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

 

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Delicious Paleo Chocolate Truffles

 

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Got chocolate cravings? Try this recipe for amazingly decadent yet wonderfully healthy chocolate truffles. Best yet, they’re Paleo, dairy-free, and gluten-free. Once you make the basic recipe you can experiment with different flavors by substituting the vanilla extract with other flavored extracts like peppermint, almond, or orange. You can also try rolling the truffles in finely chopped almonds, pecans, or walnuts to garnish.

Makes about 30 truffles

Basic Truffle Recipe

  • 8 oz. unsweetened 100% chocolate pieces
  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk
  • 4 Tbs raw honey
  • 1 Tbs pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt

For Chocolate Coconut Truffles

  • 1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

For Spicy Cinnamon Chocolate Truffles

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne powder

To make the basic truffle recipe use a hot water bath method to melt the chocolate. If you don’t have a double boiler you can nest a smaller pot inside of a large pot. Fill the large pot with about 2 inches of water and heat over low. Add the chocolate pieces, coconut milk, vanilla, and salt to the small pot and heat gently until completely melted, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Once melted, add in the honey and remove the pot from the heat. Transfer the chocolate mixture to a small bowl and let cool in the fridge until it is firm (about 60-90 minutes).

Once the chocolate has set, get your other ingredients ready. If you are making the coconut truffles place the shredded coconut on a small plate. If making the spicy cinnamon truffles then mix together those ingredients and spread on a small plate.

Using a spoon or melon baller, scoop out a small amount of chocolate mixture. Roll the mixture using clean hands to form a small ball. Roll the ball of chocolate in the coconut or spicy cinnamon so that all sides are covered and set aside. Continue until all of the chocolate has been used. The truffles can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week (but they likely won’t last that long!).

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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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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.

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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!

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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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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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.

Resources

Do Kids with ADHD Need to “Squirm to Learn”?

LearningA study done at the University of Central Florida shows that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may actually learn best when they are moving. According to the study recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, movements such as foot-tapping and leg-swinging help the children to work out complex cognitive tasks. This goes against the prevailing approach that children with ADHD must learn how to sit still in order to fit into a traditional classroom setting. You can read more about this topic on the Science Daily blog.

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.