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Tips for Living with Poor Air Quality

http://pacificislandparks.com/2012/02/17/what-do-you-know-about-hawaiis-volcanoes-2/

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

My Homemade Kombucha Recipe

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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:
  6. 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:
  7. 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   9 Comments

Easy Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe

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

New Mattresses and Off-gassing

42-16958624My husband and I bought a new Serta mattress earlier this week, a replacement under warranty for our former Serta mattress that behaved more like a papasan chair.  While researching which mattress would be the best replacement, I came across all kinds of info on new mattresses and off-gassing of harmful chemicals from the foam (especially memory foam, apparently) and fire retardants.  There are all kinds of opinions and scary stories out there ranging from everything from multiple chemical sensitivities to SIDS.

I try to not be an alarmist, but I must admit that reading this info made me wary of our new and exciting purchase – especially with the recent law mandating that all  new mattresses be doused in fire retardants during manufacturing, unless you can get your doctor to write a prescription for a fire retardant-free mattress.  I started wondering if I should just forget about the Serta and opt for an all-natural, foam-free mattress.  However, I could feel my Filipino ancestors shaming me from beyond the grave for even thinking of questioning the benefit of a FREE brand new mattress.  (Mind you, I am not making ethnic generalizations – my Filipino grandma once haggled so intensely over a 25 cent item at a flea market that the vendor ended up just giving it to her for free.  Getting free stuff runs in my genes and I am sure she is not the first one to inherit it.)

I decided to proceed with the Serta replacement and took the following precautions to make our slumber as non-toxic as possible:

  1. First and foremost, I took the plastic wrapping off the mattress as soon as we got home and opened the window in our bedroom.  I’m in Iowa and it is still relatively freezing so I closed the door to the bedroom while the window was open.  We also live on a farm so I wasn’t about to leave the mattress outside as temptation for neighborhood mice and raccoons.  We brought the mattress home in the early afternoon and I left the window open until about an hour before bedtime.  Some websites said to do this for 24 hours, since the first 24 hours is the time of the most off-gassing, but we were too impatient.
  2. I invited a friend over and we both put on clean socks and walked all over the mattress (with the window still open).  I read about this online – apparently walking on the bed squeezes the air out of the foam and draws new air in, which accelerates the rate of off-gassing and gets the chemicals out of the mattress and into the air.
  3. I put all the plants in the house in the bedroom for 24 hours.  NASA has done studies on using house plants to purify the air in space shuttles so I figure they’re good enough for me and my mattress.  Fast growing plants such as spider plants are especially good at purifying VOC’s (Volatile Organic Chemicals) out of the air.  My husband thought our bedroom looked like Jurassic Park but that’s what he gets for marrying a crazy nutritionist.

I must admit that I have no chemical sensitivities or serious health concerns, so if you are someone who does, the above three precautions may not be enough for you and  you may need to look into chemical free bedding.  However, my husband and I love our new mattress and I feel good knowing that the surge in off-gassing that occurs with brand new mattresses happened in a controlled manner instead of into us while we’re dreaming!

March 18, 2009   16 Comments