Swish This: Coconut Oil for Healthy Gums

coconut oil

There has been a lot of recent interest in “oil pulling.” Though I can’t comment on its worthiness as a panacea for all ills, I do want to comment on the use of coconut oil to generally improve the health of gums- particularly if mild bleeding and sensitivity is a problem.

I love virgin coconut oil. (I make a mean stir fry with coconut oil, chicken, broccoli and portabella mushrooms served over rice.) And, it is a wonderful moisturizer. In the winter I like to mix it with shea butter and a touch of vanilla extract for a sweet, smokey scent. Smooth it on after a shower or a bath to help lock in moisture. Plus, it has antimicrobial properties, and of course it is free of parabens and other undesirable ingredients commonly present in other moisturizers. (I’m going to be doing a future post with a local master herbalist to teach you how to make your own selection of very nice lotions and creams at home.) I’ve even used it as under arm deodorant with a drop of my favorite essential oil, and find it works better than my other natural deodorant sticks.

One day, a new patient told me that it really improved the health of her gums. And I started to hear about this from others, too, and I began casually bringing it up with other patients as part of an overall approach to improving oral health. And the results have been good.

This morning, I had a routine dental check up and I asked my dental hygienist about it- and she emphatically stated that she has had many patients improve their gum health with it, and often recommends it. She specifically notes whiter teeth, and less bleeding and inflammation of the gingiva for many, (but not everybody.) Could it be that the antimicrobial properties of the oil help to decrease the types of bacteria that cause plaque and inflammation? Or do the vitamins and fatty acids present in the oil help to soothe and protect the soft tissues of the gingiva? Or does the the texture of the oil simply help to block plaque from forming? Who knows, but it seems that there is something to this.

All it takes is an ample, pea-sized gob of virgin coconut oil. (I recommend virgin or “unrefined” because this is the oil removed by strictly mechanical means in the first press, without the addition of chemical means of extraction and distillation.) Put it in your mouth, use your tongue to spread it over your teeth, then swish through teeth and mouth like a mouthwash for a minute or so. Then, spit out into the trash (don’t ever spit in the drain, as this will clog it when it solidifies again at room temperature.

Do this once a day in the evenings after brushing your teeth, and if you are really motivated, in the mornings as well. Try it for a couple weeks and come back to comment on your results- I’d love to hear them, as I have never specifically tracked results of using this method on its own. (just be aware that some people can be allergic or otherwise sensitive to coconuts, so if you ever experience any itching or discomfort in or around the mouth from coconuts, please don’t do this.)

If you do try this, I hope to hear from you in a couple weeks with your experience to share!

Plastic Water Bottles: How Safe Are They?

plastic bottles

by Cora Rivard, ND

(This is a referenced article from my previous post regarding the health concerns with using k cups/single serve coffee pods, for those who wanted more information about safety of plastics used for beverages and food items. I have relocated this previously written article to my blog, due to a faulty link on the prior referenced location.)

The bottled water industry has enjoyed booming growth in the recent decade as an increasingly health conscious population sought the convenience and perceived “purity” in purchasing bottled water. Aside from questions about the source of many bottled “spring” water brands, (some of which simply come from filtered tap water), fewer required tests for contaminants as compared to municipal sources, and the greater expenses and environmental impact of increased plastic waste, another important question has surfaced in recent years: how safe are these plastic containers for our health?

Most bottled waters and sodas are contained in a type of plastic called, polyethylene terephthalate (PET). While widely deemed safe for human consumption as single use containers by industry standards, it is known that this form of plastic degrades over time with use. What is not widely known is that this type of plastic has been found to leach carcinogens, such as antimony and other toxins, into mineral water samples after only two to four weeks of storage at room temperatures.1,2,3 These levels are enough to cause genetic mutations in the roots of plants watered with these samples. Exposure to sunlight and increased temperatures significantly increases the level of mutagens leached into water. 4

In addition, many plastics include a chemical called, Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), which helps to keep them flexible. It is present in plastic bottles, as well as many food storage plastics and plastic wraps. This chemical has been shown to be harmful to reproductive organs in rat models when consumed in high levels, as well as damaging to fetal development.5 The effect of long term, low level exposure to these chemicals is unknown.

What about those clear, hard plastic bottles? The plastic used in making many types of hard plastic bottles, most baby bottles, liners within food and beverage cans, as well as the large sized water cooler jugs in many offices, is called polycarbonate. In recent years it has been found that this type of plastic leaches small amounts of bisphenol A (BPA), which is a neurotoxic, estrogen-like chemical that can disrupt natural hormone functions in animal studies.6 When used at normal temperatures, leached amounts of BPA fall far below what is deemed toxic for human exposure. However, it has been found that when these plastics are exposed to hot water, through washing or storing hot liquids and foods, they can leach up to 55 times as much of this chemical! Because these plastics are everywhere in our environment, and studies have not been able to control for the compounded effects of low dose, chronic exposure to these substances over many years, it seems wise to reduce exposure as much as possible. Especially at a time when environmental contaminants which mimic estrogens could be contributing to our increasing incidences of cancers in reproductive organs, lowered sperm counts in men, and overall increase in endocrine disorders.

So how can you limit the exposure of potentially dangerous plastics to your family?

It is best to use glass or stainless steel bottles instead of plastic. When you do use plastic bottles, never store in hot temperatures or sunlight (don’t leave them in the care!), and don’t reuse- dispose the bottle into the correct recycling bin after a single use.

When shopping for baby bottles, make sure to purchase bottles labeled as “BPA-free.” Examples of brands which make BPA-free bottles include, “Born Free” and “Medela.”

With food storage, try to avoid purchasing items covered in plastic wraps or plastic containers. Hot temperatures and fatty foods in direct contact with the plastic will cause higher migration of contaminants. Some brands, like, “Saran Wrap” and “Glad Wrap” have changed their product so that they no longer contains BPA. Never put a plastic container into the microwave unless specifically designated as microwave safe. Taking these guidelines for use into consideration, the plastics least likely to leach when used as recommended, are numbered: #1, 2, 4 and 5.

References:

1. Evandri, M., Tucci, P., Bolle, P. “Toxicological evaluation of commercial mineral water bottled in polyethylene terephthalate: a cytogenetic approach with Allium cepa.” Food Additives and Contaminants. 2000, Vol. 17,(12)1037-1045

2. De Fusco R, et al. “Leaching of mutagens into mineral water from polyethyleneterephthalate bottles.” Sci Total Environ. 1990 Jan;90:241-8.

3. EPA website on the health effects of antimony
http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw/contaminants/dw_contamfs/antimony.html

4. Westerhoff, P, et al. “Antimony leaching from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic used for bottled drinking water.” Water Res. 2008 Feb;42(3):551-6. Epub 2007

5. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Department of Health and Human Services: Toxicologial Profile for Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) Sept. 2002
http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp9.html

6. Le, H., et al. “Bisphenol A is released from polycarbonate drinking bottles and mimics the neurotoxic actions of estrogen in developing cerebellar neurons.” Toxicology Letters. 2008 Jan 30;176(2):149-56.

3 Tips to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

carbon monoxide

Last week, we sadly had another tragedy near our town with multiple deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning. And we still have a couple months of cold weather ahead.  I have also seen patients who have suffered from both acute and chronic exposures of carbon monoxide poisoning. Please take a moment to read the following 3 simple steps to prevent poisoning from happening, and how to recognize symptoms from it. And please protect the people you care about by passing this on, especially those who:

* use propane or natural gas for heating and/or appliances

*use a wood stove

* have a garage attached to the home

* own a generator

* travel in a camper or RV

Here in New England- almost 100% of us are included in at least one or two of these categories!

1. If you meet any of the above conditions, get carbon monoxide detectors! Not this week or next month. NOW. Best picks are ones that plug into the wall, and run on batteries as back up in case of power outage (this greatly prolongs battery life).

This is the model I selected after doing my research, we’ve used them for years and have plugged them in some of our families’ homes as well:
Kidde KN-COPP-3 Nighthawk Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Battery Backup and Digital Display

Make sure to replace them in time intervals recommended by the manufacturer (both batteries and the whole unit need to be replaced every few years or more)

For a starting point for more information, here is Consumer Reports buying guide:

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/co-and-smoke-alarms/buying-guide.htm

2. Most important! When running a generator, never, NEVER run it inside. Not even in your garage with the garage door wide open, and not even outside NEARBY the open door of your garage. This is because the fumes will still seep into the home. Carbon monoxide poisoning can kill in a matter of seconds. Always operate it outside, away from the home with the exhaust pointed away and downstream of any windows and doors that might be opened.

3. Follow manufacturer installation guidelines carefully. I originally purchased our first unit from a well known home store, and several different professionals there assured me that they should be installed high up, no-no- low to the floor, no- somewhere in the middle.

Here are some specific guidelines from the manufacturer, FirstAlert, on placement issues:

http://www.firstalert.com/faqs/co-alarm/where-should-i-install-carbon-monoxide-detectors-what-is-proper-carbon-monoxide-detector-placement

Finally, leaks from an improperly vented clothes dryer, stove or indoor heater happen on occasion. People with attached garages should be aware that seepage does occur in small amounts. Carbon monoxide poisoning can manifest as flu symptoms, headache, dizziness, weakness and nausea.

Be aware that pets and children may be more sensitive to the effects, even at low exposures. Make sure to have detectors in all floors of your home and basement, and wherever people are sleeping, particularly in bedrooms or home gyms adjacent to attached car ports.

Have a safe and enjoyable finale to the winter! (or will this winter ever end?)

The Mommy Illuminati

The Zen of Chocolate

Bon bon on left: Caramelized champagne mango with Scorpion chilis blended with Danta’s magnificent La Soledad criollo 40% milk chocolate from Guatemala, finished in Tango 67% Dark chocolate. On right: Almond gianduja of Red Rack Ale and fresh blood orange juice in Axiom 60% dark chocolate.
Bon bon on left: Caramelized champagne mango with Scorpion chilis blended with Danta’s magnificent La Soledad criollo 40% milk chocolate from Guatemala, finished in Tango 67% Dark chocolate. On right: Almond gianduja of Red Rack Ale and fresh blood orange juice in Axiom 60% dark chocolate.

Years ago, my husband brought me samples of chocolates whenever he returned home from work abroad in France and Switzerland. He is the reason I became too spoiled to ever go back to Hershey chocolate again. The creamy texture, the delicate flavors, the “mouth feel” and the happy feelings these special treats provided could never be matched by anything available in this domestic mass market.

Fast forward to last summer: when visiting my aunt in France, she brought us to her favorite chocolate cafe along a cobblestone walk in Bayonne. It boasted a cozy, comfortable place to sit and relax while tantalizing confections were calling, calling out from the shelves. The owner could be seen carefully wrapping a recent batch of creations in golden foil. The main reason we came was for the chocolat mousseux. This is a heavenly rich, creamy hot chocolate drink prepared with a frothy dome over the top, served in fine bone china along with a side bowl of Chantilly crème. So we sat, sipped and savored, enjoyed our company, and life was very good!

For chocoholics like me, savoring a good piece of chocolate is an instant vacation. The rich cocoa color, the smooth feel, the creamy texture, the aroma, the balance of flavors, the sweetness that cranks out those “feel good” neurotransmitters within one’s brain; chocolate is truly a joy for all the senses. For this reason, chocolate was a natural subject for beginning my writing series. Each month, I will be exploring a local NH product or experience that not only boasts impressive health benefits, but also an enjoyable experience: a little slice of “joie de vivre” or “joy of life.”

Whenever we can direct all of our senses to wrap around an object, a feeling, or an experience- this brings a delicious awareness to life known as “Zen.”  The whole point of Zen practice is to become fully aware, here and now.  The point is to come home to the present moment, which is truly where we all live- not in the past, and not in pondering the list of things we have to get done for tomorrow. And… yes! The cocoa in chocolate is also chock full of antioxidants and flavonoids that can nourish the blood vessels, reduce blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and a whole laundry list of other possible health benefits.

  • According to a study conducted at Cornell University, the concentration of antioxidants in hot cocoa is almost twice as strong as red wine. It’s concentration is 2-3 times stronger than that of green tea and 4-5 times stronger than that of black tea.
  • The flavonoids present in chocolate help your body promote the actions of nitric oxide. This is how chocolate can improve blood flow, help lower your blood pressure and improve general heart health.
  • The flavonoids in chocolate help prevent platelets in your blood from sticking together and forming clots, and therefore may be protective from stroke.
  • According to this recent systematic scientific review, chocolate improves mood, and likely improves cognition or the ability to think clearly and process thoughts.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24117885

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Richard Tango-Lowy, owner and master chocolatier of Dancing Lion Chocolates in Manchester. Richard was originally a physicist years ago, but he decided to follow his passion by going abroad to study and earn his Master Chocolatier status from renowned institutions in France, Italy, and in North America before opening his shop.

While sampling some decadent chocolates, and over a couple of steaming bowls of divine drinking chocolate (mine had two different hot peppers diffused in it for a pop of flavor and a nice, warming sensation that lasted long after the last sip was finished), Richard discussed some interesting points with me about the history of chocolate, and about chocolate production.

First, there’s chocolate, made from cacao beans. They are grown from trees, harvested and fermented, ground up and often mixed with other ingredients such as milk, sugar and other ingredients to add flavor and texture to make the wonderful stuff we all know and love. Then, there is cocoa powder- this is made from ground cocoa beans in a process and the cocoa butter has been removed.

Beverages made from cacao beans are evidenced by artifacts dating from 1900 B.C. in areas that we now know as Mexico and South America. The Mayans and Aztecs used cocoa beverages for medicine, for sacred ceremonies, and as an elixir to help give their soldiers energy and fortitude in battle.

The addition of sugar and milk can be traced to later European history, when chocolate was made as more of a treat, though it was still largely ingested as drinking chocolate. Cocoa beans arrived on scene in some parts of Europe even before coffee, and chocolate houses where people could gather and imbibe this lusty drink became popular establishments- and places for general bad behavior. Here is an interesting article about the history of the raucous chocolate houses in London:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/london/10515620/The-surprising-history-of-Londons-lost-chocolate-houses.html

Unfortunately, modern mass manufacturers of chocolate who supply the U.S. do a couple of undesirable things to chocolate. First, they add lots of sugar. After all, we are Americans and we like things sweet! Second, they routinely remove the natural cocoa butter from the bean because it fetches more money sold as an additive for cosmetics. They then replace it with cheaper and less healthy fillers. Third, in the U.S., anything that has at least 15% chocolate in it, can be called chocolate. So, a “chocolate” bar off the shelf can be constructed of mostly flavorings, sugars, unhealthy oils, and artificial ingredients.

I was interested to learn from Richard that “milk chocolate” does not necessarily have more sugar than dark. In fact, the dark often includes more sugar to balance the more bitter and astringent flavors of the cocoa. So, even if you are not usually a milk chocolate fan, I recommend trying a selection when tasting- you might be surprised!

A detail that I appreciated about my meeting with Richard is that he has a knowledgeable handle of the complete supply chain of his chocolate. He has personally visited each of his small supplier cacao family farms in places such as Guatemala, Ecuador, and Vietnam. He knows the name of the people who grow, pick and ferment the beans that he uses in each of his confections and their pictures adorn the walls in cafe. He knows that more first aid kits are currently needed in the fields, and that their children can use more supplies for school, and so he is working to organize efforts to raise awareness and money to better support them.

He explained that people enjoy coming to his cafe because of the variety of chocolates, and for the fact that nothing ever stays the same. Chocolate flavors vary greatly by region, by how the beans are fermented, and by the soil, weather and growing conditions of that year. In this way, it is similar to ever-changing vintages of wine. He even pays attention to what he pairs with the chocolate; one example is the blood orange ingedient in the smaller bon bon in the picture. Last year’s blood oranges were not flavorful, but this year’s were a good complement. And they are delicious!

Richard senses that many of his customers have some guilty pleasure when enjoying his chocolates. I wondered why this has to be, because it can be a healthy treat in moderation. But he insists that he wouldn’t ever want to take this away from anyone- that the guilt actually adds to the pleasure. Funny enough, on my way into the café, I bumped into acquaintances of mine who were celebrating a successful presentation at work. They guiltily admitted they had been there longer than they meant to be.  And they were smiling, and clearly enjoying every moment. And now I know they work nearby, and now I have a standing invite to call them the next time I am in Manchester during work hours. We’ll meet soon for chocolate, and, no one else has to know about it. J

Would you like a guilt-free recipe for a simple drinking chocolate that will help you feel like a Mayan warrior for your workout, nourish your heart and mind, that has no added sugar?

Here is a simple recipe shared by Richard that you can make at home:

Bring water to boil. While this is happening- warm up a cup of milk (or milk substitute if you are intolerant of dairy) over low heat.

Put a teaspoon of cocoa powder* in a mug and add a small amount- about a tablespoonful or so- of boiling water to it. Stir it to create a “slurry”- this helps to dissolve the powder.

Add warm milk, stir and enjoy.

*make sure the cocoa powder you select is 100% cocoa powder, no sugar or fillers.

I like Dancing Lion Chocolate’s Pacari raw cocoa powder- sourced from Ecuador. I have been using it for the past year- it has vibrant, delicious flavor. I add a little honey to mine.

For extra punch, you can add a pinch of cinnamon or cayenne powder to your drink. Enjoy!

Richard also recommends experimenting with cocoa bean nibs for cooking- they can deepen the flavors when sprinkled over roasted vegetable dishes. This past weekend, I tasted it in chili- it provided a deep, smokey background flavor that complemented the beans and spices nicely.

Snow day? If you would like a healthy version of hot chocolate to share with your family as a sweet treat, pass right on by the Swiss Miss. It contains a lot of sugar and artificial ingredients. Instead, here are some much better hot chocolate recipes that you can make at home:

http://www.mnn.com/food/beverages/stories/5-healthy-hot-cocoa-recipes

Stress Management 101

While stress is a normal part of life, the ways in which we perceive and respond to it can have a profound impact on our health. Feeling burdened with stress can easily lead to issues such as insomnia, recurrent viral infections, muscle tension, headaches, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, anxiety and poor concentration- to name just a few. The long term consequences are even more dire- such as stroke, heart disease, and depression.  The silver lining is that it is never too late to reap benefits from changing the ways that you respond to stress. And like every other type of workout, it requires continual practice and maintenance to remain effective.

From my perspective as a naturopathic doctor, I would like to share some quick tips about stress management. They won’t cost you a dime, and they are appropriate for everyone to practice- these are simple ways to save your health. My goal in practice is to help you to thrive in your ability to work, play and handle your responsibilities, as well as to inspire you to maintain a healthier state of mind and body so that you can better participate in, and appreciate, all aspects of your life.

  1. Schedule personal time in your planner. Many of us feel “on call” all the time, and this can blur the boundaries between work and home, especially after hours. It is important to establish scheduled times when you are completely unplugged from work. This scheduled time deserves the same degree of respect you would reserve for a meeting with an important customer. (In this case, it’s you!)  Taking a break and protecting your sanity will help you to be more efficient and productive when you are at work.
  1. Create some “wind down” rituals to help detach you from your workday in the evenings, and be consistent with bedtimes and waking times. Try getting a massage, taking a warm bath with Epson salts, listening to music, or enjoying essential oil scents such as lavender, evergreen, ylang ylang or vanilla. Easy, repetitive tasks to get you “out of your head” are helpful to reduce the background noise in your head when are feeling frazzled. Try jigsaw puzzles, knitting, cooking, or light reading. Avoid watching/reading the news before bed, or watching TV programs that are over stimulating and disturbing.
  1. Get outside for a walk every day. Even if you only have 10 minutes to get outside in the morning, or during a lunch break, moving your body can help you loosen up those tense muscles and refresh your abilities to focus. When your retinas are exposed to natural sunlight during breaks each day, it stimulates hormones that help to re-establish and maintain your natural circadian rhythm, and you will sleep better at night.
  1. Incorporate “relaxing” types of practice into your day. While aerobic activities and weightlifting are important ways to dispel stress and keep you healthy on many levels, it is just as important to introduce slower mind/body activities- Hatha yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, meditation and light stretching are all great ways to help your muscles release and to teach you the skills to quiet your mind on demand. If you are a high-powered person, it is all the more pertinent to learn how to slow down and create balance your life.
  1. Breathe! Taking multiple breaks each day to take in deep, slow belly breaths (4-6 seconds inhale, 8-12 seconds exhale) actually stimulates the parasympathetic system of your body, which has the opposite effect of the “fight or flight” system. Take advantage of this effect and use it whenever you feel like you need a mini break, or to improve your focus and clear mental fog instantly.
  1. Nutrition. Don’t grab that candy bar! Many of us gravitate to sweets and salty snacks when we feel tired and stressed out. (Hello, Dunkin’ Donuts!) In addition to the fact that this is just not a healthy way to feed your body, it is important to realize that the instant gratification of the sugar rush and feel-good hormone release will only send you to crash a few hours later- when you will be even more hungry, tired and cranky. The best advice is to keep the junk food completely out of the house, and out of the office. Instead, keep some high protein snacks such as mixed nuts and seeds, yogurt, slices of cheese and whole grain crackers, or apples with peanut butter within easy reach to keep your mood and energy levels more consistent- and to help avoid that afternoon slump.

It is important to pay attention to the unique ways that stress can affect you. If you can learn the first signs, whether it is a tightening sensation in the neck or shoulders, or feeling the heart pound or flutter, or just feeling a bit irritable, this is the time to take a break, breathe slowly and deeply, and count to 10. The sooner that you learn to defuse a stressful internal response, the better you will feel later in the day- and later in life!

Cora Rivard, N.D., is a licensed family naturopathic doctor and owner of Seasons Natural Healthcare, LLC- north of Boston.

www.seasonsnatural.com

Fifty Shades of Sweet

Your Sugar Daddy
Your Sugar Daddy

by Cora Rivard, N.D.

Unhealthy cravings and abuse, it’s a really twisted relationship- and I’m not talking about the book with a similar title. I’m talking about our relationship with sweet additives, sugars and no-calorie sweeteners alike. Ok, so you already do your best to avoid sugar because you know it packs on extra weight, steals minerals from your bones to cause osteoporosis, dampens your immune system’s ability to protect your body, and makes you feel more fatigued and moody.

But I do see many otherwise smart patients make continually bad decisions based on their needs for “sweet.” It is absolutely masochistic! Unfortunately, those who trade out their desires for sugar with no-calorie sweeteners are doomed in studies to actually gain more weight by consuming more calories later on. The reason for this  is that when your taste buds register “sweet,” your body is already getting ready for that juicy influx of quick, easy calories. When that caloric influx doesn’t come, your body catches on to the ruse and demands this perceived caloric deficit to be filled- making you overeat later in the day or evening. Plus, that indigestible sugar you consumed may also cause bloating or IBS symptoms in some because it cannot be processed by your intestines. And you are not saved from this cycle from the real stuff either- when you eat something sweet from real sugar, your insulin levels spike then fall precipitously after that, making you crave more sugar to feel balanced and energetic again- like needing your next fix. So, real or fake sugar- how do you get past this unhealthy cycle of craving and self abuse?

You are not going to like this, but you need to do a complete”sweet” avoidance for 2-3 weeks. This actually will help you reset your insulin metabolism, level out your cravings, give you more energy and control towards maintaining a desired weight. No added sugars, no sweeteners of any kind, no dried fruits, fruit juices, or junk foods. And you will need to check labels carefully and prepare food at home as much as possible. I won’t lie, the first week is very difficult, this can be a tough withdrawal period. But after that, you will be surprised how the cravings begin to disappear. You will also notice that your taste buds will reset, rewarding you with the sweet notes you can now detect in your fruits and vegetables. Treats you used to enjoy will taste too sweet after this avoidance. Can you take a 2 or even 3 week challenge to avoid sweets? Let us know how it works out- I’d love your comments on this topic!

Turn HELL into HA!

“When life seems like hell, laughter brings us immediately back to Earth if not heaven.”  (from The Yoga of the Nine Emotions by Peter Marchand)

A group of bats, hanging at the ceiling of a cave discovers a single bat STANDING upright underneath on the floor of the cave. Surprised by this unusual behavior, they ask this fellow: “What’s wrong with you? What are you doing down there?” And the fellow shouts back: “Yoga!”

from: http://www.lucid-dreams.com/yoga/yoga-jokes.htm

Remember humor?  It was so easy as a child.  Not being able to let go of judgment can lead to a very serious existence.  Make a practice of seeking laughter daily.  Learn a new joke every week.  Discover what types of humor really invoke a sense of joy in your being.  Let your children inspire you to laugh.  Know they can be a fabulous audience as well.  Test out your Charlie Chaplin impression or improvisational skills with them.  Put your inhibitions aside and unleash your own creative imagination.

Not ready for all that serious humor?  Try the Ha! Game (sometimes called Gigglebelly) to get you started.  Gather some friends at home or play after your yoga class:

1. On the floor or in the grass, have the participants lie down in any formation as long as every person has his or her head on another person’s belly (they should form a chain, so that every participant has another player’s head resting on his or her belly, as well).

2. The first player in line should say “Ha!” The one whose head is on that player’s belly should then say “Ha! Ha!” the third should say “Ha! Ha! Ha!” and so on… (If an error is made, say too many Ha’s, the group has to start counting all over again!)

directions adapted from http://familyfun.go.com/playtime/ha-ha-ha-707215/

Have fun!

How K-Cups Might Damage Your Metabolism, Reproductive Health, and Cause Cancer

Brew a fresh, steaming cup of plastic

This subject has been a big ol’ bee in my bonnet for a long time, especially since the Keurig style coffee systems are now ubiquitous. Much focus in recent years has revolved around the studies of potential dangers of BPA, or bisphenol A, but what about the myriad of other chemicals commonly used in plastics, demonstrated to also have damaging effects in the body? Now that BPA has been in the spotlight, many companies in the U.S. have been obliged to remove it from their products so that they can market them as “BPA free” and use alternate plastic ingredients instead. However, other chemicals in food-grade plastics have been shown to have even greater estrogenic and disruptive effects than that of BPA.

Here is an interesting NPR article and audio concerning how estrogenic chemicals are found in the majority of plastic items found in food and beverage packaging.
 NPR article- Most Plastics Leach Estrogen-like Chemicals

The short story is this- plastics are very much a part of modern life, and some have been designated safe for use in food and beverage packaging. Their safety profile has been well documented in controlled lab studies, and only small amounts of plastic chemicals have been demonstrated to leach into food or beverages in lab safety studies for “common use.” So for storage of non-acidic, cooled food and drink items, contamination levels are minimal and not much to worry about. However, when plastics are exposed to hot water or foods, acidic food ingredients, UV light, mechanical wear and tear, or any combination of these factors (the stuff that can happen with actual use)- the amount of leaching have been shown in studies to increase exponentially by a thousand-fold and more per use. Have you ever tasted water from a bottle left in your car on a hot day? Snack food after it has been toted around in a plastic bag? It tastes bad, like plastic, right? Because that is exactly what you are ingesting.

(for more more details about types of plastics, references for how they leach into beverages and foods, and tips for safe  selection and use- you can check out one of my previous articles: Plastic Water Bottles: How Safe Are They?)

So, we do our best to avoid putting hot beverages and food leftovers into plastic containers (glass, stainless steel and food-safe designated ceramics are much better choices.) But now there are K-cups- a fresh cup of plastic, er- I mean coffee, brewed into your mug every day. Combine hot water temperatures and the acidic qualities of coffee and now there’s a chance to spike leaching and chemical contamination to new heights.  In studies, common plastic chemicals have been shown to interfere with healthy metabolism, promote breast tumor growth in animals as well as in human cells, significantly reduce sperm counts, increase obesity, and other disturbing effects. And these are just the short term use studies, very little is known about the long term effects of consuming these substances in low doses day in, day out for years and years. And, because K-cups can’t be recycled, there is no recycling code on them to even tell us which chemicals are in the plastic containers- their ingredients are completely hidden from consumers. Research is non-existent to ascertain their safety over years of use. So if we already have safer choices at hand, and demand is ultimately what drives the types of products manufactured, why not just use safer alternatives now?

We already have a lot of choices to navigate when it comes to maintaining our health, but it might be worth questioning where to draw the line on convenience versus safety. While hot coffee paired with plastic might be a relatively small detail to consider in life, the evidence nonetheless shows an insidious potential for harm on many levels. Environmental exposures to estrogenic compounds are already a clear and present burden on our bodies and will continue to affect generations to come. However, if making simple changes today can decrease your overall exposure, isn’t it worth it? Corporations and product innovation will follow our lead, and our dollars are the votes.

By all means, please enjoy the culinary and health benefits of consuming coffee, but be selective in the equipment that you use, and demand safety first as a consumer. Your body will thank you.

-Update-

In response to incredibly high interest and many inquiries regarding this article, I researched and found the following stainless steel, reusable K-Cup device available on Amazon that is highly reviewed (similar versions made by “Ekobrew” are available at Walmart and Walgreens):

Ekobrew Stainless Steel Elite Cup, Refillable K-Cup For Keurig K-Cup Brewers

In Canada? You can find it here.

This device cuts down on the amount of plastic surface area that your hot water and brewing coffee will contact, improving safety (and taste, according to reviewers). It still routes water through a BPA-free plastic “dispersion cone” within the lid of the device, but it does not encapsulate the coffee grounds in plastic while steeping, like a k-cup does. It reduces waste in landfills, and will save you bundle of money in the long run by not paying a fortune for single use containers- estimated at $50- $124 per pound according to this NY Times article.

Of course- you still get some contact through the plastic lid and the hot water contact with plastic tubing with the Keurig machine itself. If you would like an efficient solution that skips the expensive coffee machine hardware as well as the requirement to pass hot liquids past ANY plastic or paper parts at all, check out The Elan Stainless Steel Re-usable cup or Bartelli Paperless Pour Over Coffee Dripper and Brewer – Permanent Reusable Ultra Fine Stainless Steel Mesh Micro Filter – Single Serve Cup or Small Pot. Brew your favorite coffees whenever you want, followed by a quick rinse, and you are done! (Improve taste of your coffee, while cutting out plastic waste and plastic chemical contaminants.)

For those who do not want to give up the convenience of disposable cups, particularly in the office environment, you could consider a single use, paper filter system. This has a small plastic ring at the top to secure it into place, but also greatly reduces plastic to hot water contact during brew time. This is a well-reviewed brand of organic coffee in a 97% biodegradable cup:

San%20Francisco Bay OneCup, French Roast, 80 Single Serve Coffees""” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>San Francisco Bay Coffee Organic Rainforest Blend, 36-Count OneCup Single Serve Cups

Author: Dr. Rivard is a licensed naturopathic doctor (N.D.) and owner of Seasons Natural Healthcare, LLC in southern NH. (And I love a good cup of espresso or coffee, brewed the old fashioned way.)

Announcement: new articles are coming soon about health and environmental wellness that you won’t want to miss! (I only publish 3-10 per year, so it won’t clutter your mailbox, promise!) Please look to the sidebar and follow my blog for more timely articles such as this one.

Healthy, Nut-Free Snacks for Improved Focus at School

by Cora Rivard, N.D./Seasons Natural Healthcare, LLC- Derry, NH

Have you ever wondered why certain foods can make children more irritable, moody, or hyperactive after eating them? Occasionally there is a specific food intolerance, but much of the time it is due to high glycemic foods and drinks; this means that the spike in sugar levels creates an initial high, then a crash later as the body over adjusts for the quick spike. (Exhibit A: Ever been to a young child’s birthday party?)

I wanted to focus this article on healthy snacks that will support your children’s ability to focus and learn while at school, and support an “even” temperament. Plus, we need to support their little immune systems to help keep them protected from all the exciting new-school-year viruses that are now beginning to circulate through the school populations (did you know that sugary foods can temporarily overtax the immune system and reduce the body’s defenses for many hours afterwards?). And, they ideally need to be nut-free choices in many classrooms. Oh, and let’s keep it fast and simple, shall we?

Balancing a healthy supply of complex carbohydrates from whole grains, high power fruits and vegetables, and good sources of protein help keep your child consistently fueled throughout the day, without a crash in mood and focus. Serve them with water, or plain milk (skip the too-heavily-sweetened chocolate, strawberry (and I can’t believe this is even an option in elementary schools- coffee) milk flavors. See below:

  • cubes of cheese with grapes and whole grain crackers
  • slices of apple with dipping container of sunflower seed butter
  • strips of baked or rotisserie chicken with pita, and carrot sticks
  • “ants on a log”: celery sticks that your child can spread sunflower seed butter on, and then sprinkle with raisins*. (Due to the high glycemic value of dried fruit, particularly raisins, it is best not to offer raisins as a sole snack, but in combination with other healthy snacks to balance them out, they are very nutritious.)
  • make your own yogurt: buy quarts of plain yogurt, add fresh fruit, pureed or whole, or apple sauce of your choice. You may sweeten with a touch of honey if needed. Pack in an insulated container for school snacks. For drinkable yogurt, simply throw these ingredients in a blender with small amounts of milk until you get the consistency that you desire. This is a much cheaper way to create yogurt and yogurt smoothies, and far more healthy than the sugary products in the store.
  • Zucchini, carrot, and yogurt multigrain muffins recipe
  • Homemade nut-free granola bars- you control how much sugar to add. Great option that can be made and portioned ahead of time. The following is a good example: Nut-free Healthy Granola Bars recipe
  • edamame and cubes of cheese
  • Pear and cheese pinwheels recipe
  • carrot sticks and hummus

There are many great reusable packs to keep snacks cool- I am partial to the following foldable, freezer lunch bag which has served us well (lots more interesting colors and patterns on Amazon):
PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag with Zip Closure, Black 

Snacks marketed as “healthy”  that are surprisingly not very healthy:

Juice: Many juices are mixed with things like concentrated grape juice (which is just sugar) as well as corn syrup and artificial colorings. And even real juice from organic fruit is still very sugary and devoid of fiber and other nutrients once present in the whole fruit. Juice packs on the sugar and promotes cavities, just like soda. Whole fruit is always a better choice- by itself or within a smoothie.

“Diet” or processed and marketed “sugar free” offerings– these use a range of indigestible simple carbohydrates which interfere with focus, upset stomachs, and may cause people to over-consume at a later time.

*Raisins or dried cranberries (don’t use alone as the sole snack because they are high glycemic foods/sugary. However, they can be great as a flavoring added to something healthier- like granola bars or oatmeal)

Fruit rollups– sugar, no fiber

Processed yogurt and yogurt smoothie cups for kids- loaded with sugar!

“Snackables” and other similar processed foods- loaded with preservatives, artificial colorings, flavorings, sodium, sometimes MSG

Commercial granola bars and power bars-careful with these, some are good, but most are loaded with white sugar, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavorings.

Tuna fish salad– unfortunately, tuna contains enough mercury to make eating it more than on occasion unsafe for the average weight adult, and therefore I would suggest that it is just not even worth it for children or pregnant women to consume it anymore. Better choices are to make salmon or chicken salads for lunch or as a snack with whole grain crackers or pita bread.

As you already know, there is a whole lot of marketing aimed squarely at your child for unhealthy and heavily processed snack foods. For now, please consider taking control by preparing snacks from scratch and packing foods from home, for your children and for yourself. With a little planning, and the occasional preparation of “batch’ snacks and portioning ahead of time, it becomes a habit. And let your children get involved in preparations- you’ll be teaching them the nuts and bolts of putting together a healthy snack. You are your children’s best teacher- and maintaining their best health is one of the best gifts you can give!

*****

For more information about my practice, or to schedule a complementary “meet and greet” consult online, please visit my website at: http://www.seasonsnatural.com

I am a specialist in naturopathic family healthcare, which involves an emphasis on drug-less, natural and supportive strategies to resolve common (and sometimes not-so-common) medical problems affecting children and adults. My philosophy is that this is not “alternative medicine,” but should instead be the standard of care as the first strategy employed for non-urgent health concerns before consideration of more invasive and risky procedures and medications.

Get Your Poop-On.. or… How to Prevent Travel Constipation

by Cora Rivard, N.D.

What’s the deal- why do so many of us have a hard time pooping while traveling? Usually, it is a combination of things. First, we often eat things not typical to our daily diet, eat too much, don’t balance with enough fiber, and don’t drink enough water. Plus, we are out of our usual routine. Any combination of these things can throw us off our normal habits. So, how can we avoid getting constipated in the first place?

1. Drink plenty of water. Sure, coffee, tea and soda help give us the kick we need to drive long distances and stay alert for activities, but they also act as diuretics and rob you of moisture. This can lead to drier stools which are harder to move. Same with alcohol. Do your best to decrease consumption of diuretic beverages while traveling, especially if you are risk of constipation. (Exception- if that cup of coffee helps to make things move for you, by all means keep it in your routine!)

2. Avoid eating too much meat. Meat is constipating- it takes a lot of water to metabolize extra protein in your diet. Don’t overdue it at those summer BBQ’s.

3. Careful of supplements (calcium, iron, zinc). We sometimes need to supplement these minerals, but keep in mind that they can each be constipating. Be careful of taking these when traveling. If you are taking any of these for strictly wellness reasons, and not medical need, consider lowering your dose or simply not taking during your travels.

4. Eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables. The fiber and extra fluid content of these foods will help keep you regular.

5. Keep moving. If you are traveling by car or plane, make arrangements to get up to  walk around and stretch whenever possible. Make sure to get some extra exercise once you get to your location. For those who are accustomed to yoga- cat/cow stretches and downward dog/cobra alternations are excellent movements for keeping things moving in a healthy pattern.

Great! So now you know what to do to help prevent getting constipated, but what should you do if you still manage to find yourself full of…um, discomfort on a trip?

1. Relax. Try not to stress out about it, that only works against the process. Practice taking slow deep breaths, and don’t force it. If you have a usual time to go, still make the time to sit and relax on the toilet- even if nothing happens, you will encourage your body to stay on schedule for future days.

2. Remember to drink plenty of water. Foods that contain plenty of fluids are also good bets to get enough hydration, for example: watermelon, grapes, cucumbers and tomatoes.

3. Try prunes, or prune juice. Not just for elderly folks, prunes are a nutritious and functional snack for anyone!

4. Ask your doctor about magnesium. I often recommend my constipated patients take a powdered magnesium citrate product mixed with hot water, approximately 300-400mg for an adult before bedtime. This promotes stimulation of smooth muscle (to help the movement) and helps keep more moisture in the stool for easier passage. Magnesium can affect the heart’s rhythm, so it should never be given to children, or to adults with heart conditions without consulting a doctor first.

5. Castor oil packs. This is an old naturopathic remedy. Just massage some castor oil gently and liberally all over abdomen, in a clockwise motion. Cover with an old clean rag or flannel cloth (an old t-shirt works fine, this oil does stain), cover with plastic, then apply some low heat from a heating pad or hot water bottle for 15-20 minutes while reclining comfortably. This can be done nightly until desirable results are achieved. Heat should not ever be applies if there is acute pain or inflammation.

When constipation is an ongoing problem beyond travels, especially for a child, please call me. There are a number of health conditions, medication side effects, food sensitivities as well as other dietary causes of chronic constipation, and licensed naturopathic doctors are often the best suited healthcare provider for helping patients safely resolve this problem. All too often, I have had patients who have finally come to see me after suffering years of procedures, medications and expenses through their primary doctors and gastroenterologists, from some of the “best” medical institutions in and around Boston. They are often surprised that more effective, long term results can be had with an effective, natural approach that gets to the root causes of constipation.

(this article should not be construed as medical advice, or to replace advice given by your doctor.)

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