How to Stay Healthy {and what to do if you don’t}

It’s no secret that taking care of ourselves helps us stay healthy. Adequate rest and fluids, healthful meals, and reducing our exposure to bacteria and viruses is the best way to keep healthy during the coming school year.

To be rested, well fed, and relaxed is very idyllic, isn’t it? But unfortunately it’s not the reality for many people in today’s fast paced world. In fact, I’m not sure it has ever been the reality since sin entered the world.

The beginning of the school year seems like an appropriate time to talk about our immune systems. Whether you are sending your students off to public school or not, there is plenty of exposure to viruses and bacteria in your home, at the grocery store, at church, and any place where humans gather.

In addition to germ exposure, school can be stressful, even when school is at home. Our bodies don’t only react to negative stress, they react to positive stress as well. There’s new curriculum, new classes, new kids, travel, and it all can weigh on someone.

Before we take a look at how we can prevent illness this coming school year, let’s look at the difference between bacteria and viruses and the way our immune systems work.

Bacteria vs Virus

More than once, I’ve heard of sick children being turned away at the doctor’s office. “It’s a virus. There’s nothing we can do. Go home, drink plenty of water, and get lots of rest.” Nice, huh? So why do antibiotics work for bacterial infections, but not viral ones?

What is the difference between a bacterium and a virus? | Virginia George

Our cells are protected by a cell membrane. It keeps all the cell’s structures together and it protects the cell. A bacterium (single bacteria) cannot penetrate the cell membrane and remains outside of the cell, in the bloodstream. A virus, on the other hand, is not a cell itself. It doesn’t have all the structures necessary for life (and therefore infection) on it’s own. Virus particles instead enter a healthy cell and take over.

Antibiotics tend to work in two ways. Either they stop a bacterium from reproducing, or they kill the bacteria cells. They remain in the bloodstream. Antiviral medications can protect cells from further viral infection by blocking the viruses from entering new cells and thwarting reproduction, but they tend to do little aid the already infected cells since the virus is inside, where the medication isn’t.

Thus, the case of “wait it out”.

While exposure to bacteria and viruses is inevitable, major sickness isn’t. How can we be proactive, boost our immune systems, and avoid getting sick?

Staying Healthy

There are several things we can do to proactively keep our bodies and immune systems strong. They probably aren’t new to you, but they are worth mentioning anyway.

Rest

Our bodies do the bulk of repair work while we’re sleeping. Liken your body onto a vehicle. Let’s say your car is acting up so you bring it in to the mechanic. He finds the problem and begins to repair it. But it’s your turn to pick kids up for an activity so you get a ride to the shop and pick your car up before it’s finished. You bring the car back for the mechanic to work on finishing the repairs, but you need to leave for a party so you take your car back again before repairs are complete.

Eventually, your car is going to break for good. It’s the same with our bodies. If we aren’t giving our bodies the chance to rest and repair, we’re taking them and using them when they aren’t at their full capacity. And eventually a night’s rest won’t be enough to repair the damage time has caused.

Stress

It’s no surprise that high stress can mean a higher susceptibility to illness. Cortisol is a stress hormone, and it has been all over the media in regard to weight loss. When we are in a stressful situation, cortisol is excreted into our bodies giving us heightened awareness, increased problem solving skills, and the ability to do more with our bodies than we normally could.

Good old “fight or flight”.

The problem is, we spend too much time living in “fight or flight” mode. Our food isn’t digested properly, and our immune systems aren’t functioning at peak performance. If you think about cortisol being critical for true life and death situations, you can see that having digested food or an active immune system aren’t important in the short term. The problem is when heightened cortisol levels become semi-permanent.

An interesting study was published in 2008 discussing the effect of cortisol on the immune system. Researchers found that extended exposure to cortisol shortened cells’ telomeres. Telomeres are kind of like the plastic ends on shoelaces; they are found on the ends of chromosomes and are protective. They keep cells from deteriorating and fusing as they divide.

This study showed,

UCLA scientists found that the stress hormone cortisol suppresses immune cells’ ability to activate their telomerase. This may explain why the cells of persons under chronic stress have shorter telomeres.

The study reveals how stress makes people more susceptible to illness.

Especially persons who are under long-term stress, like caregivers to chronically ill family members, soldiers, and even people who drive long daily commutes.

We need to find ways to protect our stress levels. Make it a priority.

Healthy Eating

When the school year gets rolling and extracurricular activities pick up, it’s sometimes difficult to make the time to make healthful meals for our families. I’m with ya!

If you’re consistently having a hard time getting a healthful dinner on the table, here are a few suggestions:Freezer cooking. Choose one night and make a bunch of meals at once. Make 4  lasagnas and put 3 in the freezer. Check out my Pinterest board for more freezer cooking ideas.

Meal plan. For some people meal planning doesn’t work, but for many it’s a lifesaver. You can make grocery lists based on your meal plan and you know every night that the ingredients you need for tonight’s meal are on hand. No improvising necessary. Find out how I meal plan, and get some free meal planning calendars.

Keep it simple. Don’t try to make gourmet meals and fancy desserts. Just feed your family whole, nourishing food. A simple favorite in our home is Ricey Beef and Broccoli. Or try a Dump-erole, or Taco Skillet Hotdish, both one dish meals. The key is simplicity.

Getting Healthy

Rather than relying on pharmaceuticals to save us in the event of a viral infection, it is often more effective to help the body fight the infection itself. Our immune systems are designed to fight infection, both bacterial and viral, if we are caring for them properly.

If you do get sick this year, here are a few things you can try.

Foods

There are plenty of foods we can eat that will boost our immune systems in case of infection. These foods should be eaten to avoid infection as well.Garlic. Lots of garlic. Garlic is anti inflammatory and antibacterial. It fights infection when used topically, like for treating ear infections, and it also boosts your body’s ability to fight infection. Garlic is always a good choice.

Bone broth. There is truth to the old “chicken soup” story. Bone broth is packed with minerals, and also contains gelatin which is healing to an upset tummy. Plus, it’s super cheap. Don’t be intimidated, try it!

Herbal

When you’re down for the count with a virus, there are several herbs that can help your body nurse itself back to health. Here are a few.

  • Olive leaf extract. Olive leaf extract is an incredible antiviral. It does what medications cannot do and interferes with the virus’ ability to produce the proteins it needs to thrive, and inactivates viruses. Pretty cool.
  • Mullein. Are you familiar with those fuzzy green plants that grow on roadsides? In late summer they will grow a tall stalk with small yellow flowers on it. That’s mullein. Mullein leaves can be dried and made into tea when you are ill. Mullein is an expectorant and helps with many respiratory complaints. The flowers can also be soaked in olive oil for several weeks. The resulting oil can be used inside ears for ear infections.
  • Echinacea. Echinacea is one of the most well-known herbal remedies in time of illness. Typically the root of the plant is used to boost the immune system and support the sinuses and respiratory system.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are another great way to support your health. Essential oils are basically the immune system of the plant. They often protect the plant from predators, aid in healing when damage occurs, and protect against disease. We are carbon based just as plants are, and they can often help support our bodies in similar ways.

What’s astounding, is that essential can pass through the cell membrane very quickly. Because they are so potent, it only takes a drop of essential oil to support every cell in your body.

Using Essential Oils for Wellness

Oils like oregano, clove, peppermint, and tea tree or melaleuca are great for immune health. They can be applied in a carrier oil to the soles of the feet. They can also be used aromatically to support a clear airway and support respiratory health.

Essential oils should only be ingested if they are of high quality, so choose your oils wisely. Of course, every oil you use should be a high quality oil to get the best therapeutic benefits, whether you intend to use them internally or not. (Find out which oils I like by using the contact form here.)

Using Essential Oils for Cleaning

Essential oils can also be used in cleaning. If someone in your family is ill, you may be tempted to douse your home in antibacterial sprays. Please, don’t! Simply take a spray bottle, fill it half with water and half with vinegar, and add a few drops of melaleuca (tea tree) or a Protective Blend. Use these sprays for disinfecting your home.

You can also make an air freshener spray with water and rosemary essential oil or Protective Blend to disinfect and freshen the air. Rather than covering up smells, it’ll eliminate them both in the air and on the surfaces where it lands.

Be smart this year. Take care of your body, and know that if illness does strike you don’t have to sit back and take it. Fight back!

How do you treat infection in your family? Will you try a home remedy before going to the doctor if you get a cold or the flu this year?

Treating Ear Infections Naturally: Home Remedies and Why They Work

Last week I told you about garlic infused olive oil and how it worked to help my son with his earache. Today we’re going to talk about why. In case you missed it, here is the recipe:

Garlic-Infused Olive Oil

Ingredients:

  • Clove or two of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1oz olive oil, or enough to cover the garlic

Directions:

Place olive oil and garlic in a small glass jar or measuring cup. Place the glass jar in a small saucepan with an inch of water and cook on low for 10-15 minutes (see pg 116 of “31 Days to Detoxify Your Life” for detailed instructions on using the double boiler method). Remove from heat and allow oil to cool until it is below 98*F. Store in clean jar, refrigerating when not in use.

Alternatively you can roughly chop or crush garlic cloves, cover them with oil, and allow them to sit for a couple weeks. Some believe this method is ideal, but when your little one has an earache, 2 weeks won’t cut it. In either case you can strain out the garlic before using or leave it in the oil, being careful not to put garlic into the child’s ears.

To use:

Place a few drops of oil into affected ear. If the ear drum becomes perforated, discontinue use.

My Experience With Antibiotic Use

In my years of parenting I have only once had a child take antibiotics for an ear infection. In that instance my 8 month old had been miserable and lethargic for a couple days. I was using garlic-infused oil and took him to the chiropractor. The doctor couldn’t even see his eardrum because there was so much goop in the way. After a couple days I took him to the DO and got a round of antibiotics.We used probiotics to repopulate his tiny tummy’s gut flora, but I quit too soon because a couple months later he got thrush and his ears began discharging again. Concerned that his ear drum had ruptured I swabbed his outer ear with apple cider vinegar, applied lavender oil and melaleuca oils near his ears, and I massaged his lymph nodes.

We went back to the chiropractor who had a hard time seeing his ear drums, but couldn’t detect any perforation. After months of discharge and intact eardrums we discovered he simply had an outer ear infection, or swimmer’s ear. At the chiropractor’s suggestion I used a 50/50 solution of water and hydrogen peroxide in his ears and they cleared right up.

It is important to note that in this scenario my son’s eardrums were intact. If the eardrums become perforated at any time you should stop putting anything in them because you risk pushing bacteria into the inner ear. I stopped putting garlic infused oils into my son’s ears because I thought his eardrums were perforated.

Why, in the 19 years of life my children have accumulated, have we not had more antibiotics? Each of my kids has had a couple earaches and we have successfully treated all but one with chiropractic adjustments and home remedies. Let’s take a look at why these work.

Home Remedies for Ear Infections

Chiropractic Care

Why are children more prone to ear infections than adults are? It comes down to biology. Think back to high school anatomy and the parts of the ear. You have tubes that connect your middle ear to your nasopharynx, which essentially drains into the back of your throat. Remember, your nose, mouth, and ears are all connected. That’s why you can plug your nose and blow out and pop your ears. The air is going through these tubes, called eustachian tubes.

The eustachian tubes in an adult are angled from the ears down toward the mouth. In children, the eustachian tubes are more horizontal, leaving them more susceptible to blockage and fluid backup.

Often times there can be a misalignment in the cervical spine that causes one or both of the eustachian tubes to be blocked up causing an earache. In this instance there is no infection, just pressure, and a simple adjustment by a knowledgeable chiropractor can realign the spine and allow the eustachian tubes to drain properly, thus relieving the pressure and easing discomfort.

Garlic-Infused Oil

This is my other go-to remedy for earaches. I always have both olive oil and garlic in my kitchen so it’s easy to make a batch of oil if one of my kids is in pain. Here’s how it works:

Olive oil is antimicrobial, which means that bacteria and the like don’t do well in olive oil. Placing it in the ear canal inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause infection. Olive oil is also anti-inflammatory. What can cause the eustachian tubes to close up? Inflammation.

Garlic is also anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial. The antiseptic compounds can be absorbed through the skin in the ear canal and fight the infection and reduce inflammation.

Onion

I have to admit this is a remedy I have never tried myself, but I have heard great things about it. Simply take an onion, slice it in half, place on a baking sheet and bake until soft. Crush a bit of the onion in a bowl and drain the juices. You can place some of this juice, once cooled to body temperature, into the ear for relief.

You can also place a slice of warm (not hot) cooked onion over the affected ear for several minutes.

Essential Oils

Many essential oils are also antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. Basil, for example, is cooling calming to the central nervous system. Melaleuca or tea tree oil is anti-inflammatory and astringent, making it a good choice for opening up the eustachian tubes and promoting drainage.

A couple drops of basil or tea tree oil on a cotton ball tucked just inside the ear are great ways to ease the discomfort of an ear ache. It is important to note that essential oils should never be dropped into the ear canal. They can be applied to the bones around the ear or to a cotton ball tucked inside the ear, but should never be applied into the ear canal. (Use the contact form on this page to find out which essential oils I prefer.)

Antibiotics don’t have to be our go-to remedy. As you can see there are other options to try first. If you do need an antibiotic be sure to be proactive in rebuilding your gut flora with fermented foods and probiotics (here is one I recommend). I didn’t stick with the probiotics when my infant needed antibiotics and we got thrush, which is another story in itself.

Have you tried any of these home remedies for ear infections? Do you have one to add?

What’s REALLY In That? Hidden Ingredients in Consumer Products

On Monday we began talking about synthetic or artificial fragrances. Fragrance surrounds us. It’s in our cleansers, our body care products, everything. Even unscented baby wipes often have fragrance listed as an ingredient. What is the risk in being surrounded by fragrance, besides altering our ability to smell?

While my initial goal in researching this article was to discuss the risks associated with artificial fragrances, it has become clear that undisclosed chemicals are a problem not only in fragrances, but in consumer products in general. Even so-called “natural” alternatives have unlisted irritating chemicals in them.

Secret, Secret, Who’s Got a Secret? The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act

In 1967 the FDA and FTC enacted the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. As a result, all consumer products are required to have a label including what type of product it is, the quantity or volume of the product in the package, a manufacturing or distribution address, and an ingredient list. This is great in theory, but there are loopholes.

Labeling regulations vary based on the type of product. “Over the counter drugs” such as antibacterial soap, deodorant and sunscreen are required to list their “active ingredient”, while cleaners are required to list compounds controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency. Cosmetics require all ingredients listed in descending order of predominance, except for “incidental ingredients”.

Incidental ingredients are often a part of another ingredient or are ingredients that are present at an “insignificant level”. They can also be things that are used in the manufacturing process that have “no technical or functional effect”, like defoaming agents. (Speaking of defoamers, did you know silicone oil is often added to frying oil to minimize spattering? But I digress.)

Companies are also not required to disclose any ingredients in their product that might be considered “trade secrets”. In order for an ingredient to get “trade secret” status, the manufacturer must apply to the FDA and explain why this item qualifies as a trade secret. If approved the manufacturer must only state “and other ingredients” on the label.

Likewise, fragrance chemicals can be listed simply as “fragrance” instead of by their chemical name. There are hundreds of different chemicals that can be listed as fragrance, and none need to be disclosed.

It’s not so clear what’s in your deodorant now, is it?

Risks of Hidden Ingredients

In 2012 researchers conducted a study where 213 products from 50 different consumer product categories (cosmetics, sunscreen, cleansers, personal care, and vinyl products) were tested to identify endocrine disruptors (chemicals that interfere with your hormone systems) and asthma-associated chemicals. The highest levels of asthma related and hormone disrupting chemicals were found in things like perfume, air fresheners, dryer sheets, and sunscreen.

Researchers looked at 170 conventional products and 43 “alternative” products. They tested for chemicals and ingredients that are known to exacerbate asthma or disrupt hormones. One of the most alarming finds is that “many detected chemicals were not listed on product labels.” This result was not restricted to the conventional products either. Several of the “natural” or “alternative” products included undisclosed ingredients known to be problematic.

Some of those chemicals include:

  • pthalates: Used to make plastic pliable. An endocrine disruptor which probably causes breast cancer, asthma, allergies, and liver damage.
  • triclosan: Antibacterial. Suppresses thyroid hormone and increases estrogen production which can increase the risk of cancer, stroke, and premature puberty.
  • toluine: A solvent that can cause tiredness, loss of appetite, and color vision loss.
  • ethyl acetate: Used in perfumes because it evaporates quickly and leaves the perfume scent behind. Affects central nervous system and causes irritation to eyes, skin, and respiratory tract.
  • parabens: Preservative, bactiricidal. Weakly estrogenic, possibly linked to breast cancer and skin DNA damage.

In household exposure studies, concentrations of these chemicals were found airborne, and in the dust of people’s homes.

We found higher concentrations of [endocrine disrupting substances] in indoor air compared to outdoor air, and lack of correlation between indoor and outdoor concentrations for most of the chemicals, which suggests that they have primarily indoor sources.

Who Is To Blame?

Given the data, that chemicals which are not disclosed on the label are often found in consumer products, you can see how current labeling requirements can be problematic for people who need to, or simply desire to reduce their exposure to these chemicals. Chemicals that we know cause cancer or trigger respiratory problems for a large population.

Even the government, the body that regulates these products for consumers, realizes the risks. The Canadian Lung Association recommends eliminating fragrances altogether, and the Centers for Disease Control has an “Indoor Environmental Policy” that states “Personal care products (colognes, perfumes, essential oils and scented skin and hair products) should not be brought into, used, or otherwise applied at or near actual workstations, in restrooms, or anywhere in CDC facilities.”

But they’re okay for us.

Reducing Exposure

With fragrances designed to mask scents in “unscented” products, cleaners and cleansers containing undisclosed ingredients, and a barrage of toxic exposure from pesticides and herbicides sprayed on our food and lawns, how in the world are we supposed to protect ourselves? Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Make your own. I make a lot of my own personal care products and I don’t buy any commercial cleaners except soap. Look online, or if you want an easy resource, “31 Days to Detoxify Your Life” has recipes and information to help you in every area. Clean the floor with water and vinegar. Make your own deodorant (1/4c coconut oil, 1/4c arrowroot powder or cornstarch, and 1/4c baking soda fills up a conventional deodorant container perfectly, just keep it in the fridge in the summer). Stop using shampoo.
  • Learn to love dandelions. A monoculture is never natural, and that’s what a typical lawn is supposed to be… grass. Give in. Let the dandelions move in, and in the spring when the leaves are young, gather yourself a little salad.
  • Don’t eat the Dirty Dozen. There is a list called the Dirty Dozen that is the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables. Choose to buy these things organic. The EWG also has a list called the Clean Fifteen, and these are the 15 least contaminated fruits and vegetables.

By being intentional and finding substitutions we can eliminate many of these things from our lives. The household exposure study concluded that there was a significant source of toxic chemicals coming from inside the homes, and by making changes in our use of products should be able to reduce our family’s exposure.

When it comes to accurate labeling, I wish there were a more simple solution. Safe Cosmetics works to lobby for safer products and expose the chemicals hidden in cosmetics.

The next time to go to the store, know that the label might not be accurate. Choose wisely. Enjoy the smell.

Are you surprised by any of the research findings? Are there any changes you are going to implement in your home?

If you want to read some really interesting research, here are two of the studies I quoted in this article:

How to Smell Better: The Benefits of Being Fragrance Free

There has been a whole lot of hullabaloo out on the interwebs these last few days after Kathie Lee and Hoda, hosts of “TODAY”, mocked Jacquelyn of Little Owl Crunchy Momma for not washing her hair. To be honest I haven’t watched the clip because it’s not deserving of another view to encourage their ratings.

I have read enough, however, to know that their commentary was disrespectful, shameful, and ignorant. But take heart, I’m not going to go into a tirade about Mean Girls bullying and mocking people who are different than them. That aspect has been coveredRepeatedlyI’m responding in a different fashion, and I want to take a look at why people make the choice to avoid these commercial products (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deodorant, perfume, etc).

An Experiment

If you have commercially available personal products in your home, do this with me. Grab something, anything, and go through the ingredients list. Here are the ingredients for my husband’s deodorant, which actually doesn’t rank terribly on the EWG Skin Deep database.

Ingredients: dipropylene glycol, water, propylene glycol, sodium stearate, fragrance, ppg-3 myristyl ether, tetrasodium etda, violet 2, green 6

Take a look at that list and tell me how many ingredients you recognize. Aside from “water”, I don’t know where I could purchase any of the other ingredients in his deodorant. Maybe I could make violet 2 and green 6 with food coloring.

Toward the end you can see it says “fragrance”. Other products may list “parfum”. What is it? To be honest, I don’t know. Neither does the government, or any regulatory agency for that matter. “Fragrance” and “parfum” are two government approved terms for chemicals the manufacturers don’t have to disclose to consumers for proprietary reasons (so no one steals their secret formula). Only the people who formulate the product know what “fragrance” is.

Cumulative Chemical Exposure

Now think of how many personal care products you use each day. In the shower you may use body wash, shaving cream, shampoo, and conditioner. You get out and put on lotion and deodorant or antiperspirant. If you’re a man, maybe you use aftershave and cologne. Women, well, we have an assortment of cosmetics from foundation to lipstick. Then there are the hair products: volumizer, gel, hairspray, mousse, and pommade, to name a few.

If we count all cosmetics as one item, all hair products as one item, and assume you didn’t shave today, that’s a minimum of 6 commercial products you’re slathering on your skin or inhaling (ex. aerosol antiperspirant and hair spray, perfume or cologne). That’s 6 products with unspecified, undisclosed, proprietary “parfum”. One article I read said the average person uses 11 products each day that contain fragrance.

How to Smell Better

One of the arguments against people “not washing” every nook and cranny of themselves every single day is that we smell. After all, we’re not putting on all that fragrance. The truth is, we may smell, but not in the way Kathie Lee and Hoda are worried about.

If you, as the average person, use a minimum of 6 personal care products each day, that’s a minimum of 6 different fragrances you are walking around with. You probably don’t notice, however, because of olfactory fatigue. Your brain has become desensitized to the scents that surround you to keep from overloading your nervous system. This also frees your brain up to pay attention to scents that may be different, indicating a change in your environment. So you don’t smell. You can’t smell.

If that isn’t enough, let’s look at how fragrances and perfumes work. Most air fresheners or perfumes work in one of the following ways:

  • They overpower another scent.
  • They contain nerve-deadening chemicals that interfere with your sense of smell.
  • They coat the inside of your nose with an oily film, hindering scent detection.

If you are exposed to a lot of fragrances from household cleaners and personal care products, you don’t smell. You can’t smell. Not the way I can, because my nose isn’t coated with oily barriers and I haven’t inhaled chemicals to dull my senses.

Between olfactory fatigue and deadened nerves, it’s quite possible that I do in fact smell better than our previously mentioned talk show hosts.

Choosing to Be Fragrance Free

I choose not to expose my family to synthetic fragrances for a host of reasons, many of which I went into in another post. Besides the specific risks of artificial fragrance, I talk about why we don’t know what’s in our products.

Here are a few links you can check out for more information. I came across a lot of great articles in my research that I wanted to share with you, but here are some of the best:

Do you consciously choose products based on their fragrance? Do you choose things that “smell good”, or things that are fragrance free?