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.

These are a few of our favorite things.. Florajen 4 Kids

This month’s “Pass Favorite” is Florajen 4 Kids, Liz’s favorite.  She says she chose it because of how dramatically it had changed her children’s immune systems.  Both of her kids, Henry, age , and Lily, age , were always getting sick.  Her son would be on antibiotics a few times a year, and her daughter was having bouts of headaches and stomachaches a couple of times each week.  She says, “Once they starting taking it every day, I noticed how much less they were getting sick.  Lily rarely has stomachaches anymore, and only the occasional headache, and Henry has not been on antibiotics since.”

 Probiotics are wonderful for people of all ages, and help with digestion, allergies, and the immune system.  It’s a simple thing to take which is safe for everyone to take, including children and pregnant women, who often have limited choices for immunity supplements.   Florajen 4 Kids comes in capsules which can either be swallowed or sprinkled on top of cold foods.

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: Gum Disease


I’ve been diagnosed with the beginning stages of gum disease.  I wanted to know if there was anything supplement wise that could help.


There are a number of things that can help.  CoQ10 is the first I’d recommend.  It’s a potent antioxidant best known for its benefits to heart health, but research has shown it to be beneficial to gingivitis and periodontal disease.   CoQ10 can help to strengthen gums and may help to prevent gums from receding.  Research has found that people with periodontal disease have low levels of CoQ10 in their gums, and that supplementing with CoQ10 (by pill or by rubbing on the gums) may enhance healing and tissue repair.  One placebo controlled study found that applying CoQ10 topically to the gums reduced gum loss and the depth of dental pockets after three weeks.


Oral probiotics can also be helpful, by increasing the balance of good bacteria in the mouth, they can help to reduce the amount of bad bacteria which contributes to gum and periodontal disease.  Nature’s Plus has one that’s particularly nice, it contains CoQ10 as well as probiotics strains which are especially targeted for oral health.


A high potency multivitamin would also be a good idea, since it would contain a number of vitamins which are beneficial for healing and reducing inflammation like Vitamin A, C, E, and folic acid.


Tea tree mouthwash can also be beneficial for people with gum disease.  Tea tree oil contains natural antibacterial and antiseptic properties which can help to heal gum infections and fight bad breath.   We also have tea tree treated dental floss which is a wonderful product to use with gum and periodontal disease since it brings the antibacterial tea tree oil around the gumline and between teeth.

Healthy Q & A: Radiation Treatment


My Dad who is 86 will be starting radiation treatment for cancer on one of his vocal cords.  My question is should he be taking any supplements or be applying any sort of lotions or creams on his neck?  He is in good health gets around great, and we would like to keep him that way.


There are a number of supplements which have been found to be beneficial in conjunction with radiation.  A good probiotic supplement can help to prevent the diarrhea that can sometimes be a side effect of radiation therapy.  Ginger can also help with the nausea that frequently accompanies radiation.


Another suggestion would be to supplement with curcumin, the beneficial extract from turmeric.  In animal studies, curcumin helped to prevent the skin damage caused by radiation and the curcumin supplements were associated with fewer burns and blisters.  You can read more about the study here.  Topical aloe vera gel or calendula cream can also be helpful in soothing skin irritated by radiation.


DHA, a beneficial component of omega 3 fatty acids, may also be helpful.  There was a recent groundbreaking study on breast cancer which found that DHA was able to sensitize tumors to respond better to treatment.  In the animal study, tumor size decreased by 60% at 12 days after irradiation in the group that was supplemented with DHA compared to 31% in the control group.  The research on DHA and cancer is still very preliminary, but very exciting.  You can read the study’s abstract here.


Other ideas would be panax ginseng, which could help to counteract the fatigue he may experience.  Eating a diet full of high antioxidant fruits and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) is a good idea as well.


Be sure to mention any alternative therapies you're considering with his physician.  I hope that helps!


Health Q & A: Sinus Infections


I have a terrible sinus infection and was wondering what if anything could help. 


Sinus infections are terrible.  Thankfully there are a number of natural things which can really make a difference.   Boosting the immune system is the first thing that can help.   There are quite a few supplements which have both antiviral and antibacterial properties, as well as supplements like mushroom extracts which can help with enhancing the body’s natural killer T cells, our body’s first line of defense which works to seek out and destroy invaders- bacteria and viruses.


Irwin Natural’s Immune Shield is a great supplement which we all take which is a great all around supplement to help fight off illness.   It’s a mix of a number of herbs and supplements which work to boost the body’s own defenses against sickness.  Another supplement which is particularly good for sinus infections specifically is oregano oil.  Oregano oil has anti bacterial, anti viral, and anti fungal properties.  Many sinus infections also have a fungal component, which can make oregano oilparticularly effective. 


Another thing which can help is a neti pot.  A neti pot looks basically like a little teapot.  It’s used to irrigate the sinuses.  It’s used with a homemade saline solution of bottled water and salt; first it’s poured into one nostril and then that salt water goes into the sinuses and flows out the other nostril.  It sounds kind of strange, but it’s absolutely fantastic for the sinuses.  It also makes your nasal passages feel really nice when suffering from a cold or sinus infection, since it helps to clear out excess and dried nasal mucus and moisturizes the nasal passages.


Finally, if you have been on antibiotics for a sinus infection, or for any other reason, it’s very important to supplement with probiotics, or “good bacteria”.  Antibiotics are very effective, but they are indiscriminate, killing the good bacteria we need for healthy digestion and immunity along with the bad. If you've ever had diarrhea or a yeast infection after taking a course of antibiotics, it was likely due to depletion in the good bacteria our body needs to maintain health.