Thursday, August 21, 2008

Can I Meditate While Doing Reiki?

Reiki can effectively support the process of meditation. When you are practicing Reiki, you experience the flow of energy and come in contact with your body. Your mind becomes less preoccupied and you feel a greater sense of peace. In this disposition it is easier to meditate. Here are a few meditation exercises that are especially suitable with Reiki.

Reiki Meditation Exercise 1:

  • Lie down on your back, draw up your legs and let your knees drop to both sides.
  • Press the soles of your feet together so that they touch as completely as possible.
  • Now join your palms in a gesture of prayer in front of the heart region. You may also do this meditation exercise leaning against a wall or an armchair in a sitting position if you prefer.
  • Breathe from your stomach. At first do this exercise for three minutes. Once you get used to it, increase the duration in small steps. This exercise may be further extended by simultaneously reciting the mantra Om. By reciting Om , you create its vibration in your body, making your body the sounding board of its energy.

Benefits of this exercise:
  • Enhances personal growth
  • Gradual, harmonious release of tension
  • Reduces stress levels
  • Develops the capacity of loving acceptance
  • Encourages a meditative mental attitude for day-to-day life
  • Develops self-perception

Reiki Meditation Exercise 2:

  • Kneel down on your haunches on a soft, though not too pliable surface with your legs spread a little wider than your shoulders.
  • Now place the palms of your hands on the soles of your feet and lean backwards until you touch the floor with your back. This exercise is equally effective if you practice with, an erect back. It is important to cover your big toes and the centre of your feet with your hands. At the beginning stay in this position for about 5 minutes and increase the duration of the exercise gradually.
  • You can also do this exercise in an alternative posture: Kneeling in an erect position stretch your pelvis forward and let your head hang backwards with your hands touching the soles of your feet. This exercise is wonderfully effective for healing your chakras or energy centres but it will cause a lot of strain at first. It is best to start for only 30 seconds and gradually increase the duration.

Benefits of this exercise:
  • Enhances personal growth
  • Charges the chakra
  • Charges the aura (electromagnetic field which surrounds everybody)
  • Removes tension from the feet, legs and pelvis
  • Strengthens the function and energetic properties of your aura

Reiki Partner Meditation Exercise 3 :

This is a joint exercise for two people. Practice it with anyone who has become a channel for Reiki. Sit facing each other on an even, not too pliable surface.

  • Spread your legs a little wider apart than the width of your shoulders and draw up your knees.
  • Now move close together so that one of you is able to put his or her legs over those of the other.
  • Now join your palms. If you prolong this meditation, it will become a wonderful experience of emotional attachment beyond anything that can be experienced in day-to-day reality. If you wish you may further extend your limits by chanting the mantra OM. This exercise must be done for at least five minutes. Doing it for 15 to 30 minutes will help you develop a greater understanding for each other. Reserve this time once or twice a week, just for yourselves. It will be worth it for both of you. This is the ideal exercise for a couple, and will open new dimensions in your partnership.

Benefits of this exercise:
  • Enhances relationship on the emotional level
  • Releases tension in the pelvic region
  • Lets you experience a oneness with a partner along with a simultaneous increase in vibrational frequency

Reiki Group Meditation Exercise 4 :

  • Stand in a circle and join hands.
  • The left hand is held with the palm turned upwards, the right hand with the palm turned downwards. The connection of energy circuits is most effective if palm is placed to palm.
  • Stand with your legs about as wide apart as your shoulders. Feel into your feet and feel your soles touching the ground.
  • Keep your legs relaxed and bend the knees slightly (they should not be straight and stiff).
  • Relax your pelvis and position it directly under your trunk so that the energy is able to rise unhindered.
  • Keep your head straight as if it were drawn upward by a string fixed to your crown and do not touch your neck. Feel the energy streaming through your body, feel the flow and the vibration in yourself. Let yourself go and experience the sensations. Perceive the hands of the others to your right and left. Feel the Reiki energy flowing into them. This group meditation may be extended by joint chanting of the mantra OM.
  • You may also make the exercise into a healing circle. After the energy circle has been upheld for some time, a member of the group leads everyone through the following visualization; imagine a white, divine light flowing into your chakra. It is flowing towards your heart, radiating from there as healing energy into the centre of the circle. All the rays of energy meet there, forming a large, white mass of divine, healing vibrations. You may now place all those you wish to be healed into this energy mass simply by speaking their names. They will be given all the healing they need for the moment; all the healing which is advisable for them from a divine perspective. You may also place other beings into the circle (such as animals and plants). The participants can remain infused by the healing force for as long as they wish.

Benefits of this exercise:
  • Enhancement of group consciousness
  • Experience of oneness with other aspects of creation
  • Increasing vibrational frequency
  • Activating the body's self-healing forces.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Aromatherapy: relieve stress, calm our minds, energize our bodies

The healing, soothing, and beautifying properties of essential oils provide a wonderful opportunity to relieve stress, calm our minds, energize our bodies, and uplift our spirits. The practice of aromatherapy-the science of scent-is growing in the US. In natural food stores and department stores alike, aromatherapy products and books abound.

After a hectic day, it is well worth taking the time to custom-blend your own individualized essential oils. Then relax, collect your thoughts, and refresh your mind, body, and spirit. An aromatic bath, a calming inhalation, a facial steam bath, or a comforting massage can work wonders to revive body and soul.

Aromatherapy is an ancient art and science focusing on the use of flower and plant essential oils to enhance and balance mental, spiritual, and physical health. The use of essential oils dates back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians who luxuriated in these precious substances for health and beauty purposes.

Essential oils are derived from flowers, plants, leaves, branches, or roots through the process of steam distillation, or from cold pressing peels (in the case of citrus). The resulting essences aren't really oils; they're natural, aromatic substances with a molecular size small enough to penetrate the skin. True essential oils are very concentrated; they are what give plants their smell. On the average, it takes about fifty pounds of plant material to make one pound of essential oil. For example, over 150 pounds of lavender flowers yield one pound of essential oil; and 5,000 pounds of rose petals produce only one pound of rose oil.

True essential oils should not be synthetically manufactured in a laboratory by a chemist. According to Scott Cunningham, author of Magical Aromatherapy (Llewellyn Publications, 1992), there is no substitute for true scents. "Because essential oils are born of plants, they have a direct link with the Earth." Synthetic oils, on the other hand, are created by scientists who simply mix together only those ingredients necessary to approximate the scent of the true essential oil. "The results," says Cunning-ham, "are often hideous parodies of the real thing."

The use of aromatherapy for healing purposes is an ancient practice, although it fell into disfavor with the advent of synthetic drugs in medicine. In the 1920s, Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a French cosmetic chemist and researcher of essential oils, played a significant role in its resurgence. Gattefosse began his research after discovering, by accident, the usefulness of essential oils. While experimenting in his laboratory, he severely burned his hand and immediately plunged it in the only container of liquid available-lavender oil. He later noticed how quickly his hand healed with minimal scarring. Gattefosse coined the term "aromatherapie" in a scientific paper, which documented essential oils' antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Today, health practitioners in Europe use medical aromatherapy for stress management and a variety of ailments-applications that are finding their place in today's holistic healing movement.

It is always important to consult with your physician before beginning any therapeutic program, especially if you are pregnant or have a medical condition.

Since essential oils are very concentrated, it is a good idea to test for sensitivity before using a particular oil. Always dilute before applying to the skin; be careful to avoid eyes, nose, or mouth. To test, apply a little of the diluted essential oil behind the ears and leave for 24 hours. If no redness or itching results, the oil should be safe to use. Be sure to keep all essential oils out of the reach of children.

The following recipes will help get you started in custom-blending your own scents to promote health, well-being, and beauty. You can vary the suggested essential oils according to your preference and moods.

Aromatic Baths

Create your own mini-spa session in your home by preparing an aromatic bath. A soothing ritual may begin with brewing your favorite cup of herbal tea while indulging in ten minutes of tension-reducing stretching exercises. Then add the essential oils you've chosen to a comfortably warm bath and gently swirl the water to combine. For most baths, six to ten drops is recommended.

The essential oils' effects should readily become apparent as you inhale their subtle aromas while enjoying a relaxing soak. To further soften your skin, add one teaspoon of your favorite carrier oil (see Carrier Oils sidebar) to the essential oils. An unscented bath gel, bath salt, or foaming milk bath may be added to the water as well.

To unwind and relax after a stressful day, choose one of the recipes below, mix the essential oils into a warm bath, and soak for at least 15 minutes.

Bedtime Bath Mixture

  • 2 drops Rose Geranium
  • 2 drops Lavender
  • 2 drops Chamomile

Relaxing Bath Mixture

  • 4 drops Ylang-Ylang
  • 2 drops Lavender

For an invigorating bath in the morning, or if you plan to go to an evening party, choose one of the following mixtures and add the essential oils to your bath water.

Energizing Morning Bath

  • 4 drops Rosemary
  • 2 drops Lavender

Evening Party Bath Mixture

  • 4 drops Jasmine
  • 2 drops Sandalwood

Massage Oils

An aromatherapy massage is very helpful for stress reduction. Add the following essential oils to one fluid ounce of carrier oil (see Carrier Oils sidebar). This should be enough for a whole body massage. Since the mixtures don't last very long, massage oils are usually made in small amounts. To blend, place the carrier oil in a glass container, then add the essential oils, swirling the container until the essential oils appear to be sufficiently mixed with the carrier oil.

All essential oils and mixtures must be stored in dark glass containers, away from heat, sunlight, and moisture. If stored properly, most essential oils should be effective for one to two years.

To relax and balance mind and body, blend together:

  • 1 ounce carrier oil
  • 2 drops Rose Essence
  • 2 drops Rose Geranium
  • 2 drops Lavender

For aching muscles and tiredness, blend together:

  • 1 ounce carrier oil
  • 2 drops Rosemary
  • 1 drop Lavender
  • 1 drop Neroli

For a fragrant massage oil, blend together:

  • 1 ounce carrier oil
  • 4 drops Jasmine

Inhalation Therapy

Scent a warm washcloth with the following essential oils, drape it over your face, lie down for five minutes, and breathe deeply.

For a headache, try:

  • 2 drops Lavender

For nervous tension and anxiety, blend together:

  • 1 drop Vanilla
  • 1 drop Tangerine

For sleep, try one of the following:

  • 2 drops Lavender, Jasmine, or Chamomile

Traditional Uses of 20 Common Essential Oils

Cedar: Used traditionally to balance the emotions. Normalizes both dry and oily skin and hair. Should not be used by pregnant women.
Chamomile: Used traditionally to relieve stress, tension, and insomnia. Cond-itions the hair and scalp and adds shine and luster to hair.
Cinnamon: Strengthening, invigorating. Counteracts nervousness and tension.
Frankincense: An ancient essence traditionally used in religious rituals for meditation. Soothes and softens dry, chapped skin. Be sure to test first, as it may cause skin irritation.
Jasmine: This heavenly fragrance lifts spirits and soothes nerves, relaxes and calms. Beneficial for all types of skin.
Juniper: Antiseptic and purifying properties. Helps to revive dull skin.
Lavender: Traditionally used to help relieve tension, anxiety, head-aches, insomnia, and premenstrual tension. Also an antiseptic and a skin healer.
Lemon: Revitalizing, stimulating, and purifying. Because it is a skin irritant, it should not be applied to skin or used in baths.
Myrrh: This ancient, richly exotic scent has been traditionally used for spiritual meditation. It may cause skin irritation if applied to skin or used in baths.
Neroli: A stress reducer, deeply relaxing and well worth its price. Good for all types of skin.
Orange: This sweetly exotic fragrance may help induce sleep.
Peppermint: Stimulating and purifying. Decon-gests sinuses. A skin irritant. Do not apply to skin or use in baths.
Rose Essence: Sometimes called the 'queen of flowers', this exquisite fragrance instills feelings of peace, happiness and love.
Rose Geranium: Tension-easing, uplifting.
Rosemary: Energizing, invigorating and stimulating, may help relieve physical and mental tiredness and muscular aches and pains. Improves dry or mature skin.
Sandalwood: Traditionally used to enhance feelings of peace. A good moisturizer for all types of skin, even sensitive skin.
Sweet Eucalyptus: Traditionally used for purifying and healing. Helps stimulate and ref-resh body and mind.
Tangerine: Traditionally used to soothe the psyche and calm the nerves.
Vanilla: Revitalizing.
Ylang-Ylang: Often called the 'flower of flowers' due to its incredibly exotic fragrance, it soothes, relaxes and emotionally calms. Be aware that extended inhalation may cause headache. Best for treating oily skin.

Therapeutic Oils:

Avocado Oil, Carrot Oil, Jojoba Oil, and Wheatgerm Oil: Use for very dry skin, psoriasis, and eczema.
Castor Oil: Use for sore muscles and skin disorders.

Aromatic Facials

A facial steam bath is a great way to cleanse pores, add moisture to the skin, and increase circulation. Steaming your face once a week will keep it blemish-free and give your complexion a healthy glow. To prepare your facial bath, pour steaming water into a two-quart bowl. Add 3-5 drops of the essential oil suitable for your skin type (see 20 Common Essential Oils sidebar). Put your face over the bowl, drape a towel over your head and relax for 5-10 minutes. Afterwards, apply a cleanser to remove the impurities released from your skin by the steam.

To use essential oils in a moisturizer, mix a few drops of your favorite scent with a soothing carrier oil. Grapeseed and Sweet Almond carrier oils are both recommended for skin.

Diffusers, Lamps, and Rings

Using essential oils is like bringing a bit of the outdoors into your home. Because most of us live in big cities, we don't have the time or opportunity to get out and enjoy nature. Days, even weeks, go by without the scent of flowers or fresh mountain air. Escape from our hectic lives is necessary for our well-being, and essential oils-nature in the purest and most concentrated form-can help us meet this need. Whether you want to calm yourself after a long day or rejuvenate before a big meeting, scents drifting through the home or workplace can have numerous positive effects on both mind and body.

When you add several drops of essential oils to an aromatherapy candle lamp, light bulb ring, or electric diffuser, heat disperses the vapors from the essential oils into the air.

An electric diffuser, which pumps a constant light mist into the room, is the easiest and most effective method. Shop around and compare prices-some diffusers can be relatively expensive. Aromatherapy lamps, small bowls which hold the water and essential oils with a candle or light bulb heat source underneath them, are a convenient and inexpensive alternative. Light bulb rings are also useful. Simply sprinkle them with your favorite oil, slip over any light bulb, sit back and enjoy the wonderful aroma. Potpourri, pillows, bed linens, clothes, and stationery can also be scented with your favorite essential oil. A couple of drops is all you need. You can also create your own air freshener by blending the essential oils below with eight ounces of water in a bottle, then spraying the mist into the air.

To set a mood, use the following blends in an aromatherapy lamp, light bulb ring, or diffuser:

To inspire a meditative mood:

  • 3 drops Frankincense
  • 2 drops Myrrh
  • 2 drops Sandalwood

To help ease tension:

  • 4 drops Orange
  • 4 drops Cinnamon

For calming, add together:

  • 3 drops Lavender
  • 3 drops Orange

For an uplifting air freshener, mix:

  • 3 drops Sweet Eucalyptus
  • 2 drops Orange
  • 2 drops Lemon

Experiment with different essential oils to achieve the desired results. With the help of these precious essences, you can refresh and enjoy mother nature's gifts.

Carrier Oils

When essential oils are mixed with an unscented base oil, lotion, or cream, it is called a "carrier" (or fixative). This base oil dilutes the essential oil for skin applications. Undiluted essential oils are very concentrated and should not be applied directly to skin.

To determine the type of carrier oil to use, you may want to consider its intrinsic attributes and your intended purpose. The carrier oils may also be combined with one another and with essential oils to heighten their effectiveness. For all carriers except jojoba, add a few drops of wheat germ oil or a vitamin E capsule to prevent rancidity.

Light Nourishing Carrier Oils For All Skin Types:

Apricot Kernel Oil: A nourishing oil, well-suited as a moisturizer for dehydrated, sensitive, or mature skin and as a bath oil.

Grapeseed Oil: One of the best oils for massage; very light, non-greasy, and easy-to-spread. It also makes an excellent facial moisturizer.

Hazelnut Oil: A nourishing oil and skin revitalizer. Helps tone and tighten the skin.

Jojoba Oil: Very similar in composition to human sebum or natural skin oils. An excellent oil for conditioning hair, scalp, and cuticles as well as a body moisturizer.

Sesame Oil: A nourishing oil, often used in the Indian Ayurvedic medical system. A thick oil with a heavy odor. Use for massage oils containing stronger smelling essential oils, such as basil, rosemary, or thyme.

Sweet Almond Oil: An all-purpose, versatile oil used as a skin enricher and emollient. A perfect base for a massage oil and moisturizer.

Other good carriers are: Safflower, Peanut, Sunflower, Soy, Olive, Canola, and Peanut Oils.

New Way Of Looking At Eye Care

Medical science doesn't really know why or how most poor eyesight develops, yet it wrongly believes that eyesight almost always worsens, and that nothing can be done about it-almost as if the eyes have a mind of their own, and all we can do is stand idly by as they deteriorate.

But we don't have to be passive victims of eye disease. Marc Grossman, O.D., and co-author Glen Swartwout, O.D., routinely improve their patients' eyesight and eye conditions with natural therapies. In their book, Natural Vision Care, to be published this year by Keats Publishing, Grossman and Swartwout outline diet, nutrition, and natural remedies to prevent and cure eye problems such as glaucoma, cataracts, conjunctivitis, dry eyes, and macular degeneration. In a question and answer session with VL, Grossman explained their program for eye health:

VL: Why have people come to think that eye care is not something we personally can do much about?

MG: First of all, eye care in this country is symptom-oriented. In our training as eye doctors, we're taught that, once something goes wrong with your eyes, there's not much that can be done. And we're not taught anything about prevention of problems; we're told to treat the eye as a separate organ from the rest of the body. People are taught that eye problems are just a natural consequence of the normal course of aging, but I routinely help people improve their vision and treat eye diseases. I'm interested in an aggressive prevention program. Eye doctors are the only doctors who don't learn that eye problems are a sign that something is wrong in our body, and that many eye diseases and problems can be prevented and corrected.

VL: What's wrong with routine treatments for eye conditions?

MG: For example, if you need glasses, we will prescribe them, you'll pay us and thank us, and in a couple of years, the prescription may not be good enough and you'll come back and sit behind the machine and thank us and pay us again. If you have glaucoma, same thing: You come to us, we may give you eyedrops, you pay us and thank us, and you'll probably be on these eyedrops for the rest of your life.

We have to look at vision the same way that Chinese medicine looks at disease. The eye is an extension of brain tissue, and it reflects what you're thinking and feeling; the eyes help us adapt to the world, and they give us an indication of how we're adapting to the world. They're the primary way we take in information. We have to stop just looking at the eyeball and see how every body system is working.

For instance, nearsightedness doesn't just happen. Did you know that 95 percent of all accountants are nearsighted, but less than 5 percent of farmers are? That's because accountants usually don't look farther than their desktops, and farmers are usually looking out on the horizon. The brain says, "If you make me do close work all day, I'll have to give up something," and that something is the ability to see at a distance, so, obviously, how we use our eyes affects what happens to them. But that is never addressed by most eye doctors.

VL: Give an example of an eye condition, its routine treatment, why it's unacceptable, and why natural remedies are better.

MG: Let's say you're 36 years old, and you have borderline high intraocular pressure, which is a possible sign of glaucoma. The doctor will test your visual field to make sure your peripheral vision is not affected. If your visual field is fine, your optic nerve is OK, and the pressure is borderline, the doctor will just watch it. There's nothing preventive that is given to help the pressure.

But in Chinese medicine, high pressure means a stagnation of qi (energy) in the liver, so we treat the liver with herbs such as milk thistle, dandelion, bilberry, and ginkgo to get the circulation moving. Sometimes, glaucoma is an indication that the neck area needs chiropractic care or acupuncture. Exercise also has been shown to lower intraocular pressure. Diet is important too; vitamin C has been shown to lower pressure.

Then let's look at glaucoma psychologically: Glaucoma usually means the patient has suppressed anger and frustration, so I have the patient deal with that.

VL: In your forthcoming book, you suggest a program for eye health involving diet, exercise, acupressure, and supplements. Would you please explain it for us?

MG: Holistically, you are more than an interesting set of symptoms that must be eradicated with the proper drug. You are a complex human being functioning on several levels: mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. We take all of these levels into consideration when we treat a patient, because merely quelling the physical symptoms of disease doesn't address how that disease impacts and emerges from all of those other levels of your being. Treating your eyes is no different.

These treatments-nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupressure, herbs, physical exercise, eye exercises, spinal adjustments, and homeopathy-offer natural methods of balancing the multifaceted cause of disease.

We start with nutrition, because more than 25 percent of the nutrients we absorb from our food go to nourish our visual system. The diet plan we prescribe emphasizes a variety of whole foods, because the body does not use each vitamin and mineral in isolation. The absence of one nutrient can affect the body's ability to use another.

The diet we recommend is based on whole grains-brown rice, millet, kamut, quinoa, spelt, and buckwheat. Because they are so high in minerals, we also recommend sea vegetables, such as dulse, arame, hijiki, nori, and wakame; and, also for their high vitamin and mineral content, fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, particularly kale, collards, mustard greens, and spinach. Greens are a particularly good source of a certain type of carotenoid that helps protect optic nerve fibers.

But no matter how wholesome and pure our food might be, there are factors that affect its nutrient content: How it is grown, how it is stored, and how it is cooked. Your age, health, activity level, and stress also can affect what your body needs and how well it's using the nutrients from your diet. This is where supplements come in handy. We routinely recommend vitamin and mineral supplements to our patients.

There are a couple of Chinese herbal formulas we use that are specific to eye treatment. And we usually recommend acupressure to our patients because it releases muscular tension and promotes the circulation of blood and qi to aid healing.

Besides relieving pain, acupressure can rebalance qi throughout the body. We've found acupressure to be very beneficial in the treatment of eye disease, and we recommend it in our book because it is easy, it doesn't cost anything, and you can do it yourself.

We also recommend eye exercises, and we have found that patients with vision problems greatly improve when spinal adjustment is added to the therapy; this ensures that the spinal cord is free from muscular contraction, tension, and mechanical nerve pressure, perhaps from a dislocated vertebrae. Any of these problems can interfere with tissue nourishment and adequate nerve flow, which the eyes need to function and especially to heal.

VL: You emphasize daily exercise. How can exercise improve my vision?

MG: Everyone takes for granted that you have to use your muscles to keep them fit. If we know for certain that exercising muscles is important for health and performance, why not regularly exercise our eye muscles to improve our visual fitness?

Exercise is extremely important in the prevention of chronic eye diseases, because it raises oxygen levels in the cells and increases lymph and blood circulation. From a Chinese standpoint, eye problems mean there is stagnant energy, and exercise gets rid of the stagnation. This increased circulation revitalizes the organs and glands and speeds up detoxification of the body. Any exercise that helps your body aerobically without causing injury would be helpful. We recommend that you gently build up to aerobic exercise for a minimum of 20 minutes per day, four days a week.

VL: What are some important tips to keep our eyes healthy?

MG: Don't keep your eyes focused in one place for a sustained period of time. Change your focus a few times a day: Look up, look out the window, just keep your eyes moving. Sustained contraction of the eyes leads to a contraction of the entire upper body (and, as we discussed before, your brain needs to know that you need your eyes for more than just close vision). By the same token, don't stare: It causes tension in the whole visual system.

Get at least 20 minutes of natural sunlight a day. Go for a walk or get full-spectrum lighting. The eyes are light-sensing systems. It's important to get enough sunlight so that they work optimally; it's a nutrient. But wear UV-protective sunglasses to protect your eyes from damaging sun rays. (Sunlight has been implicated in several eye diseases.)

Quit smoking! It's the number one eye irritant. Besides, smokers have a 50 to 100 percent increased risk for every single eye disease because of the damage by the free radicals created by cigarette smoke.

Avoid sugar; it depletes the body of nutrients the eyes need. Avoid alcohol; it causes stress to the liver, which is where vitamin A is processed. (Vitamin A is essential to good vision.)

VL: What are the most important supplements for eye health?

MG: All of the antioxidants-beta carotene and vitamins C, and E-have been shown to reduce damage to the eyes.

Low levels of beta carotene (provitamin A) virtually double your risk for macular degeneration and increase your risk for cataracts. Glaucoma patients tend to be deficient in vitamin A; it permits good drainage and keeps the intraocular pressure down. In parts of the world where vitamin A deficiency is widespread, severe dry eye syndrome is a leading cause of blindness. We recommend around 15,000 IU per day of beta carotene.

Vitamin C can both prevent and heal cataracts. In parts of Europe and Asia, it's considered routine treatment for glaucoma, because it lowers eye pressure in several ways. Vitamin C also acts as a natural UV filter for the eyes and may slow the aging process in the retina. People with low levels of vitamin C stand two to three times the risk for macular degeneration. We recommend 1,500 mg per day.

Vitamin E has been shown to reduce eye pressure, and low levels have been shown to increase cataract risk. Vitamin E deficiency is believed to be a cause of macular degeneration. We recommend 400 IU per day.

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) has accumulated 40 years of research confirming its benefits for the eyes. In one study, a combination of bilberry and vitamin E stopped cataract formation in 97 percent of the patients-without side effects. It can improve night vision, relieve visual fatigue, and protect the eyes from glaucoma and macular degeneration. We recommend 300 mg per day.

Ginkgo increases blood circulation to the head, so it has the potential for more rapid healing of all tissues associated with vision. It's a powerful antioxidant, and it has been shown to increase visual acuity in people with macular degeneration. We recommend 100 mg per day.

Lutein and zeaxanthin: These two carotenoids appear to reduce your risk for macular degeneration. Eating collard greens and spinach once a week was enough to lower risk by 46 percent, according to a Harvard study. We recommend 20 mg per day.

Healthy Teeth and Gums: An ecosystem approach to oral care.

Do you have cavities? Do your gums ache and bleed after brushing? Over 75 percent of people over 35 have cavities and symptoms of gum disease. Gums naturally recede as we age, exposing the roots and increasing our risk of developing infection. Conditions that can make you more susceptible to gum disease include: diabetes mellitus, leukemia, AIDS, poor nutrition, hormonal changes, smoking, and poor oral hygiene. However, there is hope-modern day dentistry, and fluoridated water and toothpaste have helped many people keep their teeth well into old age. Our teeth and gums are active living tissue-designed to heal and repair. Our mouths are home to a complex micro-ecosystem of many types of organisms whose population composition directly effect the health of teeth and gums. By applying an ecosystem approach to our mouths, we can expect to have near perfect dental health our whole lives.

Dental Basics

Above the gum line, our teeth are covered by a thin layer of solid enamel, a calcium/phosphate mineral. Inside the enamel is dentin, similar to bone tissue; and below the gum line, the inner soft pulp contains nerves and blood vessels. The villain in most dental problems is plaque, a gelatinous mass of scavenging bacteria that coats the surfaces of the teeth and tongue. These unwelcome residents dine on leftover chewed starches and sugars, excreting acids and other byproducts. Plaque holds these acids next to the enamel, dissolving it and eating into the underlying dentin, creating a cavity. Plaque also hardens into tartar, a hard mineral shell that erodes healthy gum tissue enabling infection to penetrate deep into gums and jawbone, resulting in gum (periodontal) disease.

The Bacterial Ecosystem


Our mouths are teeming cities of bacteria. Some bacteria are neutral "good" citizens, others display anti-social tendencies: etching acid graffiti, dumping toxic materials, and in the case of gum disease, creating a milieu inviting to even more dangerous criminals.

The bacteria responsible for cavities, Streptococcus Mutans, sneaks into children's mouths before they are three and have fully developed immune systems. Being "grandfathered" in, the bacteria are free from antibody attack. Strep. Mutans produces more acid than other bacteria, creating an acidic environment repellent to friendly bacteria as well as damaging to enamel. Your mother was right that sugar causes cavities: sucrose specifically selects for Strep. Mutans, and from it, the bacteria creates the stickiest, thickest gel.

At Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, CA, dental researchers aim to completely eliminate cavities in young children and prevent their exposure to Strep. Mutans by minimizing the microorganism in their parents' mouths with anti-microbial mouthwash followed by careful dental hygiene and regular dental visits for the whole family. As children get older, their enamel thickens, reducing their susceptibility to cavities.

Gum Disease

Gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease, is characterized by inflamed or bleeding gums. As periodontal disease progresses, plaque penetrates the gum tissue, causing a spreading infection with severe gum recession, creating deep plaque pockets at the gum line which harbor even more bacteria. Eventually, the infection reaches and destroys the jaw bone, and teeth fall out.

The bacterial ecosystem gets really complex with gum disease, involving at least forty types of bad bacteria. Harmful bacteria are always present in the environment, and when these pathogens encounter a mouth with a healthy low population of "normal" bacteria, they find the environment inhospitable, and do not thrive, like criminals passing through a small town of good citizens.

However, poor mouth hygiene and a sugary diet lead to a high bacterial population-the oral equivalent of New York City-much to the denizens delight. One of them, Clostridium Perfingens, is suspected of being a major cause of atherosclerosis-entering the bloodstream and promoting blood clots and damaging heart muscle. Researchers also speculate that toxins released from gum infections of pregnant women may be responsible for many low-birth-weight babies.

Natural Protection

Fortunately, our bodies have a natural arsenal of bacterial defenses, beginning with the saliva we produce during our waking hours. According to Dr. George Lessard, professor of biochemistry at Loma Linda University, the saliva produced by our parotid glands is a slightly basic solution. It neutralizes acid, washes the mouth, and deposits a protective protein coating over the teeth. Saliva also contains phosphate and calcium ions that remineralize teeth, repairing cavities before they can develop. A smidgen of fluoride (the amount in fluoridated toothpaste) is necessary for this remineralization to take place.

Loma Linda scientists have discovered that tooth pulp actually produces a fluid which flows outward through the dentin and even the enamel, naturally cleansing the teeth. This fluid is high in microminerals, such as chromium, often in short supply in current diets. One substance appears to stop this outflow of cleansing fluid cold-sucrose, common table sugar.

Although gum disease is almost ubiquitous in this country, it is not inevitable. It has been the experience of New York holistic dentist Dr. Reid Winick, that gum disease can be prevented, reversed, or at least halted in anyone who is willing to carefully improve their oral environment through dental hygiene, diet, and dental monitoring. Even deep infected gum pockets, with effort, can become clean and free from active infection. Following a healthy diet and lifestyle will help keep the immune system functioning at its peak.

Prevention Techniques

A Diet for Prevention

Dental infection is not normal, but a sign of imbalance. Eating the right foods is a key part of controlling your oral environment by encouraging healthy bacteria as well as strengthening your body's overall defenses.

  • Optimize immunity, wound healing, and salivary composition by eating nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, whole grains, beans, tofu, and nonfat dairy products.
  • Minimize consumption of table sugar (sucrose), and refined carbohydrates. Select whole grains instead.
  • Eat fibrous, crunchy foods to clean the teeth. Our ancestors' high fiber diet was partly responsible for their dental health.
  • Avoid excessive acids, such as high intake of citrus fruits, juices, sports drinks, and vinegar. Avoid cola drinks, even diet cola, because of their high phosphoric acid content. Limit toddler's juice intake and don't put babies down with a bottle.
  • Foregoing alcohol and tobacco will help diseased gums repair.
  • Eat less meat. The saliva of non-meat eaters contains more of certain amino acids, affecting the composition of oral bacteria. Finland research suggests vegetarians have less cavities and gum disease.
  • Brush after every meal or snack. Dr. Lessard suggests you chew sugar free gum if you can't brush to remove food and increase saliva.

Herbs and Supplements

Echinacea, famed for its ability to boost immunity, is as effective at jump-starting your ability to fight gum disease as it is in helping you fight off a cold. It is also an effective antibacterial.

Myrrh, an antiseptic, has been used since biblical times for soothing and healing gums and mouth sores. New research suggests it may stimulate the immune system as well. Look for myrrh in rinses and mouthwash.

Goldenseal, another herb with a long history of use in treating gum problems, contains astringent, antiseptic chemicals that reduce inflammation, soothe irritated gums, and kill microbes. Avoid if you have hypertension or are pregnant.

Tea Tree Oil was used by Australian aborigines as an antibiotic poultice for thousands of years. Research has confirmed that it is a highly potent oral antimicrobial and mild anesthetic which, unlike many antibiotics, does not damage healthy tissue. It causes local irritation in a few people and should not be swallowed.

Vitamin C is critical in maintaining connective tissue and fighting infections. Spongy gums are one of the first signs of scurvy, but even mild vitamin C deficiency causes gum problems. Vitamin A is also necessary to maintain gum integrity and fight off infection.

Zinc's ability to stimulate the immune system has been observed for years, but only recently have been documented by good research. Zinc seems to be particularly effective at reducing oral and respiratory bacteria.

Coenzyme Q, produced naturally by the liver, but also available as a supplement, has been used for years to fight gum disease. However, well conducted scientific studies have not been done to confirm anecdotal reports of its effectiveness.Dr. Andrew Weil, in his newsletter Self Healing (Jan. '97), recommends taking 60 to 100 mg of supplemental Co-Q a day, for gum problems.

Dental Hygiene

Pathogenic dental bacteria thrive in a crowd, so limiting the total bacterial number selects for healthier varieties. And removing plaque gets acid and toxins away from teeth and gums.

The American Dental Association recommends we brush and floss twice daily and visit our dentist every six months for tough plaque removal and monitoring.

Brush each tooth carefully but gently with a soft bristle brush. Dr. Winick recommends brushing four minutes with tea tree oil or peelu toothpaste, pushing it under gums and between teeth for its natural antimicrobial effects. Dr. Lessard, on the other hand, stresses the importance of brushing with fluoridated toothpastes. Avoid any abrasive toothpastes.

Clean between teeth daily using floss or a water irrigator. (Dr. Winnick prefers a water irrigator with a dental herbal mixture to clean out gum pockets.) Flossing cleans areas where the brush can't reach. Use a clean section of floss for each tooth. Wind floss around your fingers and unwind as you go. Slip between teeth and under the gum line to wipe plaque from the sides of the teeth.

The American Dental Association recommends replacing your toothbrush at least four times a year. A new generation of toothbrushes feature "natural" bristles made from boar hair or plant materials. Others use nylon bristles which are rounder, softer, and less hospitable to harboring bacteria. New shapes feature bristles which hug the teeth and curved recyclable handles to make it easier to reach all teeth surfaces.

Natural toothpastes and dentifrices eliminate synthetic ingredients and include many of the oral health herbs listed on page 2, especially tea tree oil, to kill gum bacteria. Fluoride is often added to enhance mineralization of teeth.

Baking soda, used as a mild abrasive to clean teeth since the beginning of this century, gives a clean feeling to the mouth.

Hydrogen peroxide, released from effervescent tooth powders, combines with baking soda to create unstable carbonic acid, which fights plaque, promotes mineralization, and then quickly disappears.

Mouthwash reduces bacteria in the mouth and encourages fresh breath. Traditional mouthwashes used alcohol and strong chemicals to kill bacteria, while new natural products use herbs and essential oils such as peppermint or eucalyptus as antimicrobials. Herbal mouthwashes may be used with a water irrigator.

Tongue scrapers, the latest addition to natural dental hygiene, lower the number of oral bacteria by scraping them off the tongue, a bacterial reservoir. If you don't use a tongue scraper, dental practitioners suggest using your toothbrush on your tongue.

Mercury Fillings,... are they safe?

Silver fillings (dental amalgam), the most common dental cavity filling material for the past 150 years, is composed of silver, copper, tin, and mercury. As concern about the dangers of mercury has increased, so have questions about mercury used in amalgam. In response, both US and Canadian governments conducted reviews of amalgam's safety. The US Public Health Service concluded, there is "no persuasive reason to believe that avoiding amalgams or having them removed will have a beneficial effect on health." The American Dental Association agrees. The Canadian investigation conceded that some mercury is absorbed from amalgam but at levels so low they are usually safe.

It is clear that amalgam fillings do release absorbable mercury vapors. A recent Swedish study found people with amalgam fillings had higher mercury levels, which were lowered after filling removal. "It was induced that amalgam fillings are a significant source of mercury in saliva and feces" (Toxicol Appl. Pharmacol 1997 May:144(1), 156-62). However, no one has demonstrated a slight increase above baseline environmental mercury levels causes health problems in amalgam wearers. Dentists have considerably higher mercury levels but no higher death rates than the general population. And a recent study found no higher mercury levels in people who believe they have amalgam-induced mercury poisoning than in a control group.

Like lead, mercury is extremely neurotoxic, with no safe "threshold" level. Current background levels are higher now than previously, and concern is mounting that this exposure may be dangerous. Mercury's health effects may be subtle and individual. And amalgam critics question the rationality of assiduously reducing exposure to every other mercury source-but not amalgam.

Most amalgam health studies focus on adults, but babies may be in greater jeopardy, as their neurological systems are highly sensitive to mercury. Two recent studies observed mercury exposure in pregnant or lactating women. One concluded, "The findings suggest that placement and removal of "silver" tooth fillings in pregnant and lactating humans will subject the fetus and neonate to unnecessary risk of mercury exposure" (Biol Trace Elem Research 1997 Feb 56 (2), 143-5). And a Swedish study correlated maternal amalgam with breast milk mercury levels that expose babies to one half the officially tolerable intake for adults! "We concluded that efforts should be made to decrease the mercury burden in fertile women" (Arch. Envir. Health 1996 May-June 51 (3), 234-41).

Should you have your amalgam fillings replaced if you plan to have a baby? Unfortunately, you may not be able to turn to your dentist for advice-dentists in most states are prohibited by law from advising patients to have amalgam fillings replaced for health reasons. Choose a dentist who uses careful precautions, including a latex dental dam exposing only the pertinent tooth and a sophisticated suction system to prevent swallowing amalgam. Before considering replacing amalgam fillings, however, you should know body mercury levels can temporarily rise 33 percent when four or more amalgam fillings are removed in a day (J. Canad. Dental Assoc. 1996 Jul 62 (7), 547).

Sweating is natural and treating the smell can be too.

To sweat, perhaps to stink? Perish the thought! At the first inkling of wetness, whether it's from the heat or just a bad case of nerves, we panic. We know what comes next-putrid, pervasive body odor. To guard against becoming odorous social outcasts, we spray, powder, and perfume ourselves religiously with drugstore deodorants and antiperspirants.

Although we'll do just about anything to inhibit wetness, sweat is actually good for us. Not only does it regulate our body temperature by cooling us when we're overheated, but also it helps remove toxins from our system. And surprisingly, body odor may also serve a purpose. Since human body odor develops during adolescence, some researchers believe that naturally produced scents contain pheromones, the chemicals that attract the opposite sex. According to James A. Duke, PhD, author of The Green Pharmacy (Rodale Press, 1997), "Scientists have known for a long time that pheromones play a principle role in animal mating. But until fairly recently, conventional scientific wisdom held that these chemicals had no amorous effect on us humans. Now studies have demonstrated that pheromones do indeed play a subtle but very real role in human attraction."

The Smell from Hell

While some body odors may be attractive, even downright sexy, too much of a good thing can be embarrassing. What produces the noxious odor we've come to dread? Our bodies contain two types of sweat glands-eccrine and apocrine. While the eccrine glands act as the body's thermostat, the sweat they produce has no smell. The odor comes from the apocrine glands, located under the arms, around the nipples, and in the genital area. Composed mainly of water and salt, sweat from the apocrine glands is fairly benign-at least until it comes in contact with the bacteria that lives on the surface of the skin. This bacteria feeds on sweat and decomposes it, causing odor. According to Dr. Duke, the only way to prevent the build-up of bacteria is to wash it away every six hours or so-an impractical goal at best.

Diet can also play a major role in the odor we produce. "The type of foods you eat can contribute to the way you smell," says Elson M. Haas, MD, founder and director of the Preventative Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, California, and author of The Detox Diet (Celestial Art, 1996). According to Dr. Haas, a meat-based diet and highly spiced foods can heighten body odor. To counteract a potentially odorous diet, he recommends adding some deodorizing foods to your meal including papaya, pineapple, cinnamon, oregano, and parsley, which have bacteria-fighting properties.

Desperate Measures

Ok, you meditate regularly, shower daily, and eat only the right foods, but just as a precaution you reach for the deodorant. Over-the-counter deodorants and antiperspirants may stem the flow and stop the odor thanks to a myriad of chemicals, but could this additional odor insurance actually be hazardous to your health, especially after decades of daily use? Deodorants are designed to kill bacteria and mask offending odors with a pleasant long-lasting scent using synthetic chemicals, fragrances, and colors, many of which are derived from petroleum sources. Whether deodorants come in the form of a spray, cream, roll-on, or solid stick, most contain propylene glycol. In industry, propylene glycol is used in anti-freeze and brake fluid. Readily absorbed into the skin, recent studies have tied this chemical to contact dermatitis, kidney damage, and liver abnormalities. It also inhibits skin cell growth and directly alters cell membranes.

Another ingredient commonly found in deodorants, deodorant soaps, and body washes is triclosan, a broad-spectrum antibacterial. An ingredient that can cause allergic contact dermatitis, long-term exposure to triclosan has been linked to liver damage in animals.

Antiperspirants, on the other hand, reduce perspiration by blocking the pores with aluminum compounds. Since these compounds must remain in the pores for long periods of time to work effectively, they are easily absorbed into the bloodstream. Aluminum-based ingredients, which are one of the leading causes of skin irritation, are also suspected of contributing to the development of Alzheimer's disease. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, "a statistically significant trend emerged between increasing lifetime use of aluminum-containing antiperspirants and the estimated relative risk of Alzheimer's disease."

Back in 1966 a new deodorant product appeared on store shelves which claimed to be "essential to your cleanliness and your peace of mind about being a girl-an attractive, nice-to-be-with girl." The labels on feminine deodorant sprays have changed over the past three decades to reflect our changing society, but until recently the ingredients were essentially the same. Promising to banish odor in the genital area, these products traditionally relied on talc to keep private parts fresh and dry. Chemically similar to asbestos, talc has been linked to an increase in ovarian cancer in a study by Dr. Linda Cook of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Since the chemicals found in talc-based products migrate up the vaginal canal to the reproductive tract, the study found that women who used feminine deodorant sprays had an increased ovarian cancer risk of 90 percent. While the two leading manufacturers of feminine deodorant sprays have switched from talc to cornstarch in response to consumer demand, other ingredients found in these products remain a cause for concern.

Most prevalent are benzyl alcohol, which is corrosive to the skin and mucous membranes, and isopropyl myristate, an ingredient which can cause blackheads. The University of Maryland, College Park Health Center warns that these irritants can also contribute to the development of yeast infections when sprayed on underwear and sanitary pads or, as manufacturers suggest, directly on the vaginal area.

While the makers of feminine deodorant sprays have gotten the message regarding talc, manufacturers of deodorant body powders haven't. Unfortunately, neither have the thousands of women who liberally sprinkle these powders under their arms and around their genital area every day.

Seduced by catchy advertising jingles, these women are unaware of the fact that not only are they increasing their risk of ovarian cancer by 60 percent, but also according to a report by the National Toxicology Program, each fragrant cloud of powder deposits a fine, but irritating, coating of talc in their respiratory tract. Prolonged inhalation can lead to respiratory disease.

Making Scents

If, by this time, you've decided to forget the whole thing and simply mask odor with a dose of your favorite eau de cologne, think again. Synthetic fragrances are among the leading cause of allergic reactions according to the FDA, who've received complaints of headaches, dizziness, rashes, hyper pigmentation (brown spots), coughing, vomiting, and skin irritation.

Despite all these potential health hazards, manufacturers aren't required to list the ingredients on the labels of perfumes. According to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, 95 percent of the chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, 84 percent of which have never been tested for safety.

Of those that have been tested, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that 884 were found to be toxic and capable of producing respiratory problems, neurotoxicity, multiple chemical sensitivities, and allergic reactions.

Many of these synthetic chemicals are listed as hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including methyl ethyl ketone, methylene chloride, and a-Terpineol, all of which can adversely affect the central nervous system. Benzaldehyde, a highly toxic allergen is also a common addition to perfumes. A number of synthetic ingredients can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract, including benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, and acetone. Salicylic acid, used as a fixative in perfumes, may cause photosensitivity.

If you're hooked on perfume but would like to play it safe, experiment with the vast array of pure essential oils on the market today. Simply dilute a few drops of the essential oil in 1/4 cup of vegetable oil and dab on your pulse points for a delicious scent.

Nice 'N' Natural

Fortunately, you can avoid the chemicals found in deodorants, antiperspirants, and perfumes and still enjoy feeling fresh and dry. While nothing takes the place of proper hygiene and frequent bathing, a number of natural deodorants are available that prevent odor sans petrochemicals, using antibacterial herbs such as coriander, licorice, and thyme. Some include essential oils, such as lavender and tea tree oil, which boost the products' antiseptic effect. To check wetness, look for products containing natural astringents such as witch hazel and sage.

One product gaining popularity is the deodorant stone. Made from mineral salts, the stone not only banishes odor but also shrinks pores to reduce the flow of perspiration. To use, simply wet the stone and rub it under your arms to keep you smelling sweet all day. According to manufacturers, one stone will last a year or more, making it an economical, synthetic-free alternative to traditional sticks and roll-ons.

Or head to the kitchen to make your own herbal remedies. For an effective deodorant/antiperspirant, combine a handful of dried sage and thyme in a large bowl. Cover the herbs with boiling water and steep for 30 minutes. Cool, then strain the liquid into a clean spray bottle. To use, simply spritz the mixture under the arms and allow it to dry before dressing.

If you prefer powders, try a dusting of baking soda (a terrific deodorizer), arrowroot, or cornstarch. These natural powders have absorbent properties and are safe to use on sanitary pads and vaginal areas.

Hair Care Au Naturel: Gentle herbs leave your hair soft and silky.

It's been said that hair is the barometer of the soul, reflecting our general well-being. And, while it's true that stress, poor nutrition, and daily exposure to the elements all contribute to making hair look dull and lifeless, much of the damage to its appearance is self-inflicted. Blow drying, perming, curling, and coloring can leave hair looking more like a haystack than the crowning glory it was meant to be.

To help restore health to your hair, just look to the past. For centuries, beautiful tresses have been attained with the help of Mother Nature. The beneficial properties of natural remedies were well-known to the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Chinese, who cultivated plants and herbs such as rosemary, sage, ginseng, and nettle for cosmetic as well as medicinal use.

Herbal Infusions

Throughout history, herbal infusions have been used as rinses to revitalize hair. To make your own infusions, simply steep 1/3 cup of one of the following herbs in a quart of boiling water for 15 minutes. Cool, strain, and use as a final rinse after shampooing.

Chamomile has been used for generations to add highlights and gloss to fair hair.

Ginseng replenishes moisture, giving hair more flexibility and sheen.

Lavender, with its soothing fragrance, can renew hair's silkiness and shine.

Lemongrass conditions hair, leaving it soft and lustrous.

Nettle was commonly used as a conditioner in the 19th century, adding strength and luster to overworked hair.

Rosemary, with its stimulating properties, is believed to encourage hair growth and control dandruff. It not only gives sheen to dark hair; it's a great detangler.

Sage has been used since the Middle Ages to cover those pesky strands of occasional gray.

Yarrow, once treasured by the ancient Greeks, improves hair's manageability.

Healthy Hair Basics

Keeping hair healthy and beautiful requires more than an ancient remedy. Developing healthy habits is key. A hit or miss strategy can't make up for the daily practice of gentle care.

Surprisingly, what we think of as lively hair is hardly alive at all. The root, an outgrowth of the hair follicle (of which we have about 100,000 embedded in the scalp alone), is nourished by a network of blood vessels and is the only living part of hair. The visible portion of hair is just dead matter. It makes sense, then, to give your scalp special attention.

Richard Stein, hair care specialist and author of Set Free-The Book About Hair, believes massaging the scalp is the single most important thing you can do for your hair.

Using your fingertips, gently massage your scalp in a circular pattern for a minute or two every time you shampoo. According to Stein, "massage encourages hair growth by stimulating the scalp's rich blood supply and helping to flush away metabolic waste."

How you dry your hair can also affect the health of your scalp. Stein urges us to resist the temptation to "scrub" our hair dry, suggesting instead that we gently squeeze out the moisture in the folds of a thick towel. Since heat from blow-dryers robs hair of its natural moisture, air-dry your hair whenever possible. If you must use a blow-dryer, keep it on the lowest setting.

Although brushing your hair distributes the scalp's oils, the fabled 100 strokes a night probably did more harm than good. If you must brush, never brush hair when it's wet-it's a sure-fire path to breakage and split-ends. Instead, use a wide-tooth comb or, better yet, your fingers, to gently detangle and shape.

When there's no time to wash your hair, try a "dry" shampoo. Simply mix a tablespoon of arrowroot with 1/3 cup of bran and rub it into your hair to absorb the excess oil. Gently brush out the residue and you're set to go!

Shades of Nature

Color has always fascinated us, especially when it comes to our hair. Whether we want a whole new look or just need to hide a few gray hairs, nature can provide the solution.

Exalted in ancient Indian literature and reportedly used by Cleopatra, henna has been used to color and condition hair for centuries. Denise Santamarina, owner of Natural Nouveaux, a chemical-free salon in Las Vegas, swears by the strong red plant pigment. "Unlike chemical dyes which penetrate the hair shaft," explains Santamarina, "henna wraps around each hair, effectively sealing it with a reflective coating." The result is shiny, thicker hair.

Easy-to-use, henna powder is mixed with hot water to a mud-like consistency and applied to hair. After about 45 minutes, the mixture is rinsed out, leaving hair gleaming with a reddish glow. Available at most natural food stores, henna is often blended with other plant pigments such as chamomile or walnut shells to achieve different hues.

Color can also come from a variety of other natural sources. Beets or cranberries provide a burnished red tint. Various shades of brown can be obtained from walnuts, pecans, coffee, or tea. Chamomile, marigolds, or dandelions will give blondes a golden glow.

The only requirement for these plant dyes is that you begin with a hair base light enough to "take" the color. To help guarantee the final effect, do a strand test before applying the dye to your whole head. Check the strand periodically to calculate the time required to achieve the desired result.

To release the pigment from flowers, stems, leaves, and roots, cover 3 cups of the desired plant material with cold water and bring to a boil. Boil for one hour, then strain. Continue boiling the remaining liquid for an additional hour and cool before applying to hair.

For nut dyes, roast a dozen shells in a frying pan until burnt. Cool and grind them as finely as possible. Mix the powdered shells with enough water to form a paste and spread on hair.
Rescuing Battle-Fatigued Hair

Convinced your hair is beyond help? For a quick protein fix, Santamarina suggests the application of a good quality mayonnaise before shampooing. If you need a more intensive remedy, she recommends a hot oil treatment. "Although sebum (the oil your scalp produces naturally) is the best conditioner, plant oils such as sesame or olive oil work well," she says. Her favorite? "Jojoba. Since it has the same molecular weight as sebum, it comes the closest to duplicating our natural scalp oil."

Nature's Hot Oil Treatment

A terrific way to replenish oils and help repair split ends.

3 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons jojoba oil
1 tablespoon dried nettles
1 egg yolk

Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and slowly heat to lukewarm. Skim off the nettles and massage the remaining liquid into hair, coating each strand. Wrap your head in a warm towel and leave on for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight. To remove the oil, shampoo as usual.

Old Fashioned Egg Shampoo

Nourish hair and scalp with this time-tested protein treatment to restore softness and manageability to dry hair.

2 large eggs
3 tablespoons cider vinegar or juice of half a lemon

Beat the eggs until frothy and massage into the scalp. Leave on for a few minutes before rinsing with warm water. To cut the film left by the eggs, make a final rinse by combining the vinegar (for dark hair) or the lemon juice (for fair hair) with 8 ounces of warm water.

Choose Natural

"Unlike many natural hair care products which nourish the hair and scalp, petrochemically-based cleaners can strip hair of natural oils," says Harmony Urgola, Nutrition Manager for Wild Oats Community Market, a Colorado-based whole foods chain.

While every product may not live up to its claims, can conventional hair care be potentially harmful? Research conducted over the last 20 years suggests that prolonged exposure to some chemicals commonly used in hair care products can be linked to allergies, skin irritations, and certain types of cancer. One report by the National Cancer Institute, published in the American Journal of Public Health, states that women who use hair dyes-especially darker shades-have a 50 percent higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Another study, conducted by the University of California and published in The American Journal of Industrial Medicine, found that hairdressers had four times the rate of multiple myeloma, a malignant tumor of the bone marrow. The substances in this study included hair dyes, shampoos, hair conditioners, relaxers, and permanent wave solutions. Although these products are used topically, it's impossible to keep them from touching the scalp, where the chemicals are absorbed. In her book, A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, Ruth Winter, MS, says, "It has now been accepted that all chemicals penetrate the skin to some extent, and many do so in significant amounts." According to the FDA however, these products don't require pre-market safety approval.

If you do use over-the-counter hair care products, be well informed. Don't be fooled by a few natural ingredients or environmentally responsible packaging. Companies such as Aubrey Organics make it their business to insure the true "naturalness" of their products. Always check the list of ingredients and the warning labels. "A good rule of thumb...," says Urgola, "if you won't put [an ingredient] in your body, why should you put it on your hair?"

Although not all petrochemicals are toxic, here are several to watch for: Coal tar is a common ingredient in the darker shades of hair dye, as well as many dandruff shampoos. It's been linked to frequent allergic reactions and cancer in animals. Phenylenediamine, often preceded by an m-, o-, or p-, is routinely found in permanent hair dyes and may produce eczema, bronchial asthma, gastritis, photosensitization, skin rashes, and cancer. Ammonium Thioglycolate, used in hair straighteners, can cause severe burns and blistering.

Cosmetics Without Synthetics: Discover the wonders of natural cosmetics made with earth-friendly ingredients.

All I want is a new jar of foundation, one of the brands only sold in large department stores. After 20 years of buying cosmetics, I know the routine. If you look like you know where you're going and what you're after, they're more likely to leave you alone. I make it past the saleswoman with the perfume atomizer. I wind my way around a half-dozen brightly lit counters stocked with different makeup lines, and twice saleswomen in those clinical-looking, white lab coats ask if I need any help. Perhaps I'm not walking fast enough. I arrive at the counter that carries my brand and ask for the jar of foundation, in champagne beige. Since my saleswoman is highly trained in not only t he product but also selling (she is on commission, after all), I should expect what's coming.

"Do you need any powder for oil control?" "We have a wonderful new rejuvenating toner that really brings color back into the cheeks." "Our aesthetician from Paris will be here next month-would you like to sign up for a free facial and makeover?" Too many expensive trips to the makeup counter have made me as skilled at saying no as she is at trying to sell. But, still, as I walk briskly to the nearest exit, my makeup swinging by my side in a small, fancy red bag, I can't completely quell that old twinge, the one responsible for my bathroom drawer filled with once-used eye shadows and lipsticks:" Why, do I need it?" "Do I really look that bad?" I vow, once more, to go bare-faced when my pricey jar is empty.

Switch to the cosmetics counter at my local health food store, one section over from the organic produce. Two saleswomen acknowledge me with a smile, then continue to chat as I browse through the displays of natural cosmetics lined up on the counter. They're not on commission, and if their virtually makeup-free complexions are any indication, they're more interested in the vitamins in the next aisle than cosmetics. I'm wrong. My question about the mascaras clearly shows they've tried the products. "This one"-the most expensive, I note-"tends to clump," I'm told. "That one is excellent."

There is no hard sell, just a friendly back-and-forth about the products and the purity of the natural ingredients. Makeup and organic carrots seem, well, a little incongruous in the same shopping cart. But then again, not as incongruous as going out of my way to eat organic carrots but adorning my skin with an unhealthy brew of conventional chemical-filled cosmetics.

Let's face it. There's nothing "natural" about makeup. Indeed the very term "natural cosmetics" is as oxymoronic as they come, since the purpose of a cosmetic by any name is to alter one's natural appearance. But even those among us who consider shimmering blue eye shadow an affront to the laws of nature can't always resist the "healthy" glow a twirl of mascara, a touch of blusher, a swipe of lipstick, a glint of nail color, or a dab of cover-up on that all-too-natural blemish can bring. While you can quibble with syntax, thanks to the ecoconscious demands of consumers in the 1990s, a wide variety of natural cosmetics made with earth-friendly ingredients are now available.

Natural vs. Synthetic

Just as the booming interest in healthier living has put more chemical-free foods on grocery store shelves, putting your best face forward no longer has to mean using cosmetics laden with the potentially dangerous synthetic preservatives and fragrances, artificial colors, and petrochemicals found in more than 99 percent of cosmetics sold in drug and department stores. Natural cosmetics, by comparison, stick close to the earth in terms of ingredients. Mineral pigments are mixed into an array of colors. Vegetable oils, plant waxes, and herbal extracts provide moisture and protection without the harmful drying and comedegenic effects of petroleum-based products like mineral oil. Vitamins A, C, and E, citric acids, and enzymes are used as preservatives. Artificial fragrances are taboo, and many products are also cruelty-free, meaning neither the products nor the ingredients provided by suppliers are tested on animals.

"The primary reason people choose natural cosmetics is the ingredients," says Michael Wrightson of Logona Kosmetik, a German manufacturer of natural makeup and skin care products. The broad palette of hues available ranges from subtle browns and pinks to vivid reds and burgundies, which means you can be as basic or bold with color as you want. Though price tags can approach those of the cosmetics sold in better department stores, the consumer gives up the professional service associated with these large companies, including such "perks" as a skin care analysis or makeover by staff trained in the particular product. But also missing is the hard sell by commissioned salespeople. The bonus: makeup free of the chemical-based ingredients that have been keeping dermatologists busy for the better part of a century, or at least since modern lipstick was invented in 1915.

"Eczema, rashes, acne, and scaliness are just a few of the problems associated with the use of cosmetics," says New York dermatologist Laurie Polis, M.D., F.A.A.D., and while the culprits vary with the individual, Polis puts allergic reactions caused by artificial preservatives, fragrances, colors, and emulsifiers near the top of her list. Natural ingredients can also be allergens, warns Polis, though far less frequently than their synthetic counterparts. Studies funded by the FDA implicate artificial fragrances and synthetic preservatives, particularly the commonly used "parabens," as the major allergens. Pore-clogging petrochemicals like mineral oil are another bugaboo with mainstream makeup. But ironically, the number one problem is bacterial overgrowth, this despite the synthetic preservatives used to combat contamination.

"You put your finger over a bottle of foundation to get it out and a colony of bacteria starts to grow over months or years, or however long you keep the product," says Polis. "We could do science experiments with some of this stuff." Bacteria is a particular problem with creamy cosmetics like foundation, mascara, and liquid blushers or eye shadows, since these pesky germs love to grow in liquids. Polis recommends using clean hands when applying makeup, never sharing it with a friend, and throwing out cream-based products after three months to guard against bacteria-related skin problems.

Natural cosmetics can suffer from the same rapid degradation, but at least the citric acid, Vitamins A, C, and E, and other natural preservatives used to fight bacterial invasion are healthy enough to eat, which is essentially what you're doing when you leave some of the ingredients in makeup on your skin all day. While most substances in makeup don't penetrate the surface of the skin, active ingredients, including preservatives and artificial colors, do find their way into the body to some extent.

Toxic Effects of Synthetics

"In general, the skin absorbs about 10 percent of the active ingredients you put on it," says New York dermatologist Karen E. Burke, M.D., Ph.D. Burke points out that this amount is minuscule compared with actually eating foods containing preservatives, artificial colors, or other synthetic ingredients. But the fact is, no one knows what the cumulative effect of these toxins are on the body over time, especially when combined with the chemicals absorbed much more readily through food and the environment.

Since cosmetics are defined by the Food, Drug, & Cosmetics Act as "promoting attractiveness" and not as drugs, the cosmetics industry is not regulated by the FDA. Safety testing on products is done on a voluntary basis by the industry, and while many manufacturers invest a great deal of money and effort in testing, toxic mistakes have been made. A number of "safe" artificial colors used in cosmetics for decades were banned after further testing found them to be carcinogenic. A handful of artificial colors currently used in makeup are considered potentially carcinogenic, yet they remain on the market. Coal tar dyes are banned from products that are used around the eye area, including eye shadow, because they can cause serious eye injury. Yet these dyes are deemed safe for use in other types of makeup, including lipstick, which is ingested each time you lick your lips.

The most dramatic example of a synthetic chemical that cleared safety testing with flying colors but turned out to be lethal is the preservative hexachlorophene, which was an ingredient in a popular skin cleanser for infants. The preservative built up to toxic levels in the body, leading to brain damage and even death in infants, and is now banned in products for babies.

Read Between the Lines

The best place to find cosmetics made without synthetic chemicals is in a health food store. But beware: Just because the word "natural" is emblazoned on the label of a product doesn't necessarily mean all the ingredients live up to the claim.

Carefully read the fine print before buying a product. Many of the cosmetics sold even in health food stores are hybrids, with such natural substances as herbal extracts and rose hip oil listed alongside synthetic preservatives like methylparaben. Artificial colors can usually be spotted by the letters FD&C or D&C (short for "Food, Drug, & Cosmetic or Drub & Cosmetic), followed by the color and number ("D&C" rec no. 6 barium lake," for example, though sometimes just "red no. 6 barium lake" without the initials). Common synthetic preservatives are the parabens, including methylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben. The term hypoallergenic on a product is almost meaningless, since the use of the word is unregulated. It most likely means the cosmetic is fragrance-free, but unless the product is truly natural, it probably contains synthetic preservatives and other common chemical allergens.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Understanding Herbal Medicine Potency

Herbal Medicine Potency: Standardized Versus Concentrated Extracts

With the explosion of consumer use of herbal medicines, it is important to have some understanding of the means by which these botanical supplements are classified with regard to potency. Most herbal preparations, whether in the form of capsule, tablet or tincture, are derived from a number of different processing techniques applied to freshly harvested plants. Once processed, these herbal supplements can then be rated in one of two categories: Standardized Extracts or Concentrated Extracts.

Standardized Extracts

Extracts are usually "Standardized" when there is specific knowledge of the therapeutic properties of the compound or compounds within the plant preparation. Once this therapeutic property is known, the amount of compound responsible for elicting the therapeutic effect can be quantified and each extract preparation can then be standardized to a specific percentage of active constituent. This percentage is identified by a ratio of the amount of active compound to dilutent or carrier compound.

Extracts can also be standardized without specific knowledge of the active constituent. In this case, standardization is defined by the percentage of a key component within the compound which is not necessarily the active ingredient. A classic example of this is St. John's Wort. Most extracts are standardized to 0.3% hypericin, despite inconclusive evidence that hypericin is the compound which exerts St John's Wort's antidepressant effect.

Concentrated Extracts

Sometimes herbal extracts are not standardized; rather their potency is expressed as a ratio known as a concentrate. Specifically, this is a pseudo-quantitative measurement of the strength of the extract expressed by its concentration relative to raw, unprocessed plant. For example, a 1:5 concentrate defines one part of extract as equivalent to five parts of raw plant. This designation is less useful than standardization because it does not quantify active compound. In general, those manufacturers complying with Good Manufacturing Practice today are predominantly utilizing standardization rather then concentration.

Vitamin C and E in Preeclampsia

Preliminary Evidence Suggests Vitamin C and Vitamin E May Be Protective in Women Prone to Preeclampsia

A recent randomized, placebo-controlled trial published in the September 4th edition of Lancet examined the effects of a high dose combination of vitamins C and E on pregnant women at risk for the potentially serious complication known as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-induced sydrome which involves the development of hypertension, proteinuria(protein in the urine) and generalized swelling, which,if left untreated, can lead to fetal mortality and maternal morbidity.

Researchers from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at St. Thomas' Hospital in London enrolled 283 women at risk for developing preeclampsia between 16 and 22 weeks' gestation to receive either placebo or a high dose regimen of vitamins C and E. The women were subsequently followed to term and monitored for signs and symptoms of preeclampsia.

Among the 142 women who received placebo, 24 (17%) developed preeclampsia, whereas in the vitamin group only 11 of 141 (8%) developed the condition. Statistical analysis based on these figures demonstrated a significant 61% relative risk reduction for preeclampsia in the vitamin group.

This study demonstrates promise for the role of high dose vitamin C and E in the prevention of preeclampsia, but it is important to realize that the number of patients included in this study was small and these results cannot yet be universally applied to women who are prone to developing the condition. In addition, this study did not look at the fetal risk associated with higher than normal maternal ingestion of vitamins. As a result, it is imperative to understand that women at risk for preeclampsia should not indiscriminantly take high doses of vitamin C or E based solely on this report. This is an area of research which is promising and should be followed until larger scale trials which examine the effects on both the mother and the child have been completed.

Vitamin E: From Atherosclerosis to Alzheimer's.

Vitamin E supplementation has been utilized for a wide variety of illnesses

throughout the previous decades. In recent years, the spotlight has turned to the use of tocopherols in atherosclerosis as it relates to coronary and peripheral vascular disease. There is good evidence to suggest that vitamin E plays a beneficial role as adjunctive therapy in patients with diseased blood vessels and abnormal cholesterol levels. Furthermore, vitamin E may be protective against blood vessel injury in patients undergoing bypass surgery. Aside from its contribution to heart and vascular disease, oxidative stress has also been linked to Alzheimer's disease.

As a result, there have been several recent investigations into the use of vitamin E and other antioxidants in the management of Alzheimer’s dementia. Although the data are not definitive, there is some compelling evidence to suggest that vitamin E may be a beneficial addition to the current armamentarium in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. Other areas where tocopherol therapy may also be beneficial are in the management of skin disorders such as eczema and acne, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, and fertility.

There is controversy in the utilization of vitamin E for certain conditions such as benign fibrocystic breast disease and intermittent claudication; however, review of the recent literature does not support the use of tocopherol therapy for these conditions.

Carotenoids and Colon Cancer

Only Specific Carotenoids Seem To Be Protective Against Colon Cancer

Numerous recent studies have demonstrated a protective effect of the carotenoid family against the development of certain types of cancer. The carotenoids, though, are a diverse group of compounds and studies have not yet definitively determined which members of this chemical family are most active in cancer protection. However, a recent study published in the February 2000 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition may shed some light on this subject.

This study, conducted at the Univeristy of Utah Medical School, examined 1993 patients with their first primary colon cancer to a population of 2410 control subjects without colon cancer. Subsequently, data were obtained from a specific dietary questionnaire administered to both groups of patients. These data were then assigned nutrient values and were analyzed on the basis of dietary intake of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-cryptotoxanthin.

Results demonstrated that the only carotenoid associated with a statistically significant inverse relationship with colon cancer was lutein. Moreover, this inverse relationship was more prominent in patients diagnosed at a young age and in patients with tumors located proximally within the colon.

The principal dietary sources of lutein in patients analyzed in this study were carrots, celery, spinach, broccoli, lettuce and tomatoes. As a result, researchers concluded that increased dietary intake of these foods may be beneficial in reducing colon cancer risk. Although this is compelling observational evidence, the definitive answer will not be available until a good, randomized, placebo controlled trial is conducted. Until then, it is certainly not a bad idea to consume the high-carotene foods, as they are generally healthy in many other ways.

St. John's Wort and Depression

More Evidence to Support The Use of St. John's Wort in Depression

A recent article publsihed in the December 11th issue of the British Medical Journal examined the effectiveness of St. John's Wort versus imipramine and placebo in the treatment of moderate depression. In this multicenter trial conducted in Germany, 263 patients were randomized to receive either St. John's Wort (350 mg three times per day), imipramine (50 mg in the morning, 25 mg midday and 25 mg at night) or placebo (administered 3 times per day)for an 8 week treatment period. Patients were subsequently monitored and outcomes were assessed by utilizing the Hamilton depression and anxiety scales, the clinical global improvement scale, Zung's self-rating depression scale and an adverse event profile (The assessment scales denoted above are common tools in research and clinical practice for objectively assessing depression/anxiety parameters).

Scores obtained on all depression scales at 4, 6 and 8 weeks after initiation of treatment demonstrated equivalence between St. John's Wort and imipramine with a clear benefit of both over placebo. The rate of adverse events was similar between the placebo and St. John's Wort groups, both being less than the imipramine group.

This study, similar to many others conducted with St. John's Wort, demonstrates its efficacy in the management of moderate depression. Moreover, this trial provides evidence for a favorable adverse event profile for St. John's Wort as well. Independently, this trial is not large scale given the study population of 263 patients; however, the results are consistent with previous randomized controlled trials utilizing this herbal extract. Such reproducibility lends further justification for the utilization of St. John's Wort in patients exhibiting mild to moderate depressive symptoms.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Magnets:They're Not Just for Your Fridge!

Magnetism is quickly becoming a household word. According to many researchers in the field of bio-magnetic health, magnetics can be used to balance individuals who have become unhealthy due to overexposure to too many positive producing magnetic fields.

In simple terms, health is a balance of negative/positive magnetic energy. The positive field, which is acid producing, can create such conditions as arthritis, mental confusion, fatigue, pain, insomnia and encourage fat storage. Some of the culprits are processed foods, caffeine, nicotine, toxic chemicals in abundance in cosmetics, colognes, agriculture, auto exhaust, over-the-counter and prescription drugs.

The negative field, producing alkalinity, increases oxygen, encourages deep sleep, reduces inflammation and fluid retention, relieves pain, promotes mental acuity and balance.

The balancers are living foods such as fresh raw vegetables and fruits, restful sleep, reduced consumption of the culprits and the use of negative field magnetic products.

There are a number of products available depending on where the most physical stress is being felt. Magnetic innersoles have proven extremely effective for foot pain, leg problems, including circulation sometimes associated with diabetic neuropathy. They are also used by many athletes or people who stand on their feet for long periods of time for overcoming fatigue.

Back wraps have been used by many for help with back pain associated with such conditions as weak muscles, injuries and arthritis.

Elastic knee and elbow tubes have been used for injury and inflammation in those areas.

Expansion bracelets have proven to eliminate the inflammation in the wrist associated with carpal tunnel syndrome and other pain and inflammation problems of neck and shoulders, including headaches.

The mattress pad is the all time favorite. Bombarding the body with its natural sleep field during the sleep cycles results in a good, deep restful night's sleep, waking with amazing energy, and if suffering from arthritis, often times pain free. Nighttime asthma problems have also been reported relieved.

Also, a magnetic treatment system is available for your home. If you have hard water, you may be interested to know that a half inch of scale lime build-up in your hot water heater can require 70% more energy use to heat the water. Drinking and bathing in magnetized water can improve many health conditions.

How long have magnetics been around? Nature manufactured the first magnet, lodestone, as molten lava spewed from erupting volcanoes cooling and hardening. Due to its iron content it absorbed the earth's magnetism and created the first magnets.

Is magnetic therapy new? No. In China, France, Japan and India, magnetic therapy has long been used to speed the healing of broken bones and soft tissue injuries. However, not all magnets are created equal and persons working with magnets should be aware of the difference. Remember, negative and positive have separate and opposite effects.

Seasonal Allergy Relief Naturally

Spring and fall are the least popular seasons for most allergy sufferers. The usual disturbing symptoms of environmental (inhalant) allergies are often severe enough to interfere with productivity. Allergies to grasses, trees, molds, pollens, dust and other environmental pollutants can cause chronic sinus congestion, runny nose, postnasal drip, headaches, earaches, itching, eye irritation and infection, wheezing and sneezing, all with variable degrees of severity. Despite a greater awareness of natural ways to both prevent and treat seasonal allergies, most of the North American public is still resorting to the use of symptom suppressing drugs like antihistamines, decongestants and corticosteroids.

Antihistamines are used for hay fever and seasonal allergy relief. Derived from tranquilizers, they can cause drowsiness, depression, weight gain and serious cardiac complications when combined with antibiotics or other drugs. A recent editorial published in The Canadian Medical Association Journal (July 1, 1997; 157(1)) concluded that certain antihistamines can cause death due to serious cardiac arrythmias (heart beat irregularities). Other negative reports on the long term side effects of antihistamines (weight gain), decongestants (strokes) and steroids (ulcers) have prompted many with environmental allergies to seek safer, more natural alternatives.

Clean Up the Diet

To begin with, several good studies have shown a positive correlation between sugar consumption and allergic symptoms. Eliminating refined sugar and foods containing chemical additives from the diet is a good place for most allergy sufferers to start. Seasonal allergic symptoms are often diminished by eating more foods like garlic, onions, horseradish, citrus, carrots, greens, cayenne or other hot peppers as tolerated, provided you are not allergic to them.

The diagnosis and elimination of unsuspected food allergies (usually to dairy and wheat products, yeast, corn, chocolate and eggs) can also have a significant beneficial effect for environmental allergies. Several studies show that people allergic to grass pollens also reacted to tomatoes, peanuts, wheat, apple, carrot, celery, peach, melon, eggs and pork.

To find out which foods aggravate symptoms of seasonal allergies, an elimination diet can be done. This involves the removal of suspected foods from the diet for at least two weeks followed by systematic re-introduction of these foods, noting reactions. An increasingly popular alternative to this elimination-provocation technique is blood tests called RAST or ELISA that measure the levels of antibodies directed against various foods.

Although one does not necessarily notice any specific allergic reactions on an immediate basis after consuming certain foods, there may be delayed reactions, the net effect of which cause an abnormal immune response in the form of chronic sinus congestion, runny nose, wheezing and sneezing. Dark circles and swelling around the eyes are common signs of unsuspected delayed food allergies, especially in children.

Clean up the Environment

The use of HEPA air filters, humidifiers or dehumidifiers in the home can often make a big difference in preventing allergic symptoms. So can water filters that remove chlorine and other chemicals from both drinking and bathing water. Ionizers and other types of air cleaners in the car are also a good idea, especially if one spends over half an hour each day in the car.

If you are allergic to pollen, wear sunglasses to keep pollen from getting into your eyes. Never rub your eyes while you are outdoors as this could lead to swelling around the eyes. Always change your clothes, shower and wash your hair to remove pollen. Washing your hair before going to bed is important to avoid bringing pollen into bed with you to inhale.

Nasal douching with a warm saline solution (a 1/4 teaspoon of salt to one cup of warm water) several times daily rinses pollen grains, mold, airborne pollutants and other irritants off nasal tissues and soothes irritated mucous membranes.

Correct Nutritional Deficiencies

Environmental allergies can also be lessened by correcting nutritional deficiencies, especially to zinc, selenium, carotenoids, vitamin C and vitamin E. Studies on vitamin C have shown that in very high doses, it has antihistaminic effects but without the weight gain and the adverse cardiac consequences. High dose vitamin C often also increases energy and enhances muscle strength. The only side effect of vitamin C is loose bowel movements or diarrhea if the dose taken is too high for the given individual.

Deficiencies in essential fatty acids (omega-3 from fish oils and omega-6 from evening primrose oil) can aggravate most allergic conditions as well as cause dry skin, eczema or, in women, worsening premenstrual syndrome.

Use Nutritional Supplements

Several other food supplements may be of help to chronic allergy sufferers: vitamin A, pantothenic acid (vitamin B 5), vitamin B 6, and the bioflavonoids, especially quercetin, grape seed extract or pycnogenol. Bicarbonate powder (calcium, magnesium and potassium bicarbonate mixture) is another drug alternative that can be used to neutralize acute allergic reactions in many individuals.

Quercetin stabilizes mast cell membranes and prevents histamine release (500 to 1,000 mg at least three times a day). Pycnogenol (pine bark extract) or grape seed extract is another useful natural antihistamine. I suggest 300 mg per day until symptoms clear, then half that dose thereafter for several months. When taking quercetin, adding 250 Ð 500 mg. Of the pineapple enzyme, bromelain, is a very good idea since bromelain improves the absorption of quercetin from the gastrointestinal tract.

Rutin, hesperidin and catechin are other bioflavonoids that are effective for some individuals; dosages range from 1000 to 3000 mgs. daily as needed. These can be used along with quercetin for more serious cases.

Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), helps form adrenal hormones that deflect stress and allergic reactions. Try 500 mg three or more times daily. Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine. Take it to bowel tolerance levels (6,000 mg or more in divided doses throughout the day).

New findings suggest that for each additional milligram (mg) of vitamin E consumed in the diet there is an allergy antibody lowering effect of over 5 per cent. The higher the blood concentrations of vitamin E, the lower the level of an antibody family called IgE, a marker for the degree of allergy in the body. Asthma and numerous diseases associated with allergy may therefore directly benefit from vitamin E supplementation (400 IU Ð 3200 IU daily). (The Lancet, November 4, 2000).

Many doctors who have prescribed vitamin E for decades have noted anecdotally that people who suffer from various conditions benefit from high doses of vitamin E. These ailments include seasonal allergies, hay fever, asthma, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis, lupus and many other types of immune system disorders. In my practice I have consistently seen IgE and other high antibody levels return to normal with daily doses of 3,200 IU of vitamin E combined with high-dose essential fatty acids (fish oils, evening primrose oil, hempseed oil).

Use Herbal Remedies

To reduce mucous and nasal congestion, try the herb stinging nettles, one to two capsules (500 mg.) every four hours as needed.

Curcumin, an extract of tumeric, has been shown to be as effective an anti-inflammatory remedy as prescription cortisone. Unlike steroids, curcumin has virtually no side effects. In selected cases, treatment of bacterial overgrowth, parasites or a chronic candida ("yeast syndrome") infection improves allergies.

Other herbs with an anti-inflammatory or anti-allergy effect are licorice root, ephedra (controversial these days), lobelia, eyebright, cayenne, horehound, fenugreek and mullein.

Use Immune Modulating Supplements

The use of natural remedies in the form of herbs and other food extracts has become an increasingly popular way of both up-regulating a sluggish immune system or down-regulating an overactive one. Aside from vitamin E discussed earlier, there is a long list of immune modulating supplements. The most notable of these include astragalus, bovine colostrum, echinacea, larch arabinogalactan, medicinal mushrooms (reishi, maitaki, shitake), mild silver protein, oil of oregano, probiotics (e.g. lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria), sterols and sterolins (beta-sitosterol) and transfer factor. One or a combination of these can make a dramatic impact on optimizing immunity.

Use Other Alternatives

Homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and massage are other therapies that have been reported to help those with seasonal allergies. The choice is yours but itÕs always wise to discuss any drug alternatives with your health care provider.

For more information on all these remedies and the natural approach to illness in general, see the Encyclopedia of Natural Healing (Alive Books, 1998; medical editor: Zoltan P. Rona, M.D., M.Sc.; 1-800-661-0303).

Other References

Boccafogli A, Vicentini L, Camerani A, Cogliati P, D'Ambrosi A, Scolozzi R. Adverse food reactions in patients with grass pollen allergic respiratory disease. Annals of Allergy 1994; 73:301-8.

de Martino M, Novembre E, Cozza G, de Marco A, Bonazza P, Vierucci A. Sensitivity to tomato and peanut allergens in children monosensitized to grass pollen. Allergy 1988;43:206-13.

de Blay F, Pauli G, Bessot JC. Cross-reactions between respiratory and food allergens. Allergy Proceedings1991;12:313-7

Mittman P. Randomized, double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica dioica (stinging nettle) in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Med 1990; 56(1):44-7.