes for this increase, including lack of access to healthy food and decreased physical activity levels. Compared to previous generations, children today are less likely to be outside playing and more likely to spend their time sitting inside. This may also lead to potential Vitamin D insufficiency, since Vitamin D is naturally synthesized in the skin when it is stimulated by the sun’s UV rays.

Childlookingoutwindow2Children who are not outside regularly should be tested for Vitamin D deficiency, especially if they are overweight. Vitamin D is often lower in overweight individuals because fat tissue sequesters the vitamin. Multiple studies have shown that, when compared to non-obese persons, it takes approximately twice the dose of Vitamin D to increase serum Vitamin D levels the same amount in people who are obese.

Although Vitamin D does not help someone lose weight, it may help protect against some of the potential health issues that can be associated with being overweight. Vitamin D, along with good nutrition and a healthy exercise program, may help to prevent insulin resistance, diabetes, PCOS, and metabolic syndrome.children_playing