All posts tagged allergies

Solid Food Introduction: A Natural Medicine Approach

It is at the intersection of babies and food that all my areas of expertise collide into one big ball of science, philosophy and love.  I went to med school to earn a degree in naturopathic medicine and I’m just a few years into a much harder program, mommy school, with two boys, ages three and two.  In the midst of all this I’ve also established a career in the natural products industry as a nutrition and natural health strategist.  As it relates to food introduction, I’ve learned important lessons from each of my areas of training.  Here’s a brief highlight:

From naturopathic medicine: Start with vegetables first, then fruits.  Delay the introduction of grains and dairy and any other food that, based on family history, may be an allergen.  Wait until at least six months to begin solid food introduction.  You do not need to begin at four months, you do not need to begin with rice and, assuming you are nursing or using a quality infant formula, babies’ iron needs will be met following the order of introduction listed below.

From mommy training: Introduce less sweet foods first (once your baby tastes bananas it’s all over).  Make single ingredient food in big batches and freeze in ice cube trays to have single servings ready to quickly re-warm and use.  Purchase the book, Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron, and use it as your bible.  In my copy, pages 123, 130 and 135 are especially coated in baby food puree.

From the food industry: Choose certified organic options whenever possible, read labels and avoid products that add sweeteners and any ingredients you don’t recognize.  Try to avoid foods packaged in plastic – glass jars and foil-lined bags are better.  Do your homework and align yourself with brands that match your priorities for people and planet health.  And remember, packaged is convenient (for travel or to have in your bag “just in case”), but homemade is always best.

The following is a suggested order for food introduction.  Introduce a new solid food every three to four days, using the waiting period between foods to watch for signs of sensitivity such as: diaper rash, gas, fussiness and/or increased spit-up.  If you do notice a reaction, make a note and wait for the symptoms to resolve before introducing additional foods.

  • Six months: Beets, spinach, carrots, yams/sweet potato, squash, prunes, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, applesauce, pears, avocado, tahini, Brewer’s yeast
  • Nine months: Peas, String beans, lima beans, lentils, kale, chard, potatoes, turnips, papaya, oatmeal, white rice, quinoa, egg yolk (not white)
  • 12 months: Broccoli, onion, garlic, cilantro and other fresh spices, blackstrap molasses, brown rice, barley, goat’s milk, yogurt, plums, cherries
  • 18 months: Fish, chicken, turkey, lamb, all beans, sea vegetables
  • 21 months: Soy/tofu, citrus fruits, strawberries, nut butters (except peanut)
  • Two years: peanut butter, corn, beef, egg whites, wheat

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Creating a Healthy Home: Tips to Avoid Harmful Chemicals and Make Your Space a Healing Place

In the naturopathic profession, often one of the first challenges a doctor will tackle in working with a new patient is to determine and remove the “barriers to cure” – things that are interfering with the body’s ability to heal. In the past, I’ve written about treatments for common barriers to cure such as insufficient sleep, food sensitivities and seasonal allergies. I’ve learned through many patient experiences that no matter how amazing a medical treatment or how hard I work, a patient will be hard-pressed to truly heal as long as barriers stand in the way.

Often, some of the toughest barriers to remove are allergens and irritants in the home.  Chemical usage in home products has skyrocketed in the past few decades. Everything from laundry detergent to stain-resistant carpets, air-freshener sprays and synthetic-fiber bedding is a source of chemicals that put stress on our livers and immune systems. If you’re not aware of what I’m talking about, here’s a touching video from Healthy Child Healthy World that puts this issue into focus, especially as it impacts children (who are even more susceptible to the negative impacts of these chemicals than most adults).

My mother happens to be a Seattle-based interior designer with a fluency in eco-design and hypo-allergenic products for the home. While visiting her recently, I took some time to ask her for resources and tips she could share for those of us who are looking for ways to create a healthier home environment. The following are highlights from our conversation:

Q: What kinds of materials and treated fabrics are best to avoid in order to minimize chemical exposure?

A: Ideally, avoid anything synthetic. Synthetic materials, such as polyesters and acrylics, contain chemicals that can be harmful.  In addition to the material itself, these types of products are often treated with other chemicals to make them stain-resistant or otherwise “low-maintenance”. Unfortunately, buying convenience can also mean having to live with toxins that can be harmful to health. Terms like “easy care”, “water-repellant”, “no iron”, “anti-cling”, “static-free” and “flame retardant” are all signs that the product may be treated with harmful chemicals.

Q: What are some of the healthiest and least allergenic fibers to look for when choosing fabrics and floor coverings for a home?

A: The easiest rule of thumb is to stick with natural fibers. Linen, hemp, ramie, and abaca are all natural fibers that are hypo-allergenic and tend to be free from additional chemical treatments. When possible, look for organic textiles, not just organically grown materials, but products that are processed using organic-compliant compounds. Sometime a material will be organic, but then it’s processed with a harsh, non-organic dye and that can defeat the health benefits of sourcing the original organic material.

Q: In general terms, how to you suggest approaching the design of an eco-friendly and hypo-allergenic space?

A: Keep the space free of clutter where dust and allergens can accumulate. Opt for wood or tile floors and avoid carpet. Use natural fibers for window coverings, like wood-based plantation shutters instead of heavy fabric curtains. Optimize air circulation by strategically placing doors and windows to optimize air flow and utilize the air-filtering mechanisms of plants to improve air quality.

Q: Are there certain products, brands and resources you can suggest for people who are looking for products or just want more information on how to make smart choices when it comes to creating a health-promoting space?

A: The following are all great resources to check out:

  • O Ecotextiles is a Seattle-based textile company that creates luxurious fabrics that are non-toxic, ethical and sustainable. Not only do I love their products, but they are leading experts on this topic and their website has an incredible amount of information for how to make smart choices for the home.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are harmful chemicals often found in paint and other home-based textiles. This site does a great job of explaining the dangers of VOCs, what products typically contain them and how they can be avoided.
  • Unique Carpets, Ltd. sells eco-friendly floor coverings made from natural fibers that are treated in an environmentally-safe way. If you are looking for floor coverings to soften a space, this brand is a great option to check out.

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Image by Faith Sheridan Interior Design

Stinging Nettle Tea: A Natural Remedy to Fight Spring Allergy Symptoms

I don’t know how you fare this time of year, but it’s usually right around now that I start to experience seasonal allergies.  For me that means itchy eyes and throat and sneezing, especially in the morning.  However, seasonal allergies can present in many ways, with symptoms that span from a mild runny nose to severe chronic headaches.

For the past few years, I’ve mostly just toughed it out (thankfully my symptoms are mild enough that this is an option), but this year I have a natural medicine plan – Stinging Nettle tea.

In the United States, Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is considered a weed by many given the ease with which it grows.  Its funny name comes from the Latin verb urere, meaning “to burn,” because of its urticate (stinging) hairs that cover the stem and underside of the leaves.  So, while walking through a field of this plant is probably not a good idea, using it for its anti-allergic activity can be an effective way to manage seasonal allergy symptoms.  It has a nice amount of published research demonstrating positive benefit for a host of allergic and inflammatory conditions.

Stinging Nettle contains a set of compounds that act on the immune system to provide anti-inflammatory action and block histamine release.  Perhaps you are familiar with over-the-counter medicines called “anti-histamines”?  Well, Stinging Nettle works in a similar fashion, blocking the release of histamine compounds that alert our immune system and stimulate inflammation, redness and all those pesky symptoms those of us who are sensitive to pollen, etc. experience this time of year.

Because Stinging Nettle doesn’t contain caffeine, you can brew it as tea and exchange it for your water source throughout the day.  Here’s my recipe/plan:

  • Add 1tsp dried Stinging Nettle leaf to 16oz hot water.  Steep for 2-3 minutes.
  • Drink right away in the morning when I experience the most symptoms
  • Re-fill tea infuser with hot water and re-use same team leaves a couple more times throughout day (although most of the anti-histamine activity will come from the first steep, there is a mild benefit from re-using the leaves)
  • Continue as I feel like I need symptom relief throughout day

I order my bulk herbs online from Starwest Botanicals, but depending on where you live you may be able to find quality bulk herbs at your local grocery or health food store.  The key to buying dried herbs is to make sure they are quality and have been stored properly.  In the case of nettles, the leaves should be dark and smell slightly sweet.  Just like spices in your kitchen, you want them to have color and scent…that’s a sure sign they are still good.

With any treatment, you should always talk to a licensed health professional to make sure the products and medicines you are using are appropriate for you.

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Image of Urtica dioica by John Tann