Author Archives: Kate Brainard, ND

  • Enzymes: Beyond Digestion

    Enzymes aren’t just vital for digestion—they’re important for the function of every cell in the body. In order to maintain balance in the structure and function of cells, tissues and organ systems, there are millions of metabolic enzyme reactions happening in your body.

    Where do enzymes come from? Enzymes are proteins made by the pancreas, liver, gall bladder and other organs—as well as by every living cell—to enable biochemical reactions. Digestive enzymes are particularly important because they break down food (including protein, fat and carbohydrates), a process that in turn provides energy to the body. Digestive enzymes are made primarily in the pancreas.

    Enzymes are also available in raw foods in our diet (but once foods have been heated/cooked or processed, the enzymes become damaged and unavailable for assisting digestion of that food). Pineapple enzymes (known as bromelain) and papaya enzymes (papain) are two highly concentrated raw sources of enzymes that can be especially helpful, and both are commonly sold in supplements.

    You may also want to supplement if you’re experiencing symptoms such as painful digestion, gas/bloating, heartburn and diarrhea/constipation. Supplementing with plant-based digestive enzymes can also increase the body’s capacity to produce other systemic, inflammation-fighting enzymes—more on that below.

    Digestive Enzymes to try:
    Digest Gold from Enzymedica
    Integrative Therapeutics’ Similase
    Rainbow Light’s Advanced Enzyme System
    Papaya Enzymes from Pharmaca and Zand

    The digestive tract isn’t the only place our body uses enzyme reactions, however. Systemic (also known as proteolytic or metabolic) enzymes can help break down inflammation in the body. Inflammation is mediated by the immune system and is a natural and necessary response in every cell of the body. However, higher levels of inflammation have been associated with aging and it’s important to maintain a healthy inflammation response.

    Enzymes can help decrease inflammation in different bodily systems (e.g. joints, heart, lungs, blood, immune, breasts, prostate, skin), and supplementation with systemic enzymes can help with aches, pains and muscle soreness from everyday activity. Experts believe that systemic enzymes can also help cleanse blood of foreign invaders such as viruses, therefore strengthening the immune system as well as breaking down scar tissue in the body.

    Are digestive and systemic enzymes one in the same? It’s believed that enzymes are utilized differently when taken at different times. When enzymes are taken with a full stomach, for example, they will work on digesting food. If taken on an empty stomach, they can help break down other proteins in the body, such as those causing inflammation.

    But supplement forms of digestive and systemic enzymes generally contain different levels of enzyme activity to accomplish what’s desired. Though you may see some positive benefits by taking a high-quality digestive enzyme on an empty stomach, it won’t generally have the same effect as taking a formula that is optimized for systemic use.

    Systemic enzymes to try:

    Wobenzym from Garden of Life
    Bromelain from Jarrow Formulas or Pharmaca
    Enzymedica’s SerraGold (helps improve circulation, speed tissue repair, alleviate joint discomfort, support heart health and relieve respiratory complaints)
    Enzymedica’s Natto-K (to support circulation)
    Enzymedica’s ViraStop (to help breakdown toxins and debris in blood)

    Ultimately, the body is designed to make the digestive and metabolic enzymes we need. But just like many other bodily functions, this process slows as we age. By supplementing with digestive enzymes the body can focus on making metabolic enzymes—the “energy of life” needed to forge every biochemical reaction in the body.

  • To soy or not to soy?

    The ubiquitous soybean has been at the center of many health discussions of late. We find it everywhere, and there’s still controversy about whether or not it’s good for us. Here’s more background to help you make a decision about soy’s place in your diet.

    The soybean, a legume, is native to East Asia, and writings about the soy crop date back 5,000 years to an emperor in China. In its natural form, soy contains phytochemicals (known as anti-nutrients) that protect the plant from harm in the environment—like UV radiation, microbes and foraging animals—so that it can reproduce itself.

    These anti-nutrients, which include phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors and goitrogens make soy in its natural form a poor choice for human consumption. But about 3,000 years ago it was discovered that when you introduce mold to the bean, the anti-nutrients are destroyed and the beneficial nutrients become available—also known as the process of fermentation. Forms of fermented soy such as miso, tempeh, natto and soy sauce also contain the health benefits of naturally occurring probiotics.

    What does soy have to offer?
    One of the reasons that soy is so prevalent is that soy crops produce more protein per acre than any other crop. Currently, the US is not only a top soy crop producer but also the top consumer of soy products because of its high protein content and its multitude of uses such as vegetable soybean oil, soy flour, animal feed and textured vegetable protein (TVP), which is used in a variety of dairy and meat substitutes.

    Here are the main nutrients we get from soy:

    Protein. Soy is a source of complete protein—it contains all of the essential amino acids that the body cannot synthesize on its own. Soy is further considered a good source of protein in that it contains less saturated fat than animal sources, making it a heart-healthy choice.

    Omega-3s. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a fatty acid, found in soy and other plants, that converts to the omega-3-fatty acids EPA and DHA that are needed for normal growth, heart disease prevention, inflammation and chronic disease prevention.

    Isoflavones (e.g. diadzein and genistein) are phytonutrients similar to estrogen (they’re also referred to as phytoestrogens because of their estrogen-like actions on the body). Isoflavones are known to help menopausal women with symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Isoflavones have also been shown to help lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides.

    Isoflavones have mixed reviews by medical professionals, however. While they may help to prevent estrogen-driven cancers because they block receptor sites for "bad estrogens" to bind to, their estrogen-like actions may also be harmful to those with a history of breast cancer.

    Reasons to reconsider soy

    Unfermented soy products, such as tofu, edamame and TVP, have been linked to some serious health conditions, including digestive and immune distress, allergies, ADD, PMS, reproductive issues, malnutrition and possibly cancer. Because soy is commonly used as the base for infant formula in place of dairy, infants are at risk for experiencing the anti-nutritive effects of soy. Vegetarians with a soy-based diet are also at greater risk.

    Here’s more about the anti-nutrients in unfermented soy and why they can be a health risk.

    Phytic acid is well known to bind necessary minerals such as zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and calcium, making them unusable in the body. We need all of these nutrients for proper growth, development, sustainability and healing.

    Enzyme inhibitors interfere with the body’s natural ability to release enzymes to properly break down, absorb and assimilate the carbohydrates and protein in soy. Without the proper digestive enzymes, bacteria in the intestine can create digestive distress (gas, bloating, pain, discomfort). Because of this enzyme-inhibiting activity, soy is now a common food allergen or intolerance.

    Goitrogens are phytochemicals that block the production of thyroid hormone. Without proper thyroid function, all systems slow down their ability to function at normal speed. Genistein, one of the goitrogens, is an isoflavone thought to have positive health benefits for menopausal women but is also knows to slow down overall cell energy and division. While this has made it appealing as an agent to slow down cancer growth, it can also slow normal cell growth.

    Another concern about soy is the fact that nearly all of the US’s commercial soy crops are now genetically modified (GM). This means that the soy DNA has been manipulated for faster growth, resistance to pests or diseases, production of extra nutrients, etc. Some experts theorize that genetically modified food is more likely to create food sensitivities, as is seen with soy.

    It’s clear that more research needs to be done on the risks vs. benefits of eating soy. In the meantime I would recommend sticking with fermented soy, such as tempeh, miso and soy sauce. Further, choose non-genetically modified, organic soy products whenever possible. And make sure you have plenty of variety in your diet, as this can help protect you from developing food sensitivities and allergies. Opt for almond, rice or coconut milk instead of soy milk, or get protein from nuts, brown rice and beans and other legumes such as lentils and peas. (Or explore Pharmaca's selection of soy-free protein powders.)

    If you experience digestive distress when eating soy you may want to avoid it altogether—or consider adding digestive enzymes to a meal that contains soy. And play on the safe side if you have thyroid problems, as unfermented soy can exacerbate these issues. If you’re concerned about whether soy is right for you, consult a qualified health practitioner.

    Kate Brainard attended Bastyr University’s doctorate program in Naturopathic Medicine. She currently manages Pharmaca’s La Jolla store.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: viviandnguyen_

  • What Do Those Expiration Dates Mean, Anyway?

    Chances are you’ve got a few bottles of expired medicine lying around the house. So what happens when you’re in dire need of some cold medicine and the only package you’ve got is two years old? Here’s how expiration dates work.

    Prescriptions and OTC drugs  
    In 1979, a law was passed that mandated that all drug manufacturers put a stamped expiration date on their drugs. This stamp represents the manufacturer’s guarantee of the full efficacy and safety of the drug. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the drug is not stable after this date; it simply guarantees that it is stable in a sealed container with full potency up to this date. The average expiration date is between one and five years.

    A study conducted by the FDA found that 90 percent of more than 100 tested prescription and over-the-counter drugs were found to be safe and effective far past their expiration date—many up to 10 years. While the original effectiveness of the drug may decrease over time, many drugs can be considered safe for use past expiration (with the exception of certain drugs such as nitroglycerine, insulin, EpiPens and liquid antibiotics).

    Dietary supplements
    While the FDA does not require expiration dates for nutritional dietary supplements, manufacturers often include this information in an effort to ensure products provide consistent results. To set an expiration date, a manufacturer must perform stability tests to determine active ingredient degradation over time. And the FDA requires that manufacturers who put an expiration date on their products can prove that the product maintains the original potency listed on the label until the stamped expiration date.

    Here is the general wisdom on the expiration dates of different types of supplements:

    • Herbal, vitamin, mineral, enzyme and amino acid supplements slowly weaken with age. As a general rule of thumb, these supplements may maintain potency for 1-2 years following their expiration date.
    • It is thought that quality B vitamins may not sustain potency following expiration, so it’s a good practice to purchase new B vitamins once yours are past the expiration date.
    • Fish oils and probiotics can maintain potency for around three months past the posted expiration date.
    • Juice or liquid and glandular supplements may maintain potency up to a year past the expiration date.

    Generally, the higher the quality and grade of the supplement, the longer a dietary supplement will maintain potency past the expiration date. Natural supplements generally do not degrade into anything toxic or harmful over time—this also would be dependent on proper storage.

    To ensure potency of any substance, make sure you store it safely. Always keep drugs and supplements in their original packaging. Keep them out of heat, moisture and light, and only refrigerate them if told to do so by your pharmacist. And never store your drugs in the bathroom cabinet, as the bathroom carries a lot of moisture.

    Lastly, never flush prescription medications or supplements down the toilet. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove and destroy drugs, and doing so can lead to contamination of drinking water as well as oceans, lakes and rivers. Polluting marine life in turn has a hazardous impact on our food chain and the drugs can end up back in our bodies. (Click here for more information about proper medication disposal.)

    Kate Brainard attended Bastyr University’s doctorate program in Naturopathic Medicine. She currently manages Pharmaca’s La Jolla store

  • 5 Stress-Busting Strategies

    Stress. It’s a part of all of our lives, but when it gets out of control, it can wear us down physically, mentally and emotionally--and can have long-term effects on our health. Here are a few ways to help your body handle stress better.

    1) Calm your mind and body. Set aside at least 10 minutes a day to try and invoke a relaxation response (the opposite of a stress response) through breathing, progressive relaxation, meditation, self-hypnosis, biofeedback or even prayer. Close your eyes and breathe deep from your belly--in through the nose for 8 counts and out through the mouth for 8 counts.

    2) Exercise regularly. A consistent exercise program helps the body improve its response to stress, and releases calming, mood-boosting hormones. Studies have shown that those who exercise regularly are much less likely to suffer from fatigue and depression.

    3) Nourish your adrenals. Your adrenal glands produce stress hormones (such as cortisol), but can quickly become depleted when you’re experiencing chronic stress. Certain herbs called adaptogens can help to improve the function of your adrenal glands and boost your body’s natural stress response. Try adaptogenic formulas such as Vital Adapt by Natura, Cortisol Manager from Integrative Therapeutics or Adrenal Booster by Pharmaca.

    4) Watch your diet. Reduce the effects of stress with a few dietary changes:

    • Restrict or eliminate caffeine, alcohol and refined carbohydrates
    • Boost your potassium intake (avocado, bananas, potatoes and raw tomatoes)
    • Reduce your sodium intake, since too much sodium can put unnecessary stress on the body and play a role in cancer development and cardiovascular disease.
    • Support adrenal function with key nutrients such as vitamin C (citrus fruits, tomatoes, dark-green leafy vegetables), pantothenic acid (whole grains, legumes, salmon, broccoli), vitamin B6 (poultry, whole grains, soy), zinc and magnesium (whole grains, nuts, legumes)

    5) Get adequate sleep. If you have difficult sleeping, explore the herbs and natural substances that can help prepare the body for sleep. Ones to try: melatonin, which is your sleep/wake hormone, and 5-HTP and L-theanine that work to calm an active mind down for the day. In addition, herbs such as passionflower and valerian are soothing and relaxing to the nervous system. I recommend Natural Factors’ Tranquil Sleep (a blend of melatonin, 5-HTP and L-theanine), Deep Sleep by Herbs, Etc., WishGarden’s Sleepy Nights or Bach’s Rescue Sleep.

    Ask any Pharmaca practitioner if you need help coping with the stress in your life.

  • Shape up with better sports nutrition

    Proper nutrition is vital for athletes at all stages of activity. Whether you’re already heavy into a routine or just getting started, congratulations! Activity can benefit you mentally, physically and emotionally. Here are some nutrition and supplementation recommendations to keep your body feeling strong and healthy throughout your workouts.

    Since athletes use more energy, their bodies naturally need more nutrition (and calories). Here are some basic rules of thumb for eating while active:

    • Get adequate protein: Adequate, regular consumption of protein is necessary because it is not readily stored by the body for later use. It’s especially important to consume protein just after exercise, in order to rebuild and repair muscle. Note: Increased protein intake comes with an increased demand for hydration, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water along with it.
    • Go for healthy carbohydrates: Carbs are the most efficient fuel for the body and are essential for athleticism. Complex carbohydrates are broken down and stored as glycogen in the liver and skeletal muscles. The body converts the glycogen to glucose, providing sustained energy during an athletic event. Good sources of carbs for athletes are colorful fruits (blueberries, strawberries, bananas, apricots, plums, oranges, plums and prunes), vegetables (sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, eggplant, carrots), grains (brown rice, millet, oats) and legumes (lentils, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, black beans).
    • Maintain good hydration: Athletic performance can sap your fluid levels, so rehydrate with plenty of liquids and electrolytes before, during and particularly after exercise.

    Though it’s always best to get nutrients through a healthy, balanced diet, these supplements can assist in building and preparing the body for workouts—as well as for post-workout recovery.

    • A good multivitamin is necessary to ensure you’re getting essential vitamins and minerals to nourish your muscles.
    • Vitamin C can help to reduce pain and speed muscle recovery after exercise. Try taking 500-1,000 mg before and after your workout.
    • Electrolytes can boost performance and replace lost electrolytes. Since the body actively loses electrolytes through sweating, it’s most important to drink your electrolytes during and after your exercise regimen.
    • Eleuthero helps strengthen immune function. Power Adapt by Natura is an excellent blend of herbs, including eleuthero and medicinal mushrooms, that supplies the body with energy and overall stamina. This can be taken every day while you are working out regularly.
    • Cordyceps is very supportive of lung oxygenation and core energy while mitigating stress. This medicinal mushroom is another great one to take on a daily basis.
    • Magnesium helps to reduce muscle cramping and may improve performance. Take magnesium before and after your work out.
    • Protein powder can help increase performance and rebuild muscle. Pharmaca offers protein powder from a variety of sources, including whey, egg white and vegetables such as pea, hemp or soy.
    • Proteolytic enzymes, such as bromelain, help to control inflammation, swelling and sprains. Try Jarrow Formulas’ Bromelain or Pharmaca’s Turmeric & Bromelain. These may be taken on a daily basis or following an injury to assist the body with repair.
    • Zyflamend by New Chapter is an herbal blend that works to balance and promote the body’s natural, healthy inflammation process, and is a great alternative to ibuprofen. If you suffer from chronic pain or inflammation this can be a good addition to your daily supplement regimen.
    • Arnica, both internally and externally, can help to reduce inflammation and is best taken immediately following an injury or painful event.

    Lastly, if you do get injured while exercising, follow the R.I.C.E treatment: Rest your body; Ice your injury every hour; Compress with bandages, tape or a brace; and Elevate your injury.

    Kate Brainard attended Bastyr University’s doctorate program in Naturopathic Medicine. She currently manages Pharmaca’s La Jolla store. 

  • What Makes a Superfood a Superfood?

    Though it’s not exactly a scientific term, the word "superfood" is often used as a marketing tool. So what does it mean exactly?

    Something is referred to as a superfood when it is nutrient-rich and provides multiple health benefits to the body. Those nutrients can include phytochemicals (compounds found in plants that have beneficial biological value but aren't necessarily essential), antioxidants (which prevent cell oxidation and free-radical damage), essential nutrients (nutrients we can’t produce ourselves, like vitamin C), dietary fiber, essential fatty acids and protein.

    A superfood is usually low in calories and saturated fats and has no artificial ingredients or contaminants. Here’s a simple way to break down the different types of superfoods:

    Green superfoods: These contain the highest concentrations of easily digested nutrients, and vitamins and minerals. They may also contain beneficial substances like proteins, phytochemicals and beneficial bacteria, all of which can protect against disease and illness.
    Examples: wheatgrass, barley greens, chlorella, spirulina, blue-green algae, leafy green vegetables

    Fruit and nut superfoods: These are high in antioxidants, vitamins and some are even antimicrobial.
    Examples: goji berries, açai, raw cacao, maca, coconut and coconut oil, noni, blueberries

    Bee superfoods: Propolis, royal jelly and bee pollen contain some of the most power-packed nutrition of all superfoods. Royal jelly contains every nutrient essential to support life. And propolis is a powerful antimicrobial that protects against bacteria and viruses while strengthening the immune system.

    Seaweed superfoods: These are the most nutrient-dense plants on Earth, making them excellent blood purifiers that alkalinize the body (helping to free the body of the burden of an acidic toxic environment).
    Examples: nori, kelp, dulse, arame, wakami, kombu

    Here are some dietary supplements that include some of my favorite superfoods:

    HealthForce Nutritionals offers 28 different products that are considered superfoods. I love Vitamineral Green, which supports detoxification, enhances regularity, energizes, and supports the liver, kidneys, pancreas, blood, bones, muscle, brain, colon and immune function.

    Genesis Today: Try their liquid superfood supplements like Goji, Sea Buckthorn, Resveratrol, Açai and Noni. They also offer delicious chewable snacks, which are an easy way to get some extra superfoods in your diet. Try Açai, Resveratrol, Vitamin C and Gogi snacks.

    Garden of Life Perfect Food is a raw, organic green veggie juice powder rich in chlorophyll, trace minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and probiotics, all of which support healthy digestion and elimination, blood sugar balance and immunity.

    Vibrant Health Green Vibrance is a restorative, concentrated superfood containing organic greens and freeze-dried grass juices. This product supports the four foundations of health: nutrition, digestion, circulation and immunity, with additional benefits to support all body systems.

    Experts believe that consuming superfoods can protect against diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory infections, in addition to enhancing the immune system. With a list of benefits like that, we would all be smart to incorporate more superfoods into our diets.

    Kate Brainard earned her degree as a naturopathic doctor from Bastyr University. She currently manages Pharmaca’s La Jolla store.

  • Natural Relief for Yeast Infections and Candida

    Experts think that more than 100 million Americans suffer from yeast overgrowth, commonly called candida. Women often experience it as a vaginal yeast infection, and it’s one of the most common reasons women go to the doctor. It’s also one of the most common health complaints we see at Pharmaca.

    Yeast overgrowth occurs when candida, a single-cell fungus that is nearly impossible to keep out of our bodies, gets out of balance. Our intestinal flora (or “probiotics” such as Lactobacillus acidophilus), usually do a good job of keeping candida in check. But when our flora is compromised, yeast can overpopulate our systems.

    Long-term antibiotic use is one of the most common causes of yeast imbalance, but certain prescriptions (e.g. birth control, steroids or cortisone drugs), and stress, poor diet and chlorinated water can all contribute, too. Pregnancy, diabetes and HIV infection can also be a factor.

    When candida becomes overgrown, it releases toxins into the blood, leading to a yeast infection that may be localized (i.e. vaginal or oral, which is known as Thrush) or systemic (i.e. candidiasis or Yeast Syndrome). Symptoms include itching, irritability, fatigue, allergies, depression, immune dysfunction, chemical sensitivities, irritability, dizziness and mental fog, loss of memory, digestive upsets and weight gain or loss.

    Doctors often recommend over-the-counter anti-fungals such as clotrimazole (Lotramin, Gyne-Lotrimin 3), miconazole (Micatin, Monistat-7) or prescriptions such as Nystatin, Fluconazole or Ketoconazole.

    But I think that treating yeast infections naturally is a much better option, especially when you’re looking to maintain proper flora balance throughout your system. Here are some options I like:

    Lactobacillus acidophilus. Supplement with this vital probiotic to strengthen your defenses against candida. Some of my favorite probiotics are Femdophilus by Jarrow Formulas, Udo's, Megafood Megaflora, Pharmax HLC Maintenance and New Chapter Probiotic All-Flora.

    Candex by Pure Essence. An enzyme formula that works to break down the fibrous wall of the yeast.

    Candidastat by Vitanica. Containing caprylic acid, garlic, Oregon grape root, grapefruit seed extract, lactobacillus acidophilus, milk thistle and vitamin E, this formula inhibits candida overgrowth, promotes intestinal balance and provides immune support.

    Tea tree. Provides relief for localized infections. Try suppositories from Tea Tree Therapy for vaginal infections, or dilute tea tree oil for use as a mouth rinse for thrush (speak with a practitioner about proper dilutions for this type of application.)

    Boric acid suppositories. These have long been used to treat chronic vaginal yeast infections. Try Yeast Arrest by Vitanica.

    If you have problems with candida, the best first step is to work toward bringing your flora back in balance. If you’re on antibiotics, which wipe out the good flora along with the bad, I always recommend taking probiotics, too. (Note that there are differing opinions about this—some doctors feel that taking probiotics can diminish the effectiveness of antibiotics, but I’ve always found them to be helpful. As always, people should follow the advice of their individual practitioners.) Nevertheless, after your course of antibiotics is finished, it’s important to repopulate your intestines with good flora. And, as always, make sure you’re getting a well-balanced diet that’s low in fats, sugars, refined carbohydrates and alcohol.

    Kate Brainard earned her degree as a naturopathic doctor from Bastyr University. She currently manages Pharmaca’s La Jolla store.

  • Herbal Remedy: Nettle (Stinging Nettle)

    Hopefully you haven’t had many real life encounters with nettle (Urtica Dioica)—also called “stinging nettle,” it grows in temperate climates and its stinging hairs and leaves can cause nasty hives. The hives, formally called urticaria, produce pale red, itchy, raised bumps (in fact, the Latin root of Urtica is uro meaning, "I burn"). The upshot: Avoid the fresh leaves of this plant, and use it instead for its powerful medicinal qualities that can strengthen and support the whole body.

    Nettle is considered a nutritive; it provides the body with a multitude of minerals, vitamins, proteins and dietary fiber. Nettle can support the urinary tract and serve as a diurectic. Nettle is also readily known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine effects.

    Nettles help tonify [can be briefly say what this means?] mucous membranes in addition to helping stop bleeding (as a hemostatic) and supporting breast milk production. Nettle is a hypotensive, assisting the heart by decreasing blood pressure, and is considered an astringent as it helps to shrink or constrict body tissues.

    Talk to a practitioner about the potential uses of nettle for the following conditions:

    • Chronic inflammation in the body
    • Excessive mucus discharge (non-stop runny nose)
    • Burning or difficulty urinating
    • Allergies (runny nose and stinging eyes)
    • Hemorrhoids
    • Arthritis and gout
    • Profuse menstruation
    • Suppressed milk flow in breastfeeding
    • Skin conditions such as eczema (especially in children), psoriasis, chicken pox, poison   ivy, rashes and insect stings/bites
    • Benign prostatic hypertension (the nettle root is especially good for this)

    We carry the following nettle products at Pharmaca:

    Herb Pharm’s Nettle Blend
    Pharmaca Nettles Caps or Tincture
    Gaia Herbs’ Nettle Leaf Caps
    or Tincture
    Eclectic Institute (in stores only)

    Though nettle has a multitude of uses, one of its most common uses is for seasonal allergies. Try using nettle to combat your runny nose and itchy eyes thanks to its antihistamine and astringent properties, which is why, if you suffer from seasonal allergies, many practitioners recommend taking it throughout allergy season (including Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, a member of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board).

    As always, please consult with a practitioner before taking any herbal remedies.

    Kate Brainard earned her degree as a naturopathic doctor from Bastyr University. She currently manages Pharmaca’s La Jolla store.

  • What's the Difference Between Food Allergy and Sensitivity?

    The term “food allergy” and “food sensitivity” are thrown around a lot these days. But it’s important to know that these two things are not the same.  In fact, there’s a very big and important difference between the two.

    As described by the Food, Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a food allergy “occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks a food protein. Ingestion of the offending food may trigger the sudden release of chemicals, including histamine, which results in an allergic reaction.”

    The protein found in food is the most common allergic component. These proteins trigger the formation of an immune cell called IgE (Immunoglubulin E), which “tags” these foods or proteins as allergens and fools the immune system into thinking the person is under attack. The presence of the IgE antibody initiates the counter-reaction in the body in the form of an allergic response.

    Symptoms of an allergic food reaction range from mild--rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.--to severe, including trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc. That’s why a food allergy can be potentially fatal, and individuals who know they have severe reactions should carry an EpiPen (injectable epinephrine) at all times, since even the smallest trace of an allergen can trigger an anaphylactic reaction. Medical attention should be sought immediately should an individual show symptoms of anaphylactic shock.

    Food sensitivities, on the other hand, trigger a different process in the body. The medical terminology for food intolerance is non-allergic food hypersensitivity, also loosely referred to as food hypersensitivity. Where food allergies tend to produce a very quick and noticeable immune reaction, food sensitivities tend to show less dramatic symptoms that may take longer to develop.

    There are different bodily mechanisms that create food hypersensitivities. One common cause is if the body lacks certain enzymes for breaking down food (e.g. the absence of the lactase enzyme will create issues for digesting lactose in milk/dairy).

    Food hypersensitivities can also be triggered if there’s an abnormality in the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients--basically an imbalance in the gut flora (that’s why probiotics are so important!). When there’s something not right in the gut’s mucosal lining, food just won’t be absorbed properly.

    Some experts have theorized about a correlation between genetically modified foods (GMOs) and food hypersensitivities. Some of the most common food sensitivities are to foods such as soy, corn and wheat--which make up a large part of the standard American diet--which are also often genetically modified (unless they’re organic). Because of this, I highly recommend buying organic foods whenever possible.

    Food sensitivities are often harder to diagnose because of the delayed onset of symptoms and the difficulty in making the association between offending foods and their related clinical symptoms in the body. For example, one person may react to a food hypersensitivity with a skin issue like eczema, and another may have difficult bowel movements. That’s why it’s hard for the person, and even their practitioner, to make the connection.

    It’s estimated that between 2-20 percent of the population is afflicted by food sensitivities. (My feeling is that this number is conservative and there are even more underlying sensitivities that exist, but are ignored or mistaken for other health issues.) While food sensitivities usually cause less severe reactions than food allergies, individuals who suffer from chronic sensitivities can experience skin issues (eczema, psoriasis, rashes, hives), respiratory problems (nasal congestion, sinusitis, asthma, cough) or gastrointestinal tract upsets (mouth ulcers, nausea, gas, diarrhea, constipation). In addition, food intolerance has been shown to be linked to irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and headaches, among other less common symptoms.

    If you have experienced any of these conditions on a long-term basis, it may be worth determining whether food sensitivities are playing a role. The best route for quelling symptoms of sensitivity includes avoidance of these foods, and supplementing with digestive enzymes, probiotics and high doses of fish oil. A Pharmaca practitioner can help direct you to the best supplements for your condition.

  • Herbal Remedy: Turmeric

    SpicesEven if you’ve never taken turmeric as a supplement, there’s a good chance you’ve tasted it; it’s a common spice and kitchen staple used in almost all Indian dishes, as well as many Thai and Persian foods.

    Turmeric (Curcuma longa) grows mainly in southern and southeast Asia and is known for its brilliant deep yellow hue. As part of the ginger family, turmeric has a pungent, peppery taste that contributes a great savory flavor to many dishes. The rhizome, or underground stem, is the part of the plant utilized for medicinal purposes.

    Decades’ worth of research has shown that in India, where turmeric is a staple, the occurrence of chronic illness is dramatically lower than in Western countries (especially the U.S.). The active constituent of turmeric is curcumin (scientifically referred to ascurcumanoids), a compound that has a multitude of powerful, protective health benefits that provide more than 50 healing actions—probably why it has been used medicinally in India and China for more than 2,000 years.

    Turmeric’s diverse range of therapeutic uses include as an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory, a circulation stimulant, an antibacterial and an anti-fungal. It has also been used for its anticancer, liver-supportive and cholesterol-reducing properties. Turmeric can be used daily to maintain and prevent disease, or can be used in a range of health conditions, including:

    • Atherosclerosis
    • Cancer
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Fever
    • Gallstones
    • Liver dysfunctions
    • HIV/AIDS support
    • Indigestion
    • Infections
    • Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis, back and joint pain, or psoriasis and eczema

    Turmeric can be found in a number of different formulas, listed either as turmeric or its active constituent curcumin. Some formulas also contain bioperine—a natural, patented form of pepper (also known as piperine, Piper nigrum) that has been proven to increase the absorption of other nutrients.

    Here are some of my favorites:

    Thorne Research's Meriva-SR, Meriva is a patented time-release formula of curcumin that has superior bioavailability (i.e. absorption).
    New Chapter Turmeric Force, a very pure and potent formulation.
    Pharmaca brand Turmeric includes bioperine from an always-trusted source for herbal medicines
    Jarrow Formulas’ Curcumin 95
    Integrative Therapeutics’ Curcumax Pro, which uses the better-absorbed Meriva curcumin and pairs it with boswellia extract, which helps support range of motion in the musculoskeletal system
    Pure Encapsulations Curcumin 500 with Bioperine, a patented formula that includes black pepper for enhanced absorption
    Natural Factors' CurcuminRich Theracurmin is a newer curcumin formulation with markedly increased absorption by way of finer granulation and suspension technology. This enhanced form has absorption rates of over 30 times that of regular curcumin.

    Turmeric was once referred to as “poor man’s saffron,” due to its deep yellow hue (and much lower price). People now call it Indian gold because of its plethora of health benefits. Try taking turmeric for general illness prevention, maintaining good health or treating a current illness. With its wide range of therapeutic actions and powerful health benefits, turmeric can be a great asset to your wellbeing.

    Kate Brainard attended Bastyr University’s doctorate program in Naturopathic Medicine. She currently manages Pharmaca’s La Jolla store.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: Carol Mitchell

21-30 of 34