Staying Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

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Cold and flu season is upon us.  For some people, it is mistakenly assumed that getting sick this time of year is inevitable.  After all, aren’t we at the mercy of every bug or virus we are exposed to?  But did you know that you can take homeopathic remedies to shorten the duration of a cough or flu, or to even prevent it from happening in the first place?  Maintaining a strong immune system, through healthy diet, lifestyle and supplements, is also an important piece of the puzzle. Here are some common remedies that will help you sail through cold and flu season:

  • Aconite: This remedy is particularly effective at the first stages of a cold.  Symptoms usually come on after exposure to cold, dry winds.  There can be violent sneezing, and a runny nose with stuffiness. Stuffiness may feel better in open air, and worse with talking. There may be a discharge from the nose that feels like warm water dripping, which may be worse in the morning.  If there is a cough, it can feel like a tickle in the larynx, and it may be short and dry and worse at night.  Some of the key symptoms include anxiety, fear (even of death), thirst and initial stages of colds.
  • Belladonna: Like Aconite, this remedy has the same keynote of sudden onset of symptoms with dry, burning heat of the face.  There is thirst, and perspiration on the head and neck, which can be sour smelling.  The entire body can feel cold and nothing will relieve the chilliness, but the face is red.  However, if the skin is touched it is often so hot that the heat will linger for some time after. There is also great thirst. Key symptoms include a flushed face with redness, dry but extreme heat of face, pupils dilated and glassy, restless and anxious or dull and incoherent.
  • Allium cepa: Indications for this remedy are obvious. You’ll see clear, watery discharge which irritates the nostrils and upper lip. Think about the same symptoms you get when chopping an onion (in fact, this remedy is derived from the red onion!). Other symptoms might include frequent sneezing and tickling and burning in larynx causing a dry, painful cough. There can also be a lot of thirst.  Key symptoms for this remedy include bland, watery discharge from eyes, burning discharge from nose, sneezing and it is worse in the morning.
  • Antimonium tart: This remedy is indicated if you hear mucous rattling in the chest.  Antimonium tart is usually used in the later stages of a cough, or even pneumonia. The skin can be pale or even bluish.  Key symptoms include rattling mucous audible on coughing, slow onset, late stage of illness, weakness and exhaustion.
  • Arsenicum:  With this remedy, there is prostration with a great deal of restlessness.  There can be violent sneezing with great dryness in the nostrils.  As well, there can be fluent coryza with a stopped nose, and burning in the nostrils. There can be a sensation of dryness and burning in the larynx, and a very dry cough, mostly in the evening after lying down, or at night. Some key symptoms for this remedy include burning pain, restlessness, thirsty for small sips, critical, faultfinding and fastidious.
  • Euphrasia: This remedy is helpful when cold symptoms are relating to the eyes.  There will be an aching, gnawing sensation in the eyes with inflammation and redness.  They eyes may smart and feel as if there is sand in them, and it is worse with bright light. There can also be a loose cough, which is worse during the day, better at night and from eating and lying down.  Key symptoms include burning discharge from the eyes, worse with wind, redness sensation of sand in eyes, bland discharge from the nose.
  • Ipecac:  This remedy is indicated when the cold symptoms spread down from the head into the chest very quickly, and the cough feels suffocating.  The cough is wet and the lungs are rattling and sound full of mucous.  There can be fits of coughing ending in retching, gagging or vomiting.  While the cough is similar to Antimonium tart, the Ant-t cough is much more debilitated and weak.  Key symptoms include wet cough coming in spasms ending in vomiting, worse in warm room, irritable, sudden onset often followed by head cold.
  • Kali bichromium:  The first thing to think of with this remedy is its action on the nasal passages. The nose can be painfully dry, with a burning sensation and stopped up, with a painful pressure in the nasal bones, extending into the frontal sinuses (that is better with pressure).  Symptoms are worse in warm air and much better in cool air.  There can also be sneezing in the mornings, with fluent coryza that is worse in the evening or in open air, and obstructed in the morning.  Like Allium Cepa, the discharge can be excoriating, burning the nose and lips.  There can also be a loss of smell, and speech can sound nasally.  There will be heaviness of the upper eyelids on waking (which may be stuck together with yellow matter), and the eyelids can be dry, burning, itchy, inflamed and swollen.  Key symptoms include thick, gluey, stringy, yellow to green nasal discharges and worse from cold and hot weather.
  • Natrum Muriaticum: Indications for this remedy include a great deal of sneezing, itching and sometimes burning in the eyes. The eyes can be inflamed, teary (especially in the morning when the tearing can be corrosive), and there can be a sensation of sand under the eyelids.  The eyelids can be red or ulcerated. There will be a loss of smell or taste, with obstruction and dryness of the nose.  Discharge can have the consistency of egg white.  Symptoms can become worse when exposed to open air or wind and there can be paroxyms of sneezing.  There can be numbness and insensibility of one side of the nose, and burning on the inside of the nose with scabs inside.  There is a loss of smell and taste.  Key symptoms include symptoms often coming on following grief, colds that start with sneezing, loss of smell or taste, dryness of skin and mucous membranes and cracked lips and/or corners of the mouth.
  • Influenzinum: This remedy is made from the influenza virus. It can be used for any flu-like symptoms (e.g. muscle aches and pains, fever, sore throat, cough, etc.) to shorten duration. It can also be used prophylactically to prevent the flu.
  • Anas barbarae, or Oscillococcinum: This remedy is made from the liver of a duck.  Perhaps that why it’s likened to chicken soup for its benefits in the treatment of influenza, especially in the earlier stages. Symptoms include a bursting headache with muscle aches, anxiety, paleness, chilliness, and sensitivity to any changes in temperature or weather.  There may be discharges from the eyes and nose, with bronchial congestion, and ear pain.  When taken in the early stages of the flu, it is often possible to abort or shorten its course.
  • Bryonia: This remedy has as its main keynote an extreme sensitivity to movement of any kind.  This might show up as aversion to moving in bed or pain on movement. It can also carry over into the dread of company.  There is extreme irritability, so you can liken the mental state of this remedy to a bear being stirred out of hibernation.  Even raising the head from the pillow will cause faintness, nausea and sometimes vomiting.  The patient will want to lie still, may have a headache, and eating and talking will make symptoms worse.  The mouth can be very dry and the tongue coated white down the middle, while it is clean on the sides.  With the intermittent fever there is a chill mixed with heat, and during the chill the head is hot, the cheeks deep red, and there is a thirst for large quantities of water.  The mucous membranes are dry, so any cough will be dry, hacking and painful.  Key symptoms include worse with movement, grouchy, irritable, worse with company, dryness of mucous membranes, worse with warmth/warm rooms, better with cool rooms/open air.
  • Gelsemium: The patient who needs Gelsemium will exhibit classic symptoms of the flu.  They will have extreme weakness and achiness, even to the point that the limbs tremble.  They may be dizzy and find thought difficult.  Their head will be heavy, with dull and bruised pain.  The eyelids might droop and one can look and feel drowsy, and their pupils may be dilated.  There can also be the symptoms of a stuffy nose with an inflamed throat as well as sensitivity to the slightest change in weather and temperature. The mouth can feel very dry, yet there is no thirst and a need to swallow frequently.  The tongue can also have a yellowish-white coating.  Chills that run up and down the spine are common with this remedy, and although motion is not painful there is a need to lie still due to an overwhelming weakness.  Key symptoms include drowsiness, droopiness, dullness, weakness, dry and yet not thirsty, and chilly.

All of these remedies can be extremely effective for cold and flu symptoms, but it is important to also support the immune system with Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, plenty of fluids and rest.  Avoiding sugar and refined foods (e.g. white flour, pasta, bread) is also important, as these foods can suppress immune function. Fermented foods are also important to support proper gut function and, by extension, a healthy immune system.  In my next blog post, I will discuss the importance of gut function, not only for improving immune function but also for better mood, digestion, and so much more.  Until then, wishing you good health throughout the cold and flu season!


Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Tissue Salts for Vibrant Health

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I discovered tissue salts when I was in homeopathic college.  I suffered from the lethargy and dizziness that can come from low iron (or anemia).  My homeopathic doctor recommended I take Ferr Phos and Calc Phos along with my iron supplement.  She told me that it would help with the absorption of the iron.  I had been taking iron supplements for months on end with no results, so when I was presented with the option of these cryptic-sounding lactose pills I was skeptical.  However, within a month of taking them I had an overflow of energy and the dizziness disappeared. I got my levels re-tested and even my medical doctor was surprised.

So what are tissue salts and how can they help us?  Let us begin by looking at the human body.  The human body is composed of a number of tiny, living cells, each one made up of a minute amount of perfectly balanced quantity of three materials: water, organic substances and inorganic substances.  Water and organic matter such as sugar albuminous and fatty substances make up the greater portion of the body, while the inorganic (mineral) elements are present in much smaller quantities.  Nineteenth-century scientist Rudolph Virchow discovered these inorganic elements to be the really vital elements; moreover, the active workers which utilize the inactive substances in building the millions of cells of which the body is composed.  If our blood is lacking these life-giving inorganic elements then the rebuilding process cannot function in a normal, orderly manner and the resulting imbalance gives rise to disease. Dr. Willheim Heinrich Schuessler determined that these inorganic substances are present in the body as mineral salts and he named 12 principle compounds which he called “Tissue Salts.”  Schuessler was able to link each of the 12 tissue salts to a physiological disorder or imbalance in the body.

Even with a perfect diet, rich in vitamins, minerals and trace elements, the body isn’t always able to assimilate all of these elements.  Supplementing with a tissue salt(s) can help restore molecular balance, which will ensure that nutrients are being utilized properly.  Compromised digestion can prevent certain minerals from being absorbed in adequate amounts. The tissue salts bypass the digestive organs and are absorbed immediately.  Let’s look at the symptoms that come with a deficiency in one of these 12 salts:

  1. Calcarea Fluorica (Elasticity): This mineral salt is found in the bones, the enamel of the teeth, and in the elastic fibres of the skin, muscular tissue and blood vessels.  A deficiency in this salt can result in a relaxed condition of the tissues.  Prolapse of any organ, varicose veins, piles, sluggish circulation or loose ligaments would indicate the use of Calc Fluor. It is also excellent for increasing the elasticity of the skin.
  2. Calcium Phosphate (Bone Health):  This mineral salt is found in the bone, teeth, connective tissue, blood corpuscles and gastric juices.  It unites with albumin and gives solidity to the bones, building the teeth.  Calc phos promotes healthy cellular activity and restores tone to weakened organs and tissues.  It is often used in conjunction with Ferr phos to help address anemia and is indicated for enlarged tonsils and nasal polyps. It can also help improve digestion and assimilation and is a valuable tonic.  A deficiency in this salt can manifest as spasms and pain alternating with coldness and numbness, sluggish circulation or senile itching of the skin (pruritis).
  3. Calcarea Sulphurica (Blood Cleanser): This mineral salt is found in the liver where it helps with the removal of waste products from the bloodstream.  Calc Sulph is indicated for any conditions arising from impurities in the bloodstream.  Deficiency symptoms can include skin eruptions, abscesses or ulcers. It has also been indicated for frontal headaches and neuralgia in the elderly.
  4. Ferrum Phosphoricum (First Aid): This mineral salt is regarded as the oxygen-carrier and is considered essential for any kind of congestion, inflammatory pain, high temperature or quickened pulse.  Ferr phos is the medium through which oxygen is taken up by the blood stream and carried to the affected area.  Bleeding can be controlled by aiding a little bit of Ferr phos to the affected area, so it is particularly good for nosebleeds or any kind of cut, wound or abrasion.
  5. Kalium Muriaticum (Glandular Tonic):  Kali Mur is the first remedy to think of when addressing sluggish conditions. This salt is beneficial for lymphatic glands and in any problem associated with thick, white or greyish skin discharges or whenever there is glandular swelling.  This salt is also indicated for sore throat, tonsilitis, or catarrhal infection of the middle ear. Used in conjunction with Ferr phos, it can be very effective for children’s ailments.
  6. Kalium Phosphoricum (Nerve Nutrient): This mineral salt is found in the tissues and fluids of the body, in particular the brain and the nerve cells.  Kali phos is fantastic for nervous headaches, nervous dyspepsia, sleeplessness, depression, weariness, lowered vitality, “grumpiness,” and many other conditions.  Kali phos is indicated in the treatment of shingles, to correct the underlying nervous condition.  In conjunction with Mag phos it can be helpful for any kind of nervous condition or insomnia.
  7. Kalium Sulphuricum (Skin Balance): This salt is found in the cells forming the lining of the skin and those forming the internal mucous lining of all internal organs.  A deficiency in this mineral salt can cause a lack of oxygen leading to chilliness, flashes of heat and pains in limbs which move from place to place.  Most notably, a deficiency in this salt can cause a yellowish, slimy deposit on the tongue or yellowish or greenish discharge.  It is particularly helpful in the treatment of Psoriasis and Athlete’s Foot.
  8. Magnesium Phosphoricum (Nerve & Muscle Relaxant): Mag phos is connected with the nervous system where it supplements the action of Kali phos.  A common deficiency symptom is muscle cramps or spasms.  Mag phos is indicated for nerve pains, such as neuralgia, neuritis, sciatica and headaches accompanied by shooting, darting stabs of pain.  It relieves muscular twitching, cramps, hiccups, convulsive fits of coughing and sudden, sharp twinges of pain.  It is also very helpful for menstrual pain or stomach cramps.  I’ve had a lot of success with this remedy for treating migraine headaches, in combination with magnesium supplementation.
  9. Natrum Muriaticum (Fluid Balance): I discovered the efficacy of this mineral salt when I had chronically chapped lips.  Nat mur is the water-distributing salt.  Its powerful affinity for water means that it controls the ebb and flow of the bodily fluids, its prime function to maintain moisture throughout the system.  Excessive moisture or excessive dryness anywhere in the body is a clear indication of a Nat mur deficiency.  An important function of Nat mur is the production of hydrochloric acid.  Too little acid means slow digestion, especially of calcium-rich foods. Two thirds of the body is made up of water, so Nat mur, the water distributor, plays a vital role.
  10. Natrum Phosphoricum (Acid Neutralizer): This mineral salt is present in the blood, muscles, nerve and brain cells, as well as in the intercellular fluids. One of the functions of Nat phos is that of promoting the absorption of water.  This function is quite distinct from Nat mur which distributes water, and Nat sulph which eliminates surplus water from the body (see #11).  These three tissue salts control the behaviour of body fluids.  Nat phos is indicated in the treatment of dyspeptic conditions due to eating fatty or greasy foods. A deficiency in Nat phos can allow uric acid to form salts which become deposited around the joints and tissues, causing stiffness, pain and swelling.
  11. Natrum Sulphuricum (Water Eliminator): Nat Sulph regulates the density of the intercellular fluids (fluids which bathe the tissue cells) by eliminating excess water.  It is the principle remedy in the treatment of influenza, eliminating excess toxins from the system. It is also important for promoting healthy functioning of the liver, as it ensures an adequate supply of free-flowing, healthy bile, so it is necessary in the later stages of digestion. As such, Nat sulph is indicated in the treatment of ailments affecting the liver.  Sandy deposits in the urine, a brownish-green coating of the tongue or a bitter taste in the mouth are just a few of the deficiency symptoms for this salt.
  12. Silica (Cleanser & Conditioner): This mineral salt is present in the blood, skin, hair and nails.  It is also a constituent of connective tissue, bones, nerve sheaths and mucous membranes.  Silica is indicated whenever there is pus formation or threatened suppuration, e.g. abscesses, boils, gum boils, styes, etc.  It is especially useful in the treatment of tonsilitis when pus has begun to form.  A deficiency in this salt can lead to poor memory, slow and difficult thought and absent-mindedness. Brittle nails and lackluster hair can also be an indication for the use of this mineral salt.

When taking tissue salts, it’s important to allow at least three weeks of consistent use to see results.  Also, taking tissue salts frequently throughout the day is more beneficial than taking a large dose all at once.  If you’re unsure of what tissue salts to use, there is also the option of taking all 12 tissue salts in one formula. The homeopathic company Hylands carries a formula called Bio-XII, which I often recommend to people to help boost vitality and support the entire body.  The company Martin & Pleasance has come out with formulas to address specific conditions (e.g. skin, debility, sinus, calcium absorption, etc.).  Tissue salts are available at most reputable health food stores, and are even safe to use with children or pets.  I hope you will discover all of the benefits that come with the use of tissue salts.  Vibrant health awaits you!


Schuessler Tissue Salts: The building blocks to your family’s health. Martin & Pleasance.

Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Wide Awake: Solutions for Insomnia

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I had my first taste of insomnia in university. It began with a few restless nights, tossing and turning and watching the clock.  And then it turned into trouble falling asleep followed by waking up early, and then everything in between.  Soon, I worried about not sleeping at all and wondered how it was going to affect my performance at my upcoming board exams.  This worry led to even more sleepless nights.  Some nights, I would lie wide awake all night and then, just as I would finally drift off at 5 a.m., I would hear my early-to-rise neighbour (let’s call him Ned Flanders) grinding coffee in the apartment below.  Friends told me to take Gravol, while others tried to console me saying, “Don’t worry, my boyfriend has had insomnia for 10 years. You’ll get used to it.”    Well I can tell you right now, and any insomniac will tell you, you never get used to it.  I fought it tooth and nail and this is the paradox with insomnia. You can’t try to fall asleep. As badly as you may want it, you can’t make it happen. One cure for my insomnia was to let go and this meant embracing the insomnia.  What you resist persists, so they say.

Although there is more to insomnia than just letting go.  In fact moving apartments improved my sleep significantly and not because the new residence was free from noise.  Ned Flanders was now replaced by a combination of combat boots and stilettos on my head in the early hours of the morning.  However, the old residence was forever associated in my mind as the “house of bunked sleep,” to borrow a quote from the entertaining and elucidating memoir, “Wide Awake: What I Learned About Sleep from Doctors, Drug Companies, Dream Experts, and a Reindeer Herder in the Arctic Circle,” by Patricia Morrisroe.  Indeed there was a powerful psychological component to changing residences, which led to more sleep time.  Combined with some homeopathic remedies, which I discuss in more detail below, I eventually had a complete resolution of symptoms.

Walking into any health food store, one might get the impression that we are dealing with a nation of insomniacs and they would be right.  According to a Université Laval study, “sleep disorders affect 40 percent of Canadians” (2011).  The question I always received when working at a health food store was, “which one works the best?” while the customer pointed at the towering wall of sleep remedies and supplements.  If only there was a one-size-fits-all approach, I thought to myself.  Homeopathic remedies, in particular, are very individualized. Here are some of the more common remedies to help you get some zzzs:

·         Coffea:  It sounds counterintuitive to recommend coffee to help you sleep, but homeopathic remedies are based on the law of similars (like cures like).  If you are exhibiting the symptoms of someone who has had one cup of java too many, then this might be the remedy for you.  Some key characteristics include over activity of the mind or insomnia after hearing good or bad news, or from other sudden emotions, or insomnia after drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages.

·         Arsenicum: That’s right!  Arsenic, but don’t worry. It is in such a diluted dose that it will have no toxic effect on the body.  Symptoms include sleeplessness because of anxiety and fears; driven out of bed by anxiety, or feels anxious while sleeping.  Another common symptom is feeling too tired to sleep (e.g. after mental or physical exertion).

·         Ignatia:  This is one of my favourite remedies for insomnia.  Often this remedy is given for insomnia which comes from grief.  Grief doesn’t necessarily come from major changes in life like a death or a move or a divorce. It can also be due to seemingly minor changes.  Frequent sighing or yawning can be an indication for this remedy.  Sobbing or whimpering during sleep is another characteristic symptom.  Also a great remedy for anxiety.

·         Nux Vomica:  This is a fantastic remedy whenever you have overindulged on alcohol, coffee or rich foods.  It is also helpful if such overindulgence has resulted in insomnia.  It is even helpful for a long period of mental strain or excessive study. Irritability or hypersensitivity to the slightest noise or distraction can be an indication for this remedy.

·         Passiflora:  The homeopathic form is particularly good for an overactive mind.  The herbal form is called Passionflower and can also be beneficial.

·         Chamomila: This remedy can be beneficial for people with insomnia due to irritability or insomnia for physical pain or insomnia in people dependent on sedatives.

·         Pulsatilla: This remedy is indicated if you are kept awake by one specific thought.  Some confirmatory symptoms include weeping because of the inability to go to sleep or hands held over the head during sleep.

There are many other homeopathic remedies that may be more suitable for targeting your sleep issues. It is important to discuss this with your practitioner if you are unable to find relief, especially if it has been going on longer than a couple of weeks.  It’s important to review proper sleep hygiene habits and review other lifestyle habits.  Nutritional deficiencies can affect sleep.  For example, magnesium acts as a natural tranquilizer and can help stabilize mood.  You can increase your intake of magnesium by eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds or take 300-500 mg or magnesium in the evening.  Also, adequate amounts of tryptophan are needed to make you feel sleepy.  Foods high in tryptophan include cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds or milk.  Some people suffer from insomnia due to an imbalance with sleep neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin.  This can be aided with the proper balance of supplemental melatonin and 5-HTP, but finding the proper dose for you is something to be determined with your health practitioner.  Alternatively, exposing yourself to natural light first thing in the morning can help to increase serotonin, while dimming the lights in the evening can assist with melatonin production and can help make you feel sleepy.

Women can be especially susceptible to insomnia, due to hormonal fluctuations throughout the month.  Perimenopausal women might notice the peaks and dips are even more dramatic during the month than when they were younger, leading to inconsistent sleep patterns especially when estrogen (estradiol) drops.  A familiar symptom I hear from women, especially women between the ages of 40-50 years old, is that they find themselves waking up every hour.  For menopausal women, there could be even more hot flashes which can make sleep virtually impossible.  Balancing hormones with homeopathic remedies, supplements, healthy diet and stress reduction can do wonders for turning sleepless nights into restorative nights.

On a final note, adrenal support is especially important for both women and men who are desperate for a good night’s sleep.  The adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys, are responsible for producing a number of hormones including cortisol, adrenalin, noradrenalin and DHEA.  Prolonged stress, however, can impair the adrenal glands’ ability to produce these hormones in sufficient amounts which can lead to anxiety, depression and, you guessed it…insomnia!  I will talk in more detail about how to support the adrenal glands in future blogs, since it is so crucial to hormone balance and general vitality.


Sources:

Cummings, Stephen, and Dana Ullman. “Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines.” 1997.

Holford, Patrick. “New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind.” 2009.

Université Laval. “Sleep disorders affect 40 percent of Canadians.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 September 2011.


PMS: What you can do about it

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Premenstrual syndrome or PMS is one of the most common conditions I come across in my practice.  PMS is the name given for the cyclic occurrence of specific physical and behavioural changes experienced by women, usually appearing two weeks before menses.  Symptoms can include — but are not limited to — headache, fatigue, fluid retention, constipation, weight gain, acne, abdominal cramps, sugar cravings, low libido and even panic attacks.  For most women in their reproductive years, it is easy to assume that PMS is just the burden of being a woman. But did you know that PMS is not a natural condition? In fact, PMS is often the result of a hormonal imbalance. One of its causes can be high and unopposed estrogen.  High amounts of estrogen in ratio to progesterone is associated with many of the following types of PMS.

Four types of PMS have been identified:

  • PMS-A: This includes anxiety, emotional ups and downs and outbursts. This can be due to high copper and low zinc, which is especially common in women with a history of taking oral contraceptives.
  • PMS-D: The “D” stands for depression, but can also include fear, paranoia, withdrawal and suicidal tendencies. This can be due to low serotonin.
  • PMS-C: The “C” stands for cravings for food. This can be due to an over-secretion or increased binding of insulin and low serotonin.  This can be due to low magnesium or low prostaglandin levels.
  • PMS-H: The “H” stands for heaviness or headache, which can include bloating, fluid retention, bloating and weight gain. This can be due to low magnesium and poor Vitamin B6 metabolism.

These four classifications were created as far back as 1931 and, yet, one can argue they are much more relevant today.  Nutritional deficiencies due to poor quality soil and a highly refined diet are contributing to more intense PMS symptoms.  Also, the use of oral contraceptives and the sheer amount of endocrine disruptors (or estrogen mimickers), whether in our exposure to toxic ingredients in cosmetics or the plastic in a water bottle, not to mention other stresses in our environment, are also tilting hormones to favour estrogen over progesterone.  As women get closer to menopause, progesterone declines even more dramatically creating an even higher ratio of estrogen to progesterone.  Consequently, women find that their PMS symptoms get worse as they get older.  Progesterone is essential to warding off PMS symptoms. One of its functions is to promote smooth muscle contraction which can prevent severe cramping. Meanwhile, too much estrogen can have the opposite effect leaving women to suffer with many of the classic symptoms of PMS.

Here are a few things you can do to help find some relief:

  • Increase your intake of phytoestrogens. Some good sources include fermented soy products such as tempeh or miso.  Flax seeds, chia, sesame seeds, berries, oats, mung beans, alfalfa and lentils are also beneficial.  These foods will compete with receptor sites that might otherwise be taken up by endocrine disruptors called xenoestrogens, which will promote inflammation in the body.
  • Stabilize your blood sugar by sticking to a low-glycemic diet. Eat whole, unprocessed organic foods.  Low glycemic foods will help increase serotonin levels and increase mood.
  • If you are suffering from water retention, consider diuretic foods such as dandelion, asparagus, watermelon, grapes and cucumber.
  • Constipation can be remedied by a combination of soluble and insoluble fibre. This includes fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine in tea, coffee, chocolate and soft drinks. Not only can stimulants affect blood sugar, but they can also lead to mood swings, anxiety and forgetfulness.
  • Decrease dairy products and animal fats. Animal-based products can contain estrogen-like hormones and growth hormones.
  • Increase your intake of dark, leafy green vegetables and chlorophyll-containing foods. This will provide much-needed B vitamins and help support the liver (which metabolizes hormones).

Here is a list of supplements* that might help, if a whole foods diet is not enough.

  • Vitamin C, B complex, B5 and an adrenal glandular are important for supporting adrenal gland function. The adrenals are endocrine glands that play an essential role in healthy hormone balance.
  • Vitamin B6 is a natural diuretic and is a vitamin that gets depleted with the prolonged use of oral contraceptives. When Vitamin B6 is combined with Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, zinc, magnesium, Vitamin B3 and Vitamin C, one can address prostaglandin imbalance. Prostaglandins are a group of cyclic fatty acid compounds, which have a variety of hormone-like effects in the body including promoting uterine contractions.  When out of balance, there will be more pain, clotting and inflammation.
  • Constipation can be addressed with higher doses of Vitamin C and magnesium. Magnesium, in combination with calcium (2:1 ratio) can also address cramping, breast tenderness and muscular pain. Sugar cravings can sometimes be fully remedied with magnesium alone.  Taking a Mag/Cal supplement at bedtime can help promote sleep.
  • Breast tenderness can be addressed simply by taking Vitamin E and iodine, which also protect the breasts from the potent effects of estrogen. Cabbage leaves applied directly to the breasts can also help.
  • Headaches are alleviated by magnesium, vitamin B3, and potassium.
  • Depression can be addressed with 5-HTP (a serotonin precursor), Vitamin B6, B2 and B3.
  • Alternating flax seed oil (day 1-14 of menstrual cycle) with evening primrose oil (day 15-28 of menstrual cycle) can also help balance estrogen and progesterone.

*Keep in mind that many of these vitamins can be found in a multivitamin. However, depending on an individual’s unique requirements, additional vitamins and/or minerals may be required. Look for a whole food multivitamin when shopping at the health food store.

There are many other PMS therapies, including botanical remedies such as vitex, rosemary, cramp bark and motherwort as well as homeopathic remedies.  However, many of these remedies are highly individualized and would be best matched to a patient’s individual symptom picture by a skilled practitioner.

Good-quality sleep, exercise and meditation are also important for managing PMS symptoms.  However, it is important to note that the biochemical and endocrine picture can be complex.  PMS symptoms are not necessarily caused by one thing, such as a high estrogen to progesterone ratio.  There could also be high prolactin, high cortisol, low thyroid function, lower endorphins, reduced serotonin or impaired Vitamin B6 metabolism.  It is worth tracking your symptoms throughout the month, as well as keeping food journal, as it will provide invaluable information that you can go over with your practitioner.


Sources:

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Lessard-Rhead, Brenda, “Nutritional Pathology,” 2013.


Homeopathic Remedies for Seasonal Allergies

Itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose. This is the misery that allergy season can inflict on many of us this time of year. But don’t despair!  Here is a small sampling of remedies that can help make the season more bearable, and might rid you of your symptoms for good:

Allium Cepa – This remedy is derived from raw onion, so just think of the symptoms you get when you’re chopping onions.  The hay fever-like symptoms show up as a nasal discharge that is clear and burning and that irritates the nostrils and the upper lip. The eyes can be red and burning and be accompanied by non-irritating, streaming tears.  Symptoms can become worse in warm rooms or indoors and improve in open air.

Euphrasia – This remedy is the opposite of Allium Cepa, in that there is a non-irritating, watery nasal discharge and copious, burning tears.  Euphrasia (or Eyebright) is particularly good for eye conditions where the discharge is thick and mucous-like.  Oftentimes, people complain of having dust or sand in their eyes.  The eyes and the lids may also be red.

Sabadilla – With this remedy, you will see copious amounts of watery nasal discharge and spasmodic sneezing. There can also be the other classic symptoms of hay fever like itchiness and red, runny eyes.  Symptoms improve by being outside in the open air. There might also feel like there is a lump in the throat and a constant urge to swallow.

Wyethia – This remedy is accompanied by intense itching, especially at the back part of the roof of the mouth (the part that you can never quite reach!).  There might also be itching behind the nose.  The throat, nose and nasal passages may feel dry, even though there is copious burning and watery discharge.

Histaminum – This remedy may sound counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t we be taking an anti-histamine?  In homeopathy we use the smallest amount of a similar substance, such as histamine, to treat the body’s overproduction of histamine. The result is a lessening of symptoms.  This principle is based on the Law of Similars (like cures like).  Try this remedy if you have the classic allergy symptoms of redness, itching, watery eyes, sneezing.  Take in combination with another remedy that matches your symptoms (e.g. Sabadilla and Histaminum).

Pollen – If you know that you are reacting to pollen specifically, you can take the homeopathic version of pollen.  Similar to Histaminum, the theory behind its use is based on the Law of Similars.  You might want to consider taking a few doses at the beginning of the allergy season, or as needed, and you might just find you don’t have to reach for the conventional anti-histamines.

Other things to consider with seasonal allergies is your overall immune health. Immune health can often be linked to gut health.  The intestine acts like an immune barrier and can be considered your first line of defense against immune reactions, says Carolee Bateson-Koch in her book Allergies: Disease in Disguise: How to Heal Your Condition Permanently and Naturally. If homeopathic remedies are not enough, you might need to look at your diet.  The healthier your gut, the less likely it is you’ll have allergies.  Kefir, miso, sauerkraut and other fermented foods can provide a natural source of beneficial bacteria in your diet, which can improve gut health. Check out Bateson-Koch’s book on how to further improve gut health and, by extension, immune health.

Finally, it might be worth looking at supplements or herbs such as Quercetin and Nettle.  Quercetin stabilizes mast cell production, which helps control how much histamine is produced while nettle works as a natural anti-histamine.  Check with your natural health practitioner on the dosage that is best for you.


A Cleanse Retreat at Home

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Recently I picked up the book Urban Remedy by licensed acupuncturist Neka Pasquale. In it, she explains how you can create your own four-day cleanse retreat at home. I loved the idea of this book for several reasons: a) you don’t have to spend a fortune at a spa to look and feel amazing. b) food is your medicine, rather than fancy herbs or remedies. c) anyone, with the right equipment, can do this.

In my last post, I talked about all of the things you can do to improve your health such as drinking lemon and water in the morning, dry brushing before a shower, eating a variety of colours (i.e.fruits and vegetables) and castor oil packs. Pasquale recommends these approaches, and more. The challenge was finding the time to incorporate these healthy habits over just four days, plus the food prep, lifestyle suggestions (walking, yoga, tongue scraping, etc.) and the salt and vinegar baths (don’t worry, you won’t smell like a chip!). The best part of the cleanse is Pasquale’s creative and delicious recipes, such as Asian Kale salad, Zucchini Pasta with Tomato Sauce, and countless fresh juices and smoothies. At the beginning of Day 1, my fridge was packed with food (so much in fact, I had trouble closing the fridge and it wasn’t a rare occurrence for a cucumber to fly out). The fridge was rebelling against my veggie gluttony. And, to be honest, I was wondering how on earth I was going to eat all of these vegetables. It was an embarrassment of riches.

By Day 2, I was getting into the swing of things. But I felt like all of the fibre that my Omega juicer spewed out was a waste. My juicer groaned as it tried to process the cornucopia of fibrous vegetables. Celery, spinach, kale, beet, apples, carrots, watercress, lemon, ginger, and parsley were greedily gobbled up, but all that was left behind was a 12 oz. glass of juice and, with it, a gigantic mountain of fibre. Maybe I could make doggie biscuits with it? This thought crossed my mind as my cocker spaniel eyed the chopping board lustily, waiting for a rogue carrot to fall from the sky.

By Day 3, the cleanse had become more restrictive. I jumped out of bed to make my daily lemon and water drink, dry brush my body and jump into the shower (with a cold spritz at the end for good measure). A Dandelion Liver Tonic was the next order of business, followed by an Alkalizing Mineral Broth for breakfast. Yum! Shitake mushrooms, seaweed, and other veggies are boiled and processed into a swamp-like looking concoction, but over the course of the cleanse it had become a treat. Combined with miso it is a savoury delight, a nice alternative to the cooling properties of green juices.

Day 4 and I have finally forgotten that dark chocolate and brown rice chips exist (well…almost). In fact, I look forward to all of what the next day has to offer. Sunflower Sprout and Carrot Juice, Tummy Lover cabbage juice and Mediterranean Mix Salad were on the menu and, while it sounded a little bland in comparison to an omelet or pancakes, I couldn’t deny that my head felt clearer and I had more energy. I also noticed that I didn’t hesitate to take time out of the day to meditate or do yoga, or write in my journal. Prior to the cleanse, I had had this ominous cloud of obligation (or guilt) hanging over me of all of the things I had to do. My “To Do” list was not getting any smaller and yet I was working all the time, but not taking out enough time for myself. However, since doing the cleanse, my work had become more efficient and I found that the more I invested in self care, the more I could give to others.

For all of the work required to do your at-home cleanse retreat, you get so much back. The selection and preparation of food alone gives you a deeper appreciation of the powerful healing properties of nutrient-dense foods. The baths are a lesson in taking time out to recharge. So often we hop in and out of the shower, forgoing the timeless and meditative quality of a therapeutic bath. Since finishing the four-day cleanse, I have continued to take more time out during the day to recharge. I have also made juicing a daily habit and feel more energetic and motivated than ever. I invite you to embark on your own at-home journey into self care.