Pharmaca Blog

  • Tart Cherry Juice: An effective new remedy for sleep, pain, even your heart

    Exciting new studies have recently come out about the effectiveness of tart cherry juice as a remedy for a number of health issues. Dr. Oz is even talking about “nature’s ultimate antioxidant,” its anti-inflammatory properties, its ability to help fight heart disease by balancing cholesterol levels and aid in sleep as a natural source of melatonin.

    Tart cherry juice is made by juicing Montmorency cherries, which contain high amounts of antioxidants, vitamin c, potassium, magnesium, iron and folate, along with melatonin. This last ingredient is the key to an important new study that was recently published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. A team of researchers in the UK found that tart cherry juice from Montmorency cherries allowed participants to sleep longer and improved their quality of sleep. They divided 20 volunteers into two groups, one of which was given tart cherry juice to drink morning and evening; the other group received a placebo. The juice-drinking group saw a 5-6 percent increase in quality of sleep, and slept an average of 34 minutes longer each night. Researchers attribute this to the natural melatonin that exists in the tart cherry juice.   

    Another recent study analyzed the effects of tart cherry juice on a group of arthritis patients. Participants were given tart cherry juice or a placebo for a six-week period. The results showed that patients who drank two 8 ounce servings of tart cherry juice each day for six weeks had significantly decreased markers for inflammation, reported less pain and had lower WOMAC scores, which assess pain, joint stiffness, physical, social and emotional function of patients with osteoarthritis.

    Ready to try this superfruit? Pharmaca now carries Cheribundi Tart Cherry Juice, available in a number of interesting (and tasty!) flavors. Find it in the cooler case at your local Pharmaca.

    Creative Commons License, photo credit: {maira.gall}

  • Hangover Helpers

    While nothing ushers in the New Year like a tall glass of bubbly, it’s also true that nothing hurts quite like the morning after. We spoke with Sheila Devitt, a certified herbalist and lead practitioner at our San Francisco store, for some suggestions on preparing and restoring your body after you’ve had a few too many.

    Plan ahead
    The typical hangover feeling occurs because your body experiences a low level of toxicity after consuming alcohol. The main product of alcohol metabolism is acetaldehyde, which is responsible for causing free radical damage throughout the body. Fortunately, research has shown that antioxidants like vitamins C and E and the amino acid cysteine can help work against these free radicals.

    For people who want to be proactive in their approach to avoiding hangovers, Sheila suggests Source Naturals Hangover Formula. This supplement is full of free radical fighting–antioxidants as well as Chinese and western herbs that help reduce alcohol’s negative effects on the body.

    Ease symptoms
    The first rule for any miserable morning after is to turn to the tap. Drink plenty of water to combat dehydration and, while you’re at it, Sheila recommends adding a vitamin-mineral packet like Emergen-C or UltimaReplenisher. These formulas help rehydrate quicker and add electrolytes.

    To lessen headaches and other pain, Sheila likes Rainbow Light’s Pain-Eze, a combination of herbs, vitamins and minerals formulated to relieve all types of pain. “I also really like aromatherapy, which works really well for headaches,” says Sheila. Aroma MD’s Body Soother blend can help, she says, or Pharmaca’s Rosemary, Peppermint and Lavender essential oils. For alcohol-related nausea, she suggests a homeopathic remedy like Nux Vomica.

    Support recovery
    While you may not feel the damaging effects of too much alcohol on the liver, it’s still important to support its detoxifying abilities. “Take a good B-complex vitamin,” says Sheila. “B vitamins have a lot to do with how the liver gets toxins out of the bloodstream.” Since alcohol consumption disrupts the absorption of B vitamins, it’s important to replace these nutrients. She recommends Pharmaca’s Vitamin B Stress Formula as an extra boost the next morning.

    Sheila also advocates for Milk Thistle as a powerful liver-helping herb. She suggests tinctures like Pharmaca’s Milk Thistle Extract or Liver Detox Liquid, which are great for increasing liver function. “Take this any time you’ve had too much to drink since you’re asking your liver to work hard,” says Sheila, who says you can also take Milk Thistle ahead of time to prepare your body.

    For more advice on combating the aches and pains that accompany a night of overindulgence, speak with a practitioner at any Pharmaca location.

  • Herbal Remedies: Oil of Oregano

    You may already love it for what it adds to Italian meals, but true oregano is a potent herb that, when its oil is extracted, can serve a variety of health needs. Our practitioners often recommend it as a potent immune booster, and it’s also lauded for its antiseptic and antifungal properties, ideal for skin conditions, infections and candida.

    The wild oregano plant (origanum vulgare) grows mainly in the Mediterranean region, in countries such as Greece and Italy. The resulting oil contains powerful plant phenols, notably carvacrol and thymol, which help support a healthy microbial environment in the body.

    In addition, Oil of Oregano has been proven to be an effective anti-inflammatory for joint pain, sore muscles and other aches and pains. The oil contains naturally occurring calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, copper, boron, manganese and vitamins C and A, all of which can be beneficial both internally and externally.

    Oil of oregano is sold as a liquid extract and in capsules, and can be taken several times a day when trying to fight sickness. Taking it internally can also help alleviate allergy symptoms, respiratory problems and stomach problems. Because of its potency, most experts recommend that the oil first be diluted in extra virgin olive oil or unrefined coconut oil, but many extracts are already available in this diluted state (such as Pharmaca’s own Oregano Oil).

    Other uses:

    • Add a few drops of oil of oregano to your shampoo for natural dandruff relief
    • Rub into sore joints and muscles to relieve pain
    • Apply to bee stings and insect bites to speed healing
    • Apply to skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis or eczema
    • Inhale vapors directly from the bottle to relieve respiratory congestion

    Look for oil of oregano products at Pharmaca from Natural Factors, Herb Pharm, Gaia Herbs. As always, please consult a Pharmaca practitioner or your physician before taking any herbal supplement.

  • Herbal Remedy: Elderberry Syrup

    Cold and flu season can be a miserable time for many people, and with Old Man Winter right around the corner, it's time to get prepared to fight the bugs that will be abundant in the coming months. One ingredient that our practitioners often recommend is elderberry syrup, which can be extremely effective in fighting viruses and upper respiratory infections. Elderberries have been a folk remedy for centuries in North America, Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, and the health benefits of elderberry have been studied for years. Elderberry is used to lower cholesterol,  improve vision, boost the immune system, improve cardiovascular function and as a remedy for coughs, colds, flu, tonsillitis, and bacterial and viral infections.

    Elderberries contain tannin, amino acids, flavonoids, Vitamin A, Vitamin B and a great deal of Vitamin C. Because elderberry boosts the immune system, a lab in Israel has even used this herbal remedy to treat cancer and AIDS patients.

    According to the book, Prescription for Herbal Healing, a study found that elderberry was able to cure 90% of flu infections within 72 hours, while patients receiving a placebo required six days to cure the infection. Elderberry syrup won't prevent you from getting the flu, but if you do get sick, taking Elderberry syrup may have you up and running much more quickly than not taking any natural remedy at all.

    Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy carries many products that contain elderberry such as:

    • New Chapter Every Man
    • Nature's Way Sambucus for Kids
    • Cowgirl Skin Care Serum Extreme
    • Quantum Elderberry C
    • Herb Pharm
    • Gaia Herbs

    As with any herbal supplement, please consult your physician or Pharmaca practitioner to make sure it's safe for you to take. Some medications and herbal supplements cannot be taken at the same time.

  • Buyer's Guide: Lip Balms

    Navigating the world of personal care ingredients can be confusing—how do you know what’s really natural and non-toxic? We’re starting a new series on Project Wellness that focuses on common beauty and body care products, including which ingredients to look for, and which to stay away from.

    Tis the season for dry, chapped lips, so we’re focusing on that winter mainstay: lip balm. There are hundreds of lip balm remedies on the market today, and as with any product, there are some that work better and are safer than others. When shopping for a lip balm, look for products containing shea butter, beeswax, zinc or titanium oxide. Shea butter provides and locks in moisture; beeswax seals in moisture and is a natural antibacterial; and zinc and titanium oxide protect your lips from the harsh UV rays of the sun (even in winter, when sun reflects off of snow).

    Those are the good ones. Now, which to avoid? Don’t forget that some experts estimate that we eat as much as six pounds of lipstick and lip balm in our lifetimes. So read the labels and steer clear of lip balms containing petrochemicals, synthetic fragrance or menthol, camphor or phenol.

    Pharmaca carries a variety of lip balms that feature all the best ingredients, without the bad ones. Here are some of our most popular lip balms:

    And finally, don't forget our own best-selling brand of lip balm. So keep those smackers moisturized this winter with some of our favorite all-natural lip balms!

  • Many Pharmaca brands named Cosmetic Champions!

    The Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics just announced the cosmetics brands that fulfilled their pledge to the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. Companies who made the voluntary pledge agreed to eliminate or avoid many chemicals and to fully disclose their product ingredients to consumers.

    More than 300 companies were named Champions for the following:

    • Complying with the European Union’s Cosmetics Directive, widely considered the global gold standard of cosmetics safety regulation.
    • Disclosing all ingredients, including chemicals in any “fragrance.” (Fragrance ingredients are often shielded as trade secrets in the US, but can contain toxic chemicals such as hormone disruptors, carcinogens and other harmful substances.)
    • Publishing and regularly updating product information in the EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetics database so that consumers have easy access to ingredients.
    • Complied with any additional ingredient prohibitions and restrictions under the Compact for Safe Cosmetics and substituted ingredients of concern with safer alternatives.

    Here are the Champion companies that Pharmaca is proud to carry:

    Aromaland: Aromatherapy products
    Avalon Organics: Body, facial and hair care
    Babo Botanicals: Children’s body and hair care
    Blossom Organics: Intimacy products
    California Baby: Children’s body and hair care
    CleanWell: Antibacterial soaps, sprays and wipes
    Dr. Bronner’s: Multi-purpose soaps
    Goddess Garden: Sunscreen for children and adults
    Good Clean Love: Intimacy products
    jane iredale: mineral cosmetics
    Juice Beauty: Skin care and cosmetics
    Little Twig: Children’s body and hair care
    Max Green Alchemy: Hair Care
    Badger: Sunscreens, lip balms, bug repellants and more
    Yes to Carrots: Body and hair care
    Zia: Skincare for men

    Congratulations to all of these great brands!

  • Finding Inner Peace During the Holidays

    If the fast pace of the holiday season leaves you feeling more like a zombie than an elf, turn to Pharmaca for ways to help calm your nerves and relax your mind. We’ve even put some of our favorite stress and sleep products on sale this month to make getting help that much easier.

    Stress Less

    Holiday stress and anxiety can peak during this time of year due to a range of triggers that are present, from financial strain to family conflicts. Our practitioners often recommend these products to help alleviate the body’s reaction to stress.

    WishGarden Herbal Remedies Deep Stress

    Relying on the traditional stress relieving properties of herbs like Ginseng, Motherwort and Nettles, this formula helps reduce both acute and chronic stress. Simply add 2-4 drops to water and drink your relief.

    Pharmaca Bath Salts

    Take some time for a therapeutic soak combining the mineral benefits of natural salts from the Dead Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Utah. Pharmaca’s fine-grained aromatherapeutic bath salts use only the purest ingredients so you can relax a little easier as your troubles melt away.

    New Chapter Stress Take Care

    This formula incorporates the anti-inflammatory properties of Curcuma xanthorrhiza with 9 other traditional herbals and powerful adaptogens to alleviate symptoms associated with stress. Just take 2 soft gels with food whenever you feel the need to take care.

    Bach Rescue Remedy Drops

    One of our best-selling products, this formula relies on a unique combination of flower essences to help the body restore balance after traumatic situations. Not only is it easy to take, it is also safe for adults, pets and kids. 20 ml


    Sleep Easy

    Enzymatic Therapy Sleep Tonight

    Clinical studies have shown Sleep Tonight to be effective at reducing stress hormones in the body. This valerian-free formula encourages relaxation, is non-habit forming and helps promote a positive mood through more restful sleep.

    Natural Factors Tranquil Sleep

    This safe, fast-acting formula contains the amino acid 5-HTP, the hormone melatonin and green tea’s stress reliever L-Theanine to help support restful sleep. Each dose comes in a tasty, fruit-flavored chewable tablet.

    Our practitioners can recommend other stress and sleep-oriented products specific to your needs. Take comfort in knowing that finding support is as easy as going to your local Pharmaca.

  • Your Holiday Survival Kit

    Ah, the holidays. Full of family, good cheer, rich food and for many, busy schedules and stressful travel. We spoke with Jenna Zampiello, naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist at Seattle's Madison Park location, about ways to keep yourself healthy and less stressed during this exciting time of year.

    Travel healthy
    When we're traveling and coming into contact with a lot of people, it's a good idea to give your immune system a little extra help. Jenna suggests packing an antibacterial gel or spray, like EO's Hand Sanitizer Spray, especially if you're traveling during flu season. She also recommends eating a healthy, low-carb breakfast on travel day, then eating smaller meals throughout the day. "Most people feel significantly better if they actually fast during travel time, abstaining from consuming the prepared airport meals that are high in fat and salt," says Jenna.

    Jenna also recommends staying hydrated by drinking at least one 8 oz glass per hour while flying, and mixing in some Emergen-C to add immunity-boosting vitamins and electrolytes. Other travel essentials include Jet Zone, a homeopathic formula to prevent jet lag and Reed's Ginger Candy or homeopathic Tabacum 30c to help settle an upset stomach.

    Maintain good immunity
    For continuous immune support Jenna also suggests keeping up a maintenance dose of New Chapter's Lifeshield Immunity, a medicinal mushroom-based formula offering a potent source of beta glucans which help to upregulate immune cells required to fight bacteria, viruses and cancer. Mushrooms not only stimulate your immune system, but have also been shown to help maintain normal cholesterol levels.

    Another quality immune support formula is Source Naturals' Wellness Formula. "You can take it every day, and if you feel like you're coming down with something, take the maximum dose of three tablets several times a day," says Jenna. She also recommends our best-selling homeopathic remedy, Boiron's Oscillococcinum, which can be taken at the onset of any type of flu symptoms.

    Keep stress at bay
    Most everyone can use extra adrenal support, says Jenna, since our bodies are not equipped to deal with chronic stress, and, let's face it, "everyone is stressed out during the holidays," she says. She recommends Gaia Herbs' Adrenal Health, which can serve as a preventive measure, giving you more energy and preventing fatigue. For more immediate relief, sip a cup of Yogi's Kava Stress Relief tea (or "make a big pot for the whole family if you need to!" says Jenna). If the holiday stress becomes too much, try Bach Rescue Remedy, available in easy-to-pack sprays, pastilles and drops.

    Maintain a healthy weight
    Boosting your adrenal health can also be helpful for maintaining a healthy weight, says Jenna, since it can help normalize your cortisol response. But it's also important to keep blood sugar levels stable during the holiday season. "Make sure you have protein for every meal, especially breakfast, since this helps to stabilize and regulate your metabolism for the rest of the day," she says. She recommends snacks like an apple with almond butter, hummus and carrots or trail mix that includes both nuts and fruit (try Pharmaca's Antioxidant Trail Mix). If you need a whole meal replacement on the go, try a packet of protein powder like Vega's Whole Food Health Optimizer, which can be easily added to water or juice while traveling.

    It's important to note that the winter season itself can create its own weight-gain challenges, since a lot of people eat more because of lower serotonin levels due to shorter days, says Jenna. You can boost those levels by maintaining a healthy dose of vitamin D. In the Pacific Northwest, that's especially difficult, so Jenna recommends a dose of 4,000 IU throughout the winter season ("Everyone should have their vitamin D levels checked at least once a year to ensure adequate dosage," Jenna says).  She likes Pharmaca's liquid Vitamin D3.

    Boost healthy digestion
    Finally, when rich foods abound, avoid heartburn and indigestion by packing a few simple products. "Enzymedica's Digest Gold is one of the best enzymes we have," says Jenna, for helping support digestion of holiday meals. She also likes chewable papaya enzymes, both of which can be taken during a meal. You can also support your digestion after a meal by sipping a cup of Traditional Medicinals' Eater's Digest Tea. "It contains a number of medicinal herbs that help stimulate your digestion should you feel bloated or sluggish after a meal," says Jenna. "It is a good standby should you happen to overindulge and eat too much."

    For more recommendations on facing holiday health challenges, speak with a Pharmaca practitioner today.

  • Merry Meditation

    Meditating is one of those wonderful gifts that life offers. This holiday season, give yourself just a few minutes of time and the willingness to shift into a calm frame of mind. Cara Phillipo, a naturopathic doctor at Pharmaca in Mill Valley, shares pointers on finding mental peace in the midst of the holiday bustle.

    Periodically working to empty the mind of its clutter has proven health benefits. These range from relieving stress to helping with focus, and from slowing down the heart rate to improving cellular immunity. “It is great for physical health as well as mental health,” says Dr. Phillipo.

    Most beginners find meditation to be simple, although not always easy. Dr. Phillipo offers words of encouragement, saying that it does get easier with practice. Until then, try experimenting with a few different methods to find out what suits you best. For example, some people prefer to use visualization, while others enjoy silent and soothing meditation.

    For newcomers to the practice, Dr. Phillipo recommends these easy steps to get you started.

    1. Start by sitting in a comfortable position. Try either sitting up with your legs crossed, arms resting on your knees and palms up, or lying down if you think you won’t fall asleep.

    2. It is a good idea to find a place in your home where you will not be disturbed. Carve out a special place just for meditating and return there each time you practice.

    3. Start with focusing on your breathing. Take long easy breaths in and long easy breaths out. Keep your attention on the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen.

    4. If your attention wanders simply bring it back to your breathing. 5. Remember to take slow and natural breaths. This is meant to be very relaxing.

    6. If you fall asleep, that is okay. When you wake up continue where you left off. It simply means your body is taking what it needs at the moment, rest.

    7. Start out with five to fifteen minutes and work your way up to twenty minutes a day.

    8. First thing in the morning is the best time to do your meditation. Wake up ten minutes early tomorrow. This is a wonderful way to start the day.

    Keep in mind that there is no wrong way to meditate. “The correct way is the one that works for you,” say Dr. Phillipo. Simply take the time to relax, reset and unwind your mind.

  • Essential Oil of the Month: Clove

    It’s that time of year, when rich scents like clove, frankincense and ginger show up in everything from your coffee drinks to sweet holiday candles. But these scents aren’t just about evoking warm memories—they also have powerful aromatherapeutic properties. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about clove, our Essential Oil of the Month.

    What it does
    As you might expect, clove bud is warming, stimulating and energizing. It can soothe digestion, serve as an antiseptic and relieve pain. It also has strong anti-fungal properties, and is often recommended for Athlete’s Foot.

    Bonus use
    Clove oil can be applied directly to the gums to relieve toothaches or to soothe pain during dental work.

    Ways to use it

    • Add a few drops to a diffuser to create a warm, invigorating aroma.
    • Mix a few drops with water and ingest to quell nausea and vomiting
    • Apply directly to warts, daily, to remove
    • Place cotton balls dipped in clove oil in spots where you want to repel bugs, like your food pantry
    • Blend with a carrier oil and apply directly to a painful area of your mouth to relieve toothache

    Interesting tidbit
    Clove buds come from an evergreen tree native to Indonesia and the Spice Islands. The tree produces bright green leaves and nail-shaped flower buds. The name comes from the Latin word clavus, meaning nail shaped.

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