by Dr. Julie Iamarino

Dear Dr. Julie,
I need a suggestion for a natural product that I can take on a continual basis to help me sleep. ~Claudia

Dear Claudia,
You’re wise to consider the time period that you think you will need a sleep aid. Many prescription sleep medications carry advisories not to continue them over long periods.

However natural sleep aids can cause side effects in some people as well. You may have to experiment to find out which one works best for you.

Many people swear by Melatonin. It’s naturally produced in the brain to regulate your internal clock and is especially helpful for those who have daytime sleepiness as it helps ‘reset’ your clock. That’s why it also helps with jet lag. Melatonin has been used safely for up to two years in some people; however, others have experienced side effects. Beware of drug interactions with blood-thinners, immune suppressing medications, diabetes medications and birth control pills. The recommended dose is 3 mg 20 minutes before bed. If you don’t have a regular bedtime, melatonin is not your best bet.

Valerian root is used for insomnia, anxiety, headaches, and upset stomach. Studies show it reduces the amount of time it takes to get to sleep, but sometimes it took up to two weeks to get this effect. Valerian does not mix well with alcohol, benzodiazepines or narcotics. If you are scheduled for surgery, tell your doctor because you will have to stop taking it. Valerian also interferes with certain medications such as anti-histamines, statins, antifungal drugs, and the herb St. John’s Wort.

5-HTP, has helped many people with insomnia, depression, fibromyalgia and headaches. Derived from the herb Griffonia, it’s a precursor of seratonin and melatonin. Several studies have found that doses of 150-3,000 mg daily for two to four weeks can improve symptoms of depression sometimes as well as prescription medication. Although 5-HTP can be effective, do not use it with St. John’s Wort, anti-depressants, Carbidopa (for Parkinson’s), Demerol, and several other medications. Check with your pharmacist first!

Never give sleep aids, whether ‘natural’ or prescription to a child without your doctor’s supervision. If you are on any medications, you should always check with your pharmacist or health care provider to avoid negative interactions.

Dear Dr. Julie,
I don’t have any of the medical conditions or allergies you mentioned in your last column and am ready to try a plant based diet – but what the heck do you eat? ~Margie

Dear Margie,
Funny you should ask! That exact question was posed at a barbeque I attended recently.

The answer is everything else! There are tens of thousands of edible plants but we tend to eat a relatively small variety.

For breakfast I usually make “oatmeal” that has changed over the years to include five different grains, five different berries (goji, mulberry, cranberry, blueberry, raspberry), five different seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, hemp and chia) and raisins and cinnamon. Other days I make a protein powder smoothie or have a huge salad with spinach, avocado, broccoli, red pepper, carrot, black beans, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You can make the salad the night before and it ensures you get lots of greens.

Snacks include raw nuts, seeds and berries, peanut butter on a banana, apple with hummus or tahini sauce. The sky is the limit, as long as it comes out of the ground.

For dinner I may have a hearty vegetable chili, an exotically spiced lentil soup, or a bowl of rice topped with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, avocado, sautéed spinach, tomato, tahini (or another) sauce.

We all have our favourites but be sure to expand your horizons. Make sure you get lots of nuts and seeds, and legumes like lentils and kidney beans, as well as orange, green leafy and cruciferous (broccoli, cabbage) vegetables. And there are so many fruits for dessert!

You may notice I didn’t mention any processed foods. There are lots of prepared options for vegans and sometimes I do indulge. But it’s no different than the advice given for an animal-based diet: stay away from processed foods! The scientific evidence keeps piling up that processed foods are hurting our health.
I’ll recommend some great cookbooks to get you going:

  • The Oh She Glows Cookbook (Liddon)
  • Rawsome Vegan Cookbook (Von Euw)
  • Thug Kitchen (Anansi)
  • Get it Ripe (Steel)

Dr. Julie Iamarino is a chiropractor (retired), homeopath, nutritionist, Pilates instructor, Solution Focused Counselor and is pursuing her Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology. Please address questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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