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Spring Cleanse – 12 Simple Tips for Cleansing Your Body and Mind

Spring Cleansing Can Be Simple

Spring.  Just hearing that word makes me smile.  It’s my favourite time of year.  It’s a time when we throw open our windows and let the sunshine and fresh air into our homes.  It’s the time when we spring clean our homes, and we should do the same for our bodies.

A spring cleanse can be a wonderful way to clean up our diets and feel as good on the inside as Spring feels outside.

There are many benefits to a spring cleanse: increased energy, better digestion, fewer allergy symptoms, improved immune system function, better sleep, better concentration, healthier skin, healthy weight and many, many more.

Spring cleansing doesn’t have to be hard.  Join me as I do my annual Spring cleanse (I cleanse for the entire month of April every year!)  I want to share with you 12 Simple Tips for Spring Cleansing so that you too can clean up your body without strict regimes or harsh restrictions.

1. Drink water

Our bodies need at least 8 to 10 glasses of water (or more!) daily to help flush out toxins.  Adding the juice of one organic lemon to a glass of water can add flavour, antioxidants, anti-cancer compounds and support the detoxifying actions of our kidneys, liver, and colon.

lime2. Eat clean

Eating clean is a simple strategy for a healthy diet.  Eliminate all the ‘trash’ foods – fried foods, sugary foods and all processed, pre-prepared, and packaged foods.  Eat whole foods – a general guideline is if the food looks like it does in nature, you can have it!

3. If you can’t read it, you shouldn’t eat it!

Read the labels – even on the so-called ‘healthy’ foods.  If the ingredient list is long, or contains words that you can’t pronounce, then you probably shouldn’t eat it.  Chemicals and food preservatives often have long, complicated names and should be avoided to lower our body’s burden of toxic chemicals.

4. Eliminate or cut back on meat and dairy products.

Meat and dairy over-consumption are responsible for a number of health conditions affecting North Americans (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity).  Meat puts a strain on your kidneys and intestines and requires a lot of energy to digest.  Dairy promotes mucus formation and is a common food allergy.   Give your body a break and eliminate or cut back on these foods.

5. Eat a rainbow.

Eat as many different colours of fruits and vegetables as possible each day.  This will make sure your body is getting a diverse selection of vitamins and minerals.  Aim to make three-quarters of each meal vegetables.

6. Discover whole grains.

Whole grains is NOT the same as ‘whole grain bread’.  Whole grains are foods like brown rice, quinoa, millet, kamut and amaranth.  If you haven’t tried these foods – you should!  They are simple to prepare and delicious.  Whole Foods Markets have a great variety of whole grain recipes on their website.  Whole grains are high in fiber, B vitamins and when combined with beans provide a complete meat-free protein.

Beans are a healthy carbohydrate7. Include 1/2 cup of legumes (beans) in your diet every day.

Beans are delicious, filling and a great source of fiber and nutrients.  Beans also help balance your blood sugar and can promote healthy weight maintenance and enhance energy levels.

8. Choose healthy snacks and enjoy them frequently.

Eating frequently throughout the day helps to stabilize your blood sugar and maintain your energy throughout the day.  Healthy snacks include: raw nuts (like almonds, walnuts, and brazil nuts), almond butter on celery sticks, carrot sticks and hummus, berry smoothies with almond milk, frozen or fresh grapes, and dates with pecans.

9. Do alternating showers every morning.

Most people choose to shower in water that is much too hot.  Choose a temperature that is warm rather than hot to decrease dehydration.  At the end of the shower alternate between hot water (hot enough to turn your skin pink – but not so hot that it burns) for one minute and cold water (cold but bearable) for 20 seconds.  Repeat this sequence two or three times to encourage healthy blood and lymph circulation and promote detoxification.

10. Take deep, cleansing breaths three times per day.

The lungs are an important organ of elimination that are often overlooked during cleanses.  Spend one minute three times per day taking in five deep, cleansing, slow breaths.

11. Drink tea (instead of coffee).

As part of my cleanse I am drinking a cup of matcha daily.  Matcha is a green tea full of antioxidants and anti-cancer compounds.  You could also drink regular green tea or a botanical tea such as dandelion root teawhich supports the liver in it’s important detoxifying role.

Exercise for your mind and body

12. Go outside and exercise.

Exercise improves circulation, energy levels, sleep quality and encourages detoxification through the skin and lungs.  Exercising in the fresh air brings clean fresh oxygen to your blood and revitalizes your body, mind, and spirit.

Doing a spring cleanse does not have to be difficult.  I look forward each year to my spring cleanse.  It reminds me how good it feels to prepare healthy food for myself and my family.  It refreshes my mind, body and spirit and makes me feel happy, energized and healthy.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Getting to the Root of Female Hair Loss

Hair loss is a condition affecting many adults – both men and women.  Women are more likely to question why they are experiencing hair loss and may be more negatively affected by the hair loss than men.  Women with hair loss report lower self esteem and often have higher levels of fear, stress, depression and anxiety.

Conventional medicine is often dismissive of female hair loss.  The hair loss is most often not severe alopecia (the medical term for hair loss) and it is often diffuse (scattered over the scalp).

So why are women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s experiencing hair loss?  There are a number of potential causes.  By addressing the root cause of the hair loss, many women are able to stop the hair loss and in some instances, reverse it.

Aging

Unfortunately, hair loss is a normal part of aging.  By the age of 40, the rate of hair growth slows down.  New hairs are not replaced as quickly as old ones are lost.  This age-related hair loss affects both men and women.  In men the hair loss can be more prominent due to the effects of androgens (male sex hormones – such as testosterone).

Androgens

Androgens can contribute to hair loss in women just like in men.  It has been known since the time of Hippocrates that male sex hormones (androgens) contribute to hair loss.  This androgen-related hair loss is very common in women.  A report published in the Clinical Dermatology journal states that it affects approximately 30% of women before age 50.   When it occurs in women it is often referred to as “female pattern hair loss”.

There are a number of reasons why a woman may be affected by androgen-related hair loss.  Genetics, excess androgens, insulin resistance, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and low antioxidant status are all associated with female pattern hair loss.

Drug-Induced Hair Loss

A long list of pharmaceutical drugs can cause hair loss.  Some of the most common ones are:

  • Medications_hair loss
    Many common medications can contribute to female hair loss

    Antibiotics

  • Anticoagulants (Coumadin, heparin)
  • Antidepressants (Prozac, lithium)
  • Antiepileptics (Valproic acid, Dilantin)
  • Cardiovascular drugs (ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers)
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Endocrine drugs (Clomid, danazol)
  • Gout medications (Colchicine, allopurinol)
  • Lipid-lowering drugs
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • Ulcer medications (Zantac, tagamet)

When possible, natural alternatives to these drugs should be considered if hair loss is occurring.

Nutritional Deficiencies

A deficiency of almost any essential nutrient can lead to hair loss.  A Naturopathic Doctor can assess your overall nutrient status, but there are a few signs you can look for at home.

Zinc – white lines on the nail can indicate poor wound healing, a common sign of low zinc levels.

Vitamin A – bumps on the back of the arms (called hyperkeratosis) is a common sign of vitamin A deficiency.

Essential Fatty Acids dry skin on the elbows and other parts of the body is a common sign of low essential fatty acid levels.

Another nutrient deficiencies that may lead to hair loss is iron.  A simple blood test is needed to determine iron levels.  Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you interpret this test – many labs have normal ranges that include low iron levels that should be corrected with iron supplements.

If you are deficient in any of these nutrients a test of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) should be considered to determine if you are not absorbing nutrients properly from your diet.

Hypothyroidism

Hair loss is one of the first features noticed by most women with hypothyroidism.  10 to 20% of the adult population has mild to severe hypothyroidism.  A blood test can be done to determine if hypothyroidism is causing your female hair loss.

Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Gluten Free LogoCeliac disease is a medical condition where gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye grains) damages the small intestines and causes systemic symptoms by cross-reacting antibodies that attack various cells in the body, including hair follicles.  The hair loss with celiac disease is often complete – a condition known as alopecia areata.

In people with gluten intolerance, the condition may manifest as hair loss (not complete) rather than digestive symptoms (which are a predominant feature of celiac disease).

Consider being tested for celiac disease if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Bulk, pale, frothy, foul-smelling bowel movements
  • Weight loss
  • Signs of multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies

A gluten-free diet will virtually eliminate symptoms in people with celiac disease.  A trial elimination of all gluten containing foods is recommended for anyone with hair loss to determine if gluten sensitivity is a cause.

Treatment of Hair Loss in Women

One of the central philosophies of Naturopathic Medicine is to treat the cause.  The treatment for female hair loss depends on the underlying cause of the hair loss.

hormone balance_feet
Hormone balance, addressing nutrient deficiencies and addressing the cause will improve hair loss in women.

Treatment of Androgen-Related Hair Loss in Women

  • Address underlying causes of androgen excess
  • Improve blood glucose regulation – low glycemic index diet, blood glucose normalizing supplements (such as glucomannan, fenugreek, or bitter melon), and regular exercise
  • Increase antioxidant intake – vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, green tea
  • Saw palmetto extract – reduces the formation of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) a more potent form of testosterone that is often elevated in male and female pattern hair loss.  Works in a similar manner to Propecia (finasteride) – a prescription drug often used in female hair loss.

Treatment of Nutrient Deficiency-Related Hair Loss in Women

  • Test hydrochloric acid levels to ensure nutrients from food are being absorbed and supplement when necessary
  • A high-potency multivitamin and mineral formula (with iron when indicated)
  • Flaxseed or fish oil daily as a source of essential omega-3 fatty acids

Hair loss in women is a concern that should be taken seriously.  Although some hair loss naturally occurs with aging there may be another underlying cause of hair loss.  Consult with your Naturopathic Doctor if hair loss is a concern for you.  There is help available.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Ten Tips to Treat Allergies

Spring has sprung!  And with it comes… allergies.  The sniffling, sneezing, burning and redness can put a damper on this beautiful time of year.  But there is hope.  Here are ten tips to try this allergy season.

1. An Apple a Day…

The oldest medical cliché in the book – but it’s true.  A study of 1500 people found that eating apples lowers the incidence of allergy and asthma symptoms.

2. Eat Citrus Fruits Daily

Eating citrus regularly can decrease the symptoms of allergies and asthma.  This is likely due to the vitamin C and bioflavonoids that are abundant in citrus fruit.  Eat at least one citrus fruit daily – organic lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, clementines, kumquats and grapefruits are good choices.

3. Eat Lots of Berries

Berries truly are a ‘superfruit.’  They are rich in vitamin C, bioflavonoids, anthocyandins and antioxidants.  A high intake of antioxidants has been shown to have a positive impact on allergy symptoms.  Eat one handful of blueberries, blackberries or raspberries daily to get the benefit from these sweet superfoods.

4. Determine Food Allergies and Avoid Them

Food allergies and sensitivities can cause a lot more than just digestive symptoms.  Consider having a food allergy test to determine your individual food reactions.  Or try the elimination diet with your Naturopathic Doctor to see how food allergies and sensitivities are impacting your allergies.

5. Eliminate Margarine From Your Diet

Margarine is high in poly-unsaturated omega-6 fatty acids which can result in inflammation in the body (the symptoms of allergy – runny nose, itchy red eyes – are due to inflammation of mucous membranes).

Adults and children with allergies should remove all margarine from their diet.  A 2003 study found that eating margarine led to more symptoms of wheezing and runny nose (allergic rhinitis) in children with allergies.

6. Try the Anti-Inflammatory Diet

There are foods that we eat that can decrease inflammation and there are other foods that can promote inflammation in our bodies.  The Anti-Inflammatory diet can teach you how to boost anti-inflammatory foods (like flax seed oil, citrus fruits and various vegetables) and decrease pro-inflammatory foods (like margarine, dairy products and red meat).

7. Increase Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are the heavy-hitters of the natural anti-inflammatory world.  Omega 3 fatty acids found in flaxseed and cold water fish are the most effective in the treatment of allergy symptoms.  Increasing omega 3 fatty acids in your diet (or through use of supplements) results in decreased production of inflammatory chemicals and fewer allergy symptoms.

8. Quercetin

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that is found in a wide variety of foods (including apples, citrus fruits, onions and buckwheat).  It is nature’s anti-histamine, reducing the release of histamine from mast cells.  It should be taken preventatively – year-round for chronic allergies and seasonally for seasonal allergies.

9. Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)

This local medicinal plant has a long history of use in the treatment of allergies.  It has been rigorously studied and has been shown to be as effective, or more effective, than popular allergy medications.  It is available as a tea or in freeze-dried extracts.  It should be taken daily throughout allergy season.

10. Acupuncture

Acupuncture can be a useful addition to the management of chronic or seasonal allergies.  Between 6-10 sessions are needed to tonify the detoxification systems of the body and balance the organ systems (skin, liver, kidneys, and adrenals) that are commonly involved in allergy symptoms.

Book an appointment with your Naturopathic Doctor now to customize your comprehensive plan for the upcoming allergy season.  It may turn out to be your best season yet!

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Green Eats – Ten Top Green Foods

As I look out my clinic window today I am greeted by the sight of green-clad Torontonians enjoying this uncharacteristically warm St. Patrick’s Day.

On this St. Patrick’s Day I encourage you to not only reach into your closet for green clothes but into your fridge for green foods.

Top Ten Green Foods

1. Asparagus

Spring is nearly here and that means fresh, local asparagus will soon be in stores.  Asparagus is high in vitamins, A, C and K and is one of the highest food sources of folate – a nutrient essential for heart health and reproduction.  Asparagus is also a natural diuretic and contains inulin – a fiber that promotes healthy digestive function.

2. Avocados

Avocados are another food that are abundant in the Spring time.  Avocados contain oleic acid – a monounsaturated fat that can help lower cholesterol and has recently been shown to offer protection against the development of breast cancer.  Avocados are also a good source of vitamin K, fiber, potassium and folate.

Avocados have the amazing ability of helping your body absorb carotenoids (antioxidant nutrients in foods – known for giving fruits and vegetables their yellow and orange colour) from other vegetables.  So add an avocado to your next salad to make sure you are getting the most from your foods!

3. Cabbage

Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable, a family of vegetables that are valued for their ability to decrease the risk of several types of cancer.  Regular consumption of cabbage and other crucifers (such as kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower) lowers the risk of prostate, bladder, breast, stomach, colorectal and lung cancer.

The cancer-fighting properties of cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables results from their high levels of glucosinolates, which our body metabolizes into isothiocyanates – powerful anti-carcinogens.

In addition to helping prevent cancer, cabbage is also an excellent source of vitamin C – an antioxidant that protects cells from damage by free radicals.

4. Celery

Celery can lower blood pressureCelery is rich in vitamin C and potassium but it’s main health-promoting effect is in lowering high blood pressure.  Celery contains compounds called phthalides which help relax the muscles around arteries, allowing the arteries to dilate.  This lowers blood pressure by decreasing resistance to blood flow.  Eat two stalks of celery every day to get the benefit of celery’s phthalides.

Celery has a reputation of being a high-sodium vegetable, but it would take 48 stalks of celery to reach the FDA’s daily recommended intake of sodium (2400mg).  Two stalks of celery provides only 4% of the daily value of sodium.

5.  Green Figs

One of my favourite foods, no healthy food list would be complete without figs!  Figs are in season from June to September and offer a plentiful source of dietary fiber and potassium.

The dietary fiber in figs can assist in healthy weight loss and may help prevent postmenopausal breast cancer.  Figs also are a good source of potassium which can help control high blood pressure.

6. Green Peas

These small green orbs are just bursting with nutritional value!  They are high in vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, K, manganese, folate, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, and fiber!

Green peas provide nutrients to support bone health (vitamin K), heart health (folic acid and vitamin B6) and energy production.  Green peas contain B vitamins – all of which contribute the energy production in the body, and are a source of iron – a mineral necessary for normal blood cell formation and function.

7. Green Tea

If this list wasn’t in alphabetical order, green tea would be number one!  Green tea has so many amazing health benefits it would take several articles to list them all.  Thousands of scientific studies have been analyzed the positive effects of green tea.

Green tea is rich in flavonoids, including epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) which is thought to be the active constituent in green tea’s anti-cancer and antioxidant effects.

Green tea can protect against death from all causes, especially cardiovascular disease, protects against coronary artery disease, decreases atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), prevents blood clots, speeds recovery after a heart attack or stroke, lowers blood pressure, helps maintain healthy body weight by promoting fat loss, protects against gallstones, reduces the risk of kidney disease, increases bone mineral density, reduces the risk of breast cancer, skin cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, and enhances survival in ovarian cancer… and many more!

8. Oregano

Oregano is more than a seasoning for pasta.  This spice is a highly effective antibacterial agent.  The volatile oils in oregano, thymol and carvacrol are able to inhibit the growth of several types of bacteria as effectively as pharmaceutical medications.

Oregano also has the additional bonus of being a potent antioxidant, with 12 times more antioxidant activity than oranges!

9. Sage

Sage is the second spice to appear on this list of the top ten green foods.  In addition to it’s anti-oxidant effects, sage was selected for its anti-inflammatory effects and it’s ability to enhance memory.

Taken in food doses, or as an essential oil extract, sage has shown powerful memory enhancing effects.  It improves immediate recall and may be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

10. Spinach

Green leafy vegetables are a source of vegan ironRounding out the top ten list is one of the most famous green foods around – spinach.  Calorie for calorie, leafy green vegetables like spinach offer more nutritional value than any other foods.  Spinach is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, E, K and numerous minerals.  Cooked spinach is also a rich source of iron.

Spinach contains at least 13 different flavonoids that function as antioxidants and anti-cancer agents.  Spinach can be used to decrease the risk of several different types of cancer, including prostate and ovarian cancer.

Spinach also contains nutrients that support bone health (vitamin K, calcium and magnesium), heart health (vitamins A, C and E, folate and magnesium), digestive health, brain health, eye health and energy.

In addition to the heart healthy nutrients, spinach also contains four peptides that inhibit antiotensin I-converting enzyme – the same enzyme blocked by ACE inhibitor drugs.  At a serving size equivalent to an entrée-sized spinach salad blood pressure was lowered in laboratory animals within just two to four hours.

Eating green can be nutritious and delicious!  Incorporate these green foods this St. Patrick’s day – and every day – for optimal health!

If you are interested in incorporating more greens into your diet, check out the Green Smoothie Challenge for a 14 day smoothie challenge.  Delicious recipes and support are provided during the challenge.

Fighting Back Against Sugar Addiction

3pm.  You hear a sweet voice in your head, calling you towards the snack machine or the fridge, urging you to indulge in a sugary treat.  Sound familiar?  You aren’t alone.

Sugar addiction is on the rise in North America and the impact it has on our health is anything but sweet.

The Bitter Truth about Sugar and Health

Sugar is an important biochemical that is involved in numerous processes in our bodies.  We need some sugar for survival (glucose is the main energy source for the brain).  However, our bodies are not equipped to handle the large quantity and poor quality of sugar that we currently ingest.

You may also be suffering from sugar-related illness and not realize it.  Symptoms associated with sugar addiction include:

  • Allergies

    Sugar has many negative effects in the body
  • Anxiety
  • Boils
  • Cancer
  • Canker sores
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent colds and/or flu
  • Gas and/or bloating
  • Headaches
  • Hyperactivity
  • Immune suppression
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Mood swings
  • Obesity
  • PMS
  • Sugar cravings
  • Tooth decay
  • Yeast infections

Sugar Addiction

There is no doubt that sugar can be addictive.  Like any addiction people crave sugar, have withdrawal symptoms when they don’t have sugar and may feel better for a brief period of time after eating sugar.  Sugar feels good in the moment, but it can cause serious long term problems for your health.

Like other addictions, many people may not realize they have a problem with sugar.  The following questions may help you recognize if you, or someone you know, has a sugar addiction.

Sugar Addiction Questionnaire

Yes

No

Do you eat refined sugar (white sugar, candies, chocolate, baked goods) every day?

o

o

Do you find it difficult to go for more than one day without eating a sugar containing food or drink?

o

o

Are there always sugar containing foods in your home?

o

o

Do you find it difficult to have candy or other sweet foods in your home and not eat them? o

o

Do you experience cravings for sugar, coffee, chocolate, peanut butter or alcohol?

o

o

Have you ever hidden candy or other sweet foods around the house in order to eat them later?

o

o

Do you get fatigue, perspiration, irritability, depression, or anxiety if you go three or more hours without eating?

o

o

Do you eat something sweet after every meal?

o

o

Do you find it difficult to go more than one hour after waking up in the morning without eating?

o

o

Do you find it difficult to stop after eating one piece of candy or one bite of baked goods?

o

o

0-3 ‘yes’: Probably not sugar sensitive
4-6 ‘yes’: Sugar sensitive
7-10 ‘yes’: Definite sugar addiction

Now What? – How to Overcome a Sugar Addiction

There are many ways to go about battling an addiction.  Sugar addiction is no different.  Some schools of thought say you should quit cold turkey and never consume sugar again, others suggest cutting back slowly and allowing it back into your diet only in moderation.

My philosophy is a combination of those two schools.  You should quit sugar cold turkey, with proper nutritional support throughout the withdrawal phase, but you can have sugar again – provided it is done properly and in strict moderation.

The best way to beat a sugar addiction is to change the way you eat and think about food.  Learning how to eat a healthy diet composed of whole foods, incorporating regular exercise, and dietary supplements (as needed) is by far the best strategy to overcome a sugar addiction.

Curbing the Cravings

Here are some tips for curbing sugar cravings when they hit:

  1. Choose fruit – fruits are a fantastic snack to satisfy your sweet tooth.  Choose fruits that are lower on the glycemic index – that means they cause less of a blood sugar spike after eating (usually because they are higher in fiber and lower in sugar).  Examples include: apples, apricots, oranges, mango, dates, peaches, and pears.
  2. Drink More Water – We often confuse sensations of hunger and thirst.  When a craving for sugar hits you, try drinking a glass of water first.
  3. Exercise – Food cravings can be stopped in their tracks by engaging in some mild exercise.  The next time you get a craving, take a 10 minute walk.  You’ll benefit from the fresh air, the exercise and your cravings will disappear.
  4. Eat Nuts – Nuts are one of nature’s perfect snacks.  They are high in protein and healthy fats.  They are also filling and can quickly wipe out hunger and food cravings.  Try pecans, walnuts, almonds and brazil nuts.  Nut butters are also a delicious way to include nuts in your diet.  Try some nut butter spread on a piece of spelt bread or a Ryvita cracker.
  5. Nutritional Supplements – There are a number of supplements that can support you as you conquer your sugar addiction.  Supplements that help control blood sugar – such as chromium, B vitamins (especially biotin and niacin), vanadium, amino acids, alpha lipoic acid and gymnema sylvestre (an Ayurvedic plant medicine) can all help manage cravings.  Supplements should only be used under the care of a qualified Naturopathic Doctor.
  6. Acupuncture – the use of ear acupuncture or body acupuncture in the treatment of addiction has a long history of success.  A series of 5-10 acupuncture sessions can assist the body in detoxifying while decreasing cravings, relieving stress and anxiety and promoting overall wellness.

Conquering a sugar addiction is not easy.  But with appropriate support it can be done.

For more reading on this topic, Dr. Nancy Appleton’s book “Lick the Sugar Habit” is a great read with more information on sugar addiction.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Ten Steps to A Better Night’s Sleep, Naturally.

 

1. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends

Sleep is a habit.  By consistently going to bed and getting up at the same time every day we condition our body to follow a regular pattern of sleep.  This allows our body’s internal clock, our “circadian rhythm”, to remain balanced and effectively initiate and maintain sleep.

2. Make your bedroom quiet, dark and cool

Studies have shown that sleeping in a cooler room is most conductive to sleep.  Our body temperature drops slightly during sleep and a cooler room helps the body temperature to drop more quickly and effectively.  Eliminate all sources of light in your bedroom – turn digital alarm clocks to face the wall and get dark window coverings to eliminate outside light.  Eliminating excess noise will minimize potential disruptions that might wake you from sleep.

computer insomnia3. Bedrooms are for sleeping and sex, not for work or television

The bedroom should be kept for sleeping and not used for televisions, computers, video gaming systems, phone calls or other stimulating gadgets that may disrupt sleep.  Go in the bedroom when it is time to sleep and leave the room when sleeping is done.

4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine for 4-6 hours before bedtime

Caffeine is found in coffee, soda, green and black tea, energy drinks and chocolate.  It is a stimulant and can negatively impact sleep even if ingested six hours before bed.  And although an alcoholic “nightcap” might help you to initiate sleep it fragments the stages of sleep, decreases the quality of sleep and makes sleep more disrupted.

5. Don’t nap, or nap appropriately

The period of time that you are awake adds to something called “sleep drive”.  The longer we stay awake, the more we want to go to sleep.  By taking a nap we diminish this desire to sleep which may make it less likely that we will be able to easily sleep later.

However, some experts have suggested that napping at the appropriate time of day (between 1 and 4 pm, never between 5 and 8 pm) for an appropriate length of time (20 to 40 minutes) can improve overall sleep.

Aerobic exercise and meditation6. Exercise daily, but avoid exercising 4 hours before bedtime

Staying active is an excellent way to ensure a good night’s sleep.  However, exercising too close to bedtime may cause difficulties in getting to sleep as your body will still be revved up.

7. Develop a sleep ritual before bedtime

Parents have been doing this for children for generations.  Sleep rituals allow us to unwind and mentally prepare for going to sleep.  These rituals should include quiet activities such as reading, drinking a calming cup of tea, listening to relaxing music, writing in a journal, or taking a warm bath.

8.  If you are having trouble getting to sleep, don’t stay in bed or you will train yourself to have difficulties there

If you have difficulty initiating sleep don’t toss and turn in bed and try to force sleep to come (we’ve all tried this… and we all know it doesn’t work!).  As this activity is repeated, night after night, a situation is set up where we associate our bed with the anxiety of not being able to sleep.

If you are unable to fall asleep within 15 minutes, go to another quiet place and lie down until you feel ready to sleep, then return to your bedroom to sleep. Do not watch television or use the computer during this time.

9. Avoid eating or drinking for a few hours before bedtime

Heartburn or having to urinate frequently can be very disruptive to a good night’s sleep.  Avoid these issues by not eating or drinking for a few hours before bedtime.

10. Make sleep a priority.  Don’t sacrifice sleep to do daytime activities

Respect your body’s need to sleep!  Too often we allow our sleep time to be shortened when our daytime activities take longer than we expect.  Opportunities to engage in pleasurable activities – watching television, visiting with friends, playing on the internet, and other activities – will quickly cut into sleep time if we allow them to.  It is important to schedule your sleep time and keep to that schedule, no matter what may come up during the day.

Additional sleep resources:

BBC Documentary:  Ten Things You Need to Know About Sleep

National Sleep Foundation – http://www.sleepfoundation.org/

Disclaimer:

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Four Steps to Selecting Safe Baby Care Products

As parents we want to be sure we are making safe choices for our children.  With marketing claims like “natural”, “mild”, and “gentle” it can be hard to decide which products truly are safe for our little ones.  Every week three-quarters of children are exposed to allergens, neurotoxins, and harmful chemicals in their body care products.

By following the four steps listed you can be sure you are making the best choices for your family.

Step One – Simplify!  Use fewer products.

Most adults use as many as ten personal care products each day.  The number we use with our children can be just as high.  Diapers, wipes, body wash, shampoo, soap, lotions, bubble baths, diaper creams and more are applied to our babies’ skin each day.  Minimize the potential for chemical exposure by eliminating products that aren’t necessary.

Suggestions: Use warm water on a washable cloth to wipe baby’s bum after diaper changes.  Use one product as a shampoo/soap/body wash.  Don’t use bubble bath with young children.

Step Two – Less is More – Use products with fewer ingredients and no fragrance.

The fewer ingredients the more natural the product”.

It’s a general rule and in many cases it is true.  The longer the ingredient list the more preservatives, dyes, emollients and other chemicals the product contains.  There are exceptions to this rule of course, some botanical products use many different plant extracts in their formulas.  But a quick glance at the length of the product label can provide valuable information.

It is also important to choose products that are free of synthetic dyes and fragrances.  Synthetic dyes and fragrances are often composed of several harmful chemicals but due to product labeling laws do not need to be listed separately.  Avoid exposing your child to these chemicals by selecting products that are fragrance and dye free.

Step Three – Read Labels… and Know What Ingredients to Look For.

More important than the length of an ingredient list, knowing what ingredients to avoid is paramount to protecting your child from exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.  The following is a brief list of ingredients to avoid:

Benzyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol Skin irritants and potential neurotoxicity concerns
BHA Found in diaper cream.  Banned in other countries because it can cause skin depigmentation
Boric Acid and Sodium Borate Found in diaper cream.  Industry authorities caution against use on infant or damaged skin
2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol (or Bronopol) Found in baby wipes.  Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants
Ceteareth and PEG compounds Petrochemicals that may contain cancer-causing impurities
DMDM Hydantoin Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants
Dyes Some are linked to cancer and are banned outside the U.S.
Fragrance Allergens that may contain neurotoxic or hormone-disrupting chemicals
Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate Chemically similar to neurotoxic pesticides
Methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone Allergens with neurotoxic concerns
Oxybenzone Found in sunscreens.  In sunlight, can produce allergy- and cancer-causing chemicals
Parabens Hormone-disrupting chemicals with potential cancer concerns
Triethanolamine Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants
Triclosan Linked to thyroid disruption, produces toxic byproducts in tap water

Additionally, a 2009 study found formaldehyde or 1,4-dioxane in a large percentage of tested baby products.  Both formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane were found in 17 out of 28 tested products (61%).  Formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane are known carcinogens; formaldehyde can also cause skin rashes in some children.  These chemicals are not listed on product labels because they are contaminants, not ingredients.

Formaldehyde contaminates personal care products when preservatives release formaldehyde over time in the container.  Common ingredients likely to cause formaldehyde contamination include: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea.

1,4-dioxane is a byproduct of a chemical processing technique called ethoxylation.  Manufactures can easily remove the toxic byproduct, but are not required by law to do so.  Common ingredients likely to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane include: PEG-100 stearate, sodium laureth sulfate, polyethylene and ceteareth-20.

Step Four – Make a List and Check It Twice.

Having a list of ingredients to avoid, and bringing it with you when selecting new baby care products is the easiest way to be sure you are making a healthy choice.

The Environmental Working Group has made this even simpler by providing parents with two phenomenal resources.  One is the Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products which includes a printable pocket reference guide.

Skin Deep is also from the EWG and offers a searchable cosmetic safety database with toxicity ratings for thousands of individual products and brands.  It is an invaluable resource.  I recommend double checking any product on the Skin Deep website before purchasing it.

Making the best choices for your children doesn’t have to be difficult.  By utilizing the four steps highlighted in this article and accessing the resources offered by groups such as the Environmental Working Group, you can be confident you are using products that live up to the highest standards – your standards.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

References:

No More Toxic Tub.  March 2009.  Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.  Available at http://safecosmetics.org/downloads/NoMoreToxicTub_Mar09Report.pdf

Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products. Environmental Working Group Report.  Available at http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/parentsguide/summary.php

Parent’s Buying Guide: Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products.  Environmental Working Group.  Available at http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/parentsguide/index.php?bybrand=1

Ingredients to Avoid: Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products. Environmental Working Group.  Available at http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/parentsguide/ingredients.php

Tea for Tots

Sharing the Joy of Tea with Kids

There are few topics that I like to talk about more than tea.  I love tea.  I love the flavour of tea, the diverse kinds of tea, the ritual of making tea and the warm, calm feeling that I get when I settle in with a cup of tea.  Tea is also one of my favourite ways of prescribing botanicals (plant based medicines) for adults and children alike.

While I would not recommend giving a child a cup of orange pekoe, chai or English breakfast tea (all of which contain caffeine!) there are an abundance of other kinds of tea that are perfect for children.

Preparing Tea for Kids

Making a cup of tea for a child is very similar to preparing it for an adult, with a couple of simple adjustments.

  • Children often prefer a weaker tea.  Adults should steep tea for between 4 and 6 minutes (depending on the type of tea and personal preference).  For children steep the tea for only 2 to 4 minutes.  If the tea is too strong, add extra water to dilute the strength (this is also a good way to quickly cool the tea!).
  • The temperature of tea to be served to a child should be considerably cooler.  I suggest serving children’s tea chilled, at room temperature or lukewarm (the same temperature used for baby bottles or formula – around 26-36oC).

Selecting Teas for Your Child

Selecting tea is part of the pleasure of drinking tea.  You can have tea that calms you, tea that wakes you up, tea that soothes a sore throat or an upset tummy, or tea that just tastes good.  You can select tea for your children in much the same way.

Teas for Health

Anxiety – studies show that more and more children are experiencing anxiety, and at younger and younger ages.  If your child has anxiety associated with school, friends, separation or for any other reason try giving them a tea to help calm their nervous system.  Teas for anxiety include chamomile, oat straw, passionflower (for children over four), and skullcap (for children over six).  Prepare a cup of tea and enjoy it together in the evening or before stressful events.

Colic – even young babies can benefit from tea!  A tea made from fennel, chamomile or peppermint can be very helpful in relieving colic in infants.  A breastfeeding mother can drink the tea (1 cup three times per day) or the tea can be diluted and given to the infant with a medicine dropper (1 diluted tsp three times per day).

Constipation – use a flaxseed tea (1 teaspoon flaxseed in 1 litre of water, simmered for 15 minutes) to cook oatmeal.  Prepare the tea and then use the tea instead of water to prepare oatmeal for your child to eat.  Or add ¼ cup of flaxseed tea to 4 ounces of juice and give it to your child once daily.  Constipation should resolve within 24-48 hours.

Coughs – depending on the type of cough there are several options for teas to soothe a coughing child.  For a cough with sore throat, marshmallow root or slippery elm tea can be very soothing.  For cough with congestion, licorice or coltsfoot tea are both effective.
(Note: Do not use for more than 3 days in a row.  Licorice should not be used in children with high blood pressure).
Peppermint tea is a mild cough suppressant and can be used in the evenings to help children with a persistent cough to get some sleep.

Sambucus nigra berriesFever – To decrease chills and increase perspiration (which will shorten the duration and intensity of the fever) try a tea with any of the following ingredients (in equal parts): lemon balm, chamomile, peppermint, licorice and elder flower.  For a child over 2 years of age ½ cup of tea can be given up to four times daily for one day.  Serve this tea as hot as your child can tolerate.
Note: Do not use licorice in a child with high blood pressure.  Fevers are commonly a sign that the body is fighting a viral or bacterial infection.  If your child’s temperature exceeds 102F (38.9oC) consider contacting a qualified healthcare provider for further guidance.

Nausea – ginger tea is very effective in decreasing nausea, vomiting, upset stomach and for soothing the digestive tract.  Giving your child tea when they are nauseous or vomiting also provides much needed hydration.  Use ½ cup of ginger tea, three times per day for the first 24 hours of nausea.  Ginger tea is also very effective for motion sickness.  Try giving your child ginger tea as needed during car trips to treat motion sickness.

Teas for Taste

There are a great variety of herbal teas available that children love.  Try fruit based herbal teas as a delicious and low calorie alternative to fruit juice.  Many of the fruit based teas are delicious served cold as an iced tea.  Some of my family’s favourites are:

Hibiscus flowers give tea a bright pink colour kids love
  • Chocolate mint rooibos – a loose tea, naturally caffeine free and deliciously sweet.  Available at www.steepedandinfused.com.
  • Passion by Tazo tea – hibiscus flower, lemongrass, mango and passion fruit combine to make a sweet, pink-hued tea.  Fantastic as an iced tea.  Available at Starbucks stores or many grocery stores.
  • Raspberry Zinger, True Blueberry and Country Peach Passion – all by Celestial Seasonings are favourites of my 2 year old son.  Simple, sweet, fruity flavours are popular with young children and adults alike.

So go ahead and try serving tea to your child.  There is no reason why a tea party need only be pretend!   You may be surprised at how much your child enjoys the flavours and rituals of tea drinking.

Disclaimer:

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Resources:

Hoffman, David.  Medical Herbalism.  2003.
Zand, Janet.  Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child 2nd Ed.  2003.

Cluster Headaches – Natural Treatment Options

 

Cluster headaches are considered by the medical community (and sufferers) to be one of the most painful chronic conditions.  They are not as common as migraine or tension type headaches, affecting approximately 1 in 1000 people.

Only one in five cluster headache sufferers (or “clusterheads” as they often call themselves) are women.

 Symptoms of Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches have a distinct pattern of symptoms:

  • Rapid onset of one-sided pain (usually around the eye or the temple)
  • Pain is excruciating and lasts 15 minutes to 3 hours
  • Can happen at any time of day but often occurs 2 hours after going to bed
  • Associated symptoms can include: tearing, red eyes, puffy eyelids, stuffy/ runny nose, facial sweating, and drooping eyelids
  • Headaches occur in clusters with headaches occurring frequently over the course of several weeks, followed by a headache-free interval of 6 months to a year.  Clusters often occur in the late winter (February) and autumn.
  • Some cluster headache sufferers have chronic headaches with no headache-free intervals.

Treatment of Cluster Headaches

The bulk of medical research on headache treatments focuses on migraine type headaches and cluster headache sufferers are left to try a variety of different pharmaceuticals in an attempt to find relief from their pain.

Emerging research on natural treatment options for cluster headaches has been encouraging.  Used alone or in conjunction with drug therapies many cluster headache sufferers may find greater relief from the pain of cluster headaches.  Below is a list of some of the most promising natural treatment options currently available.

Note: Natural medicines are still medicines and should be taken under the supervision of a qualified health care professional.

chili peppers for cluster headachesCapsaicin (Cayenne pepper)

Patients at the New England Center for Headache experienced a decrease in cluster headache intensity after applying capsaicin cream inside their nostrils.

Capsaicin is the active component of cayenne pepper and acts as a pain reliever by stimulating pain sensing C nerve fibers and rapidly depleting the substances these fibers use to convey pain signals to the brain.  The capsaicin causes a burning sensation for approximately 10 minutes which must occur for the treatment to be effective.  The burning sensation will decrease
with subsequent applications.  Use the capsaicin cream on the same side as the headache for best effects.

Melatonin

Cluster headache sufferers often have a lower than average level of melatonin, especially during a cluster period.  Based on this observation, and the timing of cluster headaches (often occurring a few hours after going to bed) melatonin has been studied as a potential treatment for cluster headaches.  One study found the use of melatonin at bedtime for 14 days significantly reduced headache severity and frequency when compared to placebo.

Magnesium

Studies have shown that people with cluster headaches often have the lower than average levels of serum magnesium.  Intervention with intravenous magnesium resulted in relief of symptoms for all cluster headache sufferers assessed.  Oral magnesium hasn’t been studied but may be effective in reversing the magnesium deficiency seen in cluster headache sufferers.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

Taken daily, vitamin B2 has been shown in studies to decrease the severity and frequency of cluster headaches.  3 months of daily supplementation was needed to have an effect.

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata)

kudzuKudzu is an Asian plant that was first used as a medicine over 1800 years ago.

It contains antioxidants, has anesthetic effects, dilates blood vessels in the brain, increases blood flow to the brain and can improve brain acetylcholine.  Studies on the use of Kudzu in the treatment of cluster headaches are scarce, but case studies have shown a decrease in frequency and intensity of cluster headaches in a high percentage (approximately 70%) of patients studied.  Dose of Kudzu is individualized and attaining optimal dose is necessary to see any benefit.

Other Botanical Medicines

Many botanical (herbal) medicines have been used in the natural treatment of cluster headaches.  California poppy, passion flower, skullcap, valerian and Jamaican dogwood have all been used with varying success to decrease the symptoms of cluster headaches.

Studies are currently exploring other alternative treatments for cluster headaches.  One treatment that has been getting some attention is psilocybin (the active constituent in ‘magic mushrooms’).  Some benefit has been seen in case studies but more research on the appropriate dose and dispensing of this substance is needed before its use can be recommended.

If you, or someone you care about, suffer from cluster headaches it may be worthwhile for them to explore these treatment options.  Speak to a Naturopathic Doctor to determine which treatments might work for you.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

References:

Beck E, Sieber WJ, Trejo R.  Management of Cluster Headache. Am Fam Physician 2005;71:717-24,728.

Dodick DW, Rozen TD, Goadsby PJ & Silberstein SD. Cluster headache. Cephalalgia 2000; 20:787-803.

Leone M, D’Amico D, Moschiano F, Fraschini F, Bussone G.  Melatonin versus placebo in the prophylaxis of cluster headache: a double-blind pilot study with parallel groups.  Cephalagia 1996; 16:494-6.

Marks DR, Rapoport A, Padla D, Weeks R, Rosum R, Sheftell F, et al. A double-blind placebo-controlled trial of intranasal capsaicin for cluster headache. Cephalalgia 1993;13:114-6.

Pringsheim T, Magnoux E, Dobson CF, Hamel E, Aube M. Melatonin as adjunctive therapy in the prophylaxis of cluster headache: a pilot study. Headache 2002;42:787-92.

Sewell AR, Halpern JH, Pope HG.  Response of cluster headache to psilocybin and LSD.  Neurology 2006;66:1920-1922.

Sicuteri F, et al. Capsaicin as a potential medication for cluster headache. Med Sci Res 1988;16:1079-1080.

Links

www.clusterheadaches.com
www.clusterbusters.com

 

Warming Socks

In my first year of Naturopathic medical school we learned a hydrotherapy technique that was lovingly referred to as “cold, wet socks”.  Sounds appealing doesn’t it?  Despite the name, the warming socks (as I prefer to call it) treatment is cheap, simple and effective.  And not nearly as unpleasant as the name would lead you to believe.

Why do Warming Socks?

Warming socks is a technique used to treat the common cold, influenza, sore throats, sinus infections, upper respiratory tract infections, headaches, head and chest congestion.

The treatment works by stimulating the body’s natural defences.  Warming socks is a type of “heating compress” – a hydrotherapy technique that causes the body to increase blood circulation in order to heat up the cold, wet socks.

This increase in blood circulation helps to relieve congestion and stimulates greater action of the immune system so that it is better able to fight the virus or bacteria causing the illness.

This treatment can also have a sedating effect, and many people report sleeping much better during the treatment.

It is best to start the warming socks treatment on the first day of an illness and repeat it for three nights in a row.  It is most effective as part of an integrated treatment plan including rest, hydration, proper nutrition and immune-boosting botanicals or supplements.

How to do Warming Socks

Equipment

One pair of thin cotton socks

One pair of thick wool socks

Sink or bucket filled with very cold (or iced) water

Tub or bucket filled with very warm water

A warm bed

Procedure

Step 1: Get ready for bed

Step 2: Put cotton socks in a sink of very cold, or iced, water.  Soak for a minute to saturate the socks then wring them out so that they do not drip.

Step 3: Place your bare feet into a tub or bucket of very warm water.
Soak your feet as long as you want, but make sure the water stays warm and so do your feet.

Step 4: Dry your feet with a towel and put the wet cotton socks on your feet.

Step 5: Immediately pull the dry wool socks over the wet socks.  You want the wool socks to completely cover the cotton socks.

Step 6: Go to bed right away.  Make sure your feet stay warm.

In the morning your feet will be warm and dry.  Symptoms of your cold and head or chest congestion will be diminished or gone.

Repeat the warming socks treatment for three nights in a row.  It can be used on adults and children but people with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems should consult with a Naturopathic Doctor before starting the warming socks treatment.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.