Friday, August 23, 2013

The Anti-Bacterial Myth

Now that we are approaching cold and flu season, many people will break out the antibacterial hand sanitizer in an effort to keep germs at bay. But is an antibacterial really necessary? Several studies have proven that antibacterial products are no more effective than regular soap and water to clean and fight bacteria. Even the FDA has gone on the record saying that antibacterial sanitizers have not been proven effective in preventing colds and flus.

Besides being unnecessary and extremely drying to the skin, synthethic antibacterial hand sanitizers can do more harm than good. According to a report from researchers at John Hopkins University, the anti-bacterial chemicals that we send down the drain survive treatment at sewage plants and make their way into the sludge used on agricultural land. The overreliance on these antibacterials, as well as the prevalence of antibacterials in the market may actually create the same situation they are designed to prevent.
Bacteria and microbes, like humans, are very adept at adapting. When continually exposed to the same antibacterial agents, microbes eventually develop a resistance to its killing effects. This means that over time, the bacteria become stronger and more virulent. Additionally, there are safety concerns surrounding the active ingredient in some antibacterial products, triclosan.

Do You Ever Need An Anti-bacterial?

An anti-bacterial is useful in some situations.
  • When you are caring for an ill person in your home. Hospitals use antibacterials to limit the spread of germs among its patients. You can use essential oils at the proper dilution rate to achieve similar germ killing results.
  • When washing with soap and water is not practical or available. If you choose one of the anti-bacterial "hand sanitizers", be sure to keep it on your hands for at least 2 minutes and allow it to dry on your hands. Rinsing off antibacterial products reduces their effectiveness. When you have to use an antibacterial, using one that contains natural ingredients is probably a safer bet in the long run. Our family uses Clean Well Natural Hand Sanitizer because it is alcohol-free and contains some of nature's strongest antibacterial essential oils. I keep a pocket-sized version in my purse for those times when soap and water is not available.
There are many essential oils that contain well researched and proven antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Tea tree oil is probably the strongest antibacterial antifungal, and antimicrobial essential oil. Other oils high in antibacterial properties include patchouli, lavender, eucalyptus, lemon, clove, pine, oregano, black pepper, thyme, bay, sage, lemongrass, bergamot, and peppermint. They are especially useful for disinfecting surfaces in your home and purifying the air. Dr. John Valnet demonstrated that at a 2% dilution rate (2 teaspoons essential oil in 2 cups water), eucalyptus oil killed 70% of airborne staph bacteria.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Aromatherapy Recipe: Seaweed Mineral Spa Bath

High quality, dried seaweed can be purchased at health food stores. The cost is about $15.00 for a dried pound, which is enough for about five baths.
  1. Boil water in a large pot filled about 3/4 full and remove from heat.
  2. Add about 3 ounces of seaweed to hot water and steep for thirty minutes.
  3. Fill bath with warm water, add seaweed "tea" to bath -- seaweed and all.
  4. Add 2 drops cypress (astringent, diuretic) essential oil, 3 drops lemon essential oil (anti-toxic, astringent, diuretic), 1 drop juniper essential oil (tonic, circulatory stimulant), 1 drop lavender essential oil (anti-toxic, diuretic, restorative) to the bath, if desired.
  5. Relax in bath for twenty to thirty minutes.
  6. Rub seaweed gently over skin, if desired, to transfer seaweed's gel to skin surface.
For best results do not rinse seaweed residue off skin for at least an hour. After your bath, pat skin dry with a towel, wrap yourself in a soft, warm robe, drink water to rehydrate and relax! Repeat once a week for one month. If you have thyroid or kidney problems, please consult your physician first.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Essential Oil Profile: Patchouli

Patchouli oils comes from a plant called Pogostemon cablin, from the same family as the Clary Sage, Lamiaceae. This plant is thought to have originated in the Philippines and is now cultivated in many tropical areas. The fragrant woody, earthy, somewhat spicy, musky and smoky scent of Patchouli is produced by the leaves of this herb. The strength and unique odor quality of Patchouli lends itself to oriental types of perfumes. It gives a long-lasting fragrant allure to any perfume. The plant is a bushy perennial herb, up to three feet tall with hairy leaves that are 4 inches long.

Patchouli is recognized by aromatherapists as being effective for combating nervous disorders, helping with dandruff, sores, skin irritations and acne. The specific properties of the oil include use as an antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, aphrodisiac, astringent, deodorant, stimulating and tonic agent. In the perfumery industry, it is interesting to note that Patchouli improves with age, and that the aged product is what is preferred over freshly harvested. In aromatherapy, Patchouli is an excellent fixative that can help extend other, more expensive oils.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

All About Seaweed

What is Seaweed?

Seaweed has long been reputed to detoxify the body, revitalize the skin and heal wounds. French studies have shown that the minerals in seaweed do have the ability to penetrate the skin. But, can seaweed really reduce wrinkles, tighten the skin, and eliminate cellulite?

When it comes to skin, there's a lot to like about seaweed. It's packed with minerals, and nutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and essential fatty acids. However, to realize seaweed's full effects on the skin, the right amount must be applied. Most of the products on the market today contain miniscule amounts of seaweed and seaweed extracts. Hardly enough to make a difference on the skin, even when applied regularly.

Another consideration is that seaweed should be as pure as possible to ensure that its minerals and vitamins are retained. Buying dried seaweed, in its original sheet form, at the local health food store is one of the best ways to reap its benefits when applied to the body. To maximize the benefits of the seaweed and to increase its penetration into the skin, the skin should be dry brushed with a natural bristle brush first to stimulate the outer layer of the skin.

What you put into your body ultimately reflects on the outside. The best way to reap the benefits of seaweed is to incorporate it into your daily diet. Chopped seaweed can be tossed in salads, eaten with sushi, sprinkled into soups, and used in baked goods like cookies and breads.

Despite all its benefits, there is one seaweed claim that may not hold water. Seaweed has long been reported to be a cure for cellulite. Most experts agree and studies have shown that seaweed does not cure cellulite. Cellulite is largely genetic, has nothing to do with how fit you are, and is virtually impossible to get rid of. Most of the products on the market today can only improve the appearance of cellulite and they do not contain seaweed as an active ingredient. The underlying cellulite is still there waiting for you to stop using the product so that it can make its comeback. If you can't afford the expensive spa treatments that are used to treat cellulite, an easy and cheap remedy is regular and vigorous massage of the affected area. This can be incorporated into a daily dry brushing routine.

Types of Seaweed

Kelp-(Laminaria), the most prolific sea plant on America's shores, contains vitamins A, B, E, D and K, is a main source of vitamin C and rich in minerals.
Dulse-(Palmariapalmata), rich in iron, protein, and vitamin A, is delicious with walnuts, spinach and rice.
Kombu-(Laminaria digitata, setchelli, horsetail kelp) is a meaty, high-protein seaweed.
Hijiki-is a mineral-rich, high-fiber seaweed, with 20 percent protein, vitamin A, carotenes and calcium. Hijiki has the most calcium of any sea green, 1400 mg per 100 gr. of dry weight.
Wakame-(Alaria, undaria) is a high- protein, high- calcium seaweed, with carotenes, iron and vitamin C and is widely used in the Orient for hair growth and luster and for skin tone.
Nori-(Porphyra, laver) is a red sea plant with a sweet, meaty taste when dried.
Arame-(Eisenia bycyclis) is one of the ocean's richest sources of iodine.
Sea Palm-(Postelsia palmaeformis), American arame, grows only on the Pacific coast of North America. It has a sweet, salty taste that goes especially well as a vegetable, rice or salad topping.
Bladderwrack-Bladderwrack is packed with vitamin K, an excellent adrenal stimulant.
Irish moss-(Chondrus crispus, carrageen) is full of electrolyte minerals--calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium.

Essential Oil Profile: Tea Tree

Tea tree essential oil is extracted from the leaves of the melaleuca alternifolia plant. It is a powerful antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibiotic oil.
Odor- strong, sharp, medicinal,
Fragrance Notes- classified as a top note but I disagree. It’s medicinal smell is so strong that I only use it at night when there's no chance that anyone else will smell it.
Precautions- can irritate sensitive skin.
Useful for- cuts, insect bites, burns, cold sores, air purifier – careful not to use too much, colds, acne, dandruff,
Emotional benefits- In my opinion, tea tree has a much too strong medicinal smell to offer an emotional benefit when inhaled. The smell is jarring, to say the least. So, if you need a quick pick-me-up, just take a whiff. Otherwise, save this for skin and medicinal applications.  

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I will update when I think of something.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Valerie Gennari Cooksley - Aromatherapist

Valerie Gennari Cooksley is one of my favorite aromatherapy and natural health care authors. I have used her book “Aromatherapy: A Lifetime Guide to Healing With Essential Oils” as my main aromatherapy reference book for many years. It’s the most thorough manual I’ve found and she explains what can be a complicated subject in an easy to understand way. She is a certified aromatherapist and registered nurse. So, she tends to focus on how aromatherapy can help us heal our bodies.
The book has simple aromatherapy recipes for common ailments as well as recipes for skin care and bath rituals. She stresses that the book is a guide to using aromatherapy to complement conventional medicine, not replace it. I like this balanced approach because for common health concerns, home remedies can offer effective relief and/or soothe symptoms. More serious issues should always be taken to a doctor. Most of the book focuses on aromatherapy remedies for the digestive system, respiratory system, circulatory system, muscles and joints, and eye, ears, nose, and throat issues. There are also remedies for children, women’s issues, skin care, bath and spa treatments, and “psycho-aromatherapy” blends to aid with mood and memory.
In the introduction, she says that she hopes “you will find it [the book] so practical and easy to use, it will be found in your kitchen, bathroom, and/or bedroom, stained and scented with essential oils and worn and tattered from frequent and enthusiastic use.” This has truly been the case for me because the essential oil reference guide and the blending how-to section have been invaluable to me.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Whole Foods Market to Rate Natural Cleaning Products

This week, Whole Foods Market announced a plan to launch a color-coded "Eco-Scale Rating System." Essentially, the company plans to require that manufacturers of the green cleaning products it stocks list the ingredients on the packaging. The government does not currently require cleaning products to be labeled. Whole Foods will also have a third party company independently verify the products' safety and environmental impact to give the product its Eco-Scale rating. The new rating system is expected to be fully launced by April 2012.

I think this is a step in the right direction but this news raised a few questions for me when I read it. First, there are many cleaning products that market themselves as natural. But, I can usually tell with one whiff whether they contain synthetic fragrances. In my opinion, one of the manufacturers guilty of using an offensive amount of synthetic fragrances is Caldrea/Mrs. Meyer. Unless they change their formula, I believe their products will likely score an "orange" rating according to Whole Foods' rating scale.

Second, green products are already expensive. If manufacturers decide to change their formulas to get a higher rating on the scale, won't that drive prices up even further? I'm sure that Whole Foods incurred expenses to develop and implement this program. How will launching this program affect their already high prices overall? Also, why just pick on cleaning products? The natural skin care aisle is cluttered with products that say they're natural but still contain synthetic ingredients.

I applaud Whole Foods for at least requiring the manufacturers to label their products. And, I'm all for helping to save the environment. But, I'm not sure that I see how the benefit outweighs the cost, for a few reasons.

  1. They're still going to be selling products that don't score as well on the scale. At the end of the day, when faced with products that offer similar quality and benefits, consumers will base their decision on price. If the manufacturers with lower ratings have managed to keep their price constant because they haven't changed their formula, then there's a good chance that people will buy the product with the orange label and not the green one.
  2. The requirement for the top "green" rating is that the product be 100% natural or not contain any petroleum-derived ingredients. This has always been a pet peeve of mine. So many natural product manufacturers use "vegetable-derived" ingredients and label their products as natural. Just because an ingredient is derived from a natural source does not mean the end-product is natural. It's a shame that Whole Foods is allowing manufacturers who do this to earn a "green" label.
In my opinion 100% natural should be the only standard for the "green" label. Otherwise, what's the point?

How Harmful are X-rays?

I have been dealing with a severe foot injury for a little over a month. A head-on collision resulted in my right foot being broken. An orthopedist diagnosed it as a lisfranc fracture, one of the most severe types of foot fractures. Needless to say, it has been a seemingly endless string of X-rays since that diagnosis. I just had my third one last week and will have another in about 4  weeks. My foot will also get X-rayed each time my cast is changed.

I am usually not hyper-aware about these kinds of things but up until now, the only X-rays I've had to get were periodic ones at my dentist. Naturally, I have started to wonder how harmful are X-rays? I am not an expert so by doing a quick internet search, I discovered that

  • We are constantly exposed to radiation from the natural enviroment around us.
  • Radon gas accounts for about half of our natural radiation exposure.
  • Tests like CT Scans and MRIs have a higher dose of radiation than X-rays. A chest CT Scan gives off 70 times the amount of radiation as an X-ray. This is troubling to me because I also had both of these tests done since my diagnosis.
It appears that we face more of a risk from everyday sources of radiation than we do from tests that should be performed occasionally. The question then becomes how can we limit our exposure to every day radiation since that poses a higher risk?

  • Remove shoes before entering the home to avoid tracing in toxic chemicals such as pesticides
  • Filter tap water
  • Microwave food in ceramic or glass instead of plastic containers
  • Check radon levels in and around your home.
  • Use stainless steel, glass or BPA-free plastic water bottles.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Ylang Ylang Essential Oil Profile

Ylang Ylang essential oil is expressed from flower of the cananga odorata tree. The oil is used extensively in perfumery and is one of the ingredients in Chanel No. 5. There are several grades of this essential oil. Ylang Ylang "Extra" is the highest quality grade and is collected at the plant's first distillation. Subsequent extractions are called Ylang Ylang II, Ylang Ylang III, and so on. While the properties of the oils are similar across the three different fragrance.

Fragrance Notes: Strong mid-note. Heave sweet floral fragrance that may resemble the scent of jasmine, narcissus, or hyacinth.

Complementary oils: bergamot, geranium, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender, lime, neroli, patchouli, rose, rosemary, rosewood, sandalwood, sweet orange, tangerine and vetiver. This is a strong fragrance and should be used sparingingly in blends.

Aromatherapy effects: anti-depressant, sedative, relaxing, sedative.

Skin care uses: Best for dry to oily skin types. Also good for hair and scalp preparations.

Contraindications: May cause headaches if too much is inhaled. Always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil before use.