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St. John's Wort

St. John’s wort

It started with his walking. I noticed our 14-month-old son Oscar was a little unsteady on his feet—well, more so than usual—sometimes veering off to one side or the other like he was dizzy.

Occasionally, he would stop whatever he was doing—laughing, talking, playing—and look up at nothing in particular, forehead wrinkled, and touch his cheek, distracted by some sensation.

Then he started to fuss. He clung. He became anxious, melting down if I went out of his sight for even a second. He was hungry but refused to eat his dinner. He ran a little warm now and then, but nothing high enough to classify as a “fever.” He seemed generally uncomfortable in his own skin and altogether not himself. He’s got some pretty daunting chompers coming in, so I kept hoping it was just teething.

Then, Oscar’s child care called me to pick him up because he’d thrown up his whole bottle, projectile style. When I pulled up out front, I could hear him crying. The second he saw me, he reached for me with unhappy desperation, tugging on his ear repeatedly. Hard to miss it at that point.

Ear infection.

Mullein

Mullein

I scheduled a doctor’s appointment to make sure there wasn’t more going on, but in the meantime, I hustled Oscar home. I warmed some ear oil in a cup of hot water, then leaned him over in my lap to put the drops in his ear. He squirmed and fussed at first, but as soon as the drops slid in, he relaxed. The relief just seemed to come that fast. He calmed and breathed easy, letting me massage the area around his ear gently.

There’s nothing worse than seeing your little one in pain. But there’s nothing better than being able to bring him some relief and comfort. The oil I currently use is Gaia Herbs Ear Oil, an herbal oil of garlic, mullein, St.John’s wort, etc. Once this runs out, I will keep on hand a homemade garlic mullein oil from the recipe in Aviva Romm’s book Naturally Healthy Babies and Children.

Pediatricians and parents alike are widely divided on ear infection treatment and prevention. Many doctors claim that there is no way to prevent ear infections, but others say it is entirely preventable with proper diet and care. Many resort immediately to antibiotics, while others prefer to treat herbally and/or with diet.

As with all things, I think it’s a matter of what’s right for your family. I personally found this blog on the subject very helpful.

What are your preferred ear infection remedies/preventions?

When I was a freshman in college, I stopped eating, sometimes coasting on half a bowl of oatmeal a day. The smell of food made me ill. I lost a lot of weight, and my normally boundless energy was utterly deflated. Taking 21 credits at a time, exhaustion and frequent spells of dizziness and even fainting soon became a big issue. I had countless blood tests run, but no one could tell me what was wrong with me. But we knew what the symptom was: anorexia. I couldn’t eat.

The symptom anorexia (with a lower-case “a”) simply describes the often extreme loss of appetite in an individual, and is most often as a symptom of a larger disease or condition. The symptom anorexia is not to be confused with Anorexia nervosa—commonly referred to, confusingly, as Anorexia for short—which is a psychological disorder characterized by an intense fear of being or becoming obese, often marked by extreme diet and exercise and/or binge-and-purge eating patterns.

I remember being horrified by the weight I lost and the difficulty I had just navigating my day-to-day; it’s hard to even imagine it now. Looking back now, I think it’s very likely that my anorexia was a symptom of celiac disease, though I didn’t figure out I had celiac until ten years later. Unfortunately, anorexia is a common symptom of many diseases and infections,  including tuberculosis, cancer, AIDS, kidney failure, liver failure, dehydration, and countless others; and as a symptom, the best long-range treatment for anorexia is to find the underlying cause—in my case, celiac disease—which is not always easy for doctors to diagnose. Anorexia was not my only symptom of celiac disease, but it was certainly the most frightening.

In addition to needing to find the underlying cause of the symptom, there are herbs that can help relieve anorexia symptoms, especially those that act as appetite stimulants. Because people who have been struggling with anorexia are often malnourished as a result, it is also important to consider adaptogenic and deeply nourishing herbs and foods to help build back their vitality.

Herbs specifically recommended for treatment of anorexia include dandelion roots and leaves, oats, oatstraw, and seaweed (Weed 144, 147, 201, 227); as well as ashwagandha and medicinal rhubarb (Foster III, 23, 105).

If you or someone you know is experiencing anorexia, please see a doctor and get help.

For most of my adult life, I was one of those lucky women who have no discernible “side effects” of menstruation. No PMS, no mood swings, no cramps, none of it.

Then I gave birth to Oscar, and nine months later, my cycle returned – I quickly learned that my smooth-sailing days of menstruation were over. My period lasts longer than before and is less consistent, and the first and second days of my period are marked by pronounced lower back pain and intense cramping, also known as dysmenorrhea. I have so much more sympathy now for women with severe PMS (pre menstrual syndrome). As an aside, it is much more common for women to stop having dysmenorrhea after having a child than to develop it is for them to develop it for the first time. Lucky me. In my case, it is most likely the result of scar tissue from having had a cesarean birth.

To make the best out of a not-so-pleasant thing, I’m embracing it as a learning opportunity. I’m getting acquainted with my new cycle, and I’m also learning about what can be done to relieve the discomfort of cramping. But let’s start by figuring out what dysmenorrhea is in the first place.

Female Reproductive SystemAs we’ve mentioned already, dysmenorrhea is the word for the cramping pains that often accompany a woman’s period, and it affect over 50% of menstruating women. The cramps in question are actually the tightening of the uterine muscle. About 10% of those with dysmenorrhea experience cramps so intense as to be incapacitating, usually for a period of one to three days. More often, it’s just really uncomfortable. In fact the word dysmenorrhea comes from the Greek language and means “difficult monthly flow.” For those of you interested in fertility issues, “Dysmenorrhea occurs only in cycles where ovulation has occurred,” (Hudson 226).

As can be intuited above, hormonal shifts are one trigger for dysmenorrhea, and calcium also plays a role: “About 10 days before menstruation begins, calcium levels in the blood begin to drop, and they continue to drop until about 3 days into the cycle. Blood calcium deficiency is responsible for many of the symptoms of painful menstruation,” (Gladstar 218), so increasing your dietary calcium intake may help prevent symptoms.

In most cases, dysmenorrhea is just a normal side effect of menstruation. However, it’s worth noting that is some cases the cramps may be, “due to some specific pelvic or systemic condition such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, adhesions, ovarian cysts, celiac disease, thyroid conditions, congenital malformations, narrowing of the cervical opening, polyps, or uterine fibroids,” (Hudson 225). As always, you should discuss any symptoms and concerns you may have with your doctor.

To relieve these symptoms, there are a number of uterine tonics and anti-spasmodics that can help soothe and relax the uterine muscle, and nerviness to soothe the individual. Specific herbs include cramp bark (hence the name) and black haw bark, both anti-spasmodics specific to the uterus; and pasque flower, a “relaxing nervine for use in problems relating to nervous tension and spasm in the reproductive system,” (Hoffman 131). Black cohosh, false unicorn root, and wild yam may be considered, but please be sure that, with these three especially, you are using only sustainably harvested herbs (Hoffman 161, 235).

Other things that can help relieve or prevent dysmenorrhea include maintaining a normal, healthy weight, chiropractic treatments, exercise (abdominal crunches help me), healthy diet, not smoking, and my favorite: gentle heat applied to the lower back.

What are your favorite herbs or methods of relieving or preventing dysmenorrhea?

Photo credit: Mysid / Foter.com / Public domain

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