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Archive for August, 2008

I debated on how best to present this information to you, my reader.  Why the difficulty?  Well, you see, I’m not a big believer in popping my morning vitamins.  Not that it isn’t very important to get the proper vitamins.  It absolutely is.
However, I believe that it is exceptionally important to get them from the most effective source possible and I am convinced that the best source of vital vitamins and nutrients is food.
Of course, vitamin makers and pharmaceutical companies would disagree, but most everyone else is becoming aware of the dangers associated with trying to get all your daily vitamins from a pill.  I could point you to several studies done on this very subject, but that isn’t what I want this post to focus on.  A quick Google search will turn up enough results for you to do your own investigation.
Regardless of what the commercials tell you, it is actually quite easy to gain all the vitamins necessary from simply eating a balanced, colorful diet.  Yes, colorful.  Red, green, purple, blue, yellow…the more colorful the better!
So, we’ll start at ‘A’ and work our way through to ‘Z’.  I’ll cover the benefits of the vitamin, as well as a few delicious natural sources of it.  This is by no means a complete list and you may find that it grows with time.  It is likely going to be a 3-5  post series, as well, as there are a lot of vitamins to cover!

Vitamin A
Also known as retinol.  You’ve probably heard that it’s good for your eyes, but why, and what else is it good for?
Specifically, it promotes healthy eyes and is necessary for helping your eyes to adjust to light changes.  There is much more to Vitamin A than eye health, though.  It is also necessary for healthy skin and teeth, skeletal and soft tissue,  and the mucous membranes.
Vitamin A is also known as a
carotenoid.  A cartenoid is a dark colored dye that is found in plants and is capable of turning into a form of Vitamin A.  A little confusing?  Yeah, I know.  Basically, if a food contains carotenoids it will convert to Vitamin A when consumed.  One of the more common forms of a carotenoid is beta-carotene, which is a wonderful antioxidant.
Antioxidants help protect our bodies from damaged caused by free-radicals.  Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and macular degeneration can all be helped by antioxidants. Antioxidants also enhance the immune system.  A lack of Vitamin A can cause poor vision, leave you prone to infections and diarrhea and some other nasty symptoms.  Too much Vitamin A can cause nausea, irritability, blurred vision, growth retardation, hair loss, an enlarged spleen and liver, birth defects and may be linked to increased risk of bone fractures.  Oh, yeah…and it can turn your skin orange.
Pretty, no?
If you are relying on a pill for your vitamin A, be wary.  The source is not natural and it is absorbed by your system differently than when you are getting it from food.  To avoid overdosing on vitamin A while still getting the needed daily dose, try munching on some of these foods:
eggs        meat         milk        cheese       cream       beef liver          kidney        cod       halibut fish oil
Natural sources of beta-carotene include:
carrots       pumpkin        sweet potatoes        winter squashes          cantaloupe
pink grapefruit         apricots        broccoli        spinach       dark green, leafy vegetables


Vitamin B
The ‘B’ vitamins are actually six individual vitamins that are often lumped together and called ‘B complex’.   As a whole, the B vitamins are necessary for breaking down carbohydrates into glucose, thus providing energy for the body,  breaking down  fats and proteins which aids the functioning of the nervous system, providing muscle tone in the stomach and intestinal tract and for maintaining the health of the skin, hair, mouth, eyes and liver.  It is rare to find Vitamin B deficiency in the US, but is common in many countries where good nutrition is an issue.  B Vitamin supplements are not needed in most people, providing you have a well-rounded diet. As you will see, it is readily available in  many common foods.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
B1 converts food into energy and is essential for maintaining the health of the nervous system, muscular system and cardiovascular system.    Thiamine deficiency is most often seen in alcoholics.  It can cause many problems including anemia, paralysis, muscle spasms, short-term memory problems, sensitivity of the teeth, cheeks and gums, as well as cracked lips.  No health issues are associated with too much B1 because the body simply eliminates the excess.  The best sources of Vitamin B1 are:
whole-grain cereals           bread          red meat           egg yolks           green leafy vegetables           legumes       sweet corn          brown rice            berries           yeast                                  the germ and husks of grains and nuts

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Riboflavin works in conjunction with other B vitamins to process calories from carbohydrates, protein and fat.  It is necessary for growth and red cell production, as well as healthy skin and good vision.  While B2 deficiency is rare, it can cause skin disorders, inflammation of the soft tissue lining around the mouth and nose, anemia and  light-sensitivity.  It can cause painful cracks to develop at the corners of your lips, and inflammation of the tongue.  As with B1, excess Riboflavin is eliminated from the body, so overdosing on B2 is unlikely.   Good sources of B2 include:
whole-grain products            milk           meat              eggs             cheese             peas

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Niacin is essential for converting calories from protein, fat and carbohydrates into energy, aiding the  function of the digestive system, maintaining a normal appetite and for healthy skin and nerves and reducing LDL cholesterol.  Niacin deficiency can cause pellagra, a disease that, in times past,  was often associated with the very poor and was a major cause of mental illness. The symptoms of pellagra are red and painful tongue, diarrhea, dermatitis and dementia, and, ultimately, death.  This is one of the few B vitamins that can cause negative side effects when too much is taken.  High
doses of niacin can include flushed skin, itching, headaches, cramps, nausea and skin eruptions. Good sources of Niacin include:
meats    fish     brewer’s yeast     milk       eggs       legumes       potatoes           peanuts

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
Don’t recognize this one?   Maybe you will recognize it by one of it’s more common associations ~panthenol D.  Remember the girl who swings her long, shiny  hair around in front of the camera while that narrator announces, “made with Panthenol D!”?  B5 is where Panthenol D comes from. It is thought to make hair more manageable, softer, and shinier by filling in cracks in the hair shaft.  While I wouldn’t recommend their product, I would recommend vitamin B5.
Yes, this vitamin, like the others in the B complex, is needed to break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats for energy.  There is so much more to this vitamin, though!
Vitamin B5 is highly valuable in the secretion of hormones, such as cortisone, because of its role in supporting the adrenal gland. used in the release of energy as well as the metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrates. It is used in the creation of lipids, neurotransmitters, steroid hormones and hemoglobin.  These hormones assist the metabolism,  fight allergies and help maintain healthy skin, muscles and nerves.
We aren’t done yet, though.  Vitamin B5 is critical to the manufacture of red blood cells,  sex and stress-related hormones produced in the adrenal glands, maintaining a healthy digestive tract and it helping the body use other vitamins (particularly B2 [riboflavin]) more effectively. It is also thought to  enhance the activity of the immune system and improve the body’s ability to withstand stressful conditions.
Acne sufferers may find Vitamin B5 beneficial also.  It helps the skin more readily absorb other nutrients and promotes healing.
B5 deficiency can cause fatigue, insomnia, depression, irritability, vomiting, stomach pains, burning feet, and upper respiratory infections.
Good sources of B5 include:
brewer’s yeast          corn         cauliflower         kale        broccoli          tomatoes     avocado         legumes        lentils          egg yolks
turkey duck milk beef~ especially organ meats such as liver and kidney         chicken    split peas  peanuts         soybeans      sweet potatoes        sunflower seeds salmon
whole-grain breads and cereals                  lobster             wheat germ

*Note:
Pantothenic acid can be lost in cooking, when exposed to acids like vinegar, or alkali such as baking soda and,  to a large degree, in canning.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
B6 is essential for red blood cell production  and is needed for more than 100 enzymes involved in protein metabolism.  It assists the immune system and promotes the growth of new cells.  It has been linked to cancer immunity and fights the formation of homocysteine, a chemical detrimental to the heart muscle.  It helps maintain the health of lymphoid organs (thymus, spleen, and lymph nodes) that make your white blood cells, also.  B6 is a valuable ingredient for controlling your mood and  behavior and studies suggest that it may benefit  children with learning difficulties.
It is known to help balance  hormonal changes in women  and helps with pre-menstrual fluid retention, severe period pains, emotional PMS symptoms, premenstrual acne and nausea in early pregnancy.  It is also valuable in the prevention of dandruff, eczema and psoriasis.
Deficiency of B5 can produce  mood swings, depression, loss of sexual drive, dermatitis, glossitis (a sore tongue), depression, confusion, and convulsions
Good sources of B6 include:
brewer’s yeast       eggs     poultry      pork    carrots        fish         liver          kidneys    peas       wheat germ       walnuts      soybeans       oats       whole grains           banana

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It’s Thursday night and your perfectionist-in-laws are arriving at your house tomorrow.  You know your mother-in-law is going to be scrutinizing the inner rim of your toilet bowl.  She’ll also be  wrinkling her nose at the lingering smell of last-nights fish that you cooked a little too long.  You truly want to be environmentally friendly, but this is an emergency!  In desperation, you reach for the Clorox and break out that plug-in air-freshener  while spraying Oust and Febreeze on every exposed surface.  You can be environmentally friendly later, right?

Been there.

The good news is, you don’t have to do that ever again!  While none of these recipes can boast, “scrubbing bubbles that cut your work time in half”, they do work quite well and won’t leave behind that chemical-smell that has your family rubbing their eyes and noses for hours.

A few things to keep in mind:

You won’t get the same foaming action from natural products that you do from commercial products.  Less foam does not mean less cleaning power.

You won’t get the same ‘squeaky clean’ feel  with natural products.  As with skin and hair care, that ‘squeaky clean’ doesn’t really mean ‘clean’.

Natural cleansers sometime require a bit more muscle and time than commercial products to produce the same effect.

Let’s take a look of some traditional ‘natural cleansers’.

Vinegar

Most cleaning recipes call for white vinegar.  It is cheap and effective.  I like to be a bit unconventional, though.  I prefer cider vinegar.  It is a little more potent and it’s what I usually have on hand.

Vinegar is said to do everything from cleaning your coffee pot to removing chewing gum, but does it really work?  Well, if you have read any of my other posts, you know I’m a proponent of blending ingredients for the best effect and vinegar is no exception.  Of course, there are a few exceptions to that exception.  Namely, when cleaning your coffee maker.  A straight vinegar/water mix is all that is necessary.

How does vinegar work?  White vinegar is usually derived from alcohol and contains appx 5% acetic acid, which is corrosive, so is capable of working like some of the commercial cleansers by ‘eating’ away dirt and oils, but it uses a natural process that is friendly to both the environment and our bodies.  It also contains tartaric and citric acid.  These are weak acids, but effective for cleaning and sanitizing, nonetheless.

Sodium Bicarbonate

Baking soda is mainly  used as a washing powder and scrubbing agent.  It works wonderfully for safely scrubbing everything from metal pans to teeth.  It has the added benefit of being a natural deodorizer.  A small cup placed in your fridge, on the bathroom sink or in the corner of the closet will eliminate many of the stinky odors that are otherwise difficult to get rid of.

Lemon Juice

Much like vinegar, the lemon contains natural acids that work wonderfully for breaking up mineral deposits, eliminating odors and sanitizing.  Lemon is also bleach alternative.

Borax

This is used as a natural laundry booster, multipurpose cleaner, fungicide, preservative, insecticide, herbicide and disinfectant.

Castille Soap

This can be either a powder or liquid, but I prefer the liquid form.  It is most often made from olive oil, though other oils can be used.  Like any soap, it draws dirt and oil to it so that you can wipe or rinse it away.

Cornstarch

Cornstarch is most often used to pull out oils from fabrics like clothing, carpets and upholstery.  It attracts the oil and eliminates the stain safely.

Essential Oils

It only requires a few drops of essential oil in a mix to make it antibacterial and there are many to choose from.  We’ll look at some of the most effective oils.  When used in a cold-air diffuser,  these don’t just mask odors.  They actually alter the structure of the molecules that are causing odors, thereby eliminating them.  They also increase the amount of oxygen in the air.

This is a simple list, but these basic ingredients have all been used for hundreds (sometimes thousands) of years to clean both our bodies and our homes.  Please, don’t make the mistake of thinking that these ingredients have no negative effects, though.  If you soak your hands in strait lemon juice or vinegar for an extended period of time, you are going to have problems.   If you spray boric acid (borax) in your eyes, it is going to burn and cause damage.  Use some common sense, please.  The recipes and information to follow is intended for cleaning and you should use some basic precautions.  Keep them away from small children and don’t spray them in your eyes/ears/nose/mouth.  That should do it.

General All-Purpose Cleaner:

1 part distilled water

1 part vinegar

1 Tbsp Borax

5 drops each essential oils of  lavender, peppermint and tea tree

This can be used to clean tile, plastic, glass, mirrors, ceramic and vinyl.  It contains ingredients known to be both anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and antiseptic.  It will eliminate odors, germs and minor stains on surfaces.  I keep a bottle of this handy.  Don’t worry.  The smell dissipates when dry.

Abbrasive Cleanser

Lemon slices

2 parts Baking Soda

1 part Salt(common table salt)

Sprinkle the salt/baking soda on the area to be scrubbed (tub, toilet, pots and pans, etc).  Squeeze the lemon gently and scrub over the area to be cleaned.

Air Freshener/Disinfectant

Any of the following essential oils are wonderful for cleaning the air and neutralizing odors.  Add 5-7 drops to 1cup distilled water.  This can be used as an air freshener or sprayed on linens, carpets or any other place you need to eliminate odor and sanitize.

orange

lemon

peppermint

tea tree

eucalyptus

lavender

lemongrass

Dish Washing Liquid

1 cup castile soap

1 Tbsp borax

5-7 drops essential oils (see list above)

Mix well and use as you would normal dish soap.

Laundry soap

1/2 cup vinegar

1/4 cup baking soda

Add to laundry and wash as usual.  This will help with both odor and stains, as well as adding softness to both the water and the clothes.

Another fantastic tip for keeping the air in your home clean and odorless is to load up on the plants.  Live plants remove toxins and odors from the air and physically clean  and purify the air.  They work amazingly well for removing even the toughest odors like cigarette smoke and burnt food.    Here is a very informative article concerning a study preformed by NASA.  It’s definitely worth a read.

So, there you have it.  Some of the simplest cleaning products that are probably already in your cabinet.  Give some of them a try and you just might find yourself throwing out all the commercial products you’ve accumulated!

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If a menopausal woman has pain or makes trouble, pound her hard on the jaw ~~ Egyptian Proverb, 2000 bc

I laugh every time I read that quote.  While in the throes of a menopausal attack of hot flashes and mood swings,  I have more than once asked my husband to knock me unconscious.   A sore jaw seems a small price to pay for a bit of relief!  To date, he has strongly refused.

The truth is, I know how to control them.  Its implementing the necessary tools that causes me a problem.  I mean, really…between running a business, keeping up a blog, playing in the Etsy forums and being a wife and mom, where would I ever find 20 minutes to do a round of yoga and drink a cup of herbal tea?  Well, okay, maybe it’s a bit more complicated than that.  I should really meditate more often and cut back on the coffee.

Let me just clarify something up front.  I’m an herbalist.  That pretty much means that I believe in the power of many natural healing methods.  So, while my attitude may seem flippant, I assure you that I am entirely serious.  I also want to be clear that the following post is what has worked for me.   That does not mean this particular regimine will work for you or your sister or your sister’s best friend.

Early menopause is predominant in the women in my family.  For me, it started at 33.  It was mild, at first.  Hot flashes here and there, memory blips, occasional night sweats.  No big deal.  I smiled to myself, wondering what all the fuss was about.  At 35, I finally understood.  I woke up one day drenched in sweat.  Suddenly, no matter what the temperature might be, it was too damned hot.  I was becoming intolerably crabby all the time and I could barely remember to go to the grocery store, let alone what I was supposed to get once I was there.

I had to do something and my options were relatively limited.  Hormone therapy or natural alternatives.  Dude, I’m an herbalist, but I’m human, too.  I wanted relief and fast!  So, I decided to read up on hormones.  See just how they worked, where they came from, what were the side effects.  It took me about an hour to solidify my decision.  I wouldn’t take hormones if they coated them in chocolate and wrapped them in dollar bills.

This information is simply the result of my research that led to my decision.  I didn’t write the information and if you have some solid proof against any of the info presented, I would dearly love to be made aware of it.  To date, despite 2.5 years of further research I have found nothing to dispute any of my original information.

First, I checked out the top choice for menopause help.  Estrogen.  I went to this website and read up on one of the most popular estrogen treatments.  I learned that it can cause heart attacks, strokes, breast and uterine cancer and blood clots.  It can also increase your chances of developing dementia, especially in women over 65.  The good news was that, since I was well under 65, I probably wouldn’t have to worry about the dementia.

The next problem that I had with estrogen pills is their origin.  I’ll admit that I laughed when I first read about it.  I thought it was one of those crazy rumors.  Surely it was wrong.  But it wasn’t.  Fresh Pregnant Mare Urine, anyone?  Think I’m lying?  Spreading tales?   Check this out.

Patent info on obtaining estrogen from mare urine

PETA‘s info on the subject

Project Aware

Another informative website

Another great resource that goes deeper into the research that led to the use of animal urine is the book, “The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed On Women‘ by Barbara Seaman.

After thinking it through, I realized that it really wasn’t so far fetched.  For many decades, medical testing was done on animals freely and openly.   They were fed toxins and untested medicines, injected with diseases, untested ‘cures’ and things we never want to hear about.  Every imaginable part of their bodies were used in the name of ‘finding a cure’.   Why not the urine?  The principle behind it is sound and there is no question that the mare urine contains potent estrogens.  It is what it is and no one is really disputing this fact.

Not wanting to be accused of only looking at one side of the issue, I wanted to check out a few pro-estrogen places, too.  I couldn’t really find any, except for the websites of the companies promoting the estrogen.  Bio-Medicine says don’t take it.  A Consumer’s Report says way back in 1976 that estrogen is dangerous, too, which really makes me wonder why it is STILL being offered, but I won’t go there right now.  I found lots more sites, medical and alternative, warning against estrogen, but didn’t really come up with any pro’s on the topic.

So, that left natural therapy.  Ah, well, I suppose I knew the answer before I ever started my research.  I chalked the experience up to a re-solidification of my choice to be a naturalist.   I put back on my herbalist-mantle and got to work.

My new line of research included going as far back in history as I could.  How did the Ancients treat menopause?  Did they even have menopause back then?  Yes, they did.  And they used some crazy, but effective, means of treating it.   Ever heard of Ovariin?  It was offered by Merck (yes, the some pharmaceutical company that we have in this century) in 1897 and was derived from the dried, pulverized ovaries of a cow.   It worked, but it was really gross, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t have a dead cow handy, so Ovariin was kinda out of the question.

I turned to my herb cabinet and found a few answers.

Black Cohosh:  Great for help with hot flashes, mood disturbances, palpitations, and vaginal dryness.  It is believed to work by binding estrogen receptors and has been used for centuries.  Black cohosh is being investigated for a possible link to liver damage, but so far, all of the cases involoved have other medical conditions that are believed to contribute to the situation.  Read this article for more info.

St John’s Wort Works wonders on the mood swings.  The down side of taking St Johns Wort is that it will interfere with the effectiveness of other medications you may be taking.  It speeds up the breakdown of the medicines so they become less effective.

Ginkgo This herb is fantastic for those memory lapses.  This herb has been studied in-depth and has proven effective for help with improving brain function.  Ginkgo has been shown to thin the blood, so don’t take ginkgo if you are currently taking other blood-thinners, natural or synthetic.

Sage contains plant estrogens and works well for helping with night sweats and  hot flashes.

These are the herbs traditionally used to treat menopause.  However, there is something within me that forces me to look outside the traditional means.  I have added these herbs to my personal list of ‘menopause’ herbs.

Peppermint I use peppermint a lot.  It is a system stimulant and has an effect of nearly every major organ of the body.  It prods the system into working correctly, promotes circulation, soothes and invigorates.   It eases belly aches, diminishes cramps, soothes a headache, calms heartburn and helps cleanse the system.

Dandelion is a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc.  Dandelion roots and leaves have been used to treat liver problems,  kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, stomach upset, digestive disorders, appendicitis, breast problems (such as inflammation or lack of milk flow), fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, diarrhea, as an appetite stimulant, digestive aid, and for liver and gallbladder function and  to stimulate the excretion of urine.   I think that about covers the entire system.   No negative effects have been reported.

So, I had my herbal concoction ready.  I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t work immediately.  It took almost a week to really notice a difference.  That’s the only negative I can come up with.  Even the prescriptions don’t completely knock out the symptoms of menopause, so I don’t complain too much about the occasional hot flash.

But, I did want to get rid of it completely, so I set out on another research mission and found that several yoga poses are recommended for help controlling menopause.  This site has some fabulous suggestions that I have incorporated into my yoga routine.  I try to do 25 minutes of yoga at least 3 times a week.  I said I try.  I don’t always succeed, and I definitely feel it when I don’t take the time to do it!

I’ve also changed my diet, but I have been doing that for the last 10 years.  I find I have much more energy and I’m more alert and coherent when I get plenty of fresh fruits and veggies.  Canned and frozen do NOT provide the same level of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

And, finally, I try to meditate whenever I get the chance.  Simply quieting the mind and breathing properly provide amazing benefits, both physical and spiritual.   This site has some great info on meditation and other alternative health issues.

I’ll leave you with this quote that I ran across.  It is by George Napheys in his 1869 book, ‘The Physical Life of Woman:  Advice to the Maiden, Wife, and Mother’.  He says, “After a certain number of years, woman lays aside those functions with which she has been endowed for the perpetuation of the species, and resumes once more that exclusively individual life which has been hers when a child…The evening of her days approaches, and if she has observed the precepts of wisdom, she may look forward to a long and placid period of rest, blessed with health, honored and loved with a purer flame than any which she inspired in the bloom of youth and beauty.”

I like that thought.

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