On the first Monday of the new school year I found myself taking two calls from two different schools telling me that both my kiddos were feeling crummy and needed a ride home. Yes, already. Before long, everyone in our house felt under-the-weather.

While no one wants to be sick or see their children get sick either, becoming ill from time to time is actually important. Catching a cold is an educational exercise for our immune systems. The ability to mount an appropriate healing response is a sign of good health. While getting sick all the time is problematic, getting sick occasionally is reassuring and an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and reassess.

As a naturopathic doctor with two kids and a partner that works in the public school system as well, my family has ample opportunity to contract illness. Given that, I still aim for prevention. Healthy lifestyle habits go a long way to minimize risk, and decrease the severity and duration when illness does strike. Here are my recommendations to weather this cold and flu season well.

  • SLEEP: Sleep is critical to overall health and immune system function. Make sure that you and your family members prioritize the appropriate amount of sleep.
  • HYGIENE:
    • Wash your hands. Whenever anyone comes home from work or school, make sure they wash hands upon entering the house. Note that research is conclusive: old fashioned soap and water work just as well as antimicrobial soap or hand sanitizer and have the added benefit of not being harmful to us (carcinogenic, endocrine disruptor, create lethal superbugs).
    • Remind yourself and your kids how to effectively cover your cough and sneezes: Use the crook of your elbow, not your hand.
    • Keep the house on the cooler side as germs like warm environments.
    • Air out the house briefly (ie: open up all the windows and maybe doors) daily or at least weekly, even in the cold of winter.
  • EXERCISE: Regular moderate exercise enhances immunity.
  • GO OUTSIDE: Whether this is for exercise specifically or just to get out, do it. Fresh air and sunlight is good for us. Cold air is not bad for us. Dress and layer comfortably for the weather and keep your neck and ears warm. If you have a young child, dress them the way you dress to keep comfortable; i.e., if you get cold and put your hood up, put theirs up too.
  • HYDRATION: Sufficient water intake is critical to every function in our body, not the least of which is expelling pathogens. Being adequately hydrated can tip the scale from successfully staving off full-blown illness or succumbing to it.
  • DIET: A whole foods diet supports optimal health. Highly processed foods or “food-like substances,” and those with added sugar, actually suppress your immune system.
  • STRESS: Throughout these months when life doesn’t slow down and we are additionally exposed to so many pathogens, it is more important than ever to have routine coping mechanisms such as mindfulness, breath work, and yoga  – as well as any other exercises or activities that bring you joy.
  • SUPPLEMENTATION: I am not actually a big fan of taking supplements myself or for my children, however, you may find us taking them this time of year:
    • PROBIOTICS: Ideally, you will be consuming probiotics in the food you eat – from your garden or the farm your food came from, from yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, kombucha, and any other of the varieties of fermented foods now available at many grocery stores. If you feel like you are not good at getting probiotics into your diet, consider taking a potent probiotic supplement.
    • VITAMIN C: Vitamin C helps prevent and/or reduce the duration of the common cold (Note: It only works as prevention if you regularly take it). Food sources of vitamin C include: papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, kiwi, cantaloupe, and cauliflower.
    • ZINC: Zinc also helps reduce the duration and severity of the common cold, and many people are deficient in zinc. Food sources include: beef, lamb, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils, garbanzo beans, cashews, turkey, quinoa, and shrimp.
    • BLACK ELDERBERRY: Taken as a syrup or even better as a warm tea, this is a delicious fall and wintertime routine. Black elderberry is an antiviral useful in preventing the flu.
    • TULSI TEA: This is a readily available (at most grocery stores) herbal tea that helps your body simply adapt to the various stressors of life, including a change in season. For best results, drink it daily.

Here’s to our beautiful weather, and may you weather it beautifully!

If you feel run down or need immune system support, please call to make an appointment: 720-340-0193

Boulder’s air quality has been all over the map this summer. Hazy, smokey days, even when the fires are not homegrown, are not as rare as they once were. As fires become more prevalent throughout the country, winds may bring smoke from just about anywhere; therefore, it is a good idea to know how to best support optimal respiratory health. If you can see it in the air, you are breathing it. It may be causing symptoms such as a stuffy nose and a frequent need to clear your throat. Accordingly, recent air quality reports suggest children stay inside – this, just as school is starting up, and just when they really need to be outdoors to blow off some steam. It can be a real real bummer! Here are some commonsense things you can do to increase the quality of air in your home during these times, as well as some herbal and nutritional safeguards you might want to know about. After all, we still need to move our bodies outside.

First of all, know your risks. Do you have a very young child in the home? If so, his/her lungs are not fully developed and so extra caution is in order. Do you have a lung disease, asthma, or other chronic lung condition? If so, proceed with caution. Even without these predisposing factors, anyone can suffer if breathing air with extra particulate in it. And with cold and flu season right upon us, the poor air quality can make individuals even more susceptible to germs going around.

Start with some common sense:

  • Check the air quality reports and recommendations (Colorado Air Quality or Weather Underground Air Quality Index), and use your own best judgement as to weather the risks outweigh the benefits for you or your children to recreate outdoors. Also, consider how long and how much exertion you are comfortable with given the air quality.
  • When the air quality is poor, consider closing your windows. If you have forced air and are able, turn on the fan so that the air is run through the furnace filter. Use the highest quality air filter you can. Look into the highest filtration 3M Filtrete filters.
  • If you don’t have forced air (or even if you do), consider purchasing an air purifier. These can range greatly in quality, price, and volume. Here are some options:
    • Austin Air & EnviroKlenz both sell a variety of top notch air purifiers – from single-room purifiers to whole house air purifiers. These are an investment, yet, if you suffer from respiratory health issues, worth the money.
    • Guardian Technologies GermGaurdian is a useful more economical option for a single room: Lightweight and easy to move from room to room as needed.

Herbal approaches you can take today to support respiratory health:

  • Drink a tea daily that supports respiratory health, such as Breathe Deep by Yogi Tea.
  • Use Lavender and Eucalyptus oils in a diffuser (for 10 years and older).
  • Use elderberry syrup by the spoonful or mixed in water for a tasty drink.

Nutritional approaches to respiratory health:

  • Consume a mineral rich diet heavy in fruits and vegetables.
  • Reduce or eliminate any known food sensitivities/allergies that could contribute to congestion and inflammation.

Lastly, exercise and breath work are actually in order, even outdoors, if your routine calls for it. Rigorous exercise dilates airways and helps us clear our lungs of particulate when we cough. Regular deep breathing exercises help us maintain the full working capacity of our lungs.

So, if you can, go ahead and take a deep breath right now. If you are struggling with the air quality and would like support beyond these simple measures, I can help.

Call today to make an appointment: 720-340-0193

There are more sunscreens on the market today than there have ever been before. If you don’t know just what you are looking for, or not looking for, the task of choosing the best sunscreen may be daunting.

About sun protection

First of all, realize that it is now widely accepted that sunscreen alone cannot afford adequate sun protection in order to prevent skin cancer or the aging-related effects of the sun. In fact, research shows that sunscreen may give a false confidence to users, especially those sunscreens with high SPFs, leading users to stay in the sun longer than they would otherwise without reapplying. SPF refers to a sunscreen’s ability to block out UVB rays, which cause sunburn. While UVA rays do not cause sunburn, they do promote skin aging and skin cancer, including melanoma. Most sunscreens in America today do not offer adequate UVA protection. The best way to protect your skin is a combination of appropriate sunscreen application and covering up.

Choose the best sunscreen

  • Chemical sunscreen or mineral sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreen goes on so easily and just the way you want it to – like a lotion. Chemicals in chemical sunscreens though (as opposed to mineral sunscreens) are unstable in sunlight, are known to contribute to skin damage and cancer, are hormone disruptors, have a shelf-life, and require strict adherence to application instructions for safety – and even then usually don’t provide the broad spectrum of protection users think they are getting (Note: Sunscreens claiming “broad spectrum protection” is misleading. Very few protect adequately from UVA rays). Chemical sunscreens are harmful to oceanic and freshwater life as well.

Mineral sunscreens offer more stable broad spectrum (UVA & UVB) protection, but historically have been much more difficult to apply and leave a chalky or white appearance on the skin and are difficult to wash off. Tinted mineral sunscreens rub off on light colored clothing and bathing suits and can leave stains. With the advent of nano-particle mineral sunscreens, some of this has changed. These sunscreens go on much more easily and don’t leave the same white layer….but lost is some of the UVA protection. (NOTE: Zinc oxide – think lifegaurds with white noses – provides the best UVA protection in sunscreen).

  • Spray or rub on application?

Spray applications, while extremely convenient, are problematic. Research shows that they do not provide adequate or even coverage – leading to further misplaced confidence in the sunscreen application. Additionally, it is inevitable that some of the sprayed sunscreen gets inhaled into the lungs becoming a respiratory irritant and increasing the risk for lung disease over time.

Rub-on application has improved some over time. Many kids (& adults!) dislike having cream applied. It can be hard to rub on evenly without making a huge mess as well. Enter the handy stick applicator. This allows dabbing and then rubbing, or with some more recent stick applicators on the market, can afford a smooth glide-on application. Then a little spreading with hands and done. These are compact and fit in a pocket,  purse, or backpack; are easy for kids at camp to independently reapply; and are far less likely to make a mess. This year, our household favorite is the MyChelle SunShield Stick SPF50. (I have no affiliation)

Wash it off!

Soap and water tend not to work so well at washing mineral sunscreen residue off. What does work though is oil. Most any oil will do: olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil all work effectively. Before bathing, apply oil all over and rub it in. Bathe as usual. BONUS: Not only will the sunscreen be washed away, but your skin will be moisturized.

Summary

Use a combination of rub-on mineral sunscreen, hats, and clothing to adequately protect yourself and your littles from the sun. For more information on sunscreen safety, visit the EWG 2018 Sunscreen Guide. Additionally, get your vitamin D checked! To learn more about vitamin D and how to strategically expose your skin to sun in order to produce more vitamin D, visit my previous blog post: Vitamin D and Sun Exposure.

Here’s to a summer of sun!

Call to set an appointment with me: 720-340-0193

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What is chlorine and why do we use it?

Chlorine is a disinfectant commonly used in water treatment facilities as well as pools. The benefit of chlorine is that our drinking water is free of potentially deadly bacteria and pathogens, and our swimming pools are not the petri dish of germs they would be otherwise.

Is chlorine safe?

There is a cost to this level of sanitation. As it turns out, when chlorine reacts with pathogens and other compounds found in pool water such as urine and residues from bodycare products, volatile organic compounds are formed (VOCs). VOCs are lung and eye irritants (think about being at the indoor pool) and are thought to increase the risk of cancer. (Note: VOCs are also present in water treated with bromine and saline to different extents.) Chlorine also reacts with your skin and hair and stays with you for days despite regular bathing, further oxidizing hair and skin. Additionally, consuming chlorinated tap water is linked with an increase in reproductive risks for pregnant women.

What you can do to protect yourself and your family from the negative effects of chlorine

While a perfect solution is not available, there are many easy things you can do to protect yourself and your children from the harmful effects of chlorine:

  • Use a carbon filter or better for your drinking water. They are readily available, inexpensive, and easy to maintain. For more information, see the Environmental Working Group’s Water Filter Buying Guide.
  • Swim in fresh open water in the summer if you have access to a clean, safe watering hole.
  • Choose an outdoor pool when that feels like a good option, because the VOCs dissipate more readily outdoors.
  • Shower and use the toilet before entering the pool. The VOCs aren’t from the chlorine, but from the chlorine reacting with bodycare products and urine in the pool. Train your kids to get out of the pool to pee ;-).
  • When done swimming in any pool water, use Swim Spray, a vitamin C spray that washes away the coating of chemicals left on your skin after swimming in treated water. (Note: As with any spray products, be careful not to inhale it or get it in your eyes or mouth.)
  • Know that we are better off swimming in treated pools than in a petri dish, or even not at all. Swimming is an iconic summertime activity and can be an excellent form of exercise year-round!

Be safe and have fun!

Call to set an appointment with me: 720-340-0193

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Vitamin D has gone from a little known alternative medicine subject to mainstream with lots of research supporting its functions and our need for it in the last 10 years. Vitamin D is unlike other vitamins as it actually acts like a hormone in the body. It is vital to overall wellness, and specifically is involved in bone, muscle, heart, lung, brain, and immune system health. The list of conditions with associated vitamin D deficiency is exhaustive, and includes a variety of cancers, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, impaired immune function, cognitive impairment and depression.

Where does vitamin D come from?
Your body manufactures vitamin D through a series of biochemical reactions stimulated by sun exposure. You can also get it from supplementation. You can only get very small, insignificant amounts from foods you eat, such as egg yolks and fatty fish.

But sun exposure causes skin cancer!
Yes, this can also be true, but it is really sun over-exposure that becomes problematic. Due to public health efforts, many folks cover up and use sunscreen before ever entering the sun. While this may be a good strategy to prevent sunburns and potential skin cancer, it leaves a person deficient in vitamin D. Remembering that vitamin D deficiency is linked to impaired immunity and many cancers, this might not be the safest choice.

What should I do?
As with everything, I suggest an individualized approach. Ask yourself what your personal risk factors are: Do you have a family history of skin cancer, light skin and eyes? Do you have a family history of osteoporosis or autoimmunity? Do you experience any chronic inflammation? Think about your risks and your goals and proceed with thoughtfulness. Living in Colorado, you will likely need to supplement vitamin D, at the very least during the winter months depending on your occupation. In my opinion, a combined approach of supplementation and sun exposure is best.

Combined supplementation and sun exposure approach
I encourage my patients to get moderate sun exposure. Exposing broad areas of the body such as the front and back torso is more beneficial than simply the face and arms, for instance, due to surface area. You can intentionally sunbathe for 5-10 minutes a day, or if you are going to be outside anyway, wait 5-10 minutes before applying sunscreen and/or covering up. The key is to never get burned. Additionally, I supplement vitamin D based on test results, and retest at different times of the year in order to adjust supplementation.

For more information on vitamin D, visit The Vitamin D Council.

Check back soon for my upcoming post on Sunscreens.

If you would like to make an appointment, please call 720-340-0193

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