Category — Household
It may seem a little whiny to complain about volcanic smog (referred to as “vog” here in Hawaii) while my friends and family on the mainland are dealing with freakish winter weather. It’s a beautiful and poetic thing to be near an active volcano where you can be a witness to the continual formation and transformation of our beloved earth. However, a recent and especially wicked two day migraine has led me to prioritize the whine-ability of vog. I never had allergies when I lived in Iowa or near DC, but living near a volcano has taken things to a whole new level. When the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii is more active and the wind directions are right, it leads to more sulfur dioxide particles in the air over Oahu (the island I live on), which leads to sinus pain, headaches, and irritable children (in that order). I know that vog is something unique to those living near active volcanoes, but hopefully the tips below will be helpful for anyone living in an area with poor air quality either due to smog or pollen (or both – celebrity allergen name “smollen”!) because it all leads back to the same root cause – irritation to the respiratory system. This irritation causes the body to release histamine, which is a chemical produced by specific immune cells that burst when triggered. The histamine provides a signal that says “something’s wrong, send help”, so these immune cells tend to congregate in areas that are prone to “invasion” such as the nose, eyes, and skin. Histamine has other important roles in the body and is actually also a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical that has an effect on the brain. This is why taking anti-histamines can make a person feel groggy or tired – histamine helps the brain to be alert, especially in times of danger. Some people are prone to excess production of histamine. It’s a simple genetic trait, probably kept around and passed on because people with more histamine tend to be more alert and aggressive – qualities that will get you a higher ranking on dating websites, I guess :). Dietary factors are also involved, and eating allergy-prone foods such as excessive amounts of gluten and ultra-pasteurized dairy can increase histamine levels.
With that said, here are a few tips to lower your histamine response during times of acutely poor air quality. (All dosages for supplements are only suggestions based on personal experience – please check with your healthcare practitioner before taking anything, especially if you are taking medication):
- Keep track of your local air quality. Here are the websites for Hawaii and California, which also include practical tips to follow during times of increased exposure vog or pollution (i.e. try to stay indoors, use air conditioning, avoid physical exertion).
- Make your neti pot a close, personal friend. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in warm water in your neti pot and use it to flush out your sinuses as often as needed (obvious statement- use clean water! If your tap water is prone to parasites or contaminants please use a sterile source of water to clean out your nasal passages). I find this to be more effective than almost any other method for sinus pain.
- Drink plenty of water! If you are hydrated, your respiratory system will be better able to deflect irritants. A pinch of Celtic salt and a squeeze of lemon will help to make your water more absorbable.
- Run a humidifier with a little bit of peppermint essential oil in the water (if your humidifier allows for that) or boil a pot of water with peppermint oil on the stove to get the same effect. This moisturizes the nasal passages and the peppermint acts as a natural anesthetic for sinus pain.
- 1,000 mg of Quercetin3 times per day for up to two weeks. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that stops the release of histamine without the side effects of pharmaceutical anti-histamines. It can be purchased at most health food stores.
- 500 mg of Bromelain 2 times per day for up to two weeks. Bromelain is an enzyme from pineapple (you can also try eating fresh pineapple daily and skip this one) that works synergistically with Quercetin to balance histamine levels.
- 2,000 mg of Magnesium Ascorbatedaily for up to two weeks, which can be taken in divided doses if taking it all at once causes diarrhea. This is a specific form of vitamin C that is attached to magnesium. The reason I like this form for allergies is that vitamin C itself increases the body’s rate of detoxification of histamine (one study found that just taking 2,000 mg of vitamin C daily for 1 week decreased histamine levels by 38% in participants) but when you attach it to magnesium you get the added benefit of magnesium blocking the calcium channels that trigger histamine release. To put it very simply, calcium is the “go, faster, increase” mineral and magnesium is the “stop, slower, relax” mineral. So in this case, taking Magnesium Ascorbate kills two birds with one stone.
NOTE: This blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or prevent any disease. Supplement dosages above are given for information only based on personal experience and do not replace the advice of a qualified health care practitioner. Please consult with your practitioner before making changes to your diet or lifestyle, especially if you are under treatment for a specific condition or are on medication.
February 19, 2014 5 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 5 Comments
Tomorrow is Father’s Day! Mr. Milk (my toddler – need to think of a new name for him since he’s been weaned for quite a while – at 2 years old Mr. Mischief seems appropriate) is at a birthday party with Daddy and Mr. Muscles (the newest addition to the family) is napping so I took this rare moment of peace and tranquility to whip together some homemade shave oil scrub to add to my husband’s shave-inspired Father’s Day gift. We’ve recently gotten into reruns of Queer Eye on Netflix and he is especially intrigued by their shaving advice so I thought to get him some aftershave in his favorite fragrance which would be a true classic Father’s Day gift from his two boys. Below is the recipe for the shave scrub I made just now in less than 3 minutes from ingredients I already had in the house! Now he can exfoliate once a week before shaving just like the guys on tv tell him to.
The ingredients you need are:
- Exfoliant – I used fine grind Celtic salt that I had in the cupboard. Finely ground salt or sugar are the best because they dissolve and don’t clog your sink drain but ground oatmeal, almonds, or flax are good also.
- Oil – I used coconut oil (of course!) but olive oil, almond oil, jojoba, or avocado would work. Really almost any oil works, just don’t use a janky oil like canola or vegetable oil or something that will become rancid like cod liver oil or flax oil unless you like the smell of dead fish on your man!
- Fragrance – I used jasmine essential oil to go with the coconut and appeal to my husband’s Hawaiian DNA. Originally I was going to use peppermint oil but it was in the bedroom with my napping infant and there was no way I was going to go in there to retrieve it! You can use any essential oil or combo of fragrances that you like.
- A container – I had a nice glass flip-top container that I picked up at one of those organizational stores for $3. A small glass mason jar would have worked also.
You want a ratio of 3 parts exfoliant to 1 part oil. I had limited time so I just eyeballed it and filled the jar halfway with Celtic salt and then added about 1/3 that volume of coconut oil.
For a traditional body scrub the consistency should be like wet sand, but for shave scrub I wanted to add a little more oil to act as a moisturizer so the consistency was more liquid. Safety note: don’t forget that this is oil so if you use it in the shower the floor will get slippery!
Once you have the scrub to desired consistency, add a few drops of your essential oil for fragrance and you’re all done! Father’s Day gift complete – and it was so easy that our sweet boys could have almost made it themselves
June 16, 2012 No Comments
For those of you who have last-minute holiday gifts to take care of, here are a few of my favorites. They can all be purchased online so you don’t have to fight the crowds. And if you happen to live on an island in the middle of the Pacific or some other remote place that won’t receive your shipped items before the desired date, you can always cut out a photo of the item and tape it into a card with a note saying it will arrive soon. Happy holidays!
For the creative, health-conscious chef in your life, a copy of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. This is my favorite cookbook and even when I’m not cooking I like to read through the informational tidbits in the sidebars of the book.
College students, bachelors, and busy people who tend to eat on the go can all benefit from a basic set of glass storage containers like the ones pictured above by Pyrex. What seems like a boring gift can be spiced up with the knowledge that you are saving the recipient from countless amounts of exposure to hormone-altering plastic compounds found in most other food storage containers. So it’s actually an exciting and scandalous gift for their reproductive health – a must-have for every bachelorette party registry!
A very creative and healthy gift idea is to buy someone a membership into a CSA (community supported agriculture) program in their area. Just visit the Local Harvest CSA page and type in the desired zip code to find a nearby CSA. Most CSA programs function on a weekly or monthly basis and make boxes containing a variety of seasonal produce available to their members. Depending on the CSA programs available in your area, you can buy a one-week trial membership for $15-20 or a longer membership if desired. This type of gift is better for someone with some kitchen experience (especially with obscure vegetables). Weekly boxes of leafy greens, kohlrabi, radishes, and spaghetti squash might be a little overwhelming for the novice cook!
For the sparkling water lover in your life, try this soda maker with glass carafe. It’s a little pricey up front, but in the long run it will save money and space in your recycling bin (I suggest buying this for someone in your house so you can reap the benefits also!). If you need more reasons to make your own sparkling water at home rather than buying it from a company, just watch the documentary Flow and see the impact bottled water has on the environment, indigenous cultures, and our health. After I watched that movie I had no choice but to give up my beloved boxes of San Pellegrino water from Costco!
December 20, 2011 No Comments
As a person who can never turn down free kitchen gadgets from friends who are moving or trying to get rid of clutter, I have assembled a collection of those 16 ounce “Little Dipper” crockpots for ants that come free with the normal size crockpots. Each time I accept another free tiny crockpot, it is wrapped in the original packaging, which means that my friend never used it in all the years they had it in their possession. Despite this, I get visions in my head of an amazing Mexican-themed dinner party with several flavors of homemade cheese dip being kept warm in the little baby crockpots, all snuggled in a row. Well, after 2 years of storing a family of tiny crockpots still in their original packaging in my cabinet, I have finally come up with a daily use for them – making oatmeal!
My husband leaves for work pretty early and I always want to send him off with a warm breakfast (especially during the winter when it gets down below 70 degrees here in Honolulu at night – freezing!) but there’s no way that this pregnant lady with a toddler is going to get up early enough to make something fresh for my hard working honey. He really loves oatmeal and it’s actually quite a healthy and filling breakfast if it’s prepared properly by soaking before cooking to reduce levels of phytic acid (a nutrient blocker that makes grain difficult to digest). Here’s what I do:
- Place 1/4 to 1/2 cup of oats in the crockpot and add twice as much water. I like to use steel cut Irish oatmeal but just get whatever you can find at the store that seems the least processed. If you are a gluten-free person make sure the oats are labeled as “gluten free” because many times, oats and gluten-containing grains are processed on the same equipment so there is cross-contamination. Gauge how much you soak based on how much cooked oatmeal you want – using 1/4 cup of oats will expand to about a cup cooked, and 1/2 cup will expand to about 2 cups. If you have time, let this soak for a few hours. I like to put this on before I make dinner since I’m in the kitchen anyway. Once in a while I don’t have time for this step so I skip right to the next one and my husband seems to survive okay!
- After the initial soak, dump out this water and then add about 3 parts of water to 1 part of soaked oats. You can also add a dash of buttermilk or whey if you have it to help make the oats even more digestible. I add a pinch of Celtic salt at this stage to increase the mineral content, and a dash of cinnamon so the kitchen smells warm and comforting when my husband wakes up to eat.
- Plug in your tiny crockpot and let cook overnight!
- In the morning, mix with any toppings that make you happy to be awake: butter from grassfed cows, coconut milk, minimally processed cow’s milk or cream, chopped raw nuts, raisins, dried cranberries, raw honey, shredded unsweetened coconut, chopped dates, apple sauce, protein powder – whatever your heart desires. If you’re more of a savory person, you can also mix an egg and some bacon or sausage in for a salty pudding reminiscent of a big hairy Irish man.
- Fill crockpot with water to soak so it’s easy to clean up and use for the next day, unless you’re like me and have several tiny crockpots that can be switched out so there’s no hurry to clean up the used one and it can just sit on the counter taking up space and waiting to be washed. Not that I ever do that.
If any of you readers out there have uses for tiny crockpots (other than cheese dip, I figured that one out already) please share them in the comments section! I love finding new and exciting uses for all my kitchen gadgets.
December 7, 2011 2 Comments
I have received a lot of questions from friends and family here in Hawaii about nutritional ways to protect from exposure to radiation. These questions are prompted by the tragic events currently unfolding in Japan. My constant prayer and belief is that the situation will come back under control, but I still thought it would be wise to post this information for all of you out there for the sake of educational purposes and to help those of you who may be exposed to radiation at work or as part of cancer treatment. So, here’s what I know:
- The single most important nutrient when looking at protection from radioactive fallout is iodine, which is why almost every store here in Hawaii all the way to the west coast of the US is sold out of iodine supplements. Radioactive iodine is a by-product of uranium fission, and iodine is a necessary nutrient for the body which is taken up hungrily by the thyroid. If the body is low in iodine, it will absorb more than a fair share of radioactive iodine which is obviously very harmful and can lead to several types of cancer, particularly thyroid cancer. For more info on iodine for protection from nuclear fallout, check out the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s article on the subject.
- If you are able to flood the body with real, non-radioactive iodine before possible exposure to radioactive iodine you will be less likely to absorb the radioactivity because the thyroid is less hungry. It’s basically the same principle as ruining your appetite for dinner by eating lots of snacks…except in this case dinner is radioactive.
- The dosages of iodine used by the NRC are either 65 mg or 130 mg once daily, which offers 24 hours of protection. These are very high doses intended for those living near a fallout zone. A daily intake of about 3 mg iodine for at least 2 weeks will saturate the thyroid while a dose of 10 to 15 mg should immediately saturate the thyroid. This is a moderately high dose but has been estimated to be the regular daily intake of a person in Japan (they eat a lot of seafood and seaweed – two of the richest sources of iodine), where rates of cancer are surprisingly low. To put this in perspective, the RDA for an adult male is only 150 micrograms per day (a microgram equals 1/1000 of a milligram – mg). The RDA is only enough to prevent goiter, but not enough to provide the iodine needs for the rest of the body that include cancer prevention, immunity, and skin health. I could go on and on about iodine, but that’s not the focus of this blog. However, if you are interested in reading more about iodine as a nutrient I recommend looking into the Linus Pauling Institute’s entry or reading the book Iodine: Why you need it, Why you can’t live without it by David Brownstein, MD.
- Children and fetuses are most at risk in the event of fallout, because thyroid cancer takes between 10 and 20 years to develop after exposure to radioactive iodine and they are growing so quickly that their thyroids are more “hungry” and therefore more vulnerable.
- The half life (meaning the amount of time it takes for quantities to reduce by half) of radioactive iodine is 8 days. This means that concentration is going to be highest when exposure first happens but over the course of a couple of weeks it will gradually fade (though in the event of a nuclear meltdown, large quantities of radioactive materials will persist in the environment for decades if not longer). My point in telling you this is that if at all possible, take preventive measures at the beginning of exposure when levels are highest.
- Vitamin E can also be very helpful for preventing side effects from radiation exposure (particularly the kind involved in cancer treatment). The generally suggested dose is 400 IU twice daily. Just be sure it is vitamin E in a natural form from supplements or from vitamin E rich foods such as cold-pressed oils or raw nuts.
- Homeopathic remedies have also been indicated in prevention of radiation side effects. That is not my expertise, however, so I won’t get into that too much except to say that if it’s something you would like to consider I would suggest working with someone knowledgable in the subject since homeopathic remedies need to be accurately prescribed to get the desired effects.
- As far as the current crisis goes, if things progress negatively (God forbid!) and risk of contamination is serious, our immediate exposure here in the United States depends on the jet stream pattern. Jet streams are narrow bands of high-altitude wind that move at high speeds around the world. To see updated jet stream maps, go to the San Francisco State University’s Jet Stream Map page.
Hopefully this information has helped you to calm your fears rather than add to them. I find that the worst thing in working with health is not understanding the risk of things we are dealing with because the mystery of it makes it that much more scary. On a personal note, if you’d like to know what I am doing for my family in preparation for the possibility of events taking a turn for the worse:
- I took our bottle of Iodoralout of the cabinet and put it on the counter so we’d remember to take a tablet each day (my husband and any friends that happen to be over take 1 tablet and I take 2 since I’m still breastfeeding the toddler formerly known as Mr. Milk). Even if nothing happens, I think it’s still good for us to get our iodine levels up since I occasionally experience some of the symptoms of low iodine levels such as PMS and my husband works in construction where he’s sometimes exposed to chemicals and heavy metals that can deplete iodine.
- I’m planning to serve more iodine-rich meals until the Japanese reactor situation is under control. This includes sushi, miso soup, eggs, fish, using ground seaweed in the form of Gomasio or powdered kelp as a seasoning, and adding a few pieces of dry kelp to soups or stews to release iodine.
- I’m stocking up on nori sheets (you can buy them here in huge packs at Costco). If you don’t have access to iodine tablets, seaweed is your next best bet. The amount of iodine varies, but an average estimate is that 1/4 ounce of dried seaweed can contain up to 4.5 mg of iodine! Nori sheets are one of my favorite forms of seaweed because they last forever, don’t take up much space, are inexpensive, and the big toddler loves to snack on them while running around the house. Since the situation is not more dire, I’m not having him take iodine supplements but I am letting him have his fill of nori. Radiation or not, it’s a great snack for kids and the iodine in it helps them become supremely intelligent so they will be able to figure out 10 times faster how to get around all of your household childproofing efforts.
- I’m also praying! A lot. For the people in Japan that have lost so much, for the brave workers at the nuclear plant who are putting themselves at risk to keep the rest of us safe, for mankind in general. I’m trusting that it will all work together for good, and I’m not letting myself go down a negative route of worrying…that’s bad for the thyroid!
NOTE: This blog is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified health care practitioner. If you are under medical care, especially if it is surrounding your thyroid, please work with a practitioner before adding iodine or any other nutritional supplement to your routine. Iodine should not be taken in large doses for extended periods of time without consulting a health care practitioner to determine specific needs.
March 15, 2011 24 Comments