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  • Natural Solutions for Seasonal Affective Disorder

    YogaStretchIf you feel a little extra blue when the seasons change—from fall to winter or even from spring to summer—you may be one of the 5 percent of the US population who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

    “SAD is traditionally associated with the winter months, but some people experience it in the fall or the spring. Simply the change of light can trigger it,” says Dr. Brad Jacobs, MD, and chair of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board. “SAD basically equates to changes of behavior or mood that are associated with the seasons.”

    While we don’t know exactly how or why SAD occurs, we know that reduced sunlight can disrupt our internal clocks, setting off changes in our mood. People suffering from SAD usually feel blue, have trouble sleeping, have low energy levels, and are irritable or impatient, says Dr. Jacobs. While the symptoms are usually not felt as severely as major depression, the signs are fairly similar.

    We also know that Seasonal Affective Disorder tends to be four times more prevalent in women, especially during childbearing years. And if you have a family history of SAD or any type of depression, you’re also more prone to it.

    So how do you know what you’ve got is actually SAD? Dr. Jacobs recommends first speaking to your health care provider about your thyroid levels and blood counts--if they're abnormal, they can be mistaken for depression, instead of hypothyroidism or anemia. In addition, be sure to manage any and all chronic conditions, as these can exacerbate symptoms of depression; optimal management of chronic conditions may resolve or dramatically improve symptoms of depression.

    Dr. Jacobs recommends speaking to your health care provider about your thyroid levels, blood counts or any other chronic conditions that could increase your chances of experiencing SAD. Ultimately, if you have noticed yourself feeling sad or depressed during one specific season—and not during the others—doctors will look more closely at the chances you have SAD.

    The most important thing is to diagnose it, says Dr. Jacobs, so you can start treating it. “One I’m a big proponent of, which is good for regular depression too, is photo or light therapy,” he says. Look for a lightbox with at least 10,000 lux, to be used for 30 minutes once or twice daily. (Lux is a photometric unit. For reference, Dr. Jacobs says, direct sunlight equates to about 50,000 lux, and office lighting about 300-500 lux.)

    “A light box will give you the light stimulation that you’re missing,” says Dr. Jacobs, adding that studies have shown light therapy to be as effective as SSRIs (i.e. anti-depressants) in treating SAD, but with fewer side effects.

    Another effective treatment? Exercise. “We typically recommend that you do it 5-6 days week/30 minutes per day in order to see those same results as an anti-depressant,” he says.

    “There are also a number of herbs that may be effective—the same herbs you think about for depression,” says Dr. Jacobs. He recommends St. John’s wort or SAM-e, and working with a practitioner when you do.

  • 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.

  • 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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