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Ten Steps to A Better Night’s Sleep, Naturally.

 

1. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends

Sleep is a habit.  By consistently going to bed and getting up at the same time every day we condition our body to follow a regular pattern of sleep.  This allows our body’s internal clock, our “circadian rhythm”, to remain balanced and effectively initiate and maintain sleep.

2. Make your bedroom quiet, dark and cool

Studies have shown that sleeping in a cooler room is most conductive to sleep.  Our body temperature drops slightly during sleep and a cooler room helps the body temperature to drop more quickly and effectively.  Eliminate all sources of light in your bedroom – turn digital alarm clocks to face the wall and get dark window coverings to eliminate outside light.  Eliminating excess noise will minimize potential disruptions that might wake you from sleep.

computer insomnia3. Bedrooms are for sleeping and sex, not for work or television

The bedroom should be kept for sleeping and not used for televisions, computers, video gaming systems, phone calls or other stimulating gadgets that may disrupt sleep.  Go in the bedroom when it is time to sleep and leave the room when sleeping is done.

4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine for 4-6 hours before bedtime

Caffeine is found in coffee, soda, green and black tea, energy drinks and chocolate.  It is a stimulant and can negatively impact sleep even if ingested six hours before bed.  And although an alcoholic “nightcap” might help you to initiate sleep it fragments the stages of sleep, decreases the quality of sleep and makes sleep more disrupted.

5. Don’t nap, or nap appropriately

The period of time that you are awake adds to something called “sleep drive”.  The longer we stay awake, the more we want to go to sleep.  By taking a nap we diminish this desire to sleep which may make it less likely that we will be able to easily sleep later.

However, some experts have suggested that napping at the appropriate time of day (between 1 and 4 pm, never between 5 and 8 pm) for an appropriate length of time (20 to 40 minutes) can improve overall sleep.

Aerobic exercise and meditation6. Exercise daily, but avoid exercising 4 hours before bedtime

Staying active is an excellent way to ensure a good night’s sleep.  However, exercising too close to bedtime may cause difficulties in getting to sleep as your body will still be revved up.

7. Develop a sleep ritual before bedtime

Parents have been doing this for children for generations.  Sleep rituals allow us to unwind and mentally prepare for going to sleep.  These rituals should include quiet activities such as reading, drinking a calming cup of tea, listening to relaxing music, writing in a journal, or taking a warm bath.

8.  If you are having trouble getting to sleep, don’t stay in bed or you will train yourself to have difficulties there

If you have difficulty initiating sleep don’t toss and turn in bed and try to force sleep to come (we’ve all tried this… and we all know it doesn’t work!).  As this activity is repeated, night after night, a situation is set up where we associate our bed with the anxiety of not being able to sleep.

If you are unable to fall asleep within 15 minutes, go to another quiet place and lie down until you feel ready to sleep, then return to your bedroom to sleep. Do not watch television or use the computer during this time.

9. Avoid eating or drinking for a few hours before bedtime

Heartburn or having to urinate frequently can be very disruptive to a good night’s sleep.  Avoid these issues by not eating or drinking for a few hours before bedtime.

10. Make sleep a priority.  Don’t sacrifice sleep to do daytime activities

Respect your body’s need to sleep!  Too often we allow our sleep time to be shortened when our daytime activities take longer than we expect.  Opportunities to engage in pleasurable activities – watching television, visiting with friends, playing on the internet, and other activities – will quickly cut into sleep time if we allow them to.  It is important to schedule your sleep time and keep to that schedule, no matter what may come up during the day.

Additional sleep resources:

BBC Documentary:  Ten Things You Need to Know About Sleep

National Sleep Foundation – http://www.sleepfoundation.org/

Disclaimer:

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Four Steps to Selecting Safe Baby Care Products

As parents we want to be sure we are making safe choices for our children.  With marketing claims like “natural”, “mild”, and “gentle” it can be hard to decide which products truly are safe for our little ones.  Every week three-quarters of children are exposed to allergens, neurotoxins, and harmful chemicals in their body care products.

By following the four steps listed you can be sure you are making the best choices for your family.

Four Steps to Selecting Safe Baby Care Products

Step One – Simplify!  Use fewer products.

Most adults use as many as ten personal care products each day.  The number we use with our children can be just as high.  Diapers, wipes, body wash, shampoo, soap, lotions, bubble baths, diaper creams and more are applied to our babies’ skin each day.  Minimize the potential for chemical exposure by eliminating products that aren’t necessary.

Suggestions: Use warm water on a washable cloth to wipe baby’s bum after diaper changes.  Use one product as a shampoo/soap/body wash.  Don’t use bubble bath with young children.

Step Two – Less is More – Use products with fewer ingredients and no fragrance.

The fewer ingredients the more natural the product”.

It’s a general rule and in many cases it is true.  The longer the ingredient list the more preservatives, dyes, emollients and other chemicals the product contains.  There are exceptions to this rule of course, some botanical products use many different plant extracts in their formulas.  But a quick glance at the length of the product label can provide valuable information.

It is also important to choose products that are free of synthetic dyes and fragrances.  Synthetic dyes and fragrances are often composed of several harmful chemicals but due to product labeling laws do not need to be listed separately.  Avoid exposing your child to these chemicals by selecting products that are fragrance and dye free.

Step Three – Read Labels… and Know What Ingredients to Look For.

More important than the length of an ingredient list, knowing what ingredients to avoid is paramount to protecting your child from exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.  The following is a brief list of ingredients to avoid:

Benzyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol Skin irritants and potential neurotoxicity concerns
BHA Found in diaper cream.  Banned in other countries because it can cause skin depigmentation
Boric Acid and Sodium Borate Found in diaper cream.  Industry authorities caution against use on infant or damaged skin
2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol (or Bronopol) Found in baby wipes.  Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants
Ceteareth and PEG compounds Petrochemicals that may contain cancer-causing impurities
DMDM Hydantoin Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants
Dyes Some are linked to cancer and are banned outside the U.S.
Fragrance Allergens that may contain neurotoxic or hormone-disrupting chemicals
Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate Chemically similar to neurotoxic pesticides
Methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone Allergens with neurotoxic concerns
Oxybenzone Found in sunscreens.  In sunlight, can produce allergy- and cancer-causing chemicals
Parabens Hormone-disrupting chemicals with potential cancer concerns
Triethanolamine Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants
Triclosan Linked to thyroid disruption, produces toxic byproducts in tap water

Additionally, a 2009 study found formaldehyde or 1,4-dioxane in a large percentage of tested baby products.  Both formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane were found in 17 out of 28 tested products (61%).  Formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane are known carcinogens; formaldehyde can also cause skin rashes in some children.  These chemicals are not listed on product labels because they are contaminants, not ingredients.

Formaldehyde contaminates personal care products when preservatives release formaldehyde over time in the container.  Common ingredients likely to cause formaldehyde contamination include: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea.

1,4-dioxane is a byproduct of a chemical processing technique called ethoxylation.  Manufactures can easily remove the toxic byproduct, but are not required by law to do so.  Common ingredients likely to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane include: PEG-100 stearate, sodium laureth sulfate, polyethylene and ceteareth-20.

Step Four – Make a List and Check It Twice.

Having a list of ingredients to avoid, and bringing it with you when selecting new baby care products is the easiest way to be sure you are making a healthy choice.

The Environmental Working Group has made this even simpler by providing parents with two phenomenal resources.  One is the Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products which includes a printable pocket reference guide.

Skin Deep is also from the EWG and offers a searchable cosmetic safety database with toxicity ratings for thousands of individual products and brands.  It is an invaluable resource.  I recommend double checking any product on the Skin Deep website before purchasing it.

Making the best choices for your children doesn’t have to be difficult.  By utilizing the four steps highlighted in this article and accessing the resources offered by groups such as the Environmental Working Group, you can be confident you are using products that live up to the highest standards – your standards.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

References:

No More Toxic Tub.  March 2009.  Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.  Available at http://safecosmetics.org/downloads/NoMoreToxicTub_Mar09Report.pdf

Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products. Environmental Working Group Report.  Available at http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/parentsguide/summary.php

Parent’s Buying Guide: Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products.  Environmental Working Group.  Available at http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/parentsguide/index.php?bybrand=1

Ingredients to Avoid: Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products. Environmental Working Group.  Available at http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/parentsguide/ingredients.php

Tea for Tots

Sharing the Joy of Tea with Kids

There are few topics that I like to talk about more than tea.  I love tea.  I love the flavour of tea, the diverse kinds of tea, the ritual of making tea and the warm, calm feeling that I get when I settle in with a cup of tea.  Tea is also one of my favourite ways of prescribing botanicals (plant based medicines) for adults and children alike.

While I would not recommend giving a child a cup of orange pekoe, chai or English breakfast tea (all of which contain caffeine!) there are an abundance of other kinds of tea that are perfect for children.

Preparing Tea for Kids

Making a cup of tea for a child is very similar to preparing it for an adult, with a couple of simple adjustments.

  • Children often prefer a weaker tea.  Adults should steep tea for between 4 and 6 minutes (depending on the type of tea and personal preference).  For children steep the tea for only 2 to 4 minutes.  If the tea is too strong, add extra water to dilute the strength (this is also a good way to quickly cool the tea!).
  • The temperature of tea to be served to a child should be considerably cooler.  I suggest serving children’s tea chilled, at room temperature or lukewarm (the same temperature used for baby bottles or formula – around 26-36oC).

Selecting Teas for Your Child

Selecting tea is part of the pleasure of drinking tea.  You can have tea that calms you, tea that wakes you up, tea that soothes a sore throat or an upset tummy, or tea that just tastes good.  You can select tea for your children in much the same way.

Teas for Health

Anxiety – studies show that more and more children are experiencing anxiety, and at younger and younger ages.  If your child has anxiety associated with school, friends, separation or for any other reason try giving them a tea to help calm their nervous system.  Teas for anxiety include chamomile, oat straw, passionflower (for children over four), and skullcap (for children over six).  Prepare a cup of tea and enjoy it together in the evening or before stressful events.

Colic – even young babies can benefit from tea!  A tea made from fennel, chamomile or peppermint can be very helpful in relieving colic in infants.  A breastfeeding mother can drink the tea (1 cup three times per day) or the tea can be diluted and given to the infant with a medicine dropper (1 diluted tsp three times per day).

Constipation – use a flaxseed tea (1 teaspoon flaxseed in 1 litre of water, simmered for 15 minutes) to cook oatmeal.  Prepare the tea and then use the tea instead of water to prepare oatmeal for your child to eat.  Or add ¼ cup of flaxseed tea to 4 ounces of juice and give it to your child once daily.  Constipation should resolve within 24-48 hours.

Coughs – depending on the type of cough there are several options for teas to soothe a coughing child.  For a cough with sore throat, marshmallow root or slippery elm tea can be very soothing.  For cough with congestion, licorice or coltsfoot tea are both effective.
(Note: Do not use for more than 3 days in a row.  Licorice should not be used in children with high blood pressure).
Peppermint tea is a mild cough suppressant and can be used in the evenings to help children with a persistent cough to get some sleep.

Sambucus nigra berriesFever – To decrease chills and increase perspiration (which will shorten the duration and intensity of the fever) try a tea with any of the following ingredients (in equal parts): lemon balm, chamomile, peppermint, licorice and elder flower.  For a child over 2 years of age ½ cup of tea can be given up to four times daily for one day.  Serve this tea as hot as your child can tolerate.
Note: Do not use licorice in a child with high blood pressure.  Fevers are commonly a sign that the body is fighting a viral or bacterial infection.  If your child’s temperature exceeds 102F (38.9oC) consider contacting a qualified healthcare provider for further guidance.

Nausea – ginger tea is very effective in decreasing nausea, vomiting, upset stomach and for soothing the digestive tract.  Giving your child tea when they are nauseous or vomiting also provides much needed hydration.  Use ½ cup of ginger tea, three times per day for the first 24 hours of nausea.  Ginger tea is also very effective for motion sickness.  Try giving your child ginger tea as needed during car trips to treat motion sickness.

Teas for Taste

There are a great variety of herbal teas available that children love.  Try fruit based herbal teas as a delicious and low calorie alternative to fruit juice.  Many of the fruit based teas are delicious served cold as an iced tea.  Some of my family’s favourites are:

Hibiscus flowers give tea a bright pink colour kids love
  • Chocolate mint rooibos – a loose tea, naturally caffeine free and deliciously sweet.  Available at www.steepedandinfused.com.
  • Passion by Tazo tea – hibiscus flower, lemongrass, mango and passion fruit combine to make a sweet, pink-hued tea.  Fantastic as an iced tea.  Available at Starbucks stores or many grocery stores.
  • Raspberry Zinger, True Blueberry and Country Peach Passion – all by Celestial Seasonings are favourites of my 2 year old son.  Simple, sweet, fruity flavours are popular with young children and adults alike.

So go ahead and try serving tea to your child.  There is no reason why a tea party need only be pretend!   You may be surprised at how much your child enjoys the flavours and rituals of tea drinking.

Disclaimer:

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Resources:

Hoffman, David.  Medical Herbalism.  2003.
Zand, Janet.  Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child 2nd Ed.  2003.

Cluster Headaches – Natural Treatment Options

 

Cluster headaches are considered by the medical community (and sufferers) to be one of the most painful chronic conditions.  They are not as common as migraine or tension type headaches, affecting approximately 1 in 1000 people.

Only one in five cluster headache sufferers (or “clusterheads” as they often call themselves) are women.

 Symptoms of Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches have a distinct pattern of symptoms:

  • Rapid onset of one-sided pain (usually around the eye or the temple)
  • Pain is excruciating and lasts 15 minutes to 3 hours
  • Can happen at any time of day but often occurs 2 hours after going to bed
  • Associated symptoms can include: tearing, red eyes, puffy eyelids, stuffy/ runny nose, facial sweating, and drooping eyelids
  • Headaches occur in clusters with headaches occurring frequently over the course of several weeks, followed by a headache-free interval of 6 months to a year.  Clusters often occur in the late winter (February) and autumn.
  • Some cluster headache sufferers have chronic headaches with no headache-free intervals.

Treatment of Cluster Headaches

The bulk of medical research on headache treatments focuses on migraine type headaches and cluster headache sufferers are left to try a variety of different pharmaceuticals in an attempt to find relief from their pain.

Emerging research on natural treatment options for cluster headaches has been encouraging.  Used alone or in conjunction with drug therapies many cluster headache sufferers may find greater relief from the pain of cluster headaches.  Below is a list of some of the most promising natural treatment options currently available.

Note: Natural medicines are still medicines and should be taken under the supervision of a qualified health care professional.

chili peppers for cluster headachesCapsaicin (Cayenne pepper)

Patients at the New England Center for Headache experienced a decrease in cluster headache intensity after applying capsaicin cream inside their nostrils.

Capsaicin is the active component of cayenne pepper and acts as a pain reliever by stimulating pain sensing C nerve fibers and rapidly depleting the substances these fibers use to convey pain signals to the brain.  The capsaicin causes a burning sensation for approximately 10 minutes which must occur for the treatment to be effective.  The burning sensation will decrease
with subsequent applications.  Use the capsaicin cream on the same side as the headache for best effects.

Melatonin

Cluster headache sufferers often have a lower than average level of melatonin, especially during a cluster period.  Based on this observation, and the timing of cluster headaches (often occurring a few hours after going to bed) melatonin has been studied as a potential treatment for cluster headaches.  One study found the use of melatonin at bedtime for 14 days significantly reduced headache severity and frequency when compared to placebo.

Magnesium

Studies have shown that people with cluster headaches often have the lower than average levels of serum magnesium.  Intervention with intravenous magnesium resulted in relief of symptoms for all cluster headache sufferers assessed.  Oral magnesium hasn’t been studied but may be effective in reversing the magnesium deficiency seen in cluster headache sufferers.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

Taken daily, vitamin B2 has been shown in studies to decrease the severity and frequency of cluster headaches.  3 months of daily supplementation was needed to have an effect.

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata)

kudzuKudzu is an Asian plant that was first used as a medicine over 1800 years ago.

It contains antioxidants, has anesthetic effects, dilates blood vessels in the brain, increases blood flow to the brain and can improve brain acetylcholine.  Studies on the use of Kudzu in the treatment of cluster headaches are scarce, but case studies have shown a decrease in frequency and intensity of cluster headaches in a high percentage (approximately 70%) of patients studied.  Dose of Kudzu is individualized and attaining optimal dose is necessary to see any benefit.

Other Botanical Medicines

Many botanical (herbal) medicines have been used in the natural treatment of cluster headaches.  California poppy, passion flower, skullcap, valerian and Jamaican dogwood have all been used with varying success to decrease the symptoms of cluster headaches.

Studies are currently exploring other alternative treatments for cluster headaches.  One treatment that has been getting some attention is psilocybin (the active constituent in ‘magic mushrooms’).  Some benefit has been seen in case studies but more research on the appropriate dose and dispensing of this substance is needed before its use can be recommended.

If you, or someone you care about, suffer from cluster headaches it may be worthwhile for them to explore these treatment options.  Speak to a Naturopathic Doctor to determine which treatments might work for you.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

References:

Beck E, Sieber WJ, Trejo R.  Management of Cluster Headache. Am Fam Physician 2005;71:717-24,728.

Dodick DW, Rozen TD, Goadsby PJ & Silberstein SD. Cluster headache. Cephalalgia 2000; 20:787-803.

Leone M, D’Amico D, Moschiano F, Fraschini F, Bussone G.  Melatonin versus placebo in the prophylaxis of cluster headache: a double-blind pilot study with parallel groups.  Cephalagia 1996; 16:494-6.

Marks DR, Rapoport A, Padla D, Weeks R, Rosum R, Sheftell F, et al. A double-blind placebo-controlled trial of intranasal capsaicin for cluster headache. Cephalalgia 1993;13:114-6.

Pringsheim T, Magnoux E, Dobson CF, Hamel E, Aube M. Melatonin as adjunctive therapy in the prophylaxis of cluster headache: a pilot study. Headache 2002;42:787-92.

Sewell AR, Halpern JH, Pope HG.  Response of cluster headache to psilocybin and LSD.  Neurology 2006;66:1920-1922.

Sicuteri F, et al. Capsaicin as a potential medication for cluster headache. Med Sci Res 1988;16:1079-1080.

Links

www.clusterheadaches.com
www.clusterbusters.com

 

Warming Socks

In my first year of Naturopathic medical school we learned a hydrotherapy technique that was lovingly referred to as “cold, wet socks”.  Sounds appealing doesn’t it?  Despite the name, the warming socks (as I prefer to call it) treatment is cheap, simple and effective.  And not nearly as unpleasant as the name would lead you to believe.

Why do Warming Socks?

Warming socks is a technique used to treat the common cold, influenza, sore throats, sinus infections, upper respiratory tract infections, headaches, head and chest congestion.

The treatment works by stimulating the body’s natural defences.  Warming socks is a type of “heating compress” – a hydrotherapy technique that causes the body to increase blood circulation in order to heat up the cold, wet socks.

This increase in blood circulation helps to relieve congestion and stimulates greater action of the immune system so that it is better able to fight the virus or bacteria causing the illness.

This treatment can also have a sedating effect, and many people report sleeping much better during the treatment.

It is best to start the warming socks treatment on the first day of an illness and repeat it for three nights in a row.  It is most effective as part of an integrated treatment plan including rest, hydration, proper nutrition and immune-boosting botanicals or supplements.

How to do Warming Socks

Equipment

One pair of thin cotton socks

One pair of thick wool socks

Sink or bucket filled with very cold (or iced) water

Tub or bucket filled with very warm water

A warm bed

Procedure

Step 1: Get ready for bed

Step 2: Put cotton socks in a sink of very cold, or iced, water.  Soak for a minute to saturate the socks then wring them out so that they do not drip.

Step 3: Place your bare feet into a tub or bucket of very warm water.
Soak your feet as long as you want, but make sure the water stays warm and so do your feet.

Step 4: Dry your feet with a towel and put the wet cotton socks on your feet.

Step 5: Immediately pull the dry wool socks over the wet socks.  You want the wool socks to completely cover the cotton socks.

Step 6: Go to bed right away.  Make sure your feet stay warm.

In the morning your feet will be warm and dry.  Symptoms of your cold and head or chest congestion will be diminished or gone.

Repeat the warming socks treatment for three nights in a row.  It can be used on adults and children but people with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems should consult with a Naturopathic Doctor before starting the warming socks treatment.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Green Living – Improving Air Quality with Common Houseplants

Houseplants for Cleaner Air
Gerbera Daisy – Gerbera jamesonii

Living indoor plants add a natural beauty to our homes and workplaces and offer a welcome glimpse of green in the depths of a Canadian winter, but did you know they can also purify the air we breathe and contribute to a healthy home and office?

NASA’s Plant Program

In the late 1980s NASA researchers began looking at houseplants as a potential means of cleansing the atmosphere in future space stations.They discovered that many common houseplants help diminish indoor air pollution by removing harmful gases from the air, through the simple processes of photosynthesis.Other pollutants are absorbed by the plants and rendered harmless in the soil.

Plants are known to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen but the NASA researchers found that many houseplants are also able to absorb benzene, formaldehyde and tricholoroethylene.

Indoor Air Pollutants and Sick Building Syndrome

These three chemicals (benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene) are among the most common airborne pollutants in new homes and offices.Newer buildings are constructed largely with synthetic materials containing these and other harmful materials which are known to “off-gas” pollutants into the indoor air.This “off-gassing” combined with heavily insulated buildings and reduced fresh air exchange resulted in an increased incidence of “sick building syndrome” (SBS), a medical syndrome associated with indoor air pollution and diminished air circulation.

Symptoms of SBS range from specific symptoms such as itchy eyes, skin rashes, and nasal allergy symptoms, to more vague symptoms such as fatigue, aches and pains, and sensitivity to odours.See Table 1 for symptoms associated with the different indoor air pollutants.

Table 1: Indoor Air Pollutants – Sources and Symptoms of Exposure

Air Pollutant

Source

Symptoms

Formaldehyde

Insulation
Particle boardPressed wood products (MDF – medium density fiberboard)
Consumer paper products
Carpet backing
Floor coverings
Water repellants
Fire retardants
Permanent-pressed clothes
Natural gas
Kerosene
Cigarette smoke

Eye irritation
Nose irritation
Throat irritation
Contact dermatitis (skin rashes)
Headaches
Asthma
Potential human carcinogen

Benzene

Inks
Oils
Paints
Plastics
Rubber
Detergents
Dyes

Skin irritation
Eye irritation
Dizziness
Weakness
Headache
Nausea
Blurred vision
Drowsiness
Potential human carcinogen

Trichloroethylene

Dry cleaning
Inks
Paints
Varnishes
Lacquers
Adhesives


Liver carcinogen

Shade Loving Plants – The Best Air Purifiers

Bamboo palm
Bamboo Palm – Chamaedorea sefritzii

The plants NASA determined to be most effective in purifying indoor air are plants that evolved in tropical or sub-tropical forests, where they received light filtered through the branches of taller trees.

Because of the low-light conditions in their natural environment these plants became very efficient photosynthesizers.They are able to absorb and neutralize gases in the air easily with only indirect sunlight.This feature also makes them excellent indoor plants because they don’t require direct sunlight to thrive and grow.

Allowing air to contact the soil increases the amount of air pollution that will be processed by the houseplants.Micro-organisms in the soil use trace amounts of airborne chemicals as a food source.Their effectiveness is increased if lower leaves that cover the soil surface are removed, allowing more air to contact the soil surface.

Choosing an Indoor Houseplant

Sansevieria trifasciata
Snake Plant or “Mother-in-law’s tongue”

The NASA studies recommend that you use 1 good-sized houseplant in a 6 to 8-inch diameter container for each 100 square feet of indoor space.A more heavily polluted environment would require a greater number of plants.And the better they grow, the better job they will do purifying the air for you!

The plants found to be most effective at cleansing indoor air pollution by NASA scientists are:

  • Hedera helix – English ivy
  • Chlorophytum comosum – Spider plant
  • Epipiremnum aureum – Golden pothos
  • Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa – Peace lily
  • Aglaonema modestum – Chinese evergreen
  • Chamaedorea sefritzii – Bamboo or reed palm
  • Sansevieria trifasciata – Snake plant or Mother-in-law’s tongue
  • Philodendron scandens ‘oxycardium’ – Heartleaf philodendron
  • Philodendron selloum – Selloum philodendron
  • Philodendron domesticum – Elephant ear philodendron
  • Dracaena marginata – Red-edged dracaena
  • Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’ – Cornstalk dracaena or Mass cane
  • Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’ – Janet Craig dracaena
  • Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’ – Warneck dracaena
  • Ficus benjamina – Weeping fig or Ficus
  • Gerbera jamesonii – Gerbera daisy
  • Chrysanthemum morifolium – Pot chrysanthemum

Resources:

Information taken from the NASA report Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, September 1989.Dr. B.C. Wolverton, Anne Johnson, and Keith Bounds, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, John C. Stennis Space Center, Science and Technology Laboratory, Stennis Space Center,MS 39529-6000.

Living indoor plants add a natural beauty to our homes and workplaces and offer a welcome glimpse of green in the depths of a Canadian winter, but did you know they can also purify the air we breathe and contribute to a healthy home and office?

NASA’s Plant Program

In the late 1980s NASA researchers began looking at houseplants as a potential means of cleansing the atmosphere in future space stations.  They discovered that many common houseplants help diminish indoor air pollution by removing harmful gases from the air, through the simple processes of photosynthesis.  Other pollutants are absorbed by the plants and rendered harmless in the soil.

Plants are known to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen but the NASA researchers found that many houseplants are also able to absorb benzene, formaldehyde and tricholoroethylene.

Indoor Air Pollutants and Sick Building Syndrome

These three chemicals (benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene) are among the most common airborne pollutants in new homes and offices.  Newer buildings are constructed largely with synthetic materials containing these and other harmful materials which are known to “off-gas” pollutants into the indoor air.  This “off-gassing” combined with heavily insulated buildings and reduced fresh air exchange resulted in an increased incidence of “sick building syndrome” (SBS), a medical syndrome associated with indoor air pollution and diminished air circulation.

Symptoms of SBS range from specific symptoms such as itchy eyes, skin rashes, and nasal allergy symptoms, to more vague symptoms such as fatigue, aches and pains, and sensitivity to odours.  See Chart 1 for symptoms associated with the different indoor air pollutants.

Chart 1: Indoor Air Pollutants – Sources and Symptoms of Exposure

If you live or work in an older building sick-building syndrome is not likely to affect you.  But if you live in a newer, energy-efficient home or work in a building with poor air circulation, the use of houseplants may help to alleviate some of the air quality issues in your indoor environment.

Shade Loving Plants – The Best Air Purifiers

The plants NASA determined to be most effective in purifying indoor air are plants that evolved in tropical or sub-tropical forests, where they received light filtered through the branches of taller trees.

Because of the low-light conditions in their natural environment these plants became very efficient photosynthesizers.  They are able to absorb and neutralize gases in the air easily with only indirect sunlight.  This feature also makes them excellent indoor plants because they don’t require direct sunlight to thrive and grow.

Allowing air to contact the soil increases the amount of air pollution that will be processed by the houseplants.  Micro-organisms in the soil use trace amounts of airborne chemicals as a food source.  Their effectiveness is increased if lower leaves that cover the soil surface are removed, allowing more air to contact the soil surface.

Choosing an Indoor Houseplant

The NASA studies recommend that you use 1 good-sized houseplant in a 6 to 8-inch diameter container for each 100 square feet of indoor space.  A more heavily polluted environment would require a greater number of plants.  And the better they grow, the better job they will do purifying the air for you!

The plants found to be most effective at cleansing indoor air pollution by NASA scientists are:

  • Hedera helix – English ivy
  • Chlorophytum comosum – Spider plant
  • Epipiremnum aureum – Golden pothos
  • Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa – Peace lily
  • Aglaonema modestum – Chinese evergreen
  • Chamaedorea sefritzii – Bamboo or reed palm
  • Sansevieria trifasciata – Snake plant or Mother-in-law’s tongue
  • Philodendron scandens ‘oxycardium’ – Heartleaf philodendron
  • Philodendron selloum – Selloum philodendron
  • Philodendron domesticum – Elephant ear philodendron
  • Dracaena marginata – Red-edged dracaena
  • Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’ – Cornstalk dracaena or Mass cane
  • Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’ – Janet Craig dracaena
  • Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’ – Warneck dracaena
  • Ficus benjamina – Weeping fig or Ficus
  • Gerbera jamesonii – Gerbera daisy
  • Chrysanthemum morifolium –  Pot chyrsanthemum

 

Resources:

Information taken from the NASA report Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, September 1989.  Dr. B.C. Wolverton, Anne Johnson, and Keith Bounds, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, John C. Stennis Space Center, Science and Technology Laboratory, Stennis Space Center,  MS 39529-6000.

Epsom Salts – Baths and Beyond

 

Epsom salt bath

There is nothing better in winter than a nice hot bath.  And a bath that was prescribed by your Naturopathic Doctor is even better.  Just tell your partner, roommate or kids that you *need* to spend 20 minutes enjoying a quiet soothing bath – your doctor told you to do it.

Why take an Epsom Salts bath?

An Epsom salts bath releases toxins and metabolic waste by enhancing perspiration.  Epsom salts also contain magnesium sulfate, which when absorbed by the body promotes muscle relaxation and relieves stiff, aching and cramped muscles.

Epsom salt baths can also be used to treat specific conditions.  Dry skin can benefit from Epsom salt baths as can genital herpes outbreaks.

The Epsom Salts bath

Step 1: Add two cups (approximately 600g) of Epsom salts to a hot bath (38 to 44 degrees Celsius or 100.4F to 111.2F).  Soak in the hot bath for 15 to 20 minutes.

Step 2: While in the bath wrap a cool wet towel around your neck (a hand towel dipped in cold water works well) and drink cool filtered water to replace fluids that are lost.

Step 3: When finished the bath, cool your body down with a cool shower or a cool sponge bath – starting from the feet and moving upwards.

Step 4: Rest for 15 to 30 minutes after the bath for maximal relaxation and therapeutic impact.

Additional notes:

  • Do not use soaps while in the Epsom salt bath.
  • Taking an Epsom salt bath after a massage can enhance and lengthen the effect of a massage.
  • Take an Epsom salt bath two to three times per week for best results.

Other Uses for Epsom Salts

Epsom salts can be used to treat acne and skin blemishes.   Mix 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts in ½ cup of warm water.  Wash face with the mixture twice daily.  Use just once daily if you have very sensitive or dry skin.  Discontinue use if skin irritation occurs.  You could also use a poultice and apply just to blemishes (see below for instructions on how to make a poultice).

A Epsom salts poultice can also be used to draw out boils, carbuncles or abscesses.  The salts are a natural antiseptic and antimicrobial and help to absorb the moisture from the area, drying out the boil.  Use a poultice and apply to the affected area for 5 to 10 minutes then rinse with cool water.

HOW TO MAKE AN EPSOM SALTS POULTICE

Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts in a glass bowl

Add just enough warm water to make a thick paste

Apply to blemishes, boils, carbuncles, abscesses or herpes outbreaks once to twice daily

Leave on skin for 5 to 10 minutes then rinse off with cool water

Caution!

Epsom salt baths are relaxing to your body and mind but are stimulating to your circulatory system.  It is not recommended for people with high blood pressure or severe varicose veins to use Epsom salt baths.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

References

Boyle, Wade and Saine, Andre.  Lectures in Naturopathic Hydrotherapy.  1988.

Rosemary Waring Absorption of magnesium sulphate through the skin (republished by the Epsom Salt Council), 2004

10 Things You Need to Know About Vitamin D

The importance of Vitamin D to health can not be underestimated.  It is the only vitamin that our body makes from exposure to sunlight.  Learn 10 important things about the “sunshine vitamin” and discover the impact Vitamin D can have on your health.

1. Vitamin D is made from sunlight

Vitamin D SunriseVitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because our skin produces vitamin D from the sun’s ultraviolet light (UVB).  Our skin can make enough vitamin D in 30 minutes with just our face, hands and feet exposed.  Full body exposure for 15 minutes can produce between 10 000 – 20 000IU (international units) of vitamin D3.  However, many factors influence our body’s ability to produce vitamin D: complexion, use of sunscreen, cloud cover, smog, time of day, latitude and season.

Individuals with darker complexions make less vitamin D than fair-skinned people.  Studies estimate that half of all women of African descent living in northern latitudes are vitamin D deficient.

Sunscreen use is important for the prevention of skin cancer but it has the unfortunate effect of blocking vitamin D production by blocking UVB rays from reaching our skin.

Cloud cover can reduce UVB energy by 50%, shade reduces it by 60%.  UVB rays do not penetrate glass, so exposure to sunshine indoors does not promote vitamin D production.

2. Vitamin D deficiency is a major concern during Canadian autumns and winters

Latitude has a lot to do with vitamin D status.  Due to our northern latitude the majority of Canadians have insufficient vitamin D levels during the fall and winter months.  One study demonstrated that in Canada from November through February UVB rays aren’t strong enough for our bodies to produce enough vitamin D.

Vitamin D stores in our bodies are quickly depleted during the early autumn months leading to insufficient levels during the late autumn and winter.  Vitamin D is stored in the blood for a few weeks and in fat tissue for a few months.

The average vitamin D level in late winter for American and Canadians is approximately 15-18ng/ml – levels below 20ng/ml are considered seriously deficient.

3. Vitamin D can help prevent Influenza and the Common Cold

Pediatric Naturopathic MedicineEach year more studies are showing a relationship between low vitamin D levels and incidence of colds, influenza and other respiratory tract infections.

People with higher vitamin D levels experience fewer respiratory illnesses and when they do get sick the illness is milder and shorter.  The Public Health Agency of Canada is currently investigating the role of vitamin D in the protection against season influenza and the H1N1 (swine flu) strain.

Vitamin D levels in your blood are at their lowest point during flu season.  Your body uses vitamin D to make antimicrobial peptides – the body’s natural antibiotics.  When vitamin D is deficient you make fewer peptides and are more vulnerable to illness.

Infants and children are a population where respiratory tract infections can have serious health implications.  Infants and children with lower levels of vitamin D are more susceptible to viral infections.

Vitamin D supplementation may be used to prevent or treat influenza.  To treat influenza larger doses of vitamin D3 may be needed.  It is best to consult with a Naturopathic Doctor if you are considering taking high doses of vitamin D as it can be toxic in high doses.

4. Vitamin D may prevent Cancer

You might not know it, but the connection between vitamin D status and cancer is well established in the scientific community.  Adequate levels of vitamin D have been shown to decrease the risk of developing over 16 different types of cancer including breast, ovarian, prostate, pancreatic, colon, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and lung cancer. It is also an important part of integrative cancer treatment protocols.

A study by Dr. W. Grant, vitamin D expert, found that about 30 percent of all cancer deaths (2 million worldwide) could be prevented each year with higher levels of vitamin D.

Vitamin D can protect against cancer in several ways, including:

  • Increased self-destruction (apoptosis) of mutated cells
  • Reduced spread (metastasis) and reproduction (proliferation) of cancer cells
  • Increased differentiation of cells (cancer cells often lack differentiation)
  • Reduced growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones, which is a step in the transition of dormant tumors turning cancerous

Other studies have estimated that you can decrease your risk of developing cancer by more than half by optimizing vitamin D levels.

5. Vitamin D is essential for bone health

Vitamin D is necessary for healthy bonesVitamin D deficiency results in childhood rickets and in osteomalacia (under-mineralized bone) in adults.  Without sufficient vitamin D bones become thin, brittle or misshapen.

Osteoporosis is a very common disease in North America.  It is characterized by fragile bones that significantly increase the risk of fracture.  Long term vitamin D insufficiency is associated with the development of osteoporosis.  Supplementing calcium and vitamin D can help protect adults from developing osteoporosis.  Vitamin D is necessary to allow the body to absorb calcium, either from dietary or supplemental sources.  Vitamin D also lowers the risk of fractures in people with osteoporosis.

6. Vitamin D can decrease the risk of Auto-Immune diseases

Vitamin D is one hard working vitamin!  Not only can it decrease the risk of cancer, common cold, influenza and osteoporosis, but it can also decrease the risk of developing several auto-immune diseases.  Conditions such as autism, type I diabetes mellitus, schizophrenia and rheumatoid arthritis all have been correlated with low levels of vitamin D.

One auto-immune condition has been studied extensively with relation to vitamin D status.  Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic auto-immune disease that occurs almost exclusively in extreme latitudes and rarely near the equator.  In MS the immune system attacks the body’s own cells as “foreign”, causes vision changes and muscle weakness.  Adequate vitamin D levels may decrease the incidence of MS.  It is also an important integrative treatment for people with MS.

7. Vitamin D is essential for children and breastfed infants

Levels of vitamin D in breast milk have been found to be lower than needed for proper growth and development in infants (breast milk contains about 25IU/litre).  Because of this finding breastfed infants are recommended to be supplemented with 400IU of vitamin D daily (formula is also supplemented with vitamin D).  Supplementing at this young age could have life-long benefits.

Older children and adolescents also benefit from vitamin D supplements.  The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests supplementing all children to ensure adequate vitamin D levels.

8. Vitamin D can help prevent Type I and Type II Diabetes

More obese adults are deficient in vitamin D than same-age adults with normal weights.   A large percentage of adults with type II diabetes are also obese.  60% of people with type II diabetes have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood.  If you are obese, supplementing with vitamin D may help decrease your risk of developing type II diabetes.  If you already have type II diabetes supplementing with vitamin D can help improve insulin sensitivity.

Scientific studies have also established a link between type I diabetes and vitamin D levels.  Deficient levels of vitamin D are frequently found in patients diagnosed with type I diabetes and some research supports supplementation of vitamin D to decrease the risk of type I diabetes.  Children supplemented with vitamin D were also found to be less likely to develop type I diabetes.

9. Vitamin D levels can be tested – and should be!

The only way to determine the correct dose of vitamin D for you to take is to get your blood levels tested.  There are currently 2 different vitamin D tests available.  The best one is 25-hydroxyvitamin D.  This is a better marker of overall vitamin D status than 1,25-hydroxyvitamin D.

Vitamin D levels should be tested for three reasons.

  1. Vitamin D requirements are different for everyone. Depending on your age, colour of your skin, weight, and latitude of the town you live in, you could need anywhere from 400IU to over 10 000IU per day!
  2. Vitamin D can be toxic in excessive doses. Vitamin D accumulates in fat tissues where it is stored for a few months.  Vitamin D overdose causes hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the blood), dehydration and tissue calcification.  Blood tests showing levels of greater than 200nmol/L of vitamin D are toxic.  It is very difficult to reach this level through sunlight exposure or nutritional sources of vitamin D.  Toxicity has been seen with long term supplementation of excessive levels of vitamin D.  Having your blood levels tested will ensure you are not taking excessive dosages of vitamin D.
  3. Vitamin D insufficiency is often asymptomatic. It is possible to have low levels of vitamin D in your body and not be aware of it.  The only way to know you have optimal levels of vitamin D is to test for it.

Vitamin D Levels (25-hydroxyvitamin D)

Deficient Insufficient Optimal Cancer therapy Excess
<25ng/ml <35ng/ml 50-65ng/ml 65-90ng/ml >100ng/ml
<20nmol/L <40-80nmol/L 80-120nmol/L 120-160nmol/L >200nmol/L

10. Not all Vitamin D supplements are created equal

gel cap skyThere are two types of vitamin D available; Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).  Only Vitamin D3 should be used for supplementation.  Vitamin D2 is a synthetic form of Vitamin D and does not impact vitamin D stores in our bodies in the way Vitamin D3 does.  Vitamin D3 is the natural form, the same form our bodies create from sun exposure.

Vitamin D3 is better absorbed in a liquid form.  Several companies make liquid Vitamin D3.

Food sources of Vitamin D3 (fortified milk, fish, cod liver oil, egg yolk, mushrooms) are often insufficient to maintain optimal levels of Vitamin D3.  Especially during the winter months in Canada, supplementation is necessary.

As of 2012, the conventional RDAs (recommended daily allowances) in Canada are only:

  • 400 IU for infants and children
  • 600 IU for adolescents and adults aged 9-70
  • 800 IU for adults over 70
  • 600 IU for pregnant and breastfeeding women

These levels are completely inadequate for maintaining optimal health, especially in the autumn and winter months in Canada.  The only way to determine an adequate (and safe) dosage of Vitamin D is with a blood test.  However, general guidelines from the scientific literature suggest a dosage of:

Vitamin D3 Dosage Guidelines

35IUs of Vitamin D3 per pound of body weight

For a child weighing 40 pounds, a dosage of approximately 1400 IU would be reasonable and for a 160 pound adult the dose would be approximately 5600 IU’s.  This dosage is for a fair skinned healthy young adult.  It is a guideline only and does not suggest that all adults and children should be taking these doses.

Conclusion

Achieving adequate levels of vitamin D is important!  Reduce your risk of cancer, influenza, respiratory tract infections, diabetes, auto-immune diseases and improve your bone health and overall health with just one vitamin supplement daily.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Amodeo. www.flickr.com/jamieamodeo

Photo Credit: ellesmere FNC via Compfight cc

Resources:

Aloia JF, Ni-Ng M.  Re: epidemic influenza and vitamin D.  Epidemiol Infect.  2007 Oct;135(7):1095-6; author reply 1097-8.

Aloia JF, Patel M, Dimaano R, Li-Ng M, et al.  Vitamin D intake to attain a desired serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration.  Am J Clin Nutr.  2008 Jun;87(6): 1952-8.

Autier P, Gandini S.  Vitamin D Supplementation and Total Mortality: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.  Arch Intern Med.  2007 Sep 10;167(16):1730-7.

Cannell JJ, Vieth R, Umhau JC, et al.  Epidemic influenza and vitamin D.  Epidemiol Infect.  2006 Dec;134(6):1129-40.

Cannell JJ, Zasloff M, Garland CF, Scragg R, Giovannucci E.  On the epidemiology of influenza.  Virol J.  2008 Feb 25;5:29.

Ginde AA, et al.  Association between serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level and upper respiratory tract infection in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.  Arch Intern Med.  2009 Feb 23;169(4):384-90.

Grant WB. An estimate of premature cancer mortality in the United States due to inadequate doses of solar ultraviolet-B radiation, Cancer, 2002b;94:1867-75

Grant WB.  Geographic variation of prostate cancer mortality rates in the USA; implications for prostate cancer risk related to vitamin D; Int. J. Cancer, 2004 Sep 1;111(3):470-1

Grant WB. Lower vitamin-D production from solar ultraviolet-B irradiance may explain some differences in cancer survival rates.  J Natl Med Assoc.  2006 Mar;98(3):357-64.

Gordon CM, Feldman HA, Sinclair L, et al.  Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency Among Healthy Infants and Toddlers.  Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.  2008;162[6]:505-512.

Health Canada, Vitamin D and Calcium: Updated Dietary Reference Intakes: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/vitamin/vita-d-eng.php

Holick MF.  Calcium and Vitamin D.  Diagnostics and Therapeutics.  Clin Lab Med.  2000 Sep;20(3):569-90

Holick MF. High prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy and implications for health. Mayo Clin Proc. 2006

Mar;81(3):353-73

Hypponen E, Laara E, Reunana A, Jarvelin MR, Virtanen SM.  Intake of vitamin D and risk of type 1 diabetes: a birth-cohort study.  Lancet.  2001;358:1500-3.

Ingraham BA, Bragdon B, Nohe A.  Molecular basis of the potential of vitamin D to prevent cancer.  Curr Med Res Opin.  2008;24:139-49.

Laaksi I, et al.  An association of serum vitamin D concentrations <40nmol/L with acute respiratory tract infection in young Finnish men.  Am J Clin. Nutr.  2007 Sep;86(3):714-7.

Mayo Clinic Information Sheets: www.mayoclinic.com/health/vitamin-d/NS_patient-vitamind”>vitaminD

Dr. Mercola website: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2004/03/31/cancer-sunlight.aspx

Merlino LA, Curtis J, Mikuls TR, et al.  Vitamin D intake is inversely associated with rheumatoid arthritis: results from the Iowa Women’s Health Study.  Arthritis Rheum.  2004;50:72-7.

Munger KL, Levin Ll, Hollis BW, Howard NS, Ascherio A.  Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and risk of multiple sclerosis.  JAMA.  2006 Dec 20;296(23):2832-8.

Robsahm TE, Tretli S, Dahlback A, Moan J.  Vitamin D(3) from sunlight may improve the prognosis of breast-, colon- and prostate cancer (Norway).  Cancer Causes Control.  2004;15:149-58.

Wagner CL, Greer FR: American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding: American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition.  Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in infants, children, and adolescents.  Pediatrics 2008;122:1142-52.

Webb AR, Kline L, Holick MF.  Influence of season and latitude on the cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D3: exposure to winter sunlight in Boston and Edmonton will not promote vitamin D3 synthesis in human skin.  J Clin Endocrinol Metabl.  1988;67:373-8.

Zella JB, DeLuca HF.  Vitamin D and autoimmune diabetes.  J Cell Biochem.  2003;88:216-22