Whether or not you got a flu shot this year, there are a few simple ways that you can help prevent influenza. Here, Dr. Tori Hudson, ND, talks about her recommendations for natural flu prevention, including nasal irrigation with sprays or neti pots, drinking green tea, taking elderberry supplements throughout the season and keeping Boiron's Oscillococcinum on hand to take at the first signs of flu. And don't forget to wash your hands frequently, drink lots of water and keep coughs covered!
Author Archives: Dr. Tori Hudson
Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints doctors see; experts say that at least 4.5 million people—the majority of them women—suffer from constipation symptoms that are serious enough to warrant medical attention. Because it can be an embarrassing topic, however, many patients self-treat their constipation and avoid discussing it with their doctor. Here are some ideas about why—and how—to treat chronic constipation.
What is chronic constipation and why does it matter?
For some, constipation can simply mean straining, and for others it means infrequent bowel movements (that differ from normal patterns for that individual). Most complementary and alternative medicine providers, myself included, would agree that a daily bowel movement—or even up to three per day—is optimal. But that might not be feasible for women, since their bowel movement frequency is generally less than that of men.[i] Studies have suggested that the majority of women have bowel movements every other day or less.[ii] Because there can be a wide range of what’s considered normal, from three times per week to three times per day, it is important to clarify what’s normal to you with your health care provider.
The current standard definition of constipation means experiencing two or more of the following symptoms for three or more months, without the use of laxatives:
- Straining with defecation more than 25 percent of the time
- Lumpy or hard stools more than 25 percent of the time
- Incomplete evacuation more than 25 percent of the time
- Two or fewer bowel movements per week
Chronic constipation can lead to a decrease in absorption of select nutrients, internal or external hemorrhoids, pelvic floor dysfunction (e.g. urinary incontinence, or bladder, rectal or uterine prolapse).
How can laxatives support normal large intestine function and relieve constipation symptoms?
Laxatives can be helpful temporary solutions to relieve symptoms and to help retrain the bowel. There are a variety of different types of laxatives that work in different ways. Here are the six basic laxative types.
1. Bulk-forming laxatives.
These can be derived from psyllium husks, ground flax seeds or methylcellulose, a synthetic material. Their basic function is to absorb water in the intestine to soften the stool, but they can also result in increased flatulence and bloating. They do act faster than food fiber but slower than other laxatives and typically take about a week to work. Bulk-forming laxatives improve transit time and are very compatible with increases in dietary fiber such as leafy greens, ground flax seeds sprinkled on whole grain, high-fiber cereals, and fresh fruits, especially berries.
2. Emollients and stool softeners
These agents aid the mixing of watery and fatty substances in the bowel both to soften the stool and to lubricate the stool so it can be passed easier. They also prevent dehydration of the stool by stimulating fluid secretion. Stool softeners can be taken orally or rectally and typically work very fast, usually within 24 hours, so they’re ideal for someone who is in pain because of hard stool. Glycerin suppositories or mineral oil are common examples, but mineral oil should be used sparingly because it can decrease absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Herbs such as buckthorn bark also serve as stool softeners.
3. Saline laxatives
Magnesium salts have been used for decades for constipation, and act fairly quickly. They work by exhibiting a sponge-like action that draws water into the colon to soften the stool and promote transit. When looking for an appropriate product, it’s important to note that magnesium sulfate is more potent than magnesium citrate or magnesium hydroxide and should be used with caution. In addition, individuals with renal impairment or hypertension should avoid saline laxatives.
These are the newer laxatives on the block. Available as an oral prescription, hyperosmotics create a high concentration gradient to draw fluid out of the bloodstream and into the colon. Examples of hyperosmotics include lactulose, lactitol and sorbitol, and produce effects in 2-3 days. Note: Hyperosmotics can also produce some bloating and flatulence.
A polyethylene glycol electrolyte solution is what’s normally given to empty the colon before a colonoscopy. The good news is that it can also be used to treat severe fecal impaction. MiraLax is a newer prescription that uses polyethylene glycol to help relieve constipation.
6. Bowel stimulants
These laxatives stimulate sensory nerve endings in the colonic mucosa to trigger peristalsis. They also promote fluid secretion into the colon and improve the consistency of the stool. Aloe, senna, cascara sagrada and castor oil are all potent stimulants that can produce a rapid response. They should only be used for more severe cases and should not be used long term.
Are there natural solutions to constipation that I should consider?
Alternative medicine practitioners also often recommend these other methods of treating constipation:
- Probiotics to help restore normal colonic microflora, specifically the lactobacillus species
- Digestive enzymes, which enhance the digestive process
- Bitters, which work by increasing the secretion of digestive fluids. Consider yellow gentian and dandelion root for this purpose. Dandelion root also helps stimulate gall bladder function and improve bile secretion.
- Turkey rhubarb has been used as a purgative for at least 2,000 years, and encourages bowel movements by stimulating peristalsis
- Triphala, whose use for chronic constipation is based on principles of Ayurveda. This unique combination of three herbs, or more specifically, three fruits, haritake, amla and bibitake, that gently stimulate the intestines, restore tone to the colon and thus enhance the elimination process while providing a cleansing effect.
When it comes to chronic constipation, most individuals will only need reassurance, education and basic advice. Others will need further evaluation and/or more sophisticated treatment interventions, whether by exclusively natural methods, conventional methods or an integration of both.
Working with your health care provider will help ensure that there is no significant underlying cause of your constipation. Your doctor can also help you get symptom relief, improve general health and provide prevention strategies for the future, all with minimal side effects.
[i] Heaton K, Radvan J, Cripps H, et al. Defecation frequency and timing, and stool form in the general population: a prospective study. Gut. 1992; 33:818-824.
[ii] Toglia M. Pathophysiology of anorectal dysfunction. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 1998; 25:771-780.
Optimally, we would teach our young girls to be aware of the importance of diet and exercise on breast health for the future. It's also important to start early because certain foods, such as soy foods, can improve breast cell differentiation in pre-puberty and thus reduce the risk of breast cancer. Educating girls/women about healthy diets, regular exercise, weight management, and low alcohol consumption is a message that can be revisited throughout their lives.
What are the biggest risk factors for breast cancer?
It starts with gender—approximately 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Other non-preventable risk factors include a family history with a first-degree relative with breast cancer, and age, as more than two-thirds of invasive breast cancers are in women age 55 and older.
Environmental risk factors play also a meaningful role, including:
- Diets high in saturated fats, sugar and simple carbohydrates, and low in fruits and vegetables
- Exposure to chemicals from industrial and agricultural processes
- Excessive weight gain as an adult, obesity and/or a sedentary lifestyle
- Lack of pregnancy and full term birth
- Excess alcohol (greater than 7 drinks per week)
Post-menopausal women on estrogen and synthetic progestin for longer than 3-4 years have a slight increase risk of breast cancer.
Aside from self exams, what can I be doing to encourage good breast health?
Not all current guidelines even recommend self exams, and surprisingly, research is showing that screening mammograms in low risk women and early detection of a breast cancer may not lead to reduced rates of women dying from breast cancer. This confusing and contradictory state of the research has made it more difficult to understand what a woman should do to monitor breast health.
Nevertheless, a regular annual physical exam is still something I urge all women to do. Checking in with your doctor regularly is important because you get a routine physical exam and the opportunity to optimize health by talking through your habits and getting necessary tests.
I would also focus on the following:
- Healthy weight management, with a minimum of 3.5 hours of exercise per week,
- Low alcohol consumption
- Reducing exposure to environmental toxins (e.g choosing “green” cleaning products and organic foods)
- A healthy, whole foods diet with a focus on brightly colored vegetables, some fruits, whole grains, quality soy foods, olive oil, a few saturated fats (cheese, butter, meats) and fish twice per week.
- Healthy relationships
Good stress management—including time spent in nature to take advantage of the healing power of nature on body, mind and spirit
Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about other recommendations for maintaining good breast health.
You may know why antioxidants are good for the body—they fight free radicals and slow the signs of aging. Here, Dr. Tori Hudson talks about how plant-based antioxidants can help prevent inflammation and oxidative damage. Look for them in brightly colored fruits and veggies, or through dietary supplements such as green tea, ginkgo and hawthorn, and superfruits such as acai and mangosteen.
Ear infections can be a persistent problem in young children. Here, Dr. Tori Hudson talks about natural ways to prevent and treat ear infections without having to turn to antibiotics, which can exacerbate the cycle of infection. She covers homeopathic and herbal remedies, as well as long-term prevention with probiotics.
If you're considering hormone replacement therapy (or HRT), learn from expert Dr. Tori Hudson about why it can be an effective, safe way to manage menopause symptoms. Dr. Hudson confronts questions about increased breast cancer risk and the difference between synthetic and bioidentical hormones. She also talks about the benefits of different delivery methods and dosages available through a compounding pharmacy such as Pharmaca.
Don't know why you should be taking probiotics? Here, Dr. Tori Hudson talks about the importance of probiotics for people of all ages. In children, probiotics can be helpful for reducing allergies, asthma, eczema and digestive problems; for adults, different strains can help reduce bowel diseases, bladder infections, vaginal infections and to bring gut flora back into balance after a course of antibiotics.
If you're concerned about breast health, listen to Dr. Tori Hudson, ND, discuss risk factors for breast cancer and recommendations for better breast health. She talks about research that shows that increased risk for breast cancer can come from consuming more than 7 servings of alcohol per week, being overweight (especially in their 50s) or simply having a genetic factor. Listen as she recommends other supplements and strategies for decreasing your breast cancer risk.
Most of us know something about stress because we’ve experienced it. That tense feeling in the neck… agitation…jitters in your stomach…and that rush of adrenaline that comes when you step off the curb only to realize a bus is barreling toward you.
These are all sensations of stress. The stress response is part of what is called the “general adaptation syndrome,” of which there are three phases: alarm, resistance and exhaustion. These phases are in large part regulated by our adrenal glands.
The initial stress response is the alarm reaction, referred to as the fight-or-flight response. This phase is usually short and is designed to help us respond to danger… like stepping out of the way of that bus. Our heart rate goes up, our rate of breathing increases and blood sugar levels are increased in order to supply enough blood and oxygen to parts of the body that are needed for us to respond quickly.
The next phase is the resistance reaction, which allows the body to continue dealing with a stressor after the effects of the fight-or-flight phase have worn off. Hormones secreted from the adrenal glands are largely responsible for the resistance reaction phase, which enables us to have a good supply of energy from proteins after those glucose supplies are depleted. These changes in our physiology during this phase of stress reactions help us to deal with the emotional fallout, as well as the physical demands and the immune impact of stress.
If stress is prolonged or severe—or both—it overrides our ability to adapt, and exhaustion results. This is when our adrenal glands are depleted in their production of hormones, when our cells and tissues do not receive enough glucose and other nutrients, and the cells lose potassium. Everything becomes weakened—mentally, emotionally and physically.
The good news is that we can do something about exhaustion! Many things can be done to help us adapt to stress, but the best way to start is in practicing good habits for calming the mind and body, such as relaxation techniques, yoga, meditation and prayer.
Altering lifestyle habits is another important way to minimize the effects of stress. Examples include good time management, setting priorities, improving relationships, seeking counseling, eating a healthy whole food diet, abiding by regular meal times, getting regular exercise and sleep, being in nature, and reducing alcohol, caffeine and sugar.
Supplementing the diet with herbs and nutrients can also be very helpful in achieving a calmer state and helping us to adapt and recover from stress.
Adaptogens, for example, are a class of herbs that are important for improving our stress-adaptation mechanisms. These herbs help the body resist stress and help normalize, regulate and even produce a “tonic” kind of effect (rather than a stimulant effect). My favorite adaptogens are ashwagandha, rhodiola, maca and panax ginseng (aka Korean ginseng). These can be taken daily and long term. Since these are not quick-acting herbs, they should be part of a medium to long-term strategy for coping with stress.
There are also herbs that can help you feel less anxiety and bring about a calmer state more immediately (usually within about 30 minutes). Herbs with this gentle mild effect are chamomile, passionflower and lemon balm. For herbs that pack more of a punch, turn to valerian, kava and skullcap.
Several herbs can help with more entrenched anxiety states. My favorite is lavender oil extract in pill form, although even simply inhaling or diffusing lavender essential oil has been shown to have anxiety reducing effects. Supplements such as L-theanine and GABA are also used to reduce general anxiety.
We all have stress—it’s a normal part of life. But as many of us try to adapt to faster paces, more stimuli, less down time, more pressure and more complicated lives, we often find there is indeed a limit.
So let’s stop, pause, breathe, look at the sunset, walk amongst the beauty of nature, learn skills and adopt habits to better manage stress, and utilize these important supplements in order to feel better and prevent the long-term consequences of prolonged stress.