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10 Tips to Treat PMS Naturally

PMS (premenstrual syndrome) sucks.  That’s not medical jargon, that’s just the way it is.  Once a month, up to three-quarters of women experience physical or emotional discomfort or pain which can last up to 14 days (two weeks!!).  Over 150 symptoms of PMS have been identified but the most common symptoms are:

Naturopathic treatment of PMS
There are over 150 symptoms associated with PMS
  • Decreased energy
  • Irritability, nervousness, anxiety and anger
  • Food cravings
  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Altered sex drive
  • Breast pain
  • Muscle aches and low back pain
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea and/ or constipation
  • Swelling of the hands and feet
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping

What causes PMS?

Honestly, we don’t exactly know what causes PMS.   It’s most likely a combination of imbalances in our hormones, neurotransmitters and environment that leads to symptoms of PMS.

Balancing these diverse systems gives most women relief from their PMS symptoms.  It sometimes takes time to determine which treatment is right for you.  An experienced Naturopathic Doctor will be able to tailor an individualized plan to give you the best chance for success.

10 Tips to Treat PMS Naturally

1. Exercise

Exercise is important for your overall health, but it can also decrease symptoms of PMS.  Studies have shown again and again that women who engage in regular exercise have fewer PMS symptoms than women who do not.  And the exercise doesn’t need to be intense – it just needs to happen regularly (at least 3 times per week throughout the month).

Exercise is thought to reduce PMS symptoms by reducing estrogen levels, improving glucose tolerance and raising endorphin levels.  Aerobic exercise (swimming, cycling, running, etc), yoga or tai chi are all beneficial.

2.    Cut out sugar

Women who experience PMS have been reported to eat whopping 275% more refined sugar than women who do not get PMS symptoms.  Refined sugars deplete our magnesium levels, increase sodium and water retention and create imbalances in our insulin levels.  All of these processes have been linked to the development of PMS symptoms.

Eliminating refined sugar and limiting simple carbohydrates in favour of high fiber complex carbohydrates lowers blood levels of estrogen, improves magnesium levels and can significantly improve symptoms of PMS.   So cut out the cookies, cakes, bagels and breads in favour of oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, brown rice and other fiber rich foods.

 3.    Eliminate caffeine

Caffeine consumption is associated with more and worse PMS symptoms.  Caffeine is linked especially to breast tenderness,anxiety, irritability and difficulty sleeping during PMS.  The impact is even worse when combined with sugar (pay attention all you Frappuccino drinkers!).  Eliminating caffeine, or limiting it during the premenstrual phase can improve PMS symptoms for a lot of women.

4.    Take a probiotic

Probiotics are not just for digestive health!  Having good bacteria in our intestines has wide ranging benefits for our health.  Healthy bacteria can decrease symptoms of PMS by increasing beta-glucuronidase enzyme activity and promoting estrogen excretion.

The best way to establish a healthy bacteria flora in your intestinal tract is to take a probiotic supplement.  Try for one with both Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.  Taken with food, probiotics are extremely safe and have no negative side effects (you can experience bloating if you take too much – 1 to 10 billion is usually a safe amount).

 5.    Take a calcium and magnesium supplement

1k-7649 spinachThere is a direct relationship between calcium and estrogen.  Estrogen is involved in the absorption, metabolism and utilization of calcium in our bodies.  Clinical trials have found that both mood and physical symptoms of PMS are improved with daily calcium supplementation

Magnesium deficiency is a major concern and is seen in a majority of women with PMS.  Magnesium deficiency causes fatigue, irritability, mental confusion, menstrual cramps, insomnia, muscle aches and pains and heart beat irregularities.

Dietary sources of calcium include dark green leafy vegetables, dairy (cheese, yogurt, milk), tofu, and almonds.  Dietary sources of magnesium are similar and include green leafy vegetables, tofu, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.  Calcium and magnesium supplements should be taken in the evening, away from iron supplements and thyroid medications.

6.    Take B vitamins

B vitamins are involved in hundreds of different processes in our bodies.  The liver uses various B vitamins to detoxify estrogen and allow our bodies to eliminate it.

Additionally, pyridoxine (vitamin B6) can ease symptoms of PMS by increasing production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.  Low levels of these neurotransmitters have been suggested as a cause of many PMS symptoms including low energy, irritability and mood swings.

As if that wasn’t enough, B6 is also involved in transfer of magnesium into cells – without B6 magnesium wouldn’t be able to enter cells.  This is another reason why B vitamins, and especially B6 are so important in the relief of PMS symptoms.

7.    Dong Quai

Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis) is a traditional Chinese herb with thousands of years of use for imbalances in the female reproductive system.  It has been used for menopause, painful menstruation, no menstruation and as a uterine tonic.  Dong quai has phytoestrogenic properties and is best used for women who experience PMS symptoms in addition to painful menstruation.

 Dong quai is usually used from ovulation (day 14) until menstruation begins.  If you are also experiencing painful periods, continue it until your period stops.

 8.    Chaste tree

While best known as a treatment for menopause, chaste tree (Vitex agnus castus) is probably the single most important herb in the treatment of PMS.

The effects of chaste tree appear to be due to the impact it has on the hypothalamus and pituitary – the starting point for hormone production in the body.  As a result, chaste tree is able to normalize the secretion of many hormones, for instance, reducing prolactin levels and normalizing the estrogen to progesterone ratio.

Chaste tree is best taken daily throughout the menstrual cycle.  Studies have found it to be useful for almost all symptoms associated with PMS including irritability, mood swings, anger, anxiety, headache, and breast tenderness.

9.    Licorice

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is an amazing herb!  It has been used in both Western and Eastern herbal medicine for thousands of years for a wide variety of ailments.  It also has impressive modern scientific research to back up its historical uses.

 Licorice is useful in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome because it lowers estrogen levels while simultaneously raising progesterone levels.  Licorice also blocks the hormone aldosterone, decreasing water retention.

 Licorice is usually taken from ovulation (day 14) until your period starts.  It should not be used if you have a history of kidney disease or high blood pressure.  You should be under the care of a Naturopathic Doctor while taking licorice.

10. See a Naturopathic Doctor

This is probably the best thing you can do to help manage your PMS symptoms.  Naturopathic Doctors are experts in correcting the underlying imbalances that lead to PMS symptoms.  Your unique set of symptoms will give an experienced ND a lot of information that can be used to individualize a treatment plan just for you.  NDs also can order comprehensive hormone panels that will identify imbalances in prolactin, estrogen, progesterone or testosterone that may be contributing to your symptoms.  You can find a licensed Naturopathic Doctor in your area by visiting the national association websites – CAND in Canada and AANP in the United States.

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.

Photo credits:

Creative Commons License Mislav Marohnić via Compfight

Creative Commons License Ed Yourdon via Compfight

Tim Hamilton via Compfight

Naturopathic Medicine and Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a chronic condition affecting millions of Canadian women. It can begin at any age between the teens and 40s and impacts between 10-15% of women in these age groups.

There is no cure for endometriosis, but Naturopathic Medicine can offer women with this condition hope for improved hormone balance, decreased pain and support for fertility.

Prior to reading this article, I suggest you check out Understanding Endometriosis to learn how to recognize the symptoms of endometriosis and the underlying imbalances that lead to this frustrating condition.

Naturopathic Treatments for Endometriosis

A Naturopathic treatment plan for endometriosis will be highly individualized to each person, addressing their unique lifestyle, dietary and symptom needs. The treatment goals vary person to person, but always include a combination of the following:

  • Normalize the function of the immune system
  • Balance hormones
  • Support liver detoxification of hormones
  • Reduce and block pro-inflammatory chemicals produced by the body
  • Support the large intestine and microbiome (healthy bacteria)
  • Decrease stress

Vitamin CBy addressing these underlying imbalances in endometriosis Naturopathic Doctors can improve the overall health of women with endometriosis, decrease or eliminate symptoms of endometriosis and address the underlying cause of endometriosis.

Normalize Immune Function

There are many nutrients involved in healthy immune function. One of the largest categories of immune supportive nutrients are the antioxidants. Nutrients like vitamin C, beta carotene, vitamin E and selenium all enhance immune function and can be used to support endometriosis treatment. Many of these nutrients also decrease inflammation and can improve pain associated with endometriosis.

Vitamin D, an incredibly important nutrient for Canadians, has profound impacts on endometriosis. Vitamin D regulates cell growth and differentiation in endometriosis, enhances macrophage action and decreases inflammation. Vitamin D supplementation has been found in studies to reduce the weight of endometriosis lesions as well.

Balance Hormones

hormone balanceEndometriosis is a hormonally responsive condition – the growth of the endometrial lesions occurs under the influence of estrogen – so balancing hormone levels is an important treatment goal for all women with endometriosis.

Phytoestrogens, such as lentils, flax seeds and soy, can bind to estrogen receptors and have a less potent effect than our body’s own estrogen. When these phytoestrogens are bound to receptors they displace our own estrogen resulting in a lower estrogen effect overall. These foods should be incorporated into our diet daily for optimal hormone balancing effects.

Indole-3-carbinole and DIM (di-indolylmethane) from brassica vegetables are also estrogen regulating supplements that act much like phytoestrogens by binding estrogen receptors and decreasing our body’s estrogen response. Your Naturopathic Doctor may recommend these supplements, or recommend increasing consumption of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts for hormone balancing in endometriosis.

Reduce Inflammation

Grapes are a source of resveratrolMany of the most profoundly effective treatments for endometriosis work by reducing inflammation in the body. Pycnogenol, a pine bark extract, has anti-inflammatory, immune supportive and anti-growth properties. Studies have shown significant improvements in pain symptoms in women using pycnogenol.

Resveratrol, a substance found in the skin of grapes, is especially beneficial for women with endometriosis and infertility. Resveratrol can decrease inflammation, reduce proliferation of endometrial lesions and protect eggs from the effects of aging.

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is one of the most promising treatments for endometriosis. Studies have found immune function improvements (increases in T regulatory cells, decreases in TNF-alpha), significant decreases in inflammation (including increases in glutathione – a cellular anti-inflammatory) as well as reduces in the size of existing endometrial lesions.

Support Liver Detoxification

The liver is essential for hormone balance as it is where our body detoxifies estrogen and prepares it for elimination. B vitamins are necessary for this function, allowing the liver to more efficiently inactivate and process estrogen.

Nutrients known as lipotropics also promote liver function by promoting the flow of fat and bile (containing estrogen for elimination) out of the body through the large intestines. Choline, betaine, methionine and dandelion are all prime examples of lipotropics that can be used to enhance liver detoxification in endometriosis.

oatmealSupport Large Intestines and Healthy Bacteria

Our body eliminates estrogen by attaching it to a carrier molecule (glucuronic acid) and excreting it through the bile into the stool. Unfriendly bacteria in the large intestines can prevent our ability to eliminate estrogen by breaking this bond between estrogen and it’s carrier. This estrogen is then recycled back into our body, resulting in higher circulating levels of estrogen.

We can modify this action, and support healthy hormone levels, by following the Endometriosis Diet which emphasizes healthy fiber and avoidance of unhealthy fats. Probiotic supplements can also be used in some cases to encourage healthy bacteria balance.

Decrease Stress

Stress occurs frequently in our fast-paced society, but we know that unhealthy levels of stress, or poor adaptation to stress is linked to decreased immune function and may trigger the kind of biochemical imbalances that lead to endometriosis. Studies have demonstrated that endometriosis grows more rapidly, or recurs faster and in greater quantities, during times of extreme emotional stress.

Breathing exercises, physical exercise, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, good quality sleep and adaptogenic herbs and supplements can decrease your stress response and help you to manage your endometriosis, naturally.

Not All Nutrients Are Beneficial

Just because it’s natural, does not mean it’s safe. It is strongly recommended to consult with a Naturopathic Doctor to develop a safe and effective endometriosis plan that will address your concerns and give you the best chances for success.

Additionally, some nutrients may negatively impact endometriosis. L-carnitine, an amino acid, was shown in one study to induce a condition resembling endometriosis with accompanying infertility when give to young female mice. We are not sure of the impact this may have on humans, but a cautious approach is recommended.

Treating Endometriosis

Understanding EndometriosisTo take a fully empowered, knowledgeable approach to your endometriosis I recommend you read the other articles written by Dr. Lisa Watson, ND on endometriosis: Understanding Endometriosis, The Endometriosis Diet, Endometriosis and the Immune System, Acupuncture and Endometriosis and Endometriosis and Infertility.  If you are ready to take the next step, book a complimentary 15 minute meet-and-greet appointment with Dr. Watson, or book an initial consultation.  You can feel better! Get started now.

References

Hudson, Tori. Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008.

Lauersen, Niels H and Bouchez, Collette. Getting Pregnant. New York: Fireside, 2000.

Lewis, Randine. The Infertility Cure. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2004.

Kohama T, et al. Effect of French maritime pine bark extract on endometriosis as compared with leuprorelin acetate. Journal of Reproductive Medicine; 2007:52(8),703-8

Vassiliadis S, Athanassakis I. A “conditionally essential” nutrient, L-carnitine, as a primary suspect in endometriosis. Fertil Steril. 2011 Jun 30;95(8):2759-60.

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.

Uterine Fibroids: Five Things You Need To Do

Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in the muscle layer of the uterus. Depending on the method of diagnosis a staggering 5 to 77% of women have been found to have fibroids. Fibroids can be very small or very large (up to the size of a watermelon!!)

Symptoms of fibroids depend on the size and location of the fibroid. Fibroids can cause pain, bloating or heavy periods.

We don’t understand exactly what causes the development of fibroids but risk factors include African descent, a family history of fibroids, being overweight and perimenopause. There is also a strong association of fibroids with high estrogen levels, a condition known as estrogen dominance.

While we don’t know exactly how fibroids form, here are five things you should do right now if you have fibroids.

Five Things You Need to Do if You Have Fibroids

  1. Check Your Vitamin D Levels

If you have dark skin or live in colder climates (like Canada) you may have a vitamin D deficiency. Low levels of vitamin D can contribute to the development of fibroids and can lead to inflammation and altered insulin response.

If you have fibroids, you should see your Naturopathic Doctor or Medical Doctor to have your vitamin D levels assessed. A vitamin D supplement is recommended for all Canadians during the winter months, so knowing your current levels is important for determining your individualized optimal dose.

  1. Love Your Gut

    Fermented foods promote healthy bacteria balance
    Fermented foods promote healthy bacteria balance

An imbalance in the levels of bacteria in your digestive tract could be contributing to fibroid growth. This imbalance, known as “dysbiosis”, can lead to increased production of inflammatory mediators which migrate to the pelvis and stimulate the growth of atypical cells that develop into fibroids.

Having dysbiosis can also lead to high levels of estrogen by promoting recirculation of estrogen rather than allowing the body to eliminate it.

Digestive dysbiosis can be caused by antacid use, antibiotics, stress, poor digestion, frequent illness and use of birth control pills.

Dysbiosis can be treated by your Naturopath with the use of probiotics, fermented foods, gut healing nutrients and botanicals.

  1. Be Kind to Your Liver

Balancing hormones requires a healthy liver. The two-phase detoxification process in our livers that allows us to detoxify and eliminate estrogen can be influenced by our diet, stress, herbs and medications.

Make healthy choices every day to love your liver and support estrogen detoxification. Limit or eliminate alcohol, eat less gluten, drink green tea, and eat lots of leafy green vegetables. Your Naturopath may also recommend specific herbs to support the liver or a B complex vitamin supplement.

  1. Balance Your Hormones with FoodCruciferous vegetables for hormone balance

One of the most important things you can do if you have fibroids is to follow a hormone-balancing diet – one that decreases inflammation, balances blood sugar and prevents estrogen dominance.

Foods that can increase inflammation, raise insulin and blood sugar levels, and promote estrogen dominance should be limited or eliminated. These include:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Dairy products
  • Gluten containing grains
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners
  • Trans fats

Luckily there are also foods that can promote hormone balance and decrease inflammation. These include:

  • Cold water fish
  • Nuts and seeds (especially flaxseed)
  • Cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi and cauliflower
  • Beans, peas, lentils, soybeans
  • Water
  1. See a Naturopathic Doctor

If you have fibroids you should consider seeing a Naturopath to get an individualized hormone balance plan. Your ND can identify possible causes of inflammation and imbalance in your life and work with you to find solutions to restore your body to a state of healthy balance. Your Naturopath can also prescribe nutritional supplements and botanical medicines to address your fibroids and overall state of health. You can find a licensed ND in your area by contacting the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors or the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

 

Keeping Kids Healthy

Immune support for childrenIt’s back-to-school time again!  An exciting time for parents and kids – and the viruses and bacteria that are heading back to school with them!  For many kids back-to-school means back to runny noses, sneezing, coughing, colds and flus.  And for parents it means sick kids, missed work days – and likely coughs and colds of their own!  But fear not fellow parents, below are my top ten tips for boosting your child’s immune system for back-to-school!

1.    Get a good night sleep

During sleep our immune system is busy producing immune cells that help us to fight off the bugs that lead to colds and flu.  With the change in sleep schedules at back-to-school time a lot of kids aren’t getting the sleep they need.  School-aged children and teens need around 10 hours of sleep per night – so get them to bed on time!

 2.    Teach proper hand washing

Encourage your kids to wash their hands thoroughly several times per day.  Most kids wash their hands for less than 10 seconds but it takes 20 seconds to effectively clean hands.  Avoid using antibacterial soaps – most colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria.  Regular soap is as effective at killing germs as antibacterial soap and doesn’t lead to the development of antibacterial-resistant bacteria strains.

 3.    Cover your cough properly!

As kids we were taught to cough or sneeze into our hands – but times have changed!  When you cough or sneeze into your hand you then transmit viruses and bacteria to everything you touch – door knobs, stair rails, other people.  Teach your kids to cough or sneeze into their elbow – this is known around our house as the “vampire cough” technique.  It’s one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs, and my kids think it’s hilarious!

 Oranges for immune health4.    Feed your immune system

Eating a diet rich in immune-boosting nutrients is one of the best ways to keep our kids (and ourselves!) healthy during back-to-school.  Orange, red, yellow and dark-green fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, beta carotene and other antioxidants and phytonutrients necessary for proper function of our immune system.  Beans, lean meats and whole grains are a source of zinc, which is necessary for growth and immune function.

 5.    Skip the sweets

Refined sugars – found in candies, cakes, muffins, chocolates and sweetened beverages – decreases the function of your immune system for up to six hours after eating it.  That’s a whole day of school!  So skip the sugary school snacks and encourage your kids to eat fruits, vegetables and healthy snacks instead.

 6.    Take your vitamin D

If you live in Canada you need to take a vitamin D supplement through the fall and winter.  All of us – mothers, fathers, grandparents and kids need to take our vitamin D.  In Canada we don’t get enough sunlight between October and April to make vitamin D, resulting in widespread deficiency.  And since we need vitamin D to make antimicrobial peptides – our body’s natural antibiotics – it is no surprise that cold and flu season starts just as our vitamin D levels fall.  Doses are based on body weight – around 800IU for children and around 2000IU for adults.

 7.    Battle bad bugs with good ones

Probiotics are good bacteria that live in our digestive tracts but they are good for more than healthy digestion.  Research shows that probiotics improve the function of the immune system by decreasing numbers of bad bacteria, enhancing function of immune cells and strengthens the mucosal lining of our gut.  Adults and children who take probiotics take less sick days and children have fewer incidences of ear infections, strep throat and colds.

 8.    Treat a cold early

When your kids come home with the first signs of a cold or flu, don’t hesitate to start treating them before it gets worse!  There are a wide variety of herbal medicines, nutrients and supplements that are fantastic for boosting your child’s immune system at the first sign of sickness.  Elderberry, vitamin C, Echinacea, goldenseal, astragalus – and many other – options are available through your Naturopathic Doctor.

 9.    Stay hydratedsleeping kid

Drinking water and clear fluids keeps you hydrated and prevents viruses and bacteria from adhering to the lining of your nose and throat.  During back-to-school season I also suggest parents, kids and teachers drink herbal teas to enhance their immune function.  At both my clinic locations you can purchase the Immuni-Tea I formulated for my own family – a delicious blend of Echinacea, elderberry, ginger, astragalus and other herbs to enhance immune function and keep your whole family healthy!

 10. Keep your sick kids home

Stop the spread of germs and keep sick kids home.  Your child will get well faster with rest and appropriate care, rather than going to school and getting more rundown and exposed to more viruses and bacteria.

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.

10 Tips to Beat a Weight Loss Plateau

A common (and very frustrating) occurrence in weight loss is when all progress stops despite continued efforts.  A plateau is usually defined as two consecutive weeks without weight loss. Weight loss plateaus are predictable and can be easily explained – and overcome.

Why does a weight loss plateau occur?

The basal metabolic rate (BMR) – the energy required by the body at rest (to maintain vital bodily functions) accounts for 60 to 70% of the calories you burn daily.  The BMR is determined, for the most part, by your current body weight – when your weight goes down, so does your BMR.

Hitting a weight loss plateau is VERY frustrating.  But there are several things you can do to overcome this (and future) plateaus and ultimately reach your weight loss goal.

10 Tips for overcoming the weight loss plateau

1. Don’t Give Up!

You may feel like you are no longer losing weight – but you most likely are and it just isn’t registering on the scale.  Losing 1/3 of a pound per week amounts to a weight loss of 17 pounds over a year.  Don’t get discouraged, keep up the hard work and you’ll be rewarded in the long run.

2. Know Your Numbers

Knowing how many calories you burn at rest (your BMR) and how many you burn based on your lifestyle (your Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE) is a good starting point for overcoming a weight loss plateau.  These numbers are heavily dependent on your current weight – so you should recheck these numbers every 2-3 months to make sure they are up-to-date.

To calculate your BMR:

To calculate your TDEE you need to multiply your BMR by your level of physical activity (be careful not to overestimate your current level of activity!):

In order to lose one pound you need to restrict or burn a total of 3500 calories.  To lose one pound per week that is a daily restriction of 500 calories per day.  Do not plan to restrict more than 1000 calories per day – this will provoke a starvation response in your body.  Instead aim for a restriction between 500-700 calories per day.

3. Increase Your Protein

Research suggests that shifting fat and carbohydrate calories to protein calories may help preserve your BMR during weight loss.  But too much protein causes health problems – stick to 20% of your daily calories from protein.

If you are eating 1500 calories per day, 20% is 300 calories – and at 4 calories per gram that equals about 75 grams of protein per day.

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Tea and Iron Deficiency

Tea (Camellia sinensis) is one of the most commonly consumed drinks on the planet and is highly respected for its many health promoting properties.  To name a few, tea is:

  • antioxidant
  • anti-inflammatory
  • probiotic (promotes healthy intestinal bacteria)
  • antimicrobial – antiviral, antibacterial and anti-protozoal
  • anti-mutagenic
  • anti-carcinogenic

However, tea can have a significant negative impact on our health as well.   Green tea, black tea, and some herbal teas (such as peppermint) can contribute to iron deficiency. The polyphenols in tea (the same compounds that give tea – especially green tea – many of its health promoting properties) bind to iron and prevent the body from absorbing it.

When tea is consumed at the same time as iron-rich foods the absorption of iron is decreased by as much as 26%.  This impact on absorption is only a concern with non-heme iron, or plant based iron and is not seen with heme-iron (animal-based iron.)  This leaves vegans and vegetarians at greatest risk for the negative effects of this interaction.

In order to prevent iron deficiency it is recommended that green and black teas – including iced teas, not be consumed with a meal and that individuals at risk for iron deficiency (adolescents, pregnant women, vegetarians and vegans, menstruating women, and the elderly) be aware of the potential impact of tea on their iron status.

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.

Iron Deficiency in Children

Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency seen in children.  In adults the causes of iron deficiency tend to be pregnancy and menses (in women) and gastrointestinal bleeding (in men).  In children iron deficiency is most often due to dietary influences.

Dietary Influences on Iron Levels

Lentils are a vegan source of iron

The effects of diet on iron levels are well-known.  Eating a diet low in iron-rich foods will result in iron deficiency in all age groups.  The chart below shows foods that are rich in iron and should be included in a health-promoting diet.  Picky toddlers and school-aged children may develop iron deficiency due to an iron-poor diet.  However, a low iron diet is only one cause of iron deficiency in children.

The most common cause of iron deficiency in younger children (0-24 months) is over-consumption of cow’s milk.  The iron in cow’s milk is much less available for absorption than human milk.  Breastfeeding for the first 12-24months or using formulas fortified with iron are the simplest solutions for iron deficiency in young children.

Due to the high demand of a child’s body for iron (necessary for growth and development) and the possibility for long-term impacts of iron deficiency (poor growth, decreased intelligence and IQ) an iron deficient child must be treated quickly and appropriately.

Other Causes of Iron Deficiency

Malabsorption (the decreased ability to absorb iron from the diet) is a potential cause of iron deficiency in all age groups.  Malabsorption is most commonly seen in people with celiac disease (an inability to tolerate gluten-containing foods – such as wheat, rye, oats, barley, kamut and spelt) or in people with H. pylori colonization in their digestive tracts.  Absorption of iron is also of concern in vegetarians because the phytates in iron-rich plant foods can decrease absorption.

Genetic conditions can also be a potential cause of low iron.  If you have a family history of iron deficiency discuss this with your Naturopathic Doctor.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

The symptoms of iron deficiency in adults and children are similar:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Sore tongue
  • Dark coloured stools
  • Pica (the desire to eat non-food substances – most commonly ice or dirt)

Food Sources of Iron

Animal Sources(meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy) Plant Sources(legumes, nuts, grains, vegetables, fruit)
Excellent sources (containing at least 3.5mg of iron per serving)
  • Pork, chicken or beef liver
  • Beef kidney or beef heart
  • Clams, canned
  • Oysters, canned
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereal (1 cup)
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Soybeans, white beans
  • Firm tofu
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
Good sources (containing 2.1 -3.4mg of iron per serving
  • Beef
  • Shrimp
  • Sardines
  • Pasta (1 cup)
  • Kidney, navy, pinto beans
  • Baked potato with skin on
  • Cooked spinach (1/2 cup)
Fair sources (containing 0.7 – 2.0mg of iron per serving)
  • Pork, ham, chicken, turkey, lamb
  • Crab, salmon, tuna
  • Eggs (2 large)

*Meat portions are 100g/ 3oz – approximately the size of a deck of cards

  • Split peas (3/4 cup)
  • Dried fruit – raisins, figs, dates (1/4 cup)
  • Almonds, cashews, mixed nuts (1/4 cup)

Treating Iron Deficiency in Children

Iron supplements are the most common cause of accidental poisoning in children so great care must be taken in the dosing and storage of iron supplements.  Before prescribing iron supplements a blood test must be done to confirm low iron levels.  Once iron deficiency has been established your Naturopathic Doctor will prescribe an iron supplement appropriate for your child’s needs.  Dosage of iron is determined by weight and the recommended dose must not be exceeded.

Iron dosage: 2mg/ kg body weight per day

Iron supplements are best absorbed on an empty stomach, but this may cause stomach upset in some children.  If that is the case, take the iron with food.  Taking iron with vitamin C or with an acidic meal (containing lemon juice or vinegar) will increase absorption.

Supplemental iron should be taken for three months, at which time blood tests should be repeated to check iron status.  Iron supplements should be continued for 3 months beyond the point where iron levels are found to be sufficient in order to replenish iron stores.

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.

Multivitamins for Teens – The Best Health Boost

You wouldn’t consider going through pregnancy without taking a multivitamin supplement.  Did you know the teen years are second only to pregnancy in nutritional needs – but how many teens are taking a multivitamin supplement?  Not enough!

The NHANES and NHANES III (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) both concluded that:

The highest prevalence of unsatisfactory nutritional status
occurs 
in the adolescent age group”

Read on to discover the ways a multivitamin can support health during the teen years – and beyond.

Increased Growth Needs for Teens

Teens grow at astounding rates!  Teenage girls grow approximately 23 to 28 cm during their teen years, and teen boys add approximately 26 to 28 cm to their height.  Growth during the teen years accounts for about 20% of total height.

Not only do teens grow up, but they grow out as well.  Weight gain during the teens accounts for about 50% of a person’s ideal adult body weight.  Lean body mass (muscle mass, bones, organs – everything except body fat) increases in both teen boys and girls.

Multivitamins provide a wide spectrum of both vitamins and minerals – nutrients that are essential for growth.  In addition to these nutrients proper amounts of protein, healthy fats (omega 3 fatty acids), and unrefined grains also support healthy growth in teens.

Teens often have very active lifestyles

Increased Physical Activity

The lifestyle of most teens is hectic.  School, part-time jobs, chores, homework, activities with friends – and yet many teens still find time to engage in regular physical activity.  Many adults could learn a lesson from these teens!

Teen athletes (and all active teens) have increased nutritional needs.  A higher daily intake of calories is needed – for 2 hours of physical activity an extra 800 to 1700 calories are needed daily!  In addition to calories, active teens also have higher requirements for sodium and potassium.  And water!  Many people forget that water is an essential nutrient – but it is.  Maintaining hydration is very important for teen health.

Both male and female teen athletes are at risk of iron deficiency.  Regular (yearly or more often) blood tests should be done to make sure iron levels are adequate for teen health.   A multivitamin supplement containing iron should only be used once blood tests have confirmed low iron status.

Poor Eating Habits

Teens may be able to teach adults a thing or two about incorporating physical activity into busy lifestyles, but they could also learn a thing or two about healthy eating.  There are a number of poor eating habits that contribute to nutritional deficiencies and are (unfortunately) very common in teens:

Teens often make high calorie, low nutrient food choices
  • Frequently skip or miss meals
  • High-sugar snacks (including soda) with low nutritional value are popular
  • Excess fast-food consumption

A multivitamin is NOT a substitute for poor eating habits.  Taking a multivitamin supplement will not make an unhealthy diet into a healthy one.  Multivitamins can support our bodies when we don’t always make perfect choices but should be used together with a healthy, balanced diet.

Unique Circumstances

The only thing many teens have in common is their age.  Just about every teen will have their own unique circumstances that lead to individual nutritional needs.  Some of these circumstances include

  • Sports/ physical activity
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Illegal drug use
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use
  • Prescription drug use
  • Vegan diet
  • Vegetarian diet
  • Weight management diets (to gain or lose weight)

Each of these circumstances lead to unique nutritional needs.  There is also another circumstance that half of teens experience that lead to increased nutrient needs.  That circumstance is the menstrual period.  Teen girls are at increased risk of iron deficiency due to their monthly period and use of birth control pills in teens further contributes to deficiencies of B vitamins, folate, magnesium, selenium, zinc and others.

Establish Lifelong Health

The choices we make during our teen years influences the health of our bodies for the rest of our lives.  Changes in bone mass and density occur throughout life, but bone mineral density reaches its peak during the late teens and early adulthood.  These minerals will serve as a “bone bank” for the remainder of life.  Ensure that you are supporting your bones (so they can support you!) by:

  • engaging in regular physical activity
  • consuming adequate calcium in the diet
  • taking a calcium supplement if necessary
  • taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement

Correct Deficiencies

One of the most common uses of multivitamins in all ages is to correct nutrient deficiencies.

A balanced diet plus a multivitamin supplement provides top health for teens.

As previously mentioned, the NHANES and NHANES III studies found that teens had the most unsatisfactory nutritional status of all age groups.  They found that teens were most likely to be deficient in:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1)
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc

A multivitamin, in combination with a healthy diet can correct these deficiencies and prevent the numerous health consequences of having a nutrient deficiency.

Multivitamins for Teens

Above I highlighted many of the reasons why a multivitamin is an excellent addition to teen health – so how do you select a multivitamin for your teen?  The best suggestion is to consult with a Naturopathic Doctor who can uncover any unique nutritional needs for your teen.  Otherwise, select a high potency, high quality multivitamin and take as directed for your teen’s age.

References

Neinstein L. (Ed.)  Adolescent Health Care: A Practical Guide.  4th Ed. 2002.  Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.  Philadelphia.

National Center for Health Statistics.  Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) Public-Use Data Files.  Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/elec_prods/subject/nhanes3.htm

Nutritional Needs of Teens

There is a lot of growth during the teen years.  Emotional growth, intellectual growth, spiritual growth and, of course, physical growth.  All of this growing can be exhausting (this is one of the reasons teens need so much sleep!) It also means that nutritional needs are increased to support all this growth and change.

Teens need over 2 litres of water daily

The teen years are second only to pregnancy and lactation for high nutrient requirements.  The best way to ensure you are getting all of these nutrients is to eat a diverse diet high in different coloured fruits and vegetables, whole grains (such as brown rice, quinoa, barley, and millet), legumes and beans, lean meats (or alternatives) and low fat dairy (or alternatives).

Below are two charts on micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate, fats, water) nutritional needs.  Values given are daily requirements.

Micronutrient_Needs_Teens

*Vitamin D requirements are higher in Canada from October to May due to inadequate sun exposure during the winter.

**Any female who is sexually active should be taking an additional 400mcg daily to prevent birth defects if pregnancy occurs

Macronutrient_Needs_Teens

Remember: these reference values are for normal, apparently healthy individuals eating a mixed North American diet. An individual may have individual physiological, health, or lifestyle characteristics that may require different intakes of specific nutrients.

If you are concerned you are not getting enough nutrients in your diet consider a high quality multivitamin-mineral supplement to meet your needs.  It is better to take a supplement to meet your needs than to deprive your body of the building blocks it needs to grow and maintain health through your teens and beyond.

References:

Health Canada Dietary Reference Intake Tables.  Available online at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/index-eng.php http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/index-eng.php

Teen Girls Need More Calcium

Teen girls aren’t likely to be thinking about their risk for osteoporosis, but maybe they should be.  Peak bone density is reached for most women in their early 20s, and what they are eating in their teen years has an enormous impact on the health of their bones later in life.

Calcium is an essential mineral found in dairy products, leafy green vegetables (spinach, mustard greens, collard greens), almonds, tofu, broccoli, green beans, tofu, asparagus, figs, and apricots.  Calcium requirements vary based on need – and the need increases during times of growth, such as during teen growth spurts.

Teen girls may require supplements to meet daily calcium needs.

Calcium Requirements by Age (mg/day)

Infants 0-6 months:  210
Infants 6-12 months: 270
Children 1-3 years: 500
Children 4-8 years: 800
Pre-teen 9-13 years: 1300 – 1500
Teen 14-18 years: 1300 – 1500
Adult 19-30 years: 1000
Adult 31-50 years: 1000
Adult 51 + years: 1200 – 1500
Teen pregnancy and lactation: 1300
Adult pregnancy and lactation: 1000

Modified from Health Canada DRI Tables

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the intake of calcium in the diet of over 350 teen girls and found that the majority of girls were consuming less than the recommended intake of 1300mg per day.  The average calcium intake was 830mg/day – approximately 65% of the daily recommended intake.  The study looked at the long term effects of supplementing teenage girls with calcium (supplementing with an additional 670mg/day to obtain a daily calcium intake of 1500mg/day) and found that giving teen girls calcium during their teen growth spurt produced higher bone mineral density, making bones bigger and stronger.

The researchers in this study expect that the benefits of calcium supplementation during the teen years will benefit these women into late adulthood, preventing osteoporosis.  Several years of supplementation (ideally from 9-19 years of age) is necessary to have the maximum positive impact.

This study also found that taller girls benefit from higher levels of calcium (as they will have longer bones to support their height).

Supplementing with Calcium

The first step in meeting the calcium needs of teen girls is to include calcium rich foods in the diet.  Below is a list of some of the highest food sources of calcium.  Since dairy is a common source of calcium, special care must be taken by vegans to ensure they are getting enough calcium.

Calcium supplements should be used in teen girls to make sure optimal levels of calcium are achieved.  Calcium should be taken with vitamin D to improve absorption of calcium.

Another way teen girls (and all women) can support healthy bones later in life is by engaging in weight-bearing physical activity several times per week.

Broccoli is a vegan source of calcium

Food Sources of Calcium

Gruyere cheese (3oz) 860mg
Mozzarella cheese (3oz) 621mg
Cheddar cheese (3oz) 525mg
Turnip greens (1 cup, cooked) 492mg
Collard greens (1 cup, cooked) 357mg
Yogurt (1 cup) 345mg
Sesame seeds (1/4 cup) 340mg
Soy milk (fortified, 1 cup) 300mg
Cow milk (1 cup) 300mg
Spinach (1 cup, cooked) 245mg
Tofu (2/3 cup) 190mg
Broccoli (1 cup, cooked) 180mg
Blackstrap molasses (1 tbsp) 137mg
Almonds (1/4 cup) 92mg

The teen years are a time of immense growth and development.  Don’t forget that your bones are growing too.  Support your bones, now and later in life, by consuming adequate calcium in your teens.

References:

Health Canada: Dietary Reference Intakes Tables http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/index-eng.php

Velimir Matkovic, Prem K Goel, Nancy E Badenhop-Stevens, et. al.  Calcium Supplementation and Bone Mineral Density in Females from Childhood to Young Adulthood: a Randomized Controlled Trial.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  2005; 81: 175-88.

Marz, Russell.  Medical Nutrition from Marz.  2nd Ed.  1997.