Pharmaca Blog

  • Prevent Respiratory Infection: Build Immunity Now!

    SnifflyboySeasons are shifting, school has started and germs are making their way around! The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) estimates 10-15 million viral respiratory infections affect Americans each year, with the season peaking in September and October.

    This year, a normally quiet virus strain—Enterovirus D68 (aka EV-D68)—has made headlines because it has caused the hospitalization of hundreds of children across the US. EV-D68 started appearing in force in the Midwest, but has now spread to Utah, Colorado and the northeastern states. In fact, more than 900 children in Denver, Colo. have visited the emergency room since August 18with a respiratory illness.

    There are many different strains of enteroviruses and generally they cause intense common cold symptoms. Though this particular strain, EV-D68, was first reported in the 1962, it has not seen an outbreak of this proportion until now. Top health officials at the CDC say this could be just the tip of the iceberg as far as the number of infections and hospital visits we will see this season.

    Other viruses such as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)—common in the fall and winter months—can also infect young children and adults with low immunity, causing symptoms that last for 1-2 weeks and potentially pneumonia.

    Who is at risk and what are symptoms of respiratory virus and EV-D68?

    Anyone can be infected with a respiratory virus, but infants, children and teens are more susceptible because they haven’t built up immunity to the viruses. Children with asthma or prior respiratory problems are particularly vulnerable to EV-D68, which can cause severe symptoms or intensified breathing difficulties. Adults and the elderly with compromised immune systems are also at greater risk.

    Symptoms of respiratory virus infection include runny nose, sneezing, coughing and lethargy. Symptoms of EV-D68 start the same as other respiratory viruses, but the cough can become especially severe, including difficulty breathing or wheezing. It is sometimes also accompanied by fever and rash (note: experts recommend seeing a doctor immediately if you are experiencing this combination of symptoms).

    Prevention for respiratory viruses

    There is no specific conventional treatment for EV-D68 and there is currently no vaccination for it. Conventional medicine suggests getting plenty of rest and fluids and use of over-the-counter cold medicines.

    Practitioners of natural medicine, however, encourage patients to focus on building the immune system before sickness can take hold. The higher functioning your immune system is, the better chances you have of preventing contraction of EV-D68 and other germs going around this season. Beat the bug, don’t let the bug beat you!

    Follow these fundamentals to improve your chances at staying healthy:

    1) Wash your hands often with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the washroom or changing a diaper. Use hand sanitizer throughout the day for added protection.

    2) Avoid or limit your exposure to people showing symptoms of illness (including kissing, hugging, shaking hands and sharing food or utensils).

    3) Avoid or limit touching your face, mouth and eyes.

    4) Clean and disinfect surfaces often (e.g. countertops, toys, doorknobs, shared telephones).

    5) Get plenty of rest and decrease stress where possible, since stress can negatively affect your immunity.

    6) Eat a healthy, whole-foods diet balanced with bright-colored fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and adequate protein (avoid saturated fat, simple sugars and alcohol).

    7) Drink plenty of healthy fluids (e.g. water, herbal tea, electrolytes).

    8) Do your part and take care of yourself; stay home if you're not feeling well!


    Additionally, some of the products below can go a long way toward building your immune system.

    A high-potency multivitamin helps ensure adequate daily nutrition, especially for those that tend to stray from a whole-foods diet. Try New Chapter's One Daily for Adults and Rainbow Light's Kids One MultiStars for children.

    Vitamin D shows a broad range of immune-enhancing effects. Try Pharmaca brand for adults or kids.

    Herbal blends such as WishGarden's Daily Immune or Kick-Ass Immune for Adults or kids or Kick-it Immune for kids, which combine effective immune building and virus-resisting herbs.

    Elderberry is an antiviral that builds immunity, supports upper respiratory health and tastes good, too! Try Gaia Herbs' Black Elderberry Syrup for adults or kids.

    Vitamin C plays an important role in immune enhancement and is antiviral and antibacterial. Try vitamin C with bioflavonoids to help increase the beneficial effects of vitamin C. Try American Health's Ester C for adults or Bluebonnet's Super Earth Animalz Vitamin C for kids.

    Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that inhabit the gut, improving immunity and crowding out harmful bacteria. Try Udo’s Super 8 Hi-Potency Probiotic for adults or Pharmax's HLC Child for kids.

    Keep clean hands with Pharmaca's Organic Defense Hand Cleansing Spritz, which fights germs naturally without drying out your hands.

  • Superfood vs. Powerhouse Food: Why They're Not the Same Thing

    WatercressWe’ve been hearing about superfoods and superfruits for awhile—by now we know to stock up on kale and goji berries. Though these “super” labels are used often, many of them can be gimmicky catchphrases that don't have real scientific basis. Until now. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently developed a scientific classification scheme for vegetables and fruits that are jam-packed with nutrients and may reduce our risk of chronic disease. Here’s what you need to know about the proven heroes at your farmer's market or grocery store.

    What is a powerhouse food?

    The CDC defines Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables as naturally “nutrient-dense,” meaning they provide anywhere from 10 to 100 percent of our daily requirements of 17 beneficial nutrients: potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E and K. These nutrients are essential for protection against chronic disease.

    Which foods were tested?

    For obvious reasons, the CDC tested foods that scientists had already linked to prevention of heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. The foods fell into five categories of fruits and vegetables: cruciferous, green leafy, yellow/orange, allium (onion family), citrus and berries.

    Watercress in, blueberries out?

    So which made the cut? Of the 47 fruits and vegetables tested, the cruciferous and leafy green veggies overwhelmingly came out on top. Surprisingly, raspberries, tangerines, cranberries, garlic, onion and blueberries did not make the list, even though they're rich in helpful antioxidants (so keep eating them!).

    Top 15 Powerhouse Fruits & Veggies

    Watercress 100.00 (wow!)
    Chinese cabbage 91.99
    Chard 89.27
    Beet greens 87.08
    Spinach 86.43
    Chicory 73.36
    Leaf lettuce 70.73
    Parsley 65.59
    Romaine lettuce 63.48
    Collard Greens 62.49
    Turnip Greens 62.12
    Mustard Greens 61.39
    Endive 60.44
    Chive 54.80
    Kale 49.07

    The next most powerful fruits and vegetables (with nutrient density ratings under 50) fall primarily into the yellow/orange category (red pepper, pumpkin, carrot, tomato and winter squash) and allium category (scallion, leek), followed by citrus (lemon, orange, lime and grapefruit) and berries (strawberry, blackberry).

    The Powerhouse list is a good starting point for choosing the veggies and fruits that give us the most bang for our buck. The CDC tested these foods in their raw state, and salads can be a great way to incorporate them into our diet. But cruciferous and leafy green vegetables are also a good addition to soups or stews, or simply sautéed.

    While the government's My Plate guidelines say fruits and veggies should make up 50 percent of each meal, don't forget about the important parts of a healthy diet—whole grains and lean proteins! Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about other ways to get all the nutrients you need in your diet.

  • Flu Shots Available Now at Pharmaca

    Flu season is nearly upon us--and Pharmaca has made it easier than ever to get your immunizations. All of our pharmacies can now provide shots to any customer who requests one during open pharmacy hours.

    In addition, Pharmaca will hold Flu Shot Clinics every Tuesday in September, October and November, between 2-6pm. Customers can bring their questions about immunization and other health concerns to pharmacists and practitioners, and receive personalized advice about their health. Plus, if you get a flu shot at Pharmaca and you're a Feel Better Rewards member, you'll receive a $5 gift coupon to use on any non-pharmacy purchase.

    “Pharmaca is proud to be an integrative solution for all of our customers’ health and wellness needs,” says Stuart Gratz, Pharmaca’s vice president of pharmacy operations. “By offering these immunizations at any time, we’re serving the needs of customers who feel that immunization is the best option for them—and making it most convenient for them.”

    As always, the CDC strongly encourages vaccination for every season, especially for children, adults 65 and older, pregnant women and people with asthma, diabetes and other long-term conditions who are at high risk from flu complications. Learn more about the flu, including prevention and treatment, from the CDC.

    Plus, we've made the process even simpler by allowing patients to download and fill out Patient Intake Forms (PDF) ahead of time! Just bring it with you when you request your immunization. Speak with a pharmacist about your immunization needs.

  • 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.

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