Author Archives: Kate Brainard, ND

  • Travel First Aid: Help for Every Travel Ailment

    Traveling-HealthThe new sights, the sunny beaches, the great food…Travel can be exciting, but even the most experienced travelers need a little help now and then. Here’s our roundup of common travel ailments—and natural remedies that can get you back to enjoying your vacation!

    The Problem: Jet lag

    It happens when we fly across different time zones, causing a disruption in our sleep/wake cycle (also known as your circadian rhythm). Changing time zones rapidly can cause disruptions in falling asleep, staying asleep or staying awake.

    The Solutions

    Melatonin is the hormone our bodies make to regulate the sleep/wake cycle, so taking  extra in a supplement form may help to reset the sleep/wake cycle disrupted from jet lag. Research has shown that melatonin can aid sleep at times when you wouldn’t normally be sleeping. Good brands to try include Source Naturals, Natural Factors, Jarrow Formulas and Pharmaca. Regular doses usually range between 1-5mg.

    NO-JET-LAG (from Miers Laboratory) is a well-loved and trusted homeopathic travel companion. It is safe, easy to take and has been proven effective in tests. A blend of five homeopathic remedies (arnica, daisy, chamomile, ipecac and lycopodium) helps counter the effects of pressure changes and the debilitating effects of long flights.

    The Problem: Travel anxiety

    Many people experience anxiety around travel, whether it’s fear of flying, fear of where you are going, changing your regular daily routine, fear of leaving home or missing loved ones and animals.

    The Solutions

    L-Theanine is a unique amino acid found in green tea that supports mental calmness and relaxation by increasing dopamine and GABA in the brain. L-theanine assists the alpha brainwaves associated with relaxation, without any drowsiness. Brands to try include Source Naturals, Jarrow Formulas and Natural Factors.

    Rescue Remedy by Bach Flower Essences is a gentle formula to help center your emotions when you’re experiencing situational distress. Rescue Remedy is a blend of five flower essences that assist with emotional stress from illness, fright, injury, travel fatigue and irritation.

    Emotional Ally by WishGarden Herbs is formulated to help you cope with temporary anxiety, restlessness and irritability. With herbs like passionflower, skullcap and motherwort, it helps you to re-center yourself and feel relief from travel anxiety.


    The Problem: Motion sickness

    Also known as travel, car, sea or airsickness, it happens when visually perceived motion is different from your vestibular system’s sense of movement. The most common symptoms are dizziness, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.

    The Solutions

    PSI Bands are adjustable wristbands that apply acupressure to help relieve the symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Acupressure works by stimulating the body’s self-curative abilities.

    Ginger can help with nausea associated with motion sickness. Try New Chapter’s Ginger Force or Jarrow Formulas, Herb Pharm or Pharmaca brand Ginger.

    Peppermint can also help with nausea associated with motion sickness. Try Herb Pharm’s Breath Tonic or Enzymatic Therapy’s Peppermint Plus.

    Homeopathic Gelsemium Sempervire 30c is also indicated in motion sickness.


    The Problem: Travelers’ Diarrhea

    This one is common for a few reasons—one being that you are simply drinking water you’re not used to drinking. Another reason may be that the water is not thoroughly treated at your destination. The microbial balance in the digestive tract may be easily disturbed during travel, so it’s important to plan ahead and supplement with probiotics to give the immune and digestive tract a head start.

    The Solutions

    Start taking a good probiotic a few weeks before your departure to build up healthy colonies of friendly flora. Some specific probiotic strains are more effective at helping with travelers’ diarrhea, but remember that many probiotic formulas require refrigeration. Try Florastor, made with S. boulardii, Jarrow Formulas’ Jarro-Dophilus EPS or Dr. Ohirra’s—all of which are excellent products that do not require refrigeration.

    If possible, stick with bottled water from a trusted supplier, and use methods of sterilization when necessary (i.e. plan ahead for boiling, water cleansing tabs or filtration).

    The Problem: Decreased Immunity

    Cramped airplanes and foreign bacteria can take advantage of anyone’s immune system. That’s why it’s a good idea to start building your immunity several weeks before your trip.

    The Solutions

    WishGarden Herbs’ Kick-Ass Immune is formulated to activate a healthy immune response and emphasizes respiratory health, which is especially important when flying in airplanes. It’s handy for travel in 1 or 2 oz sizes.

    Perfect Immune by New Chapter is a probiotic, whole-food multivitamin that provides comprehensive support for immune and natural defenses.

    New Chapter LifeShield Immunity is an awesome blend of medicinal mushrooms packed with beta glucans that help potentiate and modulate the immune system.

    Also, don’t forget to wash your hands often and disinfect when traveling. I like sanitizers by CleanWell, EO and Dr. Bronner’s.


    The Problem: Sunburn

    Because travel destinations are often at a higher elevation, near water, closer to the equator or sunnier than where you are coming from, sunburn can be inevitable. Make sure you wear a hat, stay out of the sun during peak hours and reapply a good mineral sunscreen. And if you do get burnt, here are ways to beat the heat.

    The Solutions

    To treat sunburn, try All Terrain’s Aloe Gel Skin Relief with healing herbs, Boericke and Tafel’s Califlora Calendula Gel or Boiron’s First Aid Calendula Lotion. And after being out in the sun all day, remember to stay hydrated with electrolytes. Coconut water is an easy way to get them, but Ultima Replenisher or Trace Minerals’ Electrolyte Stamina are powdered electrolyte drink mixes that are great for travel.

    The Problem: Sleeplessness

    Whether it’s jet lag or loud hotel neighbors, there are a variety of ways to combat sleeplessness.

    The Solutions

    Herb Pharm’s Relaxing Sleep Tonic is an herbal blend with valerian, sold in a small 1 oz bottle that’s convenient for travel.

    Deep Sleep by Herbs, Etc. is designed to help with difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep or for low-quality sleep.

    Sleep Formula by Pharmaca, containing melatonin, 5HTP and L-theanine, has worked well for many people.

    Magnesium is great to take before bed to promote relaxation and calmness. Try Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm, Pure Essence’s Ionic Fizz or Kal’s Magnesium Glycinate.

    You may also want to try an eye mask and/or earplugs to block out unwanted sounds or sights. The Bucky Forty Blinks Eye Mask is one of my favorites because it’s contoured to relieve pressure against the eyes.


    The Problem: Digestive issues

    Different foods, whether they’re too rich or just something you’re not used to eating, can also play a big part in the health of your digestive system.

    The Solutions

    Chewable Papaya Enzymes help promote healthy digestion by breaking down carbohydrates and proteins. Try Pharmaca brand or Natural Factors’ Chewable Papaya Enzymes. (Plus they’re delicious!)

    Bring along more potent digestive enzymes in case you’re headed somewhere where you know the food is more challenging for your digestion. I like Megazymes by MegaFood, Digest Gold or Digest Spectrum by Enzymedica, Advanced Enzyme System by Rainbow Light or Complete Digestion by Enzyme Science.

    Probiotics are always recommended when traveling to promote a healthy immune system and optimal digestion (see Traveler’s Diarrhea for shelf-stable recommendations). Begin taking probiotics a few weeks before travel to allow time for colonization in the gut. A belly with a powerful amount of microbial flora will protect you against harmful bacteria and viruses, helping you to stay strong and healthy during your travels.

    WishGarden Digestive Bitters can help balance the pH of the stomach and ease an acidic tummy. Supports healthy digestive response and enzymes.

    Hyland’s Upset Stomach is a homeopathic, charcoal-based formula designed to relieve gas and bloating from overeating or improper diet. Safe for adults and children.

    UrgentRx Heartburn Relief comes in pocket-sized packets designed for easy transport, featuring 1000 mg of calcium carbonate for fast-acting relief of heartburn, acidic stomach and acid indigestion on the go, with or without liquid.

    Ask a Pharmaca practitioner for solutions to travel problems not listed here.

  • Snapshot: Different Probiotic Species and Strains

    As a follow up to our post on how to choose a probiotic, here's a snapshot look at different probiotic strains, when they're useful and where to find them.

    Probiotic species & strains  Health benefits Where you'll find it

    B. longum


    The most significant and important probiotics in the body, and among the first to colonize in the sterile GI tract of a newborn infant (also found in human breast milk). Stimulates the immune response and promotes microbial balance by crowding out bad bacteria that cause discomfort and neutralizing everyday toxins in the gut. Aids production and absorption of B vitamins, blocks harmful invaders, boosts the immune system and helps maintain regularity. Helps break down carbs without producing excess gas. May help to prevent or minimize various allergies or allergic reactions, inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease, or colitis.May have positive impact on cholesterol levels.

    Lowers the pH of the intestine/vagina to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.



    L. acidophilus

    Most commonly used probiotic.Lives in the mouth, intestines (maintains integrity of the wall of the small intestine, aiding nutrient absorption and supporting immunity) and vagina (adheres to the walls of the vagina and urinary system where it can fight infection). Helps to synthesize vitamin K and many antimicrobial substances, giving it antibiotic properties.


    L. rhamnosus GG

    One of the most effective strains for combating antibiotic-associated diarrhea and traveler’s diarrhea. Lives in the intestines, and fights infections both in the gut and urinary tract. Assists in dairy digestion and lactose intolerance.

    L. plantarum 299V

    Reduces pain, bloating and improves constipation in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Helps with antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
    • Jarrow Formulas Ideal Bowel Support

    S. boulardii

    A probiotic yeast resistant to stomach acids and antibiotics. Effective against reducing acute diarrhea in children and adults. Protects against both antibiotic and travelers’ induced diarrhea. Promotes immune and digestive health.

    B. infantis

    Excellent for both children and adults, B. infantis is one of the first colonize in the newborn’s digestive tract. Helps to impede the growth of harmful bacteria.Excellent producer of B vitamins. Offers good results with IBS (bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, urgency and abdominal discomfort), IBD, ulcerative colitis and traveler’s diarrhea.

    L. casei





    Helps control diarrhea, has potential anti-inflammatory effects on the GI and aids in relieving antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Produces lactic acid to lower the pH of the gut, impeding the growth of harmful bacteria. Lives in the mouth and intestines of both infants and adults.

    L. reuteri



    Provides strong protection against infection and helps maintain a healthy immune system. Treats and prevents diarrhea. Helps relieve colic. Releases a substance capable of killing bacteria, yeast and fungi, making it popular for vaginal infection support against candida, UTIs.


    S. thermophilus


    One of the most useful strains in the commercial food industry. True starter strain for making yogurt (used in making cheeses too). Ferments milk sugar (lactose) that turns into lactic acid, which is effective at preventing lactose intolerance and also lowers the pH of the yogurt preventing the growth of harmful bacteria causing food poisoning. Keeps microflora of intestines balanced.May have benefits for chemotherapy patients.

    B. breve

    Unique in its ability to compete against harmful bacteria due to the large variety of molecules it can digest (including plant fibers otherwise thought non-digestible). Inhibits E. coli. Present in the intestines and the vagina (inhibits growth of candida albicans, the primary cause of yeast infections). Decreases occurrence of gas, diarrhea and bowel irritations.

    L. helveticus

    Exerts antimicrobial activities against pathogens, helps reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance by breaking down lactose, helps to prevent and reduce diarrhea, may have implications on lowering cholesterol and blood pressure as well as help with calcium absorption. Lives in the intestines.


  • Coenzyme Q10: A Heart-Healthy Antioxidant for Optimal Aging

    SunCare2-ArticleCoenzyme Q10 (aka CoQ10 and ubiquinone) is a simple molecule that is naturally produced in our cells’ mitochondria. CoQ10 has the important role of helping convert sugar into energy or ATP—an energy source that’s essential for helping cells perform their primary functions. Coenzyme Q10 is used in enzyme systems that provide 90 percent of a cell’s energy, making it critical to our health.

    CoQ10: An invaluable antioxidant
    A second function of CoQ10 is to act as a natural, potent antioxidant. Antioxidants travel the body in search of free radicals that create what is called oxidative stress. Free radicals are also natural, forming as a byproduct of metabolism, but form at a greater rate when the body is exposed to environmental and lifestyle factors such as excessive sunlight, smoke and exhaust, poor diet and alcohol consumption.

    Oxidative stress occurs because free radicals are unstable molecules looking to find stability in another molecule—rendering the secondary molecule unstable. This chain of events can lead to disruption of healthy cells, cell death and damage to tissues, similar to what is believed to happen during the aging process. That’s why ample antioxidants are critical to us as we age.

    As with many important nutrients, natural CoQ10 production decreases with age. What makes CoQ10 different is that it is the only fat-soluble antioxidant our bodies naturally produce that has a special ability to restore itself back to its healthy state after successfully scavenging free radicals—making it an invaluable antioxidant in the fight against aging.

    Coenzyme Q10 and heart health
    In healthy heart tissue, CoQ10 is found in abundant supply. In fact, since the heart is the most active muscle in the body and uses the most energy, its cells tend to produce the highest concentrations of CoQ10. Individuals with heart conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a history of heart attack or congestive heart failure tend to have lower levels of CoQ10. It’s not clear whether CoQ10 deficiency is the cause of these conditions or simply an effect. Research, however, supports the idea that CoQ10 can help improve cardiovascular health and other heart conditions.

    Supplementing with Coenzyme Q10
    CoQ10 is found in minimal quantities in foods such as whole grains, nuts, beans, seeds, soybeans and eggs, with the highest concentrations found in meats and fish. The common doses used in research studies range between 90-400 mg/day. Ubiquinone, the oxidized form of CoQ10, is fat-soluble and is not well absorbed from the stomach and intestine. Ubiquinol, on the other hand, is the reduced, active antioxidant state of CoQ10 and is significantly better absorbed, particularly as we age.

    Is it time to start supplementing with CoQ10? Natural production of CoQ10 starts to slow down around age 30-35. If you have high blood pressure or cholesterol or a family history of heart disease, supplementing with CoQ10 can help protect you from the damaging effects of oxidative stress and provide your heart with the ability to work more efficiently.

    Here are some CoQ10 supplements I recommend:

    Pharmaca CoQ10 Ubiquinol QH 100mg
    Thorne Research Q-Best 50
    Metagenics NanoCell-Q (liquid CoQ10)
    Natural Factors Coenzyme Q10 200 mg
    Jarrow Formulas Ubiquinol QH-absorb
    New Chapter CoQ10+ Food Complex

  • How Do I Choose a Probiotic?

    We know now that probiotics are good for us. But with so many to choose from, how do we choose one that’s right for us? Not all probiotics are created equal; different varieties of bacterial strains have different benefits, in addition to differing potencies, routes of ingestion, manufacturing methods and so on. Read on to learn how to choose a probiotic that’s right for you.

    First, identify why you need probiotics. It may be to counteract a course of antibiotics, to support digestion, to treat a yeast infection or simply to boost immunity. While many products are formulated to suit a particular need, others are general in their labeling. Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for a probiotic that suits your needs.

    While taking antibiotics
    Antibiotics are good at their job of wiping out invasive bacteria. The problem is that they are also good at killing beneficial bacteria, setting the stage for gastric distress, diarrhea and possible secondary infection—making it critical to take probiotics concurrently. Note that you should always take antibiotics and probiotics on opposite schedules so their effects do not counterbalance each other (i.e. take probiotics at least 2 hours away from antibiotics).

    While on antibiotics, take a higher-potency probiotic (20-100 billion) to replenish gut flora, and continue them for a month or more after your course. For this purpose I recommend Renew Life’s Ultimate Flora Critical Care,Nature’s Way Primadophilus Optima, Pharmaca’s Ultimate Probiotic Blend and Pharmax High Intensity products.

    Yeast and women’s balance
    Probiotics are very effective in balancing vaginal flora, which helps guard against infection and prevent overgrowth of candida. Suppositories offer a direct method to assist vaginal flora—be sure it has at least a billion lactobacillus to support vaginal flora. Taking oral probiotics at the same time can offer maximum coverage. Try Jarrow Formulas’ Fem-Dophilus or Vitanica’s FemEcology. Both of these products are formulated for vaginal flora balance and can be used as suppositories as well.

    Probiotics for children
    Probiotics are extremely important for developing digestive tracts and supporting immunity. Kid-specific products are formulated to make them appealing for little ones. Try Jarrow Formulas’ Yum-Yum Dophilus or Nature’s Way’s Primadophilus Kids.

    Potency is measured in colony forming units (CFUs). A good first step is to ensure you choose a product that gives a “good until” date to ensure potency until a certain date. (Some manufacturers only stamp their CFUs at the time of manufacture, e.g. “1 billion active L. acidophilus and B. bifidum at the time of manufacture.”) Because probiotics are live organisms at the time of manufacture, over time you can expect a slow die-off of bacteria, which ultimately renders the probiotic useless. This happens much faster if the product is improperly stored.

    Potency varies widely in probiotic supplements, generally between 1 and 100 billion CFUs. Currently there are no standardizations for dosing and potency with probiotics. You may need a period of adjustment to identify what potency is optimal for you, but here are some general guidelines to help you start.

    • For mild digestion problems (gas, bloating, diarrhea) try starting with a lower dose (5-10 billion CFUs) and working up.
    • For more severe digestion issues (chronic diarrhea, gas, bloating and infections), you may want to try taking a lower potency every other day and working your way up to a much higher potency (since there can be gas and bloating associated with probiotics colonizing in the gut).
    • For bowel regularity, try New Chapter’s Probiotic GI Tract.
    • For general intestinal maintenance, try taking 1-2 billion CFUs per day, as in Enzymatic Therapy’s Acidophilus Pearls. Many people choose to take a much higher maintenance dose because they have found that it gives them optimal digestion and immunity. A popular product for daily use is Jarrow Formulas’ Jarro-Dophilus EPS,which contains 5 billion per dose and does not require refrigeration.

    In addition, probiotic formulas are often formulated with added prebiotics—non-digestible food that feeds probiotics and promotes healthy flora. Examples of prebiotics include FOS and inulin. Try Jarrow Formulas’ Jarro-Dophilus + FOS or Pharmaca’s Acidophilus and Bifidus.

    Other considerations


    Since many probiotics are grown in a culture that contains dairy, people who are completely lactose intolerant must look for dairy-free formulas. There may also be traces of gluten in some products, so be sure to check the label or ask a qualified health practitioner for a gluten-free option. A few allergen-free products to try include Pharmax HLC, Jarrow Formulas’ Allergen-Free Jarro-dophilus or Thorne Research’s FloraMend.


    Many probiotics require refrigeration to maintain potency, which can be inconvenient—especially for travel—but there are several good probiotics that do not require refrigeration. Try Jarrow Formulas’ Jarro-Dophilus EPS, Essential Formulas’ Probiotics 12 Plus Original Formula or Enzymatic Therapy’s Pearls. Be sure to follow proper storage of your probiotic, paying attention to moisture, light and temperature.

    Delivery methods

    There are a variety of delivery methods for probiotics, including liquids, powders (great for infants!), capsules, chewables and suppositories. Fermented foods are also a terrific source of probiotics, including kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, anything pickled, miso, tempeh and soy sauce. Kombucha is a popular fermented tea that is a great source of probiotics.


    Be sure to read directions thoroughly! Products can differ based on whether or not they should be taken on an empty stomach.

    Side effects

    Probiotics are considered generally safe and well tolerated, and serious side effects are fairly uncommon. Possible side effects include gas, bloating and tenderness in the gut (either to the touch or with motion) and possible diarrhea or constipation. Because these symptoms occur while the bacteria are colonizing in the gut, they tend to become less pronounced with ongoing use. There have been rare reports of infection occurring in the severely ill or immune-compromised.

    There is no evidence that higher doses of probiotics are unsafe (even though they may be more expensive and unnecessary for some). When in question, start lower and work your way up. Back off on potency if you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms from the probiotics, but don’t give up! Speak with a qualified health practitioner if you have concerns with any side effects from probiotics colonizing.

    Trusted manufacturers

    Perhaps the most important aspect in choosing your probiotic is purchasing from trusted manufacturers with good manufacturing practices and quality control! These brands should have research available to demonstrate the effectiveness of their products, including proof of potency and ability to survive the environment of stomach acids and bile salts. Special manufacturing techniques are required to ensure the probiotics make it to their destination for colonization (i.e. small or large intestine). Examples of these techniques include enteric coating and “beadlet” technology. A few examples of trusted manufacturers include Pharmax, Metagenics, Pharmaca, Renew Life, New Chapter, Jarrow, Udo’s and MegaFood.

  • Regulating and Preventing Insulin Resistance

    We’ve seen how diet and lifestyle can lead to insulin resistance. The good news is that the right nutrition and behaviors can also help prevent and actually treat insulin resistance. Here are some of the best ways to maintain balanced blood sugar and decrease your chances for developing type 2 diabetes.

    Get active. Exercise causes the body to burn sugar for energy and increases insulin sensitivity, allowing the body to use insulin more efficiently. The result is lower blood sugar and decreased burden on insulin production by the pancreas.

    Eat smaller, balanced meals more frequently. A well-balanced meal includes protein at about 20 percent of total calories (examples include coldwater fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and low-fat or fermented dairy); complex carbs at 55-60 percent of total calories (try beans, yams, brown rice); and healthy fats below 25 percent of total calories (examples include avocados and raw nuts). Avoid simple sugars, saturated/hydrogenated fats and starchy vegetables. Include protein at each meal and shoot for at least 20 grams of protein at breakfast.

    Get your fiber. Fiber slows down digestion and absorption of carbs, prevents hyperglycemia, increases sensitivity to insulin, prevents overproduction of insulin and improves glucose uptake by the cells. Fiber is best when it is consumed through diet (e.g. legumes, oat bran, nuts, seeds, psyllium seed husks, pears, apples and most vegetables), but supplemental fiber can also be helpful; I recommend Renew Life’s Fiber-Tastic, Sprinkle Fiber or Organic Triple Fiber.

    Get to know the glycemic index. Foods with high scores will create spikes in blood sugar, so choose foods with lower scores. Low GI food examples include whole grains, beans and low-fat dairy. High GI examples are donuts, refined cereals, candy, white breads and soda.

    Get balanced sleep. Studies suggest that consistently getting less than 6 hours of sleep—or more than 9 hours—increases risk for insulin resistance.

    Try blood sugar-balancing herbs and supplements.

    Cinnamon can significantly improve insulin sensitivity and greatly improve glucose metabolism. Try New Chapter’s Cinnamon Force, Pharmaca brand or Natural Factors’ WellBetX Cinnulin PF.

    Chromium is a trace mineral that is crucial for insulin sensitivity, yet chromium deficiency is widespread in the US. Studies have shown that for chromium-deficient individuals, supplementing can produce significant increases in good blood sugar metabolism. Try New Chapter’s GTF Chromium Food Complex, Thorne Research’s Chromium Picolinate or Pure Encapsulations’ ChromeMate GTF.

    Helpful herbs such as bitter melon, gymnema and fenugreek (from Solaray) have shown blood sugar-lowering properties.

    Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about best practices for optimizing your blood sugar metabolism and decreasing your risk of insulin resistance.

  • What Are Probiotics (and Why do I Need Them?)

    YogurtProbiotics are microorganisms, including both bacteria and yeast, that live in the small and large intestines (also referred to as the gut). Collectively, all organisms in the gut are referred to as flora.

    There are more than 400 different types of bacteria species living in the gut, accounting for a whopping 3-5 pounds of body weight. Your gut is also home to a network of lymphoid tissue that makes up 60-70 percent of your immune system. That’s why keeping a healthy balance is critical to your ability to fight infection and optimally digest and metabolize food.

    Two genuses of bacteria—Lactobacillus (L.) and Bifidobacterium (B.)—are the most beneficial strains commonly used in probiotics, and a complete probiotic should contain strains of both in order to provide protection for both the small and large intestine. Here are a few examples of specific strains of these genuses that have unique capabilities:

    L. acidophilus strains predominantly live in the mouth, small intestine and vagina. They greatly benefit digestion by producing enzymes that break down food (e.g. lactase, which breaks down dairy), assisting in absorption of vitamins K and B, calcium and fatty acids, and protecting against infection and disease by lowering the pH of the gut to make it uninhabitable by bad bacteria.

    B. bifidum predominantly live in the large intestine and vagina, and adhere themselves to the walls of each, thus preventing bad bacteria from colonizing. B. Bifidum also produces substances that lower the pH of their environment so bad bacteria cannot thrive, and enhances assimilation of minerals.

    Many more strains exist that have shown specific beneficial properties. Consult with a qualified health practitioner for strains that are specific to helping certain health conditions (e.g. L. Rhamnosus, called the “travelers’ probiotic,” because it has shown protection against diarrhea while traveling).

    Beneficial yeast can also serve as probiotics. Here are a few examples of yeasts commonly found in probiotic formulas:

    Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast that can sustain flora in the gut and help prevent and treat diarrhea from various causes (e.g. traveling or antibiotics).

    Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also known as brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast, has been used for thousands of years to make dough rise and create alcohol (due to the yeast’s special ability to ferment certain sugars). S. cerevisiae has many beneficial effects, and is high in protein, fiber, B vitamins and folic acid.

    Different types of probiotics can be helpful for a variety of health conditions—they aid nutrient absorption, produce key vitamins, improve digestion and immunity, balance intestinal and vaginal flora, protect us from antibiotic use damage and improve overall wellbeing.

    Now that we know a bit about types of probiotics, the next step is in figuring out how to choose which one is right for you.

  • Carbohydrates and Insulin Resistance

    So we already know how our bodies work to maintain blood sugar balance. But how is our blood sugar affected by what we eat?

    Carbohydrates—alongside fat and protein—are one of the major nutrients the body requires in large, balanced quantities. All consumed carbohydrates manifest as blood sugar, but how they affect blood sugar balance depends on whether they are simple or complex.

    Simple carbs are those that are made of one or two simple sugars, like fructose or glucose. Examples of simple carbs include white flour, white rice, pasta and sweeteners, which have been processed to remove everything—such as the bran and germ—except the quickly digestible carb. This process gives the grain a finer texture and prolongs shelf life, but removes key nutrients such as B vitamins, fiber and iron.

    Complex carbs, on the other hand, are chains of simple sugars bonded into larger structures; examples include whole grain breads, bran, beans, lentils and peas. They contain fiber and other nutrients along with the carbohydrate, and therefore take longer to digest, allowing for slower absorption of the glucose and consequently a slower rise in blood sugar. (Read more about a recent study showing how legumes can help stabilize blood sugar among diabetics.)

    The Glycemic Index (GI) is a useful tool that ranks how quickly different foods will increase blood sugar after ingestion. Foods are indexed based on their relativity to glucose (which rapidly raises blood sugar and has a GI score of 100, the highest). Yogurt and whole barley come in around 20; a baked potato ranks 98 on the scale. Whole grain foods are often the best option because they are typically lower on the glycemic index. Refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, tend to have the highest GI scores. (See examples of GI scores of many common foods from Harvard Medical School.) High glucose-rich foods, when combined with fiber, protein or fat will lower the GI of that food.

    Because of the differences in GI scores, choosing carbohydrates wisely is vital for good blood sugar regulation and nutritional health. When we consume too many simple carbs (and don’t exercise enough), a detrimental cycle develops: blood sugar spikes from refined carbohydrate intake, insulin is released, glucose is stored in the cells, blood sugar drops, the body thinks you’re hungry, and you crave carbs…and the process starts all over again.

    The problem is that the cycle wears down over time and the body’s cells begin to lose sensitivity to insulin. The body compensates for this by pumping out more and more insulin in an effort to get the sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells. Lack of fiber, high sugar intake, too much iron (e.g. high red meat consumption), free radicals and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to insulin resistance.

    In addition, insulin resistance can cause excessive weight gain even without overeating because excess glucose in the blood is eventually stored as fat. There is also a relationship that exists between stress and elevated cortisol which drives insulin resistance and stores fat in the belly. Belly fat then perpetuates insulin resistance because it acts as a hormone disruptor (insulin in particular), and the unhealthy cycle continues.

    Insulin resistance is also associated with high blood pressure, high triglycerides, plaque buildup in the arteries and low levels of HDL (good cholesterol). Together, this is called Metabolic Syndrome, a pre-diabetic state. Insulin resistance is a serious condition that, left untreated, is a strong risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

    Next we’ll talk about simple strategies for regulating blood sugar and preventing insulin resistance.

  • Blood Sugar Balance--Why It's Vital to Good Health

    Most people understand that blood sugar balance is important for sustained energy, preventing diabetes and overall health. But blood sugar and insulin are part of a complex process in the body that is highly influenced by our diet and lifestyle choices. Here are the basics of how our bodies regulate blood sugar.

    What is blood sugar?
    Sugar, or glucose, comes from the carbohydrates (i.e. sugars and starches) in our diet. Glucose serves as a primary source of energy for the body’s cells and brain, and our metabolism is constantly working to maintain a healthy balance between sugar in the blood and its uptake into fat, muscles and the liver, either for energy use or storage. The pancreas is key to this balance, as it produces the hormones necessary to move glucose in and out of cells.

    Blood sugar imbalances
    Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, happens when blood sugar falls below the normal range. When this drop happens—either as a result of food deprivation or exercise—the body responds by releasing glucagon, a hormone made by the pancreas that frees stored glucose in order to raise blood sugar to a normal level. A severe drop in blood sugar (or elevated stress) can even prompt the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which provide quicker breakdown of glucose for energy.

    On the other end of the spectrum are blood sugar spikes, which the body responds to by releasing insulin (also a hormone made by the pancreas). The function of insulin is to remove sugar from the blood and direct it to the cells of muscle, fat and liver to be stored or used as energy; proper insulin function, therefore, is key to regulating blood sugar. If insulin is insufficient or cells aren‘t receptive—a condition also known as insulin resistance—the glucose remains in the bloodstream and creates high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. Chronic high blood sugar is associated with obesity, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

    Next we’ll talk about how excessive intake of refined carbohydrates can cause an unhealthy cycle of blood sugar imbalances, and, ultimately, insulin resistance.

  • 10 Ways to Boost Metabolism

    The new year is here—and for many of us, that means a renewed focus on healthy weight management. Here are a few tips and tricks for keeping your metabolism in check as you start working toward a healthier weight.

    First, a primer on the way metabolism functions in our body. Simply put, metabolism is the process by which our bodies use the calories in the food we eat and turn it into energy. We are continuously burning calories—even at rest—to continue breathing and pumping blood. The number of calories needed for anything beyond rest, such as walking, talking and daily activities, is unique to your body and lifestyle. And when we consume more calories than we need, our body stores them as fat, usually in the belly and thighs.

    It’s important to note that there are a few factors regarding our metabolism that we cannot change. First, men tend to burn more calories (even at rest) than women. That’s probably because men tend to have more lean muscle—which burns more calories—than women, whose bodies are designed to carry more fat to accommodate child rearing. Second, metabolism tends to slow after age 40. No matter what your age or gender, here are 10 strategies that can help optimize your metabolism.

    1) Build lean muscle. Lean muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more lean muscle you have, the faster your metabolism. This difference adds up over time! Experts say that incorporating 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise most days of the week, plus 2 days of strength and resistance training, is optimal for boosting your metabolism. In addition, high-intensity exercise is more beneficial, so step up the intensity of your workout to rev your resting metabolic rate for several hours afterward. Try to work out in the morning, since activating your muscles will help to boost your average metabolic rate for the day.

    2) Stay hydrated. Metabolism requires water for efficient functioning, and any amount of dehydration will impair your ability to burn calories. Shoot for eight 8 oz glasses of water per day. Additionally, drink a glass before you snack or have a meal—we often mistake thirst for hunger, and water is a natural appetite suppressant. Add some ice to your water to burn a few extra calories!

    3) Eat lean protein. The body burns more calories digesting protein than carbohydrates or fats. While you should keep a balanced diet, consider swapping some carbs for healthy lean protein, such as chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef, low-fat dairy, tofu, nuts, beans and eggs. And try to use grass-fed and organic products when possible.

    4) Don’t skip breakfast! Going without the first meal of the day (or not eating enough in general) puts the body into starvation mode, which signals the body to produce more of the stress hormone cortisol and slows your metabolism. Eating smaller meals more often (i.e. every 3-4 hours) will keep your metabolism running and burning calories all day while providing you with sustained energy. Just avoid eating a heavy dinner or eating late!

    5) Keep your thyroid balanced. An under functioning thyroid gland can lead to sluggish metabolism, so have your thyroid regularly checked by your doctor. But mild hypothyroidism is common and can go undetected in blood tests—the best way to detect it is to measure your basal (or resting) body temperature in the morning to determine if it is low. For natural thyroid support, try Emerald Labs’ Thyroid Health or Natural Factors’ Thyroid Health Formula.

    6) Eat thermogenic foods. Thermogenic foods are those that require more calories to consume, digest and eliminate than they originally contain (i.e. your caloric output is more than the caloric intake from the food), or any food that raises your body temperature. Green tea, for example, is a great thermogenic—for maximum benefits, drink 4-5 cups per day (caffeinated or decaf) or take in supplement form (try green tea supplements from Pharmaca, Thorne Research or Herb Pharm). Thermogenic foods to try include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage), mushrooms, celery, asparagus, leafy greens, apples, pears, berries, cinnamon, ginger, garlic…and chili peppers!

    7) Avoid crash dieting. Crash diets are low-calorie restriction diets that are harmful to your metabolism and sacrifice good nutrition for the sake of losing a few pounds quickly. While you may initially lose weight, the majority of the loss is typically from muscle mass, not fat, which can further slow the metabolism and encourage weight gain.

    8) Get B vitamins. These are key players in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and a deficiency in B vitamins can result in decreased metabolism. Try supplementing with a B complex to improve metabolism and energy. I recommend Pharmaca’s B Complex, New Chapter’s Coenzyme B Food Complex or Thorne Research’s Basic B Complex.

    9) Control stress. Cortisol is a necessary hormone in our fight-or-flight response, but it’s also our key stress hormone. Chronic stress results in an overabundance of cortisol production, and a prolonged period of elevated cortisol slows the metabolism and can cause excess abdominal fat. To control stress, try yoga, exercise, meditation and good sleep and nutrition habits. You can also help control cortisol levels through supplements like Pure Encapsulations’ Cortisol Calm by or Integrative Therapeutics’ Cortisol Manager.

    10) Try metabolism-enhancing supplements, like these:

    Thermo-Fit by Natura is a balanced supplement formulated to optimize metabolism, increase thermogenesis, decrease conversion of excess carbs into fat, support thyroid function and encourage breakdown of stored fat.

    Diet Slim by Gaia Herbs is an herbal formula designed to support utilization of dietary fat as energy rather than storing it as excess weight, promote fat burning and thermogenesis, and boost energy.

    Green Coffee Bean Extract comes from unroasted coffee beans, which contain chlorogenic acid and other natural compounds that have been shown to promote healthy weight control, fat loss and blood sugar levels. Try green coffee bean from Genesis Today, Paradise Herbs or Creative Bioscience.

    7-Keto Lean by Integrative Therapeutics contains 7-keto DHEA (which will not metabolize into sex hormones) and has been shown to support fat metabolism and weight loss.

    While supplements may be an added boost to your metabolism, your best approach to optimal metabolism is to stay within your caloric needs, exercise regularly and maintain a well-balanced diet. If you suspect you have a medical condition that is compromising your metabolism, seek help of a qualified health professional.

  • A Whole Body Approach to Fibromyalgia

    Fibromyalgia affects an estimated 5 million adults in America. But what is fibromyalgia? The condition is characterized primarily by chronic, widespread unexplained pain and tender points throughout the body, as well as profound fatigue and sleep disturbances. Fibromyalgia is most common among women and people with autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

    Those with fibromyalgia (FM) may also experience secondary symptoms such as waking unrefreshed, morning stiffness, weakness, brain fog, headaches/migraines, mood complaints (e.g. depression, anxiety), numbness/tingling, joint swelling, balance problems, itchy or burning skin and digestive disorders.

    These symptoms often look similar to health conditions such as lyme disease, anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer or infection. Fibromyalgia also shares many similarities with chronic fatigue syndrome—it’s estimated that 70 percent of people diagnosed with FM also meet the criteria for chronic fatigue—as well as multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome (hypersensitivity to chemicals and smells). Because there are no lab tests that can confirm a FM diagnosis, fibromyalgia is often only diagnosed after other conditions have been ruled out.

    The cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown, but it is thought that a variety of factors may be involved—such as genetics, previous infections/illness, emotional or physical stress, and imbalances with important chemicals such as serotonin, tryptophan and norepinephrine. Ultimately, symptoms of pain may be due to faulty communication between pain signals and the nervous system, which results in an amplified pain sensation.

    A variety of treatment options exist to help reduce pain, lessen daytime fatigue and improve sleep. Conventional therapy uses analgesics, sleep aids, muscle relaxers or anti-depressants. Natural and alternative therapies, on the other hand, utilize a whole body approach to treatment that includes diet, nutrition and lifestyle changes, botanicals and bodywork.


    Tips for a whole body approach

    Many people suffering from fibromyalgia find relief through daily stretching, light exercise, massage, yoga, meditation or acupuncture. People with FM generally experience good days and bad days; it’s important not to overexert yourself on good days as it could exacerbate symptoms.

    A good dietary approach includes whole food-based nutrition, identifying and eliminating food sensitivities, and ensuring adequate hydration. Avoiding or significantly decreasing caffeine and alcohol can improve sleep and decrease the body’s toxic burden.

    Many supplements can also help to reduce pain and improve fatigue and sleep quality.

    D-ribose helps replenish core energy, provides muscles with energy, reduces muscle stiffness, soreness and fatigue, and improves heart function. Try Ribose Muscle Edge from Jarrow Formulas.

    Magnesium, which is commonly deficient in those with FM, relaxes muscles, is necessary for proper muscle function and crucial for energy production. Try Pharmaca Magnesium Citrate, Pure Essence’s Ionic-Fizz or Natural Vitality Calm.

    Corvalen M is a helpful formula that combines ribose and magnesium and malate (or malic acid), which plays an important role in energy production.

    Herbs such as boswellia and turmeric can help alleviate pain.

    Licorice (try Herb Pharm’s) can help combat fatigue and boost energy levels.

    5-HTP helps improve sleep and mood by raising serotonin levels. Try Pharmaca, Natural Factors or Jarrow Formulas.

    Melatonin helps improve sleep (learn more about different sleep supplements that can help). Try melatonin from Pharmaca, Natural Factors or Source Naturals.

    Fish oil helps reduce inflammation and reduce pain. Try Metagenics or Nordic Naturals.

    Liver support helps address toxic burden. Try  New Chapter’s Liver Force or Milk Thistle by Pharmaca, Eclectic Institute or Herb Pharm.

    Greens are an important source of minerals, help provide energy, and alkalize the body. Try Health Force Nutritionals, Amazing Grass or Vibrant Health.

    If you’re experiencing symptoms of fibromyalgia—such as deep muscle pain and fatigue that last longer than a week or two—talk to a qualified health practitioner about treatment options.

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