How Can I Protect My Gut?

When you have a digestive illness, it essentially means that your delicate intestinal lining (the mucosa) is damaged, making it impossible to extract nutrients and other substances crucial for your body’s biological processes. Patients often ask ‘how can I protect my gut while taking antibiotics’?  Antibiotics or any chronic digestive complaint are other ways the gut lining can get damaged.  It is important to have an adequate microbiome set up and the healthy lining to hold onto the good bacteria while going through antibiotics, stress or a digestive illness.  There are many nutrients that can help.

The amino acid L-Glutamine is one of these substances. A protein building block, L-Glutamine is stored in muscle where it’s vital to tissue growth and repair. It’s involved in the formation of other amino acids and glucose (sugar), as well as the body’s adaptive response to stress and the optimal functioning of the immune and digestive systems.  It also plays a role in helping irritable bowel syndrome or IBS.  Probiotics and avoiding food sensitivities can also help.

The mucosa requires maintenance to protect and repair itself from the effects of stress, toxins, and a poor diet. When the mucosa breaks down, inflammation results and this is associated with a variety of chronic health conditions. Further, when illness, chronic or severe stress, inflammation, or food sensitivity/allergies cause the gut to fail at effectively breaking down food to acquire nutrients, deficiency results. A lack of sufficient glutamine in the gut creates a cycle of wear and tear on the mucosa.

Clinical research shows that L-Glutamine supplements can break that cycle by helping repair damage and potentially help the lining regrow. This connection between glutamine and intestinal maintenance has led researchers to examine its role in Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity.

L-Glutamine supplements are available in both pill and powder form. Proper dose is crucial to its effectiveness. It’s not recommended for children under age 10 or for people with certain health conditions, including kidney or liver disease. Consult with your La Mesa naturopathic doctor to find out if L-Glutamine is right for you.  Come learn how to heal your gut!

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Zinc: Essential for Every Body

 Zinc is second to iron as the most common mineral in the human body and it’s found in every cell, making it vital to the health and well being of children and adults. Zinc plays an indispensable role in hundreds of biochemical reactions including those that support the development and the health of the blood, skin, muscles, and hormones. Zinc also   supports optimal function of the nervous system, immune system, and endocrine   system.

Zinc is present in a great variety of foods, such as eggs, seeds, nuts, dry beans, red meat, miso, dark turkey meat, dark leafy greens, and scallops. However, because there is evidence of mineral depletion in soils around the world, your naturopathic doctor may recommend a trace mineral supplement. A zinc supplement might also be recommended for people with a medical condition that affects absorption. Medical researchers are looking at how the body utilizes zinc and whether or not taking zinc can improve treatment for Celiac Disease, diabetes, thyroid function, heart disease, and other health concerns. In other research, a connection exists between taking certain forms of zinc and a reduction in the number of colds in a year, the number of missed school days, and the amount of antibiotics required in otherwise healthy children.

A person’s need for supplemental zinc varies based on age, gender, and other health factors. There are several forms of zinc, but not all are appropriate for every person. For some people, zinc supplements can cause upset stomach or interfere with the actions of other medications. Also, taking too much zinc can have a toxic effect. Consult with your La Mesa naturopathic doctor before starting a zinc supplement.

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Elderberry: Medicinal Elixir for the Whole Family

For millennia, physicians, and herbalists have found medicinal uses for all parts of the elder tree, including its wood, leaves, flowers and berries. Leaves were used in ointments to heal skin. The flowers and berries were made into infusions as a common treatment for colds and rheumatic conditions. Today, herbalists and holistic physicians commonly recommend elderberry for the wide variety of properties that can support the health of the young and old alike.

European (Black) Elder (Sambucus nigra) is the species safely and most commonly used for botanical medicines. Note that the berries should not be eaten (or used) raw. They must be dried first or properly cooked at the peak of ripeness.

Elderberries are rich in Vitamin C and flavonoids that act as antioxidants that protect cells in the body from damage and can help reduce inflammation. They have been used in preparations to treat colds, flu, and bacterial sinus infection. In studies, syrup prepared from the juice of elderberry has been shown to help decrease the duration of flu symptoms, including swelling in mucous membranes and congestion. Other studies have shown that elderberry extracts have antiviral properties and appear to have a role in inhibiting the replication of viruses.

Elderberry can interact with other medications including those used to treat diabetes, asthma, and drugs that suppress the immune system. Before using an elderberry product for an adult or a child, check with your La Mesa naturopathic doctor to verify the integrity of the product and appropriate use.

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Recommendations for Happy and Healthy Children

There’s a lot you can do to help your child maintain optimal health and prevent the occurrence of common illnesses. For instance: Do you model healthy eating? Are you exercising as a family? Do you make time to play and relax? Teach your children the following self-care tips and you’re helping them establish a lifetime of healthy habits.

Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body. Kids should brush and floss at least twice a day. Good oral hygiene benefits the whole body.

Clean Hands, Healthier Kids. A daily shower or bath is important, but it’s routine hand washing that helps prevent the transfer of bacteria, reducing the chance of diarrhea, respiratory illness, and the common cold.

Guard Against Colds. Teach children to: avoid shaking hands or getting close to folks who are sneezing and coughing; refrain from sharing school supplies and toys with those who are sick; never drink or eat from another child’s containers; always use tissues and cough into the crook of their elbow, not their hands.

Bug Prevention. Lice love warm, cozy places. To prevent the spread of head lice, kids should not wear hats indoors. They should never share brushes, combs, hats, hairbands, or athletic headgear. If lice are present at your child’s school or daycare, consider a short haircut or styling long hair in a ponytail, bun, or braid.

Healthy Hydration. Water is essential to health. It helps flush toxins from the body, maintain healthy circulation, promote strong muscle contractions, facilitate digestion, and prevent dehydration.

Eat a Rainbow. A balanced diet includes a variety of colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, and high-quality sources of protein. Involving your children in shopping and meal preparation empowers them to make healthy choices and try new foods. Eat at least one meal each day together as a family, without watching TV or having phones and other electronics at the table. This promotes mindful eating and encourages family communication.

A Little Sweetness. If you’re modeling healthy choices around sweets, then it won’t bother your kids (too much) that you’re asking them to do the same. Point out the health problems associated with eating too much sugar (e.g., poor athletic performance, gaining weight, diabetes). However, don’t deprive kids and don’t label foods as good or bad. If they’re making healthy choices 80% of the time, a little sweetness in their diet will be okay-and will be savored.

Strengthen Emotional Muscles. Encourage your child to journal, collage, write poetry or draw comics to express a range of emotions. A ‘what’s up’ notebook between an adult and child encourages kids to open up, tell you about their day, even ask embarrassing questions. Adults who reply honestly and non-judgmentally find this is a great way to start difficult conversations or just get a sense of what’s going on with their child. This works best if you start during the later elementary or early middle school years.

Family Values. Call a family meeting and find out what’s important to each family member and what they think will contribute to a healthy, happy home life. For example, your family might identify respect, responsibility and communication as core values. This exercise sets up expectations for behavior inside and even outside your home. It helps kids feel accountable for their behavior toward themselves and other family members.

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Are we more concerned with getting sunburned than with our Vitamin D status?

In this article, I want to take another look at Vitamin D and our epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble steroid that is used throughout the body for many processes. Some symptoms of deficiency are commonly known while others may be new concepts. We take Vitamin D to help balance calcium that is taken from and stored in the bones. Immune function relies on Vitamin D to keep infection at bay. The vitamin also plays an important role in mood, autoimmune disease, obesity, and likely, most chronic disease. It is also vital to brain development.

Vitamin D synthesis starts in the skin and concludes in the kidney with an endocrine transfer that distributes the vitamin to tissues throughout the body. With this mind, we can consider why so many people have Vitamin D deficiency. Sometimes, Vitamin D deficiency simply results from inadequate intake; other times, deficiency can be due to the body’s inability to utilize the Vitamin D it has absorbed. About half of the patients with the MTHFR mutation or methylation defect also have a defect in their Vitamin D receptors, which causes suppression of Vitamin D production in the body. Cytochrome P (CYP) in the liver can also activate receptors and deactivate the Vitamin D molecule. Even from the simplified biochemical explanation here, you can see that the body’s system of utilizing Vitamin D is rife with complexities and details.

Adding to Vitamin D deficiency issues is the trend of doctors instructing parents to keep their kids out of the sun. We smother our kids with sunscreen so they get very little sun absorption. This is not to suggest that we allow our kids to get sunburned during a long outing in the sun! Rather, we must reach a balance to ensure that little bodies adapt to tolerate the sun in regular doses from an early age – this way, our children are less likely to burn as they get older. In fact, we can reach our daily levels of recommended Vitamin D intake before we are even close to the sunburn level. It is estimated that it takes roughly half the time to reach satisfactory intake levels as it does to burn, which ranges from about 15 minutes for fair skin to two hours for dark skin. So save the strongest versions of sunscreen for the hours of 11 am to 3 pm, or the middle of the day, when children are in direct sunlight, and allow modest exposure otherwise. Even individuals with a history of skin cancer can increase the anti-oxidant levels in their skin, without increasing their risk for skin cancer reccurrence, through moderate sun exposure. For those times that do call for sunscreen, beware that some chemicals in poorly-formulated sunscreens can actually increase risk factors of skin cancer, as can sunscreens that only block UVB waves (and expose you to dangerous UVA radiation). Be sure to look for natural ingredients and make sure the product you buy protects against both UVA and UVB.

The founder of the Vitamin D Council has observed that three epidemics have started since our society has been taught to shelter kids from the sun: asthma, autism and autoimmune conditions. Parents put many resources into their children’s treatments for these serious conditions. As a naturopathic physician, I have been able to reverse the complications of these ailments in many of my patients. For instance, kids with asthma respond very quickly to natural treatment and often go off inhalers and steroids within the first month after visiting me. Autism, interestingly, is more common in households of higher socioeconomic status as parents with higher education tend to follow more strictly medical persuasion to keep kids out of the sun. Avoiding the sun altogether really is a new idea for the human race, as is sunscreen.

In countries with normal exposure to the sun, mean natural Vitamin D levels are 46 ng/mL of blood. The ideal concentration of Vitamin D in the blood depends on factors such as individual risk and illness, and can vary widely. In general, 46 ng/mL is a good number for which the already healthy should strive. Some studies show that Vitamin D can be washed off the skin within 12 hours of exposure simply by bathing. While sunbathing is the preferred method of getting Vitamin D, you can also get it from supplements and some limited food sources like reindeer meat, seagull eggs, lard, cold water fish, sun dried mushrooms, grass-fed meat, eggs and milk.

Finally, I’d like to address briefly the issue of medications and sun exposure. If you are in the sun while taking certain medications, you may experience a phototoxic reaction caused by interaction between the sunlight and the free radicals in the medication. This interaction may cause sunburn, rash or hives. There are several medications that can cause sun sensitivity. The most common are antibiotics such as tetracyclines and fluoroquinolones; anti-depressants acting as SSRIs or tricyclics; NSAIDs such as Advil, Aleve, Celebrex and Motrin; and diuretics. Your doctor will warn you to stay out of the sun for 48 hours after taking these medications. It is wise to avoid the sun when you have no choice but to take these particular pharmaceuticals.

Schedule a visit with your La Mesa naturopathic doctor for more information or if you are concerned about your vitamin D levels. For more articles on natural health, please subscribe to our newsletter here.

Naturopathic Solutions for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), one of the most common endocrine (hormone) disorders, affects approximately 10 million women of all races and ethnic groups worldwide. It’s the leading cause of infertility in women and can present at any life stage – from puberty through post-menopause. Most women with PCOS will have cysts on the ovaries, but as many as 30% of women will not have cysts. Women with PCOS experience an array of symptoms, including:

  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • obesity
  • infertility
  • pelvic pain with or without periods
  • mood swings, depression or anxiety
  • thinning hair on the head
  • excessive body hair (hirsutism)
  • fatigue and sleep problems

Because of the wide range of PCOS symptoms, fewer than 50% of women are properly diagnosed. Too often women simply accept the discomfort and don’t inform their doctors until symptoms are at their worst. Even then, they are often misdiagnosed because so many of the symptoms can be attributed to other causes. Another reason for missed diagnosis is that PCOS has long been believed to be present only in obese women; we now know that it can affect women of any body weight including those who are normal or even underweight. Additionally, PCOS can present differently based on life stage, genetics, ethnicity, age and environmental and lifestyle factors such as self-care, exercise, and eating habits.

Causes of PCOS

Obesity and insulin resistance are health issues that are linked to PCOS and both affect hormonal function in the body. Insulin resistance relates to problems with regulating insulin, a hormone that allows the body to properly use glucose (blood sugar) for energy. When the body isn’t as responsive to insulin as it needs to be, too much of it circulates in the blood and can cause a hormone imbalance.

Natural Solutions

Dr. Samuel Thatcher, an early pioneer in PCOS research and treatment, was among the first clinicians to advocate for a holistic approach to PCOS treatment. With the goal of enhancing a woman’s quality of life, holistic health practitioners perform a thorough lifestyle assessment, blood tests, and dietary analysis. They then educate and guide women in using natural approaches to manage and heal from PCOS, such as:

  • Lifestyle Improvements. A whole foods diet, exercise, stress management, and proper rest are essential to PCOS treatment. These approaches can create a positive shift in blood sugar level, mood, and body weight. Approaches will differ based on a woman’s stage of life and complexity of symptoms.
  • Supplement Support. Some of the herbs and nutrition supplements that may be used for PCOS aim to balance blood sugar level as well as hormones. These can include Nettle Root, Green Tea, Flax Seeds, Saw Palmetto, Licorice Root, Chaste Tree Extract, Trace Minerals, Vitamin D3, and Chromium.

If you think you have PCOS, speak with your La Mesa naturopathic doctor about the approaches best suited to your symptoms and needs.

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Support for Menstrual Difficulties with Chaste Tree Extract

Back in the Middle Ages, Chaste Tree Extract (Vitex agnus castus, aka Vitex or Chasteberry) was used by monks to decrease sexual desire (hence its name!). Today we know that this powerful herb – a medicinally potent brown berry about the size of a peppercorn – doesn’t impact sexual desire. But it does help manage reproductive disorders. Vitex is used for menstrual difficulties including PMS and PCOS, breast pain management, and infertility. It may also benefit women going through menopause.

Vitex does not supply hormones to the body; rather, it acts on the glands that control hormone production, namely the pituitary and hypothalamus. Ultimately, it helps balance the ratio of progesterone to estrogen, while slightly elevating progesterone level.

Chaste Tree is available as a liquid extract, in capsule and tablet form, and as an essential oil. It is considered safe for most people. However, women on birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, or who have a hormone-sensitive condition (such as breast cancer) should seek medical consultation before taking this herb. Also, it should not be used by persons taking antipsychotic drugs or medications for Parkinson’s disease. Contact your La Mesa naturopathic doctor for information and to assess the appropriate use for your health concerns.

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The Antioxidant Power of Green Tea (Camellia sinensis)

The wonderful thing about Green Tea is how the leaves retain their biologically active nutrients from the time of harvesting to the moment you brew and then sip this liquid elixir. Green Tea contains plant nutrients (polyphenols), such as catechins and flavonoids, which function as antioxidants, helping the body to clear out free radicals, molecules that cause oxidative damage to cells. This damage creates inflammation and can lead to disease.

One of the potent compounds in Green Tea is the antioxidant Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG). Studies conducted on the health-protective benefits of EGCG show that people who frequently drink Green Tea have lower rates of illness, including many types of cancer. While additional research is needed to understand the mechanisms that contribute to the medicinal properties of Green Tea, EGCG supplements have been used in clinical trials to help treat certain cancers, inflammatory diseases, and diabetes.

There are many ways to enjoy Green Tea. The best varieties of tea will be loose leaf, organically harvested from GMO-free crops. To maintain the potency of the antioxidants in your tea, do not add milk, which alters the tea’s health-boosting properties. Be sure to follow the steeping directions. Steeping longer than directed can make the tea bitter. As a general rule, if you prefer a stronger tea, add more tea for the same steeping time. To sweeten, add locally sourced honey or a splash of fresh squeezed lemon, orange, or even watermelon juice. Contact your La Mesa naturopathic doctor for more information about the benefits of green tea.

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Was it Something I Ate? Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease

What is gluten? Gluten, or gliadin, is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It can also be found in many grains that are processed in the same equipment as wheat, most commonly oats. This occurrence is called cross-contamination.

Those who are sensitive to or intolerant of gluten have an immune reaction. The soldiers of the belly and the rest of the body are designed to keep out the enemy. Gliadin protein is large and generally inflammatory, and when it gets through the intestinal layers without being digested, it will appear as an enemy. The body’s soldiers rise to the occasion and begin to remove this enemy along with any cellular tissue that looks like gluten proteins. Most commonly, this is the tissue of the thyroid, joints, and intestines. Gluten sensitivities may also be exacerbated by genetically modified (GM) foods. GM foods have been related to the following conditions that affect gluten-related disorders: intestinal permeability, imbalanced gut bacteria, immune activation and allergic response, impaired digestion, and intestinal wall damage. A gluten-free diet is the first line of treatment for most thyroid and chronic pain patients.

Individuals have different levels of immune reactivity. IgA reactivity may show only belly symptoms but IgG reactivity usually shows many symptoms throughout the body; IgE is where it crosses the line into Celiac, which is an autoimmune disease. Celiac disease symptoms are the most severe. Gluten intolerance is much more common than Celiac, and symptoms range from tolerable to intolerable depending on the amount consumed. The more gluten-intolerant people eat gluten, the worse things get.

If you feel your body or your child’s body is inflamed, you should consider a six-week trial of a gluten-free diet. Here are some of the health issues a gluten-free diet can help address:

-Behavioral issues in children

-Developmental delay

-Controlling blood sugars

-Autoimmune diseases like MS and Lupus

-Abdominal problems

-Pooping problems

-Fibromyalgia

-Rashes

-Infertility

-Osteoporosis

-Arthritis

-Obesity

-Pain

Tips for the gluten-free diet:

Learning how to follow the gluten-free diet can be challenging. First of all, there is a big learning curve. Gaining awareness of everything that contains gluten and learning how to substitute or make better choices – for example, by eliminating the sandwich or carb snack altogether – is a daunting task. Then, there are the outings and family encounters at which we have to teach our loved ones why we are choosing to buck the cultural norm and go gluten free. Luckily, gluten-free recipes abound nowadays. Just be sure you are not substituting gluten with items high in sugar and low in nutrients. Some less nutritious grains to limit in your diet include rice, corn, potato starch, sorghum, and tapioca. Xantham is often used to make gluten-free bread sticky but is made from fermented corn, wheat, or soy. Aim instead for substitutes that are whole and nutritious such as buckwheat, gluten-free oats, flax, millet, quinoa, amaranth, nut flours such as almond or cashew flour, brown rice, wild rice, or cornmeal. There are many blenders and mills that will grind these in your own kitchen nowadays.

Our Celiac Program is perfect for patients who are wondering how severe their immune reactions to gluten are. Our program includes one first visit and one follow up visit with Dr. Shannyn, a lab draw for the Celiac panel, and $75 toward products. We also offer food intolerance lab panels that test for sensitivities to many different foods.

To set up a free ten-minute consultation with your La Mesa naturopathic doctor, just give us a call!

Restoring Rhythm with Panax Ginseng

Ginseng is a herbal medicine used widely throughout the world to moderate the effects of stress and support or enhance circulation, immunity, cognitive performance, and antioxidant activity. In fact, Ginseng is traditionally used in Asian countries to maintain homeostasis of the body and to enhance vital energy, or Chi. The herb has received significant research attention in Europe and the U.S, where the effects of stress play a role in quality of life and in many chronic diseases.

Recent research shows that Ginseng has anti-fatigue properties that support the health of cells by reducing oxidative stress (antioxidant activity) and help strengthen the immune system. Taken together, these properties can explain Ginseng’s use as remedy to help with recovery from fatigue and physical and mental stress.

There are several varieties of Ginseng but it is Panax Ginseng (Asian) and Panax quinquefolius (American variety) that has received the most attention. Panax is a Greek term meaning “all heal.” Another related root is Siberian Ginseng, which has different effects and benefits for the body. It’s always best to obtain a Ginseng supplement from your naturopathic doctor.  This will ensure that you are using the proper variety and dose for your particular health concerns.

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