Pregnancy Health Hacks

pregnancy-health-hacksAs I am nearing the end of pregnancy, I thought I would share some “health hacks” that I found helpful during pregnancy.  All of these “hacks” are safe, natural methods for dealing with pregnancy symptoms and in preparing for labor.

Chiropractor Adjustments – I’ve been seeing a chiropractor regularly for years and can’t imagine life without it.  I continued my regular visits, increasing frequency to once every week or two, depending on how I was feeling throughout my pregnancy.  Not only did I not suffer from lower back pain, which I know is a very common pregnancy ailment as the belly grows, but she was also able to help with other symptoms.  I ended up having some shoulder and neck pain as I started sleeping on my side that she addressed.  She kept my hips in alignment, helping greatly with the round ligament pain.  And, most surprisingly, she was also able to adjust my stomach to relieve most of the indigestion/heartburn caused by pregnancy (up until the last week before the baby dropped). Lastly, my chiropractor is also trained in acupuncture, which can be a great help for natural labor induction- now that I am past my due date, I’m going to see just how well it works!

Prenatal Massage – I’ve always considered massages more of a treat than a necessity, but I really tried to get at least one prenatal massage each month throughout pregnancy.  Studies show that massage during pregnancy can help improve sleep and reduce stress/anxiety.  Of course, they are also greatly helpful for pain relief and overall relaxation (you deserve it, mama!).  Look for a massage practice that has staff specifically trained and certified for prenatal massage AND one that has a special pillow so that you can lay face down, instead of on your side.  Those 30 minutes of laying “on your stomach” were magical because you never get that luxury.

Magnesium & Potassium – Suffering from middle-of-the-night painful leg cramps?  These two supplements are a must; they worked to completely take those cramps away for me.  Magnesium is also beneficial in helping to calm you before bed, leading to better sleep, and for helping to keep you regular if you are suffering from constipation.

Probiotics – I highly recommend everyone take probiotics regularly, not just pregnant women.  We encounter so many antibiotics in our food and other toxins in our environment- we need to consistently restore our levels of healthy bacteria. The health of our digestive system has a strong correlation to the abilities of our overall immune system, so probiotics are essential for supporting your immune function.  They are also helpful for keeping your bowels moving if you are suffering from constipation.  Lastly, I definitely believe that regularly using probiotics was a big reason I tested negative for Group B Strep.

Essential Oils – I am a big fan of essential oils and use them every day for both my health and around my house.  Here are a few that I used most commonly during pregnancy:

  • Copaiba – An anti-inflammatory oil, this helped relieve my indigestion; I rubbed it on my chest/throat/stomach.
  • DiGize – Another one to help with indigestion and to prevent constipation.
  • Peppermint – Great to smell or add to water when you experience morning sickness; it helps relieve nausea.  I plan on bringing it into labor also in case I experience nausea then; but I will put it away while I am breastfeeding since it can cause a decrease in milk supply.
  • Thieves – I put a drop of Thieves on the bottom of my foot every day and diffused it often to boost my immune system.  I also cleaned my house with it to keep everything chemical-free.
  • Frankincense – I definitely suffered from the “daughter stealing beauty” thing and had lots of breakouts on my face from the hormones.  Frankincense mixed with coconut oil was the only thing that works to heal blemishes fast.
  • Lavender – Very useful for overall relaxation and to help promote good sleep.  Mix some with distilled water and mist over your pillow each night. It’s also very moisturizing, so I found it helpful when I was itchy from my belly stretching.
  • Clary Sage – Only to be used at the end of pregnancy when you are full-term, this oil helps ease the pain of cramps and promotes uterine contractions.

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea – I drank this tea often throughout my third trimester.  My midwife recommended it as a way to tone pelvic and uterine muscles to prepare the body for productive labor contractions.  It’s full of great nutrients like magnesium and vitamin C that are also beneficial for sleep, nausea, leg cramps and immune function.  For more information, Wellness Mama wrote a great blog post about the benefits of this herb.

Evening Primrose Oil – Another recommendation from my midwife, the oil of evening primrose can help soften the cervix to prepare the body for labor.  You can find the capsules in your local pharmacy and it’s usually recommended to start after 36 weeks.

Ginger Candy – I carried this in my purse constantly when I was battling pregnancy nausea (aka morning sickness that lasts all day).  You can make them or find them in a store; the hard candies last a bit longer in your mouth, but crystallized ginger is also yummy to chew on.

Controlling Blood Sugar – I wrote a whole post about the diet, exercise, supplements and water intake that helped me keep my gestational diabetes under control – check it out here.  If you want to limit weight gain during your pregnancy, this is definitely the protocol to follow; plus, the diet+exercise simply make for a healthier lifestyle that will help you avoid much of the discomfort of the 3rd trimester.

Is there anything natural you tried during pregnancy that helped you?  Please share!

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DiGize Essential Oil

digize-oilLooking for natural help with digestive issues? DiGize is the oil to try!

DiGize is my go-to whenever I have an upset tummy or I’m suffering from pregnancy indigestion.  It’s a blend of several different oils creating a powerful combination:

  • Tarragon – traditionally used to fight intestinal parasites
  • Ginger – a very common stomach-calming item, especially helpful with nausea
  • Peppermint – many cultures chew mint leaves or drink mint tea after meals to relax stomach muscles and help with digestion
  • Juniper – helps to detox and cleanse
  • Fennel – stimulates the digestive system and helps prevents gas
  • Anise – shown to help calm spasms and increase the flow of bile
  • Patchouli – very helpful in alleviating nausea
  • Lemongrass – traditionally used for it’s anti-inflammatory properties for the digestive system

I’ll admit it is my least favorite oil in terms of scent (I think it’s the fennel maybe?), but I use it all the time regardless of the way it smells. It’s totally worth it!  You can also get the Vitality version and put a couple drops in a capsule to swallow so you don’t have to smell it.

Another great home remedy for digestive issues is activated charcoal – learn more about that here!

For more about essential oils, visit this page.

Natural Pain Relief

For most of my life, I struggled with some level of back pain on a daily basis.  Chronic pain is just awful and, unfortunately, far too common.  It affects every area of life – relationships, work, exercise, activities; it’s hard to focus on anything other than that pain.  I tried different medications and therapies with no relief, and then suffered the side effects of pills… too much ibuprofen over time actually sent me to the hospital for a week (even though I used as directed by my doctor!).  In fact, recent research has shown that over-the-counter pain relievers increase risk for heart attack and stroke, can have a significantly negative impact on a woman’s fertility, and cause kidney damage.

Eventually, I started looking to natural alternatives to address my health issues and found significant relief.  I still have my bad days, but have found some great solutions that really help.  If you’re looking to try something new without the dangerous side effects of medication, here are my top 5 methods for natural pain relief:

Curcumin SupplementTurmeric

Yes, the spice!  Turmeric has been widely used in Indian medicine for centuries; one of its components – curcumin – is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Research has also shown that turmeric helps aid in the “prevention of cancer, protection against heart disease, reduce Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, ease pain and inflammation, boost bone health, protect the immune system from bacterial infections, and increase the liver’s ability to remove toxins from the body.” (Source)

I take a curcumin supplement daily to help with inflammation & my back pain.  You could also add it to your diet – try this delicious turmeric tea recipe or my Coconut Curry Chicken recipe.


Topricin CreamTopricin

This anti-inflammatory pain relief cream is a safe alternative to medication that is effective for muscle, tendon, ligament and nerve tissue pain. It is safe for the elderly (as it does not interfere with medication), kids, pregnant women, and for all skin types.  It has no odor or fragrance, no petroleum and is non-greasy &, non-staining.  When I have back pain, I rub this on and the results are instant.  Plus, its actually working to promote healing, not just masking the pain.


Pain Relief Essential OilsEssential Oils

  1. PanAway – This blend of wintergreen, helichrysum, clove, and peppermint combines oils that each have anti-inflammatory properties, making for a super-effective combo.  It “…reduces pain and inflammation, increases circulation, and accelerates healing.  It relieves swelling and discomfort from arthritis, sprains, muscle spasms and cramps, bumps, and bruises” (Source: Essential Oils Pocket Reference).  Mix a couple drops with some coconut oil and rub on the area of pain.
  2. Deep Relief – This blend takes the combo above to the next level by adding some additional oils to the mix.  It comes in a roll-on tube already mixed with liquid coconut oil for easy spot-on application.  Here is what it contains:
    • Wintergreen – relieves head and muscle tension
    • Helichrysum – restorative support for nervous system
    • Clove – anti-inflammatory, supports immune function
    • Peppermint – anti-inflammatory, helps relieve headaches
    • Copaiba – supports the body’s response to irritation
    • Lemon – purifying properties
    • Palo Santo – relieves pain and inflammation in joints and muscles
    • Balsam Fir – relaxes the body and soothes muscles
    • Vetiver – grounding, helps with stress and tension

If you’re interested in trying out essential oils, check out my guide to getting started.  Bonus – PanAway comes in the Young Living Premium Starter Kit!


Drink Water

I know, that sounds way too simple, but listen… Our body is made up of 75% water and our brain tissue is 85% water. Adequate hydration is essential to our bodies and brains functioning properly.  We tend to think that we are “thirsty” when our mouths become dry and we crave a drink, but this is actually the last outward sign of dehydration – if you are feeling this, your body is screaming for water.

Chronic pain is a huge indicator of thirst.  For a while, painkillers may work, but eventually the brain will become so dehydrated that it will register all pain until it gets enough water.  And, until it does, the pain will increase and the body will limit the mobility of those areas in order to “prevent the production of additional toxic waste” that water, if available, would wash out. If you are experiencing consistent back pain, leg pain or headaches, take note.

I’ve started making sure I drink 8 glasses of water per day (if not more) to stay consistently hydrated.  When I do have back pain, the first thing I do is drink several glasses of water to see if the pain passes.  Surprisingly, it actually works most of the time. And if it doesn’t, no harm, and I move on to the other options above.


Chiropractor

If you haven’t visited a chiropractor, you are seriously missing out. I have seen dramatic healing by visiting my chiropractor regularly.  I started off seeing her 3 times a week when my pain was constant, and as I improved, it became less frequent.  Now, I see her for adjustments and some PT or massage every two weeks.  What I have found incredible about adjusting my spine is how much it also affects the overall nervous system and brain.  It’s improved the health of my body as a whole… it sounds a bit crazy, but my chiropractor has also helped with my allergies, ear infections, headaches and digestive issues.

It can be hard to find the right one, but if you’re in Austin, I have a great recommendation for you: Tracie Schwab at Backbone Wellness Center.  Plus, most insurance companies will cover your visits (with a copay) up to a certain number each year.


While these natural methods may not work for all types of pain, I pray that they help provide some safe relief next time you are suffering.  Let me know how they work for you or if you have any other suggestions!

 

 

Magnesium Maybe?

Low energy, fatigue, headaches, stress, muscle tension and spasms, trouble sleeping, PMS, hormonal imbalances, nervousness, anxiety, irritability – any of these symptoms ring a bell? Or maybe a few?

You just might have a magnesium deficiency… and, you certainly wouldn’t be alone – 70% of women and 80% of men don’t get the daily intake they need, which means that most of us are quite lacking in this essential mineral.  Dr. Mark Hyman sums it up perfectly on his website:

Think of magnesium as the relaxation mineral. Anything that is tight, irritable, crampy, and stiff — whether it is a body part or an even a mood — is a sign of magnesium deficiency.

This critical mineral is actually responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions and is found in all of your tissues — but mainly in your bones, muscles, and brain. You must have it for your cells to make energy, for many different chemical pumps to work, to stabilize membranes, and to help muscles relax.

Doctors are constantly touting that we all need to drink more milk to get more calcium for strong bones.  But, getting too much calcium without enough magnesium creates a dangerous imbalance that can cause numerous health problems. Plus, if your diet consists of a lot of salt, coffee, sodas, alcohol and sugar, you are draining your body of it even further.  Another problem is that only about 30-40% of the amount we eat is absorbed by our bodies (source).  Why? Our bodies require enough vitamin B6 (eat your veggies), vitamin D (hello, sunshine!) and selenium (meat, poultry, fish & eggs) in order to be able to absorb magnesium.

Luckily, increasing your magnesium intake is a super easy fix.  Here’s what I do to get at least 400 mg per day (up to 1,000 mg can be helpful depending on the severity of your symptoms):

  1. Diet – Eat a lot of leafy green vegetables like spinach & collard greens, avocado, nuts – almonds, cashews and peanuts top the list, legumes and seaweed.
  2. Supplement – Magnesium SupplementFind a whole food supplement with magnesium citrate or glycinate taurate (easiest to absorb).  Avoid the cheap supplements with magnesium carbonate, sulfate, gluconate, and oxide.  Since I take so many vitamins and minerals each morning, I like to mix it up by taking this one during the day – Natural Vitality Natural Calm Magnesium Supplement.  It’s pure magnesium citrate and comes in lots of flavors; you add it to water and it makes a fizzy Emergen-C type beverage.  This is the perfect afternoon pick-me-up; since magnesium helps the body relax, it diffuses any of the stress I am feeling at work.
  3. Epsom Salt Bath – Epsom Salt BathEpsom Salts are pure magnesium and are recommended for relieving sore muscles. I mix up some lavender essential oil with my epsom salts in a glass jar and keep by the tub to add to my baths.  It’s super relaxing and helps your body absorb magnesium before bed, which leads to falling asleep faster and better rest.

Personally, since realizing that I was deficient in magnesium and increasing my intake, I have seen great results.  My afternoon headaches are gone, my energy has increased, I sleep better and my stress levels are down (though that last one may have a little something to do with this too!).

Are you suffering from any of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency? Think you’ll give any of the tips above a try?  I’d love to hear how it helps you!

7 Ways to Control Your Allergies Naturally

There’s nothing better than waking up, checking the forecast & seeing this:

Weather Forecast

But then, I check the other forecast.  The one that tells me if I can actually go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather…

Allergy Forecase

This time of year is awful for my allergies.  The cedar gets me the worst… can anyone else relate?

I used to reach for allergy medicine or anti-histamines to get me through, but after many years rotating through, they eventually stopped working. And I don’t know about you, but anti-histamines make me feel sleepy and sluggish so it’s hard to get up and go to work.  Plus, the purpose of those is to dry you up, so they are dehydrating.  In search for something that would help provide some relief, I’ve discovered a few ways that have really helped me control my allergies:

Allergy Relief

1. Use a nasal rinse.  This will clear your sinuses of allergens & bacteria.  Plus, it moisturizes your system, thinning the mucous to keep it moving through the system and reducing post-nasal drip. The saline mixture added to warm, distilled water works wonders for clearing my nasal passages and keeping me from getting too stuffy. I use this kind – you can find it at nearly any drugstore.

EO Allergy Blend2. Essential oils have worked miracles for me with my allergies.  In particular, I use a combination of Lemon, Lavender & Peppermint (aka the LLP bomb). I put them in my diffuser, put 3 drops of each in a capsule to swallow or put them in a spoonful of local, raw honey.  There are also a few other oils that can be super helpful with symptoms of congestion – RC & Breathe Again – or sinus headache – Copaiba.  Read more about how essential oils can improve your health here.

3.  Nothing relieves my itchy eyes better than Can-C Carnosine Eye Drops.  It is the best eye drop out there; even though it’s not specifically for allergies, it is a great moisturizer and completely safe. On a side note, I’ve read stories that it has even helped people improve their vision or cataracts.

4. I recently discovered a homeopathic tincture called Allergena.  They have blends for specific regions (Texas is Zone 5), or for allergies to pets, mold, dust, and several others. You put a few drops under your tongue every 10 minutes as long as you feel symptomatic until you don’t.  It works super fast to provide relief for sneezing, runny nose & itchy eyes.

5. A couple of times a day, I take Natural D-Hist. My doctor recommended it originally for my stress hives last year, but it also helps with seasonal allergies.  The blend of healthy ingredients helps relieve irritation from increased histamine response.  Although it doesn’t provide fast relief, I have seen a lot of benefit by taking it consistently every day.

6. While it’s not realistic to always stay inside, it helps to keep your indoors an allergy-free environment to give your system some reprieve.  Take a shower each night and wash your hair to get the pollen out. Put your clothes in a hamper when you get home for the day. Leave your shoes at the door. Wash your sheets and vacuum often. Close your doors and windows. Run an air purifier to remove those particles from the air – this is the one I use.

7. Eating a healthy diet is a crucial way to reduce inflammation & mucous production.  Organic fruits and vegetables will help provide vitamins and antioxidants.  Avoiding dairy and sugar will help lower your body’s inflammatory response and keep your immune system functioning properly.  Staying hydrated is also important; water helps control levels of histamines in the body.

Do you have any other ways that help you control your allergies naturally?  Thinking about trying any of these out? I would love to hear feedback on how these work for you!

(Char)coal in your stocking?

I still can’t believe that Christmas is less than a week away!  In remembering last Christmas, some very lovely memories of time spent with family are a bit overshadowed by a bad bout with food poisoning.  Miles away from the comforts of home, all I could think of was getting back to my charcoal.  And, yes, I am speaking about the charred wood type of charcoal.  I know it sounds a bit strange, but let me tell you about this surprising little cure-all…

As charcoal is created, “the gases, resins, proteins & fats in the wood are burned out, the heat-generated and change in chemistry cause the development of a charge on the charcoal granule which attracts most poisonous substances.”  Activated charcoal is created in a controlled setting and steam is introduced to enhance the adsorbtive power by creating finer pores.

Charcoal CapsulesActivated charcoal is a powder form that is easy to ingest and very fast-acting.  I have it in both capsule form and straight up powder.  The capsules are easy to take just like any pill; they’re good for kids (or husbands) who may not be willing to drink a glass full of black water.  Personally, I just mix a tablespoon or two in a glass of water and drink it – it’s completely tasteless, odorless and mixes well so the texture is barely granule.  Plus, drinking lots of water enhances its effectiveness.  “Charcoal reaches its maximum rate of adsorption within one minute.”

Charcoal has some surprising health benefits you’d probably never imagine.  It is actually classified in the safest Category 1 by the FDA for all ages.  It is an absolute staple in my “medicine” cabinet that’s filled only with harmless remedies and I highly recommend you get some too. Here’s the short list of its uses:

  • Charcoal is an extremely effective antidote to poisoning from chemicals or drug overdose.  There is a long list of substances which charcoal easily absorbs and the fact that it can be administered quickly & act quickly is a major advantage.  Ideally, it should be taken on an empty stomach and should be double the dosage of the poison (double further if person has eaten recently).
  • It is widely used as a remedy for stomach and intestinal issues like gas, bloating (especially from food allergies), diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.  As I mentioned, this is my go-to whenever I have food poisoning (which I have somehow contracted 3 times this year!).  As soon as I am able to keep down the charcoal for a few minutes, the vomiting stops, my stomach cramps lessen and I feel dramatically better within a matter of 10 minutes.  It decreases recovery time by preventing dehydration and, best of all, it truly absorbs the toxins causing your body to react instead of you just having to get it out of your system.
  • Swishing charcoal around your mouth for 30 seconds helps whiten and clean your teeth (seriously – it works wonders!) and stops bad breath.  Rinse with regular water afterwards to avoid a smile full of very black teeth.
  • Here’s a fun fact many of you may need over the holidays: although charcoal does not prevent alcohol intoxication, it does reduce the effects of a hangover.
  • It can be used externally on venomous bites or stings.  Wet a band-aid and put charcoal on there before applying to a bee/wasp/ant sting, a mosquito bite or even poison ivy (just use a larger compress). There are several case studies of how helpful charcoal has been when a snake or spider bite has occurred.  It was ingested and applied externally before the patient could reach the hospital to start removing the poisons from the body; it’s even cured brown recluse spider bites.
  • Topically, it can help clean & remove bacteria from skin lesions and ulcers.  It can also be used as a treatment for acne.  I mix a little bit with coconut oil and put on as a mask… its ability to draw substances out is great for removing blackheads.
  • It can be used safely with pets!  Like humans, it can help with bites or skin infections as well as intestinal problems.  When my dog has had diarrhea in the past, I’ve simply filled a syringe with a water/charcoal mixture and put it down her throat.
  • A few other uses for illness include foot and mouth disease, chronic pancreatitis and newborn jaundice.

I’ll give a couple of cautions: 1. The only side effect -real talk here- is that you will have black poop afterwards. 2. It doesn’t absorb nutrients that your body needs, but it will absorb any medications that you’ve taken. If you can, wait a couple of hours after taking meds before you drink it.

Interested in adding this to your medicine cabinet in case of emergency? The best news of all is that charcoal is cheap!  You can buy activated charcoal at your local health foods store or online.  Here’s a couple of options that I have used personally: capsule and powder version.  I’d also recommend you buy this short book for $7 and keep it handy to reference for dosage information.  It was the main source for this blog post & has a ton of really fascinating stories of healing to read: RX: Charcoal by Agatha Thrash, M.D. & Calvin Thrash, M.D.

Do you think charcoal is something that you’d try? I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions!

In the Summertime when the weather is hot…

I love Summer.  The sunshine is life-giving to me!   I can’t imagine anything better than spending time at the pool and lake with the warm sun on my skin.  Plus, it’s mostly allergen-free, so unlike most of the year, I can spend lots of time outside without regretting it later.  Anyone else share this passion with me??

Unfortunately for a lot of people, the summertime has a bad rap.  The beautiful sunshine has been villainized; we are advised to minimize our sun exposure and when we must be outside, cover every inch of ourselves with sunscreen every hour so we don’t get the big, bad cancer.  Funny how effective the “c” word is into scaring us into submission.

Coincidentally, our nation is currently experiencing epidemic levels of vitamin D deficiency.  Vitamin D is a valuable nutrient that comes from the sun and helps our immune system protect our bodies from a multitude of diseases, including cancer.  Actually, some research studies have proven that sun exposure can decrease our chances of getting cancer.  Add to that the fact that there is no proof that sunscreen protects against cancer and that sunscreen itself contains dangerous chemicals and carcinogens, the case against the sun is quickly diminishing.

Okay, now of course, the sun can be dangerous; it is a burning ball of fire, after all. You can’t simply sit outside for hours in direct sunlight and not expect to be hating yourself the next day.  Sunburns do cause cell death and can damage your skin.  It’s important to develop a healthy relationship with the sun…

After a winter indoors, your skin will need to be acclimated to the sun.  The best way to do it is spend 15-30 minutes at a time out in the sun (without sunscreen), getting exposure little bits at a time.  Your skin will respond as it is supposed to, the melanin will become tanned and protect you more and more from the sun naturally.  People with fair skin get Vitamin D faster and reach the maximum level of exposure sooner, so then it’s time to find some shade.  But most people can work up to being able to spend hours in the sun without harm.

If you are going to be out in the sun for longer than your skin is ready for, or your children need protection, consider using natural sunscreen options instead of those loaded with chemicals.  Personally, I use straight up coconut oil whenever I am in the sun for longer than half an hour.  It has minimum SPF so it still allows me to get Vitamin D and my skin tans easier when I use it so that I can build up my natural tolerance to the sun faster.

Lastly, a healthy diet is the best way to avoid a sunburn.  A diet high in antioxidants will protect your body from sunshine’s free radicals that cause cell damage.   So feel free to snack away at those sun-ripened berries and dark chocolate!  Avoiding foods that cause inflammation are another way to protect yourself – grains and Omega-6 vegetable oils being the main offender.  People often blame the sun for their wrinkles, collagen breakdown/premature aging and sun spots, but it’s actually an inflammatory diet that causes these issues.  Eat a diet high in healthy Omega-3 fats (found in animal fats, fish, coconut oil and organic raw dairy), the building blocks of your skin.

Now, get out there and enjoy the summer sunshine without fear!

Read more from my sources here:

Scientists Blow the Lid Off Cancer & Sunscreen Myth

4 Ways You Are Screwing Up Your Sun Exposure

Avoid Sunburn, Tan Better

Benefits of Sunbathing to Pregnancy and Nursing