Archive for the ‘safety’ Category

Senators crack down on chemicals in personal care

Jessica Rubino February 23rd, 2010

Reading labels has become a critical skill when we’re looking for safe and effective personal care. Now Colorado senators want to alleviate some of the pressure on the consumer by banning the use of potentially carcinogenic ingredients in personal care products. If passed, the Colorado Safe Personal Care Products Act would prohibit the sale and distribution of personal care products that contain harmful ingredients (using lists from organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency) and fine manufacturers up to $10,000. The hearing will be held next week but not without tremendous opposition from the Personal Care Products Council; its representatives say that any personal care product that meets FDA standards should remain on the market. Stay tuned for updates.

via Delicious Living Blogs » Senators crack down on chemicals in personal care.

Flu Alert: 10 Warning Signs to Call the Doctor

Melanie Haiken, Caring.com

I know we’re all anxious about swine flu this season, but the truth is that for most people, the flu–no matter what type of flu it is–doesn’t pose a serious danger. Colds and flu normally cause what doctors like to refer to as “self-limited” illness–this means you feel sick but eventually get better on your own. Typically there’s really no point in calling the doctor, because antibiotics don’t work on flu since it’s caused by a virus. Anti-viral medications, such as Tamiflu, aren’t usually necessary to recover.

In some cases, though, the flu develops into something more dangerous, such as pneumonia or other complications.

10 warning signs that it’s time to call the doctor:

1. High fever: over 101 degrees for more than a day.
2. Fast, shallow breathing or rapid pulse.
3. Difficulty breathing: feeling like you can’t draw in a breath or get enough air.
4. Chest pain: sharp or stabbing pains or aches when you breathe in; gets worse with coughing.
5. Repeated vomiting and diarrhea.
6. Decreased urination (or decreased tears, in an infant)–this is a sign of dehydration.
7. Dizziness when you stand up–also a sign of dehydration.
8. Blue or purple discoloration around the mouth.
9. Mental confusion or disorientation (that wasn’t present before you got sick).
10. Convulsions or seizures.

If you have any of these symptoms, don’t wait to call, because once pneumonia or other serious infection sets in, things can move quickly.

People at higher risk for severe illness include pregnant women, young children, and adults with chronic illnesses or weak immune systems.

Those of us caring for older adults feel particularly worried, because seniors are generally at high risk for getting very sick from seasonal influenza. The H1N1 strain is a little different in this respect; adults over 60 seem to be somewhat protected from it. Still, when older adults get sick, we need to watch them carefully to make sure it’s not developing into something more serious.

If you have any doubt whether you need medical care, call your doctor’s office and ask to talk to the nurse for more information. The nurse will quiz you about the symptoms you’re experiencing or seeing and advise you on what to do next.

via Flu Alert: 10 Warning Signs to Call the Doctor | Healthy and Green Living.

Microwave-Free for 145 Days

Microwave-Free for 145 Days

December 7th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

On July 15th after making a post on the Dangers of Microwave Cooking, I decided to try going without a microwave oven for a while to see what it was like. For the past 145 days, I haven’t eaten any microwaved food at all — not even water.

Since reading those first few articles on the subject, I’ve browsed through a bit more info on the dangers of microwave cooking, but I can’t say I found anything that solidly convinced me one way or the other. From what I’ve read though, I can’t say that eating microwaved food is likely to contribute to optimal health. I find it interesting that microwave ovens are banned in Russia due to suspected negative health effects.

Like many of the personal experiments I run, this one gave me some interesting insights…

Easy to Transition

First, I was surprised at just how easy it was to let go of the microwave. It only took me a few days to get used to heating food on the stove instead of nuking it. At first I found it a bit more trouble to make a cup of tea, but now it seems normal to heat the water with fire instead of microwave radiation. I’ve found the time difference to be negligible, at least for the way I eat.

Healthier Eating

Secondly, I noticed almost immediately that I started eating different foods without the microwave. Obviously I dropped all frozen foods designed for the microwave, and I replaced them with more fresh foods, like stir-fried veggies. I also ate more raw foods. So this was a positive change because I was replacing dead, overcooked, nutritionally weak microwave meals with more whole, fresh foods. My overall diet became slightly healthier.

Better Tasting

Thirdly, I noticed that non-microwaved foods simply tasted better. I eat a lot of brown rice, which I tend to make in big batches, and I would often re-heat rice with the microwave throughout the week. Instead I began reheating it on the stove, and I found that stove-heated leftovers tasted much better. Also, certain foods that I would make in the microwave to begin with, such as oatmeal, tasted significantly better when make on the stove. I also preferred the texture of stove-prepared foods.

Better Feeling

Finally, I noticed that non-microwaved foods simply felt better to consume. I seemed to enjoy them more. I even noticed this with a cup of tea. I had been microwaving the water for my tea for years, and when I finally switched to the stove, I noticed the tea tasted about the same, but it somehow felt different. It was more satisfying, as if the tea was more energetic. I have no idea why. I never nuked the teabag itself, just the water. If you’ve been nuking hot beverages for a long time, I encourage you to try making a single cup on the stove for a change to see if you notice any difference.

Used Microwave for Sale

None of these are major differences by themselves, but taken as a whole, I found them to be more than enough to counter-balance the minor time savings from microwave usage. In fact, the taste/feel differences are strong enough that today I find the thought of eating microwaved food unappealing — even slightly repulsive. When I see something coming out of the microwave, I have an inner feeling of aversion to it, as if the dish has been sprinkled with rat poison. I sense that it just isn’t something I want to put in my body.

Running personal experiments like this helps me make decisions in the face of ambiguity. Now that I have a sense of what it’s like to live without a microwave for almost five months, it no longer matters to me if microwave radiation of food is harmful. I no longer need that piece of information to make the decision. The experiential data is enough that I’m happy to permanently dump the microwave. In order to go back to the old ways, I’d have to see new evidence that eating microwaved food was actually beneficial, and that doesn’t seem too likely.

via Microwave-Free for 145 Days.

Can cinnamon oil fight bacteria?: Homemade Hand Sanitizer

Can cinnamon oil fight bacteria? Can something as warming and fragrant as lovely cinnamon essential oil really be an effective slayer of streptococcus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus? An article last week in The New York Times (”Cinnamon Oil Kills Bacteria”) tackled the question and came to the conclusion that, yes: cinnamon oil has potent antiseptic properties.

According to the story, a recent study by a group of surgeons found that a solution made with cinnamon oil killed a number of common and hospital-acquired infections, like streptococcus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA–and in fact, did so as effectively as several antiseptics widely used in hospitals. Another study by French researchers in 2008 had similar results, showing that at concentrations of 10 percent or less, cinnamon oil was effective against Staphylococcus, E. coli and several antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

With the opening of a new flu season and H1N1 virus (formerly known as swine flu) squealing in the headlines, clean hands, very clean hands, are preoccupying many. Bottles of hand sanitizer seem to be bumping candy and breath mints off the all-star spots at the checkout counter, while liquid hand soaps boasting super duper anti-bacterial properties are popping up on many a bathroom sink. So where does cinnamon oil play into this?

Anti-bacterial soaps have their host of problems–namely the chlorophenol chemical compound triclosan (scary stuff–read about it in The Trouble with Triclosan in Your Soap). Meanwhile, alcohol-based instant hand sanitizers are being touted by everyone from hand-wringing moms to school principals to the CDC, but they may raise some red flags of their own. The ingredients panel for a national leading brand lists the active ingredient ethyl alcohol and a long list of inactive ingredients that land it in the “High Hazard” ranking in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. With 62 percent of said sanitizer being comprised of alcohol, that leaves a balance of 38 percent for ingredients that scream “safety concern,” such as methylparaben, synthetic fragrance and diazolidinyl urea.

So, what’s a flu-fearing, germ-wary person supposed to do? Use hand sanitizers with questionable synthetic ingredients, or get swine flu? Well you can follow the advice of the CDC and “Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze” or you can make your own natural hand sanitizer, which is where cinnamon oil comes in.

In The New York Times article referenced above, Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen, a New Jersey pediatrician who dispenses natural health advice on his blog, recommends his tried-and-true recipe for homemade hand sanitizer called thieves oil–his formula calls for cinnamon bark, lemon oil and eucalyptus. As legend has it, a group of 15th century European perfumers-turned-grave-robbers were able to defend themselves against the demons of bubonic plague (and other assorted bacterial maladies one might encounter while removing jewelery from corpses) by dousing themselves in a blend of essential oils, hence the name “thieves oil.”

Now there are any number of stories circulating about this legend, and just as many recipes, many of them with a vinegar base. But going on Dr. Rosen’s fail-safe recipe and the proven efficacy of cinnamon oil, I like the formula which includes equal amounts of: cinnamon bark, lemon, eucalyptus, clove, and rosemary therapeutic grade essential oils. Mix them with jojoba or olive oil as a carrier, and use on hands as a sanitizer. (Note: pure essential oils can be very potent, it’s important to test some on a small patch of skin to check for any adverse reactions.)

So what do you think? Are you willing to do like the thieves and give essential oils a try? Or does the H1N1 flu virus have you running scared, and getting theeself straight to the hand sanitizer aisle of the pharmacy?

As for me? I’m going to go whole hog and stick with good old fashioned hand-washing, followed with a nice splash of thieves oil. My kids may start to smell like Christmas, but at least we’ll be keeping the bubonic plague at bay.

via Theives Oil: Homemade Hand Sanitizer | Healthy and Green Living.

What’s Causing Your Inflammation?

*Because RSI is partially an inflammatory process, the cycle of pain can be affected by what we ingest.*

By Catherine Guthrie, Experience Life

Americans are on a bona fide sugar binge. During the past 25 years, the average person’s intake of sugar and other natural sweeteners ballooned from 123 to as many as 160 pounds a year. That breaks down to more than 20 teaspoons of the added white stuff per person per day. And our collective sweet tooth is growing. For the past decade, Americans’ sugar consumption has edged upward at the average rate of nearly 2 percent a year.

Why the sugar obsession? The vilification of fat may be partly to blame. During the low-fat frenzy of the past couple of decades, oils were squeezed out of processed foods – and sugar was pumped in to make reduced-fat foods tastier. It seems clear now that we effectively traded one dietary evil for another.

New research is revealing disturbing links not just between sugar and obesity, but also between sugar and inflammation. Inflammation, of course, has been implicated as a major factor in a number of vitality zapping diseases, from cancer and diabetes to atherosclerosis and digestive disorders.

Whether you’re concerned with managing your weight, your health, or both, it makes sense to evaluate the impact your sugar habit could be having on your body.

The Refined-Carb Connection
On the spectrum of dietary dangers, processed sugars are on a par with unhealthy fats. “High-fructose corn syrup is the primary cause of obesity in our culture,” says Elson Haas, MD, author of Staying Healthy with Nutrition (Celestial Arts, 2006, New Edition). “Our bodies simply aren’t built to process all that sugar.”

Still, to date, sugar doesn’t have nearly as bad a reputation as it probably deserves. One of the reasons it slips under the radar is that connecting the dots between sugar and disease requires widening the nutritional net to include all refined carbohydrates (like processed flours, cereals and sugars of all sorts). This may seem like a fine point, but it’s an important distinction.

Most dietary sugars are simple carbohydrates, meaning that they’re made up of one or two sugar molecules stuck together, making them easy to pull apart and digest. Complex carbohydrates, like those found in whole grains, legumes and many vegetables, are long chains of sugar molecules that must be broken apart during digestion, therefore offering a longer-lasting surge of energy. The presence of naturally occurring fiber, protein and fat in many whole foods further slows the sugar-release process.

The more processed and refined the carbohydrate, as a rule, the faster it breaks down in the digestive system, and the bigger the sugar rush it delivers. That’s why refined flours, sugars and sugar syrups pose such a problem for our systems.

The body is exquisitely designed to handle small amounts of sugar. But refined carbs deliver a larger rush than our bodies were designed to accommodate, or even cope with. In ancient times, hunter-gatherers coveted the occasional piece of fruit or slab of honeycomb as a rare treat and source of rapid-fire energy for, well – hunting and gathering.

“Refined sugar is a genetically unfamiliar ingredient,” says Jack Challem, a nutrition researcher and author of The Inflammation Syndrome (John Wiley & Sons, 2003). “A lot of health problems today are the result of ancient genes bumping up against modern foods.”

To wrap your head around sugar’s destructive powers, it helps to understand how the body reacts when it meets the sweet stuff. With each gulp of a sports drink or soda, for instance, simple carbohydrates are quickly dismantled into simple sugar molecules (glucose) that pass directly into the bloodstream. As a result, blood sugar rises markedly. To bring levels back to normal, the pancreas releases insulin, which lowers blood-sugar levels by escorting glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells.

If energy needs are high at the time sugar hits the bloodstream, that sugar is put to good use. But a too frequent or too heavy supply of sugar pushes the pancreas into overdrive, causing it to release too much insulin – a spew instead of a squirt. And an excessive release of insulin spells inflammatory trouble.

Sugar and Inflammation
A newly understood phenomenon, inflammation underlies modern health scourges, from heart disease to obesity to diabetes. “Sugar can play a role in inflammatory diseases,” says Dave Grotto, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Poor regulation of glucose and insulin is a breeding ground for inflammation.”

Under normal conditions, inflammation helps the body rebound from injury. For instance, if you cut yourself shaving, white blood cells race to the scene to mop up the wound, destroy bacteria and mend tissue. But when the injury is deep inside the body, such as inside the blood vessels of the heart, hidden inflammation can trigger chronic disease, and experts are only beginning to understand how sugar fans the flames.

In the development of heart disease, the type of carbohydrate in your diet may be as important as the type of fat, says Walter Willett, MD, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and author of Eat, Drink and Be Healthy (Free Press, 2005). The more refined carbs you eat, the more likely you are to be supplying your body with more sugar than it can handle with healthy results.

That point hit home when Willett and a team of HSPH nutrition researchers looked at diet and health history data from more than 75,500 women who took part in the Nurses’ Health Study. At the start of the study in 1984, all the nurses were given a clean bill of health. Ten years later, 761 had either been diagnosed with or died from heart disease. When researchers distilled the numbers, they found a telling parallel between women eating a high-glycemic diet of refined carbohydrates and those with heart disease. An even more disturbing trend was within the group of women at risk for heart disease: Those who ate the most carbohydrates – including sugars – doubled their risk of heart attack compared to those with diets only moderately high in carbohydrates.

Nutrition experts stress that there’s no point avoiding the carbs that come from eating a balanced, healthy, whole-foods diet. But there is plenty of good reason to avoid the refined carbs that quickly turn to sugar in the body.

Such sugars deliver more excess (and mostly empty) calories, which the body then con verts to triglycerides, a key indicator of heart disease.

Sugar-rich diets stress the heart in other ways, too. When blood sugar is high, the body generates more free radicals. Rogue molecules that pinball through the body damaging cells, free radicals stimulate the immune response, which can inflame the lining of the blood vessels leading to the heart. And the damage doesn’t stop there.

From Sugar Comes Fat
Until recently, the connection between sugar and obesity was murky. Dietitians assumed that in the battle of the bulge, sugar was a lesser foe than dietary fat. But new studies reveal sugar may play a bigger role in weight gain than suspected. And carrying excess body fat further reduces your body’s ability to manage its sugars effectively.

When scientists want to measure the effects of sugar on health and weight, they turn to the biggest source of sugar in American diets:soft drinks. A pilot study published in the March 2006 issue of Pediatrics showed for the first time that simply cutting back on sugary drinks can reduce excess body fat. Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston enrolled 103 sugar-guzzling teenagers, divided them into two groups (an intervention and a control), and measured the effects of the drinks on their weight. For almost six months the intervention group got weekly home deliveries of their choice of noncaloric drinks, including bottled water, iced tea and diet sodas. The scientists called the teens monthly to check in and cheer them along. The control group went about their normal drinking habits. In the end, the teens in the intervention group cut their intake of sugary drinks by 82 percent and lost weight.

Although the average weight loss was “modest,” the teens who weighed the most at the beginning saw the biggest losses, roughly a pound a month. This study goes to show that reducing sugar intake, particularly sugar-sweetened beverages, is one of the best ways to improve one’s diet, Harvard’s Willett says. “Sugar is an important source of excess calories in the American diet – a serious problem given the obesity epidemic.”

Cutting Back
The best way to reduce unhealthy sugars in the diet is to consume fewer processed foods and drinks in general, and refined carbs and sugars in particular. Fuel your energy demands with a slower-burning balance of proteins, healthy fats and whole-food carbs.

For a healthier alternative to sugars that you add at the table or kitchen counter, dietitian Grotto suggests switching to sweeteners that are higher in naturally occurring fructose, such as agave syrup or malted barley, which have a less dramatic effect on blood sugar and insulin. Still, you should limit your intake to no more than 3 teaspoons a day. “These sweeteners won’t elicit the glycemic responseof table sugar,” he says, “but you shouldn’t eat them by the gallon.”

‘ For sweetening tea or cereal, you might also try stevia, a natural calorie-free herb made from a South American shrub. It’s sold at health-food stores as a dietary supplement and is widely available in both powder and liquid forms.

Take heart: Enjoying a limited amount of refined sugar isn’t going to devastate an otherwise consistent healthy-living regimen – but that doesn’t mean you should keep swallowing it indiscriminately. “The sugar highs and lows brought on by high-carbohydrate foods create a dangerous addiction,” researcher Challem notes. And the sooner we break our addiction to sugar, the better off our bodies will be.

via What’s Causing Your Inflammation? | Healthy and Green Living.

A funny little video about a painful injury.

Fix Your Posture in Two Easy Steps

If you sit at a desk and work on a computer for most of your workday, you already know that your posture suffers. Here is a secret which will help you become more aware of your slouched shoulders and learn to prevent all pain and injuries caused by poor posture. Say goodbye to tension headaches, upper back strain, shoulder aches and unattractive posture!

After six years of helping office workers deal with job-related pain, I discovered that following two easy steps will guarantee an improvement in the quality of daily life in front of a computer.

To prevent the hunchback look, not to mention tension headaches, tightened shoulders and neck muscles, you need to follow 2 simple steps:

1. Stretch out your chest

2. Strengthen your upper back

Stretch out your chest

Your chest tightens because your arms are held out in front of your body all day in an unnatural position. Typing and using the mouse, for example, can cause chest muscles to shorten. Pulling the arms forward for many hours a day contributes to a slouched look, giving the appearance of tiredness, lack of confidence and overall weakness. You can easily perform a chest stretch by doing the following:

– Place the inside of your forearm against an open door frame slightly above shoulder height

– Turn away from the door until you feel a comfortable stretch in the chest

– Be sure to hold the stretch for at least 15 seconds and perform it on both sides, 2 times per day every day

Strengthen your upper back

If you work at a computer long enough your upper back is bound to become strained. With prolonged sitting, we allow our heads to hang too far in front of their bodies…mostly because of back fatigue. Over time, this postural mistake will pull and weaken the muscles in the upper back which are supposed to hold the head straight. By strengthening the upper back, we can prevent the head from falling forward and stop many of the problems that come with it (tension headaches for one!). Perform standing rowing exercises to build back the strength lost in the upper back and you won’t believe the difference.

– To get into position, keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Bend forward slowly at the waist so your back is at a 45-degree angle. Make sure to keep your back straight, and your head positioned forward, not down at the floor. Try to avoid slouching your shoulders.

– With your arms hanging at your sides, hold light weights (soup cans or light dumbbells) in each hand, making sure to position your head properly by looking at the wall straight ahead of you.

– Pull the weights straight up toward your body, concentrating on squeezing the shoulder blades together for a count of 3

– Slowly release the weights straight down to your sides and repeat

– Do 3 sets of 10 every day

I can’t stress enough the importance of these two exercises. The chest stretch allows your shoulders to move back, and the rowing not only pulls your shoulders back, but also increases strength in your upper back, keeping your head in a safe, proper position and preventing future neck and upper back pain.

via Fix Your Posture in Two Easy Steps.

How to Avoid Toxins in Your Sunscreen

An Environmental Working Group study tells you exactly what to look for and what to avoid in sunscreens.

By Sara Novak Columbia, SC, USA

Jacob Wackerhausen/iStockphoto

We all know the importance of lathering up in sunscreen when in the sun. I no longer go out with anything less than 30 SPF layered on my skin. The sun is just too powerful. I always wear a hat these days, I mean I am ever so close to thirty and I see no reason to aid in the formation of wrinkles. People are even becoming more aware of which sunscreens they choose for themselves and the planet. But what toxins should we really look out for in sunscreen? Well, thanks to Environmental Working Group, the answer is much simpler than one would expect. Annually the EWG releases a study on safe sunscreens.

Only 14 percent of 1,232 products analyzed met EWG’s criteria for safety and effectiveness, according to the study. Many products lack UVA protection. In fact 8 percent of high SPF sunscreens (SPF of at least 30) protect only from sunburn (UVB radiation), and do not contain ingredient combinations known to protect from UVA, the sun rays linked to skin damage and aging, immune system problems, and potentially skin cancer. Currently the FDA does not require that sunscreens guard against UVA radiation.

If you don’t have time to read the entire study here are some highlights:

Avoid spray or powder suntan lotions with nano-scale zinc oxide.

Micronized and nano-scale zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreen provide strong UVA protection, and while these ingredients have not been found to penetrate healthy skin, powder and spray products are inhaled. You can actually inhale these small particles and they can potentially damage your lungs. The EWG is unclear as to the extent of damage nano-scale oxide causes but much of Europe is currently phasing out its use according to EWG.

Avoid oxybenzone.

Oxybenzone, on the other hand, is a widely utilized ingredient that rates poorly due to high absorption through skin, high rates of allergic reactions, and growing concerns about hormone disruption. Some animal studies indicate we should be concerned about oxybenzone because it is found to have weak estrogenic effects in fish. What some experts suspect happens is that the body interprets the presence of the chemical as some sort of hormone according to EWG. Numerous other studies have linked oxybenzone to health concerns including endocrine disruption, cell damage, and cancer.

Make sure the sunscreen has at least 7 percent zinc oxide to replace oxybenzone.

Zinc oxide is a physical sun blocker meaning that the product reflects and blocks UV rays but it’s not absorbed into the system like other active ingredients, it remains on the surface. This means that zinc protects the skin very effectively without seeping into your system. Zinc isn’t a toxin itself but replaces oxybenzone as the main sun blocking ingredient.

Avoid fragrance.

As with other cosmetic products it’s best to avoid fragrance unless the fragrance is plant based. A loophole in federal law doesn’t require companies to declare any of the dozens of toxic chemicals that a single product’s fragrance mixture could contain. Artificial fragrances, which frequently contain phthalates, can also trigger allergic reactions and other health problems. Be mindful of the hidden dangers that “fragrance” or “parfum” listed on ingredients labels can pose, and always choose fragrance-free products.

TreeHugger’s sunscreen picks.

via How to Avoid Toxins in Your Sunscreen : Planet Green.