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When Ticks Attack: You’ve Been Bitten, Now What?

6 May

tick on neck

By Cora Rivard, Naturopathic Doctor (N.D.) in Derry, NH.

Tick bites are already happening at increased rates, especially in the northeast and all along the east coast, and it is predicted that a large number of adults and children will be affected this year. But there is a lot that you can do to prevent them, as well as to significantly decrease your risk of contracting a tick-transmitted infection. (You can also check out my other article in this series, “Plants vs Ticks: Lyme-free Landscaping” to learn about landscaping strategies to repel and prevent ticks from migrating into your yard.)

My personal story: I used to use tweezers to remove them from us and our pets…until four years ago when I had a deer tick attached to the back of my arm. It was attached less than 24hrs, not visibly engorged. It wasn’t my most efficient removal, and it got squeezed and slightly messy as I took it out. It wasn’t considered a “high risk” bite due to the less than 24 hr attachment rule, so my doctor decided it was not worth treating. I did elect to do a 2 dose “prophylactic” doxycycline treatment within 48 hrs of the bite (only a single dose is recommended, but I really wanted to be careful.) However, it appears that evidence is scant for effectiveness unless used on the same day of the tick removal, and after that, it could even be harmful.  In mice, prophylactic treatment has been shown to reduce appearance of the rash, but was not shown to decrease infection. Having the prophylaxis was a big mistake for me, even with the double dose. Long story short: within a couple months I developed a mean case of Lyme, affecting the joints of the bitten arm first and then the rest of me. I consulted with an infectious disease specialist in Boston who helped me understand that early treatment of certain types of acute infection with antibiotics can actually interrupt your body’s natural development of immunity to the organism.  If the treatment is inadequate or incomplete- this leads simultaneously to a more resistant bug and a decrease in your effective immune defense to that bug. In my case, taking the prophylaxis instead of a full treatment likely made my disease that much harder to treat later.  It took consulting with Lyme specialists,  a whole lot of antibiotics over a couple of years, and a lot of stress and side effects to kick the infection. And thankfully, I was finally (hopefully) able to kick it with the guidance I received. But I don’t want you and your loved ones to ever have to go through any of this. So here’s what to do:

Let’s start with a quick review to help prevent tick bites:
1. Wear lght colored pants tucked into socks when in the woods and when doing yardwork.
2. Tick repellent sprays, herbal or chemical, to shoes, pants and legs prior to walks in the woods. For children, I recommend parents use safer, non-DEET repellants whenever possible. Formulations with essential oils like lemongrass, cedar, rosemary can be great to repel ticks (but should be re-applied often):Botani Organics Tick Guard Repellant Spray — 4 fl oz

(by the way- for mosquitoes, the best natural product I have used is lemon eucalyptus: Repel 94109 Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent, 4-Ounce Pump Spray. But I don’t know how well it works to repel ticks.)

3.  As soon as you come indoors from an outing in the woods, remove your clothes and toss them in the dryer for 5-10 minutes, then wash if desired. Ticks don’t drown in the washing machine, and the hot water of the wash will kill them, but a spin through the dry heat of the dryer will.

4. Nightly tick checks. Ticks are not polite- they will crawl up until they hit a crease, fold, or simply can’t climb up anymore. Always check the nether regions, back, neck, under breasts, armpits, legs, belly button, and go through the hair and scalp carefully. Another important spot to always check (especially in children) is within the curves and folds of the ears. Do this every single evening whenever snow is not covering the ground, even if you or your children have not been outside, ticks can still migrate indoors on pets.

If you find one attached:
**Use a tick remover. I have tested out many styles, but my favorite by far is the notched spoon, such as “Ticked Off” sold by Amazon. It can safely remove ticks of any size, even nymphs and larval sizes, with head and mouth intact every time. Get one now. I  keep 3 of them, so that there is always one on hand- backpack, travel bag, bathroom, etc. One stays packed in a travel bag- it goes everywhere with us. When using it, always use your other hand to provide traction- pulling the skin tight around the area of the tick, as you gently press in and slowly “scoop” out the tick with the notch.

Never try to burn, squeeze, or otherwise irritate the tick by putting anything on it, like essential oils or vaseline. This can cause the tick to disgorge its stomach contents into the wound, along with infectious organisms.

If you are concerned about infection, save the tick and have it tested. Pack the live tick in a piece of moistened paper towel and place inside a ziploc bag. You can send it to a lab for testing, follow this Univ. of RI link for a list of available testing facilities in the Northeast. They can screen for Lyme and other common tickborne infections (Lyme is still the most common disease present in tested ticks- the others tend to be more common as coinfections to borrelia), identify the type of tick, as well as the level of engorgement and assumed attachment time, and report back to you within a few days. This information can be very helpful for you and your doctor to decide whether treatment is necessary in the absence of signs and symptoms. I’ve used the one at the University of CT several times for my family members, and often recommend it to patients. But any of them should be helpful.

After removal, treat the site of the tick bite with hydrogen peroxide or essential oil. I like using oregano oil as a heavy duty topical antimicrobial for spot treatment, it kills a lot of infectious things.

Call your doctor with concerns, they might suggest preventve treatment depending on the circumstances of the tick bite, even without symptoms. “Preventive” treatment should mean full treatment time-I often recommend to patients to complete 4 weeks of antibiotic treatment in early disease. This is longer than the guidelines set forth by the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA). Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease and other infections may include any of the following: spreading rash, fever, head aches, stomach aches, flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes, and joint aches and pains. However, it is also possible to have no signs or symptoms for weeks or months during the initial infection. It is common for the skin surrounding tick bites to get a little red and even scabby- this is because your immune system becomes activated with the mechanical irritation of the bite, and also may react strongly to the proteins in the tick’s saliva. This is not the same as an erythema migrans- the typical Lyme rash. Show your doctor immediately if you have any kind of rash or reaction, they can help to distinguish the two.

Testing for Lyme disease in humans: generally, you must wait at least a month to get tested, as it takes a while for antibodies to mount diagnostic levels. Therefore if it is likely that you might have contracted a tick transmitted illness, either by symptoms, history of deer tick bite, or by an unusual rash (since many people who contract Lyme disease never discovered an attached tick)- your doctor may opt to go ahead and treat you.

If you do go through treatment, remember to talk to your doctor about taking probiotics (take at a separate time from antibiotics) throughout your treatment period and for at least 2-3 months beyond. Antibiotics will help to kill tick-borne diseases, but they will also wreak havoc on your intestinal ecology. Probiotics can help to protect you from getting a serious intestinal infection while your defenses are down during and post treatment.

About the Author: Dr. Rivard is a licensed naturopathic doctor and owner of Seasons Natural Healthcare, LLC in Derry, NH. She consults with both adult and pediatric patients regarding nutrition, natural treatments and effective alternatives to medications for a wide range of common health concerns.  Any informational content should not be taken as medical advice, or to replace the advice of your doctor in any way.

Plants Vs Ticks: Lyme-free Landscaping

5 May

english garden

by Cora Rivard, N.D.

It is already a terrible start to the year for ticks, and for new cases of Lyme and other tick-transmitted infections. That’s the bad news. The good news is it is not too late to do something about it for your yard. This article highlights landscaping strategies proven to repel ticks and the vectors that carry them in, and offers some alternatives to insecticide soil treatments to control infestations- which can be a danger to groundwater as well as potential risks from topical exposures to kids and pets. In the end, you need to do what is best for you and your family members- furry and non-furry- but this resource is a great way to start planning your strategy with effective, non-pesticide measures. (For information about what you need on hand to reduce disease transmission if you do get a tick bite, please read my recently updated article:  2017 Updated Tick Removal, Testing, and Prevention.


Most ticks, including deer ticks, like cool, shady, humid places to live and they don’t venture too far from where they are dropped from their hosts. Landscaping that encourages more sunshine and warm, dry conditions will limit their range. Beautiful and repellent strategies can include native plant gardens, butterfly gardens, and old cottage-style gardens. Tasks:

  • Prune back trees and shrubs to allow in more light.
  • Keeping grass clipped allows in more light and limits moisture. Ticks like tall grasses but do not cross into trimmed, clear lawns.
  • Beware of mulch. Many veterinarians report tick problems in households following mulch applications. This is because ticks relish the moisture and hiding places that it provides. If you do mulch, the type matters. Choose cedar with a preference for the nuggets/chips over the shredded. Not only is cedar a natural repellant for ticks and fleas, the nuggets retain less moisture and are therefore a stronger repellant of ticks.
  • Use a 3 foot swath of either mowed lawn, cedar mulch, or gravel as a border between your yard and neighboring woodlands. Use it as a border around play areas, walkways and porches.
  • Avoid ground cover plants as much as possible. The hiding places they provide attract mice, chipmunks and ground squirrels that spread infected ticks. Use gravel, cedar mulch or mowed grassy lawn to also border off stone walls and stacks of wood- which are also usually infected with mice.
  • Keep it neat. Pick up and neatly stack empty gardening containers to reduce hiding and nesting spots for mice.
  • Try not to be inviting to deer, which are basically HOV’s(high occupancy vehicles) for ticks. Child-safe plants that might repel deer include strong-smelling herbs such as mint family plants and lavender. An extensive list of botanicals that generally won’t attract deer can be found at this website.
  • Chickens and guinea hens? Yes, they do eat bugs like crazy. They also poop like crazy. They do seem to reduce the tick population significantly if they can roam.

Lawn Treatments

For those who prefer to avoid the widespread use of insecticides in their property, there might be more targeted ways to kill ticks by working directly with vectors. Tick tubes by Damminix on Amazon use permethrin-treated cotton balls stowed in tubes, placed strategically around your property (you can also get them direct from the manufacturer in various quantities here). Mice take the cotton to line their nests, thus eradicating ticks from all occupants. Another newer and fascinating strategy uses bait boxes to attract rodents which are then brush past an insecticide- treated applicator as they approach the bait food. This has been shown to significantly reduce tick populations, and the CDC is currently funding a study in Connecticut suburbs to see if it reduces the incidence of Lyme disease. But, frankly, they already had me at, “significantly reduces tick populations.” Here is where you can locate an installer, state by state.

For further reading on this topic, check out this article which discusses the work and research by Kirby Stafford III PhD, Vice Director, Chief and State Entomologist, Department of Entomology, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES), New Haven. He ” ..has been involved in tick research on many fronts for 23 years. His 84-page handbook Tick Management Handbook (TMH), is the definitive informational word on tick ecology, diseases, removal, repellants, and a complete and varied integrated approach to tick management for the property owner.”

About the author: Cora Rivard is a practicing licensed naturopathic doctor (N.D.), a loving but occasionally embarrassing mom (according to my child), occasional writer and health activist, and owner of Seasons Natural Healthcare, LLC, in Derry, NH. Website:




7 Myths About Wellness Told By Modern Healthcare

22 Apr


Picture the last time you saw an advertisement with imagery similar to this: a couple frolics on the beach; his teeth are way too white, she puts on her best “come hither” look. Or, she stands alone, smiling with closed eyes and arms outstretched towards the sunny skies with her swimsuit wrap billowing out behind her in the breeze. This is the ad template used to sell any number of interchangeable medications and supplements: male enhancement pills, female hormones, antidepressants, you name it- all in the name of wellness.

What bothers me is that the concept of “wellness” sells a lot of things, as if it is a nirvana that can be reached and inhabited indefinitely;  if only you would buy this “very important product”. One that did not even exist a short while ago. One that (by the way) will immediately be followed with whole screens or magazine pages full of unpleasant and downright frightening potential side effects in tiny, unreadable print.

But we want to feel like this, we want to be well, so we buy into it. The problem is, “wellness” is no cookie-cutter place where you can reside indefinitely. It is a process that cannot be substituted by a product. Life has its highs and lows, and nothing will stop that. But movement between and within these poles is essential. Much of what we know to be static “wellness” is based upon a template that is marketed to us, and this is a problem. What I’d like to do here is to dispel some modern myths about wellness, based upon my education as a naturopathic doctor and from what I have learned over the years from working with my patients.

Myth #1: A calorie is calorie. the “Big Soda” industry has been pushing this agenda with bazillions of dollars in marketing campaigns, and they will continue in the hope that you will not just simply drink water, tea or coffee. They are even heading up major government incentives to design wellness programs for our schools and our military, that will conveniently help keep sweet drinks as a necessary part of daily life. Fewer people drink classic soda now, but they still need your dollars so the same makers that brought you soda now ALSO bring you… Water soda! (water infused with sugar or sugar substitute, vitamins and flavorings), Coffee and Tea soda! (it looks like coffee or tea, but they add a bunch of sugar/sugar substitute and flavorings. Oh, and there might be a little tea or coffee in there, too), and Sport drink soda! (caffeine, sugar or sugar substitutes, flavorings.) Don’t be fooled, it is still just soda. But, you say, it uses non-caloric sweeteners, that is better for me, right? Wrong. People who drink non caloric sweetened beverages actually gain more weight and have more health issues with these beverages than even regular soda. The reason is that when your taste buds register the overpowering sweetness in these beverages, it prepares for the onslaught of easy calories coming its way. When they don’t immediately materialize- your body will prompt you to over-consume later in the day to make up for the deficit in what was expected. And you’ll feel more tired and irritable when your body discovers this little ruse. And you’ll need more sweety-sweetness later to make it feel better- now you’re hooked! This is becoming a particular problem with our young people, and can contribute to the severity of #2 below (especially when you widen to include fruit juices, chocolate milk, coffee milk(?!), and others):

Myth #2: Children who do not behave as expected in school need to be medicated. I will be writing on this topic in greater depth over the summer with a friend who is a counselor. Whether for ADD/ADHD or autism spectrum disorders, or other behavioral issues, medication is often the first line of therapy that is discussed between doctors and parents. While these interventions have their place and can be beneficial with careful considerations, we also have to recognize that they often involve medications tested mostly in adult populations as single drug therapies, and for relatively short periods of time. We don’t really understand how these things affect a developing brain, over many years of use and in combination with other psychoactive drugs. Natural therapies and cognitive/behavioral strategies can work well for many children, without side effects, and should be considered as a first line far more often than they currently are.

Myth #3: You need to have 8+ nonstop, uninterrupted, consecutive hours of sleep per night. This one causes a lot of stress with my patients. We like to think that a good night sleep requires zonking out completely and waking up to stretch 8 hours later to bound out of bed. Sure, this is great! But, healthy sleep patterns don’t have to be like this. Your body will go through several cycles of deep and lighter sleep during an average night, ranging from 70 minutes to 2 hours each. Important things happen regarding repair of tissues, hormone release, and other biological functions during different phases of sleep. During light phases, we might even wake up for a while- this is completely normal! You might wake up, change positions, use the bathroom, or even just be awake for a little while before falling back asleep. This does not generally interrupt a good night’s sleep. For more reading about the science of sleep cycles, here is a good article from Harvard Medical School. Historian Roger Ekirch has some very interesting research regarding how people slept at different times in history; the idea of segmented sleep used to be more the norm versus our modern and relatively recent idea of what it should be. In the past, people were accustomed to use the times that they were awake at night to read by candlelight, have creative inspirations, have sex, and perhaps meditate on philosophical subjects.

Myth #4: Napping means you are lazy.
This might be more of a generational issue. I find that many adults, especially those over middle aged, believe that napping somehow means that they are lazy and not pulling their share. However, napping is a natural part of our evolution and still practiced daily in many other parts of the world. Napping is a great way to refresh and recoup energy, boost memory skills and learning, and let’s face it- it just feels good. We need to especially encourage our seniors that it is OK to nap! Here is a really great blog article all about napping, and a cool chart helping to answer the question, How Long Should You Nap?

Myth#5: Fevers need to be reduced with medication. It is always a good idea to discuss this with your doctor to understand the threshold for bringing a fever down and what signs to watch out for. But here’s the problem, fevers are a way that your body helps boost metabolism to fight off infections. Optimal immune function can require this to happen. Unnecessarily bringing down a fever can actually prolong illness, and possibly make the body less efficient at recognizing and dealing with other similar illnesses in the future. Plus, it brings more infectious people to work or school to spread to others. The vast majority of the time, healthy people with fevers and no complications simply need rest, and fluids, and light foods if they can tolerate them. And time. Being “well” means that you can get sick sometimes- consider it a drill exercise for your immune system. Here is a classic naturopathic for helping reduce the pain and congestion that can accompany a fever- to promote better sleep, for kids and adults: the much loved wet sock treatment.

Myth#6: Grief is an illness that needs to be treated with medication. If we are lucky enough to live a long life with friends and family we love, then grief and sadness are inevitable. These are not medical conditions, but an important way that we must transition to a life without, an unwanted but nonetheless forced change in life. Some could need help for while, especially if the tasks of living cannot be completed without the help of medication temporarily. However, I think more acceptance and support of grief as a necessary step is essential to a return to wellness. Those who are allowed to grieve deeply and fully as needed from the beginning, generally have a better outcome than others who are persuaded to try to relieve it and delay it to some degree. Feeling sick, feeling grief, and going through hard times is an inevitable part of life- but facing this head on, when possible, is often the quicker and better solution (in the long run) to return to wellness.

Myth#7: If you take the right multivitamin, goji berries, acai, whatever- you will be well. For general nutrition, nothing beats food. Real food. If your great grandmother walked with you in the grocery store, she should be able to recognize everything you pick up. You should be able to recognize all the ingredients that you read on a label. Even if t is natural but it has been harvested and then dried, dessicated and stuffed into a capsule or powdered mix, it is going to lose much of its potency. Now, there are times when people need to supplement with one thing or other for a period of time- natural supplement or drug, but there should be a clear reason why and a plan, monitoring and an endpoint. And if that endpoint is a picture of a woman on a beach with a billowing wrap in the sunshine- run away!

*Warning: reading this blog might cause side effects including but not limited to: more napping, less money spent on useless and/or harmful products, and more time spent in food preparation.

How NOT to do a cleanse

8 Apr


It’s spring time, and many a young (and mature) woman’s thoughts turn to…cleansing. First, what is a “cleanse”, and do you even need to do it? If you asked your family medical doctor this question, she or he would probably take a deep breath and then try to explain to you that unless you are about to undergo a procedure that necessitates prior emptying of the bowels- there is never a reason to “cleanse” the inside of your body. The physiologies of your liver, kidneys, intestines, blood, lungs and skin already do this for you without your help; the roles of binding, detoxification and elimination all steadfastly go on without your conscious attention, thank you.

And while this is certainly true, things can still get bound up, backed up, and just plain exhausted at times. Diet, lifestyle and medications can strain the cytochrome P450 system which determines the rate and types of detoxification that happen in your liver. People get constipated from dehydration, excess, food sensitivities and other reasons (see my previous post for more information here, “Get Your Poop On…”). Skin can get inflamed when irritants hang around from metabolic waste. Those with tendencies for bronchial spasms and irritations can become more reactive when the burden of irritants on and within the body becomes too high.

In my experience, people can feel great after a cleanse. But it has to be done carefully, and some “cleanses” can actually be quite dangerous. Don’t do the following:

1. Stop eating suddenly for extended times. For many people, this kind of abrupt change can be dangerous. Your blood sugar could get dangerously low for your brain and you could pass out, or you could experience electrolyte imbalances that can cause a heart arrhythmia.

2. Please, please don’t do any cleanse that involves swallowing tablespoonfuls of oil. This can actually cause your gallbladder to spasm and expel stones, which can then become lodged in your biliary system and wreak havoc. It is just not worth it.

3. Avoid colon hydrotherapy/irrigation. Is there a fire in your butt? No? Then don’t do this. Your bowels do not need to be “washed,” unless you have a specific medical need to do so. The ecology of the intestines is delicate, and can be upset by forcing water through them at high pressure- Plus, this type of procedure puts one at risk for perforations and other unintended consequences.

Now that you know what not to do, what can you do? At it’s core, doing a cleanse lessens the burden on your body so that it can better do its job to bind up, detoxify, and eliminate. Here are the most important points for doing a cleanse for your chosen period of time:

1. Avoid eating all junky foods.  This includes foods with added sugars, fried foods, heavily processed foods that contain “non-food” ingredients, chemically processed foods.

2. Avoid eating lots of rich and meaty foods. These take more resources to process in your body. It is good to lighten the load occasionally.

3. Get plenty of rest and quality sleep at night. This is essential to body repairs and optimal function.

4. Avoid alcohol, and if you can handle it- all caffeine. Both of these things put a burden on your liver’s detoxification system, give it a break for a little while.

5. Eat small meals, avoid excess.

6. Drink plenty of filtered water to stay hydrated.

7. Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage. These are particularly great at assisting the liver to do its work.

And that is it! It is just that simple. In addition, you may also try temporarily avoiding foods that many people can be sensitive to (not everyone)- especially dairy and glutein. Yes, there are herbs and nutrients that can help- which your local friendly naturopathic doctor or herbalist can help explain and guide you in proper use.

I recommend adding in some dry skin brushing, which is a great way to stimulate good circulation of blood and lymph.

I have become a big fan of the recipe for  Magic Mineral Broth 2.0 by Rebecca Katz. While she originally developed this veggie-rich recipe for use as a nourishing broth for those undergoing cancer treatment, she has updated with more pizazz (did someone say Shabazz??) for her new book, : The Longevity Kitchen: Satisfying, Big-Flavor Recipes Featuring the Top 16 Age-Busting Power Foods [120 Recipes for Vitality and Optimal Health]

This broth can be a tasty, nutritious powerhouse for supporting your organs of elimination. (Enjoy it anytime!)

If you are looking for an interesting and tasty kale smoothie recipe, here is a good one at Go for one of these daily during your cleanse. Instead of coffee in the mornings- enjoy some hot water with a fresh twist of lemon. Or, perhaps some ginger or green tea (caffeine levels are pretty low in green tea.)

Doing a cleanse can be a great way to reduce your seasonal allergy reactions- for more information about how to prevent and limit allergy symptoms- read my previous blog article, “Nip Allergies in the Bud: 8 Tips for Relief.”

by Cora Rivard, N.D.




Nip Allergies in the Bud: 8 Tips for Prevention Today

2 Apr

funn allergy 2

by Cora Rivard, N.D./Seasons Natural Healthcare,LLC/Derry, NH

My practice is located in Derry and I have been helping patients for years to comfortably control and eliminate seasonal allergies and related complications (sinusitis, lung infections, fatigue, etc.) by using natural medicine and approaches. This article is a great starting point for self-care. I am happy to assist anyone with a personalized approach that you can continue to use from year to year- just contact me for an appointment. You can find my contact info and make appointments from my website:

Antihistamines are the standard conventional medicine treatment for seasonal allergies, but the histamine response is responsible for only about half of the immune reactions associated with the symptoms of seasonal allergies. This is why the nasal and sinus congestion can still remain with treatment (and often the drowsy side effects.) While it is best to start a preventive strategies at least a few weeks before your allergy season begins- it is still not too late to get relief!  Following is a list of complementary strategies which can help you feel better, pronto!

1. Avoid alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol helps to dilate all those surface blood vessels and flood even more histamine release into those already inflamed eyes and mucous membranes. Better to stay of the sauce until you are in the clear.

2. Honey– yes! Local honey is best, but honestly any honey will do. This is because honey contains remnants of pollen, which is high in anti-inflammatory flavonoids. By consuming local honey, you may also benefit from oral tolerance which is basically how your body learns to become immunologically non-reactive to the innocuous things that it is exposed to.

3. Warm liquids– especially herb teas, with honey. These help to loosen congestion and keep you hydrated. I am a fan of the Yogi line: Yogi Breathe Deep Tea, 16 Tea Bags (Pack of 6) (this does contain licorice- always talk to your doctor first before you take a new supplement if you are taking other medications.)

4. Saline sprays or rinses. These work very well to rinse the offending pollen out of your mucus membranes- especially after returning from the great outdoors. Those familiar with the use of neti pots may use these. I often recommend saline sprays that can be found at most pharmacies.

4. Stinging Nettles: Dried extracts of stinging nettles have been used traditionally as a treatment for respiratory allergies. They not only contain components which help to block the histamine response, but research shows they also curb inflammation and congestion. Frankly, I found nettles only somewhat helpful or “meh” in practice unless part of a combination- so I tend to prescribe herb regimens that pack more punch and they work very well. But you need to find a professional knowledgeable in botanical medicine to guide you in their use.

5. Boost your flavonoid intake: Flavonoids are constituents of plants which exhibit a range of bioactive behaviors- including modification of inflammatory responses. There are a few select foods which contain extraordinary quantities of the specific flavonoids shown to have anti-allergic effects. These include: buckwheat, capers, parsley, onions, peppermint, thyme, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, and peppers. Here’s an example of great flavonoid-packed, cleansing “allergy season” smoothie.

6. Consider probiotics: Probiotics are strains of “friendly” bacteria which reside in the intestinal tract, such as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus bacteria. Their actions have a critical role in the development and maintenance of immune functions in the body. The natural ecology of the intestines can be upset by events such as intestinal infections and antibiotic use. Research shows that supplementing with probiotics may significantly improve the symptoms of seasonal allergies.

7. Other dietary considerations: Certain foods can cross react with pollen sensitivities, which may enhance the effects of pollen exposure and exacerbate allergy symptoms- and you might also experience more itching and discomfort around the mouth (oral allergy syndrome). You may therefore gain additional relief by cutting out foods such as bananas, peaches, kiwi fruit, melons, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts during the height of allergy season. It is also wise to avoid foods that have been cooked with vegetable oils at high heat, including deep fried foods, donuts, pastries and cakes. These types of foods promote an increase in inflammatory reactions throughout the body.

8. Consider a cleanse: “cleanses” can be simple or fancy, cheap or expensive. At it’s foundation, a cleanse is when you eat and generally live simply for a period of time, at least a week or so. Give up all added sugars, junk foods, and eat small meals with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables- eliminate or at least limit all animal-derived foods for a little while. You may go for vegetable broths and lots of vegan smoothies. Drink tea and water. Get plenty of sleep, fresh air, and some movement each day.

Remember- these articles are not intended as medical advice, nor should they replace the advice of your doctor. Best wishes for a happy and more comfortable spring!

Author: Dr. Rivard is a licensed naturopathic doctor (N.D.) and owner of Seasons Natural Healthcare, LLC in southern New Hampshire.


Swish This: Coconut Oil for Healthy Gums

27 Mar

coconut oil

There has been a lot of recent interest in “oil pulling.” Though I can’t comment on its worthiness as a panacea for all ills, I do want to comment on the use of coconut oil to generally improve the health of gums- particularly if mild bleeding and sensitivity is a problem.

I love virgin coconut oil. (I make a mean stir fry with coconut oil, chicken, broccoli and portabella mushrooms served over rice.) And, it is a wonderful moisturizer. In the winter I like to mix it with shea butter and a touch of vanilla extract for a sweet, smokey scent. Smooth it on after a shower or a bath to help lock in moisture. Plus, it has antimicrobial properties, and of course it is free of parabens and other undesirable ingredients commonly present in other moisturizers. (I’m going to be doing a future post with a local master herbalist to teach you how to make your own selection of very nice lotions and creams at home.) I’ve even used it as under arm deodorant with a drop of my favorite essential oil, and find it works better than my other natural deodorant sticks.

One day, a new patient told me that it really improved the health of her gums. And I started to hear about this from others, too, and I began casually bringing it up with other patients as part of an overall approach to improving oral health. And the results have been good.

This morning, I had a routine dental check up and I asked my dental hygienist about it- and she emphatically stated that she has had many patients improve their gum health with it, and often recommends it. She specifically notes whiter teeth, and less bleeding and inflammation of the gingiva for many, (but not everybody.) Could it be that the antimicrobial properties of the oil help to decrease the types of bacteria that cause plaque and inflammation? Or do the vitamins and fatty acids present in the oil help to soothe and protect the soft tissues of the gingiva? Or does the the texture of the oil simply help to block plaque from forming? Who knows, but it seems that there is something to this.

All it takes is an ample, pea-sized gob of virgin coconut oil. (I recommend virgin or “unrefined” because this is the oil removed by strictly mechanical means in the first press, without the addition of chemical means of extraction and distillation.) Put it in your mouth, use your tongue to spread it over your teeth, then swish through teeth and mouth like a mouthwash for a minute or so. Then, spit out into the trash (don’t ever spit in the drain, as this will clog it when it solidifies again at room temperature.

Do this once a day in the evenings after brushing your teeth, and if you are really motivated, in the mornings as well. Try it for a couple weeks and come back to comment on your results- I’d love to hear them, as I have never specifically tracked results of using this method on its own. (just be aware that some people can be allergic or otherwise sensitive to coconuts, so if you ever experience any itching or discomfort in or around the mouth from coconuts, please don’t do this.)

If you do try this, I hope to hear from you in a couple weeks with your experience to share!

The Zen of Chocolate

17 Feb
Bon bon on left: Caramelized champagne mango with Scorpion chilis blended with Danta’s magnificent La Soledad criollo 40% milk chocolate from Guatemala, finished in Tango 67% Dark chocolate. On right: Almond gianduja of Red Rack Ale and fresh blood orange juice in Axiom 60% dark chocolate.

Bon bon on left: Caramelized champagne mango with Scorpion chilis blended with Danta’s magnificent La Soledad criollo 40% milk chocolate from Guatemala, finished in Tango 67% Dark chocolate. On right: Almond gianduja of Red Rack Ale and fresh blood orange juice in Axiom 60% dark chocolate.

Years ago, my husband brought me samples of chocolates whenever he returned home from work abroad in France and Switzerland. He is the reason I became too spoiled to ever go back to Hershey chocolate again. The creamy texture, the delicate flavors, the “mouth feel” and the happy feelings these special treats provided could never be matched by anything available in this domestic mass market.

Fast forward to last summer: when visiting my aunt in France, she brought us to her favorite chocolate cafe along a cobblestone walk in Bayonne. It boasted a cozy, comfortable place to sit and relax while tantalizing confections were calling, calling out from the shelves. The owner could be seen carefully wrapping a recent batch of creations in golden foil. The main reason we came was for the chocolat mousseux. This is a heavenly rich, creamy hot chocolate drink prepared with a frothy dome over the top, served in fine bone china along with a side bowl of Chantilly crème. So we sat, sipped and savored, enjoyed our company, and life was very good!

For chocoholics like me, savoring a good piece of chocolate is an instant vacation. The rich cocoa color, the smooth feel, the creamy texture, the aroma, the balance of flavors, the sweetness that cranks out those “feel good” neurotransmitters within one’s brain; chocolate is truly a joy for all the senses. For this reason, chocolate was a natural subject for beginning my writing series. Each month, I will be exploring a local NH product or experience that not only boasts impressive health benefits, but also an enjoyable experience: a little slice of “joie de vivre” or “joy of life.”

Whenever we can direct all of our senses to wrap around an object, a feeling, or an experience- this brings a delicious awareness to life known as “Zen.”  The whole point of Zen practice is to become fully aware, here and now.  The point is to come home to the present moment, which is truly where we all live- not in the past, and not in pondering the list of things we have to get done for tomorrow. And… yes! The cocoa in chocolate is also chock full of antioxidants and flavonoids that can nourish the blood vessels, reduce blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and a whole laundry list of other possible health benefits.

  • According to a study conducted at Cornell University, the concentration of antioxidants in hot cocoa is almost twice as strong as red wine. It’s concentration is 2-3 times stronger than that of green tea and 4-5 times stronger than that of black tea.
  • The flavonoids present in chocolate help your body promote the actions of nitric oxide. This is how chocolate can improve blood flow, help lower your blood pressure and improve general heart health.
  • The flavonoids in chocolate help prevent platelets in your blood from sticking together and forming clots, and therefore may be protective from stroke.
  • According to this recent systematic scientific review, chocolate improves mood, and likely improves cognition or the ability to think clearly and process thoughts.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Richard Tango-Lowy, owner and master chocolatier of Dancing Lion Chocolates in Manchester. Richard was originally a physicist years ago, but he decided to follow his passion by going abroad to study and earn his Master Chocolatier status from renowned institutions in France, Italy, and in North America before opening his shop.

While sampling some decadent chocolates, and over a couple of steaming bowls of divine drinking chocolate (mine had two different hot peppers diffused in it for a pop of flavor and a nice, warming sensation that lasted long after the last sip was finished), Richard discussed some interesting points with me about the history of chocolate, and about chocolate production.

First, there’s chocolate, made from cacao beans. They are grown from trees, harvested and fermented, ground up and often mixed with other ingredients such as milk, sugar and other ingredients to add flavor and texture to make the wonderful stuff we all know and love. Then, there is cocoa powder- this is made from ground cocoa beans in a process and the cocoa butter has been removed.

Beverages made from cacao beans are evidenced by artifacts dating from 1900 B.C. in areas that we now know as Mexico and South America. The Mayans and Aztecs used cocoa beverages for medicine, for sacred ceremonies, and as an elixir to help give their soldiers energy and fortitude in battle.

The addition of sugar and milk can be traced to later European history, when chocolate was made as more of a treat, though it was still largely ingested as drinking chocolate. Cocoa beans arrived on scene in some parts of Europe even before coffee, and chocolate houses where people could gather and imbibe this lusty drink became popular establishments- and places for general bad behavior. Here is an interesting article about the history of the raucous chocolate houses in London:

Unfortunately, modern mass manufacturers of chocolate who supply the U.S. do a couple of undesirable things to chocolate. First, they add lots of sugar. After all, we are Americans and we like things sweet! Second, they routinely remove the natural cocoa butter from the bean because it fetches more money sold as an additive for cosmetics. They then replace it with cheaper and less healthy fillers. Third, in the U.S., anything that has at least 15% chocolate in it, can be called chocolate. So, a “chocolate” bar off the shelf can be constructed of mostly flavorings, sugars, unhealthy oils, and artificial ingredients.

I was interested to learn from Richard that “milk chocolate” does not necessarily have more sugar than dark. In fact, the dark often includes more sugar to balance the more bitter and astringent flavors of the cocoa. So, even if you are not usually a milk chocolate fan, I recommend trying a selection when tasting- you might be surprised!

A detail that I appreciated about my meeting with Richard is that he has a knowledgeable handle of the complete supply chain of his chocolate. He has personally visited each of his small supplier cacao family farms in places such as Guatemala, Ecuador, and Vietnam. He knows the name of the people who grow, pick and ferment the beans that he uses in each of his confections and their pictures adorn the walls in cafe. He knows that more first aid kits are currently needed in the fields, and that their children can use more supplies for school, and so he is working to organize efforts to raise awareness and money to better support them.

He explained that people enjoy coming to his cafe because of the variety of chocolates, and for the fact that nothing ever stays the same. Chocolate flavors vary greatly by region, by how the beans are fermented, and by the soil, weather and growing conditions of that year. In this way, it is similar to ever-changing vintages of wine. He even pays attention to what he pairs with the chocolate; one example is the blood orange ingedient in the smaller bon bon in the picture. Last year’s blood oranges were not flavorful, but this year’s were a good complement. And they are delicious!

Richard senses that many of his customers have some guilty pleasure when enjoying his chocolates. I wondered why this has to be, because it can be a healthy treat in moderation. But he insists that he wouldn’t ever want to take this away from anyone- that the guilt actually adds to the pleasure. Funny enough, on my way into the café, I bumped into acquaintances of mine who were celebrating a successful presentation at work. They guiltily admitted they had been there longer than they meant to be.  And they were smiling, and clearly enjoying every moment. And now I know they work nearby, and now I have a standing invite to call them the next time I am in Manchester during work hours. We’ll meet soon for chocolate, and, no one else has to know about it. J

Would you like a guilt-free recipe for a simple drinking chocolate that will help you feel like a Mayan warrior for your workout, nourish your heart and mind, that has no added sugar?

Here is a simple recipe shared by Richard that you can make at home:

Bring water to boil. While this is happening- warm up a cup of milk (or milk substitute if you are intolerant of dairy) over low heat.

Put a teaspoon of cocoa powder* in a mug and add a small amount- about a tablespoonful or so- of boiling water to it. Stir it to create a “slurry”- this helps to dissolve the powder.

Add warm milk, stir and enjoy.

*make sure the cocoa powder you select is 100% cocoa powder, no sugar or fillers.

I like Dancing Lion Chocolate’s Pacari raw cocoa powder- sourced from Ecuador. I have been using it for the past year- it has vibrant, delicious flavor. I add a little honey to mine.

For extra punch, you can add a pinch of cinnamon or cayenne powder to your drink. Enjoy!

Richard also recommends experimenting with cocoa bean nibs for cooking- they can deepen the flavors when sprinkled over roasted vegetable dishes. This past weekend, I tasted it in chili- it provided a deep, smokey background flavor that complemented the beans and spices nicely.

Snow day? If you would like a healthy version of hot chocolate to share with your family as a sweet treat, pass right on by the Swiss Miss. It contains a lot of sugar and artificial ingredients. Instead, here are some much better hot chocolate recipes that you can make at home:

Fifty Shades of Sweet

6 Sep
Your Sugar Daddy

Your Sugar Daddy

by Cora Rivard, N.D.

Unhealthy cravings and abuse, it’s a really twisted relationship- and I’m not talking about the book with a similar title. I’m talking about our relationship with sweet additives, sugars and no-calorie sweeteners alike. Ok, so you already do your best to avoid sugar because you know it packs on extra weight, steals minerals from your bones to cause osteoporosis, dampens your immune system’s ability to protect your body, and makes you feel more fatigued and moody.

But I do see many otherwise smart patients make continually bad decisions based on their needs for “sweet.” It is absolutely masochistic! Unfortunately, those who trade out their desires for sugar with no-calorie sweeteners are doomed in studies to actually gain more weight by consuming more calories later on. The reason for this  is that when your taste buds register “sweet,” your body is already getting ready for that juicy influx of quick, easy calories. When that caloric influx doesn’t come, your body catches on to the ruse and demands this perceived caloric deficit to be filled- making you overeat later in the day or evening. Plus, that indigestible sugar you consumed may also cause bloating or IBS symptoms in some because it cannot be processed by your intestines. And you are not saved from this cycle from the real stuff either- when you eat something sweet from real sugar, your insulin levels spike then fall precipitously after that, making you crave more sugar to feel balanced and energetic again- like needing your next fix. So, real or fake sugar- how do you get past this unhealthy cycle of craving and self abuse?

You are not going to like this, but you need to do a complete”sweet” avoidance for 2-3 weeks. This actually will help you reset your insulin metabolism, level out your cravings, give you more energy and control towards maintaining a desired weight. No added sugars, no sweeteners of any kind, no dried fruits, fruit juices, or junk foods. And you will need to check labels carefully and prepare food at home as much as possible. I won’t lie, the first week is very difficult, this can be a tough withdrawal period. But after that, you will be surprised how the cravings begin to disappear. You will also notice that your taste buds will reset, rewarding you with the sweet notes you can now detect in your fruits and vegetables. Treats you used to enjoy will taste too sweet after this avoidance. Can you take a 2 or even 3 week challenge to avoid sweets? Let us know how it works out- I’d love your comments on this topic!

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