Tag Archives: women’s health

Potassium Powerhouse Foods for Stroke Prevention and More

I frequently recommend foods high in potassium to my patients with high blood pressure. A recent study has me thinking I need to recommend these foods to more patients. This new study revealed that postmenopausal women who consumed the most potassium reduced their chance of stroke by 12% compared to those who ate the least. Women who didn’t have high blood pressure noticed an even better outcome from eating more potassium with a 27% reduction in strokes. Potassium is thought to improve the functioning of small blood vessels in the brain and throughout the body, partially by improving nitric oxide formation which can help open up blood vessels.

Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard

In truth, I recommend high potassium diets to most of my patients by encouraging them to eat a lot of vegetables. I believe that one of the reasons we need to get our 5-7 servings of veggies and fruit every day is to make sure we get adequate potassium. The average adult needs about 4700 mg of potassium a day. Many of the best potassium-rich foods are vegetables. For instance, a cup of cooked Swiss chard offers around 900 mg of potassium. Other high potassium foods include spinach, bok choy, beets, nuts, and dried beans. For a great list of potassium-rich foods, I like the chart available from World’s Healthiest Foods. My husband and I additionally take an electrolyte mixture that includes potassium when we work on the farm during these hot summers. Another good choice might be coconut water to help replace some of the potassium lost through sweating.

By emphasizing potassium intake, we get all of the benefits offered by this crucial mineral. Potassium is essential for nerve function throughout the body and especially in the heart. Getting adequate potassium can help preserve bone density and prevent the formation of kidney stones. Potassium deficiency might contribute to premenstrual issues and possibly the development of diabetes. As I mentioned above, eating high potassium foods can be one of the steps to help people reach a healthy blood pressure goal. And when we eat high potassium foods, we also get the full range of powerhouse nutrients that these foods provide. It is likely that these additional minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants from fruits and veggies contribute to some of the cardiovascular protection seen in these studies.

So figure out what high potassium foods you love to eat, and if you want some tips on getting more vegetables in your family’s life, check out my blog on getting kids to eat veggies.

Maca Smoothies for More Vibrant Days

On hot summer days, I tend to have more smoothies for breakfast. Though there are many ingredients I love, the maca I am adding seems to contribute to my sense of wellbeing. This is probably because maca is an adaptogen and a hormone balancer.

By adaptogen, I am referring to maca’s ability to reduce the negative impact stress has on our bodies. We might still experience the stress, but it is not as harmful on our overall health. A recent study showed that women who experienced more stress burned fewer calories after eating a high fat meal compared to the women with fewer stressors. The study showed that the higher stress levels correlated with higher insulin levels, which can contribute to belly fat. The study didn’t address adaptogens like maca, but in theory, these types of herbs might improve insulin levels and therefore help our metabolism. I also find that adaptogens give me more stamina to get through long days.

Maca powder

Maca powder

The other popular benefit of maca is as a hormone balancer for both women and men. It is maybe most widely known as a libido enhancer. It isn’t going to necessarily help everyone since not all libido issues are related hormones, but for those cases, it can be a great choice. Consuming maca might also help conditions like prostate issues, PMS, hot flashes, acne, and even some types of depression.

Because maca is traditionally used in fairly large quantities, it is a perfect item to add to a smoothie or other food. I usually put 1-2 teaspoon in each smoothie. When I added 3 teaspoons I noticed a bit of a spicy radish-like taste that I didn’t like.

Here is my current smoothie recipe:

1 scoop Sunwarrior Chocolate Warrior Blend or other protein powder

1-2 tsp Barley grass or other greens powder

1-2 Maca powder

2 Tbs Almond butter or other nut butter or nuts

1 tsp Cacoa powder

1-2 Tbs ground Flaxseeds and or chia seeds

1 Tbs Coconut oil

1 to 1 ½ cups water

Blend in a blender until smooth with any of these other ingredients I might want that day:

Fresh or frozen fruits or veggies like avocado, baby greens, or sprouts

Coconut water to replace some of the water

¼ tsp Turmeric with a pinch of black pepper

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

½ -1 tsp of the turmeric paste I made for my Bulletproof Turmeric #2 recipe

You can also empty the contents of supplement capsules into the smoothie such as probiotics, amino acids, and herbal supplements. Basically any that doesn’t make the smoothie taste strange.

Make it something delicious that you love to drink and enjoy some vibrant days this summer.

Catnip: This Nerve Soothing Herb Is Not Just for Cats

My cats love it, but there are many great reasons for people to choose this nerve-toning herb too. While catnip is stimulating to cats, it is relaxing to us. Because of these benefits, catnip can be a good option for restlessness, insomnia, and nervous headaches. It also helps relax tense muscles and ease muscle spasms. For this reason, some women use catnip for menstrual cramps. Like its close cousin lemonbalm, catnip has a pleasant lemony taste that can make it a great choice for a soothing tea. It is also a popular addition to make herbal blends taste better.



Catnip is a great herb for children too because of the good taste and gentle effect on the body. It can be used for insomnia or excitability in children. It is good for upset stomachs and other digestive complaints. Catnip has some antiviral activities and can help break a fever. It also helps ease coughs. These actions make it a good herb for children during cold and flu season.

I find catnip very easy to grow as long as my cats don’t destroy it when it is small. I bring the fresh leaves inside for my cats, but also see them in the garden eating it and rolling around in it. Catnip is reputed to be a nerve tonic for cats, so their brains actually benefit from the “buzz” they get. I also love catnip for its scientific name: Nepeta cataria. If fact, I used to have a cat by this name. Her nickname was Nip.

Nepeta hunting goldfish

Nepeta hunting goldfish

Breast Cancer Prevention: Alternative Health Tips to Help You Love Your Girls

About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, but there are things we can do to help beat those odd. Diet can play a large role in breast cancer prevention. The World Health Organization estimates that 25% of cancers are related to improper diet. For instance, women who eat more high carotenoid foods have a 20% lower rate of breast cancer compared to those who get the least. Carotenoids are the colorful pigments found in foods like carrots, tomatoes, and leafy green vegetables and include not just the well-known beta-carotene but also alpha-carotene, lutein, and lycopene. Diets high in fiber are also associated with lower risk of breast and colon cancers. Healthy fats are another food category correlated to lower flaxincidences of breast cancer. Examples of healthy fats are monounsaturated fatty acids from olive oil and Omega-3 fatty acids from fish and flax. Also a diet high in lignans was linked to lower rates of hormone sensitive breast cancers. One of my favorite sources of lignan is flaxseed, because they also have fiber and Omega-3 oils, making them a great dietary addition to help prevent breast cancer. Add ground flaxseeds to cereal, smoothies, yogurt, salads, and any number of other foods.

There have been numerous studies linking deficiencies of certain nutrients to higher rates of breast cancer. Many studies have shown a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and breast cancer. Vitamin D is thought to be particularly effective in helping prevent estrogen sensitive breast cancer. Among the other ways it is thought to reduce cancer rates, Vitamin D can inhibit the growth of cancerous cells by helping stop the replication of cancer cells and reducing their ability to invade other tissues. Selenium deficiency is also correlated with increased rates of nearly all cancers including breast cancer. Selenium is an important part of glutathione, one of the most important detoxification molecules in the body. Toxins in our environment, homes, cosmetics, food, and water are thought to possibly contribute to climbing rates of breast cancer. Therefore, it is also important to exercise to help the body get rid of toxins through sweat. Likewise, make sure you only use natural body care products since we seem to be able to absorb all sorts of chemicals through our skin.

Probiotics for Women’s Health

Most of the time when I am discussing probiotics with my patients, we are talking about them in connection with their many benefits for gut health. While the formulas I recommend for gut health will often also benefit urogenital health, emerging research is showing that different organisms work better for different parts of our bodies. Some beneficial bacteria are best at colonizing the small intestines, but we should chose different ones for the mouth, colon or urogenital tract. It can even come down to a particular strain of beneficial bacteria. For instance, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (sold as Culturelle) has been shown to grow very well in the small intestines, but a very closely related strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 is superior in many recent studies for colonizing the vaginal mucosa, even when taken orally. Most of these studies are using a formula that also contains Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14.

This probiotic combination of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and L. reuteri RC-14 is featured in several recent studies on improving urogenital health in women. For instance, postmenopausal women who had been suffering from recurrent urinary tract infections took daily either a prophylactic antibiotic or these two beneficial bacteria. At the end of a year, the rate of infections had been reduced by half in both groups, demonstrating that the probiotics were just as effective as the preventative antibiotic. In a study on women with Candida infections, all women took an antifungal medication, but half of the women were given this probiotic duo and the other half received a placebo. Of the women taking the beneficial bacteria, 90% had a complete elimination of symptoms compared to 62% in the women who got the placebo pills. This increased success rate is due to the ability of these particular strains to out competing the bad organisms, partially by producing growth inhibitors against pathogenic organisms like Candida.

Uses for Shepherd’s Purse

Local midwife Maria Chowdhury makes a traditional postpartum herbal bath that is very popular with new moms. This bath from Birth Song Botanicals contains organic herbs to help speed healing of tender tissues as well as shepherd’s purse to reduce bleeding. Shepherd’s purse is named for the shape of its seedpods, which resemble the bags that shepherds used to carry in the far distant past.

Shepherd’s purse is an astringent herb used both topically and internally to reduce bleeding. Chemical analysis of shepherd’s purse shows that it has the ability to help coagulate blood. When used internally, it is most commonly used to slow excessive menstrual bleeding especially if this is associated with lack of tone in the uterus. Shepherd’s purse can actually stimulate uterine contractions, and it is thought that this increased uterine tone also contributes to reducing blood flow in appropriate cases. To increase its effectiveness at slowing bleeding, shepherd’s purse is often combined with astringent herbs like yarrow. While shepherd’s purse may be used to reduce bleeding, it is of utmost importance to determine and address the cause of any excess bleeding.

Though most used for its anti-hermorrhagic actions, shepherd’s purse has lesser-known benefits. Shepherd’s purse has a gentle diuretic action on the kidneys causing an increase in urinary output. It also has a mild antiseptic action on the urinary tract. Shepherd’s purse is also sometimes included in blends for endometriosis because of anti-inflammatory benefits. Finally, its astringent actions can make it useful for hemorrhoids and some cases of diarrhea.

And to learn more about Maria Chowdhury’s herbal product, check out her website at www.birthsongbotanicals.org

Black Cohosh for Perimenopausal Symptoms

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to natural interventions for relief of menopausal symptoms. This is partially due to the fact that not every intervention is useful for every woman. What helps one woman might not be effective for her sister. The intervention needs to be matched to the unique symptom picture of the woman. A good example of this is black cohosh. This herb is found in nearly every blend for menopausal symptoms, but this herb isn’t the one that will help everyone. It is most likely to help women that have a particular constellation of symptoms, such as hot flashes, depression, and achy muscles or joints. Studies are showing that black cohosh may reduce the hormone surges associated with hot flashes. Black cohosh might also have constituents that act similarly to the medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which could explain its possible mood benefits. In addition to this, studies on SSRIs for menopausal symptoms showed a reduction in the number of hot flashes.

Black cohosh also has pain-relieving attributes that make it an herb to choose for complaints not related to menopause. It has analgesic and inflammation modulating constituents that make it a consideration for joint and muscle pain. It can relax muscles and help with muscle spasms. It can be used for women with menstrual cramps because it relaxes smooth muscles such as in the uterus. Again, the herb is more matched to women who have the combination of cramps, mood issues, and body pain. It may also help with headaches that are related to hormonal issues. Black cohosh is also an herbal option for men who have low back and knee pain, especially if they also have prostate issues or a lot of stress. Side effects are occasionally reported with black cohosh. The most common one is a headache that can be alleviated by adding ginger.

New approach to osteoporosis prevention

New research in the area of osteoporosis shows that bone loss increases with the level of inflammation in the body. This gives us new clues on how to help prevent osteoporosis. In addition to standard support like calcium and vitamin D, we can work to address excess inflammation in the body. Though short-term inflammation associated with an acute illness is a healthy process, chronic inflammation is now being tied to many of our modern illness including heart disease and now osteoporosis. You can tell that you are dealing with inflammation if you have any condition that ends in –itis, like arthritis or gingivitis. Once again everything is tied together so that an issue like gum disease can be far reaching in its effects on the body. Then when we improve these health issues, we get benefits throughout our body.

There are many ways of combating excess inflammation in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish or flax oil may decrease the intensity of inflammation. Since decreased inflammation is associated with less bone loss, regular consumption of fish or flax could help slow down osteoporosis. Another strategy for reducing inflammation is to increase our consumption of antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that can neutralize free radicals, which can damage our cells. This cell damage in turn leads to inflammation. Fruits and vegetables are full of protective antioxidants. One vegetable that has been studied for osteoporosis prevention is tomatoes, particularly cooked tomatoes that are high in the antioxidant lycopene. The study results indicated decreased bone loss in women who took lycopene supplements or who drank tomato juice.