Author Archives: Elizabeth Willis, Herbalist/Nutritionist

  • Magnesium: A Cornerstone of Health

    Swiss chard RainbowMagnesium is essential for so many things: the beating of our heart, a positive mood, energy production, releasing tension…in other words, we can all benefit from magnesium!

    Identified in more than 300 processes inside the body, magnesium is a powerful building block that contributes to overall health and wellness in a unique way. A key player in physical and mental relaxation, neuromuscular transmission and energy, magnesium serves double duty both rebuilding the body, and giving it a sense of wellbeing.

    Magnesium also functions closely with potassium, calcium and phosphorus. It hums through the body, maintaining an electrical charge between cells and inside muscles and nerves. Magnesium has a very special relationship with the heart, and studies show that both acute and chronic magnesium deficiencies are associated with an increased risk of heart attack.

    Another main role of magnesium is to perpetuate a game of checks and balances with calcium inside the body. It is fundamental for both the absorption and excretion of calcium, and assists in the safe elimination of calcium through the urinary tract, preventing kidney stones and soft-tissue calcium deposits.

    Magnesium deficiency is very common in the elderly, and magnesium supplementation is recommended for those with intestinal or renal distress. Approximately 30-40 percent of dietary magnesium is absorbed, depending on the form consumed, and on individual intestinal transit time. For this reason, large doses of magnesium can be used for occasional constipation without being depleted in the body.

    Pregnant women can also benefit from therapeutic magnesium supplementation to help prevent pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, as well as during the birthing process. Magnesium can also help prevent or lessen the effects of PMS through its ability to regulate mood, appetite changes, energy, cramping and overall response to stress.

    Magnesium is even vital for protein synthesis and healthy blood sugar levels, making it a key nutrient for building muscle and helping maintain a healthy body weight.

    Truly, magnesium has something for everyone. An optimal dose is about 350-450 mg per day, and I recommend getting it in small doses—especially through magnesium-rich foods like kelp, seaweed, almonds, cashews, molasses, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, coconut water, aloe vera, barley grass and legumes. Speak with your health care practitioner before beginning any supplement regimen, and to have your magnesium levels tested. 

  • Fresh Idea: Raw, Vegan Dinner & Dessert

    Eating healthyThere is no better time of year to experiment with new recipes than during the abundance of summer. It’s also a great time to try raw foods! Reach for sprouting veggies, herbs, edible flowers and vibrant greens for dishes that are colorful, nutritious and truly inspired.

    Why raw? Raw foods are an easy way to discover new flavors and textures and give our body optimal nutrition. Raw foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients, which can often be destroyed by cooking or long-term storage. Eating foods fresh and unaltered offers nutritional diversity and unique flavors that should be enjoyed.

    One highlight of eating raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds is that these foods are rich in enzymes that are critical for proper nutrient assimilation. Enzymes are powerful chemical structures that help us convert food into the pieces and shapes required for living tissues. Enzymes convert foods into the active constituents allowing them to pass though cell membranes and carry nutrients through the GI tract and bloodstream. Enzymes also break down immune components, metabolic wastes and release and store energy. In short, enzymes convert food to energy and energy into activity.

    Ready to try a raw dinner? Here are a few tasty recipes to get you excited.

    Asian Spring Noodles

    Kelp noodles stand in for rice noodles in this raw version of Pad Thai.

    Veggie mix

    •1 bunch baby bok choy, thinly sliced

    •1 package of preferred mushrooms

    • Handful of fresh peas &/or green beans (chopped if desired)


    • 2 tbsp raw almond butter

    •1/3 cup melted coconut oil

    •1 tbsp Nama Shoyu or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

    •1 tsp ground coriander

    •1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded

    •2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

    •1/3 cup purified water

    •1 package kelp noodles

    • Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

    Follow instructions on kelp noodle package to prepare.

    Whisk almond butter, coconut oil, Nama Shoyu/Bragg’s, jalapeno, lemon juice, water, salt and pepper (or use a blender) until you get a smooth, sauce-like consistency. Set aside.

    Drain and rinse the kelp noodles, cutting them into shorter pieces if desired.

    In a large bowl, combine the noodles with veggie mix. Cover with sauce over and mix thoroughly. Top with a tbsp of chopped cilantro or crushed peanuts.


    Peach "Ice Cream"

    A perfect treat for a hot day—especially in the midst of peach season! This one is adapted from here.

    • 1 cup cubed peaches (1/2 cup separated & used at end of churning)

    • 1/2 cup frozen banana, in chunks

    • 1 14 oz can coconut milk (regular, not lite)

    • 1/2 cup soaked cashews (or 1/3 cup raw, unsoaked)

    • 3 tbsp coconut sugar

    • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

    • 3 tbsp pure maple syrup

    • Couple pinches powdered stevia

    • 1/8 tsp sea salt

    • 1/4 tsp (rounded) guar gum

    • 1/8 tsp pure almond extract

    In a blender, combine all ingredients except the 1/2 cup peaches reserved for end.

    Puree until smooth, scraping down the sides of blender as needed (this may take a few minutes).

    Transfer the mixture to an ice-cream maker and churn until the mixture is of soft-serve consistency (follow the directions for the specific model of ice cream maker). Add reserved peaches and churn briefly so as not to disturb texture.

    Transfer to a container to store in the freezer or serve!

  • Demystifying the Flu

    Want to help prevent the flu? First you need to know a little about how flu and your body work. The flu is a viral infection that often occurs in the winter, for several reasons—because we don't get much exposure to sunlight and are often deficient in vitamin D, because we’re indoors consistently (and therefore passing around more germs) and because we’re more vulnerable to extreme changes in temperature.

    Infections first begin when you’re exposed to the virus through the secretions of coughs and sneezes of an already infected person. The virus then enters yourbody through the nose, eyes, throat and/or bronchial tubes and attaches itself to a cell wall there. It’s important to note that a virus is technically not a live organism, but rather a tiny particle that can only multiply within live cells. The virus particles must attack and take over the machinery of a host cell by injecting its own DNA, and diverting the work of the cell’s enzymes to its own duplication.

    Once the virus is fortified, it then kills the original host cell and is released into your system via the bloodstream. As this happens, the majority of flu symptoms begin. The lymph swells and the virus travels through the circulatory system, attaching to muscle cells and causing aches and pains. The immune system responds with inflammation, mucus and fatigue.

    While these symptoms may feel uncomfortable, they’re not necessarily bad for you. One great example of the vast intelligence of the body is that it responds to the infection by increasing the body temperature—creating a fever that helps fight the infection by slowing down the down the rate of viral reproduction. This immune response continues until the viruses are eliminated from the body and the lymph completes the purification of debris, dead cells, pathogens and waste.

    So how you do start feeling better?

    First, support your immune response instead of suppressing it, and you’ll move quickly through dis-ease and discomfort. Likewise, the sooner you take action against an infection, the easier it is to minimize its effects.

    The first 12-18 hours of the flu offers a window of opportunity to potentially stop the attack. At this stage, use herbs that support lymph and circulation and stimulate the immune response—like echinacea, stephania, yarrow, elderberry and flower and osha. Eat healthfully, and get to bed early. Products to try: Plantiva’s ImmuneDx, WishGarden Herbs' Kick-Ass Immune and Gaia Herbs’ Black Elderberry Syrup.

    If you didn’t catch it in time, it’s okay! But don’t suppress a fever right away. The fever is your body’s way to decrease viral duplication and encourage you to rest. At this stage you should focus on killing microbes, draining the lymph and moderating inflammation with herbs like garlic, cleavers, elderberry and elderflower, lemon balm and olive leaf extract. Products to try: Plantiva’s ColdDx, WishGarden Herbs' Lymph Mover or WishGarden Herbs' Kick-Ass Heroes (including Kick-Ass Immune, Biotic and Sinus, for all stages of illness). If you’re very uncomfortable, you can at least reduce inflammation and fever with natural or over-the-counter anti-inflammatories.

    Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water to flush out the body and loosen secretions (try coconut water or pure water, like from Eldorado Springs). To reduce discomfort from the fever, soak your feet in cool water and/or use a cool compress on your forehead. If the fever or aches are unbearable, consider herbal anti-inflammatories like New Chapter’s Zyflamend and sip chamomile, peppermint or elderflower tea or tincture.

    Continue to assist your lymph system and support your circulation. Add a hot cup of ginger tea to your regimen. Try gentle movement like stretching and hot baths to help move lymph, support circulation and ease discomfort. Try a bath with a half-cup baking soda (to alkalize, calm and deodorize) and 2 cups Epsom salts to cleanse the lymphatics, relax sore muscles and soften skin.

    Get plenty of rest. This means both physically and emotionally! Too much exercise can actually place more stress on your body and suppress your immune system. Limit activity to a simple walk if you’re coming down with a cold, since small amounts of exercise will facilitate lymph movement and circulation.

    Avoid milk products, grains and sugar, all of which can promote mucus and inflammation and deplete the immune system. Avoid alcohol and restrict chemical over-the-counter medications that suppress symptoms (sometimes half an adult dose can ease symptoms!).

    Stay home to avoid infecting others, and wash your hands and linens frequently. Small measures like these help prevent the virus from spreading to your community and family. Keep hand sanitizers, like those from Dr. Bronner’s or CleanWell, close at hand.

    If you do have the flu, take the time to take good care of yourself and remember that your health is a priority. Feel better soon!

  • The Scoop on Vitamins: B12 – Cobalamin

    NutritionSupplements16-ArticleB12 is the most complex and unique of all B vitamins. The only source of B12 in nature is from microbial synthesis from good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract and from eating meat. Because it is not found in plants, it is a common deficiency for vegans and vegetarians, and because B12 is created in the intestinal tract, its absorption is also greatly inhibited by gastrointestinal disorders like Celiac Disease, Crohn’s, ilietis, colitis, parasites or any other disorders that impair intestinal function.

    So why is B12 so important? B12 is vital for amino acid synthesis, DNA replication and the manufacturing of neurotransmitters that are partially responsible for stabilizing mood and sleep patterns. Signs of deficiency include gastrointestinal disturbance, hypotension, fatigue, numbness, tingling in extremities, confusion and agitation.

    B12 is also needed to metabolize essential fatty acids, so a deficiency can result in impairment of brain and nerve tissue, like the myelin sheath. Prolonged deficiency of B12 can lead to a variety of central nervous system symptoms, and some neurological disturbances can become permanent. Maintaining and replenishing B12 is most effective by injection or supplementation, combined with the right diet.

    The body’s daily needs for B12 are minimal—it’s such a valuable nutrient that the body doesn’t readily excrete it. The average required daily allowance is about 2-3 mcg. High dietary sources of B12 are organ meats, clams, oysters, salmon, sardines and egg yolks.

    Relying on proper dietary choices to support the good bacteria in the gut is a vital way to ensure you're getting the B12 you need. Maintain balanced gut flora through high-quality probiotics such as Dr. Ohhira's, a superior, fermented food-based probiotic, Pharmax’s HLC High Potency Probiotics or Thorne Research's FloraMend Prime Probiotic. You may also want to incorporate fermented foods like unpasteurized kimchi, miso and sauerkraut into your diet, and ensure you’re getting enough fiber from vegetables, nuts and seeds in order to maintain balance in the digestive tract.

    Following are some of the high-quality, B12 supplements we offer at Pharmaca, all forms of methylcobalamin, which is naturally the most bioavailable form: Pharmaca’s Vitamin B12 Sublingual, Superior Source’s No Shot Vitamin B12 or Natural Factors B12 Methylcobalamin.

  • The Scoop on Vitamins: B9 - Folic Acid

    This is part of our continuing series on the function of vitamins in the body.

    Folic acid is one of the more well known B vitamins because of its importance during pregnancy for healthy fetal development, particularly during the first trimester. While the connection isn’t completely understood, the demand for folate most likely increases because of unique hormonal changes. It’s important to note that women who are on the birth control pill but are not pregnant also have an increased need for folate and other B vitamins because the pill creates hormone demands that mimic pregnancy.

    Folate (also called folacin) deficiencies are observed in the depressed and the mentally ill, as well as the elderly. Smoking, alcohol and stress also readily deplete folate. Folacin deficiency is one of the most prevalent deficiencies, though it is difficult to identify because its symptoms can mimic those of a B12 deficiency—folate is dependent on B12 for proper utilization, and without it is useless in the body. Symptoms of deficiency include irritability, weakness, apathy, forgetfulness, hostility, paranoid behavior, headache, gastrointestinal disturbance and heart palpitations.

    Proper folate levels are critical for a healthy system. This powerful nutrient is used to nourish and repair tissues, and plays a key role in the manufacturing of neurotransmitters that help regulate sleep, pain and mood. Aim for at least 400 mcg of folate daily to maintain tissue stores and give your body the building blocks it needs.

    Supplementation of folate is an easy and affordable way to support energy, mental health and the demands of growth and aging. Studies have shown that the body responds quickly to supplementation therapy. I always recommend B vitamins taken together in the form of a B-complex supplement.

    My top recommendations:

    Basic B-Complex by Thorne Research, which offers 400 mcg of folate per serving. Thorne is a medical-grade company and I often recommend it for its potency, quality and avoidance of allergens, fillers and preservatives.

    I also recommend food-based supplements like MegaFood’s Balanced B Complex because they offer pure, bioavailable formulations.

    Studies have also shown that good folate levels can be maintained with the ingestion of two portions of leafy green vegetables each day (folate and folacin derive their names from “foliage”). That includes nutritionally rich and health-boosting greens such as spinach, kale and collards, along with other nourishing vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, green peas, cauliflower, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe. But like the other B vitamins, folate is sensitive to high-heat cooking methods like boiling and microwaving that can deplete the nutrients, so it is vital to eat both fresh, raw produce as well as cooked.

    Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colo., and also works at Pharmaca’s downtown Boulder location. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach by connecting her clients with the more dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food intolerances, building optimal nutrition and working directly with the emotional body, it is possible to greatly revive one’s health by reconnecting body with spirit.

  • The Scoop on Vitamins: Vitamin B2 - Riboflavin

    This is part of our continuing series on the function of vitamins in the body.

    Vitamin B2 is a powerhouse of energy, and a key member of the B vitamin family. B2, or riboflavin, is comprised of two enzymes: flavin mononucleotide and flavin adenine dinucleotide, which play an essential role in the breakdown and assimilation of food. As a potent enzyme, riboflavin helps us to synthesize essential fatty acids and amino acids. It also enables better absorption of iron and B6. Riboflavin is so vital to the system that cells cannot grow without it, and deficiency is quickly seen in cells that are frequently reproducing, like the mucous membranes, eyes, hair and in vitro.

    Because B2 is such an intricate part of cellular energy and metabolism, its requirements are based on the amount of calories a person consumes, as well as their body weight and their lifestyle. According to The Nutrition Desk Reference, we need roughly 0.6 mg of vitamin B2 per 100 pounds of body weight every day.

    For example, a pregnant woman needs no less than 1.6 mg/day to nourish herself and the cellular demand of her growing infant. Similarly, because young children and teens are growing so rapidly, they need a daily dose of .8-1.2 mg/day. (Signs of deficiency among this group include red cracks at the corners of the mouth.) Because of their larger build, an active adult male will need more substantial dose of around 1.7 mg/day.  

    Like most other B vitamins, B2 is water soluble, meaning it is used rapidly in the body and can be excreted quickly under stress and with the use of diuretics like caffeine. Depletion can stem from the birth control pill, strenuous exercise, antibiotic use and alcohol. Unfortunately B2 deficiency isn’t terribly easy to recognize—that’s why it’s imperative to reach for whole foods that offer the nutrient in abundance, like organic milk products, tuna and salmon, chicken, dark leafy greens, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, sprouts, and eggs. Choosing foods loaded with this essential nutrient will keep your energy levels up and prepare your body to repair tissue and ward off sickness. A daily multivitamin or B complex can also be a good way to supplement this essential vitamin.

    The Nutrition Desk Reference, by Robert Garrison and Elizabeth Somer

    Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colo., and also works at Pharmaca’s downtown Boulder location. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach by connecting her clients with the more dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food intolerances, building optimal nutrition and working directly with the emotional body, it is possible to greatly revive one’s health by reconnecting body with spirit.

  • The Scoop on Vitamins: Vitamin B1 - Thiamine

    This is part of our continuing series on the function of vitamins in the body.

    The family of B vitamins is collectively called the B Complex. B Vitamins are used in many ways, from helping the liver clear toxins and excess hormones to creating energy within our cells. Every system in your body requires B vitamins to function.

    B1, also called thiamine, is a unique nutrient that plays an integral role in the brain and central nervous system. B1’s coenzyme form is important for the synthesis of acetylcholine, which is critical in preventing memory loss and nerve inflammation. B1 is also important for the repair and prevention of any impairment of nerve function.

    Another of B1’s major contributions to the body is the dynamic way it facilitates proper digestion:

    B1 assists in the production of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), which is vital to the proper breakdown and assimilation of food.
    B1 helps maintain muscle tone in the intestines and stomach, prevents constipation and plays a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates.
    B1 provides nourishment for all digestive organs, helps us to get maximum nutrition from our food and regulates appetite.

    Symptoms of B1 deficiency include loss of reflexes, peripheral paralysis or numbness in the extremities. These symptoms have engendered theories that B1 deficiency may be a player in diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Restless Leg Syndrome.

    B1 deficiency often stems from high amounts of exercise or a diet that’s high in carbohydrates or alcohol. An optimal amount of B1 for an active adult is between 1.2-1.5 mg daily. Dietary sources include pork, nuts, beans, peas, brown rice, egg yolks, asparagus, broccoli and raisins. It’s important to note, however, that B1 is often lost during food preparations in which the cooking water is discarded. A simple way to maintain the B1 content is to try soups and stews that combine some of the above ingredients—it’s a delicious way to enjoy the flavor and nutrients our bodies need.

    Supplementation is also an excellent way to support your body’s thiamine needs. Try taking a quality B-complex supplement and a food-based multivitamin every day to ensure your daily B1 needs are met.

    The Nutrition Desk Reference, by Robert Garrison and Elizabeth Somer

    Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colo., and also works at Pharmaca’s downtown Boulder location. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach by connecting her clients with the more dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food intolerances, building optimal nutrition and working directly with the emotional body, it is possible to greatly revive one’s health by reconnecting body with spirit.

  • The Scoop on Vitamins

    Ever wonder exactly how and why we need vitamins in our diet? Here’s a little primer on how vitamins function in our bodies. 

    Put plainly, a vitamin is an organic compound essential for life. It is essential because it cannot be created in the body, and must be obtained through food for the body to stay alive. Vitamins are called “micronutrients” because the body only requires a small quantity of them. Macronutrients, on the other hand—such as protein, fat, carbohydrates and water—are necessary in larger quantities because the body uses them to create bodily structures and provide energy. Vitamins also work intricately with enzymes, creating action in the body like assisting in the breakdown of food and allowing assimilation.

    There a few major classes of vitamins. First, vitamins are either water soluble or fat soluble. Water-soluble vitamins must be consumed daily because the body has no real way of storing them (these include the B vitamins and vitamin C). Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, K and E, on the other hand, can be stored longer in fatty tissues and the liver.

    Another distinguishing category of vitamins is whether they are synthetic or natural. Synthetic vitamins are made in laboratories, and though they appear to be identical to the vitamins found in food, they lack the complexity of natural vitamins. That’s because when vitamins occur in nature they're never isolated—they’re always interlaced in very complex multidimensional structures of macronutrients. And studies show that when nutrients are bonded to proteins in this way, they’re better assimilated and more readily used by the body.

    Most importantly, vitamins work together in a synergistic way to create the delicate balance of energy that the body needs to maintain life and to thrive. If there is an imbalance of even one nutrient—whether it’s a deficiency or an excess—it can produce disease in the body and create a host of confusing symptoms. "Scientific research has proved that an excess of isolated vitamins or minerals can produce the same symptom as the deficiency... For example high doses of B-vitamins have been shown to cause the depletion of the other B-vitamins" (From Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by Phyllis Balch, CNC, and James F. Balch, MD).

    Getting to know vitamin basics is an important step in taking care of our own health. Using a vitamin at the proper time can increase healing time and prevent illness. Dr. Balch gives us one important example: "The absorption of vitamin C is greatly reduced by antibiotic drugs, so a person taking antibiotics requires a higher than normal intake of this vitamin." Knowing about and having a better understanding of the intricate dance of vitamins within the body is a profound way to observe the intelligence of the body, and to increase one's quality of life.

    Next we’ll be exploring the different roles that vitamins play in the body. Our first exploration will be meeting the water-soluble vitamins and seeing the fascinating role they play in our health.

    Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colo., and also works at Pharmaca’s downtown Boulder location. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach by connecting her clients with the more dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food intolerances, building optimal nutrition and working directly with the emotional body, it is possible to greatly revive one’s health by reconnecting body with spirit.

8 Item(s)