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The Regulator Inside You: The Tiny, Mighty Thyroid Gland

The thyroid gland is located just below your Adam’s apple and is responsible for the regulation of your inner state of balance, or homeostasis.   

The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, which includes the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, thymus, pineal gland, testes, ovaries, adrenal glands, parathyroid, and pancreas. It makes hormones (e.g., T3, T4) that travel through your bloodstream and regulate your metabolism, brain and heart function, and reproductive and menstrual cycles.  

When the thyroid is not functioning optimally, a chain reaction of hormonal events takes place that involves many other glands/hormones of the endocrine system and the bodily systems they regulate. The end result is one of two primary types of health conditions: hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism results when the thyroid is overactive. Think of hyperthyroidism like a car engine that is constantly revved up . Everything is on overdrive, including metabolism, frequency of bowel movements, emotions (anxiousness), increased sweating, and—in women—very light menstruation or cessation of the menstrual cycle.  This person often feels hot and can’t maintain a healthy minimum weight. There are also bouts of exhaustion from trying to maintain this intense state of arousal.

Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid is underactive. It is like a car that has poor acceleration and no matter how far you push the gas pedal, it barely moves. This person has gained weight, feels sluggish, and has brittle hair and nails. It feels cold and tired, is kind of depressed, and suffers from constipation. Women with hypothyroidism usually have irregular, heavy menstruation.

5 Ways to Keep Your Thyroid Healthy

  1. Eat from the sea. The sea provides many natural sources of iodine, a building block of the thyroid hormone. Salt has a high concentration of iodine, but it can raise blood pressure. Instead, opt for saltwater fish, or try seaweed in a salad. Cod and halibut are high in selenium, which protects the thyroid gland during periods of stress and helps regulate hormone synthesis. Fish oil provides essential fatty acids that reduce inflammation, which plays a role in causing autoimmune diseases.
  2. Eat from the earth. Eat foods high in B vitamins, which are precursors to thyroid hormones and influence cell energy. Balance your diet with poultry, nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains. Red meat provides iron, zinc, magnesium, and other minerals essential for thyroid hormone function, and the health of other bodily systems affected by thyroid disorders (skin, hair, metabolism).
  3. Relax. A daily relaxation practice, such as just 10 minutes a day of silence and deep breathing, can make a difference in the state of mind and body.
  4. Move it! Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Exercise is known to help the body deal with stress.
  5. Use Coconut Oil.  Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).  MCTs can up-regulate a sluggish thyroid gland, thereby raising your metabolism. 
  6. Get supplemental insurance. Our diets aren’t perfect, so supplementing with a vitamin/mineral or botanical (herb) regimen can provide extra insurance against exposure to stress, toxins, and perhaps your own family history. Thyro-Blend is a vitamin and herbal supplement designed to support proper thyroid function.  Be sure to consult with your wellness practitioner about the best nutraceutical products for you.

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Take a Hike

journaling

Hiking takes you out of your usual routine, fills your lungs with fresh air, and lifts your spirits with the sights and sounds of nature. You might even forget that you’re giving your body a powerful workout that has many health benefits.

A regular trek on the trail is aerobic exercise that is good for the heart and lungs. A weight-bearing exercise, hiking strengthens bones and joints, which helps to prevent osteoporosis. Trails with varied terrain build strength in the hip and leg muscles. You’ll also strengthen your abdominal and back muscles, and improve balance and coordination. Hiking a few times a week, not just once a season, can help you maintain a healthy body weight. Hiking is also good for the mind and spirit. Studies show that exercising in nature lifts symptoms of stress and anxiety better than exercising indoors. When you hike with family or friends, the social experience contributes to good vibes for you and your kin.

Hiking Safety and Fitness Boosting Tips

Pack right. Use a daypack that properly fits your torso so the extra weight you carry (snacks, water, maps, first aid) won’t cause discomfort. If you aren’t properly fitted for a pack, you could risk injury to the back and hips.

Know before you go. Most trail systems have online maps that indicate degree of difficulty and trail conditions. Familiarize yourself with the trail map. It’s always possible for a GPS to lose its signal or battery strength, so carry a paper copy with you. Check the weather; dress and pack accordingly.

Buddy-up. A partner or group can help you navigate and assist if you get hurt.

Start slow. A short, local hike is best for beginners. Gradually work up to trails with hills, rugged terrain, or higher elevation.

Use poles. Poles propel you forward and engage upper body muscles, which gives a more vigorous workout.

Know your limits. Keep tabs on your water and fatigue level. Stay on marked trails.

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Skin Brushing

meditationAs more people become aware of the importance of detoxification, products and procedures are also rising in numbers--and price! Dry skin brushing is quick and easy (and inexpensive) way to detoxify daily, and the benefits will be noticed immediately.

The skin is the body's largest organ, weighing about six pounds and covering about 21 square feet! It is also a primary detoxification organ, eliminating toxins through the pores. This detoxification ability is hindered when pores become clogged, often by cosmetics or foods we eat. Dry brushing helps the skin detoxify by exfoliating dull, dead skin cells from the top layer of skin. It also stimulates the lymphatic system (a primary component to the body's health and immunity), as well as stimulating and improving the function of the nervous system. By dry brushing, you can also help improve kidney and liver function by easing the burden on those detoxification organs.

To make this an easy part of your daily routine, purchase a natural bristle brush (commonly available in most health food, drug, and department stores often for $5-$10). While not necessary, a long handle makes reaching all areas of the body easier. Do your brushing before a shower, both to help make it a regular practice and because showering afterward aids the cleansing process. Always brush towards the heart using long, soft strokes, following the flow of the lymph and circulatory systems. Cover all areas of your skin. For areas such as the back, armpits, abdomen, and both sides of the chest use a few clockwise strokes followed by a few counterclockwise strokes. Avoid any areas of the body where rash or broken skin is present. It will not take very long for you to see the benefits of healthy, glowing skin and feel an improved sense of vitality.

For a pampering herbal detox experience, grind a handful of almonds, plain oatmeal and herbs in a coffee grinder. Sit or lie on a sheet and hand rub the mixture into your skin, then follow with a dry brush (do not shower immediately afterward). When you're finished gather up the sheet and shake it off outside--and enjoy how silky soft your skin feels. Herbs to consider include lavender, jasmine, chamomile, calendula, or comfrey.

Image:  Bolot/istockphoto.com

 

Aloe Vera- Healing Tonic

herbsNative to Africa and the Arabian peninsula, Aloe is a commonly known herb and well reputed for its soothing and cooling properties. Considered by the Romans to be sacred to Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, this herb has a long history of beauty applications extending well into present day. Ayurvedic medicine realized aloe's role in beauty and vitality, so much so that the Sanskrit word for aloe--kumari--translates to "goddess."

The outer leaf of the aloe plant is a natural laxative, and has a long history of being used for chronic constipation.  Ayurvedic medicine uses aloe as a tonic for the female reproductive system, to help ameliorate PMS, tonify the uterus and prevent wrinkles.

The most common and well known use for aloe is in treating burns, and its efficacy is so impressive and relief so fast that no kitchen should be without an aloe plant. Splitting a leaf open and smearing the gel on a burn (including a sunburn) will quickly relieve the burn without forming blisters or scars. Aloe can also help sooth and heal skin rashes, itches, injuries, insect bites or stings, poison oak and ivy and acne when applied topically.

 

Image:  porah/freeimages.com

 

Vitamin D

oilsVitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin primarily created by the action of UVB sunlight on the skin. Vitamin D's journey through the body begins when its precursor is converted to cholecalciferol (or D3) by sunlight. From there, D3 travels to the liver and becomes five times more potent, then travels to the kidneys where it's converted to it's most potent form, 1, 25-dihydroxycholecalciferol. This form is ten times as potent as D3, and more than 2,000 genes and tissues throughout the body are regulated by this form.

Vitamin D has long been known to be responsible for calcium balance in the body, helping the body to absorb calcium and maintain strong healthy bones. But recent studies have shown that Vitamin D's influence on the body reaches far beyond the bones. It has been linked to cell differentiation, allowing the body to recognize when to allow cells to proliferate (such as when a wound requires healing) and when to stop excessive cell growth, which can lead to diseases such as cancer. A powerful immune system modulator, D3 deficiencies have been linked to many autoimmune diseases as well as impaired insulin secretion in Type II Diabetes (Higdon, 2008).

The best way to maintain adequate levels of Vitamin D is through short daily periods of as much skin being exposed to the sun as possible (being very careful not to burn). Alternately, you may supplement 5,000 IU of Vitamin D per day for 2-3 months, then monitor blood levels with a 25-hydroxyvitamind blood test, adjusting your dose as necessary to maintain 50-80 ng/mL. However, make sure your supplement is D3, as D2 is a synthetic version and does not produce the same health benefits.

REFERENCES

  • Higdon, J. 2008. Micronutrient information center: Vitamin D. Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu (accessed June 2, 2010).
  • Vitamin D Council. n.d. Understanding Vitamin D Cholecalciferol. Vitamin D Council Web site. http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/ (accessed June 2, 2010).
  • Image: qute/freeimages.com
 

Orange Coconut Creamsicle in a Glass

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain soymilk or rice milk
  • 2 oranges ½ cup grated coconut
  • 1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 6 ice cubes

Juice oranges or remove seeds and peel and cut into chunks. Place all ingredients into blender and blend on high speed until smooth. Serve immediately.

 

Oranges: The Joint, Eye, Cardiovascular, & Immune Food

One of the most well-known fruits in the world, oranges were first recorded in China around 500 BC. From there they were imported to the Roman empire, exported to Northern Africa, introduced in Spain by the invading Moors, and traveled to America with Christopher Columbus. Now consumed virtually all over the world, oranges come in two varieties, sweet and bitter. Sweet oranges include jaffa, navel, valencia and the hybrid blood oranges, while bitter oranges are used in jams and marmalades and liquors such as Cointreau and Grand Mariner.

Oranges are very good sources of many B Vitamins, including B1, B2, B6, Folic Acid and Panthothenic acid, as well as carotenes, pectin and potassium. More commonly, oranges are known for their high flavonoid and Vitamin C content. This combination of Vitamin C and flavonoids are key nutrients for the immune system, lens of the eye, and connective tissues including joints and gums. The most prevalent flavonoid is hesperidin, found in the inner peel and inner white pulp. Hesperidin has been shown to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as possess strong anti-inflammatory properties. The antioxidant power of oranges and orange juice has been shown to protect against viral infections and cancer. One orange is not only a good source of fiber, but is also nearly 100% of the daily Vitamin C recommendation.

When shopping for oranges, pay more attention to the weight of the orange than the color. Non-organic oranges that are uniformly colored are typically injected with artificial dyes. Look for oranges that are not severely bruised, moldy, puffy or soft. A sweet, clean scent and a "heavier than it looks" feel are indicators of healthy, juicy oranges.

Image:  topfer/freeimages.com

 

Laying In The Summer Sun - Block or Bathe?

kidsSummer is here, as we can easily witness by the lengthening days, rising temperatures and row upon row of sunscreen products filling store shelves. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (2010), these products are key to good skin health and preventing dangerous skin cancers since "sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma." But in recent years studies are showing this advice to be erroneous and obsolete. In fact, the largest rise in melanoma rates has been in countries where chemical sunscreens are heavily advocated (Garland, 1992).

In 2007, Moore's Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego demonstrated a direct connection between colorectal and breast cancer risk and serum D3 levels, showing lower incidences of these cancers among those with higher levels of Vitamin D. While a reduced cancer risk is a powerful motivator to obtain adequate levels of Vitamin D, the benefits of "the sun vitamin" extend well beyond cancer protection (read more about Vitamin D below). As much as 90% of our Vitamin D comes from sun exposure, and applying a sunscreen as low as SPF 8 can reduce vitamin D production by 95% (Higdon, 2008).

While many sources advise that 20 minutes of daily sun exposure on your face and arms will provide all the Vitamin D you need, this is not necessarily true. Adequate sun exposure will vary depending on your location and skin type. More exposure will be required the farther north you travel from the equator, and dark-skinned people will require more exposure than fair-skinned people. For Caucasians, Vitamin D production averages 20-30 minutes. If you are darker skinned, it can take three to four times that long. An hour of sun exposure on at least 40% of your body per day is not an unreasonable amount of time to spend in the sun for good health.

Regular exposure of as much skin as possible is key--it's better to have short periods of daily exposure than several hours once per week. Begin in the morning (when the chance of burning is the least) in spring and early summer to get your skin used to sun exposure. Gradually increase your time in the sun. It is virtually impossible to overdose on Vitamin D from sun exposure, since exposed skin reaches an equilibrium point where Vitamin D begins to convert to inert chemicals. However, the most important thing to remember is to avoid sunburn, since sunburn can increase the risk of basal cell carcinoma (the less fatal form of skin cancer).

While many people may be tempted to prepare for the summer sun using tanning beds, that can be a dangerous mistake. Tanning beds are designed to tan the skin deeply in a short period of time without burning, which is accomplished by minimizing the amount of UVB radiation. However, UVB is what stimulates Vitamin D production, and the burn response is the body's mechanism to prevent Vitamin D excess. Not only does high levels of UVA radiation break down Vitamin D, it i s also suspected to be associated with increased melanoma risk (melanoma is a more threatening form of skin cancer). An additional problem with tanning beds is the radiation emitted by the magnetic ballasts used to power the bulbs--often these ballasts are very close to the person in the bed, leaving them exposed to very strong magnetic fields while tanning.

While the best sunscreen is internal sunscreen from antioxidants such as blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, goji berries, spirulina, and chlorella, we all find ourselves in need of a sunscreen at one time or another. If sun exposure is not a possibility for whatever reason, or you find yourself required to spend more time outdoors than your skin can safely handle and you cannot cover up or find shade, it is better to use a sunscreen than to risk a burn. But keep in mind that not all sunscreens are created equal. The Environmental Working Group (2010) has found that 84% of sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher contained potentially harmful ingredients and/or provided inadequate protection. If you plan to use a sunscreen, check their database to ensure it provides the protection you require and doesn't contain harmful chemicals. http://www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/

REFERENCES

  • American Academy of Dermatology. 2010. Be sun smart. American Academy of Dermatology Web site. http://www.aad.org/public/sun/smart.html (accessed June 2, 2010).
  • Environmental Working Group. 2010. EWG's 2010 sunscreen guide. Environmental Working Group Web site. Environmental Working Group. (accessed June 2, 2010).
  • Garland, C. 1992. Could sunscreens increase melanoma risk? American Journal of Public Health 82(4): 614-615.
  • Garland, C., W. Grant, S. Mohr, E. Gorham, F. Garland. 2007. What is the dose-response relationship between Vitamin D and cancer risk? Nutrition Review 65(1): 91-95.
  • Higdon, J. 2008. Micronutrient information center: Vitamin D. Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu (accessed June 2, 2010).
  • Image:  CWMGary/freeimages.com
 

Herbs For Boosting Libido

From the ancient Greeks concocting “nectar of the Gods” to modern pharmaceuticals, man has had an unrelenting desire to discover new aphrodisiacs to stimulate and enhance sexual performance. In Western herbal medicine, tonics were often employed to treat symptoms of poor reproductive function. Historically, these tonics were regarded with skepticism … then came Viagra.

With the widespread acceptance of the idea that male sexual performance could be pharmacologically enhanced, “herbal enhancers” for male sexual performance made their way to the market. Most so-called herbal alternatives to Viagra likely deliver only modest effects, at best. However, several herbs used in traditional Indian and Chinese Medicine, which are believed to provide support to the male reproductive system, have gained the attention of both holistic and conventional medical researchers. We introduce a few of these herbs below.

Keep in mind that herbs work synergistically with the body. Healthy dietary and lifestyle practices need to be in place or the body will not be able to make optimal use of herbal remedies. Herbs may take several weeks before beneficial effects will be noticed. Some herbs should not be taken with other medicines—consult with your personal wellness practitioner before trying any herbal tonic.

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is widely used in Europe and, in the U.S., it is the most popular adjunct herbal treatment for symptoms of enlarged prostate. It has been recommended as an alternative treatment by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Saw palmetto is nourishing to the endocrine (hormone regulating) system, which includes the sex hormones and may be the mechanism by which it helps improve overall reproductive function in men.

Pygeum (Pygeum africanum) is derived from the African plum tree and has been studied in small clinical trials for its effects on prostate cancer cells and symptoms associated with benign prostate hypertrophy. It also is used in traditional medicine to boost sexual performance and treat lower urinary tract infections.

Maca root (Lepidium meyenii) is a Peruvian “super food” rich in phytonutrients, amino acids, vitamins, and fatty acids. Scientifically speaking, it is an adaptogen, meaning its properties help boost the body’s natural resistance to disease. In traditional medicine, Maca is used to balance endocrine system function, including male and female sex hormones. In animal and human clinical trials, Maca is being studied for its effectiveness on sexual desire, hormone levels, and sexual performance.

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He Shou Wu

(pronounced huh show woo)

Other names: Polygonum multiflorum, Ho Shou Wu

Out of about 10,000 Chinese medicinal plants, He Shou Wu (HSW) is one of the most highly regarded herbal tonics for health and longevity for men as well as women. HSW is the prepared tuberous root of Polygonum multiflorum, a plant that grows in the mountains of central and southern China.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is by virtue of its ability to accumulate tremendous quantities of Qi (life force) into its root, that this herb is believed to nourish organs, muscle, bone, and the blood. The power of this herb partially comes from its ability to support and maintain the healthful cleaning functions of the kidney and liver, which in turn clean the blood. It also is rich in antioxidants, zinc, and iron. TCM physicians have long documented the effect of the herb on the vitality of the reproductive system, the hair and skin, brain and nervous system, and the immune system. A primary tonic in Chinese herbalism, in healthy individuals, HSW helps promote healthy aging, supports the youthful condition and color of the hair, and supports the vitality of sperm and ova.

Even though HSW has been an important remedy in TCM for thousands of years, only in recent years has the herb come under the microscope in scientific studies*. International researchers are examining the ancient claims that Polygonum multiflorum has chemical and medicinal properties pertinent to health and healing. Areas of research include examining the effects of HSW on conditions such as alopecia, atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, cancer, immune function, brain and nervous system conditions, and chronic fatigue.

More than 100 chemical compounds have been isolated from this plant, and the major components have been determined to be stilbenes, quinones, flavonoids, and others. Crude extracts and pure compounds of this plant are used as effective agents in preclinical and clinical practice due to their anti-aging, anti-hyperlipidaemia, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory effects and to promote immunomodulation, neuroprotection, and the curing of other diseases. However, the herb can reach toxic levels if not used under the supervision of a healthcare provider.

Many factors can affect the quality of HSW, including how it is harvested, prepared, and method of ingestion (extract, tea, powder). Consult with your wellness practitioner before taking this herbal supplement. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take Polygonum multiflorum, as the safety of this supplement has not been evaluated during pregnancy. Additionally, avoid taking this supplement if you have liver disease or are scheduled to undergo surgery.

*To date, there are few controlled clinical trials on effectiveness or safety in human populations.
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