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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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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What Makes You Come Alive?

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive..jpg

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!

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.

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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.

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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:

Is it Safe to Eat Fish During Pregnancy?

salmon-dinnerDo you have questions about eating seafood while you’re pregnant? Have you been told to avoid sushi or to be careful about high mercury levels in fish? Moms want nothing more than to protect their kids and to give them a good start in life, and part of that is getting good nutrition during pregnancy. There are tons of lists out there about what to eat or not eat when you’re pregnant and a lot of the advice can be confusing. One of the more controversial items I’ve seen up for debate is fish; to eat or not to eat, and how much is safe to eat if you do eat it?

Seafood and Pregnancy Pros and Cons

So what’s the deal with seafood? On the positive side, seafood and fish are healthy sources of protein, zinc, and iron, along with omega-3 fatty acids that support a growing baby’s brain development. More problematic however is that many fish, especially the larger predatory species, can be full of mercury and other toxins. This is because these animals are higher up on the food chain and they absorb and then bioaccumulate toxins from their own food sources. Mercury is a health concern for humans and when ingested, mercury can cross through the placenta into a fetus’ circulation, causing organ and tissue damage. Mercury especially affects a growing baby’s brain and neurological development. The Environmental Protection Agency states that children exposed to mercury in utero may develop issues with cognition, attention, language, memory, and fine motor and visual spatial skills.

Safe Seafood Options and Portion Sizes

Despite the concerns, most researchers and doctors agree that fish should still be included in a pregnant woman’s diet due to the numerous health benefits this food group provides. Currently the FDA recommends women eat 8 to 12 oz of fish each week during pregnancy. This is equivalent to 2 or 3 portions per week. However, pregnant women (and everyone really!) should be careful to choose fish species that are lowest in mercury content. Good choices of fish that are low in mercury levels include: Wild Alaskan Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Sardines, Anchovies, and Atlantic Mackerel. Fish that are high in mercury, such as Shark, Swordfish, Orange Roughy, and Marlin should be avoided. Albacore and other species of tuna are also relatively high in mercury and should be limited to no more than one serving per month. Raw fish and sushi are also not recommended in pregnancy due to risk for parasites and food-borne illnesses.

Safe Seafood Guide

If this sounds overwhelming to navigate and remember, there is thankfully a great online resource for moms-to-be. The Environmental Working Group offers a customized tool to help you find clean and nutrient-rich seafood sources. The guide lists seafood choices that are big on nutrition and low in heavy metals. This resource is amazing even if you’re not pregnant, since you can input your age, gender, and health information and it automatically gives you recommendations on what kinds of fish to eat, along with how many servings you should aim for each week.

So fear not! Armed with a little knowledge on what choices to make, fish and seafood are a great addition to a healthy diet and they can provide lots of nutrients to support a healthy growing baby.

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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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Do Longer Lives Equal Healthier People?

veggie_heartNot surprisingly, a recent study found that people around the world are generally living longer lives than ever before with less cases of childhood mortality. While this is obviously great news, does this also mean that humans are healthier now than in the past? Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In most countries there have been strides over the last hundred years in better hygiene and living conditions, increased access to vaccinations, and less risk of starvation. While all of this has allowed more humans to live to old age, it doesn’t always equate to greater health status for these people. As an article in the newspaper, the Oregonian points out, “With more children surviving, chronic illnesses and disabilities that strike later in life are taking a bigger toll, the research said. High Blood Pressure has become the leading health risk worldwide, followed by smoking and alcohol.” Chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are quickly overtaking infectious disease as the top health priority world-wide.

Luckily, most chronic diseases are considered preventable. There is a great deal that we can do, both as individuals and as a matter of policy, to address and turn around these statistics. There are many organizations working to promote health education, access to fresh fruits and vegetables to poor and urban communities, and safe and fun ways for children and adults to exercise. Here are just a few:

Ending Childhood Obesity Project: Portland, Oregon

Portland Fruit Tree Project: Portland, Oregon

Spiral Gardens Community Food Security: Berkeley, California

Edible School Yard: Berkeley, California

Roasted Cauliflower with Pistachios and Thyme

This recipe is simple and delicious, with a rich nutty flavor. I often serve it in place of rice or couscous when I make a tagine, curry, or stew. Serves 4-6.
  • One headof cauliflower, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 Tbsp melted coconut oil orothervegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 cup unsalted, shelled pistachios
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried Thyme

Preheat oven to 375 F. Place the chopped cauliflower on a cookie sheet and drizzle with oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the mixture and then spread it out into one even layer. Bake for about 40 minutes total, stirring once at 20 minutes and adding the pistachios and thyme after 35 minutes of cooking. Cauliflower should be tender and lightly browned. Serve warm.

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