Category Archives: Green Health

A Journey with Breast Cancer, Part1: Chemo and Radiation Rescue

By Jeanne Romano

There are many wonderful blogs and articles, even full websites, dedicated to the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Most of these works cover the doctor recommended remedies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure your doctor knows what’s what when it comes to your hair, skin, teeth, nails and even the infamous “chemo brain” fog.

Being a breast cancer (double mastectomy) survivor and being all too familiar with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, I’ve tried and tested many of these recommended products.

In a series of blogs I’ll go over all the major chemo and/or radiation concerns and share what’s out there (and there’s a lot) to help you heal the external you while you’re focused on the internal you. Each blog will go into detail and name names. Yes, real products that actually work, where to get them, how to use them and even how much they cost.

Jeanne and friends at a 3-day walk in support of Breast Cancer

YOUR HAIR

This is probably the most feared chemo side effect and rightfully so. It’s also the most misunderstood. While chemotherapy is different for each person – and hair loss is pretty common, it’s still an awful feeling when large clumps of hair suddenly fall out or are left on your pillow. It can be very scary, even traumatic. Not having hair (especially for women) is a constant reminder of what’s happening to your body. And isn’t funny how we all remember our hair as being our beautiful crowning glory –even if it wasn’t?

In the “Hair Blog” we’ll go over some cool things that might help speed the re-growth of your hair once your chemotherapy is complete.

YOUR SKIN

Like many of you, I experienced all sorts of skin reactions from both chemo and then again with radiation. My problems ranged from rashes and cracked skin to blisters and peeling – even some bleeding. Not pretty and often painful.

In the “Skin Blog” we’ll explore organic skin care –available products that should go a long way to protect and regenerate your skin.

YOUR TEETH & MOUTH

Chemotherapy packs quite a punch. What I learned and according to Cancer.gov, chemotherapy often plants that punch right in the mouth. Xerostomia, also known as dry mouth, is a condition of insufficient saliva. Saliva, of course, aids in cleaning, neutralizing acids, speech and alerts us that we’re thirsty. Dry mouth can lead to an unclean mouth which invites cavities.

In the “Teeth & Mouth Blog” we’ll discuss the many options designed to keep your mouth happy and healthy. And with everything else you’re going through the last thing you should be dealing with is repeated trips to the dentist.

YOUR NAILS

Not everyone experiences damage to their fingernails. However, many of you might notice superficial effects – ridges, breaking, thinning. Radiation is also a risk for nails.

In the “Nail Blog” we’ll chat about common issues of “chemo nail” and look into possible problem solvers for care and feeding (yup, vitamins are a thought) of your nails.

YOUR COSMETICS

It’s tough to feel good about your looks when your eyelashes and eyebrows are gone, you’re bald, feeling bloated and you may even have reddish dry chemo-skin. The emotional reaction can be very difficult. And contrary to common acceptance, it’s not always as simple as throwing on a wig, using make-up or applying false eyelashes.

In the “Cosmetic Blog” we’ll look into makeup and cosmetics that just might help fight the blahs – which can go a long way (it did for me) to restoring a sense of self.

YOUR BRAIN

When I first heard about “chemo brain” or brain fog I thought it was a joke. Not true. Many patients, including myself have reported being frustrated with a type of cloudiness that can occur before, during, and after their treatments.

The “Brain Blog” will be a bit different; only recently have legitimate studies been conducted to try and clear up the confusion. We’ll investigate.

YOUR PEACE OF MIND

Pampering you. While medications for nausea, diarrhea, mouth pain and other side effects are often necessary, creating a resting place with cozy sheets and pillows to make your sleep comfortable is equally important.

In the “Pamper” blog we’ll discuss resources to hopefully make it easier to let go: listen to music, journal (if that’s your thing) or just figure out simple ways to relax.

 

Are Fruit and Veggie Washes Really Better?

By Leah Kaminsky

It seems like every grocery store I go to these days is touting their “green” veggie and fruit washes. “Get rid of pesticides!” they proclaim. “Eat healthier!” Naturally, the allure of such products is tempting, but the last thing I want to do is remove pesticides by spraying my produce with more chemicals. So, what’s the truth? Are fruit and veggie washes really a good idea?

First, as this study of one fruit and vegetable wash shows, there’s really no way to get rid of all pesticides if they’ve been applied systemically. However, pesticides, bacteria and dirt that appear on the surface of produce is much more easily removed. While water will do the trick for water-soluble pesticides, you need something with a little more acidity for those that aren’t (and good luck figuring out on your own which one is on your apple). That makes sense if you look at the ingredients for one produce cleaner called Fit, which operates primarily through its many acids:

Ingredients in Fit: Purified water, oleic acid (from Vegetable Sources), Glycerol (from Vegetable Sources), Ethyl Alcohol (from Corn), Potassium Hydrate (from Basic Minerals), Baking Soda (from Basic Minerals), Citric Acid (from Cornstarch and Molasses), and Distilled Grapefruit Oil.

None of these ingredients are particularly harmful or unnatural. This renders that fear of replacing chemicals with chemicals largely unfounded, making the question less, “Is it safe?” than, “Is it necessary?”

According to another study completed by Jack Bishop of Cook’s Illustrated, the answer is a solid no. As Bishop suggests, all you really need is a bottle of vinegar slightly diluted with water to have the same effect.

In the end, it seems distilled water, vinegar, or one of these simple home remedies (here and here) will do the trick just fine. What you wash produce with is far less important than simply washing it. So wash away, and eat up!

Green Ways to Prevent Illness

By Leah Kaminsky

Between the germs your kids bring back from school and those you pick up at work, it’s hard not to feel like illness is inevitable during cold and flu season. And while you can blast your countertops and doorknobs with disinfectant, that’s not the kind of solution that will make my eco-friendly heart sing. So, what can a good old-fashioned greenie do to combat common illnesses?

 

Help your kids keep colds at bay

Take those everyday solutions and give them an eco-conscious spin.

1.      Wash hands frequently with natural soap. You can kill bacteria without the help of pesticides and chemicals, sulfates and dyes.
2.      Wipe down high-use surfaces frequently with natural disinfectants bought either from a store or homemade.
3.      Create your own hand sanitizer using essential oils and alcohol.
4.      Support your immune system with vitamins. While the actual effectiveness of vitamin C and zinc is still highly debated, they certainly can’t hurt to help support your body’s natural immune response
5.      Eat right. As always, eating healthily is one of the best ways to, well, stay healthy. During seasons when your chances of getting sick are especially high, develop a craving for spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, tea and nuts, which contain everything from vitamin C to antioxidants, phytochemicals, calcium, fiber and healthy fats –known to help prevent disease or simply keep your body strong.
6.      Get off the couch. You know exercise is good for you, but in gearing up for a big battle with your immune system, exercise is really good for you, improving your circulation and lung capacity and getting your body in fighting condition. That said, if you’ve already got a fever, rest is the best option.
7.      Cut back on sugar. The jury is still out on this one, but some people believe sugar and vitamin C are both absorbed by immune cells in the same way, so if you’re overloaded on sugar when your body needs vitamin C’s help, you’ll weaken your immune system’s natural defenses.

In the end, preventing illness the green way is very similar to preventing illness the non-green way. As always, you just have to stay aware and get a little creative.

Green Your Coffee Drinking Habit

By Leah Kaminsky

When you live without sun for nine months out of the year, it’s hard not to become a hardcore coffee addict. I learned this pretty quickly when I moved to Seattle and began to work the hardest I ever had in my life. But much to the chagrin of eco-conscious coffee drinkers like myself, coffee isn’t exactly the most sustainable product. In order to mitigate coffee’s environmental and social costs, here are a few key things to keep in mind.

1. Find the Right Beans

First, take a look at how the beans are grown. You’ll want them to be organic and shade-grown. Why? Because organic coffee keeps pesticides and artificial fertilizers out of the ecosystem, while coffee grown in the shade of trees provides places for migratory birds to rest and feed themselves throughout their long journeys, and also produces the type of biodiversity that protects coffee crops from the kinds of pests that require herbicides. Look specifically for “rustic” shade cover, which provides 70 – 100% coverage.

Next, make sure those beans are Fair Trade Certified to ensure they were sourced from a farm with fair and humane labor practices.

Do you know where your daily coffee beans are grown?
(Image via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8896706@N05/with/6149598235/#photo_6149598235)

2. Go Local

If possible, buy from a local farmer or at least local roasters who work hard to develop relationships with farmers and co-ops.

3. Make Your Own and Clean it Up

Love paper filters as you might, they’re just not as sustainable as the reusable kind. If you must use them, compost them along with your grounds, the latter of which you can compost right into your garden. When cleaning your coffee maker, stay away from any chemicals, opting for vinegar or another natural alternative instead. To save energy, make sure to switch off your machine rather than warming your coffee all day.

4. Drinking in Style

It should go without saying, but drink from a washable porcelain mug rather than a paper cup. Most good coffee shops these days sell travel mugs that look like their paper counterparts, and they’re well worth the investment.

With a little foresight, your coffee drinking habit can be sustainable. You just have to put a little effort into sourcing and be willing to pay more not just for the beans but for the certifications as well. So green your coffee and drink up!

 

Green Burial

The green movement is spreading to cemeteries as more green burial options become available

By Leah Kaminsky

If there’s one infallible truth in life, it’s that we’re all going to die some day. Yet, rather than facing up to this fact, we’ve developed whole industries to prolong the illusion of youth and life, from plastic surgery to marble caskets and embalming procedures that keep us looking good and as far away from decomposition as possible.

Unfortunately, this denial of death is pretty bad for the earth. Embalming fluid contains carcinogens, which can leak into the soil. Coffins made from hardwoods and metals needs to be transported across great distances, increasing carbon emissions, and most also leak toxic lacquers. Cemeteries require a lot of upkeep to maintain, including the use of fertilizers and pesticides. What’s more, it’s difficult to sustain a practice that prevents biodegradation.

But before you get too depressed (as if talking about death wasn’t enough), know that there are a few green burial options that are becoming increasingly popular. Embalming fluid can be replaced with non-toxic refrigeration or dry ice, which will be sufficient for keeping the deceased presentable through the viewing. There are also a number of companies supplying eco-caskets made from sustainably sourced woods or woven from natural fabrics like cotton, silk or linen. For the truly eco-obsessed, there are also wicker and cardboard options, as well newspaper-based biodegradable kayak-shaped caskets called Ecopods.

As the green movement spreads, there are more green cemeteries stepping up to the fill the void. Green cemeteries use flat stones or native trees as grave markers, or eschew the physical marker altogether with GPS technology. Some even restore the land to what it used to be. There is even a Green Burial Council to monitor it all.

So, how do you want to be buried? It might not be the most inspiring question, but the answers sure are interesting.

Why Biking is Good for the Planet and for You

By Leah Kaminsky

It’s been nearly a year since I packed up my studio in Seattle and moved down to Austin. And I’m ashamed to report that my bike sat in its shipping packaging for most of that time. Because, you know…unpacking requires effort.

Fortunately, a recent getaway to the Hill Country changed all that. Just a few minutes riding past wildflowers in full bloom and I was extolling biking’s myriad health benefits. Sure, it was a great way to mix up my regular cardio workout, but I also found it cleared my head, relaxed me, and was just a great way to get around.

Since I’ve returned from my trip, I’ve been into my bike, discovering all sorts of new treasures I’d passed a million times in a car and never noticed. It’s so much easier to get in a workout when I combine it with a commute, and I love skating around traffic jams. Plus, as someone who’s still relatively new to town, it buys me a ticket into a whole bike culture here, helping me meet people as I spin away.

Biking is a culture that’s growing as many green cities try to cut down on their carbon emissions and clear out clogged highways. Bikes help us reduce our dependence on gas, produce no more emissions than what we breathe out, and need fewer parts repairs.

Still, biking is unappealing to many people as it can be quite dangerous in cities that are built for cars. You’ll have to look out for aggressive drivers, opening doors, cars that don’t notice you when making turns, and blind spots when riding next to a truck.

If your city is in particular need of a reform, try forming a bike advocacy group and lobbying the city for larger, more visible bike lanes, particularly dedicated greenways and wider streets.

Yes, I know if you’re reading this from your home in San Francisco I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But for the rest of you, I say, give biking a whirl. It’s a great way to get exercise, reduce emissions and get to work in one go. You just can’t say that about walking or driving.

Kid-Friendly Green Activities

By Leah Kaminsky

There are two questions that drive parents up the wall: “What’s for dinner?” and “What should I do?” There are a variety of eco-friendly answers to this second one, and they’re likely to be just as interesting to you as they will be to your kids. That’s because going green, at its best, involves getting a little creative.

Having your kids help with yard work on a sunny day is a great way to keep them entertained.

If you’ve got a crafty kid on your hand, have your child scour the house for old, unused materials you can repurpose into something new. Egg cartons can be turned into mobiles and that old tin of beans can become a great place to grow a small plant. Run out of space on the fridge for proudly displaying your child’s artwork? Make room by turning that old artwork into a fun bookmark that will get them crafting and reading. With an inventive mind, you can even build a robot from recycled materials.

Another great idea is to coach your child on growing his or her very first garden. This can be something as simple as planting a seed in a cup and watching it grow on the windowsill to building a raised bed for your deck or even planning for lots of vegetables you can use all year round. Or foster a sense of community by volunteering at your local community garden or at your CSA ­- local, subscription-based farm organizations that encourage eager members to help with the farming..

Learning green cooking principles can be another great way to both entertain your child and teach them important life lessons. Discuss why it’s important to eat in-season before brainstorming tasty recipes and checking out your local farmer’s market. You’ll be killing both the dinner and the entertainment question with one stone.

There are many more ways to have fun in classic green style, just as long as everyone involved gets a little bit inventive. And if all else fails, there’s nothing quite so green as, “Go outside and entertain yourself.” Right?

Mixing Up Natural Bug Repellant for Peace of Mind

By Leah Kaminsky

Raise a hand if you’ve experienced this before: you want to sit outside on an idyllic but mosquito-filled summer’s night. You reach for the bug repellant and your eye falls on this abbreviation in the ingredient list: DEET, a chemical linked to neurological problems, skin and eye irritation, and who knows what else. Not to mention all the other big chemicals you can’t pronounce. You opt for the screened-in porch instead.

Sound familiar? Well, don’t pack those lawn chairs up yet. There’s a solution around the corner, and its name is essential oils.

As you may have noticed, insects aren’t like us. While we pay extra money to get massaged with essential oils, bugs like to stay as far away from them as possible. Mix just a few potent drops with any household oil (olive, vegetable, etc.) or in rubbing alcohol and those bugs won’t touch you.

Different essential oils repel different bugs, so choose yours based on the worst culprits in your area. For mosquitoes, try cinnamon, citronella or castor oil. Lemon or regular eucalyptus oil is also great for mosquitoes, ticks and lice, while rose geranium oil is only effective on ticks and lice. If you’ve got more than one of these pests, try a mix n’ match approach. Carpet-bombing can’t hurt anyone except the bugs.

As a general rule, go for one part essential oil for every 10-20 parts oil or alcohol. Add aloe vera for a lotion-like feel.

Apply your natural bug repellant like you would any other, avoiding sensitive areas like your eyes. Store what you don’t use in a dark bottle and keep it out of the sun.

So there you have it. Mix together a few oils and you’ll have your completely natural route to total bug aversion. Bugs beware!

Superfoods For The Savvy Shopper

By Juli Goetz Morser

Doesn’t it seem like every six months a new super food hits the headlines as the be-all-and-end-all cure for some common or chronic health ailment? Think acai berry, pomegranate, coconut water, goji berries for some of the latest trends or salmon, blueberries, oats and walnuts for the old timers. If food is what we consume to provide nutritional support for our bodies, then super foods are touted to go beyond basic nutrition with claims to lower cholesterol, control diabetes, fight heart disease, strengthen the immune system, and generally help us live longer.

Since we all want to live healthy lengthy lives, these new and old ‘discoveries’ and their so-called healing properties can be pretty alluring. Kind of like the silver bullets for health. But you’ve got to wonder if these claims amount to, well, a hill of beans. Unfortunately, this is where things get a little murky. For instance, last year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the health claim that omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. But when used on a label, the claim has to say that the research is not conclusive. Kind of confusing, huh?

So what is a savvy shopper to do? Well one approach is to simply not worry about eating specific foods for specific ailments until the FDA gives the final word. Another option is to go ahead and add a variety of these calorie sparse and nutritionally dense super foods to an overall healthy diet. Why not? It may not be the quick fix you are looking for or even the magic answer, but it just might be something worth eating for.

Here are some everyday super foods to put on your grocery list:

Beans – the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend three cups weekly of these fiber-filled nuggets. They are also a good low fat source of protein, carbohydrates, magnesium and potassium. Edamame (whole soybeans) also contain omega-3 fatty acids for an added bonus.

Blueberries – the darker the better. These small berries are packed with antioxidants, phytoflavinoids, vitamin C and potassium. Berries in general are low in calories, high in water and fiber, and can satisfy sweets cravings with a lot fewer calories than typical baked goods. Frozen berries are said to be just as good, nutritionally, as fresh ones.

Broccoli – this may be one of America’s favorite veggies. It appeals to all ages and is available year round. It is a rich source of Vitamin A, C and K and has plenty of fiber.

Dark orange vegetables – sweet potatoes, carrots, orange bell peppers, butternut squash and pumpkin are all super high in vitamin A. Sweet potatoes, unlike white potatoes, also are loaded with vitamin C, calcium, and potassium.

Eggs – the incredible edible egg contains 12 vitamins and minerals, including choline, while also providing quality protein.

Low fat or fat-free yogurt – believe it or not, low or fat-free yogurt is actually higher in calcium than some other dairy products. It is a top quality source of protein and potassium and can contain probiotics, which help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the intestines.

Nuts – the key to nuts is how much you eat. They rate well due to their protein, antioxidant, high fiber and heart-healthy fat content, but watch the quantity. Go for small portions, about 100 calories a day.

Oats – naturally! Rolled oats or even food that contains a lot of oat bran are the rare super foods with an FDA approved label that they may reduce the risk of heart disease when combined with a low fat diet.

Quinoa – this ancient grain is high in protein and is a good source of iron, zinc, vitamin E, selenium and fiber. In addition to quinoa, try these whole grains: barley, buckwheat, millet, wild rice, and whole wheat.

Salmon – the American Heart Association recommends eating cold water fatty fish like salmon twice a week because they are chock full of the omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is low in calories and saturated fats, high in protein and is a good source of iron. Choose wild over farmed salmon when possible as farmed salmon may contain elevated levels of contaminants and artificial coloring.

Dark Chocolate – a super food? Really? Yes, really. Dark chocolate with 60% or higher cocoa content is a potent antioxidant. And the darker it is, the lower the fat and sugar content. Oh, and did we say it’s yummy?

Are you allergic to Grandma’s candy dish?

I would wake up and I cough like a ninety year old man.  In the shower, my eyes would itch. And, pouring a cup of coffee usually spilling it all over me because of my non-stop sneezing jag.  Sound familiar?  I was allergic to my life; turns out that having an allergy is the most common denominator among people of all ages, sex and ethnicity. In fact it’s estimated that approximately 40 million Americans suffer from some sort of allergy.

Here is a short list of things I did that made my life less of a sneezing, coughing, itchy-fest.

  • No fresh flowers.  Sad, I know, however they are often the culprit
  • De-clutter. Knick knacks are fun — but seem to collect every speck of dust on the planet
  • Vacuum your mattress and cover it with a hypo-allergenic mattress pad. Unless you are allergic, the best materials are cotton and bamboo
  • Use unscented soaps, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, moisturizers and lotions
  • If you want to use room deodorizers find an organic fruit spray. They are a lovely alternatives and have been proven to be effective at killing viruses and bacteria without harmful side effects
  • Brush the dogs outside and often

The more you about common allergens in your life the less Kleenex, nose sprays and pills you’ll need to buy.