Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Favorite Free and Low-Cost Health Tips

As the year ends and we take stock of things like health and finances, it’s a good time to consider ways to support our health without spending a lot of money. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of ten of my favorite low-cost holistic health tips.

1. Take walks. Study after study shows that people who walk more live longer and reap all sorts of other health benefits, too. Walking not only helps control weight, it helps control chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. The cost of walking? Only a little wear and tear on your shoes. Walk instead of driving on short trips and you’ll save money on gas, too.

2. Meditate for a minute or more a day. It costs nothing but a little time to sit and focus on the breath, but the rewards are great. Studies have found improvements in blood pressure, memory, cognitive function, and more from regular meditation. Even one minute a day is enough to bring some improvement.

3. Tap your meridians. Meridian tapping – the general term applied to therapeutic systems of tapping various points on the body’s acupuncture meridians – is a versatile method that requires no special equipment and only a little knowledge. The most well-known tapping system is EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique; you can get free information about it at various websites. Used first to treat phobias and emotional issues, meridian tapping can also support physical health.

4. Write in a journal. How you do this writing can make a difference to your health. Research by James Pennebaker and others has shown that expressive writing – recording both the events of a trauma and the feelings it evoked – can help improve immune function, blood pressure, and other physiological measures of health. Another health-boosting way to write: keep a gratitude journal by writing down 3 to 5 things a day for which you feel thankful.

5. Do some basic detox. Start by detoxing inside your home: throw out body care and cleaning products that contain synthetic petrochemicals or fragrances. Then reduce the products you buy to just a few natural, fragrance-free items, and you’ll save money as you reduce your exposure to toxics. Here's a low-cost detox method that pampers your body: soak in a hot bath containing ½ - 1 cup of Epsom salts plus ½ - 1 cup of baking soda. The alkaline nature of this soak can help to pull out or neutralize acidity in the body.

6. Visualize good health. As the saying goes, “Your body believes everything it hears,” and that includes your mental chatter. Replacing worry with mental images of good health costs nothing, and there is much anecdotal evidence, at least, of its effectiveness. My favorite little instruction book on visualizing good health is Cell Level Healing by Joyce Whiteley Hawkes, PhD.

7. Drink water, not soda. The amount we spend on carbonated drinks each year is astronomical – how else can Coke, Pepsi, and others afford their huge ad and promo campaigns? And that doesn’t factor in the medical and dental costs that result from drinking soda. Water costs a lot less, even if you pay a metered water price and invest in a water filter (which I recommend). Plus it’s smart to keep your body hydrated for a number of reasons. Don’t buy bottled water, though, if you can avoid it.

8. Grow your own food, or at least some of it. One of the simplest ways to do this is to sprout seeds. All you need for this is a jar, some organic sprouting seeds, and water. You can also easily grow herbs or greens in a pot even if you live in an apartment, and there’s nothing better than fresh greens that you pick yourself and eat right away. If you have a yard and are lucky enough to live in a no-frost region, you can grow food outdoors year-round. We get snow, so we grow greens in a greenhouse in winter.

9. Eat it raw, or at least some of it. Eating food raw preserves nutrients and enzymes that contribute to better digestion and better overall health. Not cooking also saves energy and money, as well as time. One guideline I like is to eat at least half of your food raw at each meal.

10. Buy the rest of it fresh, local, and/or organic instead of processed, salted and/or sweetened. It’s a simple equation: the more processed a food is, the worse it generally is for you, and the more fresh and organic, the better it generally is. Fresh organic foods might look more expensive and processed foods cheap, but factor in the life-cycle and longer-term health costs of those processed foods and organic comes out looking much better. You can often get good prices on organics at farmers’ markets, too.

That’s my list. May it help you have a happy and healthy New Year!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cell Phones, WiFi, and Health

When North Coast Holistics had an office in the Jutila Center, one of the signs on our door read, "Please turn off cell phones before entering." We hoped this precaution would help raise awareness about the electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phones and reduce exposures to that radiation, as well.

Press coverage of this issue can be confusing. The cell phone industry insists its products are safe, but enough studies suggest health problems that doctors and scientists have raised concerns. In 2008, University of Pittsburgh's Cancer Institute advised employees to limit cell phone calls to three minutes or less, and warned that children should use mobile phones only in emergencies. In 2009, the Environmental Working Group released a report about cell phones' potential danger to children and included radiation rankings to help buyers choose lower-radiation phones.

If you and your family use cell phones or WiFi, there are several sites where you can get more information about their potential effects on health. Below is a list of links which I recently compiled for a friend. I'm posting them here with the hope that they can help others with personal decision-making about cell phone / WiFi use, as well as providing more in-depth information and examples of news coverage on this issue.

This piece by Christopher Ketcham is one of the best I've ever seen about cell phones and wireless technologies generally. It appeared in the February 2010 issue of Gentleman's Quarterly.

This link retrieves a printable, all-one-page version of Ketcham's piece.

This is the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute announcement referenced above, which made news as it warned about cell phone use with a list of 10 precautions to follow. In my opinion these are excellent guidelines, if one is going to use cell phones at all (the best protection is to not use them).

This gets to a university press release about the precautionary statement above.

This is the 2009 Environmental Working Group (EWG) report about cell phone radiation which raised concerns especially about their use by children. As mentioned above, their site also includes rankings of radiation levels from phones to help consumers choose lower radiation models (if they use cell phones). EWG also did a series of blog posts about the issue around the time they released their report:

This is the home page for an advocacy group concerned with electromagnetic radiation (EMFs) and health, which seeks to establish biologically-based standards for electromagnetic radiation exposures.

This is probably the best overall site for unbiased-by-industry information on cell phones and wireless technologies. Written by journalist Lou Slesin, it contains a wealth of information on non-ionizing radiation from cell phones, WiFi, etc. and the health effects of same. It includes many links to further articles.

This link gets you to the table of contents for a special issue of the journal Pathophysiology which looked at EMF research. Not everyone will want to read the full text of these scientific papers, but just scanning the titles in the table of contents tells a story.

This list of links accesses news coverage of the 2008 Congressional hearings on cell phone safety which were convened by Dennis Kucinich.

This article from Popular Science contains a tag line under the title that says "Your cell phone does not in itself cause cancer...." Note that this statement has not been proven and actually contradicts information further along in the same article. In fact, some have complained that this piece contradicts itself in several places. Still, it contains thought-provoking information about non-cancer effects of non-ionizing radiation and is worth a look.

This links to a news release about the Environmental Working Group's report on cell phone radiation (see above).

This is one of the articles that came out late in the summer of 2008 when cell phones were big in the news. This was partly due to the precautionary memo from University of Pittsburgh's Cancer Institute, and partly due to the Congressional hearings investigating cell phone safety.

There's plenty more out there, but I hope this can provide a start for those interested in learning more about this topic. If you have further questions or comments, I invite you to leave them in the comments section below.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Petroleum in Perfume and How to Avoid It

This companion post to my Gulf oil disaster series at Divorce Your Car! (the blog) tells a bit more about the petrochemical nature of perfume, as well as why and how to stop using it.

When we splash on scent or carefully apply cosmetics, few of us realize we are actually dowsing ourselves in petroleum products. In fact, however, cosmetics and fragrances expose us daily to huge numbers of toxic, hormone-disrupting and carcinogenic chemicals derived from crude oil.

As Randall Fitzgerald reports in his book The Hundred-Year Lie, FDA numbers show that every day, each person uses an average of nine body-care products containing 126 chemicals. In her book The Body Toxic, Nena Baker notes that the average U.S. adult uses or applies such products from twenty to twenty-five times per day. The vast majority of these products contain a slew of petrochemicals, including synthetic fragrance.

As I mentioned in the sister post to this one, 95% of the ingredients in fragrances are derived from petroleum. That statistic comes originally from the National Academy of Sciences, and via Louisa Williams’ excellent book Radical Medicine.

Petroleum-derived ingredients found in perfumes include highly toxic substances such as toluene, acetone, phthalates, derivatives of benzene, and as many as 50 to 100 other ingredients. These substances variously cause birth defects, cancer, and brain dysfunction; damage skin, eyes, liver, or kidneys; disrupt hormone function; and stimulate allergies and asthma. Certain chemicals in fragrance can be passed to children in utero and/or through breast milk, one reason a coalition of non-profits ran an ad featuring the image above to warn pregnant women away from perfume use.

Toluene is one ingredient found in all fragrance. It is flammable, nausea-inducing, and neurotoxic. As a 2005 article in The Ecologist noted, “Chronic or frequent inhalation [of toluene] can lead to irreversible brain damage.”

Phthalates lurk in virtually all fragrances as well. Used to make scents stronger and longer-lasting, these synthesized molecules can also cause cancer and mess with hormones, hastening puberty in girls and feminizing boys. Phthalates have also been correlated with abdominal obesity and insulin resistance in men.

In her fine book Not Just a Pretty Face, Stacy Malkan tells the story of some 2002 product tests that found phthalates in every single fragrance studied. The worst offender, weighing in with four different types of phthalates, was the aptly-named perfume from Christian Dior: Poison.

You can see how perfume affects the brain by viewing this SPECT (single photon emission computerized tomography) scan taken by a UCLA radiologist. The images show a patient’s brain before and after exposure to perfume; the after image indicates diminished blood flow and inflammation “consistent with exposure to neurotoxic substances.”

This is a brain on perfume. An inflamed brain not only loses function in the moment; both chronic inflammation and lower blood flow are linked to development of dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease.

If you don’t like taking such significant health risks, if you don’t want to walk around wafting or breathing petroleum byproducts, or both, you can make several simple changes. These suggestions also apply if you’re avoiding synthetic fragrances as a way to reduce petroleum use in the wake of the Gulf oil disaster, as suggested by Lynne McTaggart in her recent blog post “50 Ways to Leave Crude Oil.”

1) Read labels and, generally, don’t purchase products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient. This word is usually code for “toxic petroleum byproducts.” Manufacturers can include a number of toxicants in their products under the “fragrance” umbrella without naming them specifically. The law protects their trade secrets, but not your health.

2) There are some gray areas about guideline #1. Knowledgeable staff at our local natural foods source, the Keweenaw Co-op, recently told me that some companies now use the term “natural fragrance” in their ingredients list to mean essential oils (often following this term with a list of specific essential oils in parentheses). However, since the term has no legal definition, it does not guarantee the absence of synthetic compounds in the products. In cases like these, you can only be sure by contacting the manufacturer, by phone or online.

3) Check body care products again the Environmental Working Group’s excellent online database, Skin Deep. I suggest only using the products they rate as green.

4) Instead of scented products, use fragrance-free. As the number of people with perfume allergies has grown, the quantity of fragrance-free choices for body-care products and other consumer products such as household cleaners has increased. For household cleaners, I like the Free and Clear line made by Seventh Generation.

5) If you must use fragrance, use only true essential oils.

6) Don’t use air fresheners: they’re loaded with neurotoxic synthetics. In fact, I can’t think of another product with a more oxymoronic name. Air fresheners are some of the biggest polluters of indoor air around.

7) Consider feeding your face rather than crude-oiling it. By this I mean using food products as cosmetics. Somewhere I heard the maxim, “Don’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t eat,” and I think it’s a good idea. When it comes to fragrance, foods have gentle and natural scents that can serve as enough of a perfume. For instance, I use organic virgin coconut oil as a moisturizer, which leaves behind a very faint but lovely tropical aroma. The sheen it creates when first applied soaks in after a few minutes, leaving a slightly shiny, dewy look on skin.

Whether you quit perfume to reduce petroleum use or forego fragrance for health reasons, I hope the suggestions above will help. I invite you to add your own ideas in the comments section below. My thanks to the authors whose research I cited here.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Books at North Coast Holistics

I sell books through North Coast Holistics, and it's one of the things I most enjoy doing. There's great satisfaction in connecting a person with a good or useful book. I don't carry a lot of titles, but those I do sell are carefully selected.

In keeping with North Coast Holistic's theme of "healthy solutions for people and planet," the books I sell fall mostly into two categories: green living and natural health. I don't have regular retail hours, but have opted instead to sell books at events like the community classes I've sponsored, or in person at appointments. I'm considering selling books online, as well. People in the Houghton-Hancock area can look at these books before buying -- often an advantage -- by getting in touch with me and arranging to drop by.

To give you an idea of what's available through North Coast Holistics, I've listed some of the titles I stock below. Whether you decide to get one of these from me or elsewhere, you can consider my carrying it an endorsement of the book.

Prescriptions for a Healthy House: A Practical Guide for Architects, Builders and Homeowners, by Paula Baker-LaPorte, Erica Elliott, and John Banta

Homes That Heal and Those That Don't: How Your Home May Be Harming Your Family's Health, by Athena Thompson

The Sick House Survival Guide: Simple Steps to Healthier Homes, by Angela Hobbs

The Homeowner's Guide to Renewable Energy: Achieving Energy Independence Through Solar, Wind, Biomass, and Hydropower, by Dan Chiras

Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings, by Jennifer Thorne Amann, Alex Wilson & Katie Ackerly

The Human-Powered Home: Choosing Muscles Over Motors, by Tamara Dean

Divorce Your Car! Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile, by Katie Alvord

A Road Runs Through It: Reviving Wild Places, essays edited by Thomas Reed Petersen

Public Health SOS: The Shadow Side of the Wireless Revolution, by Camilla Rees and Magda Havas

Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, by Stacy Malkan

Naturally Clean: The Seventh Generation Guide to Safe and Healthy, Non-Toxic Cleaning, by Jeffrey Hollender and Geoff Davis

The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times, by Albert Bates

The Eco-Foods Guide: What's Good for the Earth is Good for You, by Cynthia Barstow

The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment, with More Than 100 Seasonal Recipes, by Jill Nussinow

Eat Safe: The Truth about Food Additives from Aspartame to Xanthan Gum, by Bill Statham

The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide: A Quick Reference to Foods and Their Effect on pH Levels, by Dr. Susan E. Brown and Larry Trivieri, Jr.

Yoga for Suits: 30 No-Sweat Power Poses to Do in Pinstripes, by Edward Vilga

Yoga in Bed: 20 Asanas to Do in Pajamas, by Edward Vilga

I'll review some of these books in future posts. In the meantime, don't hesitate to get in touch if you want to know more.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Steeped: A Lovely Little Tome About Tea

When I moved my North Coast Holistics office into Hancock’s Jutila Center, I began by setting up a place for making tea. I plugged in a burner, arranged my favorite set of blue mugs next to a good kettle, and stacked boxes of herbal, green and black teas on a shelf below. When someone comes to see me, I often welcome them with the warming ritual of offering tea.

I now own a copy of the perfect book to go with my tea stand: Steeped: In the World of Tea, edited by Sharon Bard, Birgit Nielsen, and Clara Rosemarda, photography by Juliana Spear. This beautiful collection of essays, poems and images looks at tea and its everyday but influential place in our lives.

The book serves up a selection of literary morsels that provide flavorful companions to teatime, many just about the right length for one cup. Take, for instance, Emily North’s sweet snippet “When Mom was a Hippie,” about the author’s back-to-the-land period in rural Vermont with her young daughter Violet. Living a lifestyle infused with the gathering of wild herbs for medicines and decoctions, she shows the importance of tea as she captures some of the magic of this phase of her life:

With Violet in bed, I lit the candles in the kitchen and made a cup of tea; often yarrow, which resembles Queen Anne’s lace and grows in meadows. Yarrow reminds me of August, just before the summer begins turning to fall, which it does in Vermont before September. If on one night in August there is a new crispness in the air, then by next morning, the spiders will have strewn the meadow and raspberry bushes with sodden webs. Thus, the smell of fall arrives, along with the golden rod, and this is how you know summer is passing.

At night, I sat on the front step to watch the stars while sipping my tea. Yarrow allegedly enhances psychic powers; the fields and woods around me thrummed with unexplained noises….

Then there’s Clara Rosemarda’s “Strong Brew,” a powerful piece about her relationship with her father. “My father and I shared a love of tea and adventure,” Rosemarda begins, and then blends the experience of tea-drinking into the evolution of this parent-child relationship in a way best described by one of the essay’s concluding sentences:

Teatime, that sweet destination, a golden rim that shimmers on the surface of my memory, weaves my father and me together, fellow travelers on separate yet intricately entwined journeys.

I also loved Sharon Bard’s “Streaming Green Tea,” a meditation on communicating with colleagues in a different land. In her story, Bard describes a 1977 exchange visit with teachers of severely handicapped children in Japan and punctuates it gently with the presence of tea:

All eyes were on me. I put down my tea cup. It was time to talk.

“I, too, am a principal of a small school for severely handicapped students. Most of our pupils are more disabled than the children here,” I began, enunciating slowly. Mr. Mochizuki translated.

“We had hospitals for children like these in California. But then our governor signed laws for them to leave the hospitals and go back into the community. In part to save money.”

Translation into Japanese. Nods.

“Now there is a movement to include these students in regular programs. Into a less restrictive environment. So they can have equal education. We call it mainstreaming.”

More translation.

“Please say it again.”


Notebooks opened. A Pilot Razor pen appeared and one of the men carefully inscribed that Western buzzword into neat little ideographs.

“Main steaming,” said another. Two of the men looked at me. The third looked over to the flat teapot, connecting my term with the escaping vapors.

Full disclosure: I know two of the three editors of this book, having met both Sharon Bard and Clara Rosemarda years ago when I lived in Sonoma County, California. Both are independent thinkers, smart and very creative women, and I am not surprised to see them produce a book with such thoughtful, high-quality content. I’m equally impressed with the contributors I don’t know, including photographer Juliana Spear, whose luscious, evocative images keep me flipping through the pages every time I pick up this volume, just for the pleasure of looking at it.

Though Steeped is small in format, it brims with literary flavor and artisanship. It’s a book as delightful and nurturing to curl up with as your favorite cup of tea.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Deliciously Healthy Valentine

My partner knows that one big path to my heart runs right through my stomach. I’m convinced, too, that he wants me to live a long and healthy life – a nice thing to know! – since most of his food gifts to me are so deliciously healthy.

He surprised me this Valentine’s Day with the latest example of his curative culinary creativity: a heart-shaped pancake made with freshly-ground millet flour. Millet, a gluten-free gain, is a good source of B vitamins like thiamin and riboflavin, as well as minerals like magnesium, potassium, silicon and iron. Chinese medicine considers it a yin-builder and beneficial for the kidneys, pancreas and stomach. Several sources list it as alkalizing as well as anti-fungal.

If you want to try making your own millet pancakes, here’s his approximate recipe. Though I haven’t repeated this in the ingredients list, we use organic ingredients whenever we can.

Dry ingredients:
1 ½ to 2 ¼ cups millet flour (grinding it fresh keeps the vitamins from oxidizing and the fatty acids from going rancid; we use a Vita-Mix for this, which makes it easy)
1 to 2 tablespoons protein powder (we use Garden of Life Goatein; for vegan pancakes, you can use an equivalent rice-based protein powder)
Cinnamon or similar spice(s) to taste (we like cinnamon best, but also sometimes use cardamom, allspice, and/or nutmeg)

Liquid ingredients:
2 to 3 eggs (or equivalent powdered egg replacer, for vegans), lightly beaten
1 ½ to 2 cups water
about 1 teaspoon vanilla
a dash of Morin Labs Selectrolyte (we use this instead of salt because it’s tested to be free of contaminants, especially heavy metals, but you can also use a dash of salt added to the dry ingredients if you wish)
up to a tablespoon of melted virgin coconut oil

Combine dry ingredients in a medium to large mixing bowl. Combine all liquid ingredients except coconut oil in a separate bowl and mix well. Pour liquid ingredients into dry and mix until combined and smooth. While stirring, drizzle melted coconut oil into batter. Adjust quantity of flour or water to get a batter consistency you like. Cook on stovetop as you’d cook any pancake. We use a cast-iron pan with coconut oil, which is stable for cooking, over moderate heat.

As you can see from the photo, I like my millet pancakes with mashed wild blueberries, full of phytonutrients that help the brain. They add just the right touch of mild sweetness to the subtle cinnamon-vanilla flavors in this recipe. Yum!

Here's wishing you a Healthy Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Plans and Projects in 2010

In my writing and work, I strive to look at wellness and sustainability from a holistic view, considering both people and planet simultaneously to find truly healthy long-term solutions. This philosophy led me into North Coast Holistics just over a year ago, and underlies the work I hope to do through the business in the rest of 2010. This year, much of what I have planned will focus on writing. I also hope to offer a few community classes and am still selling a limited number of select books and supplements, as shown in the photo above.

Among my 2010 projects:

• I’ve received enough requests now for the story of our healing journey after Kraig’s diagnosis of multiple chemical sensitivities or MCS that I’m now drafting a book on that topic. I’m still in the early stages on this one; stay tuned.

• I’m researching several articles that have to do with environment and health. One example: Cell phones and wireless technologies continue to boom, but the debate over their health and environmental effects has not been resolved. With recent studies adding new fuel, conflict over the use of these technologies continues to simmer. I hope to write about such findings as the damage done to the blood-brain barrier by cell phone radiation, the reduction in melatonin production from such exposures, and the special vulnerability of children to electromagnetic fields and radiation.

• I also hope to add to the written materials based on my wellness classes. The class handouts have gained enough of a reputation that people routinely ask for them even if they can’t make it to the class. Possibilities include expanding my handouts into booklets and developing new ways to make those available.

Several people have asked this big question: Will we again hold wellness classes as a series at the Jutila Center in Hancock? The answer: Not for the moment, although some of us who gave these classes last year do have exciting individual classes in the works. You can watch this spot for updates, and if there are particular classes you’d like to see offered, please let me know!