Saturday, August 30, 2014

How natural are natural supplements?

Natural or herbal supplements - are they safe? When should I take them or not take them? Who regulates them?

All great questions we should always ask before we start popping something in our mouths hoping it will do what the label says it does. How many of you take some sort of vitamin, supplement, herbal medicine or even something given to you by a naturalist, homeopath, accupuncturist or chiropractor? Over the years I have seen more and more people going this route and personally I believe more in herbals from a Chinese herbalist/eastern medicine pharmacy than any of the OTC herbal compounds.

I always read as much as I can about anything I plan to put in my body (or on it). Read all the medical articles you can get your hands on, read the research studies and talk to your healthcare professional before you put any "natural" products in your body.  It is amazing how complicated the body is and when someone takes a pill for high blood pressure or high cholesterol and then hears from a friend they should be taking red rice yeast too so they try it. Well, this can be a very dangerous combination leading to liver damage! One wouldn't think a harmless over the counter supplement could cause so much damage, but it can.

If you are not sure if something you read about is safe or good for you please do not rely on ads, friends or the friendly supplement sales person. Always rely on your medical provider - NP, MD, DO, PA etc.  They can usually help you figure out how safe or unsafe it will be with your current medications and health condition(s).

As always, be healthy, be safe, and be smart!


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cedar pollen is amongst us!

It is that time of the year again..... already cedar fever season and if you haven't had the charm of suffering through this yet I welcome you now!  What exactly is this all about you ask? Sit back and learn my friend.

Cedar pollen usually starts causing us a problem from mid December to about April or May with a peak in January and February. The male cedar trees, actually mountain  cedar, start turning a burnt orange/brown color at the ends and if you sit and watch you can see them explode with pollen. It looks like a yellow cloud bursting as if the trees are on fire. This pollen is carried a long distance by the wind in hopes to pollinate the female trees.

The people who are particularly sensitive to this pollen can tell its out there even when the level is very, very low. They start sneezing a lot, their noses and back of their throats itch and their noses clog up when they spend time outside. Going out and enjoying our beautiful sunny winter days are torture because the allergy sufferers can get so clogged up from the allergies they can't breath through their noses! (then it drips all over the place, ewww).

Some people get pretty ill from the pollen because they are very sensitive to it. Besides the above allergy symptoms some people may start wheezing and coughing so much they set off an asthma attack. It is believed that the chemical nature of the pollen is responsible for it's toxic nature. 

How does one survive the season year after year? Glad you asked! First you must be prepared by starting allergy medication BEFORE the pollen starts blowing around. This is typically started at the first of December by taking an OTC allergy medication such as fexofenadine, loratadine, or cetirizine daily at night. Also start using a prescribed steroid nasal spray each morning - common ones are fluticasone (flonase), nasonex, or veramyst. 

Then when the cedar pollen starts blowing around you are not caught off guard and trying to play catch up, which is very hard to do. Once the pollen count gets high enough to affect you all you have to add to your repertoire is a saline nasal wash 2 times a day - especially after being outside for any length of time. See other blog posts I've done on the saline nasal rinse and be sure to only use distilled water. Tap water is not clean enough and after all the processing it can sting your nose.

Another key point to remember is after you spend time outside doing yardwork, exercising or just walking outside after shopping or work it is important to come inside, remove your clothing and put it in the laundry, take a shower and wash your hair and then rinse out your nasal passages with a saline nasal rinse.  All of this will prevent you from bringing pollen in and dropping it all over your house and having it constantly irritate you. You especially don't want it on your pillow at night  - that does not make for a good nights sleep!

May you stay clean, sneeze free and healthy this winter!

Ciao for now,


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Flu shot or not?

“What do you think about the flu shot?” Being in healthcare I get this question more and more often each flu season. "Do you get the flu vaccine?" I am asked this question just as often. My short answer is: Yes, I do.

The last time I got the flu shot I got the flu

Most likely you didn’t. If you get the seasonal flu vaccine (shot), not the nasal spray, in your arm you cannot get the flu from it. Now, I said you cannot get the flu from the vaccine, but remember the vaccine will take up to 2 weeks to build up antibodies in your systems to become fully effective. So, if you had the flu shot yesterday and in a couple of days you came into close contact with someone with a diagnosed case of the flu then you can still come down with the flu. It may not be as severe because you had the vaccine, but you will still feel ill. You might think the flu shot gave it to you but that is not the case.  Waiting until you come into contact with the flu to get your flu shot is probably too late, however you be able to kick-start your immune system into battle so it isn’t a bad idea. Most of the time people think they came down with the flu from the flu shot but it is more likely they had a cold and not the flu.

How do they decide what strain of flu should be in the vaccine?

"Currently, 136 national influenza centers in 106 countries conduct year-round surveillance for influenza viruses and disease activity.”   They gather the data and send it to labs and then a decision is made as to which strains of influenza will be most prevalent and a flu vaccine is developed months before the next flu season starts.
The flu vaccine typically gives people immunity from the selected strains throughout a flu season which usually runs from October to February with a peak in January. The CDC always keeps track of how well the flu vaccine for any given year protects us from the prevalent flu virus. The CDC has quite a lot of great information about the flu on their website so I think that is a great resource for inquiring minds.

I think I have the flu what are the symptoms?

In an earlier blog I wrote about the difference between a cold and the flu and I thought I would mention a few of these tips again. If a person has not had the flu before, or they don’t realize there is a difference between the flu and a cold they may think they have the flu when it’s actually just a cold. The flu is typically much worse than a cold and starts very abruptly while a cold starts slowly and builds up. People who have the flu can have some of all of the following symptoms:
  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
*not everyone with the flu will have a fever
Here are typical cold symptoms that start about one to three days after being exposed to the cold virus:

  • Scratchy, raw throat
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose / nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Fever up to 102 but typically around 99-100 degrees
  • Cough
  • Thick yellow or green nasal mucus*
  • Body aches, chills
  • Headache

*The mucus may turn from clear and runny to thick and yellow or green, this is a normal process with a cold and does not necessarily mean you have a bacterial infection. If the mucus continues to stay thick and you develop facial pain with or without fever after about 10-14 days then it is appropriate to follow up with your primary medical provider to be evaluated.

If you feel you have the flu then it is important to stay home to prevent the spread of the disease. Most primary medical providers, retail health clinics, and urgent cares can offer a rapid flu test and offer you either a prescription for an antiviral (Tamiflu, Relenza, and Amantadine) which may help lessen how severe the symptoms are and how long the flu lasts or over the counter symptom relief products. However, as with any medications be sure to tell your doctor if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you have kidney disease, heart disease, respiratory disease, or other serious health conditions. Some of the antivirals are more risky for children and is not safe for everyone so be sure to learn the facts. There is an over the counter homeopathic medicine, Oscillococcinum, that can reduce the duration and severity of flu-like symptoms. It is safe for anyone 2 years of age and older and does not have any known side effects or interactions with other medications.

More information about the flu can be found on and is a great site for tracking the flu across the U.S. and in your region. They even have an iPhone app! I signed up for flu alerts which will keep me informed of the flu levels in my area.

How can I prevent the flu?

The best way to keep from getting the flu is by getting a flu vaccine and while everyone should receive a flu vaccine each season there are some that must discuss it with a medical provider first:
  • People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
  • People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination.
  • People who developed Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine.
  • Children less than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for this age group), and
  • People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated.)
The flu vaccine is an inactivated (contains a killed virus) and is given with a needle in a muscle for anyone 6 months and older. The nasal-spray vaccine is a vaccine made with a live, weakened flu virus that does not cause the flu but should not be given to anyone in close contact with someone whose immune system is so weak they require care in a protected environment.

When should I get vaccinated against the flu

Yearly flu vaccinations should begin in September or as soon as vaccine is available and continue throughout the influenza season, into December, January, and beyond. This is because the timing and duration of influenza seasons vary. While influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time influenza activity peaks in January or later. ( )

I have a Flu Vaccine Finder locator on my blog and when the flu shot season comes it will be activated. It is a quick way to find a flu shot clinic near you so you and your family can easily get a flu vaccine. Since the flu vaccine is being offered in so many locations from your primary medical provider,Retail health clinic, urgent cares, schools, work place and pharmacies there is no excuse not to get one!

How can we prevent the spread of the flu virus once we have it?

The best way to prevent the spread of the flu is to wash your hands with soap and water often, if those are not available then alcohol-based hand gel works great. The flu virus may be strong in our bodies it’s quite wimpy outside our body and has been found to survive only up to 24 hours on hard surfaces. While it may stay alive that long outside our body it is weak and not very likely to be spread this way, though it could so cleaning community phones and keyboards is a good idea. The most common way the flu virus is spread is mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk and can be spread to others up to 6 feet away. This is why it is extremely important for those who are sick to cover their cough with their sleeve, elbow or tissue and throw that tissue away immediately and wash their hands. The same applies to sneezes.  The CDC also reports that most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick with the flu. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days. The flu symptoms start about 1 to 4 days after being exposed.

When you or your family member is diagnosed with the flu it is very important to stay home until you no longer have a fever and the coughing has stopped or at least 5-7 days when you most likely are not contagious any more.

The key is to stay healthy,  get a flu vaccine each year, wash your hands and stay home if you are sick. So who is going to be getting a flu vaccine this year? If not, then why? I am always interested in hearing the reasons why people do or do not get a flu vaccine.

Ciao for now,