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Archive for November 22, 2010

11 Must-Have Healing Remedies

11 Must-Have Healing Remedies

Peeked inside your medicine cabinet lately? Chances are — even if you eat locally, compost food scraps, and clean with nothing but vinegar and baking soda — its contents are a medicinal flashback to your childhood.

“When it comes to our medicine cabinets, it’s habitual to reach for over-the-counter drugs,” says Madelon Hope, M.Ed., LMHC, a clinical herbalist and director of the Boston School of Herbal Studies. “These medications are the ones our mothers gave us, and those memories condition our responses today.”

If this sounds like you, it’s time for a bathroom-cabinet makeover. While there are times you may still want to use conventional meds, such as ibuprofen and antibiotic ointment, natural remedies can be just as fast and effective as over-the-counter fixes — sometimes more so.

Best of all, they often have far fewer (if any) pesky or potentially harmful side effects.

You don’t have to replace everything in your cabinet all at once, of course, and not every natural remedy is right for everyone. But if you’re looking to transform your medicine cabinet from retro-conventional to at least partially au naturel, here are a few items you’ll want to consider keeping within reach.

Calendula Cream

Good for: Insect bites, stings or skin irritation

Because: Calendula (made from marigolds) is a centuries-old remedy for any skin itch or ouch, from bee stings to sunburn to eczema. The plant’s skin-relieving properties come from its mixture of essential oils, which are both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory.

How to: Apply an ointment containing 2 to 5 percent calendula, as needed, up to four times daily.

Tip: If you have ragweed allergies, apply a dime-size test patch the first time and watch for an allergic reaction (red or itchy bumps). Why? Because calendula (i.e., marigolds) and ragweed are both members of the Aster (Compositae) family and may cause an allergic reaction in those who are hypersensitive.

Lavender & Tea Tree Oil

Good for: Cuts, burns, athlete’s foot, minor infections or as a natural disinfectant

Because: Both are natural antiseptics, so they are great for killing germs, and each has its own medicinal prowess. Although best known for its relaxing aroma, which is proven to quell anxiety, lavender can also cool the pain of minor kitchen burns and sunburns, as well as prevent scarring. Meanwhile, tea tree oil is an equally powerful disinfectant, so a drop or two of essential oil can be smoothed onto cuts to stave off infection. Plus, its antifungal properties make it a natural weapon against the common toe fungus that causes athlete’s foot. In one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, tea tree oil was more than twice as effective as a placebo in relieving the burning and itching of athlete’s foot.

How to: Both essential oils are natural antiseptics, and too much may dry the skin, so use sparingly.

Tip: Add a few drops of lavender and tea tree essential oil to a spray bottle filled with water to make a disinfecting spritz for countertops, doorknobs and even yoga mats.

Arnica Tablets and Cream

Good for: Bruises, bumps, muscle aches and sprains

Because: Arnica is made from extracts of the mountain daisy, a flowering plant common at high elevations in Europe. Reportedly, the herb’s healing properties were discovered when people noticed that mountain goats nibbled on the plant after a bad fall. Quaint as that sounds, arnica has some serious scientific backing. Studies show that an active component in arnica, called helenalin, impedes the body’s inflammatory response to injury by preventing the release of an immune system regulator called NF-kB. One caveat: The plant itself can be toxic, so use only arnica gels and tablets, not the raw herb.

How to: For whole-body trauma, like after surgery, or widespread muscle aches, take five tablets of homeopathic arnica four times daily until you experience relief. For a milder, more isolated injury, like a bruise or sore muscles, apply topical arnica cream or gel as soon as possible and repeat three to five times daily until pain, bruising and swelling are gone.

Tip: Hope recommends arnica tablets labeled 12X, which are available commercially. If you can find 6X tablets, even better — they pack a more powerful punch.

Aloe Vera

Good for: Mild to moderate sunburn and household burns

Because: Aloe vera gel soothes and cools the surface of the skin, calming the heat and irritation of a burn. The viscous juice of the aloe vera plant contains natural inflammation fighters, called salicylates. As pain and swelling subside, other aloe ingredients (a.k.a. polysaccharides) goad the body into making antibodies, which speed healing. Petri-dish studies show that regenerating skin cells, called fibroblasts, reproduce up to four times faster when treated with aloe vera. “When it comes to sunburn, aloe vera works beautifully,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of Pain Free 1-2-3 (McGraw-Hill, 2004).

How to: Slather aloe vera gel onto a sunburn or minor kitchen burn every couple of hours until heat dissipates and pain lessens. Look for ingredient lists with aloe vera near the top. Aloe vera gels can be naturally drying, so you might want to apply a moisturizer once the aloe has done its job. (Particularly for burns, avoid aloe products with alcohol, which can further dry out the skin.) And skip the day-glo green aloe vera gels, which are laced with artificial colors.

Tip: It won’t fit in your medicine cabinet, but if you’re willing to think outside the box, keep an aloe vera plant in the kitchen. For burns, clip segments from the oldest, bottom-most leaves (so you don’t stunt the plant’s growth) and slather the juice on your red, inflamed skin. It should quickly relieve the pain. If the pain returns, simply clip another segment and apply more gel.

Eucalyptus Essential Oil

Good for: Upper-respiratory infection

Because: Squeezed from the leaves and branch tips of eucalyptus trees, eucalyptus oil also has antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, all of which may help fight off infection and speed recovery. Eucalyptus oil is also an expectorant, meaning it helps expel mucous from the lungs.

How to: Put two or three drops of eucalyptus essential oil in a pot of boiling water and inhale the steam. For children with chest colds, add a few drops to a vaporizer and run it in their bedroom at night. During the day, a couple of drops of essential oil placed under the nose can keep congestion at bay. Smell familiar? Eucalyptus owes its activity to menthol, a key ingredient in most vapor rubs.

Tip: A little eucalyptus oil goes a long way. Too much of any essential oil can be a skin irritant, so use sparingly as a topical treatment.

Peppermint Tea, Tablets and Essential Oil

Good for: Stomach cramps and bloating (use tea or tablets), as well as aches and pains including headaches (use essential oil)

Because: Topically, in small doses, peppermint oil eases the pain of sore muscles and headaches by stimulating nerve receptors on the skin, which override pain signals, says Teitelbaum, who serves as medical director of the national Fibromyalgia & Fatigue Centers. “There is only so much signal that can travel along any given nerve, and I’d rather have a minty-fresh signal than an ouch signal.”

Internally, peppermint can be inhaled, tossed back in a tablet or sipped as a tea. For a stuffy nose, a few drops of peppermint essential oil in a vaporizer can ease breathing.

For stomach troubles after a meal, a simple cup of peppermint tea aids digestion and supports the breakdown of food.

For intestinal problems, though, peppermint tablets are best. Peppermint is a muscle relaxant, so the herb can relax muscles that are prone to cramping during digestion. In a 2007 study published in the journal Digestive and Liver Disease, patients with IBS who swallowed peppermint capsules one hour before eating felt a 75 percent reduction in symptoms, compared with only a 38 percent drop for those who popped placebos.

One caveat: If muscle-relaxing peppermint oils come into contact with the esophageal sphincter, they can cause it to loosen up, which can lead to heartburn. The fix is to use enteric-coated peppermint capsules, which protect the esophagus on the way down and get the cramp-relieving oils where they need to be — in the colon, explains Jamey Wallace, ND, clinical medical director of Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, Wash.

How to: For tension headaches, massage two to four drops of peppermint oil into the skin of the forehead (more than that can be irritating when applied directly to the skin). To soothe a cough, squeeze three to four drops of peppermint oil into hot water or a vaporizer and inhale the steam. For digestion, drink a cup of peppermint tea after a meal. And, if you’ve been diagnosed with an irritated colon, try enteric-coated peppermint tablets and follow instructions on the label.

Tip: Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council, likes to keep peppermint spirits handy for a quick stomach soother. A blend of peppermint leaf extract and peppermint essential oil, peppermint spirits offer fast-acting relief from both stomach upset and gas. Place a dropper’s worth of spirits in a glass of water and drink up.


Good for: Relieving flu symptoms

Because: This homeopathic flu remedy contains a highly diluted concentration of the virus (so diluted, in fact, that no clinically testable trace of the flu is in the final formula), which sparks the body’s immune system to fight off the bug. Several studies have shown that oscillococcinum not only lessens the severity of flu symptoms but also shortens their duration. The latest research, published in the British Homeopathic Journal, found that nearly 63 percent of people who took oscillococcinum within 24 hours of flu onset showed either “clear improvement” or “complete resolution” within 48 hours.

Homeopathy works on a different set of principles than conventional medicine — its basic approach is that “like treats like” — therefore, randomized-controlled trials (the gold standard of Western medicine) are difficult to design. “Even though the remedy only contains an energetic imprint of the flu,” says Wallace, “the body summons the immune system to respond to the virus to fight it off.”

Farfetched though it may seem, some doctors are keeping a more open mind about homeopathic remedies these days. Mehmet Oz, MD, appeared on Oprah a few years ago and touted energy medicine (which includes homeopathy) as the next big frontier in modern medicine.

How to: Like any flu-preventative, oscillococcinum works best if taken early, preferably within 24 hours of experiencing bodywide aches, fever and runny nose. Again, follow instructions on the label.

Tip: Substances such as caffeine, chocolate, mint and menthol are thought to dampen the power of homeopathic remedies, so try to avoid them while using oscillococcinum.

Valerian Capsules or Tincture

Good for: Insomnia

Because: Used as a sleep aid since the times of the ancient Greeks, valerian is one of the best-studied herbs for insomnia. A stack of studies show that valerian shortens the time it takes to fall asleep without leaving you with any of the “hangover” side effects common with prescription sleep aids.

Exactly how valerian works is unclear. Like most plant-based remedies, it’s probably a combination of factors. For instance, animal studies indicate valerian’s volatile oils have sedative properties. Other studies show the herb tricks the brain into releasing more GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a calming neurotransmitter, before blocking it from being sucked up by nerve cells, so the GABA continues to circulate and encourage sleep.

How to: The herb’s potency varies depending on the product, so it’s best to follow dosage instructions on the label. A common therapeutic dose is 300 mg of standardized (0.5 percent essential oil) valerian extract. Instead of taking it all at once, you might take three 100-mg capsules over the course of the evening to gradually ease your body into sleep mode. Or, if using a tincture (a concentrated, liquid form of the herb), dilute a dropper’s worth of valerian in a cup of water and drink one dose after dinner and another before bed. Madelon Hope advises keeping either a valerian capsule or diluted tincture by the bedside for middle-of-the-night wakeups.

Tip: In about 10 percent of people, valerian actually creates restlessness and anxiety, so take a fraction of a dose the first time to make sure you’re not one of the unlucky few.

Rescue Remedy

Good for: Anxiety, emotional upset or panic

Because: Rescue Remedy, the most popular of the many flower remedies, is a blend of five different flower essences, each countering a particular type of stress. Flower remedies are made mostly from wildflowers infused in water, then filtered and preserved with equal parts brandy. Medical evidence detailing if and how flower essences work is sparse, but that doesn’t keep many integrative physicians from swearing by them. “Flower remedies fall under the art of medicine and the heart of healing,” says Teitelbaum. “Who the heck knows how they work, but they do.”

How to: To manage everyday stress, place four drops on the tongue three or four times a day. Or dilute the drops in a glass of water and sip throughout the day. For acute stress or anxiety, take four drops every 20 minutes until feelings subside.

Tip: One of the biggest perks of flower essences is that they have absolutely no side effects. Alcohol-free versions of Rescue Remedy are available for children and pets.

Andrographis Paniculata Tincture

Good for: Fighting off colds

Because: An immune-enhancing herb common in traditional Chinese medicine, Andrographis paniculata is a potent infection-fighter. In a review of 11 double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, Andrographis paniculata repeatedly curtailed cold and flu symptoms. In one of the best studies to date, the herb outperformed placebo by squelching cold symptoms, including headache, runny nose and sore throat. How does it work? “Like every herb, Andrographis paniculata has many, many active constituents,” says Hope, “but a big part of its usefulness are powerful antimicrobial substances.”

How to: A dose of Andrographis paniculata is 400 mg three times a day.

Tip: If a cold feels imminent, choose a tincture over a capsule or tablet, says Hope. Tinctures are easily absorbed by the body; therefore, they get to work faster. “When I’m on the threshold of a cold, three to four dropper’s worth of Andrographis in a glass of water a day is very effective.”

Dr. Schulze’s Intestinal Formula #1

Good for: Occasional constipation

Because: This product packs a virtual who’s who of the herbal laxative world, with two varieties of aloe leaf extracts as its top ingredients, followed closely by senna leaf and cascara sagrada, two lesser-known bowel-movement helpers.

Aloe, although best known as an external salve, has a long history as a laxative, too. Plant compounds in aloe stimulate the inner lining of the colon, upping what experts aptly call the gut’s “transit time.” While supplements containing aloe, such as Dr. Schulze’s Intestinal Formula #1, definitely get the job done, it’s important to use them cautiously and to follow their directions to the letter. Overdoing any laxative can lead to diarrhea and dehydration.

How to: Follow the directions on the label exactly, building dosage a capsule at a time until the desired effect is achieved. Not for daily use. See package for other contraindications.

Tip: Aloe works, in part, by slightly irritating the gut, thereby loosening stuck material and encouraging the lower bowel to move, so steer clear of aloe products if you have an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s. Also avoid taking this product if you will be far from a bathroom, since the need to eliminate can come on suddenly.

Stocking your medicine cabinet with natural cures is a safe, practical way to prepare for life’s little accidents, infections and intermittent health challenges. It’s important to choose products you feel comfortable with, though, and it’s fine to steer clear of any products whose claims seem overblown, or whose ingredients give you pause.

While you’re experimenting, continue stocking those tried-and-true conventional remedies that give you both good results and peace of mind. Over time, you’ll discover which new natural favorites complement your cache of conventional standards, and which of them might eventually take their place.

And if reaching for plant-based remedies feels a little strange at first, take comfort in the fact that many modern pharmaceuticals still depend on natural ingredients as a basis for their formulations. “Plant-based remedies got our ancestors through centuries of coughs, colds and infections,” says Blumenthal. And they are still doing that same job today.

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

C-Reactive Protein: Is it the Most Important Heart Health Indicator, and How do You Learn Yours?

C-Reactive Protein: Is it the Most Important Heart Health Indicator, and How do You Learn Yours?

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a special type of protein produced by the liver. When your body experiences systemic inflammation, levels of this protein go up. During inflammation, a natural response, your body’s white blood cells protect you from foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses.

However, over time inflammation can lodge in your muscles, joints and tissues and is a leading cause of many diseases, including atherosclerosis (fatty build-up in the arteries’ lining), heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

If you have several risk factors for heart disease, such as being a smoker, overweight or inactive, the American Heart Association says a CRP test can help predict your heart attack or stroke risk.

Many researchers and doctors now believe that CRP may be as important as — or more important than — cholesterol levels in determining risk of heart disease.

CRP May be Best Predictor Yet

Research into the link between CRP and heart disease seems to favor CRP over any other heart disease indicator. Highlights include:

  • The Physician’s Health Study, which involved 18,000 healthy physicians, found that those with elevated CRP levels had three times the risk of heart attack than those with non-elevated levels.
  • People with CRP levels in the upper third had double the risk of heart attack than those with levels in the lower third, according to the American Heart Association.
  • The Harvard Women’s Health Study found that a CRP test was more accurate than cholesterol in predicting heart problems. In fact, CRP was the strongest risk predictor of 12 different markers of inflammation, after three years.

    It was found that women with the highest CRP levels were over four times as likely to have died from coronary disease or had a non-fatal heart attack or stroke. They were also more likely to have needed a heart procedure such as angioplasty or bypass surgery than women with the lowest levels.

  • Other studies have found that people with higher CRP levels who are undergoing angioplasty have an increased risk that the artery will close after it is opened.

The C-Reactive Protein Blood Test: Should You Check Yours?

The American Heart Association says that if your risk of heart disease is low, a CRP test isn’t immediately warranted. However, if you have several risk factors for heart disease, the CRP test can help to predict a heart attack or stroke, as well as help you determine whether further treatment is needed.

Risk factors that may increase your risk of heart disease include:

  • Having had a heart attack or stroke in the past
  • A family history of heart disease
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Elevated total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels
  • Low HDL cholesterol level
  • Being overweight or obese
  • High blood pressure or uncontrolled diabetes
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle
  • Being male or a post-menopausal woman

If you fall into this category, a CRP blood test can be done. Some insurance companies do cover it, and it can even be done right along with a cholesterol test. Generally, the CRP test results are as follows:

If your CRP level is high, eating healthy, exercising and not smoking can help bring it to a normal level.

  • A CRP level under 1.0 milligrams per liter of blood means you have a low risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • A level of 1.0 to 2.9 milligrams means your risk is intermediate.
  • A level of more than 3.0 milligrams means you are at a high risk.

If Your CRP is Elevated …

In the event that you take the test and find your levels are intermediate or high, the steps to remedying it are the same as those you would use to ward off heart disease. In short, making healthy lifestyle changes is essential and include:

  • Quitting smoking and drinking less alcohol
  • Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Controlling diabetes and/or high blood pressure


Volatile Organic Compounds: The Health Dangers of VOCs, Where They are Hiding & How to Avoid Them

Volatile Organic Compounds: The Health Dangers of VOCs, Where They are Hiding & How to Avoid Them

Products that you use in your home and office every day emit gases that can harm your health, both right away and after extended exposure. These gases are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and they’re emitted from a whole slew of items so much so that there’s a pretty good chance your new home, office, car — even that shiny new airplane you took your last business trip in — are literally bathing you in a chemical cocktail.

Building a new home? VOCs in the indoor air of new buildings is on average 20 to 40 mg per m 3. Adverse health effects may be felt at 10 mg per m 3.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, concentrations of VOCs are consistently up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors. Other studies have found that certain organic compounds average levels two to five times higher in indoor air than outdoor air.

What is most shocking, however, is that immediately after using certain products, such as paint stripper, studies have found that VOCs may be 1,000 times higher than background outdoor levels.

VOCs: Here, There and Everywhere

Part of the problem with VOCs is that they are so prolific in our environment.

Sources of VOCs Include …

  • Paints
  • Paint strippers and other solvents
  • Wood preservatives
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Cleansers and disinfectants
  • Moth repellents
  • Air fresheners
  • Stored fuels and automotive products
  • Hobby supplies
  • Dry-cleaned clothing
  • Varnishes
  • Newspaper
  • Cooking
  • Vinyl floors
  • Carpets
  • Photocopying
  • Upholstery fabrics
  • Adhesives
  • Sealing caulks
  • Cosmetics
  • Vehicle exhaust
  • Pressed wood furniture
  • Tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke)

New materials, such as those used in new homes and cars, tend to outgas more VOCs than older materials, and may decrease in VOCs as time goes by.

For instance, according to researchers of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), “Total VOCs in the indoor air of new buildings is on average 20 to 40 mg per m 3, while established buildings have VOC levels generally below 1 mg per m 3.”

In fact, it is the heavy mixture of VOCs that gives new vehicles their characteristic new car smell. Automakers do try to limit the most potent VOC-emitting items; however, the result is that the cars may no longer have the smell many consumers love — good for your health, but potentially bad for business.

Automakers have come up with a quick fix, though, and may add artificial “new car smell” or “treated leather” fragrances to vehicles.

VOCs’ Health-Harming Ways

While some VOCs cause no known health effects, others are known to be highly toxic. Their effects vary and are dependent upon several factors including:

  • The length of time you’re exposed to them
  • The rate at which the VOC is off-gassed
  • The building’s ventilation capacity
  • Whether you’re exposed to a combination of chemicals (these effects are largely unknown)

Perchloroethylene is a cancer-causing VOC used in dry cleaning. Look for environmentally friendly cleaners that do not use this toxic chemical.

Acute symptoms of VOC exposure include:

  • Eye irritation/watering
  • Nose and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Asthma exacerbation
  • Allergic skin reaction
  • Memory impairment
  • Visual disorders

However, over time, VOCs can lead to many serious conditions including:

  • Cancer
  • Damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system
  • Loss of coordination

People with respiratory problems such as asthma, young children, the elderly, and people with heightened sensitivity to chemicals may be more at risk from VOC health effects. CSIRO found, though, that anyone could experience acute symptoms at exposure to concentrations above about 10 mg per m3.

Remember, new buildings may average VOC levels at 20 to 40 mg per m 3, and the CSIRO report found total VOC concentrations for new cars to be as high as 64 mg per m3 of air. After a few weeks, this level fell to 2.1 mg per m3, and to about 1.5 mg per m3 after six months.

One caveat, as the temperature rose, so did the total VOC concentrations in the cars.

Enviro-Rite Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner: A Clean Home, Not a Toxic One

Using all-natural cleaning products is essential to keeping VOCs and other toxic vapors out of your home’s air — and your family’s lungs. Intended for use on both carpet and upholstery, Enviro-Rite Carpet Cleaner is an excellent vegetable-based cleaning concentrate that replaces all petroleum-based formulations used in hot water, extractor-type cleaning equipment.

This truly unique cleaner is specially developed by and for people with allergies, asthma and chemical sensitivities. EnviroRite Carpet Cleaner is:

  • FREE of common respiratory and skin irritants.
  • Made with naturally occurring renewable resources, containing no petrochemicals or added dyes or fragrances.
  • Safe for use in closed environments and does not compromise indoor air quality.
  • Free rinsing, leaving behind no irritating residue.
  • A low-foaming formulation that is not high in caustic pH. Diluted correctly, the pH is 7.5.
  • An environmentally responsible product.
  • Never tested on animals.

Learn More About Enviro-Rite Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner and Order Yours Now!

Reduce Your VOC Exposure Now

According to the EPA, “At present, not much is known about what health effects occur from the levels of organics usually found in homes.” That said, reducing your exposure as much as possible is a prudent measure to protect the health of yourself and your loved ones. Here are a number of tips that you can put into action today:

  • Use only natural cleaning supplies in your home. At, we carry an entire line of environmentally friendly, petrochemical-free cleaning products for your upholstery, carpets, glass, dishes and more — and, as it contains no toxic ingredients, it won’t compromise your indoor air quality.
  • Purchase new home and office products that contain low or no VOCs (look for Environmentally Preferable Purchasing).
  • Use potentially hazardous products outside or in areas equipped with exhaust fans. At the very least, open windows and use fans to keep air circulating.
  • Watch the temperature and humidity: as these increase, so will the off-gassing of chemicals.
  • Filter your home’s air with a high-quality air filter.
  • Dispose of partially used chemicals. Vapors can leak even from closed containers. When you purchase chemicals, purchase only the amount you will use right away. Contact your city or county for proper disposal of household hazardous wastes.
  • Choose an environmentally friendly dry cleaner, like Greener Cleaners. Perchloroethylene, the chemical most widely used in dry cleaning, is a VOC known to cause cancer in animals. Studies have found that people do breathe in low levels of this chemical while wearing dry-cleaned clothing and in homes where the clothing is stored. Environmentally friendly cleaners do not use this chemical, so ask about it before dropping your clothing off for cleaning.


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