Self-Care During the Holidays

SelfCare

The holidays can be hectic and stressful for a lot of us, but don’t forget to carve out some time for yourself to rest, rebalance, and restore.

And if your mind draws a blank when it comes to ideas, here is a great article on Hygge (a Scandinavian word to describe coziness and moments of small comforts) to get you started. Why not challenge yourself to 30 days of hygge this winter?

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Loving Kindness: Shining Light on the Shadows

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I have heard from many people in the past few weeks who are struggling with significant fatigue and depression. Although these feelings are common any time of year, they seem particularly heightened lately. I suspect that this has to do with many factors afoot in the world right now.

In Autumn, as the days get shorter and the nights get longer, it is naturally a time of going inward. As we watch the seasons change and the abundance of spring and summer fades into the stillness of winter, we can be reminded of our own mortality and the fragility of life. And in the stillness when we reflect on our lives, we might not always like what we see. When our expectations for ourselves and others do not align with reality this can cause great stress.

We are also nearing the end of a bitter election season, where much ugliness and turmoil has been brought to the surface. As we wait to see what is in store for our country, there seems to be a great deal of fear and distrust on all sides.

Now, more than ever, it is a good time to work on understanding, accepting, and ultimately transforming shadows. Shadows are those parts of ourselves that we dislike, the parts that embarrass us, the parts that frighten us. These shadows are also seen in the larger world in the form of hatred and violence. One of my favorite ways to deal with shadows is with a practice called Meta, also known as Loving Kindness Meditation. This is a wonderful way to shine light on ourselves, our loved ones, and even those we may consider enemies.

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

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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

 

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The Equinox and Striving for Balance

FallEquinox2016.pngToday is the Autumn Equinox and it has me thinking about balance.

The equinox is a single moment in time, which occurred today at 7:21am PST. The equinox happens twice a year and it is the moment when the Sun shines directly on the Equator and the length of daylight and nighttime darkness is equal.

Similarly, balance is not a quality that we can reside in, because it can never really exist for more than a moment. Whether we are talking about balancing lightness and darkness, happiness and sadness, health and sickness, or strength and weakness; we may strive for balance but it often seems just out of reach. Cultivating balance is a life-long practice and it requires patience, and ultimately compassion and forgiveness. We will never find a state of perfection and so we must keep moving forward toward an ever-changing target, always adapting to a new reality and letting go of our past expectations.

What Makes You Come Alive?

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Have I mentioned how much I love being a naturopathic doctor? It’s amazing to watch the transformations that people make in their lives to optimize happiness and health! Sometimes the best prescription is finding out what makes you happy, and then going out and doing it. Spring is the perfect time to try something new!

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

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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.

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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.

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Interval Training for Health and Wellness

runningWhether you are looking to loose weight, improve your cardiovascular health, or build aerobic endurance, interval training may be a good place for you to start.

Note: If you have never exercised before, or if you have heart disease, asthma, COPD, or another medical condition, you should consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

What is Interval Training?

Interval training is simply alternating quick bursts of high intensity activity with intervals of light activity or rest. Interval training is an easy way to get in an effective work out in a short amount of time and there are many ways to individualize and modify a regimen depending on your fitness level. If you are already very fit, this might look like incorporating sprints into your jogging routine. Or you might incorporate a slow jog into a walk. Or if you are less fit, you can start by incorporating intervals of fast walking into a slow walk.

What are the potential benefits?

  • Increased weight loss
  • Improved aerobic capacity and endurance
  • Improved blood pressure
  • Improved function of the heart

Exercising intensely for even short periods of time encourages your body to burn more calories. Studies also show that short bursts of high intensity exercise are more effective at promoting endurance than prolonged periods of medium intensity exercise.

Tips for a successful work out

  • Know your target heart rate – For most people the target heart rate is 50-85% of their calculated maximal heart rate. The maximal heart rate is calculated from the formula: (220-Your Age). It is helpful to use a heart rate monitor during exercise to see if you are in your optimal and safe target heart rate range.
  • Warm up first – Before beginning an interval work out, warm up your joints and muscle with circular movements, jumping jacks, or a slow jog.
  • Start slow – Exercise intensely for 20 seconds and then slow down for 40-60 seconds to recover. You will know that you have hit your peak exercise intensity when your breathing becomes faster and it is challenging to speak in complete sentences. As you become more fit you can increase your intervals of high intensity activity but keep them short, ideally 20-60 seconds per interval. If you feel you need a harder work out, you can also add light weights but make sure that you do so safely.
  • Increase your repetitions to build endurance – Start your exercise program doing as many repetitions as you comfortably can and then try to beat this the next time. Increasing your number of repetitions will help increase your aerobic endurance.
  • Take time to rest – Interval training is best done 2 to 3 times per week, but not on consecutive days. Giving your body breaks will give it time to adequately recover so you’ll be ready for the next work out.

Resources:

Sunscreen Safety Tips

vw-camperNow that the weather is beginning to warm up, it’s time again to think about sunscreens. There are a lot of options on the market, but they are not all created equal. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group maintains a helpful listing of the brands that contain the least toxic ingredients while still proving effective sun protection.

Here are some general tips to keep you and your family healthy and happy in the sun:

  • Choose an SPF between 20 and 50

A sunscreen with an SPF less than 20 is unlikely to be very effective, but a higher SPF (i.e. above 50) usually means more chemicals without much added sun protection. SPF is an abbreviation for sun protection factor and only refers to protection against UVB rays that burn the skin. However, it is UVA rays that cause skin aging and can promote skin cancer. High SPF sunscreens can give you a false sense of protection, because although they may keep you from burning, they don’t necessarily protect you from skin cancer causing UVA rays.

  • Apply it correctly!

Sunscreen only works if you use it right. To be effective mostly sunscreen needs to be applied 15 to 20 minutes before sun exposure and should be reapplied at least every 2 hours. Even if you choose a “Sport” or “Water Resistant” variety sunscreen needs to be reapplied after 80 minutes of swimming or vigorous exercise that causes you to sweat. You also need to reapply immediately after towel drying.

  • Skip the sprays

Spray sunscreens may seem like easy, hassle-free options, but they make it difficult to tell if they are being applied correctly and they pose potential inhalation risks.

  • Avoid toxic chemicals

Specifically, steer clear of: oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, and retinyl palmitate. The Environmental Working Group provides a good explanation of why these ingredients are best avoided. Instead of chemical sunscreens, look for mineral based options that contain zinc oxide, a natural ingredient that protects against dangerous UVA rays.

  • Avoid sun exposure during the hottest hours of the day

If at all possible, avoid prolonged exposure during the times of day when the sun is directly overhead, usually 12-3pm. This will help protect skin from aging and damage that could increase your risk of skin cancer.

Natural Ways to Fight the Flu

frosty winter leafIs it just me, or does the flu always seems to come at the worst times? The illness we call the flu is caused by a number of influenza viruses. This year’s flu  may be especially bad, with lots of high fevers, body aches, and a productive cough. Unfortunately, the flu vaccine that’s currently available appears to only be about 10% effective. Fortunately, there are some natural ways that you can keep you and your family healthy and flu-free this season.

Preventing the Flu, Naturally!

The best strategy for health is always prevention. Here are some easy things you can do to build a strong foundation of health:

  • Get Plenty of Rest!
    • Sleep is your body’s chance to repair and heal and we all need to get plenty of sleep to allow this natural process to happen. Most children need about 12 hours of sleep each night, adolescents need about 9 or 10 hours, and adults need 7 to 8 hours to function optimally.
  • Eat Well!
    • Have you ever heard the saying, “You are what you eat”? For the immune system to function properly we need to give it the building blocks that it needs to do its job. This means getting plenty of protein and fresh fruits and vegetables.
      • Protein is needed to make sufficient antibodies. A good rule of thumb is to base your daily protein needs on your weight. Most healthy people should aim to eat 0.35g of protein per pound that they weigh. For example, someone who weighs 100lb would need 35g of protein and someone who weighs 150lb should eat about 52g of protein every day.
      • Fresh fruits and vegetables contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help keep our bodies healthy and functioning properly. A daily goal for most healthy adults is 1 to 2 servings of fresh fruit and 4 to 6 servings of vegetables every day.
      • A healthy diet should also contain good sources of fat and carbohydrates and be low in processed, sugary foods. Examples of some of the healthiest fats include: olives; nuts; seeds; fish; avocados; free-range poultry and eggs; grass-fed beef and lamb; and coconut, olive, or avocado oil. Healthy sources of carbohydrates include: whole grains (i.e. quinoa, oats, millet, whole wheat, spelt, barley) and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, and winter squashes.
    • Don’t Smoke Cigarettes
      • Tobacco smoke irritates the cells of the respiratory tract and may make you more susceptible to infections.
    • Hygiene
      • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough
      • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water

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Natural Treatments for Flu Season

Sometimes prevention just isn’t enough. If you do get sick this cold and flu season there are many things you can do to soothe your symptoms and shorten their duration, while also giving your body a general immune boost.

  • Vitamin C
    • Regular supplementation of Vitamin C may help to prevent and reduce the severity and duration of cold. This effect seems to be greatest in people undergoing physical stress (i.e. strenuous exercise) and in children. Vitamin C is less effective if it is started after cold symptoms have already begun.
    • Common dosages:
      • Dosages for children 1-3 years old: 250mg
      • Dosages for children 4-13 years old: 500mg
      • Dosages for most adults and children 14 and older: 1000-2000mg per day
    • Caution: Excess Vitamin C can cause digestive upset and diarrhea; do not exceed recommended dosages.
  • Vitamin D3
    • There are receptors for Vitamin D on most cells in our body, making it important for a wide variety of normal functions. Vitamin D is also needed for appropriate T lymphocyte function, a key way that our immune systems protect us from viral illnesses.
    • Although Vitamin D comes in two forms, D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol), Vitamin D3 is the form of the vitamin that is more easily absorbed.
    • Common dosage ranges:
      • Dosages for children 1-3 years old: 400IU
      • Dosages for children 4-13 years old: 800-1000IU
      • Dosages for most adults and children 14 and older: 1000-2000IU per day
    • Caution: Vitamin D is fat-soluble so it is stored in the body for long periods of time. Because of this, it is important not to take high doses of the vitamin for long periods of time unless recommended by a health care professional due to deficiency. If you haven’t had your Vitamin D levels checked, it’s a good idea to do this at least once a year.
  • Zinc
    • Zinc is an essential trace mineral needed for structural integrity (i.e. skin and bones), growth and development, reproduction, and neurological function, and is essential for normal functioning of the immune system.
    • Zinc plays a role in the normal development and function of cells that mediate both innate immune responses (i.e. the immunity we are born with) and adaptive immunity (i.e. acquired immunity to specific targets).
    • Zinc may reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms when started within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. Zinc should be continued until symptoms have completely resolved.
    • Supplementation with zinc may also reduce the incidence of lower respiratory infections, like pneumonia, which can follow the flu.
    • Common dosage ranges:
      • Dosages for infants 0-6 months: 2 to 4mg/day
      • Dosages for infants 7-12 months: 3 to 5mg/day
      • Dosages for children 1-3 years: 3 to 7mg/day
      • Dosages for children 4-8 years: 5 to 10mg/day
      • Dosages for children 9-13 years: 8 to 20mg/day
      • Dosages for adolescents 14-16 years: 10 to 25mg/day
      • Dosages for adults 19 and over: 10 to 30mg/day
    • Caution: You should avoid long-term supplementation of high doses of zinc (i.e. in excess the recommended doses below), as this can result in a copper deficiency.
  • Echinacea
    • Echinacea is one of our most studied herbs and for good reason. This beautiful native flower has profound effects on the immune system. Extracts of Echinacea were shown to be as effective as the pharmaceutical anti-viral Oseltamivir in treating influenza, and with significantly less side effects.
    • There are many strains of Echinacea available, but the variety that has been shown to have the greatest effect on the immune system is Echinacea angustifolia. Echinacea purpurea has also been studied for its ability to support immune functions. Look for either of these varieties when you are choosing supplements!
  • Black Elderberry
    • Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has been traditionally used for centuries to prevent and treat respiratory infections. It is especially useful for preventing and treating viruses and studies have shown that Elderberry extracts may actually block the influenza virus from attaching to the cells of the respiratory tract. Elderberry also helps to boost our immune systems by increasing the activity of certain immune cells and their messaging systems.
  • Probiotics

Wishing you all a healthy and happy 2018!

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