Pharmaca Blog

  • Hypothyroidism: Your Questions Answered


    Got the blues or serious fatigue? Feeling weak and having difficulty losing weight? It could be a sign that your thyroid gland isn't functioning properly. Read on to learn more about hypothyroidism and how it could be affecting you.

    What is the thyroid gland and why does it matter?

    The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland that sits at the front of your neck (just below the voice box). It secretes hormones that regulate metabolism in virtually every cell in your body. Because of this, an out-of-balance thyroid can have negative effects on virtually all systems in the body.

    Hypothyroid is the condition in which thyroid hormones under-function, or slow down metabolism; hyperthyroidism is characterized by increased levels of thyroid hormones. People can experience hypothyroidism to varying degrees, from mild deficiency states that go undetected in blood tests to severe deficiency that can be life threatening.

    Hypothyroidism is a surprisingly common condition that often goes unrecognized. Approximately 5-10 percent of the adult population has some form of hypothyroidism, and the number is much higher in the elderly. Thyroid disease also is 2-8 times more common in women than in men.

    What are the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism?

    The most common first symptoms of hypothyroid are depression, weakness and fatigue. Low thyroid leads to a general decrease in the utilization of fat, carbohydrates and protein, which can lead to weight gain and sensitivity to cold weather (i.e. cold hands and feet). Hypothyroidism also affects other hormones in the body that can result in menstrual problems, low sex drive and infertility.

    Here is a more comprehensive list of symptoms of hypothyroidism:

    • Depression
    • Difficulty losing weight
    • Dry skin
    • Headaches
    • High cholesterol
    • Lethargy and fatigue
    • Memory problems
    • Constipation
    • Menstrual problems
    • Recurrent infections (low immunity)
    • Sensitivity to cold (cold hands and feet)
    • Brittle, thinning hair
    • Muscle and joint pain, tenderness and slow reflexes

    What causes low thyroid?

    In the US, the most frequent cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks itself called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. In cases of Hashimoto’s, your body produces antibodies that work against your thyroid gland and prevent it from making sufficient levels of hormones.

    Globally, the most common cause of hypothyroid is iodine deficiency. The thyroid gland combines iodine with the amino acid tyrosine (in the presence of other minerals) to make the necessary thyroid hormones. Insufficient iodine can result in goiters (unattractive swelling and enlargement of the thyroid gland) and impaired thyroid function.

    In an effort to reduce this issue, in 1924 the FDA began adding iodine to table salt...and Americans began to shake their saltshaker! But when salt was later connected with increased blood pressure and fluid retention, American diets used less and less table salt.

    Iodine deficiency has also increased for other reasons: more people are eating out and restaurants tend to not use iodized salts, commercial breads are no longer made with iodized compounds, and dairy products now have less iodine. Another reason can be the consumption of goitrogens, naturally occurring chemicals that are ingested in food or drugs. Goitrogens either induce production of antibodies that cross-react with the thyroid gland or they can interfere with the enzyme, TPO, that is responsible for adding iodine during production of thyroid hormones. The end result of excessive consumption of goitrogens is decreased thyroid function and possible goiters.

    Examples of goitrogenic foods include turnips, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, mustard, kale, cauliflower, non-fermented soy, peanuts, pine nuts and millet (note: cooking goitrogenic foods can partially inactivate the goitrogens). Chemicals such as fluoride (commonly added to toothpaste) and mercury, as well as certain medications, can also act as goitrogens. Excessive iodine intake (more than 1,000 mcg per day) can also interfere with thyroid hormone production.

    Am I hypothyroid? When and what to test

    If you're experiencing symptoms of low thyroid function but have normal thyroid blood test results, you are probably experiencing hypothyroid syndrome. This could also mean the beginning of a more serious hypothyroidism such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

    If you think you might have an under-functioning thyroid, it’s best to check in with your practitioner and ask for a blood test. And be sure to ask for a “full thyroid panel.” Here’s why.

    Standard testing practice only measures a portion of variables that show the current health of your thyroid. Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is the hormone secreted by the brain that stimulates the thyroid to make its hormones and has a rather broad "normal" range (0.2-5.5). Many natural practitioners perceive anything over 2 to be high and indicative of thyroid dysfunction. That's why the other thyroid hormones, T3, T4 and RT3 (including free T3 and free T4) should also be measured. And since iodine is crucial in thyroid function, it is also an important measurement—levels too low or too high will interfere with thyroid function.

    A full thyroid blood panel would also look at Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO), an enzyme needed for the production of thyroid hormones and autoantibodies (anti-TPO and anti-TBG). While this panel can be used to diagnose Hashimoto’s, the treatment will be the same as what's used in all cases of hypothyroidism. Doctors will simply prescribe thyroid hormones and monitor blood levels, adjusting medication accordingly. As other hypothyroid symptoms evolve, doctors may add in other powerful medications (such as anti-depressants) or, in drastic cases, remove the thyroid all together.

    Finally, measuring basal body temperature (i.e. when your body is at complete rest) is another method for checking for low thyroid function. Body temperature reflects your metabolic rate, which is largely determined by the hormones secreted by the thyroid gland, thus low basal body temperature is often a sign of hypothyroidism. Normal basal body temperature is between 97.6 and 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit.

    How can I naturally support the thyroid gland?

    Medical treatment of hypothyroid involves the use of desiccated thyroid (from an animal source) or synthetic thyroid. In most cases of hypothyroidism, thyroid hormone replacement is necessary to treat the disease, especially in the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. In addition to thyroid replacement, there are several natural measures you can take to aid in healing an autoimmune disorder, including:

    • Eating a clean diet including whole, unadulterated foods (stay away from factory-farmed and processed foods)
    • Detoxifying your liver
    • Eliminating food allergies and sensitivities
    • Supplementing wisely (e.g. vitamin D, fish oil, multivitamin and DHEA)
    • Addressing and eliminating stressors in your life
    • Avoiding everyday chemical exposure (i.e. toxic cleaning and body care products)
    • Treating dysbiosis in the digestive tract by eliminating detrimental intestinal flora and using probiotics to heal the gut

    In addition, there are several key nutrients that are needed for the production of thyroid hormones: Zinc, selenium, iodine and vitamins A and E. Any deficiency of these nutrients can result in decreased thyroid hormone synthesis. You can prevent these deficiencies by taking a good multivitamin every day or finding a thyroid-specific supplement that contains these nutrients.

    Here are some other recommended products that can help support thyroid function.

    Enzymatic Therapy's Metabolic Advantage Thyroid Formula is an excellent comprehensive formula containing essential nutrients for the thyroid, including thyroid extract and a multi-glandular compound for added support. Green coffee bean extract is added to support metabolism. Highly recommended!

    Emerald Labs' Thyroid Health is a gluten-free formula with thyroid glandular powder, ashwagandha, rosemary, trace minerals and a raw whole-food proprietary blend to naturally support the thyroid.

    Natural Factors' Thyroid Health Formula provides nutritional support for the thyroid, including iodine, tyrosine, ashwagandha and guggul extract.

    Gaia Herbs' Thyroid Support offers ultimate support for metabolic enhancement including trace minerals, ashwagandha, tyrosine, kelp and bladderwrack.

    Pharmaca brand Iodine with Kelp features a good amount of iodine along with ethically harvested kelp.

    Thorne Research's Iodine & Tyrosine offers essential mineral and amino acid support for making thyroid hormones.

    DHEA has been found to be beneficial for a variety of autoimmune disease, including Hashimoto’s (caution: do not use DHEA if your are hyperthyroid). Try DHEA from Pure Encapsulations or Integrative Therapeutics. Be sure to speak with a health care practitioner before taking DHEA.

  • New Ideas in the Quest for Better Sleep

    NaptimeMultiple times each day I find myself wandering back to the Sleep Aids aisle with Pharmaca customers who are having a difficult time finding rest. Do you have problems falling asleep? Staying asleep? Are you a night owl who needs a siesta each day? There are many reasons why people experience sleeplessness—and pinpointing the true problem can help to find the best solution.

    If you find your best work is done at night but you're sleepy in the morning and throughout the day, you might have what’s called a reverse cortisol curve. Cortisol, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands, typically spikes around normal waking times (e.g. 6 or 7 a.m.), and again at around noon. This allows a healthy human to get the day started, with an extra boost at lunchtime. But the stresses of everyday life and the standard American diet can result in a flatline of cortisol during the day and a spike at night—which manifests in evening energy surges and complete fatigue in the morning. To correct this, you can consider using natural supplements like rhodiola in the morning to mimic the normal cortisol patterns, and magnolia bark at night to rapidly decrease cortisol. You can also begin to address blood sugar issues, as these two concerns seem to be closely linked.

    For those who can fall asleep but wake frequently during the night, magnolia bark may also be helpful. This can prevent cortisol spikes from happening at night. Sometimes, eating a high-protein snack before bedtime can also help to regulate blood sugar while you sleep.

    The most common solution for trouble falling asleep is melatonin. This is a natural hormone that our bodies produce when we should be sleeping, and it’s a potent antioxidant in high amounts. Because of this, melatonin loses its sedative qualities with doses higher than 5 mg. When first trying melatonin, the key to success is going “low and slow,” as some side effects can include vivid dreams or nightmares, or a groggy feeling in the morning. Start with the lowest dose possible, typically 1 mg, and work your way up to find the perfect dose for you.

    There are a myriad of ways to address sleeplessness, and a qualified natural health practitioner can help you find solutions tailored to you. Stop in and chat with one of the licensed health experts at Pharmaca to help you rest easy tonight!

  • Good Women's Health at Any Age

    Our health concerns change with each passing decade. The fact is, the older we get the more important it is to pay attention to our health. To address some of women's most common issues, we turned to China Rose Zamora, nutritional therapist and herbalist at our Napa, Calif. store.

    Age: 20s; Concern: Good skin care

    Most important, China Rose, says, is hydration. She recommends consuming half your body weight in ounces (i.e. if you weigh 140 lbs, drink 70 oz of water). "Try coconut water for a natural source of electrolytes," she says, and reduce your diuretics such as caffeine and alcohol.

    Next, make sure you're protected from the sun. "We need some exposure for healthy vitamin D levels, but try not to be out in the intense times, 11am-3pm or so," she says. If you do have to go out, China Rose likes mineral sunscreens from Badger and Goddess Garden.

    She also recommends getting a good balance of healthy fats in your diet, including nuts and seeds, avocado, fish, olive oil, coconut oil, eggs or organic dairy products. She also suggests a fish oil supplement, like those from Pharmax.

    Age: 30s; Concern: Fertility/Pregnancy

    To prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy, China Rose suggests reducing stress levels. "High stress can throw off the intricate balance of our female hormones, making it harder to conceive or maintain a pregnancy," she says.

    She adds that medicinal herbs can help reduce nervous tension and help your body adapt to stress. "My favorites are nervine herbs like skullcap and wild oats, and adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, licorice and holy basil."

    In addition, it's a good idea to start taking a prenatal multivitamin and some extra DHA up to a year before planning to get pregnant to ensure healthy prenatal development. She likes multis from whole-food sources, like New Chapter's Perfect Prenatal, MegaFood’s Baby & Me, Garden of Life’s Kind Organic Prenatal and the DHA in and fish oil such as Nordic Naturals' Cod Liver Oil.

    Age: 40s; Concern: Preparing for a Healthy Menopause

    "We can do a lot to prevent and reduce common menopausal symptoms by taking care of our adrenal glands," China Rose says. "Get enough rest, reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption, keep blood sugar balanced throughout the day and get regular exercise."

    For symptomatic support, she likes maca, an herb that supports the whole hormonal system and can help to reduce symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings and low energy levels. "I also like to use liver-supportive herbs that help the body clear any excess hormones, like estrogen, that might be causing symptoms." She loves combinations of milk thistle, dandelion, yellow dock, and Oregon grape root like those found in Pharmaca’s Liver Cleanse Booster.

    Age: 50s; Concern: Osteoporosis

    "Calcium is important, but not all calcium supplements are created equal," she says. "I prefer to use those from food sources like New Chapter's Bone Strength Take Care." She likes it because it includes other important nutrients like vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin K and strontium that help to maintain strong bones. At the same time, make sure your digestion is up to par, since digestive problems can hinder the absorption of these vital minerals. Caffeine and soda can also leach calcium from your bones.

    Age: 60s; Concern: Heart Health

    While she always recommends a diet high in plant-based foods, China Rose feels it's especially important as women start thinking about their heart health. "A wide variety of fruits and vegetables provides a diverse source of antioxidants," she says. In addition, make sure you're getting a good amount of cardiovascular exercise: walking, swimming, cycling, etc. "Your heart will thank you for it!"

    She also recommends hawthorn berry as a general cardio tonic. "It can help to lower moderately high blood pressure levels, as well as support healthy heart function," she says. She recommends Flora's Hawthorn Heart Formula. In addition, she likes motherwort, an herb that can help alleviate mild heart palpitations as a symptom of menopause.

    Finally, continue to be aware of your hormonal balance. "Though hormonal levels naturally lessen as we age, we continue to need healthy levels of estrogen and progesterone to maintain strong bones," she says, so speak with a practitioner about supporting your hormonal system.

    Pharmaca's practitioners can help you address your health concerns at any age.

  • Hormones: A Delicate Balance

    TIM womanHormones can be the cause of a variety of health concerns—from teen acne to mood swings to, eventually, hot flashes. And they can get out of balance for a variety of reasons, says Rebecca Phillips, doctor of chiropracty at our Albuquerque store. Fortunately there are solutions for bringing them back to the right levels, and treating the associated symptoms in the meantime.

    If it seems though a person’s symptoms do lean toward hormonal imbalance, Rebecca will often recommend a saliva test, available without a prescription from our pharmacies. The tests reveal levels of estrogen, progesterone and the adrenal glands. Within 10 days, she says, they’ll have a much better idea of how to help address their issues, and the data can be used as a baseline for future tests.

    If estrogen is low, for example, Rebecca would recommend something like black cohosh, which mimics the presence of estrogen in the body to relieve symptoms like hot flashes. If the levels are totally out of balance, she might recommend pregnenolone, which converts to either DHEA or progesterone, depending on the body’s needs (we carry Pure Encapsulations’ Pregnenolone). Maca also which offers natural support for hormone balance.

    While awaiting test results, Rebecca says, she will often recommend supplements that can help ease symptoms on their own. “If they have sleep issues, for example, we can give them GABA,” she says. Or if they’re experiencing hot flashes at night, it may be a nutrition issue. “Sometimes people’s diets are just too high in sugar and that’s fueling the fire.” That’s when she might recommend a green powder, like those from Vibrant Greens, to help cool the body.

    Green foods are also an important way to support the liver and ensure proper filtering of estrogen, which is key, Rebecca says, for avoiding hormonal surges of acne in your teen years and beyond. “Most people that have adult acne need to get off sugars and onto lean proteins and greens.”

    The adrenal factor

    “Our hormones don’t come just from our ovaries,” Rebecca says. Throughout our lifetime, 25 percent come from our adrenal glands, which convert pregnenolone into DHEA, progesterone or cortisol depending on what the body needs. Because it works so hard, it’s often depleted during high-stress periods.

    But after menopause, when the ovaries have stopped producing hormones of their own, our bodies rely on the adrenals for all of our hormone balance. “If your 25 percent is up and functional, you might not experience the hot flashes.” But if you’re over-stressed, there’s a good chance you’re operating on less than 25 percent, and can experience exacerbated menopause symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to practice good stress management habits throughout our lives. A Pharmaca practitioner can also talk to you about adaptogenic herbs such as eleuthero and rhodiola—or even specific herbal formulas—that can be helpful in nourishing the adrenals.

    Ask a Pharmaca practitioner for guidance if you feel your hormones are out of balance.

  • Coffee: Is it Really Good For Us?

    Young woman drinking tea at homeFor coffee drinkers, nothing beats the aroma and taste of a freshly brewed cuppa. Considering so many of us start the day with a cup or two, here are a few things to know about whether to imbibe or abstain?

    It’s full of antioxidants and nutrients.

    Coffee is a pretty complex drink, as it’s made up of hundred of compounds, from caffeine to vitamins and minerals. A single cup of coffee contains 11 percent of your daily recommended riboflavin (vitamin B2), and also has small amounts of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), magnesium, potassium and niacin.

    Coffee also contains powerful antioxidants called quinines that become more potent after the beans are roasted. And the antibacterial compound trigonelline in coffee has been shown to prevent cavities in black coffee drinkers.

    Coffee’s caffeine may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

    Alzheimer's research studies have shown that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee a day in midlife can slow down the start of the illness by up to 65 percent later in life. This is perhaps because caffeine blocks inflammation in the brain and suppresses the rise of amyloid plaques that are strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Caffeine also slows the progression of Parkinson’s disease, and eases tremors by blocking certain receptors in the brain that cause symptoms.

    Coffee protects us against type 2 diabetes.

    Drinking more than four cups of coffee each day can help keep type 2 diabetes at bay, according to scientists at Harvard. Seems the antioxidants and minerals in coffee, including magnesium and chromium, help your body use insulin which controls blood sugar levels.

    Skip it if: You’re pregnant.

    Caffeine is the culprit here—it can go through the placenta and reach the fetus, and can keep you and your baby awake (it has also been linked to higher incidences of miscarriage). For pregnant women it may be better to reduce coffee consumption to one or two cups a day.

    Skip it if: You have trouble controlling high blood pressure.

    If you’re not a coffee drinker and you start, the first week or so of drinking it can raise your blood pressure significantly, though after a few weeks those readings usually go down. If you have a hard time controlling your hypertension, limit coffee intake or switch to decaf coffee.

    Skip it if: Your decaffeinated coffee is processed with solvents.

    There are a few ways to remove caffeine from coffee beans, and a common process uses the chemical solvent methylene chloride. Although the FDA has approved its use in decaffeinating coffee, this solvent’s side effects in higher exposures include headaches, dizziness and other central nervous system troubles. Instead, be sure your decaf coffee is processed by the Swiss water process, a chemical-free method that uses green coffee bean water and filters to remove nearly 100 percent of the caffeine.

  • Natural Perfumes: A Chemical-Free Fragrance Guide

    CheekyPerfumes often have such sweet, uplifting names...Happy, Heavenly, even Curious. That's why it may come as a surprise that most mass-marketed fragrances are formulated with toxic chemicals—ingredients that give these fragrances staying power or mimic a natural scent. But these ingredients are also linked to a host of health troubles, from asthma to hormone disruption. Here’s what you need to avoid and safe ways to add fragrance to your life.

    Avoid “fragrance” as a labeled ingredient

    This generic term is used by cosmetic and perfume companies and they are not required to disclose what ingredients actually make up their fragrances. Many mass-marketed perfumes include synthetic chemicals that are known allergens and sensitizers (chemicals that can cause allergic reactions, including asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis).

    Avoid phthalates and parabens

    These chemicals are often added to perfume products to increase their staying power on your skin and in the bottle. But they’ve been linked to hormone disruption, breast cancer and reproductive toxicity—especially in teens, since they’re some of the largest consumers of fragranced personal care products.

    Avoid synthetic musk (including Nitro-Musk, Galaxolide and Tonalide)

    Musk is a common scent found in perfumes. Fragrance companies may say it’s a sexy animal scent, but its side effects are decidedly not sexy. Synthetic musk is a toxin that accumulates in our body, especially in fatty tissue and breast milk, and acts as a hormone disrupter.

    Use natural essential oils

    Natural essential oils are pure oils distilled from plants—flowers, leaves or seeds. These oils have distinct aromas like woody, spicy, green, herbal or floral. Here’s what you’ll smell with some of the common scent families.

    Woody or spicy aroma: stimulating, clearing, grounding
    Look for: clove, frankincense, cedar, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver
    Try: Pacifica's Sandalwood Perfume Roll-On, a warm, velvety woodsy scent

    Green or herbal aroma: brisk, clean
    Look for: citrus, bergamot, eucalyptus, rosemary, chamomile, basil
    Try: Love & Toast's Gin Blossom Perfume, a fresh, crisp citrusy scent

    Floral aroma: sweet, serene, feminine
    Look for: lavender, rose, ylang ylang, neroli
    Try: Jurlique's Essence of Rose Roll-On Fragrance, a pure rose scent made from Gallic roses

    Make your own

    It’s also easy to make your own fragrance creations. For tips on scent combinations that work well, check out this guide to the aromatic blending of essential oils. Remember, some essential oils are skin irritants due to the high concentration of active compounds, so make sure to dilute them with a carrier oil or alcohol.


    15-20 drops of essential oil (in whatever combination of scents you like)
    2 tablespoons unflavored vodka (100 proof is best) or pure grain alcohol

    Pour alcohol in a glass bottle first, then add essential oil. Let it age for at least 2 days, and up to 1 month. Finally, dilute with 1 tablespoon distilled water.

    Body Oil/Lotion

    15 drops of essential oil
    2-3 tablespoons of jojoba oil, almond oil or unscented body lotion.

    Blend and store your fragrance in a dark glass bottle.

    Explore the essential oils and natural fragrances at a Pharmaca near you!

  • Q & A: Good Breast Health

    Mom and DaughterAt what age should I begin being concerned about breast health? 

    Optimally, we would teach our young girls to be aware of the importance of diet and exercise on breast health for the future. It's also important to start early because certain foods, such as soy foods, can improve breast cell differentiation in pre-puberty and thus reduce the risk of breast cancer. Educating girls/women about healthy diets, regular exercise, weight management, and low alcohol consumption is a message that can be revisited throughout their lives.

    What are the biggest risk factors for breast cancer? 

    It starts with gender—approximately 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Other non-preventable risk factors include a family history with a first-degree relative with breast cancer, and age, as more than two-thirds of invasive breast cancers are in women age 55 and older.

    Environmental risk factors play also a meaningful role, including:

    • Diets high in saturated fats, sugar and simple carbohydrates, and low in fruits and vegetables
    • Exposure to chemicals from industrial and agricultural processes
    • Excessive weight gain as an adult, obesity and/or a sedentary lifestyle
    • Lack of pregnancy and full term birth
    • Excess alcohol (greater than 7 drinks per week)

    Post-menopausal women on estrogen and synthetic progestin for longer than 3-4 years have a slight increase risk of breast cancer.

    Aside from self exams, what can I be doing to encourage good breast health? 

    Not all current guidelines even recommend self exams, and surprisingly, research is showing that screening mammograms in low risk women and early detection of a breast cancer may not lead to reduced rates of women dying from breast cancer. This confusing and contradictory state of the research has made it more difficult to understand what a woman should do to monitor breast health.

    Nevertheless, a regular annual physical exam is still something I urge all women to do. Checking in with your doctor regularly is important because you get a routine physical exam and the opportunity to optimize health by talking through your habits and getting necessary tests.

    I would also focus on the following:

    • Healthy weight management, with a minimum of 3.5 hours of exercise per week,
    • Low alcohol consumption
    • Reducing exposure to environmental toxins (e.g choosing “green” cleaning products and organic foods)
    • A healthy, whole foods diet with a focus on brightly colored vegetables, some fruits, whole grains, quality soy foods, olive oil, a few saturated fats (cheese, butter, meats) and fish twice per week.
    • Healthy relationships

    Good stress management—including time spent in nature to take advantage of the healing power of nature on body, mind and spirit

    Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about other recommendations for maintaining good breast health.

  • Essential Herbs for Summer First Aid

    BoyonbeachSummer's not over yet...and neither are our outdoor activities! To get some insight into unique herbal remedies for the bumps and bruises, stings and scrapes that come with outdoor fun, we turned to Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, MD, and member of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board.

    What should I stock in my herbal first aid kit?  

    Choose what you need in your herbal first aid kit based upon where you live, how you live and who lives with you! Here are the basics that most of us should keep around the house:

    • Calendula salve for skin irritations and rashes
    • Arnica salve or tincture for bruises, strains and sprain
    • Oregon grape root or goldenseal tincture—a powerhouse antimicrobial that can be used internally or topically
    • Echinacea tincture and/or elderberry syrup for colds and upper respiratory infections
    • Slippery elm lozenges for sore throat and occasional heartburn
    • Bentonite or French clay for insect bites
    • Witch hazel extract for bug bites and swelling
    • Grindelia tincture for poison ivy/oak and for chest congestion
    • Tea tree oil for fungal infections
    • California poppy tincture for use as a mild sedative and pain relief
    • A variety of herbal teas (e.g. chamomile for tension, ginger for nausea or upset stomach, peppermint for colds, etc.).

    Other first aid essentials: acetaminophen for pain, diphenhydramine for allergic reactions, tweezers for removing splinters, oatmeal and baking soda for itchy skin, and an assortment of bandages, gauze pads, etc.

    What herbs are safe for babies and children? 

    If you have children in the house, make sure that you keep some remedies that are appropriate for their age. Chamomile, for example, soothes a fussy 2 year old or can ease crampy diarrhea in a 5 year old; slippery elm lozenges can soothe sore throats; honey can reduce coughs in children over a year; and echinacea glycerite (an alcohol-free version) and elderberry syrup are good for colds and coughs, etc.

    Remember, any child under the age of two months who appears ill should be seen by a qualified health care professional. You can also find extensive information on safely and effectively treating children and adults at home in my book, Healthy at Home—as well as information about when you should seek medical care!

    Give us your go-to herbs in the summer for the following

    Insect bites. French or bentonite clay mixed with a little water to make a paste—apply to bite and then cover with cloth or plastic wrap for 30-45 minutes. Repeat 3-4 times per day if needed. Witch hazel extract can also be applied as a compress to the bite.

    Poison ivy and poison oak. Grindelia tincture is hands down my favorite treatment. It can be applied directly to affected area, or you can mix 1 teaspoon in 1/4 cup of witch hazel extract and then apply (repeat as needed).

    You can also make an oatmeal bath to soothe skin: Whirl 4 cups of oatmeal in blender or coffee grinder until powdered, then add 1/2 cup baking soda. Put in a cloth bag, sock or pantyhose and throw in bathtub of cool water and soak. You can also make a compress out of the oatmeal/baking soda blend and apply topically to the affected area.

    Scrapes and bruises. For scrapes, wash with soap and water to remove any debris. If necessary, you can get extra antimicrobial protection by rinsing the cut with either of the following: Dilute 5 ml of Oregon grape root or goldenseal tincture in 50 ml of water, OR dilute 60 drops tea tree oil in 1 ounce water. Calendula ointment can then be applied and the cut can be covered with an appropriate bandage. For strains, sprains or bruises (not an open cut), arnica salve or tincture is the best you will find.

    Earaches from swimming. If you’re prone to getting swimmer’s ear, use this remedy to prevent infection (Caution: Don’t use this if your ears are already hurting, because the alcohol will burn). Mix 1 oz rubbing alcohol and 1 oz white vinegar in a jar (mark EXTERNAL USE ONLY!). Apply 2 to 3 drops of room temperature mixture in each ear after swimming or showering. The alcohol will effectively remove the water, while the acidity in the vinegar prevents bacteria from growing.

    Sunburn. You can use aloe vera topically, but one of my other favorites is to make a strong pot of green tea, let cool, and apply to the sunburn every 3-4 hours. Prevention is the best remedy here, however. Wear a hat, protective clothing and/or safe sunscreen!

    For more first aid advice, speak with a Pharmaca practitioner today.

  • No Adults Allowed! Kid-Friendly Supplements

    ClassroomStart those healthy habits early with a variety of supplements specially formulated with the vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy development for brain and body. With a new school year rapidly approaching, it's all the more important to give them a nutritional edge for increased energy and strengthened immunity against the germs lurking in their classrooms.

    To prevent nutritional deficiencies, get your child into the healthy habit of taking a daily multivitamin—and turn it into a fun morning (or nightly) ritual instead of a chore. Bluebonnet's Super Earth Rainforest Animal Chews Multi-Vitamins feature a superfruit blend along with with extracts of bone-building vegetables (broccoli, broccoli sprouts, brussels sprouts, carrots, kale, onion, spinach and tomatoes) in one yummy, raspberry-flavored chewable. The tasty tablets also help facilitate calcium and phosphorus absorption and increase the formation and density of children's growing bones.

    Rainbow Light's Sunny Gummies Vitamin D3 is a delicious lemon-flavored gummy that delivers a potent level of vitamin D3 to support bone and muscle strength, immune function, and circulatory and cellular health. Vitamin D3 is the most effective form of vitamin D, and Berry D-Licious contains 2,500 IU of this important vitamin. Totally natural and free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and additives, this delicious supplement is also allergen safe, created without gluten, soy, yeast, milk, eggs, nuts, fish or shellfish.

    Fish oil, known for its fantastic benefits, isn't just for adults. Kids everywhere love Nordic Naturals' strawberry-flavored Children's DHA. Made entirely from Arctic cod liver oil, this supplement is rich in the omega-3 DHA–essential for the proper development of the brain, eyes, and nervous and immune systems. Easily swallowed or chewed by children over three, Children's DHA also contains healthy levels of naturally derived vitamins A and D.

    Babies can also benefit from supplements. Nordic Naturals' Baby's DHA Vegetarian is formulated for the specific omega-3 nutritional needs of infants, and is a safe, effective way to ensure that babies 6 months or older (or as directed by your pediatrician) get the DHA they need for healthy development. And don't forget the vitamin C! Ensure your toddler receives crucial quantities with Hyland's Vitamin C tablets. These no-fuss tablets dissolve quickly and deliver 71 percent of the daily value for babies under a year, and 63 percent for kids between 1-3 years.

    Should a cold strike–despite your best efforts–treat your child with Hyland's 4Kids naturally soothing Honey Cough Syrup, Cold 'N Cough, or Sniffles 'N Sneezes. Safe and effective, these homeopathic remedies quell the symptoms of the common cold, cough or congestion for fast recovery.

    Pharmaca is committed to offering a holistic and well-rounded approach to children's health. Visit one of our stores to talk to a licensed practitioner about your child's health and nutritional needs.

  • Is it a Cold or Allergies?

    SnifflesYou have a runny nose, cough and congestion…but is it a cold or allergies? It's a common question during summer, when pollen counts are high but colds are still going around. Allergies and colds share many of the same symptoms, but causes—and treatments—are different for the two.


    Allergies happen when the immune system reacts to a substance it believes is harmful, called an allergen. During the immune reaction, histamine is released from immune cells, causing the typical symptoms of allergies: congestion, red and itchy eyes, nose and throat, coughing and sneezing.

    In severe cases, hives and rashes can develop. Allergens are specific to the individual and can be anything, including pollens, dust, food, grasses, mold and other environmental substances. Allergies are not contagious and symptoms can continue as long as a person is exposed to the allergen.

    Common colds

    Common colds are caused by hundreds of different viruses. Your immune system recognizes a virus and mounts an attack by producing different proteins and antibodies. The attack can result in common cold symptoms: sneezing, coughing and congestion. Colds are contagious and are spread from person to person through respiratory droplets (coughing and sneezing), and bodily contact such as shaking hands. Colds generally last less than 10 days.

    Sinus Infections

    Sinus infections develop when mucus builds up in the sinus cavities, creating a welcome environment for bacteria to collect and cause infection. The reason for the mucus build-up is because the nasal lining is unhealthy and inflamed, most often due to allergies, a cold or, less frequently, an underlying dental infection. Sinus infections can be acute or chronic, but allergies are the main cause for chronic sinus infections. Sinus infection symptoms include pressure around and behind the eyes and cheeks, runny/stuffy nose lasting more than a week, headache, fever, cough and thick green/yellow mucus.

    Is it an allergy or a cold?

    The most notable difference between a cold and allergies is the duration; a cold usually doesn’t last longer than 10 days. If your symptoms persist beyond two weeks, contact your doctor to determine if it could be allergies or something different such as a sinus infection.

    Allergies tend to have itchiness in the eyes, nose and throat where colds do not. Seasonally speaking, allergies (hay fever) predominate in the spring and summer, and colds predominate in the winter and fall.

    Here are a few other rules of thumb when it comes to determining the difference:

    Characteristic Common Cold Allergy Sinus Infection
    Pathogen Virus Allergen Bacteria
    Duration 3-14 days Indefinitely Acute or chronic
    Time of Year Most frequent in fall and winter, but possible anytime Any time, but seasonal allergies predominate in spring and summer Any time
    Symptom Onset 12-36 hours following exposure to germs Can begin immediately following exposure to allergen Usually a history of cold, allergies or dental infection prior to symptom onset
    Symptom Common Cold Allergy Sinus Infection
    Cough Often Sometimes Occasionally
    Aches Occasionally Never Occasionally
    Fatigue Occasionally Sometimes Occasionally
    Fever Rarely Never Sometimes
    Itchy, watery eyes Rarely Often Rarely
    Sore throat Often Occasionally Occasionally
    Runny or stuffy Nose Often; usually yellow mucus Often; usually clear Often; yellow or green mucus

    So I know what I’ve got. Now what? 

    Relief from the common cold

    The key to preventing and treating colds (and sinus infections) is boosting the immune system and avoiding germs. Remember to wash your hands often, drink plenty of liquids, avoid sugar (it impairs the immune system) and get plenty of rest. You can also try the following products:

    Vitamin C is antiviral and reduces the severity of symptoms and duration of a cold. Try MegaFood’s Daily C-Protect or American Health’s Ester-C.

    Zinc lozenges serve a dual purpose: they relieve sore throats and are a critical nutrient for optimal immune functioning. Try Nature’s Way’s Sambucus Organic Zinc Lozenges or Source Naturals’ Wellness Zinc Lozenges.

    Umcka, (aka South African Geranium or Umckaloaba) is very healing for a cough and shortens the duration and severity of a cold. Try Nature’s Way’s UmcKa ColdCare Original.

    Shop all cough & cold relief >

    Relief from sinus infections

    Anything that causes swelling of the sinuses can result in obstruction of drainage and a subsequent sinus infection. Keep the nasal passages healthy and drained to avoid infections—daily nasal irrigation with a neti pot can help to keep the passages clear—and don’t forget to support the immune system by using the products suggested for a common cold. For sinus support specifically, try these products:

    Pharmaca brand Sinus Relief Soother, a traditional Chinese formula for immediate sinus support and relief

    XClear’s Sinus Nasal Spray with Xylitol helps to wash, hydrate and moisturize the nasal passages.

    Mucolytics help to break down mucus. You can find them in Jarrow Formulas’ N-Acetyl-l-cysteine (N.A.C.), Enzymedica’s SerraGold or Jarrow Formulas’ Bromelain.

    Shop all sinus care >

    Relief from allergies

    Reducing exposure to allergens and stabilizing histamine reactions is key to preventing allergies. Some common allergens are pet dander, trees, pollen and grasses, dust mites, cockroaches and molds such as mildew and fungi.

    Try the following products to tame allergy symptoms:

    Plantiva’s AllerDx can help to quickly calm histamine reactions and improve nasal airflow.

    Ortho Molecular’s D-Hist provides nasal and sinus support by breaking down mucus and stabilizing cells that release histamine.

    Learn more about Dr. Tieraona Low Dog's recommendations for natural allergy relief >

    Shop all allergy relief >

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