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Menstrual Cramps Natural Treatments

Reviewed & edited by Dr. Jeffrey C. Lederman, DO, MPH and Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, CAP

Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for painful menstruation and is a common problem experienced by women in their reproductive years. It can interfere with daily activities and may contribute greatly to absenteeism at school and work for those affected.

Dysmenorrhea may be characterized as two types, primary and secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea is the presence of cramps lower abdominal pain that occurs during a female’s menstrual cycle when there is no other cause for those symptoms. Secondary dysmenorrhea is the presence of the same symptoms but is caused by another medical problem such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids. For both types, hormone- like substances released during a woman’s menstrual cycle called prostaglandins are thought to play an active role. This information here for menstrual cramps natural treatments focuses on primary dysmenorrhea, lower abdominal cramps.

Overview

Who Dysmenorrhea Affects

The prevalence of dysmenorrhea in women of reproductive age is between 16 % and 91% and severe symptoms occur in 2%-29%.1 High stress and a family history of dysmenorrhea have each been associated with a worsening of dysmenorrhea. In contrast, age, an increased number of pregnancies, and the use of oral contraceptives have shown to correlate with a decrease, or improvement of dysmenorrhea. Although some research indicates that cigarette smoking, diet, obesity, depression, and abuse may be risk factors for worsening of dysmenorrhea, the evidence is inconclusive.

How Dysmenorrhea Feels

The pain associated with dysmenorrhea is classically considered as “cramps,” however it is often accompanied by back pain, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, bloating, sluggish digestion, constipation, breast tenderness, lower leg aches and/or headaches. Although some suffers may feel symptoms as periodically intense, many may present with constant, uncomfortable dull aches, exhaustion and malaise. Dysmenorrhea cramps usually occur in the lower abdomen and in the area above the pubic bone. Dysmenorrhea tends to begin one to two days prior to menstrual bleeding or with the onset of menstrual bleeding and then gradually diminishes over 12 to 72 hours.

How Dysmenorrhea is Conventionally Treated

In conventional medicine, a woman’s gynecologist will typically assist in diagnosing and treating an individual’s dysmenorrhea.

Conventional medical treatment of dysmenorrhea aims to reduce the pain associated with discomfort. Initially, the primary treatment is supportive and includes methods to bring heat to the lower abdomen, increase exercise, and reduce stress. However, as the severity of the pain increases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) medication may be used to help alleviate the symptoms. Commonly used NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and Aspirin. Prescription strength NSAIDs like diclofenac, etodolac, and celecoxib (Celebrex) are sometimes given when symptoms worsen and can be obtained from a physician.

Hormonal birth control is often the next line of pharmaceutical treatment for dysmenorrhea. This may include birth control pills, vaginal rings, contraceptive implants, hormonal releasing intrauterine devices ( IUDs), injections, or hormonal patches. These agents work by reducing the uterine lining where prostaglandins are produced and, in turn, decreases uterine bleeding or contractions responsible for menstrual pain and cramps. Hormonal birth control has traditionally been a frequent pharmaceutical choice for women not trying to get pregnant. The combination of using NSAIDS and hormonal birth control is also a very common medical plan for reducing dysmenorrhea.

Other potential conventional treatments for dysmenorrhea include medications used to reduce uterine contractions (tocolytics), however there is inconclusive evidence for their overall effectiveness. Examples of these medications include Nitric Oxide, magnesium, calcium channel blockers (i.e., nifedipine), and nitroglycerin. There is also limited evidence to support the use of phosphodiesterase inhibitors like sildenafil (Viagra) and procedures that disrupt pelvic nerves.

After 3-6 months of treatment failure with NSAIDs and hormonal birth control a surgical procedure, often a laparoscopy, may be indicated to look for pelvic pathology like endometriosis in secondary dysmenorrhea. However, many holistic approaches are also available that complement a clinicians’ active and important role in the treatment of dysmenorrhea.

Holistic Healing for Menstrual Cramps

The menstrual discomfort of dysmenorrhea is a significant distraction from normalcy for many women on a monthly basis, interfering with routine activities. Plagued by severe abdominal cramps confounded by migraines, fatigue, bloating and nausea, women often feel incapacitated and unable to function. Many women turn to conventional treatments such as over the counter pain relievers or progress to prescription medication, but there are numerous holistic remedies available to help alleviate symptoms naturally and alternative healing modalities to rectify the underlying cause. Homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Reflexology, Ayurveda, Yoga, Meditation, Aromatherapy, Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), and Holistic Diet and Lifestyle modifications each offer beneficial therapies for treating dysmenorrhea.

Homeopathy
Natural Holistic Homeopathy

Homeopathic remedies are natural, chemically minute dilutions of various substances used to stimulate the body’s immune system at a low level. This smaller reaction conditions the body to create a gentler reaction to future exposure of the substance. Several homeopathic formulas are available for treating dysmenorrhea and associated menstrual symptoms.

According to Dr. Yukova’s Guide to Homeopathy 2, some homeopathic medicines have a localized action and may provide rapid pain relief such as a reduction in dysmenorrhea cramps. Other remedies, known as constitutional (chronic) homeopathic medicines, target the root of the condition and are focused on eliminating the cause of the dysmenorrhea. Dr. Yukova cites the following formulas as the most common for rapid pain relief of primary dysmenorrhea.

  • Belladonna – for relief from sudden onset of intense throbbing pain that worsens from light touch or sudden movements
  • Chamomilla – for relief from unbearable pain accompanied by anger or irritation
  • Cimicifuga – for relief from pain that is proportional to the flow; ie. whereby increased bleeding results in increased pain; also indicated for shoulder and neck stiffness
  • Colocynthis – for relief from intolerable cramps
  • Magnesia phosphorica – for relief from cramps relieved by pressure or warmth
  • Veratrum album – for relief from severe menstrual cramps accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sweating; heavy flow; fatigue or chills

Two classic constitutional homeopathic remedies for dysmenorrhea include Pulsatilla and Sepia. According to Dr. Nancy Gahles, DC, CCH, RSHom(NA), President of the National Center for Homeopathy (NCH), the plant remedy Pulsatilla has an affinity for the genito-urinary organs, stomach and bowels and may be well-suited for women who suffer from chronic headaches, sinus infections, allergies, discharges, bladder infections, digestive disturbances, ovarian cysts or anxiety. 3

Sepia is derived from cuttlefish ink, and according to Miriam McCrea Malevris, DS Hom. Med., may be useful to treat PMS for women characterized by indifference, irritability or fatigue prior to menses. 4

Treating dysmenorrhea with homeopathic remedies may be a powerful way to improve a woman’s monthly quality of life. As always, please consult a certified homeopathic provider for a proper evaluation and treatment advice.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that after years of stress, insufficient nutrition and irregular lifestyle habits, the body’s natural elements fall out of balance with one another and Nature. TCM supports the notion that order can be restored to the elements by removing energy blockages and redirecting its flow using therapeutic modalities such as acupuncture, acupressure, cupping and herbal treatments.

TCM Herbal Medicine

According to Wei Liu, TCMD, MPH, LAC and Changzhen Gond PhD, MS of the American Academy of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAOM) 5, pain associated with dysmenorrhea is similar to other forms of pain and can originate from one or the combination of the following: a deficiency of Qi and blood; the retention of heat, dampness or Wind; or an imbalance of the kidney and liver. TCM acknowledges that the pain is only a symptom reflecting a deeper condition, and like most holistic modalities, a practitioner will seek to alleviate the root cause.

TCM treatment of dysmenorrhea, whether via herbal or via hands-on means, ie. acupuncture or acupressure, requires the identification of the type and timing of the pain. Pain may occur days prior to menses, during menses, after menses or a combination of these. In addition, blood color, flow and blood clotting help indicate the specific elemental imbalance.

Two of the most common TCM herbal treatments for dysmenorrhea pain are angelica (Dang Gui) and corydalis tuber (Yan Hu Suo).

  • Dang Gui is beneficial for tonifying and harmonizing the blood as it regulates menses and reduces abdominal pain and cramping. Studies with Dang Gui have shown that it interferes with prostaglandin regulating mechanisms, which may account for its successful treatment of dysmenorrhea6
  • Yan Hu Suo is thought to invigorate the blood and enhance the flow of Qi through the body. Yan Hu Suo contains the alkaloid tetrahydropalmatine (THP), a known sedative and analgesic that may be responsible for alleviating dysmenorrhea pain. 7

According to TCM practitioners from the Yin Yang House Chattanooga Acupuncture and Wellness Center, several formulas are available to treat dysmenorrhea and associated menstrual symptoms. 8

  • Ba Zhen Wan – Anemia, Heavy Menstruation, Dysmenorrhea (Cramps), Dizziness, Weakness
  • Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan -PMS, Menstrual Pain, Irregular Menstruation, Emotional Stress, Depression, Irritability
  • Xiao Yao Wan – Stress, Depression, Anxiety, PMS
  • Si Wu Tang Wan- Tonifies and Regulates the Blood, Regulates the Liver
  • Fu Fang Dang Gui Wan (Dong Quai Tablet) – Syndromes of qi and blood deficiency; Irregular Menstruation, PMS, Menstrual Pain, Infertility, Fatigue, Memory
  • Shao Fu Zhu Yu Wan – Treats Stagnant Qi, Blood Clotting, Abdominal Pain, Dysmenorrhea (Cramps), Fatigue, Weak digestion, Gas, Bloating, Loose stools/Diarrhea, vomiting, gastritis, edem
  • Wen Jing Tang Wan- Warms Meridians, Dispels Cold, Nourishes blood to Remove blood stasis

Acupuncture & Acupressure
Acupressure Neck

Two of TCM’s most effective therapeutic modalities for treating dysmenorrhea include acupuncture and self-acupressure. Acupuncture accesses sensitive points on the skin’s surface that channel energetic pathways called meridians running throughout the body. The nervous system is particularly accessible to these points and studies have shown that acupuncture drives neurological stimulation of the brain when trying to reduce pain. 9

Acupuncture has been shown as an effective modality for reducing dysmenorrhea pain. 10

Acupressure works with the same system of meridians as acupuncture but does not use needles to stimulate the points. Instead, self-application with fingers or hands may be used to activate the energy at the points and promote self-healing.

Some common Acupuncture or Acupressure points used to treat symptoms of dysmenorrhea include:

GB20 –Headaches, anxiety, insomnia
GB34 – Inflammation, anger, irritation, edema
TW 5 – Migraines, neck stiffness, nausea, diarrhea, constipation
P6- Dizziness, nausea, acid reflux, constipation, headache
SP 6 – Cramps, edema, bloating, menstrual clots, back pain, anxiety and dizziness
SP8 & 9 – Cramps, edema, bloating, menstrual clots
CV4 – Cramps, kidney pain, menstrual clotting/flow

Reflexology
Natural Holistic Reflexology

Similar to the TCM modalities of acupuncture and acupressure, the system of reflexology developed by Dr. William H. Fitzgerald, M.D. is based on the Zone Theory that specific points in the hands and feet correspond to areas of the body and can relieve pain when stimulated and massaged. 11 Reflexology has been used successfully to treat dysmenorrhea and was shown to be equally effective as ibuprofen in a trial with 68 university students. 12  Women may choose to get regular reflexology sessions to relieve symptoms during menses and/or have regular sessions prior to their menstrual cycle to prevent pain.

Ayurveda

The 5,000 year old medicinal wisdom of Ayurveda from India provides much insight into the treatment of dysmenorrhea. According to the sacred medicine text called the Charaka, imbalances in a woman’s lower abdominal energy, governed by Vata, create pain and discomfort in menstruation. Most often, this imbalance is preceded by faulty dietary and lifestyle habits such as poor nutrition, lack of sleep, stress, fear or anxiety, which build slowly and heighten during menses.

The severe discomfort women experience with dysmenorrhea stems from the pain-inducing hormone-like substances called prostaglandins that are produced by the endometrial cells of the uterine lining shortly prior to menses. During the breakdown of these cells in menstruation, prostaglandins are released locally, constrict the blood vessels, and cause the muscle layer of the uterus to contract, resulting in painful cramps. Some prostaglandins may also enter the bloodstream and cause associated symptoms such as headache, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting. 13

Women who experience dysmenorrhea have been shown to produce higher levels of prostaglandins than those without menses pain. 14 Ayurveda aims to balance these cellular processes responsible for excess prostaglandin synthesis by targeting the misdirected energy, improving digestion and calming the nervous system.

Diet, lifestyle modifications, herbal treatments and body therapies recommended by Ayurveda can be used to identify the root of the woman’s specific energetic imbalance and help restore it. With respect to diet, Ayurveda treats the mind and body by synchronizing both with Nature’s rhythms and emphasizing fresh, whole, seasonal foods.

Fall and Winter seasons particularly upset uterine Vata energy, but can be improved by avoiding certain foods. The energetic Vata imbalance associated with dysmenorrhea is worsened by foods that are cold, dry and rough such as:

  • Crackers
  • Chips
  • Bread
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Raw Fruits
  • Raw Vegetables

According to Ayurveda, the properties of these foods aggravate the nervous system and create excess gas and dryness in digestion and throughout the body that disturbs the lower abdominal energy. This energy is then free to disrupt other energies including the fire force of Pitta and result in nausea, acid reflux, vomiting and diarrhea. Emotionally, both aggravated Vata and Pitta energy can create additional symptoms associated with dysmenorrhea such as restlessness, sluggishness or fatigue, spaciness, frustration, anger and pain.

Vegatable SoupTo further balance both energies with diet, focus on warm, cooked, wet food that are in season and high fiber foods such as:

  • Soups
  • Cooked Vegetables
  • Stewed Fruits – Apples, Pears, Prunes
  • Brown or Basmati Rice
  • Legumes – Kidney beans, Chickpeas, Lentils (up until the last week prior to menses)

Ayurveda also teaches that reducing or avoiding pungent, sour, inflammatory foods and fatty, fried foods will also help pacify the Vata and Pitta energies.

  • Nightshades – Tomatoes, Potatoes, Peppers, Eggplant
  • Hot Sauces
  • Pungent Spices – Chili Powder, Cajun, Paprika
  • Meats- Beef, Lamb, Goat, Pork
  • Fried Foods: French Fries, Potato/Tortilla Chips, Tempura, Samosas etc.

Lifestyle-wise, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of structure and even-pacing in daily routines to keep Vata and Pitta energies balanced. Women who experience dysmenorrhea often have busy, hectic, stressful days filled with multi-tasking at work and home. This constant juggling of career and family creates great variability in the daily routine and often leads to missed or late meals, poor nutrition, loss of sleep and challenges in relationships. Ayurveda suggests creating stability through “anchors” in the day such as:

  • Regular Meal Times
  • Meal Plates that Include all 6 Tastes
  • Morning Self-Care Routine
  • Evening Bed Time Routine
  • Family, Significant Other or Friend Connection Time
  • Self-Reflection Time

In addition to diet and lifestyle modifications, several herbal therapies and body treatments are recommended by Ayurveda. Women may not be aware that everyday kitchen spices are herbs that can help improve digestion, relieve constipation or diarrhea and ease pain associated with dysmenorrhea. These include:

  • Turmeric
  • Garlic Powder/Garlic
  • Hing (Asafoetida)
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Fennel

Herbal formulas provided by Ayurvedic Practitioners may also help with dysmenorrhea by targeting the urogenital and reproductive systems.

  • Some Ayurvedic herbal formulas recommended include:
  • Goksura – Restores Energy and Vitality to the Kidneys and Reproductive Organs; Alleviates Menstrual Cramps
  • Shatavari- Revitalizes the Reproductive Organs and Balances Hormones
  • Amalaki- Removes Excess Heat and Balances Pitta Fire Energy

Balancing the root disturbances of the Vata and Pitta energies with herbs will often target the nervous system and include:

  • Shilajit – Draws Out and Removes Deep Toxins from Cells
  • Brahmi – Calms Nervous System and Reduces Anxiety
  • Shankapushpi – Calms Nervous System and Reduces Anxiety

Soothing Ayurvedic body treatments are available for self-care and at wellness spas/centers to help treat dysmenorrhea and include:

  • Abyhanga- Herbal Oil Body Massage
  • Shirodhara- Herbal Oil Streaming onto the Forehead
  • Svedhana- Steam Box to Eliminate Toxins

Visiting a skilled Ayurvedic Practitioner and an Ayurvedic Wellness Center will significantly assist with reducing or eliminating symptoms of dysmenorrhea.

Yoga & Meditation

YogaYoga

Yoga is an incredible physical modality that reaches both body and mind when treating numerous conditions and may be especially useful for alleviating dysmenorrhea. A recent study of 113 female medical students with primary dysmenorrhea showed that after just 3 months of yoga postures, 88% reported complete pain relief and 12% reported mild pain,15 supporting this holistic modality as a viable therapy for painful menses.

Women who experience dysmenorrhea may wish to consider a regular, gentle yoga practice to bring stability, calm and comfort to an otherwise stressful life. More specifically, when treating anxiety throughout the month prior to menses, practice yoga poses (asanas) that enhance digestion and elimination, stretch abdominal, hip and back muscles, stimulate the kidney and reduce stress.

Other yogic therapy for anxiety and stress includes restorative poses. Restorative poses are fixed postures that are held for several minutes while adding yogic breath. They are beneficial for reducing stress and pain because they activate the parasympathetic nervous system and relaxing the body while passively stretching tight muscles and facia. These and other yogic asanas also provide significant relief from excess lymphatic fluid/edema in the body’s detoxification system from hormonal fluctuations and menstrual-related swelling.

According to Certified Yoga Teacher Laura Waite 16, the following poses may be used to reduce dysmenorrhea and associated menstrual symptoms:

  • Janu Sirsasana (Head-To-Knee Forward Bend) – Stretches the spine, shoulders, hamstrings and groin; calms the brain; reduces anxiety, fatigue, headache and menstrual discomfort
  • Ustrasana (Camel Pose) – Stretches the torso, ankles, thighs, deep hip flexors, back and groin; relieves fatigue, anxiety and menstrual discomfort; stimulates the kidneys
  • Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose) -Stretches the hips, thighs, hamstrings, groin and calves; strengthens knees; relieves back pain, sciatica and menstrual discomfort

In addition to these asanas, Spinal Twists such as Marichyasana III, improve digestion, reduce abdominal gas and bloat and stimulate new blood flow to the principal abdominal organs. Yogic poses that elongate and stretch the spine such as Marjaryasana (Cat Pose), rotate the pelvis and may also alleviate dysmenorrhea cramps. Virasana (Hero Pose) uses the heels of the feet to stimulate two marma points near the sacrum and relieves menstrual cramps.

Leading up to and during menstruation, women may also choose to practice restorative asanas. Restorative yoga postures such as Supta Badha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose) 17 assist with freeing energy from the pelvic area and stretch the inner thigh and groin areas.

Meditation
Yoga Meditation

One of the most powerful natural methods shown to reduce pain from dysmenorrhea is the practice of meditation18  Centering the mind and aligning it with the body’s needs is thought to create a bridge whereby calming signals can be sent to throughout the nervous system to reduce pain. Several forms of meditation are available to try and include Yogic breathing meditation (pranayama), guided meditation and the Chinese energy meditative practices of Tai Chi and Chi Gong.

Pranayama- Yogic breath meditation focuses on controlling the breath while activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This activation results in a “calm and relax” process that has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure, increase respiration and reduce pain. 19 20 21

Two types of pranayama are particularly useful for reducing pain and symptoms associated with dysmenorrhea, Brahmari (Bee Buzzing Breath) and Nadis Shodona (Alternate Nostril Breath).

  • Brahmari 22 can be performed to reduce anxiety, treat headaches and quiet the mind
  • Nadis Shodona 23 is amazing for balancing the left and right sides of the brain, engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress and increasing the flow of energy

Guided Meditation

Many women may benefit from following a relaxation sequence offered by guided meditation. This form of relaxation uses a voice, often accompanied by music or nature sounds, to walk the woman through a stress-reducing process. A popular guided meditation is the Body Scan method, which consciously identifies certain parts of they body and sends a message for it to relax.

Several meditation phone apps are available to help reduce stress and painful menses such as:

  • Simply Being from Meditation Oasis
  • The Mindfulness App
  • Get Some Head Space
  • Meditate (Tibetan Bells)
  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Calm
  • Breath2Relax
  • Omvana

Tai ChiChinese Energy Practices

  • Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that has evolved into a modern practice of gracefully balancing and promoting the flow of energy known as “Chi.” According to the Mayo Clinic, this gentler form of tai chi is safe for all ages; pregnant women should consult a physician prior to practice. 24  Tai Chi has been shown to relieve back pain in conditions like fibromyalgia and may be beneficial for back pain associated with dysmenorrhea. 25
  • Qi Gong translates to “cultivating vital energy” and can be classified as a martial art, medical therapy or spiritual modality. The gentler forms of Qi Gong practice rhythmic movements that reduce stress, enhance immunity and increase vitality. Qi Gong has also been shown to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive functions and according to several independent case studies, may be beneficial for alleviating dysmenorrhea. 26 27 

Aromatherapy
aromatherapy

Aromatherapy harnesses the medicinal properties of essential oils extracted from plants and herbs. Many essential oils are available to treat the symptoms of dysmenorrhea and can be applied using various methods such as direct or steam inhalation, oil or lotion massage, shower or baths and aromatic spritzers.* Research has shown that essential oils are effective in reducing dysmenorrhea. 28  The following oils have been known to relieve dysmenorrhea or associated symptoms and are classified according to their therapeutic properties.

Antispasmodic Essential Oils – Relieve smooth muscle menstrual cramps and lower back pain from the uterus during dysmenorrhea 29

  • Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
  • Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce)
  • Geranium (Pelargonium x asperum syn. graveolens)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Nerve Tonic Essential Oils – Relieves anxiety, stress, anger and fear that precedes dysmenorrhea 29

  • Neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara)
  • Patchouli (Pogostemom cablin)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Geranium (Pelargonium x asperum syn. graveolens)
  • Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)
  • Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)
  • Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum)

Stimulating & Uplifting Essential Oils – Treats headaches, fogginess, sluggishness and mood 29

  • Lemon (Citrus limon)
  • Grapefruit (Citrus Paradisi)
  • Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
  • Spearmint oil (Mentha spicata)

Digestive Aid Essential Oils – Treats constipation, gas, bloat and diarrhea 29

  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Tangerine Citrus reticulata var tangerine) – Constipation
  • Lemon (Citrus limon)
  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)

Application of essential oils requires knowledge of appropriate dilutions in a base lotion or carrier oil such as almond, sunflower, grape seed or jojoba. Oils may also be directly inhaled via adding a few drops to a tissue, bath or shower and breathing the aroma. For safe application of these oils to treat dysmenorrhea, consult an aromatherapist and/or a physician.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
TENS Unit

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, known as TENS, uses low voltage electric current to relieve pain. A TENS device is thought to work by either the gate control theory of pain whereby stimulating nerves closes a “gate” mechanism in the spinal cord to reduce the sensation of pain and/or by stimulating the production of endorphins that block pain.

TENS units have been used extensively to treat back pain and may work well for women with menstrual cramps and lower back pain. The unit is easy to use, portable, and functions with a small battery-operated device that can be hooked to a belt. Two electrodes that extend from the device attach to the skin and deliver the low voltage electrical current.

TENS treatment may be particularly effective for women suffering from severe dysmenorrhea and can be used alone or in combination with conventional or holistic therapies. A crossover study where women used the TENS unit alone or took ibuprofen for dysmenorrhea showed that the TENS unit itself significantly reduced menstrual pain and also delayed the need for supportive ibuprofen medication by an average of 5.9 hours. 30 To acquire a TENS unit, see a physician as they require a prescription and are contraindicated for women in their first trimester of those with a pacemaker. 31

Holistic Lifestyle Suggestions for Menstrual Cramps

Relaxation & Routine

Both conventional and holistic providers recognize that stress has a large impact on women and greatly contributes to painful menses. According to the Mayo Clinic, mental stress can temporarily alter the function of the hypothalamus, which controls hormones that regulate menses. 32 Moreover, a large study of 388 women examined the link between stress and dysmenorrhea and found that women who reported high stress had twice the risk for dysmenorrhea compared to those who reported low stress. 33 

When under continuous stress, women should take time for personal self-care and relief in their everyday lifestyle. Women are often play multiple roles in balancing home, work and family life and place others’ needs above their own. Whether finding time in the day to take a mentally clearing walk, read a book, workout at the gym, visit a spa, meditate or meet with friends and family, a daily stress outlet is paramount for balancing a women’s menstrual cycle.

In addition to a daily stress outlet, consistent morning and night routines and regular meal times are critical for providing stability. Irregular eating habits can disrupt hormone regulation.

Get Warm

Uterine, abdominal and back pain are all difficult conditions associated with dysmenorrhea. The application of heat to the abdomen has been shown to diminish this pain and provide relief and was equally effective as the conventional pain killer ibuprofen. 34 Women may choose to apply heat safely via a hot water bottle, heating pad or take a warm bath or shower.

Abdominal & Body Massage
 Massage

One of the most powerful holistic lifestyle additions includes regular massage. Massage is an excellent way to move stagnant lymphatic fluid throughout the body which eliminates toxins and inflammatory compounds responsible for pain and congestion.

Conventional, Chinese and Ayurvedic abdominal massage work the belly muscles while moving in the direction of the colon to assist with digestion. Beginning at the lower right quadrant of the abdomen, gently rub in circles upwards to the navel, across the abdomen and down the left side of the abdomen. Combining abdominal massage with heat and essential oils greatly assists in dysmenorrhea pain relief.

Full body massage of any form is a well-known technique for reducing stress and alleviating pain. Since the impact of dysmenorrhea extends beyond abdominal pain, with many women experiencing back and leg pain, headaches and eye tension and overall bloating, massage is an excellent holistic modality for relief.

Holistic Diet and Nutrition for Menstrual Cramps

Diet and nutrition play a significant role in managing dysmenorrhea. Eating healthily can reduce excess toxins stored in fat cells and may dramatically improve menstrual cycles. To balance hormonal changes and inflammatory prostaglandin release during menstruation, women can improve their diets prior to and during menses.

Alkaline Diet
Alkaline diet

The Alkaline diet suggests that when foods are digested, they have a specific effect on the pH of bodily fluids such as urine. Certain foods are classified as acidic and reduce this pH and others are alkaline and maintain or increase this pH. Acidic foods are considered inflammatory and minerals like calcium are often needed to buffer them. Calcium excreted in the urine as a result of digesting acidic foods is a concern since losing valuable minerals may deplete the body of its stores. Acid-forming foods may be particularly disruptive to a normal menses cycle and avoiding or greatly reducing them may alleviate dysmenorrhea pain.

Highly Acidic Foods to Reduce or Avoid for Dysmenorrhea 35

  • Alcohol, Tobacco
  • Artificial Sweeteners, White Sugar
  • Beef, Lamb, Pork, Veal
  • Breads, Biscuits, Crackers, Refined Cereals, Pasta, Flour, White Rice
  • Coffee, Soda, Juices
  • Pastries, Cookies, Cakes, Ice Cream, Jams, Jellies
  • Fermented Foods- pickles, white vinegar, miso
  • Processed Vegetable Oils, Salad Dressings, Margarine
  • Fatty, Fried Foods- French Fries, Burgers, Chips, Doughnuts, etc.

When dealing with hormone fluctuations and inflammation associated with uterine lining shedding, women may choose to adopt an alkaline diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes while reducing fatty and sugary foods. In addition, foods low in fat and rich in soluble and insoluble fiber have been shown to significantly reduce estrogen levels 36 and can help prevent digestive problems like constipation and diarrhea that often accompany menses.

Alkaline Foods to Increase for Dysmenorrhea 37

  • Fresh & Cooked Vegetables: Alfalfa Grass, Barley Grass, Artichokes, Asparagus, Bok Choy, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Celery, Cilantro, Cucumber, Dandelion, Jicama, Kale, Lamb’s Lettuce, Leeks, Mustard Greens, Peas, Sea Vegetables, Spinach, Zucchini, Broccoli, Beets, Carrots, Rutabaga, Sweet Potatoes, Squash Pumpkins, Turnips, Kohlrabi
  • All Fruit, Especially Avocados
  • Lima Beans, Green Beans
  • Lentils, Navy Beans
  • Buckwheat, Kamut, Spelt, Millet, Barley
  • Fennel Seeds, Cumin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Flax Seeds
  • Almonds, Brazil Nuts, Cashews, Hazelnuts, Macadamia, Pine Nuts, Pistachios, Walnuts

Aggravating Foods & Allergens

Certain foods may increase mucous and congestion in the body that may cause sluggish digestion, bloating, fatigue and heavy periods. Others may induce inflammation or an allergic reaction in the gut or skin.

  • Fatty, fried foods are culprits for several medical conditions and are highly inflammatory. Damaging blood vessels, increasing cholesterol and regulating estrogen are just some of the ways these foods can result in painful menses. Avoid or significantly reduce these foods in the diet to help alleviate dysmenorrhea.
  • Refined sugar is another well-known inflammatory food that should be avoided on a daily basis and especially during menses. Women may wish to have natural sweeteners such as raw honey, unprocessed maple syrup or small amounts of unrefined sugar called sucanat to avoid exacerbation of menstrual symptoms.
  • Dairy is considered a congestive food and may worsen dysmenorrhea. Calcium, however is beneficial for reducing muscle cramps. Adding non-dairy sources of calcium such as fresh leafy greens like kale, collards and turnip greens, broccoli and cabbage like bok choy, legumes like white beans and black-eyed peas, nuts like almonds, seeds like sesame and ocean seaweed may greatly reduce dysmenorrhea and associated digestive problems such as bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
  • Red Meat and egg yolks are foods that may exacerbate dysmenorrhea. Both are high in an inflammatory compound called arachidonic acid (AA), activated by a decline of progesterone. 38 A diet low in AA and high in omega-3 foods may significantly reduce dysmenorrhea.

Natural SupplementsNatural Holistic Supplements 39 40

  • Magnesium is vital mineral that has been shown to reduce key cell compounds in the body’s inflammatory processes. Preliminary research with magnesium supplements has shown some efficacy in reducing dysmenorrhea by decreasing prostaglandin F 2 alpha. 41 Sufferers of dysmenorrhea may wish to speak with a physician about whether magnesium supplements are appropriate for them. *
  • Vitamin E. A study from 2005 using vitamin E supplementation for women with dysmenorrhea showed a reduction in severity and duration of pain and the amount of menstrual blood loss, making it a potential pain-relief treatment. 42
  • Omega-3s, commonly present in fish and flax seed oils, are anti-inflammatory compounds capable of reducing pain. Studies using omega-3 supplements to treat dysmenorrhea have shown a reduction in symptoms and the ability to decrease pain medication such as ibuprofen. 43
  • Calcium supplements are thought to help reduce menstrual pain. Early studies showed that calcium channel blockers helped free calcium and relieve uterine contractions, thus lessening menstrual pain. 44 According to the University of Maryland, more recent research indicates that calcium citrate supplements may work by helping to maintain muscle tone and may be more useful when consistently taken prior to menses.
  • Ginger Root has been used in TCM and Ayurveda for thousands of years for its anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory properties. Recent evidence showed that ginger root was as effective as mefenamic acid and ibuprofen on treating pain in women with primary dysmenorrhea. 45
  • Chamomile or Mint Tea are both home remedies that have been used to reduce menstrual pain, but may become part of the mainstream treatment for dysmenorrhea. Peppermint contains antispasmodic compounds and its essential oil has proven effective in reducing spasms during colonoscopy and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy procedures. 46 And,recent research with chamomile reveals that drinking chamomile tea led to high levels of glycine, a chemical that relieves muscle spasms and may relax the uterus. 47
  • Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus) and Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) are two well-known antispasmodic herbs that may be extremely useful for treating dysmenorrhea. The first is native to Europe and Asia and the latter is found in North America. Both have the ability to relax smooth muscle and are recommended by doulas like Dalene Barton to treat uterine menstrual cramps. 48

Products for Relieving Menstrual Cramps
TENS Unit

TENS Unit

 

Heating Pad

Heating Pad

 

Hot Water Bottle

Hot Water Bottle

 

Massagers

Back Massager

Community Resources

Updated: November 2014


 

  1. Hong Ju, Mark Jones, and Gita Mishra. The Prevalence and Risk Factors of Dysmenorrhea. Epidemiol Rev (2014) 36 (1): 104-113 first published online November 26, 2013 doi:10.1093/epirev/mxt009
  2. http://www.homeopathytoday.net/spip.php?article80
  3. http://www.integrativepractitioner.com/article_ektid9502.aspx
  4. http://vitalitymagazine.com/news-articles/sepia-homeopathys-wise-woman/
  5. http://www.tcmpage.com/hpdysmen.html
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18707853
  7. http://acupuncturetoday.com/herbcentral/corydalis.php
  8. http://www.yinyanghouse.com/conditions-treated/alternative-natural-options-for-dysmenorrhea-menstrual-paincramps
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4051855/pdf/pone.0099538.pdf
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3540764?dopt=Abstract
  11. http://www.reflexology-usa.net/history.htm
  12. http://www.reflexology-usa.net/history.htm
  13. Proctor M, Farquhar C. Diagnosis and Management of Dysmenorrhoea. BMJ. 2006; 332:1134-1138.
  14. Durain D. Primary dysmenorrhea: assessment and management update. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2004;49:520-528.
  15. http://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jdms/papers/Vol4-issue1/P0416973.pdf
  16. http://www.active.com/yoga/articles/4-yoga-poses-to-ease-menstrual-cramps?page=4
  17. http://www.gaiamtv.com/pose/reclining-bound-angle-pose-supta-baddha-konasana
  18. http://www.scopemed.org/?jft=47&ft=47-1362735925
  19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19249921
  20. http://yogauonline.com/yogatherapy/yoga-for-back-pain/yoga-for-back-pain-practice/310030310-new-study%E2%80%94yogic-breathing-helps
  21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2936076/?report=printable
  22. http://www.yogajournal.com/news-articles/practice-section/buzz-away-the-buzzing-mind/
  23. http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/channel-cleaning-breath/
  24. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/tai-chi/art-20045184
  25. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22609642
  26. http://www.qigong.org.nz/news-articles/treating-dysmenorrheaacupuncture-case-study
  27. http://www.taichiqigongseattle.com/2012/03/secrets-to-pms-energy-medicine-yi-ren-qigong-taichi/
  28. http://www.integrativehealthcare.org/mt/archives/2014/01/essential-oils-ease-menstrual-cramps.html
  29. http://www.naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/most-commonly-used-essential-oils/
  30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2179780?dopt=Abstract
  31. Thomas M, Lunden T, Bjork J, Lundstrom- Lindsbedt V. Pain and discomfort in primary dysmenorrhea is reduced by pre-emptive acupuncture or low frequency TENS. Eur J Phys Med Rehabil 1995; 5: 71–6.
  32. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/amenorrhea/basics/causes/con-20031561.
  33. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1740691/pdf/v061p01021.pdf
  34. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11239634
  35. http://www.acidalkalinediet.com/Alkaline-Foods-Chart.htm
  36. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/54/3/520.full.pdf
  37. http://www.acidalkalinediet.com/Alkaline-Foods-Chart.htm
  38. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3935015/
  39. http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21602
  40. http://www.ghc.org/kbase/topic.jhtml?docId=hn-1206000
  41. Penland J, Johnson P, et al. Dietary calcium and manganese effects on menstrual cycle symptoms. Am J Obstet Gynecol . 1993;168:1417-1424.
  42. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15777446
  43. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22261128
  44. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/485222
  45. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19216660
  46. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1440-1746.2006.04307.x/abstract;jsessionid=34C30EF27E7DF487CF5A76FAA8D11155.f03t03
  47. http://www.webmd.com/women/news/20050107/chamomile-tea-may-fight-colds-menstrual-cramps
  48. http://natural-fertility-info.com/menstruation-cramps-benefits-of-cramp-bark-and-black-haw.html
Categories
Condition

Rheumatoid Arthritis Natural Treatments

Reviewed & edited by Dr. Jeffrey C. Lederman, DO, MPH and Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, CAP

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a painful and chronic autoimmune disease that causes persistent inflammation of the joints in the body. For a variety of reasons found in individuals that suffer from RA, the immune system begins to attack the thin tissue lining that covers the joints, known as the synovium. Because of the immune system’s attack, white blood cells travel to the synovium and cause the recruitment of cell chemical signals, called cytokines and initiate a painful inflammatory response.

Whether Rheumatoid Arthritis impact joints locally or all over the body, it is a painful condition that most often progresses into a debilitating, chronic disease.

Overview

Rheumatoid Arthritis, KneeHow RA Feels

RA typically sets in after the age of 40, although it is not uncommon for teens and young adults like Maya to suffer from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA or JIA); historically impacts women more often than men. Common symptoms of RA include pain, swelling, morning stiffness, and limited movement of the affected joints. The severity of pain and longevity of symptoms can vary, as RA is a chronic condition, which means there is no true “cure” and symptoms come and go frequently. Symptoms of RA are most often experienced at joint extremities such as the fingers and toes, but can affect larger joints such as the wrist, elbows, knee, ankle and hips.1

While the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis appear to be strictly physical, RA has the potential to have a further reaching impact on the RA sufferer. Since RA is part of a collection of autoimmune inflammatory diseases, it shares symptoms with other inflammatory conditions such as Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis. Symptoms of these diseases expand to have an emotional and energetic effect whereby individuals with RA may experience anxiety or depression or become discouraged over the excruciating pain that seems to dictate their life.

How RA is Conventionally Treated

RA sufferers often visit with their primary care physician (PCP) when experiencing initial symptoms of arthritis, including joint pain, morning stiffness, redness, inflammation and fatigue. PCPs will often suggest a preliminary panel of labs to assess inflammatory markers associated with RA and refer individuals to a Rheumatologist for evaluation and treatment.

NSAIDsThe conventional course of RA treatment involves the use of prescription drugs. Popular first line medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but often the disease progresses, requiring the use of more powerful anti-inflammatory agents such as disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). DMARDs can slow the progression of RA via various mechanisms and help prevent joint damage. DMARDs typically prescribed by rheumatologists include methotrexate (Trexall), hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) and leflunomide (Arava). Both DMARDs and NSAIDs have mild to moderate side effects, and NSAIDs are often not tolerated by individuals due to stomach irritation and kidney.2

Steroidal medications are often adjunct medications to DMARDS prescribed early on in the disease. Steroids may be used to temporarily to relieve extreme swelling and inflammation, but are not a permanent solution since they can cause significant liver damage.

Perhaps the most effective, yet potentially risky, anti-rheumatic drugs to date are the biologic DMARDs. Most common are the tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-α) inhibitors. These are injectable medications that specifically target the initial inflammatory cascade occurring in and around the synovium of RA patients. TNF-α inhibitors have greatly improved the quality of life of countless RA suffers, however because they suppress the immune system, individuals are at risk for serious infections like tuberculosis (TB) and, in rare cases, may develop cancer. Examples include adalimumab (Humira), etanercept (Enbrel), infliximab (Remicade), certolizumab (Cimzia), and golimumab (Simponi). Additional drugs that target specific cells of the immune system to fight RA include rituxamab (Rituxan), tocilizumab (Actemra), abatacept (Orencia) an danakinra (Kineret).3

Rheumatoid Arthritis complicates daily life for individuals with this chronic disease. While traditional prescription drugs are effective in modulating the immune system to reduce inflammation and the symptoms and pain associated with RA, it is encouraging to know that there is an abundance of holistic treatments, dietary and lifestyle changes, and products and equipment that can help reduce and manage RA’s worst symptoms.

Holistic Healing for RA Sufferers

Rheumatoid Arthritis affects an estimated 1.5 million people nationwide, and 68% to 94% of RA patients use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies to treat their symptoms. As a malady of the immune system, RA can be treated through various holistic forms of healing. Rheumatoid arthritis natural treatments include the use of herbal supplements, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, yoga, and apitherapy.4

Herbal Supplements

Herbal supplements are natural sources of medication that can be derived from flowers, plants, and tree bark. Whether taken as a tea, daily capsule, or tincture, herbal supplements deliver natural pain relief, but some may interfere with medication. RA sufferers should consult with their physician first along with a certified herbal practitioner prior to using any herbal supplements.

Because of their great potential to reduce pain and combat inflammation, feverfew and willow bark are two wonderful herbal supplements that can aid in treating RA.

  • feverfew.jpgFeverfew5, also known as Tanacetum parthenium, has an anti-inflammatory effect that may ease joint inflammation associated with RA. Traditional treatment includes 1-2 supplements taken daily. As always, consult your physician before taking Feverfew or any other supplement.
  • Willow bark6 is the bark from several varieties of willow trees, and actually acts as a natural aspirin. Willow bark contains salicin, the active ingredient that delivers pain-relieving properties. Willow bark is available dried for herbal teas and decoctions, in capsules, or as a tincture. Willow bark is considered a natural blood thinner and may be unsafe for individuals already taking anticoagulants. As always, consult your physician before taking any supplements.7

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) follows the thousands’ of years old Chinese practice of striving for a balance to bring about good health. Where illness or sickness comes in, there is an imbalance in the Ying and Yang, the opposing yet complementary forces in the universe. TCM utilizes herbal medicines and mind-body practices such as acupuncture as its main source of treatment in bringing about a balance and harmony to the body.8 TCM practitioners create highly specialized formulas to treat RA with a combination of herbs that are unique to the individual’s condition.

Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese Medicine

TCM relies on herbal medicines to treat a variety of ailments. This holistic approach utilizes medicinal effects already found in natural sources such as trees, plants, roots, flowers, and bark to reduce painful inflammation. In TCM, a doctor prepares a specific herbal medicine based on symptom severity, duration, and location. These herbal medicines are specially formulated dependent on each individual RA sufferer. Before taking any herbal supplements, consult your physician.

  • According to TCM theory, arthritis is considered a disease of blood stagnation and many herbal treatments are focused on relieving energetic and blood blockages and increasing circulation. The popular, potent Chinese herb Tienchi Ginseng is often used to move and vitalize the blood for RA sufferers. Ginseng can be very heating to the body and should be balanced with additional herbs. Be sure to consult a certified TCM practitioner before taking herbal remedies.
  • Another TCM approach for RA includes the use of anti-inflammatory herbs. Thunder God Vine is derived from the root of a plant that is indigenous to Asia and can help reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Due to the highly poisonous nature of the plant’s leaves and flowers, only the skinned root can be used for medicinal purposes. When taken under the care of a TCM professional, Thunder God Vine helps to reduce RA pain and inflammation due to its effect on the immune system.9

Acupuncture
Acupuncture

The ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture10 is the science and art of restoring the balance of natural energy to the body. Developed within Traditional Chinese Medicine, this form of therapy has proven useful in alleviating numerous conditions and disorders. Acupuncture uses very thin needles inserted into specific reflex points of the body to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissues associate with a host of disorders. This stimulation sends a signal to the brain, which works to produce endorphins. Acupuncture can help ease RA symptoms by its’ ability to release endorphins,the body’s natural pain medicine, and quell aches and pains.

A trained Acupuncturist may focus on specific points where chi (energy) is blocked or may use a broader systemic approach to meridian (energy channel) support. Arthritis conditions in TCM theory are often known as bi-syndromes and associated with disturbances in heat, wind and cold. Some acupuncture points uses to relieve inflammation and joint pain include:

Spleen 4          Small Intestine 3
Galbladder 40          Triple Warmer 5
Kidney 3          Stomach 34
Gallbladder 30          Large Intestine 11
Small Intestine 10           Central Vessel 6

Ayurveda
Natural Holistic Ayurvedic

The 5,000 year old system of medicine from India called Ayurveda offers significant holistic therapeutic options for RA sufferers. Ayurveda focuses on restoring the balance of physical, mental and spiritual energies, bodily humors known as doshas, with nature to heal disease. According to rheumatologist and national thought leader Dan Furst, the use of Ayurvedic medicine to treat RA involves “a holistic, multifaceted system of treatment which includes complex herbal mineral combinations, dietary and lifestyle modification, oil therapies, and detoxification routines.”11

Ayurveda provides both dietary and lifestyle modifications to help reduce inflammation associated with the autoimmune disease of RA. Eliminating nightshade vegetables and fruit such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, and goji berries is recommended, along with the reduction of spicy foods and the inclusion of cooling herbs such as fennel, mint, cilantro, and dill to the diet.12

Ayurveda also offers bodily detoxification therapies that use physical manipulation of the muscles and lymphatic system to remove inflammatory cells and toxins. Various massage oil therapies such as Abhyanga use heated herbal oils to draw out impurities from affected RA joints and muscles, thus reducing inflammation and promoting self-healing. This therapeutic practice Is followed by Svedana, the Ayurvedic practice of using a sweat box or warm shower in short intervals, to detoxify the system and relax muscles. This practice induces sweating from the neck down and is a useful form of heat therapy that can ease painful RA symptoms.13

Similar to TCM, certain Ayurvedic herbs and supplements have proven effective for reducing inflammation and detoxifiying RA affected joints and muscles.

  • The tree resin Boswellia known by its more familiar name frankincense, is extracted from the gum of Boswellia trees and used to treat rheumatic arthritis. Due to its anti-inflammatory action, Boswellia makes a great form of treatment for RA sufferers. The inclusion of daily Boswellia dosages or topical application can reduce pain and inflammation over time. As always, consult with your physician before beginning any supplements.14
  • Another powerful Ayurvedic supplement includes the use of a mineral pitch called guggulu. Often used with a combination of herbs in a collective formula, guggulu provides “strong detoxification and relieve from inflammatory toxins residing in the synovium,” according to Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, CAT.

Aromatherapy
aromatherapy

Painful RA inflammation can be reduced with the use of massage oils. There are many essential oils that can help reduce inflammation and pain due to RA. These oils include:

  • Rosemary (ie. Rosmarinus Officinalis)
    Rosemary essential oil is particularly powerful for relieving muscle stiffness, cramping, aches and pain associated with RA and by stimulating blood flow and tissue regeneration, may help eliminate toxins.
  • Lemon (Citrus Limomum)
    Lemon essential oil can be used to treat physical exhaustion, general fatigue, and depression that often accompanies RA.
  • Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia)
    This essential oil provides a calming effect on the body and is used to treat insomnia, burns, colds, and muscle aches and pains.
  • Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus Globulus)
    This form ofEucalyptus essential oil is most commonly used because of its high eucalyptol content (70-85%) and anti-inflammatory compounds. It can be used as an expectorant, antibiotic, anti-fungal treatment, as well as providing relief from muscle pain.
  • Peppermint (Mentha Piperita)
    This invigorating essential oil is refreshing to the senses and nervous system. It can be used to treat headaches, cough and sinus congestion, muscle pains and motion sickness.

Each of the essential oils listed contain potent antioxidants that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.The essential oils can be inhaled via a diffuser or tissue, applied topically to the skin using a carrier oil or lotion, or added to a warm bath. It is always recommended to dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil or lotion before applying directly to the skin as sensitivity may occur.15

Yoga
Yoga

The mind-body practices of Restorative Yoga, or gentle Hatha yogic postures called asanas, can help to reduce pain, inflammation, and relax the muscles. Yoga works by holding and releasing different positions to focus on mind-body integration. While originally used for meditation purposes, yoga has become an increasingly popular way to manage stress and acquire physical activity.

The connection between yoga and a reduction in RA symptoms has been documented through eleven different studies. According to some research, “evidence was strongest for reduction in disease symptoms (tender/swollen joints, pain) and disability, as well as improved self-efficacy and mental health.”16

Yoga provides a wonderful physical outlet for RA sufferers to focus on flexibility, stretching, balance, and posture. By following a gentle yoga routine regularly, individuals with Rheumatoid Arthritis may be able to better limit the length and severity of their RA symptoms. Poses to include in a yoga routine are designed to alleviate RA symptoms and strengthen supportive muscles.

Some asanas that are beneficial for RA sufferers include:

  • Virabhaddrasana I (Warrior 1) – Try this position facing a wall with palms reaching and touching the wall for support. Be gentle and hold for only a few breaths.
  • Virabhaddrasana II (Warrior ) – Try this position slowly, with lots of breath and hold for only a few seconds at a time.
  • Utkatasana (chair pose) – Try this position parallel to a wall so arms can reach the wall for balance and support; hold for a few seconds at at time.
  • Matsyendrasana (seated spinal twist) – Be sure to place a bolster or blanked under knees and/or hips if they are far off the ground to align the spine properly and take pressure off the knees.
  • Bhujangasana (cobra pose) – Keep a gentle bend in the knees when lifting the chest.
  • Balasana (child’s pose.17) – Use a blanked or bolster when leaning back into the pose to prevent knee strain.

In addition to performing these poses slowly and gently, restorative yogic poses may provide additional myofacial relief for RA sufferers and also alleviate stress experiences when living with the condition. As a more static form of yoga, restorative or Yin Yoga offers poses that use props to specifically position the body in a comfortable and supportive way to allow for muscle and mental relaxation. Often, the poses are held for a few minutes at a time to promote complete relaxation.

Apitherapy

Apitherapy, the medicinal use of products made by honeybees such as honey, bee venom, pollen, royal jelly, propolis and beeswax18 is another holistic form of treatment for RA.

Apitherapy has been recognized as a powerful way to treat a wide spectrum of disorders and diseases for hundreds of years. For example, bee venom therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis involves using targeted bee stings at localized sites of joint pain and inflammation to trigger the release of anti-inflammatory and pain-blocking agents present in the bee venom. According to Dr. Wong, MD of Grace Life Medical Center, at least 18 active components exist in bee venom and following a sting, the adrenal glands may be stimulated to release cortisol in the body.19 The release of several therapeutic components in the venom, including histamine and cortisol, help alleviate pain and inflammation associated with RA.20 However, Apitherapy does not only involve the use of venom. All aspects of hive products are involved in Apitherapy, from the medicinal use of honey to pollen to beeswax.

Preliminary research exists that examines the effects of apitherapy for RA patients. In a randomized trial of 100 RA patients, 50 of them treated with Apitherapy and 50 patients treated through traditional medication, the findings revealed that Apitherapy is indeed an effective and cost-friendly form of treatment with relatively low side effects. The results indicated that the 50 RA patients treated with Apitherapy experienced greater significant improvement in joint swelling, pain, and stiffness than the medically treated group. Additionally, the group treated with Apitherapy had a lower relapse rate (12% to 32%).21

Holistic Lifestyle Changes

Holistic lifestyle changes are simple, yet effective, daily decisions that can reduce and help manage the painful side effects of RA. While RA is a chronic condition without a true cure, there are several holistic lifestyle changes RA sufferers can make.

Balance of Sleep/Exercise
Sleep

A good balance of rest and exercise is vital for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and managing RA symptoms. A regular exercise routine will help increase blood flow, circulation, and improve overall health and mood. However, physical activity may be impossible during the height of RA pain and swelling. It is during times like this that rest becomes vital. A balance of resting when the RA symptoms are strongest and exercise for when they are more manageable will introduce a happy medium of physical activity and much-needed rest.22

Tai-Chi

Tai Chi is an ancient martial art form that has been heralded in China for its’ effective treatment of RA symptoms. Studies reveal that the regular practice of Tai Chi produces “statistically significant benefits on lower extremity range of motion, in particular ankle range of motion, for people with RA.”23 This low impact form of exercise helps to bring a sense of balance and strength while alleviating RA symptoms.

Meditation

Meditation and other mind-body practices provide a cost-effective way to control RA pain from the comfort of home. To follow meditative techniques for pain, find a quiet, dark space in which to sit. Focus on deep, slow breaths while clearing the mind. Mindfulness meditation practices can help to reduce sensations of pain, stress, and anxiety and increase activity levels24

Healing Breath Techniques
Pranayama

Pranayama, the practice of controlled breathing, helps to relieve chronic pain associated with RA. This yogic style of breathing focuses on the deep inhalation and slow release of each breath, which increases oxygen inhalation and delivery throughout the body. This type of breathing can be an especially important pain relieving technique for RA.

Nadi shodhona, also known as alternate nostril breathing, is a powerful, calming pranayama that has been shown to have a physiological effect on the parasympathetic nervous system and to lower stress and blood pressure. Nadi shodhona involves right and left isolated nostril breathing to activate distinct parts of the nervous system and provide soothing relief. This pranayama, and others, have been utilized for treating various chronic pain disorders and may prove very beneficial for relieving RA symptoms.

Holistic Diet & Nutrition

Diet and nutrition play a large role in virtually every health condition. Rheumatoid Arthritis can be treated by specific dietary changes and a holistic approach to nutrition. An anti-inflammatory diet, specific supplements, supplements, and foods can all help to reduce inflammation and boost the immune system.

Anti-inflammatory diet

You can greatly reduce the severity of your RA symptoms by following an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in Omega -3’s and low in Omega-6’s. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the system and are in short supply in most of our modern day diets. Omega-3 food sources include flax seeds, walnuts, fish, grass fed meat and eggs, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and fish oil.

Reducing or eliminate inflammatory nightshades such as peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes and foods with high levels of arginine such as chocolate, nuts, red meat, seafood and eggs.25

Anti-inflammatory Foods

The addition of several foods to an anti-rheumatic diet have proven effective in reducing inflammation.

Cherries

Cherries contain significant anti-inflammatory properties. Eating just 12 cherries a day can be very helpful in reducing inflammation. According to a 2003 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, eating Bing cherries may help reduce inflammation associated with RA. The study showed that blood markers for inflammation were significantly reduced from consuming cherries.26

Ginger, Turmeric, Green Tea
Turmeric

Ginger, turmeric, and green tea are all delicious foods that contain natural anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin, the main ingredient in turmeric, is what gives the spice its yellow color and is a powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant. Recent studies conducted by the CCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines) have determined that ginger, turmeric, and green tea are all powerful anti-inflammatory agents that may be beneficial to those suffering with RA. These spices can be added to your favorite meals or taken as supplements. As always, consult your physician before taking any supplements.27

Alkaline Foods

RA sufferers frequently find that their digestive systems are out of balance and overly acidic. This is caused by a traditional modern diet of heavily processed, sugar-rich foods. The solution to changing gut health includes the adoption of a more alkaline diet. This includes the consumption of alkalinizing foods like many fruits and vegetables. Raisins, carrots, spinach, bananas, lemons, and apricots are a few examples of strongly alkalinizing foods.28

Joint Lubricating Foods

Fish oil is a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids and can be obtained by eating fish or by taking supplements. A daily dose of fish oil can help to reduce inflammation in the body, and in turn, inflammation caused by RA.

Mediterranean dietAn additional dietary change that will have an important impact on your allergy symptoms is to reduce your Omega-6 intake. This kind of fatty acid is found inmost processed foods and will wreak havoc on inflammation levels. The intake of Omega-6 fats can be significantly reduced by cutting out processed foods and vegetable oils.

Eliminate Caffeine

The elimination of caffeine may play an active role in the reduction of RA symptoms. Painful RA inflammation can be caused by food allergens, and caffeine often is a culprit. Following an elimination diet is the only true way to determine what food source could be causing inflammation in the system. Removing caffeine as a potential allergen could mean significant reduction in the severity and duration of arthritis symptoms.29

Products & Equipment

There are a host of supportive devices to improve and assist with daily activities. Wrist splints, zipper pullers, and shoehorns are all available to aid with activities that may prove painful. There are a also some specialized splints available30 that keep fingers and toes in pain-free positions. Additionally, there are many products available that assist with movements such as getting in and out of bed easier.

Community Resources

Rehabilitation may be helpful when treating painful RA symptoms. A physical or occupational therapist will be able to address pain, increase mobility, and ensure there is no loss of daily functioning due to RA.

A physical therapist will provide helpful exercises, education, and instruction as to which assistive devices are best. Seeing a physical therapist to treat RA includes working to maintain a certain level of physical function and mobility. A physical therapist can also provide relief for RA symptoms through techniques such as hot/cold applications and ultrasound.

An occupational therapist is committed to assisting RA sufferers with maintaining their independence and ability to properly work, take care of their personal hygiene, and participates in meaningful activities. Occupational therapists will often assess a home/work environment and provide helpful tips, information, and resources that will work to accommodate RA symptoms.31

Updated: September 2019


References

  1. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp.
  2. http://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/guide/understanding-rheumatoid-arthritis-treatment
  3. http://www.enbrel.com/prescribing-information.jspx
  4. Furst, Dan. “Double-Blind, Randomized, Controlled, Pilot Study Comparing Classic Ayuverdic Medicine, Methotrexate, and Their Combination in Rheumatoid Arthritis.” JCR: Journal of Clinical Rheumatology. June 2011. PDF File.
  5. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/feverfew
  6. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/willow-bark
  7. http://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/guide/rheumatoid-arthritis-best-worst-supplements-herbs?page=2
  8. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam/chinesemed.htm
  9. http://www.arthritistoday.org/arthritis-treatment/natural-and-alternative-treatments/supplements-and-herbs/supplement-guide/thunder-god-vine.php
  10. http://www.hss.edu/conditions_acupuncture-can-it-help-rheumatoid-arthritis.asp#.U4ignMdRGpI
  11. Furst, Dan. “Double-Blind, Randomized, Controlled, Pilot Study Comparing Classic Ayuverdic Medicine, Methotrexate, and Their Combination in Rheumatoid Arthritis.” JCR: Journal of Clinical Rheumatology. June 2011. PDF File.
  12. http://www.livestrong.com/news-articles/367949-list-of-nightshade-vegetables-fruits/
  13. http://www.banyanbotanicals.com/sm
  14. http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21617
  15. http://www.essentialoilspedia.com/arthritis/
  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3026480/
  17. http://www.livestrong.com/news-articles/113281-yoga-rheumatoid-arthritis/
  18. http://www.apitherapy.org/about-apitherapy/what-is-apitherapy/
  19. http://www.gracelifemedical.com/Bee%20Venom%20Website%20Dr%20%20Wong.htm
  20. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=50602
  21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18807725
  22. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp
  23. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15266544
  24. http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/hypnosis-meditation-and-relaxation-for-pain-treatment?page=2
  25. http://regannaturopathic.com/2013/04/the-truth-about-arginine-lysine-and-herpes-simplex-virus/
  26. http://www.livestrong.com/news-articles/448466-tart-cherries-and-arthritis/
  27. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/RA/getthefacts.htm
  28. http://www.livestrong.com/news-articles/135533-acid-alkaline-balanced-diet/http://www.rheumatoidarthritisprogram.com/the-underlying-cause-of-ra/
  29. https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/rheumatoid-arthritis-natural-treatments
  30. http://www.3pointproducts.com/rheumatoid-arthritis
  31. http://rheumatoidarthritis.net/physical-therapy-and-occupational-therapy/

Categories
Condition

Seasonal Allergies Natural Treatments

Reviewed & edited by Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, CAP

Seasonal allergies are the body’s immunological reaction to a foreign particle, known as an allergen, when exposed during different times of the year. Commonly referred to as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, the most common airborne allergens include pollen from trees, grass, plants, or mold spores.

For individuals who are sensitive to these allergens, this exposure causes an immune system response that is the culprit behind the unpleasant–sometimes life-altering–symptoms of seasonal allergies.

Seasonal allergies natural treatments are able to address the mind, body, and emotions.

Overview

It is unclear why millions of individuals suffer from seasonal allergies while others do not, but the causation is embedded in the immune system. Through a process referred to as sensitization, the immune system recognizes airborne particles, such as pollen, as harmful invaders and responds to the particles by producing antibodies against it. This means that every time the body is subsequently exposed to the allergens, the immune system automatically releases chemicals into the bloodstream that trigger an allergic response.[1]

sneezing womanHow Seasonal Allergies Feel

Seasonal allergy symptoms feel like a cold, but unlike a cold, are not caused by a virus. These cold-type symptoms are the immune system‘s allergic response to pollen and other allergens brought on by the change of seasons. Seasonal allergies can be experienced at different times throughout the year, as common outdoor allergens bloom in different seasons. Typically, the onset of spring and autumn bring on the worst bouts of seasonal allergies.[2]

Symptoms of seasonal allergies include sneezing, runny nose, itching of the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, and ears, itchy and/or water eyes, congestion, sinus pain and pressure, sore or scratchy throat, dry cough, fatigue, and wheezing. Allergy sufferers may experience all, or only some, of the symptoms.

How Seasonal Allergies are Conventionally Treated

There are a plethora of common over-the-counter medications available, but many individuals find themselves turning to prescription drugs to treat more severe cases of seasonal allergies. Prescription nasal sprays are frequently prescribed and among the most popular are Flonase, Nasonex, and Rhinocort. These nasal corticosteroids are used to treat inflammation in the nasal passages and carry rare but potential side effects of long-term steroid use.

Other commonly prescribed medications include antihistamines, which are histamine-blocking. Histamine, the chemical released into the blood stream during an allergic reaction, is the culprit behind sneezing, itchy eyes, and sinus pressure. It is important to be aware that antihistamines may cause drowsiness and should be used with caution before operating machinery or a vehicle. Physicians may also prescribe the use of a decongestant to alleviate congestion symptoms, or oral corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.

Although seasonal allergy symptoms may be challenging, keeping sufferers indoors while others enjoy the change of seasons, it is encouraging that there are a plethora of holistic treatments, precautions, and dietary and lifestyle changes that can help reduce and manage seasonal allergies year round.

Holistic Healing for Seasonal Allergy Sufferers

Season allergies affect the whole person, and natural forms of treatment are able to address the mind, body, and emotions. Seasonal allergies are an immune system response that can be attended to through various holistic forms of treatment. Natural allergy treatments include the use of herbal supplements, nasal irrigation, acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine, and sublingual immunotherapy.

Herbal Supplements

Instead of turning to over-the-counter antihistamines that can cause drowsiness and other side effects, give quercetin a try. This bioflavonoid, found naturally in onions, apples, red wine, grapefruit, parsley, and leafy greens, is available in supplement form as a natural herbal compound that has an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. Quercetin works by blocking substances involved with the release of histamine. For best results, begin taking a daily supplement 4-6 weeks prior to allergy season. As always, consult your physician before taking quercetin or any other supplement.[3]

Stinging nettleStinging nettle is a plant with a long medicinal history. Used for hundreds of years to treat a wide variety of ailments, recent studies have shown stinging nettle’s effectiveness in reducing histamine levels. Freeze dried nettle leaf capsules are often taken before the onset of allergy season to preemptively ward off the release of histamine into the body. Stinging nettle may alter the menstrual cycle and cause miscarriages, so pregnant women should avoid it. In addition, nettle may interact with several drugs including anti-platelets, anticoagulants, antihypertensives, diuretics, diabetes medication and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). As always, consult your physician before taking any supplements.[4]

Neti potNasal Irrigation

A very simple and effective method for treating seasonal allergies is the use of a Neti pot. Neti pots have been used for thousands of years and provide an inexpensive method of treatment to irrigate the nasal passages and alleviate allergy symptoms. To flush your sinuses with a Neti pot, fill the pot with a salt-water solution and lean over a sink with your head tiled to one side. Place the spout of the Neti pot in one nostril and gently pour until you feel the solution in your nose. Keep your head tilted and allow the solution to pour out of the other nostril. Blow your nose after the initial application and then repeat the process on the other side, this time tilting your head in the opposite direction.[5]

AcupunctureAcupuncture

Founded on the concept of removing blockages in mental, physical, and emotional life force and energy, acupuncture is the science and art of restoring the balance of natural energy to the body. Developed within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this form of therapy has proven useful in alleviating numerous conditions and disorders. By treating the whole person and working to balance an impaired immune system that is responsible for an allergic response, acupuncture provides a holistic approach to targeting and treating seasonal allergies.

A 2013 study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, examined the effectiveness of acupuncture treatments in patients with seasonal allergies. The findings are promising for using acupuncture in combination with other therapies to treat seasonal allergies. Of the study’s participants, those receiving acupuncture treatments in conjunction with their antihistamines experienced an improvement in their overall allergy symptoms and reduction in their antihistamine use than the other groups. Study author, Dr. Benno Brinkhaus, stated, “From my experience as a physician and acupuncturist, and as a researcher, I would recommend trying acupuncture if patients are not satisfied with conventional anti-allergic medication or treatment or they suffer from more or less serious side effects of the conventional medication. Also because acupuncture is a relative safe treatment.”[6]

AyurvedaAyurvedic Medicine

An Ayurvedic approach to treating seasonal allergies involves eliminating toxins held deep within bodily tissues and striking a balance among the body’s elements. According to Ayurvedic practitioner Dr. Julie Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, “an Ayurvedic approach to treating allergies targets detoxifying the liver, kidneys, and blood, along with eliminating “ama” or toxins from the gut. It focuses on processing undigested food, allergens, and toxins in the digestive system to reduce inflammatory allergic reactions. Panchakarma, known as “the 5 actions” is the optimal form of Ayurvedic detoxification and can extract allergens and ama from deep within the body’s tissues.”

Panchakarma (PK) is an Ayurvedic treatment that involves a series of massages, herbal saunas, colonic therapy, and nutritional changes to cleanse the body of “ama” and eliminate allergy responses. These enjoyable Ayurvedic series of treatments restore a sense of balance and well-being to the allergy sufferer. Panchakarma treatment sessions are available at local Ayurvedic therapy centers under the supervision of a trained Ayurvedic practitioner.

Sublingual Immunotherapy

Sublingual Immunotherapy (SILT) is a natural seasonal allergy treatment. Used widely through Europe, Australia, South America, and Asia, SILT involves exposing the individual to small doses of their allergen(s) repeatedly to build up an immunity. Most commonly given in the form of a liquid or tablet, the allergen is placed under the tongue and held there for 1-2 minutes, then swallowed. SILT’s effectiveness has been well-documented over the past 20 years, and it is a beneficial natural treatment option in treating rhinitis, asthma, and itchy eyes caused by allergies to grass and tree pollens.

Side effects of SILT are typically localized and mild and include mouth itching or stomach discomfort. It is highly recommended to seek Sublingual Immunotherapy through an allergist to ensure proper use and dosage.[7]

Holistic Lifestyle Changes

Holistic lifestyle changes are simple, yet effective, daily decisions that can reduce and even prevent the worst bouts of seasonal allergies. While allergy sufferers can’t hide indoors all season long, there are several holistic lifestyle changes that can be made. Additionally, there are many innovative and helpful products that can eliminate allergen triggers from your home environment.

 

allergies - shut windowsA few ways to avoid peak allergy season reactions include:

  • Remain inside with windows closed during peak pollen hours
  • Stay indoors on dry, windy days
  • Return outside after a spring rain (the rain helps to clear the air of allergens)
  • Avoid outdoor gardening and chores during early morning hours when the pollen count is highest
  • Wear a dust mask while performing outdoor activities
  • Run the air conditioning in your home and car can to help to clear the air of common allergens
  • Utilize a dehumidifier to reduce dryness from allergies
  • Use a vacuum with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Filter
  • Wear tight wrap-around sunglasses when outdoors to create a barrier from the eyes

Perhaps one of the most effective ways to improve the air quality of a home and work environment is to use an air purifier. Several types of air purifiers are available including ionizers, ones with HEPA filters, and differing sizes dependent on the space for which it will be cycling air. It is easy to determine what size air purifier to purchase by looking at the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR). The CADR reveals the speed and amount of airborne particles to be filtered. When choosing an air purifier for the home or office, be sure to purchase one that has a CADR rating equal to two-thirds of the room size. These air purifiers reduce airborne allergens that make their way into the home to create a clean air environment, which is especially important for seasonal allergy sufferers.

The use of products such as dehumidifiers and air purifiers will also assist in removing allergy triggers from the atmosphere. Be sure to use a vacuum that contains a HEPA filter to ensure that dust, pollen, and other allergens are removed from your home.

Holistic Diet & Nutrition

Diet and nutrition plays a large role in virtually every health condition. Seasonal allergies can be treated by specific dietary changes and a holistic approach to nutrition. Probiotics, an anti-inflammatory diet, specific spices proven to reduce allergic responses, and avoidance of dairy products can all go far in reducing congestion, boosting the immune system, and addressing the root causes behind seasonal allergies.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms that exist in the stomach. By taking in probiotics through dietary means, an individual can vastly improve their “gut health” and help to boost the immune system.

Recent research has uncovered a link between the ingestion of probiotic drinks and the reduction in seasonal allergy symptoms. A 2013 study, published in PLOS ONE journal, revealed that regular intake of probiotics had a significant impact on gut health. In turn, this caused a systemic change in cells related to seasonal allergy symptoms,such as those lining the nasal cavity. Probiotics will ensure good gut health, which is vital to a healthy immune system and overall reduced allergic response.[8]

Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6

You can greatly reduce the severity of your allergy symptoms by following an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in Omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the system and are in short supply in most of our modern day diets. Omega-3 food sources include flax seeds, walnuts, fish, grass fed meat and eggs, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. An additional important dietary change that will have a positive impact on your allergy symptoms is to reduce your Omega-6 intake. This kind of fatty acid is found in most processed foods and will wreak havoc on your inflammation levels. The intake of Omega-6 fats can be significantly reduced by cutting out processed foods and vegetable oils.

TurmericAdd Some Spice

Another way to help combat congestion includes adding naturally spicy foods into your meals. Capsaicin in nightshades like peppers has been shown to reduce congestion. Hot peppers, horseradish, and spicy mustards will all work as natural (and delicious) decongestants on allergy symptoms.

Turmeric is also a wonderful spice to add to an ingredient list during allergy season. This spice, a relation of the ginger family, has a peppery flavor and contains curcumin, which acts as a natural decongestant.[9]

Take the Tea, Hold the Cream

Chamomile TeaIn addition to increasing your Omega-3’s, decreasing Omega-6’s, and including spicy foods into your diet, chamomile tea is another wonderful natural seasonal allergy remedy. Chamomile contains high levels of quercetin, the aforementioned anti-inflammatory antioxidant.

Additionally, eliminating sources of dairy and sugar can help cut down on mucus production, so avoiding adding milk to tea. Limiting or avoiding thick, heavy dairy products such as ice cream, yogurt, and sweets during allergy season can also help keep mucus buildup at bay.

Products & Equipment

Neti Pot ElephantNeti Pot

Neti Pots are an inexpensive product that help to flush irritating pollen and other allergens from the nasal cavities. The accompanying sterile saline solution can be made at home using salt and distilled water, or is available for purchase.

Air Purifier

An air purifier with a HEPA filter will work wonders in keeping your home allergen-free and cycling clean air back into the environment. You may also want to try adding a dehumidifier to your bedroom to keep the air as fresh as possible.

Aromatherapy

DiffuserAromatherapy diffusers can be used to bring additional seasonal allergy relief. There are many essential oils that help alleviate allergy symptoms, reduce inflammation, soothe sore throats, relieve sinus pain and pressure and improve nasal and chest congestion. Some oils include:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Peppermint
  • Lavender
  • Frankincense
  • Lemon

Apply a singe essential oil or an oil mixture to a diffuser and enjoy the allergy relief.

Community Resources

An allergist, or immunologist, is a specialized physician that is trained to diagnose and treat allergies, amongst other ailments. If you find yourself suffering from severe allergies at the turn of the seasons, you may benefit from an allergist who can help determine the best course of treatment.

Updated: April 2014


Written by Kristin Accorsi

Reviewed & edited by Julie Cerrato

  • 1. www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hay-fever/basics/causes/con-20020827
  • 2. www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/outdoor-allergens.aspx
  • 3. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18187018
  • 4. umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/stinging-nettle
  • 5. www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/allergic-rhinitis/treatment.html
  • 6. www.cnn.com/2013/02/19/health/acpuncture-allergies/
  • 7. www.acaai.org/allergist/allergies/treatment/pages/sublingual-immunotherapy-slit.aspx
  • 8. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131126102305.htm
  • 9. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21802026
  • photo credit: flickr.com/photos/chsia/8560999528/
Categories
Natural Health News and Articles

Is Your Diet Causing Your Headache?

Chronic daily headache, a condition marked by recurrent migraines and severe pain, can be extremely difficult to treat with conventional prescription drugs. For those suffering with Chronic daily headache (CDH), day-to-day activities and interactions become increasingly difficult to navigate while experiencing excruciating pain. This debilitating condition markedly alters the sufferer’s ability to enjoy their life while suffering headaches 15 days or more a month.

A 2013 study, conducted by PAIN online journal, has revealed that the headache remedy you seek can be found in the aisles of your local grocery market. After introducing a dietary change that increased amounts of Omega-3 fatty acid and decreased amounts of Omega-6 fatty acid, the test population experienced a reduction in symptoms associated with CDH. The healing properties found in an appropriate balance between the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids helps to reduce inflammation in the system, and in turn, extreme headache pain. In the study, participants experienced a significant reduction in headache hours and severe pain symptoms, as well as an improved quality of life.1

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for our health, but do not naturally occur in our systems. Because of this, we must intake our Omega-3 fatty acids through food or supplements. Wonderful Omega-3 rich foods include grass fed beef, eggs, walnuts, edamame, black beans, flaxseed, and fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for brain functioning, normal growth and development, have an anti-inflammatory effect, and are powerful agents in lowering the risk of cancer and other diseases.2

Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential for our health, but must be consumed through food or supplements as they are not naturally occurring in our bodies. However, high levels of this fatty acid will have a reverse effect in treating disorders and will actually cause inflammation in the system. Unfortunately, our modern diet has overloaded us with Omega-6 through the influx of processed foods and various types of vegetable oils. Food sources that you want to regulate in your diet in order to reduce your intake of Omega-6 fatty acids include refined vegetable oils (those commonly found in processed foods, cookies, and sweets), avocados, pine nuts, and pumpkin seeds.3

An easy way to increase your intake of Omega-3 and decrease the levels of Omega-6 in your system is to eliminate heavily processed foods from your diet and begin to include Omega-3 rich foods and supplements. This simple dietary change, corroborated by the 2013 randomized trial in the treatment of chronic headaches, can transform the lives of an estimated 10 million adults in the United States who suffer from Chronic Daily Headache and other chronic pain conditions.4

Written by Kristin Accorsi

References

  • 1PAIN journal. Targeted alteration of dietary n-3 and n-6 fatty acids for the treatment of chronic headaches. ctsi-price.sites.medinfo.ufl.edu/files/2014/02/Ramsden-et-al-2013-Alteration-of-n-3-and-n-6-fatty-acids-for-Chronic-HA.pdf
  • 2 Omega-3 fatty acids. umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids
  • 3 Understanding the Omega Fatty Acids. www.webmd.com/diet/healthy-kitchen-11/omega-fatty-acids
  • 4 PAIN journal. Targeted alteration of dietary n-3 and n-6 fatty acids for the treatment of chronic headaches. ctsi-price.sites.medinfo.ufl.edu/files/2014/02/Ramsden-et-al-2013-Alteration-of-n-3-and-n-6-fatty-acids-for-Chronic-HA.pdf
  • photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/5r4S8J

Categories
Condition

Lactose Intolerance Natural Treatments

Typically our bodies produce the enzyme lactase in the small intestine. Lactase works to convert the lactose found in milk and other dairy products into the simpler sugars glucose and galactose which are then absorbed into the bloodstream.

People with lactose intolerance, however, lack enough lactase and are therefore unable to break down the lactose. This can result in uncomfortable digestive symptoms. The following is information on lactose intolerance natural treatments.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?

Symptoms of lactose intolerance can range from mild to severe and are generally digestive related. They can include abdominal discomfort, gas, bloating, diarrhea and nausea. Most often symptoms occur anywhere from half an hour to two hours after eating foods containing lactose as the undigested enzyme moves into the colon and interacts negatively with the intestinal bacteria.

What Causes It?

There are several causes of lactose intolerance.

  • General Aging. As many people age the amount of lactase in their small intestine slowly decreases which can lead to lactose intolerance.
  • Specific Problem. Other times an issue with the small intestine such as an illness, injury or surgery can result in decreased amounts of lactase. In cases such as these treating the underlying illness such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease can sometimes help return lactase levels to normal.
  • Congenital Issue. Although rare, occasionally babies are born with no lactase. This is a hereditary disorder and is treated by giving the infant lactose-free infant formula.
  • Prematurity at Birth. Infants’ lactase levels rise in the third trimester so babies born prematurely may be lactose intolerant.

How Is It Diagnosed?

If lactose intolerance is suspected, one easy way to help determine a diagnosis is to eliminate dairy from the diet for several days and note if symptoms decrease or disappear. Keeping a food and symptom log can be helpful as milk and other foods are slowly re-introduced.

Tests are available as well.

  • Lactose Tolerance Test. In the lactose tolerance test an individual drinks something with high levels of lactose and then has blood drawn two hours later. In people with normal lactase levels there should be more glucose in the blood due to the lactose being broken down during digestion. If a glucose rise is not observed this can indicate lactose intolerance.
  • Hydrogen Breath Test. This is similar to the lactose tolerance test in that a liquid with high levels of lactose is drunk. Instead of a blood test, however, the person has their breath measured periodically for amounts of hydrogen. Normally there is not much hydrogen but in the absence of lactase the lactose ferments in the colon and results in hydrogen released during exhalation.
  • Stool Acidity Test. The stool acidity test can detect whether lactic acid and other acids caused by fermentation of lactose in the colon are present thereby indicating lactose intolerance. This is mainly used for babies and children unable to do the other tests.

How Is It Treated?

There is no cure for lactose intolerance. However, there are things that can be done to make life easier.

  • Cut back on dairy. Many people find the best result from decreasing the amount of dairy in their diets to reduce symptoms. If this is done, be sure to still get enough calcium and vitamin D from other sources. Also, watch out for hidden lactose in unexpected places like cereal, salad dressing, baking mixes and more. Ingredients such as whey, dry milk solids and milk byproducts should all be red flags.
  • Choose the dairy that is eaten carefully. Swiss and cheddar cheese, for example, have only small amounts of lactose while the bacteria in yogurt breaks down lactose and therefore may be easier to tolerate.
  • Re-think eating habits. Consume smaller servings of dairy to reduce the chance of problems. In addition, drinking milk at mealtime with other foods can lengthen the digestive process and might decrease symptoms.
  • Try substitutions. Instead of regular milk experiment with lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk and other products.
  • Give lactase tablets a try. Several brands of lactase-containing over-the-counter tablets are available. These can be taken right before eating dairy and may lessen discomfort.
  • Probiotics. Probiotics may help some people and can be found in certain yogurts and as supplements.

References

  • digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/lactoseintolerance/
  • mayoclinic.com/health/lactose-intolerance/DS00530

Written by Kristen Stewart
Kristen is a freelance writer specializing in health, nutrition, parenting and lifestyle topics. To learn more, visit her website at kristenestewart.com.

Categories
Condition

Wheat Allergy Natural Treatment

A wheat allergy is basically being allergic to wheat. It is one of the top eight most common food allergies (along with milk, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish) and can be difficult to manage due to the fact that about three-quarters of all grain products contain wheat flour. It is important to note that being allergic to wheat is different from celiac disease.

Wheat allergy natural treatment involves avoiding anything containing wheat.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Wheat Allergy?

An allergic reaction to wheat is similar to other types of food allergies. Symptoms can range from sneezing, congestion and/or asthma to hives, skin rashes or swelling to digestive issues like stomach ache, nausea, diarrhea and/or vomiting.

Life-threatening reactions known as anaphylaxis can also occur. In cases like this a person may experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing and/or swallowing, swelling of the throat, chest pain, dizziness, fainting and/or a fast heartbeat. Immediate medical intervention is critical with an Epi-Pen and call to 911.

What Causes It?

A wheat allergy occurs when the body mistakenly views the wheat protein as an invader out to cause harm. It typically begins in the baby or early toddler years and is often accompanied by other food allergies. In many cases children outgrow the allergy with about 65 percent being wheat allergy-free by the time they enter the teen years.

How Is It Diagnosed?

If a wheat allergy is suspected, a doctor will perform a physical exam along with a combination of tests depending on the situation. In a skin test tiny amounts of wheat proteins are pricked into the skin to see if there is a reaction. A blood test can screen for antibodies.

Often patients are asked to keep a food diary where they write down what they have eaten and any reactions afterward. An elimination diet is another possibility where certain foods are avoided and then slowly added back in while noting any symptoms. Finally, in food challenge testing small amounts of the food may be eaten under very close supervision to see if a reaction results.

How Is It Treated?

Avoidance of anything containing wheat is crucial to preventing a reaction. Reading labels is a must and meeting with a registered dietitian can be helpful.

What Should Be Avoided?

Education and diligence are important in working to avoid wheat. As expected it is often in breads, pasta, crackers and many desserts like cookies and cake. More surprisingly, however, are other foods like hot dogs, ketchup, soy sauce and ice cream which may also contain it. Beer, licorice, jelly beans and hard candy may be culprits as well. Even make-up and playdough may have wheat in them.

Labels should always be read very carefully to avoid accidental ingestion.

What If an Allergic Reaction Occurs?

The possibility of an allergic reaction should be discussed with a doctor and a plan put into place. Generally speaking someone with a wheat allergy may be prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector (commonly known as an Epi-Pen) to use if he or she feels a reaction coming on. Antihistamines may help ease symptoms but should not be used in place of epinephrine which is the gold standard for treating life-threatening anaphylaxis. 911 should also be called in the event of a severe reaction.

Is a Wheat Allergy the Same Thing as Celiac Disease?

A wheat allergy is different than celiac disease. While people with a wheat allergy may be allergic to other foods there is also a chance they are not and wheat is the only food to be avoided.

Individuals with celiac disease, on the other hand, need to avoid all foods containing gluten (foods with wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut and some oat products among others).

The reactions also differ. For people with a wheat allergy reactions can be life threatening. Celiac disease also has serious consequences to eating gluten but the damage is over the long term with ailments like fatigue, malnutrition and anemia being possible.

Written by Kristen Stewart
Kristen is a freelance writer specializing in health, nutrition, parenting and lifestyle topics. To learn more, visit her website at kristenestewart.com.

  • acaai.org/allergist/allergies/Types/food-allergies/types/Pages/wheat-allergy.aspx
  • foodallergy.org/allergens/wheat-allergy
  • mayoclinic.com/health/wheat-allergy/DS01002
Categories
Condition

Celiac Sprue Natural Treatments

Reviewed by Sandy Cho, MD

Also known as celiac disease, celiac sprue is a condition that results in damage to the small intestine when people eat foods containing gluten. The intestine takes in nutrients through tiny villi but when individuals with celiac sprue eat foods with gluten, it triggers an immune reaction instead of healthy digestion. The resulting immune reaction can harm the villi which may lead to malabsorption of important vitamins and minerals.

The following is information on celiac sprue natural treatments.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

Symptoms can vary by individual but often include a variety of gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, gas, indigestion, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea/vomiting and/or unusual stools (floating, bloody or bad smelling).

Celiac sprue can also cause other health problems such as fatigue, malnutrition, anemia, joint pain, muscle cramps, mouth ulcers, osteoporosis, depression, irritability and/or unexplained weight loss.

What Causes It?

While the exact cause is not known, experts believe there is likely a genetic component. It is believed that about 1 in 100 people suffer from celiac sprue but that number climbs to 1 in 22 individuals who have a parent, child or sibling with it (and 1 in 39 who have an aunt, uncle or cousin with it). It is possible that environmental stress can contribute to activating the ailment.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Diagnosis is typically made by a gastroenterologist. Frequently, a blood test is ordered to detect the presence of certain antibodies (ie. antiendomysial and antigliadin antibodies). This may be followed up with the doctor viewing the small intestine with an endoscope and taking a tissue biopsy. One or both of these tests may be done again several months after treatment has begun to make sure improvement has occurred.

How Is It Treated?

Avoidance of gluten is the only treatment for celiac sprue. It is important to note damage to the intestine can occur even if there are no symptoms so education and vigilance are key.

Meeting with a registered dietitian who has a specialty in celiac sprue can be very helpful in learning how to shop and eat.

What Should Be Avoided?

Anything that contains gluten should not be eaten (or drunk in the case of beer). This includes foods that have wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut and some oat products as ingredients.

The list doesn’t stop there, however. Some processed foods can also have gluten and it may not be obvious (“modified food starch” for example). Certain vitamins and medicines can also be culprits and should be studied carefully before taken.

Cross-contamination is another concern. It can happen anywhere from the factory where machinery is shared among various products to the kitchen where gluten-free food may come in contact with non-gluten free crumbs from the toaster or cutting board.

What Can Be Eaten?

Plain meat, poultry and fish along with fruits, vegetables and rice are naturally gluten-free. Flours made from soy, rice, corn or potato are also generally safe as well as certain grains like buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa. (However, check the packaging carefully to make sure the labels say they have been manufactured in a gluten-free facility.)

Should Additional Vitamins & Supplements Be Taken?

Malnutrition can be a side effect of celiac sprue due to the malabsorption of nutrients. (This can be a particular concern in children who may experience a delay in growth and pregnant women who might have a greater chance of suffering a miscarriage or having a baby born with birth defects.)

Levels of calcium, iron, folic acid, vitamins D and B12 and others may be deficient in people with celiac sprue. Working with a healthcare professional can help determine if or when supplementation is needed.

References

  • celiac.org/celiac-disease/what-is-celiac-disease/
  • umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/celiac-sprue-natural-treatments
  • csaceliacs.info

Written by Kristen Stewart

Categories
Condition

Bursitis Natural Treatments

Written by Sandy Cho, MD and reviewed by Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, CAP

Bursitis is an inflammation of the body’s small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the joints called bursae. Bursitis is often caused by repetitive motion and use of a joint.

There are several natural treatments for bursitis including Herbal Medicine, Supplements, Homeopathy, and Exercise.

The following provides information on bursitis natural treatments.

Overview

What is Bursitis?

Bursitis is an inflammation of the body’s small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the joints called bursae. These bursae help to lubricate and cushion the joints. Bursae are most commonly affected at the shoulder, elbow, hip, and knee joints in the body. Bursitis is often caused by repetitive motion and use of a joint. Some examples include:

  • Throwing a baseball
  • Lifting an object over your head repeatedly
  • Prolonged kneeling on a hard surface
  • Leaning on your elbows for extended periods of time

Bursitis can also occur as a result of mild injury, infection of a joint, or arthritis.

What are the signs and symptoms?

  • Aching or stiffness of the joint that worsens with movement
  • Sharp or shooting pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Warm joint

What are conventional treatments?

The treatment of bursitis usually involves resting and elevating the affected joint and alternating between applying hot and cold packs to the affected area.
Medications: NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may be used to reduce inflammation and pain

  • Over –the-counter NSAIDs: include Advil, Aleve, and Motrin. These may cause gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Prescription NSAIDs: such as diclofenac (Voltaren) may also be used. Such medications may increase your risk of heart attack or stroke if used for a prolonged duration

Injections: an injection of corticosteroid into the bursa may reduce inflammation and pain.
Surgery: in a few, rare cases, surgical intervention may be warranted.

Herbs

Herbs can help reduce inflammation found in bursitis and have been used throughout time in all parts of the world.

To ensure safety and avoid drug interactions, consult your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Boswellia (Boswellia serrata): Extracts of Boswellia serrata have been clinically studied for osteoarthritis and joint function as well as in reducing pain and inflammation of the joints of the body. 150 mg three times a day has been shown to be effective. Boswellia gel may be used for topical application.
  • Turmeric: a well- known spice that has long been used as a powerful anti-inflammatory in both Chinese and Indian medicine. 375 mg three times a day for three months has been shown to be effective.
  • White willow (Salix alba): boil 2 grams (half teaspoon) of its bark in 8 ounces of water. Drink up to 5 cups per day. As white willow acts similarly to aspirin, please consult with your healthcare provider before taking if you are allergic to aspirin or salicylates. Children under 18 years of age should not be given white willow.

Supplements

Along with a diet high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fatty fish, while avoiding processed foods and foods in high in sugar and fat, supplements can help reduce inflammation in bursitis.

To ensure safety and avoid drug interactions, consult your doctor or pharmacist before using any of these supplements:

  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant. In terms of cellular health, because it is an electron donor, it helps to reduce oxidative stress and keep the cells in a reduced or natural state. Vitamin C can help to repair connective tissue such as cartilage found in joints.
    • The ester form of Vitamin C is better absorbed than other formulations
    • Vitamin C at a dose of 2000 mg a day is a good starting dose
  • Glucosamine sulfate: as effective as NSAIDS in treating pain, it may benefit those experiencing moderate to severe pain. Glucosamine and chondroitin can also reduce total body inflammation, including lowering C-reactive protein levels.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Supplementation with Omega 3 fish oil can decrease the inflammation and reduce the pain associated with osteoarthritis and/or bursitis. In one study, the use of Omega 3 fish oil and glucosamine together markedly showed a decrease in stiffness and pain compared to those who just received glucosamine.
    • A good anti-inflammatory dose is at least 3-4 grams a day to start and slowly increase to a maximum of 7-8 grams
    • As this supplement can thin the blood, if you are on any blood thinners, you may wish to start at a lower dose and increase upwards

Homeopathy

Homeopathic medicine provides support and relief for those suffering from bursitis.

  • Arnica gel has been demonstrated for reducing inflammation of the joints. The application of Arnica topically to the hands or knees can be very effective in reducing pain and inflammation.

Bodywork

  • Chiropractic treatment is often used to treat people with bursitis, affording them decreased pain and increased range of motion. Chiropractic medicine involves adjustments or manipulations of the spine and joints to realign vertebra and joints. The treatment objectives consist of reducing inflammation of the joint, restoring proper posture and movement, and bringing the whole body back to its healthy state.
  • Acupuncture can help reduce swelling and inflammation as well as relieve pain in the joints from bursitis. Frequently used for pain relief, the Chinese philosophy believes by putting needles in certain locations, the body’s energy flow or qi can be rebalanced and provide relief. Many Westerners think the stimulation of certain nerves, muscles and connective tissues increases the body’s blood flow and release of endorphins which can lessen discomfort.

Fitness

  • Exercise provides a multitude of benefits. From a greater immune system, increased stamina to stronger muscles, exercise is highly recommended. In bursitis, exercising the muscles around the affected joint helps to reduce the pressure on the affected joint and bursa itself. Exercises such as yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi can help improve the strength of your muscles and ligaments while reducing muscle tension.

 

  • Hochber MC, Clegg DO. Potential effects of chondroitin sulfate on joint swelling: a GAIT report. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage. 2008;16 Suppl 3:S22-S24.
  • Kimmatkar N, Thawani V, Hingorani L, et al. Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee — a randomized double blind placebo controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 2003;10:3-7.
  • Ross SM. “Osteoarthritis: a proprietary Arnica gel is found to be as effective as ibuprofen gel in osteoarthritis of the hands.” Holistic Nursing Practice. 2008 Jul-Aug;22(4):237-239.
  • Schmid B, Ludtke R, Selbmann HK, et al. Efficacy and tolerability of a standardized willow bark extract in patients with osteoarthritis: randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind clinical trial. Z Rheumatol. 2000;59:314-320.
  • Shakibaei M, John T et al. Suppression of NF-kappaB activation by curcumin leads to inhibition of expression of cyclo-oxygenase-2 and matrix metalloproteinase-9 in human articular chondrocytes: Implications for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Biochemical Pharmacology. 2007 May 1;73(9):1434-145.
  • Vas J, Perea-Milla E, Mendez C, Galante AH, Madrazo F, Medina I, et al. Acupuncture and rehabilitation of the painful shoulder: study protocol of an ongoing multicentre randomised controlled clinical trial. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2005 Oct 14;5:19.

Updated: October 2013

Categories
Condition

Fibromyalgia Natural Treatments

Written by Dr. Rich Snyder and reviewed by Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, CAP

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that overall is characterized by diffuse pain and overwhelming fatigue that can be debilitating. The treatment of Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) involves an integrative treatment plan that involves treating

The treatment of Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) involves an integrative treatment plan that involves treating mind, body, and spirit. Find fibromyalgia natural treatments here.

Overview

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that overall is characterized by diffuse pain and overwhelming fatigue that can be debilitating. There are several characteristics of the fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). They can include:

  • Significant joint and muscle pain. Health professionals have identified “trigger points” that are present throughout the body that can elicit pain in particular areas when mild pressure is applied. The affected person with FMS can complain of pain all over the body.
  • Significant fatigue, especially with moderate physical exertion. Some people report requiring days to recover from what some may consider to be only mild physical exertion.
  • The person can complain of being unable to get a good night’s sleep.
  • The person may complain of frequent headaches and may also suffer from depression
  • Recurrent abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation which may be due to associated Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

What causes Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS)?

The specific cause of fibromyalgia is not known; however, the development of FMS has been typically thought to occur after a significant “stressor.” The stressor may involve a recent illness, including any recent physical or psychological trauma. For some people, the stressor can be as simple as taking an antibiotic that can alter the bowel flora and precipitate a flare of FMS. The role of Candida overgrowth needs to be considered as a significant contributor to the development of FMS.

There has been a lot of research done on the pain receptors in the body. These receptors may do more than just modulate pain; they may also have a role in the development of FMS but also autoimmune diseases/rheumatologic syndromes.

Is Fibromyalgia Syndrome an autoimmune condition?

No, Fibromyalgia Syndrome is NOT an autoimmune condition. Note, however, that FMS may occur on its own but can also occur in the presence of other autoimmune diseases.

What other medical conditions are associated with FMS?

Fibromyalgia can be strongly associated with many other conditions. They can include:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
  • Adrenal Fatigue (There is a very close relationship with this condition)
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease  (GERD)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Interstitial cystitis (IC)
  • Depression

What are the conventional treatments for FMS?

The conventional treatments for FMS involves the use of prescription medication to reduce the pain and disability associated with this condition. Commonly prescribed medications include:

  • Pregabalin (Lyrica): This medication works by treating nerve and/or muscle pain and is indicated by the FDA for the treatment of FMS. This medication is usually dosed 75 mg twice a day with dose adjustments needing to be made if kidney disease is present. Side effects can include lethargy, weakness, swelling and allergic reactions.
  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta): This is a medication also used for the treatment of pain, including nerve pain. It has been used in the treatment of depression as well. Potential side effects can include drowsiness, easy bruising, decreased appetite and/or constipation.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants have also been used in the treatment of not only pain but also of depression.  Other antidepressants, including Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Sertraline (Zoloft), have also been studied not only for the treatment of depression but also for pain with fibromyalgia. The medications can have what is called “anticholinergic” side effects which can include dry mouth, constipation, and urinary retention.

Holistic Treatment & Evaluation

Developing a Holistic Treatment Plan for FMS

The treatment of Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) involves an integrative treatment plan that involves treating mind, body, and spirit. Only using  prescription medications is simply not enough for the treatment of this condition. The treatment plan includes correcting nutrient deficiencies, treating pain and inflammation, searching for underlying causes of FMS, evaluating for hormonal imbalance, as well as treating the person so she can get a good night’s rest.

Getting a Holistic Based Evaluation

If you have fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), you need a detailed and personalized evaluation. This means looking for and identifying any causes of inflammation and potential infections, including Lyme disease. In addition, you should ask your healthcare provider about the following:

  • Hormonal Analysis: Fibromyalgia can be associated with many hormonal imbalances, including decreased levels of the hormones by the adrenal gland (adrenal fatigue). These can include sex hormones. Low hormone levels can also contribute to fatigue and insomnia among others.
  • The testing mentioned above is a combination of blood, urine, and saliva testing.
  • Testing for nutrient deficiencies and toxicities: There are some personalized profiles, including hair analysis that should be considered.

Nutrition

Forming a solid nutritional plan is vital as those with FMS may be nutrient-depleted. The pain can be so debilitating that one may not feel like eating. It can be very difficult to eat three meals a day. If the food that one is eating is low in nutritional value and is high in Omega 6 content, this can promote further inflammation and pain. Without proper nutrition, your body will not be able to heal. Modifying your diet and supplementation of the correct nutrient deficiencies are key in the treatment of FMS. Your diet should have high antioxidant and high nutritional value.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

A diet that is plant-based in nature and emphasizes fruits and vegetables and whole grains is necessary in the treatment of fibromyalgia. You want to as much as possible eliminate refined foods from your diet. Be aware of any food sensitivities that you may have that can exacerbate underlying inflammation and pain. Any food has the ability to stimulate an inflammatory response. One of the most common examples of this is gluten in celiac disease. On an anti-inflammatory diet, all possible sources of food sensitivities are eliminated and then reintroduced one at a time.

  • Another way is to have your blood tested for food sensitivities.
  • Be aware that different foods, even among fruits and vegetables, can have different degrees of inflammation. There is a great site at www.nutritiondata.com that has an  inflammatory index that can tell you the inflammatory power of the foods that you are eating. You want to focus on foods that have a high anti-inflammatory index.

Juicing for Fibromyalgia

Other Nutritional Recommendations:

  • Stay away from sugar: Sugar can be a potent source of inflammation. Eliminate this from your diet, and you can see a change in how you feel as well.  Sugar can also promote Candida overgrowth in the intestine which stimulates an inflammatory response via mycotoxins.
  • Juicing in the morning is a great way to start the morning and get a great anti-oxidant kick to start your day.

Intestinal Health

You read about the connection between Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS). Maintaining a healthy intestinal tract reduces total body inflammation and is very important in the treatment of FMS. This aspect in the treatment of FMS is not emphasized enough. The microflora of the intestinal tract plays such an important role in the modulation of the immune system. Altered gut flora can play a major role in your ability to absorb nutrients, and it can contribute to fungal overgrowth.

Supplements for FibromyalgiaProbiotics

These should be a mainstay in any inflammatory condition. They can normalize the bowel flora and replace the bad bacteria with the good intestinal microflora. Studies specific to their benefits in FMS have been mixed, but they do have an effect on immune system modulation and are often included in any anti-inflammatory regimen. In one review article from the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, the use of probiotics provided adequate relief in the treatment of diarrhea-predominant IBS.

Digestive enzymes

Consider the use digestive enzymes to help digest food completely which helps in absorption. The ability to maximally absorb nutrients can be affected in those with chronic inflammation.

Fiber

Don’t forget the importance of including fiber in your nutrition program. Not only is it  vital for overall bowel health but it can also “bind up” toxins in the intestine and help eliminate them from the body.

Supplements

Supplementing Naturally

There are different supplements that have a role in the treatment of Fibromyalgia Syndrome. Supplements can help increase energy to the cell and the body, reduce pain and inflammation, help you get a good night’s sleep, and provide nutritional value.

Supplements that Boost Energy to the Cell

D-ribose

There are studies concerning fibromyalgia that tout the energy boost of D-ribose. D-ribose increases the energy to all of the cells of the body, especially the muscle cells. Supplementing with D-ribose can provide your heart with the energy boost that it needs.

      • D-ribose commonly comes in capsule or powdered form. The powdered form is preferred as you can add it to your morning drink.
      • The recommended starting dose is 2500 mg. Increase by 2500 mg every few weeks to reach a maximum dose of 10,000 mg.
      • Even though ribose is a “sugar” it will not raise blood glucose levels. Higher doses than 10,000 mg can cause diarrheal symptoms in some people.

Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone)

Replacement of this antioxidant can help improve fibromyalgia symptoms. It has been reported that those with fibromyalgia as well as other chronic illnesses can have lower than normal levels of ubiquinone in the body.

    • Begin with low doses at 50-100 mg daily and increase to twice a day after several weeks. Smaller doses taken during the day maximizes its absorption.
    • As ubiquinone can lower blood pressure, you need to closely monitor your blood pressure. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood glucose levels as ubiquinone can lower blood glucose levels as well.

Supplements that Help Boost Nutrition

Magnesium

The role of low magnesium levels in the body and its importance in inflammation, pain, and fatigue is being researched. In one review article, the authors noted lower levels of zinc and magnesium than in the control groups. Magnesium supplementation is necessary to help counteract the fatigue and pain associated with fibromyalgia. Certain medications, such as diuretics, can lower your magnesium levels. There are several ways to increase your magnesium intake:

  • Increase the amount of leafy green vegetables, seeds (sunflower and sesame for example) and nuts (almonds and Brazil nuts for example) which contain a lot of magnesium. You should strive to at least consume 600-800 mg a day.
  • If needed, magnesium can also be supplemented either orally or in a gel or oil formulation applied directly to the skin. Chelated magnesium is a form of magnesium taken orally without the heavy metals. This can be started once a day and increased to twice a day for a total dose of 400-600 mg. Note that very high doses of magnesium can cause diarrhea. Magnesium Malate is a form of magnesium that is very well absorbed.
  • An alternative is to apply Magnesium gel or oil to your skin once or twice daily. If you have been told that you have kidney problems, you may need to have blood levels of your magnesium level followed and limit your magnesium intake.

Vitamins for FibromyalgiaVitamin D

The role of Vitamin D deficiency in the development of fibromyalgia is being evaluated; however, in one research article it was noted that in evaluating over seventy-five patients who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, over two-thirds had low or low-normal Vitamin D levels. The authors of this study also noted that occurred very frequently in those patients with depression and anxiety. Don’t forget that Vitamin D supplementation is vital for your overall bone and muscle health.

    • Ask your healthcare provider to measure a Vitamin D level, which is a simple blood test.
    • Begin Vitamin D3 at 1000 Units daily with food. Because it is a fat soluble vitamin, it is better absorbed with food.

Vitamin C

Remember that Vitamin C is an antioxidant; in terms of cellular health, because it is an electron donor, it helps to reduce oxidative stress and keep the cells in a reduced or natural state. We think that supplementation with Vitamin C may be beneficial. In one small study, 12 individuals with fibromyalgia were given a combination of 100 mg of Vitamin C and broccoli powder. They were closely followed over a period of one month. By the end of the month the participants in the trial reported an improved quality of life and reduced sensitivity to pain. Deficiency of this vitamin can directly impact adrenal health, and FMS can cause a lot of stress on the adrenal glands and is strongly associated with the development of adrenal fatigue, which is strongly associated with Fibromyalgia Syndrome.

    • The ester form of Vitamin C is better absorbed than other formulations.
    • Vitamin C at a dose of 2000 mg a day is a good starting dose.

Supplements that Relieve Pain and Inflammation

Bioflavonoids

Good antioxidant support is vital in the treatment of Fibromyalgia. Bioflavonoids are excellent antioxidants that can relieve pain and inflammation. Bioflavonoids that have been studied in the treatment of fibromyalgia include turmeric and quercetin. Quercetin may be especially effective as it has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties.

    • Turmeric can be taken as a 400 mg capsule daily or as a powder that can be sprinkled on each meal.
    • Quercetin can be taken as a capsule. Usual starting dose is 500 mg a day.

Wobenzym N

This is an enzyme supplement that is used in the treatment of inflammation and pain. Enzymes in this supplement include bromelain (from pineapple) and papain (from papaya).

  • If you have allergies to pineapples or papaya, do not take this supplement.
  • It is best taken on an empty stomach; be aware that you may need to take 6-12 tablets a day for an inflammatory response.

Morinda citrifolia (Noni)

This is a tropical plant from East Asia that has been used for many years. It has anti-inflammatory properties and can help in the treatment of pain.

    • Noni can come in capsule or juice form. If you take the juice form, begin at 1 ounce twice a day and increase slowly to 4-6 oz a day.
    • Some forms of Noni can have a high potassium content so if you have kidney disease you need to be mindful of this.
    • Extremely high doses of this may have an adverse effect on the liver, although this is controversial. The several ounces a day that we mention here is very low dosage of this supplement.

Supplements That Can Help You Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Melatonin

Melatonin is a natural hormone that is helpful in helping you achieve a good night’s sleep. In those with FMS, one research article points out that melatonin levels are lower at night when sleeping compared to someone who does not have fibromyalgia. Supplementation with melatonin may also help pain in addition to improving the quality of sleep.

    • Start at low doses of 1-2 mg each night before going to sleep each night and increase slowly.

Valerian root

This is an herb that can help you get a good night’s rest. There have been several studies examining the efficacy of valerian root in the treatment of insomnia. In one review, the authors concluded that while further study was needed, valerian root seemed to able to improve the quality of sleep without experiencing any significant side effects.

Exercise

[themedy_media type=”youtube” url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLZD2c_yooY”]

You need to be very careful when designing an exercise program. Strenuous activity and/or high intensity exercise can actually be counterproductive in someone with fibromyalgia. This does not mean that you will not be able to tolerate any and all exercise regimens. It means that you need to be careful, start slowly, and find out what your own limits are and increase very slowly and carefully. Meditative-based exercises can be very beneficial for someone with fibromyalgia.

Yoga for Fibromyalgia

  • Yoga: Yoga is a great way to increase muscle endurance and flexibility. It is important to start slowly and work with a certified instructor to learn the right way to do each exercise. Yoga is especially effective if started in the early stages of this condition.
  • Tai chi is another great meditative-based exercise that should be incorporated into your regimen.
  • Muscle Resistance Training: Whether you are using free weights or machines, you need to start with very low weight and lower repetitions. You need to know your limits. A good rule of thumb is to exercise until you begin to experience mild fatigue, but don’t push beyond that point. If you do, again, it can be counterproductive and you can feel worse the next day.
  • In addition to the exercise regimen mentioned above, you should also consider seeing someone who is holistically trained in helping you regain more function and flexibility. This can include seeing a structural integration specialist, chiropractor, and/or specialist in osteopathic manipulation. In general, gentle myofasical/massage techniques are preferred as again you may not be able to tolerate a deep massage.

Mind & Spirit

Tai Chi for FibromyalgiaAn important aspect of healing with fibromyalgia is recognizing the connection between mind, body and spirit. The mental and emotional aspects of treatment cannot be ignored.

  • Daily meditation is vital to calm the mind and body.
  • Daily prayer can help relax the mind and body.
  • FMS is often associated with trauma, especially emotional trauma. Helping one to recover from emotional trauma is essential to recovery. Talking with a counselor or advisor can be very helpful.
  • The role of family and friend support cannot be emphasized enough.

Updated: November 2014

  • Armstrong DJ, Meenagh GK et al. “Vitamin D deficiency is associated with anxiety and depression in fibromyalgia.” Clinical Rheumatology. 2007 Apr;26(4):551-4.
  • Bramwell B, Ferguson S et al. “The use of ascorbigen in the treatment of fibromyalgia patients: a preliminary trial.” Alternative Medicine Reviews. 2000 Oct;5(5):455-62.
  • Bent S, Padula et al. “Valerian for sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” American Journal of Medicine. 2006 Dec;119(12):1005-12.
  • Cordero MD, Cotain D et al. “Oral coenzyme Q10 supplementation improves clinical symptoms and recovers pathologic alterations in blood mononuclear cells in a fibromyalgia patient.”  Nutrition. 2012 Nov-Dec;28(11-12):1200-3.
  • Geenen R, Jacobs W et al. “Evaluation and management of endocrine dysfunction in fibromyalgia.” Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America. 2002 May;28(2):389-404.
  • Ki Cha B, Man Jung S et al. “The effect of a multispecies probiotic mixture on the symptoms and fecal microbiota in diarrhea-dominant irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 2012 Mar;46(3):220-7.
  • Lucas HJ, Brauch CM et al. “Fibromyalgia–new concepts of pathogenesis and treatment.” International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology. 2006 Jan-Mar;19(1):5-10.
  • Teitelbaum J, Johnson C et al. “The use of D-ribose in chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia: a pilot study.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2006 Nov;12(9):857-62.
  • Wikner J, Hirsch U et al. “Fibromyalgia–a syndrome associated with decreased nocturnal melatonin secretion.” Clinical Endocrinology. 1998 Aug;49(2):179-83.
  • Wilhelmsen M, Amirian I et al. “Analgesic effects of melatonin: a review of current evidence from experimental and clinical studies.” Journal of pineal Research. 2011 Oct;51(3):270-7.
  • Younger J, Noor N et al. “Low-dose naltrexone for the treatment of fibromyalgia: findings of a small, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, counterbalanced, crossover trial assessing daily pain levels.” Arthritis and Rheumatism. 2013 Feb;65(2):529-38.
Categories
Condition

COPD Natural Treatments

Written by Sandy Cho, MD

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a preventable and treatable disease state characterized by airflow limitation that is not fully reversible. It is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

COPD natural treatments include dietary modifications, supplements, and exercise.

Overview

What is COPD?
COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a preventable and treatable disease state characterized by airflow limitation that is not fully reversible. The airflow limitation is usually progressive and is associated with an abnormal inflammatory response of the lungs to noxious particles or gases, primarily caused by cigarette smoking. COPD has a debilitating effect on the patient leading to disability and sometimes death.

The disease represents a substantial public health burden, affecting 10 million to 15 million people in the United States. Currently, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 120,000 deaths annually, and it is expected to be the third leading cause of death by 2020.

What are signs/symptoms?
COPD is characterized by recurrent episodes of:

  • Cough
  • Sputum production
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea), especially upon exertion
  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing

What causes COPD?
In the United States, the most common irritant that causes COPD is cigarette smoke. Breathing in secondhand smoke, air pollution, or chemical fumes or dust from the environment or workplace also can contribute to COPD.

An uncommon genetic disorder known as alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency may cause some cases of COPD. Other genetic factors likely make certain smokers more susceptible to the disease.

What are conventional treatments for COPD?
Current COPD therapies primarily include inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), long-acting and short-acting beta agonists (LABAs and SABAs), long-acting and short-acting muscarinic antagonists (LAMAs and SAMAs) and combination therapies. More than half of severe or very severe COPD patients are on triple therapy (LABA, LAMA and ICS) for COPD maintenance.

Smoking cessation is essential at any stage of the disease. Although lung damage will not be reversed, smoking cessation will lead to improvements in pulmonary function.

Nutrition

Studies have shown that people following a Western diet, high in refined grains, cured and red meats, desserts, and french fries, have a greater risk for developing COPD, while those following largely plant-based diets have a lower risk.

Supplements

Supplementation with an omega 3-containing calorie supplement (400 cals/day) for 2 years significantly improved dyspnea and reduced the rate of decline in arterial oxygen saturation.

The use of antioxidants in reducing the inflammation and consequent lung damage in COPD is being investigated. One such antioxidant is red wine extract, or resveratrol. In one study it was found that resveratrol can inhibit the release of proinflammatory proteins called cytokines in the lung. A good starting dose is 200-250 mg daily.

Other antioxidants are likely to be beneficial in the treatment of COPD as well. The goal of treatment is to raise intracellular glutathione levels to counteract the oxidative stress and free radical load and minimize further lung damage  brought on by the COPD-related inflammation. Antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid, turmeric, quercetin, and N-acetylcysteine can be helpful in this regard.

Exercise

chestexerciseEspecially aerobic exercise, can improve your circulation and help the body better use oxygen, improve your COPD symptoms, and build energy levels so you can do more activities without becoming tired or short of breath. These are just a few of the many benefits of exercise. As always, consult your physician to see what is most appropriate for you.

  • Aerobic exercise: Aerobic exercise includes walking, jogging, jumping rope, bicycling (stationary or outdoor), cross-country skiing, skating, rowing, and low-impact aerobics or water aerobics. This type of exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, and improves the body’s ability to use oxygen. Over time, aerobic exercise can help decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, and improve your breathing (since your heart won’t have to work as hard during exercise).
  • Strength exercise: Strengthening exercises for the upper body are especially helpful for people with COPD, as they help increase the strength of your respiratory muscles.

  • Anthonisen NR, Skeans MA, Wise RA, Manfreda J, Kanner RE, Connett JE. The effects of a smoking cessation intervention on 14.5-year mortality: a randomized clinical trial. Ann Intern Med. 2005;142(4):233-239.
  • Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management and Prevention of COPD, Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) 2013.
  • Jemal A, Ward E, Hao Y, Thun M. Trends in the leading causes of death in the United States, 1970-2002. JAMA. 2005;294(10):1255-1259.
  • Knobloch J, Hag H et al. Resveratrol impairs the release of steroid-resistant cytokines from bacterial endotoxin-exposed alveolar macrophages in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Basic Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology. 2011 Aug;109(2):138-43.
  • Matsuyama W, Mitsuyama H, Watanabe M, et al. Effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on inflammatory markers in COPD. Chest. 2005;128:3817-3827.
  • Rahman I. Antioxidant therapeutic advances in COPD. Therapeutic Advances in Respiratory Disease. 2008 Dec;2(6):351-74.
  • Varraso R, Fung TT, Hu FB, Willett W, Camargo CA Jr. Prospective study of dietary patterns and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among US men. Thorax. 2007;62:785-790.
  • Varraso R, Fung TT, Hu FB, Willett W, Camargo CA Jr. Prospective study of dietary patterns and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among US women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86:488-495.

Updated: May 2014

Categories
Condition

Sore Throat Natural Treatments

This is a condition that is characterized by pain that may be caused by a variety of factors from drinking hot beverages, forceful use of voice such as screaming, or by an infection such as strep throat.

Sore throat natural treatments include rest, tea, vitamins, supplements and homeopathy.

Self-care Natural Remedies

  • Voice Rest: If your throat is sore, one of the best self care practices you can do is not speak.
  • Lemon tea with Honey: Make some tea by heating up water and using the juice of half of an organic lemon and add some raw, organic honey to soothe and nourish your throat.
  • Homeopathy: Lachesis remedy 30C 4x per day.
  • Homeopathy: Boiron Roxalia: Take as directed on package.
  • Supplement: Zinc Picolinate 50mg capsule daily to boost immune system
  • Vitamins: Vitamin C at least 2 grams every 3-4 hours or until bowel tolerance.
  • Iodine painting: Paint the sides of your neck with iodine and let it absorb.
  • Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat Tea: Take as directed on package.
  • Thayer’s Slippery Elm lozenges: Take as directed on package.

  • Earth Clinic, earthclinic.com/CURES/sore_throat35.html#CLOVES
  • Doctor Yourself , doctoryourself.com/vitaminc2.html
  • Vitamin C foundation, www.vitamincfoundation.org