Healthy Q & A

Healthy Q & A: Restless Legs

Q: My mother has been diagnosed with restless leg syndrome, and she has a terrible time sleeping through the night.  Is there anything you would recommend to help her?

A: Your mother certainly isn’t alone.  It is estimated that as much as 10% of the US population has restless leg syndrome (RLS).   RLS in a neurological condition that causes an itching/pulling sensation in the legs and an overwhelming urge to move them.  Symptoms get worse while resting, leading to many a sleepless night.  

Though the cause of restless leg syndrome is unknown, some experts feel there is a nutritional link.  Folic acid and magnesium are especially important for people with restless leg syndrome.  Also, supplementing with antioxidants is important to address the free radical damage that is thought to accelerate RLS.

Magnesium, when taken daily, can help with muscle spasms and jerking.   If the body doesn’t 
have enough magnesium, it’s difficult for the muscles to relax.  It’s also been found that many 
people who suffer from RLS are deficient in folate (a B vitamin that regulates homocyctene), so adding some extra folate could be beneficial.

Also, since restless leg syndrome is a neurological condition, adding a high quality DHA 
supplement would be a good idea.  DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, is found in high concentrations in the synapses of the brain.  Taking supplemental DHA can help with the smooth transition of messages between neurons in the brain, which can improve the symptoms of restless leg syndrome.

Since there is no known cure for restless leg syndrome, natural supplements like magnesium, DHA, as well as relaxing herbs like valerian can be very useful to help people with RLS to get a good night’s sleep.

 

Healthy Q & A: Supplements for Pregnancy

Q:  My husband and I are planning on starting to try for a baby.  I want to do everything right that I can, so I wanted to know what vitamins I should be taking before and during pregnancy.

A:  The first thing I’d recommend is folic acid.  It, more than anything other supplement, has been shown to help to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.  All women of childbearing age should take at least 400 mcg of the B vitamin, since most birth defects occur in the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy, often before many women know they’re pregnant.  Even if you’re not planning having a baby, it’s still important to take enough folic acid, since you never know.  A good multivitamin will contain 400 mcg of folic acid, so it’s just another reason why taking a multi every day is a good idea.

Once pregnant it’s important to switch to a true prenatal vitamin, and would be a good idea to switch now if you’re planning on getting pregnant.  Certain vitamins need to be in a lower dosage than what a person would normally take when pregnant.  Excess vitamin A and E for example, can be harmful to a developing fetus.

Another supplement which is crucial to a developing fetus is omega 3 fatty acids, either a fish based supplement or a vegetarian DHA supplement like Flora’s Vegetarian DHA.  Flax oil is a good source of omega 3 for vegetarians, but it does not contain DHA (one of the beneficial parts of omega 3 fatty acids) like omega 3 fish oil does.  DHA is extremely important for fetal eye and brain development.  DHA is also important during breastfeeding, so don’t stop taking it after you’ve had the baby.  Here’s a great article which reports on a variety of studies and benefits on DHA and pregnancy.

When I was pregnant, I also took probiotics, or “good bacteria”.  It was one of the only supplements for boosting the immune system that was safe during pregnancy (you need to be very careful with taking herbs and whatnot during pregnancy, since what is beneficial for a regular person can be harmful during pregnancy).   I had also read some studies which linked probiotics during pregnancy to a reduced risk of allergies and eczema in children.

Finally, I’d recommend the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.  It’s a fantastic book for explaining hormone and fertility cycles in women.  I really can’t recommend it enough.  Another book I liked when I was pregnant was The Natural Pregnancy Book by Aviva Romm.

Healthy Q & A: Anemia and Iron Supplements (without Constipation)

Q: At my last blood test my doctor said I had low iron levels.  She gave me a prescription for iron supplements, but they made me feel horribly sick and constipated.  I don’t really know what to do since I know that’s why I’m feeling tired, but the side effects of the iron the doctor gave me are just too terrible for me to handle.  Is there anything natural that could help without giving me constipation?

 

A:  Iron deficiency can absolutely cause fatigue, as well as dizziness, cold hands and feet, pale skin, headaches and more.  It’s important to correct iron deficiency, though many iron supplements are notorious for causing constipation and stomach upset, something no one wants to deal with.

Thankfully there are natural, plant based iron supplements which can help.  Plant based iron supplements, like Solgar’s Gentle Iron, will not cause constipation or stomach issues and can help to bring iron levels back in to the normal range.  I’ve personally taken Solgar’s Gentle Iron capsules when I was diagnosed with low iron levels and at my next blood test it was back in the target range, and I never had any stomach issues from taking it.

Iron supplements are best taken with vitamin C, like a glass of orange juice, to enhance absorption.  There are some foods that inhibit iron absorption- dairy products, eggs, spinach, coffee, kale, and nuts to name a few; those foods should not be consumed for a few hours apart from iron supplements for optimal iron absorption.  It would also be a good idea to be consciously add more iron containing foods to your diet- beans, dried fruit, brown rice, liver, and red meat. 

Undiagnosed iron deficiency is incredibly common in the US.  It has been estimated that up to 20% of all pre menopausal women have iron deficiency anemia, and that one third of people over age 75 are anemic as well.  Thankfully, low iron levels are treatable, and there are natural, plant based supplements which can bring your iron levels back to normal without constipation or stomach upset.

 

Also on our health blog:

The Importance of Iron Supplements 

Healthy Q & A: Cholesterol and Red Yeast Rice

Q:

I’m trying to avoid taking Lipitor since I know so many people who have experienced side effects.  Is there anything natural that would work in a similar way to lower cholesterol?

 

A:

Sometimes prescriptions are necessary, but it’s always a good idea to see if you can help yourself naturally first.  Lipitor is a cholesterol lowering medication known as a statin, and there does exist a supplement which is known as a “natural statin”- red yeast rice.  Red yeast rice comes in capsule or tablet form and works very well for lowering cholesterol.  The specific brand that I would recommend is by a company called Nature’s Plus, since they have a red yeast rice that is in an extended release formula, which means that it’s absorbed in the body over a period of hours instead of all at once.

Like prescription statins, red yeast rice should be taken at night before bedtime, since that’s when the body produces the most cholesterol.

If you’re taking prescription statins or red yeast rice, it would be a good idea to supplement with the vitamin CoQ10 as well.  CoQ10 helps to protect the heart and gives the cells the energy they need to function efficiently.  Statins like Lipitor (as well as red yeast rice, since it works like a natural statin) can deplete the body’s stores and production of CoQ10, which can result in muscle pain, one of the most common side effects of statin medications. 

Healthy Q & A: Sleep Aids

Q: I’ve had an awful time sleeping lately.  I’ve been under a lot of stress recently and can’t seem to wind down at night.  I’m exhausted, but I can’t stop thinking about things.  I’d rather not take a prescription, but I really need to sleep!  Any advice?

 

A: Stress is horrible, since it saps your energy during the day, but can leave you awake and restless at night.  Thankfully, there are a number of supplements which can help, without side effects or being habit forming like many prescription sleep aids.  The first thing I’d recommend is theanine, an amino acid derived from green tea which is fantastic for stress and anxiety.  While theanine doesn’t make you feel tired, it works very well to reduce anxiety and help you to feel more calm.  Research done on theanine and sleep found that people who took it before bed experienced better sleep quality.  It works by encouraging alpha brainwaves, the brainwaves associated with a calm, relaxed state.  Theanine is also very effective for stress and anxiety during the day.

There are also a number of herbs which can be helpful as sleep aids.  Valerian is an herb that works very well to help with relaxation after a busy day.  Most people report that taking valerian before bed actually helps them to “feel tired”.  For that reason, valerian is usually best reserved for taking before bed, since valerian may make you feel too sleepy if taken during the day.  Passionflower, hops, and kava are other herbs which work very well to help to relieve stress and anxious thoughts so you can sleep.

Come by the store and we’d be happy to help you find the product that’s right for you.  Sleepless nights are no fun, though thankfully we have a number of supplements which work very effectively to help achieve a proper night’s sleep.

Healthy Q & A: Joint Pain

Q:

I’ve been gardening since the weather has been beautiful, but this year I’ve found that bending and kneeling are really hurting my joints.  I’d really rather not resort to pain medication every day, so I wanted to see if there was anything natural I could take that would help.

A:

Osteoarthritis affects many of us as we age.  Over time, activities that were once taken for granted can cause more and more pain.  Osteoarthritis is very common, and is basically caused by wear and tear on the joints where the protective cartilage on the ends of bone is worn down over time.  Treatment involves reducing inflammation and pain, and protecting the cartilage left in the joints.

 

One of the best things for inflammation is the herb turmeric.  It works very well to reduce pain and inflammation in the joints.  It has been researched and found to have a similar effectiveness to ibuprofen, but without being hard on the liver.  It also works very well in conjunction with other herbal anti-inflammatories.  One such supplement is called Solgar 7, a combination of turmeric mixed with several other well researched and effective ingredients for joint pain: boswellia, ginger, and white willow bark, along with type II collagen which helps to promote cartilage health.  The thing I like best about Solgar 7 is that results should be seen within the first week, plus the recommended dose is just one pill a day.

 

Also, when talking about joints, I would be remiss without mentioning the benefits of glucosamine and chondroitin.  For some people, glucosamine and chondroitin can be a difficult supplement to take, since it can sometimes take a long time before results are seen, up to three months.  That being said, I do think glucosamine and chondroitin really work.   Research has linked glucosamine and chondroitin to reduced joint deterioration.  It’s important to take them together, since they work synergistically to aid in joint health.  Glucosamine helps to actually renew and support cartilage, and chondroitin helps to “plump up” cartilage.  Since the two supplements can take some time to work, I’d recommend a supplement like ArthX Relief by Rainbow Light.  It combines the recommended amounts of glucosamine and chondroitin with anti-inflammatory herbs so results are seen quicker (in a two a day formula).

 

Last, but not least, is exercise.  Exercise benefits joint health and arthritis sufferers immensely.  It seems counterintuitive to exercise painful joints, but in truth, exercise helps to strengthen the muscles around the joints and increase range of motion, while reducing stiffness.   Weight bearing exercise also strengthens bones and aids in weight loss.   Weight loss, even small amounts, makes a huge difference on the wear and tear of joints.  The vice president of the Arthritis Foundation has said, “If a person loses about 10 pounds and keeps exercising, they can cut the pain in their knees by about 50 percent and can even postpone a joint replacement.”  That’s a pretty impressive statement!

Healthy Q & A: Help for Antibiotic Side Effects with Probiotics

Q:   I’ve been prescribed a high dose of antibiotics.  I’ve been taking a script for a while now, but they’ve just  upped my dose.  My doctor said I should think of taking probiotics, but I don’t really know much about them or if they’re any good.  I’d appreciate any advice!

A:  Probiotics are very important to take when you’re prescribed antibiotics.  Antibiotics are very good at what they do- killing bacteria; the problem with antibiotics is that they don’t differentiate between good bacteria and bad.  Our body is host to trillions of bacteria, good bacteria which helps with digestion, nutrient absorption, the immune system, as well as preventing yeast overgrowth.  It’s important to have enough good bacteria in the body to help to keep our bodies in balance.  Frequently people have

digestive side effects like diarrhea after taking antibiotics, which are a direct result of a lack of beneficial bacteria in the body.  Also, as we age, the amount of good bacteria naturally present in the body decreases, which makes problems easier to occur.

 

Fewer amounts of good bacteria also make it easy for yeast to flourish.  Yeast overgrowth, also known as Candida, can be a serious problem.  Most people think of yeast as only a problem for women, since vaginal yeast ingections are a common result of taking high doses of antibiotics, but untreated Candida can even lead to leaky gut and irritable bowel syndrome, which in turn can lead to other inflammatory and immune related problems.

 

Probiotics are completely safe to take, and are just supplementing the body’s own stores of good bacteria.  Probiotics can be taken while on antibiotics, but they must be taken several hours apart from the antibiotic, or the antibiotic will kill the good bacteria. 

 

Not all probiotics are created equal however, and it’s important to get a high quality supplement that has a high potency.  Many grocery store probiotics will have a small amount of bacteria, one billion organisms or less, which sounds like a huge amount, but not when you think that our digestive system alone has over 100 trillion bacteria.  If you’ve been on antibiotics, it’s crucial to get a high potency probiotic, to replenish as many of the body’s own good bacteria as possible.

 

In most cases, I’d recommend taking an enteric coated probiotic, which means the capsule has a special coating to protect the good bacteria from stomach acid, so all of the probiotics get to where they need to be.  Non enteric coated probiotics can be effective, but you need to be careful of when to take them, usually on an empty stomach so that digestive juices and stomach acids don’t kill the good stuff.

 

There are both refrigerated and non refrigerated probiotics.  Generally speaking, a refrigerated probiotic is going to be a higher potency that one that is shelf stable, though the company Jarrow has just made a new 25 billion pill in a room temperature formula.  Many people prefer to take a room temperature probiotic since it can be easier to remember to take.

 

Finally, be sure not to take your probiotics with a hot beverage like coffee, since the high heat can hurt the good bacteria.  Everyone would benefit from taking probiotics, particularly if you’ve taken antibiotics recently.

Healthy Q & A: Allergies

Q:  I have horrible, horrible allergies.  I am basically miserable going outside, which is terrible.  Is there anything that can help?  I hate drugging myself with over the counter stuff.

A:  Allergies can be awful, and as pretty as the buds and flowers opening can be, it can make many people miserable.  Thankfully, there are several things which can make a big difference in allergy symptoms.

 

The first thing I’d recommend is something to irrigate and rinse out the sinuses.  The most commonly known thing for doing so is a neti pot, which basically looks like a small teapot.  Neti pots are wonderful, though we have a newer product for rinsing out the sinuses, called Nasopure, which is even easier to use to rinse pollen, pollutants, and excess mucus from the sinuses.  Here’s a quick video on how to use it.  It can even be used by children.

 

Next, there are two supplements which can really help with allergy symptoms, stinging nettle and quercetin, both of which work as natural antihistimes.  Quercetin, a potent antioxidant closely related to vitamin C, works to inhibit the release of histamine while also boosting the immune system.  Quercetin is often combined with the pineapple enzyme bromelain, which increases its effectiveness.  The other natural allergy remedy I’d recommend is stinging nettle capsules, which help to reduce sinus inflammation.  We do have one product at the store which combines all of the above, called Quercetin Nettle Plus by Mt. Angel.  It’s a really fantastic combination, which helps to relieve symptoms and get you through spring with a minimum of suffering!

 

There are also some lifestyle changes which can make a difference in allergy symptoms: keeping windows closed, changing clothes and bathing frequently, washing bedding.  Here is a great article with simple tips to get through allergy season a little easier.

Healthy Q & A: Help for Constipation

Q:

I’ve been dealing with constipation off and on for some time now.  I take laxatives sometimes, but I know it’s not good to take them all the time.  Do you have any recommendations for things to help with constipation? 

A:

Though it may not be a glamorous subject to talk about, almost everyone has bouts of constipation at one time or another.  Constipation can have a variety of causes.  Poor diet and lack of exercise are the most common reasons, though there are quite a few medical conditions and medications which cause constipation as well.

 

Many people turn to over the counter laxative drugs when experiencing constipation, though laxatives should be used sparingly since long term laxative use can dependencies where the bowels become unable to function correctly without them.  For short term use, laxative herbs like senna and cascara sagrada are a natural alternative to use than over the counter drugs.  There are also several varieties of natural laxative teas available, which are a nice alternative to taking pills.

 

Diet is the first thing to look to when experiencing constipation.  The recommended daily intake of fiber is 25-35 grams per day; unfortunately Americans on average consume only 15 grams of fiber per day, many significantly less than that.  The easiest way to increase fiber intake is to eat less processed foods and more fruits and vegetables.  Reducing dietary intake of meats and dairy products can also help since meats and dairy don’t contain fiber.   Dairy products especially are well known to cause constipation, so reducing the amount of dairy in the diet may help.

 

Eating a high fiber bowl of oatmeal is a good way to start the day and prevent constipation.  If you aren’t crazy for regular oats, try steel cut oatmeal, which has a delicious slightly chewy consistency (I’m not a fan of regular oatmeal, but I love steel cut oats).

 

There are many fibers available which can help with constipation, though the one I would recommend most are flaxseeds.  Flaxseeds, in addition to being a great source of fiber, are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to cardiovascular health, joint function, and brain health.   Flaxseeds must be ground to release the beneficial oils, however.  One flaxseed product I’d especially recommend is Barlean’s Forti Flax, which has the date when it was ground on the label, to ensure freshness.  I also like Forti Flax since it has a coarser grind than many brands which often  grind the flaxseeds into an unappetizing powder.  Ground flaxseed has a nutty taste and is delicious sprinkled on cereal and salads or mixed in with yogurt or orange juice.

 

One supplement which can also help with constipation is magnesium.  Magnesium is crucial for many processes in the body, but is probably most well known for enhancing calcium absorption.  As an aside, calcium supplements which contain calcium carbonate can cause constipation as well, so switching to a different form of calcium can be helpful.  One of the side benefits of magnesium is that is can help to naturally soften stool, making it easier to pass.  Certain forms of magnesium can also help to relax the muscles, so it can be nice to take before bedtime.

 

Aloe vera juice can also be beneficial for constipation.  Aloe vera juice has a healing and regulating effect on the intestines and colon and helps to make bowel movements easier.  Some aloe vera juices have a bitter taste and can be a “rough drink” as my husband says.  The brand George’s has a nice aloe vera juice that is great tasting since they remove the component that makes it bitter. 

 

It’s also important to drink plenty of water to ensure regularity.  Coffee and soft drinks can dehydrate the body even further, so it’s important to drink extra water after having those beverages.

 

Exercise can also help to keep the digestive system working properly.  Stretches and walking are easy to fit in to any lifestyle and can help all body systems to work better, including reducing constipation.

 

Though constipation is a common problem, it’s not something to ignore, since chronic constipation can precipitate a number of health problems, as well as increasing the risks of colorectal cancer.

Healthy Q & A: Weight Loss

Q:

I’ve been hearing a lot about garcinia cambogia.  It was on Dr. Oz and he made it seem amazing for weight loss.  I just wanted to hear what you thought before taking it.  Does it really work?

A:

The hot new thing that has been promoted on Dr. Oz is garcinia cambogia for weight loss.  Some things on the show I’m skeptical about, often due to lack of research available, but garcinia cambogia is one product that can really be helpful to take.

 

Garcinia cambogia is also known as Citrimax, and its active ingredient, HCA, has been in numerous studies over the years for its benefits to weight loss.  It works in part by inhibiting an enzyme that stores sugars and carbohydrates as fat, blocking the process of fat production.

 

Instead of being converted into fat, sugar and carbohydrates are converted into glycogen, a fuel that is stored in the liver and muscles that is converted into energy.  By raising the body’s levels of glycogen, it can also help with reducing appetite, since it tells the body that its fuel tanks are full.   HCA (the active ingredient in garcinia cambogia) can also help to raise the body’s level of serotonin, which helps with boosting mood as well as reducing stress eating.

 

One study found that people who took garcinia cambogia lost 12 lbs in eight weeks where the placebo group only lost 3 pounds (all participants in the study agreed to walk for 30 minutes a day, five days a week).

 

There is no such thing as a miracle pill for weight loss (unfortunately!), but garcinia cambogia really does seem to be something that can help the battle though.  Other studies have found that the active ingredient in garcinia cambogia can help lower both cholesterol and blood pressure.

 

For the best results for weight loss, it’s recommended to take 500-1000mg of HCA three times a day, 30-60 minutes before a meal.  In the studies, higher dosages produced more weight loss.

 

We particularly recommend NOW Food’s Super Citrimax.  It combines the extract of garcinia cambogia with chromium for balancing blood sugar and reducing sugar cravings as well as ginseng for increased energy and iodine for thyroid support.