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.

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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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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.

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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.

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What is Naturopathic Medicine?

echinaceaNaturopathic medicine is a distinct system of medicine that supports the body’s ability to heal itself using natural, safe, and effective remedies. The roots of naturopathy reach all the way back to Hippocrates, whose philosophy was based on vis medicatrix naturae, the healing power of nature. Naturopathy has been influenced by homeopathy, traditional western herbalism, the nineteenth-century nature cure movement, and the Eclectic movement. It beautifully blends traditional healing practices with modern diagnostics and evidence-based medicine.

Licensed naturopathic doctors study at accredited four year medical schools that cover the same type of basic sciences, specialties, and clinical sciences that medical doctors study. In addition, they also study clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, psychology, and physical medicine, all with an emphasis on disease prevention.

Naturopaths have an exceptional array of powerful tools with which to treat their patients. In many states naturopaths can order labs and x-rays, perform minor surgery, use manipulative therapies to realign the musculoskeletal system, and prescribe herbs, supplements, homeopathic remedies, and some pharmaceuticals.  Naturopaths are taught to treat patients using a specific therapeutic order, using the safest and most effective treatments possible in order to minimize side-effects and unnecessary suppression of body processes.

Naturopaths also believe in the importance of preventative care and are trained to optimize wellness as well as to treat disease. They are thus uniquely able to treat many of the chronic conditions that are common today, such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain, and autoimmune disease. Rather than simply palliating symptoms, naturopathy seeks to find the underlying physical, emotional, and spiritual imbalances that brought about the disease.

Uncovering the true root of disease can take time and naturopaths typically spend forty-five minutes to an hour with their patients during each visit. Naturopathy looks at the whole person, seeing each person within the context of their families, communities, and unique life experiences to offer truly individualized care. Through counseling, nutrition, and lifestyle changes, the body can regain its vitality and return to a state of health.

For More Information:

Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges

American Association of Naturopathic Physicians