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Prenatal Vitamins and Breastfeeding

Prenatal Vitamins and Breastfeeding

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August is National Breastfeeding Month. In honor of this we have interviewed Sherry Torkos, pharmacist, mom and author of The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine to get her insight on what new mom’s should know about vitamins and breastfeeding. Why the recent push toward breastfeeding? Breastfeeding is a great way for mom and baby to bond and it undoubtedly provides the best nutrition for the baby. Research conducted around the world has found that babies who are exclusively breastfed for six months are less likely to develop ear infections, diarrhea and respiratory illnesses, and may be less likely to develop childhood obesity. Is it necessary for a mom to supplement her diet while breastfeeding? Taking prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding is a great way to ensure both mom and baby are getting essential nutrients for growth and development. It is very difficult to get all necessary vitamins and minerals from food alone, especially when it comes to vitamin D and folic acid. Unfortunately the nutrient levels in our food supply have changed diminished over the past several decades and even those who eat a healthful diet may be falling short of key nutrients. Women who are at at particular risk of deficiencies include those who are vegetarian or vegan, those expecting multiples, or those who smoke or have certain chronic diseases such as celiac disease, Crohn’s or colitis. How does a prenatal differ from a regular multivitamin? Prenatal supplements are specially formulated vitamins that provide increased levels of nutrients required to support a healthy pregnancy and reduce the risk of deficiency syndromes in both mother and baby. These nutrients include folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, iron and zinc. What should a woman look for when choosing a prenatal vitamin? Prenatal vitamins vary greatly in quality and the amounts of nutrients they provide. Read the labels carefully and look for the following: A daily dose that provides 1 mg of folic acid, 30 mg iron, 200-250 mg calcium, 800 IU vitamin D and 100 mg vitamin C Easy to swallow vegetable capsules Free of unnecessary chemical additives such artificial colours (dyes), titanium dioxide and potential allergens such as dairy, egg, yeast, and gluten A pretty pink vitamin may look nice but the colour most likely means that the produce contains added dyes Some women experience upset stomach when taking prenatal vitamins. Is there anything that can help lessen this effect? Women that experience nausea and morning sickness during pregnancy can look for a prenatal vitamin that contains ginger. Ginger contains active compounds called gingerols that are helpful in improving the nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy. Unlike the prescription anti-nausea medication used for morning sickness (Diclectin), ginger does not cause drowsiness or dry mouth. Constipation is a common side effect associated with taking prenatal vitamins and this is most often due to the increased amounts of iron in the supplement. To...

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Stress and Weight Gain

Stress and Weight Gain

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If you are trying to slim down for summer, and despite eating healthy and exercising you aren’t getting the results you want, then it is time to consider other factors that can affect your body weight, such as stress. In this two-part blog I discuss how stress contributes to weight gain and what you can do about it. Stress has become a powerful and disabling force that each and every one of us has to deal with every day. How we manage our stress is critical. Without the proper coping mechanisms and lifestyle approaches, stress can take a serious toll on our health. It is well established that chronic stress can contribute to heart disease, mental health issues, insomnia, certain cancers, digestive disorders, weakened immune function accelerated aging, and yes, even weight gain. We may think we are coping okay with stress because we deal with it all the time and we may not even be aware of how stressed out we are. To check your stress level, take a few minutes to complete the eye-opening Stress Index Survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association There are several ways in which stress can contribute to weight gain. Stress can trigger cravings for comfort foods such as cookies and other sweets. These foods are high in calories and since they break down into sugar quickly, they cause dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This triggers hunger, cravings for more sweets, and insulin spikes. Perpetually high insulin levels can lead to insulin resistance (and type 2 diabetes) and it can also impact your waistline. Insulin is a hormone that promotes fat storage−particularly around the midsection. It becomes a vicious cycle because as we gain belly fat, those deep fat cells produce hormones that trigger inflammation and insulin resistance, risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. Another part of the stress-weight gain picture involves cortisol, the stress hormone. During stress, the production of cortisol increases to help the body mobilize energy. And in doing so, fat gets moved from storage deposits and relocated into fat cells deep in the abdomen. As the body is using up energy stores, appetite increases, so you continually feel hungry. To make matters worse, researchers believe that cortisol directly influences food consumption by binding to receptors in the brain (specifically, the hypothalamus) that stimulate cravings for foods high in fat and sugar. Cortisol also indirectly influences appetite by regulating other chemicals that are released during stress, such as CRH (corticotrophin releasing hormone), leptin, and neuropeptide Y (NPY). High levels of NPY and CRH, and reduced levels of leptin, have been shown to stimulate appetite. Lastly, levels of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), testosterone, and growth hormone are reduced in response to stress. These hormones are involved in regulating muscle mass and metabolism, so when levels go down, it is bad news for your waistline as it leads to muscle...

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Picking a Probiotic

Picking a Probiotic

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Looking to boost your beneficial bacteria with a probiotic supplement? The options seem endless. With so many products available how do you choose a good probiotic? What Are Probiotics? Probiotics are friendly bacteria that offer many health benefits from aiding digestion to supporting the immune system. When you have enough good bacteria in your gut, it helps your body to absorb vitamins and nutrients from your food properly. They help to replace good bacteria that was lost through taking antibiotics. Some research also shows positive effects of probiotics for people with asthma, allergies, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, and skin disorders like eczema. Recent research at UCLA also shows a connection between healthy bacteria and the brain’s neurotransmitter function. If you’re like most women, you’ve had the experience of stress or other intense emotions affecting your digestion. What they are now discovering is that your gut can also affect your brain. Depression, anxiety, stress and potentially even learning abilities can be improved through a balanced gut. What to Look For In order to be effective in supplemental form probiotics need to be: Viable (live) at the time of consumption, in sufficient quantity (number of bacteria), and they need to provide the right strain (type) of bacteria) that has been clinically studied and shown to offer health benefits in humans. There is huge variance among probiotics supplements in terms of quality, potency and storage requirements. While many companies boast a high count of bacteria on their label, more is not necessarily better. What is more important is that the bacteria are live at the time of consumption and they make it into the gastrointestinal tract where they can implant and confer benefits. Very few probiotics guarantee a specific number of bacteria upon expiry of the product because so many factors can cause degradation of the bacteria, such as heat, light and moisture. Keep Your Cool? Some products require refrigeration and suggest that this makes their product better. This is not true. Products that require refrigeration may have less stability and greater sensitivity to destruction by a change in environment (heat, light). Each time a bottle is taken out of the refrigerator, opened and then closed and returned to the refrigerator moisture can enter the bottle and this can cause the bacteria to deteriorate. Unfortunately, marketing tactics can be misleading and cloud the science. Saved By Sauerkraut Adding fermented foods to your daily dietary intake is an excellent way to keep your bacteria balanced.  But if you’re already off balance, you’ll need to add a probiotic supplement to your daily regime in order to see benefits. Great fermented food choices: Sauerkraut (make sure it is not pasteurized or you’ll have lost the good bacteria) Live-culture yogurt (check the labels) Pickles made without vinegar Miso Soup Gouda or other soft cheeses that are not aged   When it comes to choosing a quality probiotic...

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Fighting the Flu

Fighting the Flu

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Winter is upon us and ‘tis the season to be sneezing! Winter colds and flu bring on days of miserable symptoms, with sore throat, coughing and congestion, and they are also a leading cause of lost work and school days. What does weather have to do with it? The risk of getting sick during the winter months is greater, not because of the cold weather, but because we spend more time indoors, closer together and the low humidity during the winter months makes it easier for viruses to thrive. Is it a cold or flu? Colds and flu are both caused by viruses. Colds are typically caused by rhinoviruses and the influenza virus causes the flu. While some of the symptoms are similar, such as aching, sore throat and congestion, here is where they differ: the flu causes a sudden onset of severe aching, pain, headache and high fever (39-40°). Colds develop more slowly, symptoms are milder and they don’t usually cause fever. Who is at greatest risk of getting sick? Children get the most infections, typically nine to 12 bouts a year. The reason for this is that they have poor hand-washing practices; more hand-mouth contact and their immune systems are still developing – they haven’t developed resistance to viruses. Other groups at greater risk of getting sick include the elderly and those with a weakened immune system due to chronic diseases such as diabetes or autoimmune disease, or taking medications that hamper immunity. Our immune system is a complex network of cells, glands and tissues that is continuously at work to fight off potential invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Many factors can hamper immune function such as stress, smoking, and drinking high amounts of alcohol. Steering clear of these lifestyle habits will put your immune system in a better position to fight off potential bugs. So what can you do to stay healthy this season? Be prepared. There are a number of lifestyle strategies, including foods, supplements and other measures that you can take to bolster your defenses and cut your risk of getting sick this season. Practice good hand hygiene. Cold and flu viruses are highly contagious and spread by close contact, for example if you are next to someone who has a virus and they cough or sneeze you may inhale those virus droplets and develop an infection. Viruses can also be spread by hand-to-hand contact. For example, touching an object that has been contaminated with a virus such as a phone, doorknob or keyboard and then rubbing your eyes, nose or mouth. Washing your hands frequently with soap and water can not only protect you, but if you are sick it also helps to prevent the spread to others. Get adequate sleep. During sleep our body recovers and regenerates and produces many important compounds for the health of our immune system. Exercise regularly....

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The ABCs of Getting ZZZ

The ABCs of Getting ZZZ

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If you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, wake too early or feel tired, groggy and have difficulty concentrating during the day, you could have a sleep disorder, such as insomnia. According to recent reports one-third of adults suffer occasionally from insomnia and 14 percent experience chronic insomnia. Sleep is absolutely vital for good health. It is a fundamental need for survival, just like food and water. Yet it is often compromised to accommodate a busy schedule. There are many misconceptions surrounding sleep. Contrary to common belief, if you miss sleep during the week you can’t catch up on the weekend. And if you think that sleep is just a passive state you may be surprised to know that during sleep our bodies are actually producing hormones and working on important elements for repair and regeneration. The consequences of poor or inadequate sleep go well beyond just feeling tired during the day. Getting less than six hours sleep is now associated with many serious health problems such as heart disease, depression, weakened immune function, headaches, memory loss and even low libido and weight gain. Aside from a busy life, many factors can hamper our ability to get a good night’s rest, including: stress hormonal imbalances (such as menopause) use of alcohol or caffeine side effects of drugs working shift work and more. As a quick fix approach many turn to prescription sleeping pills. In fact, the use of these drugs in our sleepless society has almost doubled over the past decade. While these drugs may help put you to sleep, they do not provide a long-term solution and they are associated with several side effects including loss of short-term memory, next day drowsiness and sleepwalking. When used chronically, they become less effective, can result in dependency and can actually worsen sleep quality. To sleep better without the risks of sleeping pills, try a few simple lifestyle changes. Here are some A, B, Cs to have better quality Zs: A – Allow Allow adequate time for sleep and make sleep a priority each day. Experts recommend 7-8 hours for adults. B – Bedtime Bedtime routines help develop good sleep hygiene. Try going to bed around the same time each evening. Do relaxing activities at night such as reading, stretching or meditation. This will help to signal your brain that it’s time to sleep. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and sugar in the evening; these are common sleep disrupters. C – Consider Consider a supplement. Sleep supplements  can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Try femMED’s Sleep formula. D – Darkness Darkness can help by promoting your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep and wake cycles. Make your room dark by using light blocking shades. Keep electronics such as cell phones and computers out of your bedroom. If you are struggling with persistent problems sleeping, despite making...

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Tips for Reducing Your Risk of Heart Disease

Tips for Reducing Your Risk of Heart Disease

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Heart disease is considered to be largely preventable. Below are 10 simple tips for reducing your risk of heart disease: 1.Take 10,000 steps a day. Use a pedometer and gradually increase the number of steps you take each day. Exercise fights heart disease in numerous ways: it lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, improves circulation, reduces stress and strengthens the heart. 2. Get another hour sleep. A recent Sleep in America poll reported that less than half of adults are getting adequate sleep (7-8hrs). Lack so sleep can raise blood pressure, trigger inflammation, and promote atherosclerosis. Getting 6 hours of sleep or less per night has been found to increase risk of heart disease in women, independent of other risk factors (such as smoking). 3. Eat more fish and garlic and drink green tea. These foods contain various compounds that support heart health. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish can help reduce triglycerides and inflammation and prevent clotting. Garlic and green tea contain powerful antioxidants that can improve several aspects of heart health. Consider supplements of garlic and fish oil to complement your diet. 4. Choose whole grains over refined products. Studies show that highly refined carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index, such as white bread, are worse for your heart than foods high in saturated fat, like red meat and butter. Whole grains contain more fiber and are digested more slowly. Try oatmeal and chia seed for breakfast; soluble fiber in oats and chia can help lower cholesterol levels and support weight management. Swap potato chips in favour of tortilla chips. Tortilla chips have more fibre and less fat and if you choose ones that are fortified with extra fiber (flax, chia, bean flour), they can actually help lower your LDL cholesterol. Dip your tortilla chips in fresh salsa. The lycopene in tomatoes can help lower blood pressure. 5. Eat more brightly coloured vegetables and fruits. The antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre can support the health of your blood vessels, improve circulation, help reduce cholesterol and reduce free radical damage. Canada’s food guide recommends 7-10 servings for adults (based on age and gender) yet according to a recent survey by Statistics Canada only 40% of Canadians are consuming five or more servings daily. If your diet falls short, take a multivitamin/mineral complex to ensure you are getting all essential nutrients. 6. Make better fat choices. Cook with palm fruit oil rather than olive oil. Olive oil is great to use in salad dressings or add to foods after it is cooked, but it is not heat stable and its beneficial properties are lost when it is heated to high temperatures. Palm fruit oil is heat stable and contains potent antioxidants called tocotrienols that are good for the heart and the brain. NIH-funded research show tocotrienols found in palm fruit oil may reduce damaging effects of stroke and it...

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Choosing a Prenatal Vitamin – What Every Expectant Woman Needs to Know

Choosing a Prenatal Vitamin – What Every Expectant Woman Needs to Know

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Good nutrition is key for good health. This is particularly important during pregnancy to ensure both the mother and the growing baby receive all the essential nutrients for proper growth and development. However, even those who eat healthy may not be getting enough nutrients because many factors can deplete nutrients from the body. According to reports 20 to 30 percent of pregnant women have a vitamin and mineral deficiency, and without supplementation, roughly 75 percent of pregnant women would be deficient in at least one vitamin. This is why prenatal vitamins are essential for women before, during and after pregnancy—to fill in dietary gaps and prevent deficiencies. Prenatal supplements differ from regular multivitamins in that they are specially formulated with increased levels of certain nutrients that are required to support a healthy pregnancy and reduce the risk of deficiency syndromes in both mother and baby. These nutrients include folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, iron and zinc. Folic acid is particularly crucial for women to take in the early stages of pregnancy because studies have shown that it can reduce the risk of neural tube defects, including spina bifida by 70 percent.  Since neural tube defects occur within the first 28 days of conception, doctors recommend that women planning to get pregnant take a daily prenatal supplement that contains folic acid. There are other health benefits associated with taking prenatal vitamins with folic acid. Researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto have found that prenatal multivitamins fortified with folic acid can reduce the risk of three common childhood cancers: leukemia, brain tumours and neuroblastoma and they can also reduce the risk of a wide range of serious birth defects, including cardiovascular and limb defects, cleft palate, oral cleft, and urinary tract anomalies. Women who suffer with morning sickness should look for a prenatal that contains ginger. Clinical research has found that ginger is safe and effective for reducing nausea during pregnancy. Unlike the prescription anti-nausea medication (Diclectin), ginger does not cause drowsiness or dry mouth. Prenatal supplements vary greatly in quality and composition. Read the labels carefully and look for these key attributes when choosing a product: A minimum of 0.4 to 1 mg of folic acid, 30 mg iron, 200-250 mg calcium, 800 IU vitamin D and 100 mg vitamin C along with Easy to swallow vegetable capsules Free of chemical additives such artificial colours (dyes), titanium dioxide and potential allergens such as dairy, egg, yeast, and gluten Prenatal vitamins should be taken throughout pregnancy and during breastfeeding. Take with a main meal and a full glass of water. As a pharmacist, health writer, and new mom, my top recommendation is femMED’s Pregnancy + Ginger formula. It contains all the essential nutrients along with ginger to combat morning sickness. Unlike most other prenatals, femMED’s Pregnancy and Pregnancy + Ginger formulas are free of chemical fillers, dyes and...

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How Exercise Can Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk

How Exercise Can Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk

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Regular exercise is known to lower a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. This has been well documented in a number of studies, but the way in which exercise provides protection has not been clearly understood. Exciting new research released recently has revealed how exercise can guard against breast cancer: vigorous exercise has a positive effect on how estrogen is broken down (metabolized) in the body. It is estimated that about 80 percent of breast cancer tumours are estrogen-dependent, meaning they require estrogen to grow. Certain estrogen metabolites, or breakdown products, can speed tumour growth, while others are relatively benign and possibly protective. In this new study, researchers recruited more than 300 healthy, yet sedentary (in active), women from 18 to 35 years old. Roughly half of them were randomly assigned to a vigorous exercise program of 30 minutes a day for five days a week. The remaining women served as a control group and continued with their sedentary lifestyle. Urine samples were collected from the participants so researchers could measure levels of estrogen and estrogen metabolites. The researchers looked at the ratio of two specific metabolites: 2-hydroxyestrone (2-OHE1) and 16 alpha-hydroxyestrone (16-alpha-OHE1). The metabolite 2-OHE1 is relatively benign with a weak estrogen effect while 16-alpha-OHE1 is considered potentially carcinogenic. Several previous studies have found that as urinary levels of 2-OHE1 increase and levels of 16-alpha-OHE1 decrease, the risk for breast cancer decreases. The ratio of these metabolites, 2OHE1 to 16-alpha-OHE1, is known as the estrogen metabolite ratio (EMR). After four months, the women in the vigorous exercise group had a much more favourable ratio of these two metabolites than the sedentary participants, according to the study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. This study adds to the body of evidence supporting the value of strategies that can improve a woman’s EMR. A previous study conducted on femMED’s Breast Health formula found that use of this supplement for a month period of time had a positive effect on EMR. This was the first time a supplement had been studied for its potential protective effects against the biomarkers associated with breast cancer.   Sherry Torkos Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist, author, certified fitness instructor, and health enthusiast who enjoys sharing her passion with others. Sherry graduated with honors from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1992. Since that time she has been practicing holistic pharmacy in the Niagara area. Her philosophy of practice is to integrate conventional and complementary therapies to optimize health and prevent disease. Sherry has won several national pharmacy awards for providing excellence in patient care. As a leading health expert, Sherry has delivered hundreds of lectures to medical professionals and the public. She is frequently interviewed on radio and TV talk shows throughout North America and abroad. Sherry has authored fourteen books & booklets, including The Glycemic Index Made Simple and...

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Menopause Weight Gain

Menopause Weight Gain

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Menopause brings about many changes for women; some of these changes, like the end of the menstrual cycle are welcomed and others, such as hot flashes and weight gain are not. There are various supplements and strategies that can help manage those troublesome hot flashes and night sweats. But for many women, it is much more challenging to keep body weight under control. There are many factors that can contribute to weight gain in menopause. Hormones are partly to blame. A lowering of estrogen and testosterone can cause women to store fat. Lifestyle and genetic factors are also involved. Stress also tends to become more prevalent in menopause. Whether triggered by personal, financial, or health reasons, stress impacts weight in a number of ways. Rising levels of the stress hormone cortisol make it easier to pack on weight, particularly around the mid-section. Stress may also trigger unhealthy habits, such as overeating and eating unhealthy foods (comfort foods). It also has a negative effect on sleep, and lack of sleep is a recently recognized factor that can lead to weight gain, along with many other health problems. Muscle mass also declines with age and since muscle helps drive metabolism and calorie burning, if you have less muscle you will burn fewer calories. Despite all these factors that seem to be stacked against you, it is possible to keep weight under control by making some simple lifestyle modifications. Boost muscle mass. Do weight training or resistance exercises to help build and maintain muscle mass. Increasing your muscle mass will raise your metabolism, so you will burn more calories and you will develop a leaner physique. Joining a gym is great, but if you are pressed for time/money, there are plenty of exercises that you can do at home, such as push-ups, squats, lunges, and chest presses. Make better dietary choices. You don’t have to count calories or follow a restrictive diet, just make better choices and limit portion sizes. For example, start your day with oatmeal and berries, a large salad with chickpeas or grilled chicken for lunch and baked fish with mixed veggies for dinner. Choose healthy snacks between meals such as nuts/seeds, yogurt, dark chocolate and healthy energy bars, such as Luna Bar or Larabar. Use supplements to complement your diet. Supplements that provide soluble fibre, such as femMED Weight Management, can help to reduce appetite and cravings and promote better blood sugar control – all factors that are helpful for managing weight. These strategies will not only benefit your waistline, but they promote better heart health and improve your overall well-being. You Write Is it true that eating a lot of meat substitutions (tofu, soy etc.) raise/effect estrogen levels & weight gain? Consumption of soy foods such as tofu is not associated with weight gain. In fact, many studies have found that vegetarian or plant-based diets, which include...

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Five Surprising Strategies to Save Your Heart

Five Surprising Strategies to Save Your Heart

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By Sherry Torkos, Pharmacist and author of Saving Women’s Hearts and The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine February is heart health awareness month, so this is the perfect time to talk about what we can do to protect ourselves against heart disease. We all know that it is important to exercise, eat healthy and avoid smoking, but you may be surprised to learn about these additional strategies that can help prevent heart disease: Get another hour sleep Why? Lack of sleep has been shown to raise blood pressure, trigger inflammation and promote clotting and atherosclerosis. All of these factors raise the risk for heart disease. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Make sleep a priority for better health. Stress less Why? Stress is a powerful risk factor for heart disease. Stress raises blood pressure and cholesterol, triggers inflammation and promotes blood clots. To better manage stress, try deep breathing, meditation, yoga and get regular exercise. Add more colourful fruits and vegetables to your diet. Why? Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables contain plant pigments, which are rich in antioxidants. These antioxidants offer a number of health benefits. They can help fight free radical damage, support the health of your blood vessels, and reduce inflammation. Choose smart supplements Why? It is difficult to get enough essential nutrients from diet alone. Certain nutrients are known to play an important role in heart health, such as the omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish. Omega-3s lower triglycerides, reduce blood pressure, fight inflammation and prevent clotting. Look for a supplement that pairs omega-3 fatty acids along with coenzyme Q10 (a vital antioxidant), such as femMED Heart Health. Laugh more Why? Laughing relaxes and expands the blood vessels, which protects the heart. On the contrary, negative emotions such as anger, hostility and pessimism are associated with increased heart disease risk. Sherry Torkos Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist, author, certified fitness instructor, and health enthusiast who enjoys sharing her passion with others. Sherry graduated with honors from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1992. Since that time she has been practicing holistic pharmacy in the Niagara area. Her philosophy of practice is to integrate conventional and complementary therapies to optimize health and prevent disease. Sherry has won several national pharmacy awards for providing excellence in patient care. As a leading health expert, Sherry has delivered hundreds of lectures to medical professionals and the public. She is frequently interviewed on radio and TV talk shows throughout North America and abroad. Sherry has authored fourteen books & booklets, including The Glycemic Index Made Simple and Breaking the Age Barrier. Her most recent book, The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine has become a national best-seller. For more information, visit:...

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The Best Prenatal Vitamins. What They Should and Shouldn’t Contain.

The Best Prenatal Vitamins. What They Should and Shouldn’t Contain.

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A leading pharmacist explains why you should be cautious about some of the “best” prenatal vitamins, and offers some tips for avoiding hidden toxins. If you are pregnant, your primary concern is your baby’s health. You take great care in choosing nutritious food, getting enough exercise and avoiding alcohol and tobacco. But have you thought about taking a close look at the label on your prenatal vitamin? Even with some of the “best” prenatal vitamins, you may be swallowing chemicals, dyes and potential allergens along with the nutrients you and your baby need. “Approximately 20-30 percent of pregnant women have a vitamin and mineral deficiency, and without supplementation roughly 75 percent of them would be deficient in at least one vitamin,” says Sherry Torkos, pharmacist, fitness instructor and author. However, when it comes to choosing the best prenatal vitamins, women assume that the ingredients are totally safe. That may not be true. “Many popular brands of prenatal vitamins have several added ingredients such as binders, coatings, colors, disintegrants, emulsifiers, fillers, flavorings, flow agents, humectants, preservatives, sweeteners and thickeners. artificial colors and fillers,” Torkos explains. “Some of these ingredients, such as titanium dioxide, a coloring agent and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)) an additive to preserve color, odor and taste, are associated with adverse health effects and others, such as red dye (FD&C red no. 40), are potential allergens. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a prenatal vitamin. It simply means that you need to be careful and choose one of  the best prenatal vitamins that don’t include unwanted ingredients.”  What you may need to add to your diet Prenatal vitamins are important for the pregnant woman and are not the same as regular multivitamins. Even the Food & Drug Administration now states that pregnancy and breastfeeding are good reasons to consider taking a vitamin supplement. Torkos agrees, explaining that prenatal vitamins contain higher amounts of certain nutrients a pregnant woman needs to support her growing baby: Folic acid: Needed for the formation of new red blood cells and to prevent neural tube defects (spina bifida). Calcium: Needed to support the baby’s developing bones and teeth. “If your intake of calcium is inadequate, the growing baby can pull from your stores (bones) causing calcium-loss and increase your risk of osteoporosis.” Iron: Needed for red blood cell expansion in you and your baby. What to avoid in your diet Torkos warns that women should take extra precautions during pregnancy to avoid ingestion of potentially harmful chemical and toxins, in addition to those that might be somewhat hidden in their prenatal vitamins. These include: Farmed fish: “While omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system, women have to limit their intake of farmed fish because of mercury, dioxins and PCBs. Wild fish still contains these chemicals but in lesser amounts.” Most prescription and OTC drugs: “Many drugs...

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Lifestyle Suggestions for Healthy Hair

Lifestyle Suggestions for Healthy Hair

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Here are some hair tips you can adopt to ensure your locks look lovely. Regular exercise and healthy sleep habits will increase circulatory and overall health, promoting healthy hair. Reduce the frequency of washing and drying your hair. Use a gentle shampoo and conditioner. Avoid using hot water and hair dryers or curling irons whenever possible. Avoid exposing hair to chlorinated pool water or any other chemical solutions (perms and dyes). Do not overbrush your hair. Limit grooming and always be gentle when brushing or combing hair. Keep braids and ponytails loose. Give yourself a weekly deep conditioning treatment and scalp massage to protect the hair shaft and stimulate new hair follicle growth. Wear a wide-brim hat when outdoors to protect your scalp and hair from the sun’s damaging rays. Don’t smoke. According to one report, smokers were four times more likely to have grey hair than non-smokers and were more prone to hair loss. Even though hair is not a living tissue, it is important to supply nutrients to the hair follicles in the scalp. While there are no foods that directly stimulate increased hair growth, choose foods that supply the body with a rich supply of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre, and protein. Drastic Diets Stunt Hair Growth Severely reducing calorie intake (less than 1,200 calories per day) can trigger sudden hair loss (telogen effluvium). When the body is deprived of sufficient protein, through strict dieting and calorie restriction, it will shut down all production of hair in order to divert all of its energies toward conserving vital body organs. The body will save protein by shifting healthy hairs that are in a normal growth phase (anagen) into a sudden resting phase. What to Eat and Not Eat for Healthy Hair   Foods to Include Ensure adequate protein intake as protein is necessary for hair growth. Choose lean sources of protein (fish, poultry, lean cuts of meat, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy). Meat, poultry, and fish also contain iron, which is required for proper hair growth. Fish and flaxseed contain essential fatty acids necessary for proper hair growth. Nuts and seeds; almonds contain magnesium, which is important for hair growth. The outer skin of plants such as potatoes, cucumbers, green and red peppers, and sprouts can strengthen hair because they are rich in the mineral silica. Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are good sources of essential nutrients and fibre.   Foods to avoid: Caffeine and alcohol can deplete the body of nutrients and also raise adrenal levels, which can trigger hair loss. Foods high in sugar can raise cortisol levels (a stress hormone) and cause the body to produce more androgens, promoting hair loss. High intake of salt has been linked to hair loss. Foods high in salt include processed and snack foods, deli meats, and the salt shaker. Reduce or eliminate pro-inflammatory foods: saturated fat (fatty meats...

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Is there anything natural to take for PCOS rather than Diane 35?

Is there anything natural to take for PCOS rather than Diane 35?

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PCOS is a condition characterized by hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, excessive hair growth and obesity. One of the key features with PCOS is insulin resistance, which can affect fertility, cause weight issues and even increase heart disease risk. It is not known whether PCOS causes insulin resistance or the other way around. Birth control pills such as Diane 35 are often used because they lower levels of circulating androgens (hormones that are associated with hair growth and oily skin). The concern with taking products such as Diane 35 are the side effects such as low libido, mood swings, depression, headaches and bloating to name a few. Here are some things that you can do naturally to help improve PCOS: Follow a low glycemic index (GI) diet and get regular exercise because both of these things can improve insulin sensitivity. All our hormones are interconnected, and if something is out of balance (like insulin) it can affect other aspects of health, such as weight and fertility. A low GI diet means avoiding all refined/white flour products such as white bread, pasta, rice and baked goods. Instead have the whole grains (brown bread/rice/pasta). Cut down on sugar and juice. Eat small frequent meals with low GI carbs, healthy fats like olive oil, fish and avocado, and lean protein. For exercise aim for 30 minutes to one hour of moderate intensity activity daily. Exercise can help improve body composition, insulin sensitivity and androgen levels and it may help restore ovulation. For supplements I would recommend: Hormone Balance by femMED – contains ingredients that help to balance hormones Chromium 200mcg daily to improve insulin sensitivity Fish oil (omega-3) 1000mg twice daily For more information refer to this article: http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/polycystic-ovary-syndrome.cfm Graafian Follicle Cumulus Oophorus in Human Ovary Pathological and histological images courtesy of Ed Uthman at flickr. Sherry Torkos Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist, author, certified fitness instructor, and health enthusiast who enjoys sharing her passion with others. Sherry graduated with honors from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1992. Since that time she has been practicing holistic pharmacy in the Niagara area. Her philosophy of practice is to integrate conventional and complementary therapies to optimize health and prevent disease. Sherry has won several national pharmacy awards for providing excellence in patient care. As a leading health expert, Sherry has delivered hundreds of lectures to medical professionals and the public. She is frequently interviewed on radio and TV talk shows throughout North America and abroad. Sherry has authored fourteen books & booklets, including The Glycemic Index Made Simple and Breaking the Age Barrier. Her most recent book, The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine has become a national best-seller. For more information, visit:...

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Hormonal Imbalance in Women and Fibroids

Hormonal Imbalance in Women and Fibroids

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Is there something that will help shrink or get rid of fibroids? Fibroids are non-cancerous tumours or growths of the uterus. They are very common – about half of women have fibroids, and in many cases they go undetected until they grow large enough that they cause symptoms such as urinary frequency, pelvic pain or heavy bleeding during menstruation. Fibroids usually grow slowly and in most cases treatment is not necessary. Fibroid growth is stimulated by estrogen, so they eventually shrink and go away when women go through menopause. If your fibroids are causing you discomfort there are a few things that you can try to shrink them: Diet – eat more cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussel spouts. They contain compounds that help the liver detoxify estrogen. Choose organic foods to avoid pesticides ingestion (pesticides can act as endocrine disruptors and worsen estrogen dominance). Supplements – Hormone Balance by femMED helps to correct hormonal imbalance in women resulting in estrogen dominance. There is also a product called Breast Health that contains calcium D-glucarate and indole-3-carbinol and these ingredients assist in the detoxification and elimination of estrogen. Acupuncture can help relieve pelvic pain and swelling and it also reduces stress (stress can be a contributing factor to hormonal changes that worsen fibroid symptoms). Exercise regularly to reduce stress and maintain a healthy body weight. If you carry excess body fat, that can serve as a reservoir for estrogen. Sherry Torkos Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist, author, certified fitness instructor, and health enthusiast who enjoys sharing her passion with others. Sherry graduated with honors from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1992. Since that time she has been practicing holistic pharmacy in the Niagara area. Her philosophy of practice is to integrate conventional and complementary therapies to optimize health and prevent disease. Sherry has won several national pharmacy awards for providing excellence in patient care. As a leading health expert, Sherry has delivered hundreds of lectures to medical professionals and the public. She is frequently interviewed on radio and TV talk shows throughout North America and abroad. Sherry has authored fourteen books & booklets, including The Glycemic Index Made Simple and Breaking the Age Barrier. Her most recent book, The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine has become a national best-seller. For more information, visit:...

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Is there any way to regulate my thyroid without medication if I have hypothyroidism?

Is there any way to regulate my thyroid without medication if I have hypothyroidism?

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 It depends on your individual situation and the severity of your hypothyroidism. The majority of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s disease, which is an autoimmune condition that causes destruction of the thyroid gland over time. As this destruction progresses, the thyroid gland becomes less and less able to produce enough hormones to meet metabolic needs. This is reflected in an increase in thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). The thyroid gland produces two hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroixine (T4).  It is important to know that many people with borderline hypothyroidism are symptomatic but have blood tests may show thyroid hormone levels (T3 and T4) that are slightly low or even within the normal range, or just a slightly elevated TSH. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, dry hair/skin, brittle nails, easy bruising, cold intolerance, constipation, low libido, headache, joint aching, and slow heart rate. If you have mild or borderline hypothyroidism, which is quite common, then taking supplements that help support the body’s production of thyroid hormone may be helpful. Guggul is a supplement that increases production of thyroid hormone (T3). Many nutrients are required to produce thyroid hormone such as vitamins C, E, A and the B-vitamins. Selenium is reu=qurid for the conversion of T4 to T3. Ashwaganda is an herbal product that also helps boost thyroid function. For many people with moderate to severe hypothyroidism thyroid hormone medication is often required. There are several different types of thyroid medications such as the synthetic forms of thyroid hormone (Synthroid and Eltroxin), which provide the body with T4. There is also Cytomel, which provides the body with active T3 however it needs to be taken three times daily. Lastly there is natural thyroid hormone, which can be made at a compounding pharmacy. Sherry Torkos Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist, author, certified fitness instructor, and health enthusiast who enjoys sharing her passion with others. Sherry graduated with honors from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1992. Since that time she has been practicing holistic pharmacy in the Niagara area. Her philosophy of practice is to integrate conventional and complementary therapies to optimize health and prevent disease. Sherry has won several national pharmacy awards for providing excellence in patient care. As a leading health expert, Sherry has delivered hundreds of lectures to medical professionals and the public. She is frequently interviewed on radio and TV talk shows throughout North America and abroad. Sherry has authored fourteen books & booklets, including The Glycemic Index Made Simple and Breaking the Age Barrier. Her most recent book, The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine has become a national best-seller. For more information, visit:...

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Trouble Sleeping Can Have Many Causes

Trouble Sleeping Can Have Many Causes

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I have had trouble sleeping well for the longest while. What can I do? It is important to figure out what is causing your trouble sleeping. Many factors can affect quality sleep such as stress, diet, activity level, use of medication (antidepressants, blood pressure pills and many other drugs) and hormonal imbalances. Here are some general tips for getting a good night sleep: Set aside at least 7 to 8 hours for sleep. Leaving only 5 or 6 hours may make you feel stressed and impact your ability to fall asleep. Establish a regular bed and wake time and try to follow this routine even on the weekends. Do relaxing activities before bedtime – read a book, listen to relaxing music or have a warm bath. Reserve your bedroom for intimacy and sleep only; don’t work in your bedroom. Make your bedroom dark, quiet and comfortable. If you live near a busy street or have other noise to content with, problems dealing with any type of noise consider a white noise generator. No need to spend a lot of money on an electronic system, an old fan puts out great white noise. White noise masks disruptive noises. Avoid bright light around the house before bed. Using dimmer switches in living rooms and bathrooms for a few hours before bed can be helpful. Darkness helps the brain produce melatonin. (Dimmer switches can be set to maximum brightness for morning routines.) Exercise regularly early in the day. Vigorous activity in the evening can be stimulating and impair sleep. Don’t smoke or consume alcohol– nicotine is a stimulant and impairs your ability to fall asleep and have a restful sleep and alcohol may help you to get to sleep but it will cause you to wake up throughout the night. Stay away from stimulants like caffeine. This will help you get deep sleep which is most refreshing. If you take any caffeine, take it in the morning. Avoid all stimulants in the evening, including chocolate, caffeinated sodas, and caffeinated teas. They will delay sleep and increase arousals during the night. To avoid nighttime waking to use the bathroom reduce fluids after 6pm. Consider acupuncture, massage, yoga and meditation to promote relaxation If you can’t get to sleep for over 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing in dim light till you are sleepy. Prescription sedatives should only be used when all else fails as they are addictive and cause numerous side effects, including impairment in short term memory. Natural sleeping aids can help without the side effects that prescription sleeping pills can. Look for a product with the following ingredients: 5-HTP: 5-hydroxytryptophan increases serotonin and melatonin levels which promotes relaxation and better sleep L-theanine: an amino acid found in green tea which reduces stress, promotes relaxation and improves sleep Melatonin: a hormone naturally secreted by the brain that regulates our sleep/wake...

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Can green tea or soy reduce risk of breast cancer?

Can green tea or soy reduce risk of  breast cancer?

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What about the estrogen in green tea and soy for increasing breast lumps?  My GP has told me not to drink green tea. Green tea does not contain any estrogen. In fact, some research has suggested that it may actually help in estrogen metabolism and reduce reduce risk of  breast cancer. Soy contains isoflavones which are known as phytoestrogens because they can bind to estrogen receptors and exert weak estrogenic effects. Soy foods have been shown in studies to offer many health benefits including providing protection against osteoporosis (increasing bone density), reducing risk of heart disease with beneficial effects on cholesterol, platelets and blood vessels, and relieving menopause symptoms. According to most human research, eating whole soy foods does not increase risk of breast or endometrial cancer in postmenopausal women, and may even be protective.  There is also some evidence that soy may be beneficial for cyclic breast pain and improve fibrocystic breast conditions. However, consuming purified soy products and supplements is a different matter. A study published in Carcinogenesis suggests that not only is the cancer-preventive ability of soy foods markedly reduced in highly purified soy products and supplements, but that such processed foods can stimulate the growth of pre-existing estrogen-dependent breast tumors.   Image courtesy: By 375antoine (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons Sherry Torkos Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist, author, certified fitness instructor, and health enthusiast who enjoys sharing her passion with others. Sherry graduated with honors from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1992. Since that time she has been practicing holistic pharmacy in the Niagara area. Her philosophy of practice is to integrate conventional and complementary therapies to optimize health and prevent disease. Sherry has won several national pharmacy awards for providing excellence in patient care. As a leading health expert, Sherry has delivered hundreds of lectures to medical professionals and the public. She is frequently interviewed on radio and TV talk shows throughout North America and abroad. Sherry has authored fourteen books & booklets, including The Glycemic Index Made Simple and Breaking the Age Barrier. Her most recent book, The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine has become a national best-seller. For more information, visit:...

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Vitamins and Supplements for Women

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How long does it take for vitamins and supplements for women to start working or be effective? It really depends on what supplement you are taking, the dosage, and your system (how your body processes the supplement). With certain supplements, such as multivitamins or fish oil, you may not necessarily feel any different, however taking these products helps correct deficiencies, ensures that your nutritional needs are met and may help to protect against certain chronic diseases. In comparison to pharmaceutical drugs, vitamins and supplements for women are typically very gentle on your system and as such require a longer period of consecutive use for optimal results. With herbal products that are taken therapeutically, such as Menopause Relief which contains Black cohosh, you may start to notice benefits (relief of menopause symptoms) in a few weeks. Since everyone is different and every herbal remedy is different there is no one answer to the amount of time a vitamin or herbal remedy will take for noticeable results.  With femMED products we recommend 3-4 weeks of consecutive use for best results. Sherry Torkos Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist, author, certified fitness instructor, and health enthusiast who enjoys sharing her passion with others. Sherry graduated with honors from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1992. Since that time she has been practicing holistic pharmacy in the Niagara area. Her philosophy of practice is to integrate conventional and complementary therapies to optimize health and prevent disease. Sherry has won several national pharmacy awards for providing excellence in patient care. As a leading health expert, Sherry has delivered hundreds of lectures to medical professionals and the public. She is frequently interviewed on radio and TV talk shows throughout North America and abroad. Sherry has authored fourteen books & booklets, including The Glycemic Index Made Simple and Breaking the Age Barrier. Her most recent book, The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine has become a national best-seller. For more information, visit:...

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Top Five Problems During Pregnancy – And What To Do About Them

Top Five Problems During Pregnancy – And What To Do About Them

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Pregnant? You may soon be trying to cope with the top five problems during pregnancy. Good news! These survival kit essentials will help get you through. Pregnancy can be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life, yet most women seem united when discussing their most common discomforts. From back aches to morning sickness, hemorrhoids, varicose veins and heartburn, spread the word to anyone you know who is pregnant that there are ways to get relief from these symptoms without risking harm to their  growing baby. We interviewed Dr. Sherry Torkos about these top five problems during pregnancy, and she had some excellent advice for us. For back aches: “There are a number of really good tactics. Wearing a pregnancy support takes the pressure off your back and belly. There also are stretches and exercises that alleviate back pain. Try not to stand in one position for long periods of time. And be careful to always use the proper bending technique. Instead of bending at the waist make sure you lift by bending your knees (whether it’s groceries or young children). Also wear good supportive shoes. If back pain persists, you can try acupuncture and massage. Tylenol also is safe for you and your baby.” For morning sickness: “Listen to your body and don’t force yourself to eat anything that will make things worse. For example if eggs make you nauseous, don’t eat them. Ginger has been clinically shown to help prevent nausea and vomiting, and has traditionally been used in herbal medicine to help relieve these symptoms. There is a pre-natal vitamin containing ginger from femMED that is all natural. Eating small, frequent meals may also help.” For hemorrhoids: “One of the most common problems during pregnancy.  Drink lots of fluids and keep your stool soft by eating a diet high in soluble and insoluble fiber. If you have trouble eating lots of raw fruits and vegetables, bran, etc. try a fiber supplement. Avoid straining when having a bowel movement. And keep one of those inflatable ‘donuts’ handy for sitting because they take a lot of pressure off of the rectal area.” For varicose veins: “Blood pooling in your extremities can cause your veins and dilate and bulge. The higher hormone levels and weight gain from pregnancy can aggravate varicose veins, as can standing for long periods of time. Support stocks can be incredibly helpful because they provide graduated compression that encourages blood flow back toward your heart. Try to move around as much as you can; flexing your ankles and moving them in a circular motion helps to pump your calves which gets your blood moving. Eat lots of berries and grapes to help strengthen the walls of your veins.” For heartburn: “During pregnancy, you are at a greater risk of heartburn – especially during the later stages – because the growing baby puts pressure on your stomach and esophagus. This...

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