After 7 years of spending way too much money on GT Dave’s Kombucha (which is delicious, but in Hawaii is almost $5 per bottle), I decided to take the plunge and started brewing kombucha myself. Kombucha offers an extensive list of health benefits including but not limited to hormone balance, cancer prevention, detoxification support, and even improvements to bone and tooth quality. I personally drank it through both pregnancies to prevent nausea (which I never had, thank goodness!) and when not pregnant would drink it for the week prior to my period to prevent migraines and PMS during that time. At $5 a bottle that really adds up! To be brutally honest, I was resistant to brewing my own kombucha because in my mind the next step after entering the world of home fermentation is Birkenstocks and hairy armpits (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things!) but I realized I was being ridiculous and my resistance was costing me money that could instead be spent on practical, important items like stilettos and waxing (okay, now I’m really being ridiculous but I’m too hopped up on coffee and homemade kombucha today to have a filter and I’m perceiving myself as funnier than I actually am). But back to the point – making kombucha at home was shockingly easy to do and my very first batch (pictured above) turned out well so I wanted to share the recipe with all of you who may also be skeptical of home brewing. Here’s what you do:
- Find a SCOBY (the starter – stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). I recommend checking on Craigslist.org for someone in your area (just type in “SCOBY” or “Kombucha”) or contacting your local Weston Price chapter leader. If you can’t get a SCOBY from either of these places, you can get them on Amazon, but this tends to be the most expensive option. I found someone through Craigslist here on the North Shore of Oahu (relatively far from me) who referred me to their friend in Waimanalo (close to me) who was nice enough to meet up and gave me a free SCOBY. Here’s what they look like: While it may seem a little disturbing to meet up with a total stranger and leave with a ziplock baggie full of something that looks like an alien organ suspended in a solution of brown liquid, it is totally worth it.
- Get a half gallon glass jar (or gallon, or any size glass container really, but my recipe is for a half gallon because that’s the biggest jar I have), fill it with purified water, and then dump that water into a pot and bring it to a boil. Stir in approximately 3/4 cup sugar, but don’t dump it in all at once or it might boil over. White sugar is actually the best (and cheapest) but you can use any type of sugar you have on hand – white sugar, brown sugar, organic sugar, I’ve even heard of people using molasses. The sugar is just to feed the fermentation so the bacteria and yeast should eat most (if not all) of it anyway. Just don’t use honey since it has antibacterial properties.
- Remove solution from heat and add 2 black tea bags (any type of black tea, I used plain old Lipton’s because I had it in the cabinet but since then have started using organic black tea from Vitacost). Steep for 10 minutes to brew a strong tea. (You can also use an equivalent amount of loose tea, you just have to strain it and that’s 5 seconds I’d rather spend doing something else.)
- Cool to room temp. If you’re in a hurry you can throw in a few ice cubes and put it in the fridge to cool faster, just make sure you stir well to avoid any “hot spots” that might kill the bacteria in the SCOBY.
- Once the solution is cool enough, add your SCOBY along with 1-2 cups of kombucha from a prior brew (use storebought kombucha if you didn’t get liquid with your first SCOBY, or if storebought isn’t available add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar to make the tea acidic enough for fermentation) and cover loosely with a cheesecloth or other breathe-able cloth (I used a thin dishcloth, but Gerber diaper cloths work well also) and secure with a rubber band. Place this in an area where the temp is around or slightly warmer than room temp (between 74 and 84 degrees F) and leave it alone. Here’s how my first brew looked:
- Depending on how sour or bubbly you like your kombucha, you can let it brew for a minimum of 3 days up to a month. My first brew I fermented for 5 days (it was sour and tasty, but not too bubbly), my second brew I fermented for 2 weeks (more sour and tasty, and more bubbly) and my third brew is in the works now. You can check the fermentation process by gently dipping a clean spoon into the mix and tasting to check how sour and bubbly it is. Also, one of the fun things to notice as your kombucha is brewing is that the SCOBY “mother” produces a “daughter” which starts out as a thin, clear film on the top and eventually turns into a perfect little disc the exact shape of the top of your brewing container. Mine looked like this:
- Once the kombucha has fermented to your liking, you can pour off what you want to drink and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to enjoy it! Be sure to reserve at least 1-2 cups of your brew as the starter for the next batch, which you can store at room temp if you’re going to use it in the next few days or in the fridge if it’s going to be a while before your next batch. You can drink the kombucha straight, or add juice or fruit for flavoring. It is sweet on its own so doesn’t require additional sweetener but I find that it mellows nicely when you add something tart for balance, such as lemon juice or frozen berries (but I personally don’t recommend adding these to the fermentation unless you really know what you’re doing – I would wait until your brew is complete to add them to the final product).
Obviously, after 3 batches at home I don’t consider myself a kombucha expert but I did want to share this info with you to let you know that you don’t have to be an expert to make your own! For more practical tips, I recommend visiting the SustainabiliTEA site on kombucha. I did not read the entire site (yet), but what I did read was very helpful and concise and explains some important issues such as how to avoid and detect mold.
TURD IN THE PUNCHBOWL ALERT: For the sake of full disclosure, I must confess that the frozen berry mix used in the beautiful picture of the finished kombucha at the beginning of this blog is the very same organic antioxidant mix that was recently recalled from Costco for containing pomegranate seeds from Turkey that were giving people Hepatitis A!!! Luckily I only used it once to flavor that particular glass of kombucha. I didn’t like the flavor (maybe my body could innately taste the Hepatitis A – but more realistically it’s because I didn’t like the flavor of the variety of cherries used in the mix) so it stayed in my freezer untouched until it ended up on the news. Now it’s still in my freezer until I can take it back to Costco and exchange it for something with a little less communicable disease. I don’t have any hepatitis symptoms and thankfully my kids and husband didn’t have any of the berry mix, but just to be safe I’m taking milk thistle herb (for liver support) and eating lots of coconut oil (for its anti-viral activity). In the future I will try to stick to flavoring my kombucha with fresh fruit that I have washed myself.
June 5, 2013 No Comments
The amount of laundry required for 2 kids and a husband who works outside is staggering! To save money and ensure a non-toxic product, I’ve started making my own laundry soap. It’s a “quick and dirty” version of my friend Annie Tryon’s recipe and takes about 5 minutes to assemble (not counting cooking time). Here it is!
Ingredients needed: 2 cups Borax, 2 cups Washing Soda, 1 bar Castile Soap (I use Kirk’s castile because I can buy it locally but any natural castile brand is fine, scented or unscented depending on your preference). This makes 4 gallons of laundry soap or enough for 128 loads.
Using a food processor or hand grater, grate the bar of soap into a pot. The larger your pot, the faster your soap-making will go because you can add more water to make everything dissolve faster. As I type this I’m realizing you could probably just buy liquid castile soap if you want to skip the step of grating the bar soap, but I’ve found the Kirk’s castile bars to be a lot cheaper than any liquid castile soap out there. And I don’t know how much liquid soap is equivalent to a bar of castile so if there are any soap experts out there who want to share that info in the comments section I would appreciate it!
Add the Borax and Washing soda and enough water to cover everything. Cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally until everything is dissolved. You can turn the heat higher if you want it to go faster but do not step away for even a minute on high heat or you will have an overflowing volcano of crystalline soap that gets down in your stove and takes so long to clean up that you will WISH you had just gone to Costco and bought expensive and possibly toxic laundry soap instead. Not that I know from experience…
Personally, I set it to low and then go about my day around the house stirring it whenever I’m in the kitchen and within an hour or so it has all dissolved to a clear (if I was really good about stirring occasionally) or somewhat cloudy (normally the case since I forget to stir) solution. Once everything has dissolved and there are no large chunks, you can pour it into your containers. If you have a 4-gallon container that’s great but if you don’t, just use any combo of containers that will add up to 4 gallons. The best way to do it is to have several of the same container so you can eyeball it when dividing it up rather than having to measure it. I personally use 3 empty vinegar bottles from Costco. Since they are plastic and the soap solution is hot, I fill each halfway with cold water and then divide up the soap in thirds, pouring it through a heat-resistant canning funnel. Then I fill each container to not quite full since each holds 1.5 gallons (I fill each to approximately 1 and 1/3 gallons to make 4 gallons total). Give each a good shake, and continue to shake each time you walk by them for the next couple of hours to help everything homogenize as the solution cools. Here’s a photo to help you visualize this, sorry it’s out of focus – it was hastily snapped before the little Godzilla attached to the tiny brown foot in the photo was able to exert destruction on his intended target (my laundry soap).
After the solution has cooled you should be good to go! Just give it a quick shake before you use it each time to help break up any little clumps that might have formed in the cooling process. Use 1/2 cup (4 ounces) per load. Works well for everything from baby clothes to super dirty work clothes and anything in between.
Cost breakdown vs. Seventh Generation Free & Clear Concentrated Laundry soap from Costco:
- Costco natural soap: $24.72 for 1.17 gallons @ 1.5 ounces/load = 25 cents/load
- Homemade natural soap: $8.23 for 4 gallons @ 4 ounces/load = 6 cents/load
April 24, 2013 2 Comments
Lately it seems that I’m working with more and more otherwise healthy women who are battling breast cancer at younger and younger ages. The purpose of this blog is to give some nutrition and lifestyle tips to aid the fight against breast cancer, but I have to start off by saying that if you are dealing with breast cancer it’s not your fault. It’s not because you did or didn’t do something: many of us don’t exercise, eat a terrible diet, live a stressful lifestyle and don’t get breast cancer. Of all cancers, breast cancer seems to be the most emotionally charged because it is so fundamentally wrong that the parts of us which help to make us visibly feminine and which may have nourished our infant children would now be capable of so much destruction. So – in my very humble opinion – the first thing you have to recognize is that a breast cancer diagnosis is not your fault, but that there are things that you can do to help turn your hormonal chemistry back to health.
There are many nutrients involved in the biochemistry of cancer, but the two supplements I would immediately start taking if I were battling breast cancer would be:
- Iodine. Iodine is a mineral that is concentrated in the thyroid, breasts, and ovaries. It is found in seaweed, fish, egg yolks (as long as the chicken lived in an iodine-rich area), and organ meats. Iodine deficiency is related to abnormal breast tissue growth (which is why many women with fibrocystic breasts find relief by increasing their iodine intake) and increased sensitivity to estrogen in breast tissue. On the surface this increased sensitivity may not seem like a big deal, but when you factor in the amount of estrogen that our bodies are bombarded with on a daily basis (see lifestyle tips below) you can start to get a picture of why breast cancer is on the rise. Signs that a person may have low levels of iodine include low body temperature (feeling cold when others are warm), fatigue, goiter, and slowed growth of body hair (meaning you have to pluck your eyebrows or shave your legs less often, but ladies please don’t intentionally deprive yourself of iodine just to save on your waxing bill !). Despite the addition of iodine to salt, many Americans still have low levels of iodine. In my opinion this is because of our rampant exposure to things that compete with iodine, namely chlorine, fluoride, and bromine. Nerd alert – if you look at the periodic table of elements you will see that these elements are in the same column as iodine which means they have similar properties and may compete in the human body. Chlorine can be found in tap water, pesticide residues, and as a breakdown product in Splenda (the artificial sweetener that “Tastes like sugar cause it’s made from sugar” or in my more accurate slogan which hasn’t been picked up by the manufacturers: “Tastes like sugar cause it’s made from poison”). Fluoride is found in fluoridated tap water, toothpaste, and is a breakdown product of industrial fertilizers. Bromine is found in some baked goods and in fire retardants (which is why my kids don’t sleep in pajamas treated with chemical fire retardants – bromine is linked to hyperactivity and with two already super active little boys, Lord knows we don’t need anything to increase their activity levels!). You can see how the exposure to these elements from multiple sources on a daily basis helps to squash the small amount of iodine the average American gets in their diet. A general dosage to restore iodine levels is around 25 mg of iodine (I like the forms in Iodoral brand the best) but if you plan to take iodine for any length of time it is best to have your levels evaluated with an iodine loading test, and of course consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner to make sure it doesn’t interfere with any medications you may be on.
- Sulforaphane Glucosinolate, abbreviated SGS. This dietary compound, found in cruciferous vegetables (ie broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts), works at the epigenetic level – meaning that regardless of whether you have the so-called “gene for cancer”, it works at a deeper level that tells your genes how to express themselves. Epigenetics is a huge and exciting area of research and I’m having a hard time not going on a 10-page rant about how it proves that we are not just victims of our genes so I will just save that for another blog! Johns Hopkins has done extensive research on Sulforaphane and its specific role in preventing cancerous growth in the breast as well as in prompting breast cancer cells to commit apoptosis, or programmed cell suicide. Broccoli sprouts are the richest dietary source of SGS and can be purchased at most health food stores or grown at home from broccoli seeds. If sprouts aren’t your thing, SGS is also available in supplement form. It’s important to note that SGS is not just for ladies – it has been found to prevent several forms of cancer and has similar anti-cancer effects in prostate cancer cells.
Lifestyle tips that may also help include:
- Avoid environmental estrogen like the plague that it is. Sources of environmental estrogen include plastic (especially any plastic with a smell, such as plastic shower liners – the smell means it’s off-gassing), new foam mattresses, hormones in meat and dairy products, pesticide residues on food, bis-phenol A found in plastic food storage containers and in the lining of canned foods, synthetic fragrances found in cosmetics and air fresheners (that’s right I’m talking about you, Glade Plug-ins), preservatives and sudsing agents in personal care products, chemicals and fragrances in commercial cleaning products, pharmaceutical and pesticide residues in tap water, adhesives in new carpet, fumes in paint, and dry cleaning chemicals. Now, before you banish yourself to your closet wearing a burlap sack and eating only air, realize that you can avoid most of the above by eating organic foods as much as possible, storing food and beverages in glass or stainless steel instead of plastic, drinking only filtered water, using natural cosmetics and personal care products, and being mindful of the chemical input of things in your home (i.e. choose a cloth shower curtain instead of plastic, look for VOC-free paint, consider a latex or wool mattress instead of foam).
- Go to bed at or before 10 PM and sleep in a totally dark room. This helps your brain to produce adequate amounts of melatonin, a hormone involved in sleep regulation that also has antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. The link between melatonin and breast cancer may partially explain why nurses and other night-shift workers have higher incidences of breast cancer than other populations.
- Take time to nurture yourself. Metaphysically speaking, the breasts are commonly linked to feelings of nurturing (or lack thereof). Figure out what this means for you – maybe it’s getting a massage, taking a hot bath, eating a meal you really enjoy, going on a trip, scheduling a few minutes of “me time” into your day, planting a garden, reading a book, allowing yourself the time to exercise, or simply taking a nap! Regardless of the treatment option you choose, taking the time to nurture yourself will help you on the road to healing. For more info on this, see the excellent book Feelings Buried Alive Never Die by Karol Truman that discusses the link between specific emotions and the particular diseases they are associated with and gives practical steps for creating health in the link between mind and body. For an overall look at emotions and women’s health, I recommend the book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, that is an amazing and practical read on learning to love our bodies – even when certain parts may be giving us a hard time.
One more thing that I would like to mention is that when choosing a treatment option, make sure you go with the option that is absolutely what you want to do. I know I personally tend to have a more holistic approach, but in talking with oncologists through the years the one theme that remains constant is that people have the best outcome when they are confident in their treatment choice. Whether you decide to go with chemotherapy, radiation, surgical options, natural options, experimental treatments, nutritional treatments, or no treatment make sure that you are doing it because you feel it’s the right choice for you. Every woman is different, every cancer is different, and finding the right treatment option for you – regardless of what your insurance company thinks – could be the key to getting you through this difficult step and on to the rest of your life. Things may seem bleak right now, but in lectures I have given nationwide with cancer survivors, the thing I hear most often from these amazing women is that cancer changed their life for the better because they realized how strong they really were. A cancer diagnosis was the catalyst that forced them to choose daily to replace fear and despair with love and celebration. My sincere wish is that it does the same for you!
October 31, 2012 2 Comments
My blog software has a function that tells me what search terms bring people to my website. Despite the numerous entries I have written on health, children, pregnancy, and nutrition, the #1 search term that brings people to my site is still “the benefits of bacon”!!! This tells me that even if I posted the cure for cancer, the answer for world peace, or the quantum formula for staying young forever naturally, you people would all just scroll down until you found more info on bacon. And that is why I love you. So, to give the people what they want I thought I should share with you the bizarre discovery that I made last night – the best way to cook bacon is in water!
I buy the natural, nitrate-free bacon in bulk at the Whole Foods butcher counter because it is $8.99/pound versus $8.99/ half-pound shrink-wrapped package in the cooler. The only downside to this is that the butcher counter bacon is like 3 times thicker than normal bacon which means I either cook it for a ridiculously long time on low heat resulting in a not-burned but rock hard carbonized piece of bacon or I cook it at higher heat for less time which results in partially charred bacon with completely raw fat. Neither of these options helps my reputation for burning food, which started in college when I set a piece of toast on fire in a friend’s toaster oven and which continues to current day with my toddler staring up at me with his big eyes and furrowed eyebrows while I cook, pointing at the pan and saying repeatedly, “Mommy it’s buh-ning, it’s buh-ning.” Parenting is hard enough without the commentary, thank you very much! So last night, planning BLT’s for dinner, I decided to get educated and googled “best way to cook bacon” while nursing my 6-month old (really, what did we do before smart phones? Figure things out on our own?). I found this video:
If you don’t have time for the 1-minute video or if you’re at work and shouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place let alone watching a video about bacon on company time, here’s the summary:
- Put bacon in skillet, cover with water (like 1-2″ of water).
- Heat on high until water boils, then turn down to medium high.
- Once water has evaporated turn to medium low and keep cooking until bacon is to your liking.
The results were perfect! The bacon was crispy, not burned, and so good that my toddler and I ate almost all of it before my husband came home from work so I had to pretend like grass-fed hamburgers with bacon crumbles (made from the 1 piece of bacon left after our mother-son bacon rampage) were what I was planning for dinner all along. Poor guy.
September 10, 2012 1 Comment
My little sister – who happens to be the cutest nurse in the world and is the cover girl pictured above – is slated to start the dreaded thing that most, if not all, nurses must do at some point in their career: night shift. Working nights has been linked to increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer in women, and prostate cancer in men. The big sister in me wants to write a letter to my sister’s hospital detailing all these risks and asking that they keep her only on days for the duration of her career, but like most people who work nights, what she’s doing is important enough that it can’t wait until morning (she helps to deliver babies). So, for those of you who work nights because you are doing important stuff that can’t be done during the day or – like my own mom – work nights for the noble purpose of being home during the day with your families…which means basically not sleeping for about 18 years…here are some tips that may help you:
- The main hormone affected with working night shift is melatonin, the hormone produced by the brain that helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin also has anti-cancer and anti-aging effects, so it’s really important to support your body’s production of this hormone. Melatonin can be taken as a supplement, which I think is okay in the short-term (a few days to a few weeks) for people who are traveling across time zones or who have insomnia severe enough to warrant medication, but I don’t recommend it as a long-term fix (more than a few weeks at a time) because it affects the reproductive system and taking it long-term can reduce the amount that your body produces naturally.
- To support melatonin production, try to set a regular bed time so that your brain can adjust to the new sleeping pattern. This may be nearly impossible if your work shifts alternate between night and day, but even then you can try to set a schedule so that you are in bed 3 hours after your shift ends (or whatever makes sense for you) regardless of the time your shift actually ends.
- Melatonin is produced in response to darkness, so even if the sun is blazing outside try to recreate gradual darkness as you wind down to bedtime. For example, if you get off of work at 7 AM then once you get home do something that relaxes you such as taking a warm bath with the lights dimmed or reading a book with the curtains drawn. Then go to sleep in a completely dark room (use black-out curtains or a sleep mask if you need to).
- Foods that may help to increase melatonin production because they contain small amounts of melatonin include olive oil, tomatoes, grape skins, walnuts, oats, and rice. Tryptophan and Vitamin B6 are also needed to produce melatonin. Foods rich in tryptophan include chicken, tuna, fatty fish such as salmon or halibut, and of course turkey! Foods rich in vitamin B6 include chickpeas, tuna, beef, and turkey.
- Another major reason that night shift may be hard on your health is that it’s unnatural for the body to produce significant amounts of insulin during the night hours, when the body is normally focused on growth and repair. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas in response to carbohydrates. In small amounts, complex carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, whole grains) actually help to make tryptophan available to the brain, but eating large amounts of simple carbohydrates (basically everything in the snack machine) causes surges of insulin to be released which encourages fat gain, accelerates aging, and can further disrupt sleep patterns.
- To keep insulin levels in a healthy range while working nights, it’s absolutely vital to plan ahead and take snacks with you to work! Try to eat a small amount of food every 2-3 hours (skipping meals causes insulin levels to become unbalanced also) and focus on foods containing protein along with healthy fats and/or complex carbohydrates.
- To save you the time of figuring out snack ideas for work, here are some ideas that you can prep on your day off and have ready to grab when you leave for work:
- Celery sticks with tuna salad (look for skipjack or chunk light, which are lower in mercury).
- Salmon salad (same as tuna salad but made with canned wild salmon) and raw veggie sticks or crackers.
- Baby carrots and garbanzo bean hummus.
- Apple slices and almond butter.
- Caprese salad made with diced fresh tomatoes, diced fresh mozzarella (buy at any grocery store), diced red or sweet onion, and torn fresh basil, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Sprouts rolled up inside turkey slices. Or turkey slices straight out of the package if you’re busy! Just look for nitrate-free turkey, since nitrates are linked to stomach cancer and erectile dysfunction in men (how’s that for a motivator to eat healthier?). I usually buy freshly sliced turkey from the deli counter at the local health food store. They have lots of different nitrate-free options and it’s cheaper and fresher than buying the pre-packaged kind.
- Smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers rolled up in a sheet of nori sushi paper (or a whole grain tortilla if you don’t like nori)
- Cook an extra portion of chicken, steak, wild salmon, or halibut with dinner during the week, slice it and serve it cold over a green salad or a small bed of wild rice while you’re at work.
- Chickpea salad made with 1 can rinsed canned chickpeas, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1/2 diced red onion, a handful of chopped fresh parsley or dill (whichever flavor you prefer), a handful of crumbled feta, Italian salad dressing (if you use the bottled kind then pour the oil portion off and replace with olive oil) and salt and black pepper to season.
- Spinach salad with red grapes, chopped walnuts, crumbled feta, diced chicken or wild salmon, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing.
- Chicken and rice soup made with chicken broth, diced chicken (make extra at dinner), diced carrots, diced celery, chopped onion and garlic, and brown or wild rice.
- Sliced pears and fancy cheese (whatever kind you like as long as it’s real cheese…American cheese does not count as fancy cheese!) or a handful of raw walnuts or almonds
- Fresh sauerkraut (in the refrigerated section of health food stores, will say “live active cultures” on the label or if you are truly amazing you can make your own sauerkraut) rolled up in roast beef deli slices with spicy mustard – or served on a slice of whole grain sourdough bread if a roll-up is too messy. If your coworkers complain about the smell of the sauerkraut you can let them know that it’s balancing your hormones while replenishing levels of healthy bacteria in your gut so stop whining.
- Fruit salad made with fresh fruit of your choice (whatever is in season in your area), frozen berries, chopped walnuts, and diced unsweetened coconut. One of my great friends in Iowa who used to always get into passionate discussions with me about whether cheese or butter was tastier (guess which side I was on) told me that putting a tiny bit of fresh mint in fruit salad “elevates” the flavors (her dad is a chef and her mom is a Flamenco dancer, so she can’t help saying words like “elevate” while making hand gestures like an Italian pastry chef) of any fruit salad. She was right and to this day I grow mint in the backyard because of her!
- Fresh oatmeal with chopped nuts. Cook it in a tiny crockpot if you have one!
- Smoothies made with coconut or almond milk, frozen fruit, nuts or seeds, and yogurt or your protein powder of choice.
- Eggs in basically any form. Deviled, egg salad, hard boiled, soft boiled, sunny side up, poached…just try to avoid scrambled because frying the yolk at high heat destroys some of the nutrients that are so nourishing to the brain.
- One more really important thing to remember is to stay hydrated! One of worst things you could do while working night shift is to drink caffeinated beverages and neglect to drink enough water. I didn’t find any studies to back it up, but my personal theory is that some of the health problems associated with working night shift are compounded by long-term dehydration because people forget to drink water when their schedules are flipped. Staying hydrated also prevents fatigue which will make it less likely that you will need to depend on caffeine during your shift. Some caffeine is okay – and probably necessary for most of us – just be sure to limit caffeine consumption to the first half of your shift so you will sleep easier once you get home and can rest. I know it’s especially hard for people on night shift to drink enough water because they tend to be in fast-paced jobs such as medicine, security, or factory production and can’t take a lot of bathroom breaks. I have found in my practice that clients who are especially concerned about urinary frequency actually find that they need fewer bathroom breaks when they are more hydrated because their bladder starts to empty more efficiently. To stay hydrated, I suggest bringing a large container of water to work (either a large water bottle, or my favorite: a glass quart-sized Mason jar with a lid and a straw – very classy) and keep if full at your work station so that whenever you are near it you can take a few big gulps that would ideally add up to about 8 ounces for each hour of your shift (or whatever you need to stay hydrated).
If anyone out there has tips for staying healthy while working night shift please share them in the comments section!
July 18, 2012 2 Comments
It’s summer, which for many people means it’s time to travel. I’ve had a lot of questions from people regarding the issue of whether full-body airport scanners (the big space elevator-looking things parked at more and more airport security lines) are safe, especially for people who may be more susceptible to radiation such as those who are pregnant or have a history of cancer. Of course there is a HUGE amount of controversy surrounding this subject ranging from an individual’s right to privacy to the issue of national security to the health risks of radiation exposure. There is an excellent excerpt from the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association titled “Pandora’s Boxes: Questions Unleashed in the Airport Scanner Debate” that sums up the health-related issues pretty well. If you have time to read the entire text I really recommend it. If you don’t have time (because you’re at the airport frantically deciding which security line to stand in) here is my 5-second summary:
- The type of radiation used in most of these machines is likely to be carcinogenic (meaning it may cause cancer, probably by damaging DNA), but the doses are supposedly very low. This is still not very reassuring to me since I am already exposed to small doses of daily radiation from my cell phone, wireless laptop, etc. and radiation exposure is cumulative.
- The common estimate is that it would take 1,000 scans in an airport scanner to equal the amount of radiation you would receive in 1 chest x-ray. However, the methods used to calculate this estimate have been questioned by studies including several performed by scientists at the University of California San Francisco.
- The authors of the text were unable to find any large-scale studies done on humans or animals using this technology. That is not a good sign – especially for something that is being placed in airports nationwide!
Another tidbit that I found in other articles was that scientists are questioning the safety of radiation that appears to only penetrate skin-deep and how that could lead to skin cancer in individuals who are predisposed. To put it in perspective, airport scanners are not exposing people to enough radiation to cause skin to burn the way that prolonged exposure to UV radiation (sunlight) would but it is something to consider when looking at overall radiation exposure over a lifetime.
With all that said, here is what I do when I’m heading through airport security:
- I decline the airport scanner line and instead ask for the standard metal detector/pat down treatment. Many people don’t realize that this is a perfectly legal option and will not put you on the “suspicious activities” list! You have a right to refuse to walk through something of questionable safety. The pat down takes an extra 5-10 minutes so plan accordingly in your travel timing. If you think this is a crazy and extreme thing to do, you can be encouraged by the fact that when I recently flew while still pregnant and refused the scanner line, the female TSA agent who did my pat down quietly said to me “Good for you honey, and good for your baby. You should refuse this every time, pregnant or not. These scanners are not good. I don’t like working around them all day.”
- I try to remember to take a dose of a good multivitamin and eat a few Brazil nuts prior to travel. The multivitamin will supply zinc and B vitamins including folate and the nuts supply selenium. Zinc, B vitamins (especially folate), and selenium are three very important nutrients for DNA repair. Even if you refuse the full-body scanner line, there is still exposure to radiation simply from the altitude at which the plane is flying.
- Do what you can to support the immune system which is your surveillance system to help track down and destroy any pre-cancerous cells (not to mention bacteria and viruses you may be exposed to while traveling). Things you can do to support your immune system include: drinking water, avoiding sugar, eating protein, getting sufficient rest, taking vitamin C and/or zinc lozenges, and utilizing immune-boosting herbs such as echinacea and elderberry. One thing I DON’T recommend is taking Airborne products for travel. The packaging is cute and it’s a nice idea but the last time I checked they all contained Splenda, an artificial sweetener that contains chlorine, as well as another artificial sweetener called Acesulfame Potassium.
Most importantly, I would say not to stress out too much about the whole issue! Traveling in and of itself is stressful and overly stressing out about exposure to small amounts of radiation can also cause damage to DNA. If you’re reading this after your thousandth trip through the full-body airport scanner and are worried your skin is going to mutate into its own person and walk away, please take comfort in the fact that the body is very smart and if you supply it with what it needs, it knows how to repair itself, all the way down to your DNA.
June 27, 2012 No Comments