Thoughts On Sleep

Friday, March 30, 2018

Who needs some sleep!?! Answer: ALL OF US. Haha!
Sleep deprivation can contribute to many health problems including depression, anxiety, reduced immunity, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Not to mention it negatively affects our cognitive functions! I believe in starting with lifestyle changes before we go interfering with our chemistry. Exercising daily, relaxing yoga, or meditation can aid in getting a good night's rest. As can incorporating an evening ritual like reading, journaling, or drinking herbal tea, if you don't add too much honey/sweetener! Recognize which stimulants may be keeping you awake...we all know caffeine is a culprit, but even a mid-afternoon cup of coffee/soda can contribute to keeping you up at bedtime. Some herbs can also be energizing, so be aware of that if you take supplements. Alcohol and late meals can act as stimulants. If your liver or digestive system are busy metabolizing, you may not get restful sleep. In this day of constant connectivity, screen time is especially problematic. Blue light from screens affects our natural melatonin production, so it is best to turn off devices an hour before bed.
If that doesn't do the trick, there are herbal sleep aids available. Valerian is one of the most commonly known sleep herbs. It relaxes the muscles systemically (so you may also see it in muscle relaxer/pain relief blends) and calms your nervous system. It is non-habit forming but smells just God awful. I have had customers say they cannot get the pills down from gagging. I found that if I just sit the capsule out on the counter for a few minutes and let my sense of smell reset from the stink blast of opening the bottle, it is totally manageable. Some valerian is even sold with peppermint. Passionflower is also used to treat anxiety and sleeplessness. It seems to relax the whole body, but it is pretty mild. Lemon balm is another great herb. We see it used to help with anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness in adults, and children. If you are using essential oils, it is known more commonly as 'Melissa'. Interestingly, it is of the mint family so it is even found in digestive soothing blends. Chamomile is another mild herb used, most often in tea form, for sleep/relaxation, and probably the most common one used for children. Kava is one of the stronger herbs used for anxiety and sleeplessness. In tincture form, it will numb your mouth and has a very strong taste, but it is very effective. Kava coladas are apparently a thing. If your sleep woes stem from chronic stress, one of my daily supplements is Ashwagandha. It is an adaptogenic herb that supports adrenal glands and nervous system functions. If your cortisol levels are high from chronic stress, it will be harder to sleep. It doesn't have to be taken in the evening because it isn't a relaxer or have sedative properties, so I take mine around lunch, with my other handful of supps. Ha!
As far as amino acids and minerals go, try magnesium!! Truly! You can find a great tasting powder called Natural Calm at probably any health store and possibly your grocery store! I am pretty sure Meijer has it. It is magnesium citrate, so it has some regularity/bowel perks as well! Mix it up with some water or juice (or the raspberry lemonade in lemonade and it is like a mocktail!) around an hour or two before bedtime and it truly helps me just drift off to sleep. (If you are ever told you are magnesium deficient, I would recommend an ionic mag we carry that tastes terrible, but is way more absorbable!) L-theanine, an amino acid, can be calming in the daytime, evening, or both. 5-HTP, also an amino acid, raises serotonin levels in the brain and is commonly used for
insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, fibro, pms, etc.
You've probably heard of melatonin and I generally do not mention it to folks, unless they ask for it specifically. It is a synthetic hormone, and I don't like to mess with my hormone levels if any other option is viable. It has been shown to cause changes in the cardiovascular, immune, and metabolic systems. The more melatonin you take, the less your body produces on its own. I am personally very sensitive to melatonin in supplement form. It will make me fall asleep just fine, but it will wake me up in the middle of the night and I will be wide awake with no hope of falling back asleep. This is the most common complaint we hear in the health store about melatonin...that it wakes people up in the middle of the night. And what that could mean is that you are taking too much for your body. A 2001 MIT study found that 0.3 mg is the proper dosage for melatonin, and most supplements start out at 1 mg, if not 3, 5, and beyond! In the case of melatonin, it is not like a pharmaceutical in which increasing your dosage means more effectiveness. It is actually the opposite. Taking too much also means that it is still stored in your plasma the next day and you may be groggy. But, melatonin is a popular supplement because it does work for most people. You want to take it an hour before bed, when your body is increasing its own production of melatonin. There are also timed-release melatonin supplements to keep it going all night. I haven't tried one, personally, but it makes sense that it would work. If you don't want to do a supplement, tart cherry juice is the richest food source of melatonin. Some customers buy it for an evening glass that helps them sleep. (others buy it for gout!)
Another good use for CBD oil is that it can help with anxiety and reduce the mental chatter that sometimes keeps us wide awake. I tried our green label 1 mg spray from CV Sciences ($22/80 doses) for this very reason. It was already difficult for me to drift off to sleep but after Naiya was diagnosed in early December, I could not fall asleep, stay asleep, or get back to sleep on my own. When I tried the CBD, I noticed an immediate reduction in the mental chatter and anxiety. For me now, I've worked up to about 3 mg in early evening.

If you're into essential oils, diffusing lavender or adding drops in to a warm evening bath (try adding 1 c. epsom salt/magnesium flakes, too!) can help with relaxation. Sweet dreams, everyone!

Thoughts On Immunity

Friday, March 16, 2018

Let's talk about immunity! Although the flu season appears to be on its way out, we are still seeing some local active cases of Type B popping up. However, these suggestions aren't strictly for flu...viruses are always popping up, including the common cold. Besides the basics: washing hands consistently for 20 seconds(sing the alphabet song!), hand sanitizing after touching pens/credit card machines in public (I keep a bottle in my car for this very reason), getting enough sleep (HAHA, who's with me on never getting enough sleep?), eating your best attempt at a balanced diet, and staying hydrated!! And, remember, stress is going to lower our immunity...we can't avoid it, and you all know this has been a particularly stressful time for our family, but we can be aware that it leaves us more prone to catching something.
One of the most commonly known immunity boosters is Elderberry. But, what do we usually all buy? Elderberry syrup...which has sugar, which lowers your immunity. You're kind of shooting yourself in the foot there. Not to mention, it is expensive. We have one in the store for around $15 for only 14 doses. We sell bulk dried elderberries and I have seen plenty of folks buying them and raw honey to make their own syrup, so that may be a little better option, but I still usually advise skipping the syrup and going straight for the concentrate (Wyldewood Cellars $26.99/75 doses). The recommended daily dose for a 150lb person is 1 tsp a day, so you're going to want to adjust that dosage down for kiddos. And, speaking of kiddos, it tastes a little like a dry wine so you may need to hide it in some grape juice, which is what we have done for Kindred. If you are showing symptoms, you can do an acute dosage of 2-4 times a day for a few days. I have taken more like 5-6 when I had flu-like symptoms, personally. If you notice a little upset stomach, unrelated to your virus, just skip your next dose. Elderberry is one of the most clinically studied herbs. It has even been found to be effective against strep throat. Take it if you're going to be traveling!!
Echinacea has also been run through the ringer as far as testing goes and they find that it reduces the length and severity of colds. Take it at the first sign a cold is coming on. Skip this one if you have ragweed allergies, a friend of mine found out. Typically, you want to do 150mg (at least) about 2-3 times a day.
Propolis is on the list of nature's antibiotics. Studies have shown it to be effective against upper respiratory infections, tonsillitis, colds, flus, pain, skin conditions, cold sores, & candida. Scientists are looking into it for 'superbugs' because it has neutralized multi-drug resistant bacteria. Be aware of the potential for anaphylactic shock in folks with bee allergies.
One that is fairly new to my medicine cabinet this year has been Pelargonium, but is more widely known as Umcka. It is effective against heavy coughs & other respiratory ailments. It is antibacterial, antiviral, and an expectorant. We sell a box with little individual packets you add to hot water. When I started at the store, I had a lingering cough & cold and Umcka really helped me out.
Other than these herbal remedies, make sure you are boosting your Vitamin C levels (I do 5000mg in a day, when I am actively sick with something respiratory, as it thins mucus & even higher doses have been shown to help with whooping cough/pertussis). As an antioxidant, Olive Leaf has been shown to be stronger than Vitamin C and it is also an antiviral particularly effective against hepatitis B & C and herpes. Just as a general rule, I also start raising my Vitamin D levels when winter comes on.
If you are diagnosed with the flu and given a prescription for Tamiflu, I urge you to research it before you take it. And be especially cautious in giving it to children as it seems to be causing some serious mental disturbances/suicides. Star Anise contains shikimic acid, which is an active ingredient in Tamiflu and has been used for treating the flu by the Chinese. And, please, do not be afraid of a fever! In our family, we let it burn because that is the job it is designed to do. When we eliminate the fever, we rob the body of it's natural response to an invader. For the adults in our family, up to 104 is not medicated, if we aren't in pain. However, if Kindred hits 103, I am more concerned and likely to treat with Motrin. (As always, we are monitoring for other symptoms. If Kindred had a climbing fever, no other symptoms, and was complaining of a sore neck, we'd be on our way to the ER.) I try to remember that everything we take affects our bodies in other areas. According to their package inserts, Motrin can cause ulcers, bleeding, or holes in the stomach/intestines at any time during treatment, without warning, & may cause death. It doesn't say from an overdose, it says with ANY dose. It's rare, sure, but there is a risk. Tylenol can be toxic to the liver if you take too much, or take it often over a period of a few days because the body can't eliminate it quickly enough. Genetics play a role in how quickly we can detox our livers, and those with the MTHFR gene mutation should be especially wary in treating with Tylenol.
I believe alternative & western medicine practices are equally important and should have a symbiotic relationship to truly help people. I would never hesitate to tell someone that they seem beyond the scope of holistic treatment. Hopefully, some of these suggestions come in handy. Take good care, friends!

An Aunt's Perspective

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Your sister calls you one afternoon and says she's noticed some things that are not normal about your two year old niece. You might think it sounds like it could be anemia or a growth spurt, but cancer doesn't even enter your mind because the odds against it being something that devastating are in your favor. You suggest going to Urgent Care for peace of mind since it would take a few days to get into the pediatrician's office. When she gets sent to the ER because the Urgent Care doctor is concerned he can't get blood work back fast enough, you begin to understand that something is critically wrong, but cancer still doesn't enter your mind because now you just won't let it. You stay calm to avoid sounding any alarm bells because you can already hear the fear taking root in your sister's voice. In your mind, you start bargaining with God for lesser diagnoses and telling yourself that she simply has to be okay. But then the phone rings again and on the other end your sister is choking out the word 'leukemia'. This is the moment when life as you know it splinters off into obscurity. She tells you where the ambulance is taking them and asks you to call your youngest sister. Sometime after you hang up, you realize your heart is still galloping inside your chest, you can't quite catch your breath, and maybe it's a good idea to sit down. As you wait for your baby sister to answer, you know that you are about to break her heart. There are no magic words to lessen the shock, so you hear yourself say, "It's bad, okay...Naiya has leukemia. Get mom and get on the road." While your husband races home, you hold your own daughter who is just one year older than your niece, and you think to yourself how it was a dream come true for three sisters to have three little girls born so close together. You think about all the milestones you have anticipated them sharing as they grew alongside each other. In your mind's eye, you see the snapshots from sleepovers, vacations, holidays, graduations, weddings and more as the years roll on. You wonder now if that future has silently disappeared right out from under all of you. You close your eyes and try to will it back into existence. Somehow, your husband makes it home so fast you are able to be outside the ER as they wheel your niece out for transport to the nearest children's hospital. In an attempt to ease her fear, you tell her how special the ambulance is and how fun it is to ride in one, but then you zero in on your sister, completely broken, as she comes to hug you. You might understand her heartbreak on some levels, having survived a different kind of brokenness all your own, but you know her path has just detoured off from yours and she must now continue on with her daughter into places you've never been. As they close the ambulance doors, you want to sit down right there on the pavement, place your hands on your head, and tell everyone to just let you think a minute because this does not make sense and if you can figure out exactly how it can't be possible, then someone has to take it all back.

When you get to the children's hospital, you are so scattered that you don't even recognize family members sitting in the waiting room. You look at your mother's hands because it's how you check her stress level. You all sit there, completely at the mercy of fate, and wait for a diagnosis. You want to be with your sister and niece more than you've ever wanted to be anywhere in your life while simultaneously wanting to run as far as you can so that you won't have to hear an unbearable prognosis.

If you spend any amount of time in a pediatric oncology unit, you do not walk out unchanged. You can feel your heart crack wide open as you see telltale bald heads on the small & innocents. Kids who should be outside running & playing are watching the world go by from a window high above it. They are battling for their lives, even though some are too young to comprehend any of it. There's a whole spectrum of emotions accessible at any given hour. You may see a family celebrating good test results, or that their child feels like riding in a wagon down the hallway that day, but you turn a corner and find those who are newly devastated by the polar opposite. You are also at the mercy of the professionals and not all of them are created equally. Some have found their calling in life, true angels walking among us, and some have no business being there. The interesting part lies in how often the children know who's who before the parents do. There were hospital staff members who, even if they had to do something painful, my niece rebounded and liked talking to them. There were others who had to be reminded that a pediatric cancer patient was not 'being difficult' when she screamed at the sight of them in a gown and mask, she was a traumatized child who was justifiably frightened. One night, during a sleepover at the hospital, your niece may sing in her most precious little voice 'You Are My Sunshine' and when she gets to 'Please don't take my sunshine away' you will have to fight tears harder than you've ever had to in your life because you're thinking to yourself, 'God, please, please, please be listening right now.' 

Somehow, time keeps moving forward and the family learns to excel at adaptation. Even the littlest ones learn to play by video chat and seem to accept that life has fundamentally changed. Work schedules must be flexible, family gatherings for holidays rely on technology so that we can all "be" together, and there are contingency plans for multiple theoretical emergencies. But, no one acclimates like your sister. Suddenly, she is fluent in words you didn't even hear in your medical terminology class years ago. The free-spirited, crunchy mama has ground down into a world of schedules, pharmaceuticals, and necessary procedures. She recites the names of chemotherapy drugs with ease and can mitigate almost any physical crisis at hand. Mama-bear 110% has got this. I see her as the lieutenant pulling you up by your bootstraps in the middle of mayhem when the entire platoon seems paralyzed with fear.

Processing the trauma of the diagnosis takes time, and looks different for everyone. In the beginning, you may not be able to stop crying for days, or you may slip into shock and find yourself staring blankly. Sometimes, you can't quite remember why you came into the store because you have suddenly been thrown off balance by an analogous song playing overhead. In your spare time, you might have become a novice researcher out of desperation to find a magic wellness bean which sprouts a long, healthy lifetime of remission. Even a few months in, when your sister calls and doesn't speak right away, your stomach may drop because you think she is trying to catch her breath from something terrible that has happened. You get fooled into thinking you've found your footing, but then a routine procedure has some unexpected complications. You may feel your humanity a little deeper than you did before. All children become extraordinarily precious. Seeing them suffering or being mistreated in public is intolerable. The evening news and internet can be entirely overwhelming. You could find yourself softened toward grown children, too. We're all someone's precious baby. If you zone out at a red light and somebody honks, you may think about all the times you've ever honked out of impatience, or reacted unkindly. You might look around at other drivers and wonder if they are worried, heartbroken, or missing someone they love. If friends, coworkers, or strangers are being dramatic or operating from their Egos, you may look at them and see how futile it all seems. If you catch yourself wasting energy in those ways, maybe you can come back to loving kindness faster than you used to. Once you glimpse the bigger picture, it's hard to deny the necessity of loving and seeing each other through it all, despite our differences.

One day, the girls can play together again and it seems like one of the sweetest days you've ever known. And, it will give you hope for an abundance of days just like it. You may plot future endeavors like day trips, sleepovers, the Drive-In, or ya know communal living. You might come to understand that the world is a mercurial place and our time here is incredibly it becomes your highest priority to never take a single day or loved one for granted. You give up the need for any of this to make sense, because it never could. You start calling your niece a tiny guru...because you see her as a little lotus flower blooming despite the mud she must grow through.

You know you will feel humbled and blessed to be her aunt for the rest of your life.