Category Archives: Natural Alternatives

we should talk about these things.

244904386_df9c94a424.jpgOne of my profs at school said this after realizing that everyone but one person in our intro class in a digital media degree had no idea that writing your email address in a website causes you to get spam. (Write it like this instead “name [ATT] gmail {dot} com” or just make it a link. Who knew?) We should talk about these things.

I feel the same way when I go to the Mac store and the tech guy says, “Well, if you keep your ipod headphones unplugged when you are not listening, there’s less of a chance of your ipod breaking.” Thanks. Why doesn’t anyone tell us these things?

So I want to make a rather obvious post. This ones is for ladies only (or guys, like Ben Kweller above, who use tampons to stop nosebleeds… or for some other purpose I’m not ready to imagine.) If you’re going to do one nice, natural, thing for your bod, change to organic cotton tampons. Regular tampons have all kinds of shit in them, not to mention the cotton could be sprayed with pesticides. I don’t need any studies or experts to tell me I’d rather be safe then sorry when it comes to down there.

Too expensive? Great news. Natural tampons can be rather overpriced, but Trader Joe’s sells ’em for equal to or less than the regular kind. Thanks for thinking of the ladies, TJ.

I also want to provide this link to Many Moons, a site that has natural menstkeeper-300dpi.jpgruation products, including The Keeper. I’m always keeping my eye out for things that might be more environmentally friendly while still allowing women to lead our crazy modern lives. I have not tried these things yet, but I’d love to hear from people who have (anonymously if you like).



imagewrap_002.jpgLiving in NYC, it’s hard not be at least slightly germ-obsessed, if not entirely OCD about washing your hands. Now that winter’s over, the snow no longer washes away the crap, the heat heightens the smell of urine, we can’t wear gloves on the subway (well, I guess we COULD), and the general feeling of ick that makes you want to wash your hands 24/7 is in full force.

Washing your hands is great. However, there have been some recent studies indicating that using antibacterial soaps is not good for all parties involved. It destroys the natural balance of bacteria on your skin and causes bacteria to become resistant and mutate into more harmful strands.

Soap is good. An article I read recently suggests that if we taught people to make soap in African villages that have a lot of fatalities from bacterial diseases like dysentery, we would all but eliminate those deaths. One of my goals this summer is to make soap with a recipe like this one from Tree Hugger. There are also natural antibacterial soaps, such as those made from eucalyptus, that do not destroy the natural balance.

No soap in NYC can be very distressing. I take comfort in a study I read a few years ago when I’m in the park bathroom with no soap. The study suggested that equally important to scrubbing your hands with soap is keeping them underwater for a long enough period of time. Running water on your hands for a full minute was found to be almost as effective in washing away bacteria as soap. It may not be true, but I choose to believe it when I’m in dire settings.

According to Breen, surgeons are supposed to wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday to yourself three times. So when you hear the birthday song while passing by the icky park bathroom, that’s me. Happy washing!

B 12, Be Well

Hey! So I apologize for my irregular posting but I am in California shooting a documentary.

I did want to share my latest nutritional curiosity: Vitamin B 12. APN brought this up as a response to my post on dairy, citing milk as a good way for vegetarians to get this essential vitamin (meat, particularly liver, is another source). After a bit of poking around, I discovered that eggs and shellfish are also good sources. For vegans, there are fortified cereals or supplements, which folks used to think were not effective, but now most studies suggest they are (sorry for my imprecision, but a round of googling will likely lead you to the same conclusions). When taking B as supplements, it is more effective – if not essential – to take all the B vitamins together, according to two doctors I spoke with (one MD, one acupuncturist). Because our bodies do not store them, we rely entirely on our diet to get them on a regular basis.

vitamin_b2_spacefilled.jpgDeficiencies in vitamin B (any of them) seem to all result in really gross things, so let’s just not go there. What fascinated me was to learn that there may be a link between depression/mood instability and vitamin B deficiency. Having tried most methods under the sun when I was depressed, I was surprised that I have never even heard of this connection. While I wouldn’t endorse only relying on B to treat depression, folks seeking holistic approaches might be interested in some of the studies out there. One also suggested that B vitamins enhanced people’s responses to antidepressants.

According to this article, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and refined sugar all destroy the body’s ability to activate B vitamins. It’s most unfortunate that alcohol and B don’t mix well, because if not for that, unfiltered beer might be a good source of B, according to this wikipedia entry.

i heart kombucha

21872.jpgI really can’t say enough about the virtues of kombucha. As someone with a sensitive stomach, I find it can have a very settling effect. Kombucha is a sort of tea or elixir made with cultured probiotics (derived from a kombucha mushroom), which are great (in fact, essential) to healthy digestion. Kombucha is known for its detoxifying properties, and some say it helps protect us against cancer. Also, I found this great tidbit on wikipedia:

“In addition to, or aside from any possible health benefits, many users report a relatively subtle but definite perceptual shift after consuming kombucha. This perceptual shift is generally characterized by mild euphoria, relaxation, and an overall sense of physical and mental well-being.”

No wonder I like it so much. Why isn’t everyone drinking this every day? Well, a lot of people are, but I’m guessing the vinegar taste and occasional live gloppy strands of cultures are a turn off for some.

I personally have found GT’s Synergy drinks to be not only drinkable, but delicious. He combines 5% juice with kombucha. Guava Goddess is my personal favorite. Most stores sell them for about $3.50, which is surely not cheap, but it’s leskombucha.jpgs than a frappaccino at Starbucks and will give you more bang for your buck.

The day I make kombucha myself is the day I give myself the biggest pat on the back EVER. Apparently, it it very quick and cheap to make, so perhaps I’ll being patting sooner than I think. This recipe is illustrated and straightforward and here’s a link to buy a starter kit, which you only need once.

why do mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears?

mosquitoesI’ve been thinking about this West African story I used to listen to on tape as a child, where the storyteller said the title in a high-pitched, lilting voice: WHY do mosquitoes BUZZ in people’s EARS?

Why? Because every night when I’m trying to fall asleep, I have a visit from this persistent mosquito. And it’s only May!

I’ve been starting some research on alternatives to DEET and other toxic bug repellents. (I provided the link to DEET on wikipedia, but there are many online resources about the relative safety or non-safety of DEET, and how to use it properly.)

Last summer, I found Starfish Oils’ “[no mosquito] aromatherapy body spray” to work pretty well, but I know mosquitoes attack some people much more voraciously than others, and I probably fall somewhere in the middle. I also found an interesting article on NaturoDoc about natural ways to deal with bug and a recipe for making your own repellent for the DIY inclined.

For those of us with outdoor space, there’s some intriguing options for planting plants that repel mosquitoes. According to this article I found from Iowa State University, lemon thyme is highly unpopular with mosquitoes, almost twice as much as citrosa plants. Also, this article for EarthEasy suggests planting marigolds and making sure not to leave any standing water around.

allergeez part II

Andrea asked such a good question it’s become a whole post. She asked how many sessions of acupuncture I would guess it would take to cure allergies. I am not really qualified to answer it, only to tell my own thoughts and experience.

I think it is an important question because a lot of people are deterred by the cost of acupuncture. For me, it was well worth it, and I will willing to cut back other areas to do it. There are free clinics and low cost days at many places, but from what I’ve heard from other people who have had success with acupuncture, the practitioner is the most important thing. There are bad acupuncturists just like there are bad doctors.

I started (I think?) in March 2005 and did not have allergies that spring. I went once a week, every week. Most of my other symptoms did not clear up quite that fast.

However, I don’t want to sound like acupuncture is magic, though I think that it requires more than memorizing points and meridians to be a good acupuncturist. Acupuncture is one tool (which was essential for me) in a large toolkit. My understanding is that many factors contribute to the imbalances that cause symptoms like allergies and, in my experience, it took many solutions.

The important thing for me was to realize that just because I always had allergies didn’t mean I had to have them forever. And also to realize that reaching for a pharma solution as a first resort sometimes aggravates the symptoms you want to relieve.

I want to advocate educating yourself and including your relationship to health in your process of healing. Seeking health when you haven’t had it is a radical act. Going to war with my symptoms by did not work for me. Finding the right tools for me changed my entire relationship to my body and to health as I had previously thought of it.

These issues remain complicated for me. Though I had many persistent and uncomfortable symptoms, I never had anything terminal or immediately life threatening. As I have watched my mother bravely battle cancer (there’s those war metaphors), I am still figuring out my understanding of healing and how we can live and thrive in a toxic world. So far, I am only sure that we can.

Thanks to Andrea (and Rand with the IM debate!) for inspiring this post.


Finally, it’s spring! Whoo hoo! A-CHOO!

dsc05468.jpgAllergies. The party-poopers of spring. I don’t have a ton to say about them, except I used to have them so bad I had to take Claritin and use an inhaler and I don’t have them anymore. At all. For real! (Though my contacts still get grimy with all the pollen.)

I started getting acupuncture in late winter of 2005 and that spring I just simply didn’t get my usual allergies. I never even mentioned to my acupuncturist that I got them. It makes sense, because allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to irritants like dust and pollen. When your body is out of whack, your immune system doesn’t function right. Acupuncture, to make a gross oversimplification of thousands of years of medicine, heals the out of whackness.

The problem with prescription medications like Claritin is they simply will not work forever. Ever time you use them and then go hang out in the garden, you are increasing the severity of your allergies when you are not taking them, and eventually they will be too strong for your medication. This was told to me by a western physical, who recommended staying inside as the cure for allergies — hell no! It’s 75 degrees out and I like smelling flowers.

I guess I did have a ton to say about allergies, but the one point I really wanted to put out there is that allergies, like most conditions, do not have to be forever. For me, acupuncture did the trick. For you, it may be something else, but sooner is better. And it’s never too late.

*if anyone has any good articles about allergies, that would rock.