In a sense, Iâ€™m grateful for the fact that artificial fragrances give me horrible headaches. It has led me to discover many wonderful natural alternatives and, it turns out, protected me from exposure to toxic chemicals in my home.Â Â Â
The Natural Resources Defense Council recently tested 14 of the most popular air fresheners, including aerosol sprays, plug-ins and solids. Dr. Solomon and her team found that 12 of the 14 products contained detectible levels of phthalates, a harmful chemical that is absorbed both by inhalation and through the skin.Â
With repeated exposure, phthalates are known to cause birth defects and damage to the reproductive system. They inflict their damage by disrupting hormones, causing such problems as abnormal genitalia and reduced sperm counts. They pose the greatest riskÂ to pregnant women and young children.Â
I found it particularly disturbing that some of the tested products were labeled as â€œAll Naturalâ€. With no safety testing required by either the FDA or EPA, unscrupulous companies are free to mislead and risk the health of consumers. Fortunately, a band of four consumer advocacy groups are filing a petition calling for the EPA and CPSC to begin testing air fresheners for this toxic chemical.Â
Itâ€™s estimated that 75% of American households use air fresheners regularly. If your home is one of these, you may wish to consider a more natural, and less risky, alternative. Safe products formulated with plant based odor killers, such as lavender and citrus, are becoming easily available at local co-ops and natural foods stores.Â
You can also get an aromatherapy fan and some essential oils. This is a wonderful alternative as it allows you to know exactly what it is that youâ€™re putting into your home and also gives you an opportunity to customize the scent. Iâ€™ve had mine for over two years now, and I love it! Itâ€™s a true pleasure for my senses and I feel good knowing that Iâ€™m creating a healthy environment for my family and friends.
Iâ€™ve long touted the health benefits of turmeric. This remarkable herb, commonly used in India for thousands of years, is a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and digestive aid. It also protects the liver and helps to prevent tumor formation. And I can personally vouch for it ability to speed wound healing.
This powerful little root has also now been found to help prevent Alzheimerâ€™s disease. Alzheimerâ€™s is a progressive disease affecting over 5 million Americans. Symptoms range from confusion to personality changes and as the disease advances family members and loved ones are also profoundly affected.
In rural India, curry is a main component of the diet and the elderly there have the lowest incidence of Alzheimerâ€™s in the world. Only one percent develop the disease – a statistic over four times lower than in the US. This has led researchers to study the primary ingredient in curry – turmeric.
Scientists from the David Geffen School of Medicine and the Human BioMolecular Research Institute banded together and studied blood samples from patients diagnosed with Alzheimerâ€™s. They found that bisdemethoxycurcumin, a phytochemical in the turmeric root, stimulated the patientsâ€™ macrophages into clearing amyloid beta, a protein which forms the brain plaques associated with the disease.
Chronic inflammation in the brain also accompanies the amyloid formation, and turmeric is an excellent anti-inflammatory. Curcumin, another component of turmeric, was studied by researchers at UCLA who found it significantly reduced Alzheimerâ€™s related inflammation. They also discovered that the herb prevented lipid peroxidation in the brain due to its potent anti-oxidant properties.
Turmeric is known to be nontoxic and virtually free from side effects. If youâ€™re not a fan of ethnic foods, you can still reap the rewards by taking the herb in supplement form. To get the full benefits, make sure that youâ€™re getting the whole herb and not a standardized extract of only one component. New Chapter and HerbPharm are excellent choices. After all, we could all use a bit of extra protection from the plant kingdom.
If a friend or lover has ever rubbed your feet, you know how delightful the experience can be. It turns out that hand and foot massage is also an effective means of alleviating pain.
In one recent study, 18 surgical patients were given 20 minute massages the day following their operations. Five minutes was spent massaging each extremity. Following the massages, patients reported a significant decrease in both the intensity of their pain and the level of distress they felt.
If youâ€™re wondering how massaging your feet and hands could possibly help with pain elsewhere in your body, look no further than to the research of Ron Melzack and Peter Wall. In 1962 they developed the Gate Control theory of pain.
Their theory holds that when one part of the body receives pleasant signals, such as those from massage, â€œnon-painfulâ€ nerve fibers are activated. The positive signals from these nerve fibers prevent pain signals from being transmitted to the brain – thereby keeping them â€œgatedâ€. As a bonus, massage is also known to boost the output of natural opioids and endorphins – painkillers that are produced within our own bodies.
If youâ€™re in pain and no one is around, certain tools, such Foot Wakers, can make it easier to massage your own hands and feet (donâ€™t let the name fool you – I use mine on my hands all the time). Donâ€™t you just love it when a remedy is pleasant? Â
Whenever I practice yoga I experience a sense of calm elation, so I wasnâ€™t surprised to discover that researchers have found that this ancient practice can help to lift depression and ease anxiety. Â The meditative nature of yoga would naturally lend itself to mental and emotional well-being.
The advantages go beyond a shift in energy and appear to directly affect our brain chemistry. In the first study of its kind, Dr. Streeter and her team at the Boston University of Medicine took brain scans of volunteers following one hour of yoga. The scans revealed a significant boost in levels of gamma-amino butyric (GABA) – a neurotransmitter directly tied to mood.
Low levels of this neurotransmitter are associated with both anxiety and depression. In the participants who practiced yoga there was a 27% increase in GABA. No such change was seen in the control group who read during the same hour.
The style of yoga seemed to have no impact on the results with participants practicing hatha, ashtanga, bikram, vinyasa, and kripalu. This has led Dr. Streeter to believe that other mind-body practices such as Tâ€™ai Chi may have a similar affect.
In previous articles I have discussed some other benefits of yoga, including weight loss, greater mind-body awareness and the ability to help alleviate migraines. And more positive news keeps pouring in. Why not give it a try?
At the Waikato University Honey Research Unit, biochemist Peter Nolan continues to study the healing effects of manuka honey. This particular variety of honey has been used for centuries by the Natives of New Zealand to treat everything from wounds to colds. Nolanâ€™s research over the past two decades has found ample evidence that this practice is well founded.Â
I first heard of manuka when studying for my herbal degree. I bought a jar and found that it did, indeed, work exceedingly well for burns and cuts. The honey contains potent antimicrobial properties that are effective against even antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. This is good news since cases of MRSA in US hospitals increased by 32 fold between 1976 and 2003.Â Â
Mainstream health agencies have begun to recognize the potential of honey as medicine. Canada, Australia, the UK and even the US have approved the use of Manuka dressings in the treatment of wounds and burns. Just last month the FDA granted approval the Derma Sciences to begin distributing manuka dressings as medical devices to hospitals.Â
Nolan isnâ€™t the only scientist studying the healing properties of honey, though. In 2003 the European Journal of Medical Research published a report citing an 85% success rate in treating infected Caesarian wounds. The success rate for conventionally treated wounds in the same study was only 50%. Another study from South Africa in 2006 found that honey was just as effective as allopathic gels in treating the wounds and abrasions of gold miners – and it was more cost effective.Â
Itâ€™s the low water content of honey which allows it to draw fluids from wounds, while its high sugar content makes it difficult for bacteria to proliferate. A special enzyme secreted by worker bees also creates a natural form of hydrogen peroxide further accelerating healing and disinfection. While all raw honey exhibits these healing properties to some extent, only manuka appears to contain an additional antimicrobial agent which has been dubbed Unique Manuka Factor or UMF.Â Â
While the majority of formal studies have focused on topical applications for the honey, there are numerous reports of it success internally as a rejuvenating agent and treatment for common ailments such as colds. I think itâ€™s about time that I pop back over to my local health food store and get another jar of manuka. After all, honey was considered one of the â€œTen Perfect Foodsâ€ by the ancient Egyptians. Who am I to argue?Â
I find it ironic that I can find microwave dinners at the health food store. I personally havenâ€™t used a microwave in over 10 years. Having studied the biosciences, Iâ€™ve always had my doubts about how healthy food could be after itâ€™s been â€œnukedâ€. Even the terminology is frightening. Several studies back up my initial instincts.Â
Microwaves cook your food by speeding up the molecules causing them to bump against each other and release heat through friction. The problem is that all of this colliding destroys the delicate molecules that comprise vitamins and many other nutrients. Studies are now demonstrating that as much as 97% of the nutritional value of your foods is destroyed in the process.Â
Take, for example, broccoli and cauliflower. In my last blog I told you about the potent nutrients these plants contain which help to prevent prostate cancer. Microwaving them would destroy the very phytochemicals responsible for these protective effects. It would also deplete the vitamins and antioxidants, leaving you with food that is â€œdeadâ€ in every sense of the word. If you are familiar with Dr. Emotoâ€™s popular book â€œThe Hidden Messages in Waterâ€ you may also be concerned to learn that microwaves alter the molecular structure of the water in your food creating vibration of chaos.Â Â Â
Itâ€™s no coincidence that the onset of the obesity epidemic coincides with microwave ovens becoming a household standard. If you are eating food that is devoid of nutritional value your body will continue to send hunger signals to your brain in an effort to satiate its need for true nutrients. Microwaves also make it easy to overeat. When making a snack or a mealÂ no longer involves conscious preparation, it becomes far too easy to eat mindlessly.Â
So are you willing to give up a bit of convenience for the sake of a healthier body? As I said, I havenâ€™t used one in over 10 years and to be perfectly honest the only time I miss it is when I wax my legs. Just think of all the extra counter space youâ€™ll gain!Â
I have several male friends who are over 40 and so whenever I hear news of natural ways to prevent prostate cancer, I pay attention. According to the National Cancer Institute there have been 218,890 new cases have been diagnosed so far this year and 27,050 men have died from the disease. I donâ€™t want one of my friends to end up in these statistics.Â
The good news is that the NCI just completed a study of 29,000 men whom they followed over the period of four years. During the course of their research they found that men who consumed broccoli just twice per week cut their risk of developing an aggressive prostate tumor by 45%. Eating cauliflower at least once a week brought even greater benefits and reduced the incidence of this cancer by 52%.Â
Although a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is often recommended as part of an anti-cancer diet, only broccoli and cauliflower appeared to have an impact upon this particular cancer. The effect could be due to DIM, a compound formed during the digestion of cruciferous vegetables which acts as an anti-androgen inhibiting the proliferation of prostate cancer cells.Â Â
Given the emerging facts, it is well worth adding these veggies to your diet once or twice a week. I know Iâ€™ll be passing on the recommendation to my friends.
We all know that it hurts to be on the receiving end of someoneâ€™s hostile intentions. Iâ€™ve often thought, though, that it must also hurt to be carrying around that much anger and aggression. It turns out I was right.
Researchers from the University of Utah studied 300 couples who were middle aged and older and had no previous history of cardiovascular disease. For the study, Dr. Smith and his team defined antagonism using four components; the tendency to be suspicious of others, being argumentative, level of competitiveness and being emotionally distant.Â
The participants were asked to answer questions regarding their own temperament as well as that of their spouses. Those that were rated by their partners as having high levels of antagonism had higher levels of calcium build-up in their arteries indicating the presence of plaque. It is known that plaque hardens and narrows the coronary arteries and these high levels of calcium reveal an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.Â
It’s believed that the link between chronic hostility and heart disease may be due in part the increase in blood pressure and elevation in stress hormones caused by negative emotions. I also suspect that hostility causes a â€œblockâ€ in the heart chakra, thereby harming the heart on an energetic level. It seems to me to be just one more reason to lead a balanced life – both physically and emotionally.
Most women I know, myself included, love make-up. It makes us feel put together and gives us a little boost before we head out into the world. Part of me really didnâ€™t want to know that the average woman absorbs close to five pounds of chemicals through her daily beauty routine. Five pounds!
According the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, almost 900 of these chemicals are known toxins. Parabens, for example, have been found in trace amounts in breast tumor samples. Sulfates, in particular sodium lauryl sulfate, have been linked to skin irritations and allergies. The scariest part is, as bad as these substances are on their own, there has been no testing done to determine the effects when they are combined in our bodies.
In truth, applying these chemicals to our skin is worse for us than if we ate them. If they were ingested our natural digestive enzymes would start to break down the compounds making them easier for the body to flush out. When absorbed through the skin, they directly enter the blood stream without being filtered.
I feel a bit better knowing that I use organic and natural cosmetics. Luckily these are more readily available than ever and they work beautifully. Beware of false advertising, though. There are some companies that will add a miniscule amount of organic chamomile or lavender to a cosmetic just so they can use the â€œorganicâ€ and â€œnaturalâ€ buzz words on their labels – despite the fact that the rest of the product is laden with chemicals.
I also found out about a wonderful tool developed by the Environmental Working Group that makes shopping a breeze. Called SkinDeep, this online program allows you to search a database of nearly 25,000 products that have been rated for their toxicity. Just enter in the brand of your toothpaste, eye shadow or deodorant and within seconds youâ€™ll be able to see the rating. Thereâ€™s also a nifty tool which helps you to create a customized shopping list of safe products. You can find SkinDeep (and a lot of great information) at http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/.
Whenever I go shopping, I always choose the organic option – not only for my health (my body functions just fine without added pesticides and herbicides, thank you) but also because organic farming practices are better for the earth. Itâ€™s no surprise then that I was very happy to read the results of recent research from the University of California.Â
Dr. Mitchell and his team spent ten years measuring the levels of quercetin and kaempferol – two important flavonoids found in tomatoes which provide powerful antioxidant benefits. They found that the levels of these components were 79% and 97% higher in organically grown tomatoes than in conventionally grown plants.Â Peter Melchett of the Soil Association responded:Â
â€œThese findings also confirm recent European research, which showed that organic tomatoes, peaches and processed apples all have higher nutritional quality than non-organic.â€Â
Such findings could have a great impact on our health. Quercetin and kaempferol, for example, have been linked to reduced rates of dementia, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Luckily, organic products are becoming much easier to find. Better for you, better for the environment – itâ€™s time to go organic. Â Â