In case you haven’t come across it yet, here’s something you might find helpful in your personal and professional lives:
An excellent little book by Kristin Prevallet called VISUALIZE COMFORT: PAIN MANAGEMENT AND THE UNCONSCIOUS MIND.
This new book – paperback novel size and only 100 pages (she’s a poet!) – is the best thing I’ve ever read on how to give ourselves comfort from our physical and emotional pain. Very easy to read too. About $10 – it will be worth much more than that to you.
Guided visualizations to accompany the book can also be accessed online.
From the back cover of the book:
A young woman I’ve been working with for several years is in considerable, chronic emotional and physical pain which interferes with every aspect of her life. Although I’ve been talking to her about ways to dissociate from her pain, nothing was really getting through and she continued almost taking pride in how disabled she is. I read her a short section from Kristin’s book and she got it immediately.
Kristin Prevallet is an accomplished poet, teacher, and lovely human being. She also does hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming (NLP) in her New York City office in Chelsea. I’ve had two very useful private hypnotherapy sessions with her and she came to my Allergies workshop in December.
You can order the book directly from Kristin ($9.99 via PayPal – includes S&H):
Parabens are frequently used as preservatives to prevent microbial growth and increase the shelf life of an estimated 13,200 cosmetic and skin care products. (Scheve, 2014)
Most of us apply parabens to our skins and perhaps even consume them daily. They’re ingredients in: (Scheve, 2014) (personal observation)
Cosmetics – such as moisturizers, lipsticks, lip balms, foundations, concealers, eye make ups, make up removers, self-tanners, hair dyes
Hygiene products – such as shampoos, conditioners, de-frizzers, volumizers, hair dyes, soaps, toothpastes, topical ointments, deodorants and anti-perspirants, shaving gels, sunscreens, anti-wrinkle creams, bandages and eye drops, personal lubricants, estrogen creams
Food products – such as salad dressing, mayonnaise, mustard, processed vegetables, frozen dairy products, soft drinks, baked goods and jellies
Pharmaceuticals – such as ointments and other products
Household and industrial products – such as textiles and glues
HOW CHEMICAL ENDOCRINE DISRUPTERS ARE HARMFUL
The 8 glands in our endocrine systems produce and release hormones that regulate metabolism, growth, development, tissue function, sleep, reproduction, sexual function and mood. Almost every cell in the body is affected by the endocrine system. A report issued in March 2013 jointly by the United Nations and the World Health Organization states that “Endocrine Disrupters (EDC’s) are a global threat to fertility and the environment.”
And a recent report from the Environmental Working Group says:
There is no end to the tricks that endocrine disruptors can play on our bodies–increasing production of certain hormones, decreasing production of others, imitating hormones, turning one hormone into another, interfering with hormone signaling, telling cells to die prematurely, competing with essential nutrients,bindingto essential hormones, and accumulating in organs that produce hormones.
CHEMICAL NAMES OF PARABENS
These are various names of the parabens we’re absorbing or ingesting from products – if they’re ingredients in your products, you’ll usually find them listed toward the bottom of the list: (Lal, 2012)
Japanese Honeysuckle Extract
Several authors have noted that a growing number of beauty product companies are trying to make their products safer and have substituted Japanese honeysuckle extract for chemical parabens. This has led to some controversy since the preservative made from Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica)is actually a form of paraben and behaves in a very similar way to synthetic parabens. Honeysuckle extract is marketed as Plantservative. (Marta, 2012)
There’s hope: Some cosmetics companies are replacing parabens with grapefruit seed extract and Vitamin E; and essential oils like cinnamon, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon and tea tree are being distilled and turned into natural preservatives. (Lal, 2012)
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that parabens have hormone-disrupting qualities that mimic estrogen, interfering with the body’s endocrine system. The EPA has linked methylparabens in particular to metabolic, developmental, hormonal and neurological disorders, as well as to various cancers – especially breast cancer. (Mercola, 2012) (Johnson, 2011) For more information on a parabens-breast cancer link, see the Environmental Working Group’s EWG’s Skin Deep Database, and the articles by Mercola andJohnson.
There is evidence that the estrogen-mimicry effect of parabens decreases testosterone levels, sperm counts and daily production of sperm in rats. Testosterone was found to decrease in a dose-dependent manner related to paraben concentration. It is thought that parabens are also responsible for the increasingly early onset of puberty in children, damage to the DNA in sperm, and damage to mitochondrial function, causing male infertility. (Osman, 2012)
THE UNREGULATED COSMETICS INDUSTRY
From Safe Cosmetics (Breast Cancer Action, 2014):
Because testing is voluntary and controlled by the cosmetic manufacturers, many ingredients in cosmetic products are not tested for safety. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep states that 89 percent of ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel, the FDA, or any other publicly accountable institution (FDA 2000, CIR 2002). The absence of governmental oversight for this $35 billion industry means that companies routinely market products with ingredients that are poorly studied, not studied at all, or worse, known to pose potentially serious health risks. It’s time to protect consumers….
Many cosmetic companies argue that the level of a harmful chemical in any one product is not enough to harm you…. However, science is finding the timing of exposure is critical, and that even a very small dose of some chemicals can have serious consequences in children and young women who are still developing.
Moreover, we are rarely exposed to a chemical just one time. We may use the same product every day, several days a week, for months or years. In addition, we use dozens of personal care products daily, not just one. So while exposure from one product on one day may be small, we in fact use numerous products a day for extended periods of time. As a result, scientists are finding accumulations of chemicals such as parabens and phthalates in our bodies.
The unregulated cosmetics industry has publicly assessed only 11% of the 10,500 ingredients in personal care products. (The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 2011)
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics partners with the Environmental Working Group to produce a cosmetic safety database. You can visit EWG’s Skin Deep Database to check the ingredients in the products you use or to find safer products for you and your family.
This searchable database checks the ingredients in more than 74,000 shampoos, makeups, deodorants, sunscreens and other personal care products with 50 toxicity and regulatory databases.
There’s even an iPhone and Android mobile app for their database so you can check out products while you’re shopping. The app has some nice features:
It lets you scan products’ barcodes to see EWG’s score for them.
With its History feature, you can find the scores of products you’ve previously scanned.
You can save your Favorites so you can easily check their scores.
THINK BEFORE YOU PINK
Breast Cancer Action coined the term pinkwasher in 2003 to refer to cosmetic and body care companies that promote pink ribbon products while also selling products that contribute to the disease. BCA first challenged Avon and then went on to focus on other companies that raise money in the name of breast cancer but manufacture body care products containing known carcinogens or reproductive toxins – such as parabens and phthlates. (Breast Cancer Action, 2014) (Think Before You Pink)
Directions Dot foundation on forehead, cheeks and chin. Blend using fingertips or a makeup sponge. Use with any CoverGirl Pressed Powder to help your look last.
Amazon.com – product information:
Safety Information Haircolor products can cause an allergic reaction which, in certain rare cases, can be severe. Therefore, before you use this product it is necessary to follow these precautions: Do not use if you have already had a reaction to a haircolor product; you have a sensitive, itchy or damaged scalp. If you have a tattoo, the risks of allergic reaction may be increased. Perform a skin allergy test 48 hours before each use of this product (see insert). Remember to buy your product 2 days ahead of time. Avoid contact with eyes and skin. If product gets into eyes, rinse immediately. Wear gloves provided in kit. Thoroughly rinse hair after application. Do not use over compound henna or progressive color. This product contains ingredients which may cause skin irritation on certain individuals and a preliminary test according to accompanying directions should first be made. This product must not be used for dyeing the eyelashes or eyebrows; to do so may cause blindness.
Warning: keep out of reach of children. For external use only. Avoid contact with eyes. Discontinue use if irritation develops. This product does not contain a sunscreen and does not protect against sunburn. Repeated exposure of unprotected skin while tanning may increase the risk of skin aging, skin cancer and other harmful effects to the skin, even if you do not burn.
Apply liberally, evenly smoothing onto your skin. Avoid contact with clothes until after the lotion is fully absorbed. Wash your hands after application. To optimize results, exfoliate before first use.
PARABEN-FREE PRODUCTS I LIKE AND USE
Lotions, shampoos and other skin products made for babies are less likely to contain carcinogens like parabens. Also, Australia and New Zealand’s EPA-equivalents are very strict so products made in those countries are less likely to contain parabens or other chemicals harmful to your health.
Every day is SUNday when it comes to UV rays! A daily dose of our lightweight, fragrance free, paraben free SPF 30 formula keeps skin nourished and soothed while providing broad spectrum protection from UV rays and environmental damage. Water resistant (80 min) and non-irritating to the eyes. Broad spectrum pure physical/mineral non-chemical sunscreen active ingredients.
Contains NO fragrance, parabens, phthalates, lanolin, mineral oil, petroleum or waxes
Pure physical non-chemical sunscreen actives Titanium Dioxide & Zinc Oxide, optimal for sensitive and young skin, even under 6 months of age
Broad spectrum protection: protects against UVA and UVB rays
Fragrance-free for ultra sensitive skin
Protects from environmental damage while nourishing, with antioxidant vitamins E & B5, grapeseed oil and avocado oil
Clinically tested, certified hypoallergenic and dermatologist approved
Gentle, water-resistant (80 minutes) and non-irritating to the eyes
Reprinted from the Safe Cosmetics Action Network (Safe Cosmetics Action Network, 2011)
Q. What are some of the most harmful ingredients in products?
A. Mercury (often listed as thimerosal on ingredient labels), found in some eye drops, ointment and deodorants; lead acetate, found in some hair dyes and cleanser; formaldehyde and toluene, found in nail products; petrochemicals, found in some hair relaxers, shampoos, mascara, perfume, foundation, lipstick and lip balm; coal tar, found in dandruff shampoos, anti-itch creams and hair dyes; placenta, found in some hair relaxers, moisturizers and toners; and phthalates, found in some nail polish, fragrances and hair spray.
All of these ingredients can be found in our brochure, Unmasked: 10 Ugly Truths Behind the Myth of Cosmetic Safety.
Q. So I should buy products labeled “all-natural”?
A. Looking for the words “natural” or “safe” won’t guarantee that the product you buy really is safe. That’s why we’re asking all manufacturers to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics and pledge not to use chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and other health harms and replace them with safer alternatives.
Q: I don’t see Arbonne, Avon, Mary Kay, Melaleuca or other similar companies listed on your website, even though they claim to be “safe,” “natural” or donate money to breast cancer research. What’s the deal?
A: Arbonne, Avon, Mary Kay and Melaleuca are aware of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics but have refused to sign it. If they are truly supporting women’s health and making “safe” products, it shouldn’t be too hard for them to sign the Compact. Hundreds of companies have signed the Compact, a commitment to manufacture personal care products free of known and suspected toxic chemicals.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics does not endorse or hand-pick “safe” companies to refer customers to. The growing list of safer companies on our Web site is comprised solely of companies that have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. If you don’t see a company on the list, we encourage you to send a letter letting them know about the Compact and urging them to sign it.
For a sample letter to get you started, please check out the Materialssection of the website.
Q: How do I know if a particular product is safe?
A: To find safety information on specific products, check out EWG’s Skin Deep, the online database of nearly 25,000 personal care products. You can search the database for specific brands or ingredients, or for product types, like nail polish, to see how brands within that product class compare. Skin Deep will also tell you if a company has signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. We recommend supporting Compact signers over non-signers when possible because Compact-signing companies have made a meaningful commitment to create safer products.
Q. What are phthalates? Where are they found?
A. Phthalates (pronounced THA-lates) are plasticizing chemicals that are probable human reproductive or developmental toxins and endocrine disruptors. Phthalates cause reproductive birth defects in laboratory animals, particularly males.
Two phthalates often used in cosmetics (dibutyl and diethylhexyl) have been banned in the European Union. Unfortunately, phthalates are still found in some nail polishes and hair sprays, and are commonly hidden on ingredient labels under the term “fragrance.” We recommend that consumers steer clear of products with fragrance, especially pregnant women, babies and pubescent young adults.
For more information, please read our reports, “A Little Prettier” (2008) and “Not Too Pretty” (2002).
Q. I’ve been reading a lot about parabens and companies going “paraben-free.” What does that mean?
A. Parabens are a group of compounds widely used as anti-microbial preservatives in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics products, including underarm deodorants. Parabens are absorbed through intact skin and through the gastrointestinal tract and blood. U.K. researchers found measurable concentrations of six different parabens in 20 human breast tumors. The study highlights the need for more research on the potential link between products containing parabens and increased breast cancer risk.
Many companies, including Compact signers, have begun phasing out parabens from their lines by marking their products as “paraben-free.” Parabens are commonly listed on product ingredient labels as methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben and butylparaben.
Q. What about nail polish?
A. So many people have asked us about nail polish that we created a separate pagefor information about it. According to EWG’s Skin Deep database of cosmetic product safety, nail polish is among the highest-concern product categories in terms of serious health effects. This has to do in large part to the chemicals formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate(DBP), all three of which make it into the top ingredients of concern in personal care products, and all three of which could be found in many brands of nail polish until very recently.
Many smaller nail polish manufacturers removed these chemicals from their products long ago. And while European laws forced many international companies to stop using DBP in 2005, some holdouts were still using the chemical in their U.S. lines. In 2006, Del Laboratories, Inc., which makes the Sally Hansen brand, told the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics that it would remove all DBP, toluene and formaldehyde from their U.S. products. At that time, leading salon brand (and target of Campaign actions and ads) OPI agreed to remove DBP, but refused to eliminate formaldehyde and toluene from all of their nail polishes and treatments.
In March 2007, OPI reported that it was reformulating all of its products to be toluene-free.
The U.S. National Toxicology Program says formaldehyde is “reasonably anticipated” to be a human carcinogen. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restricts toluene in drinking water because it can cause nervous system disorders and damage the liver and kidneys. DBP is prohibited for use in cosmetics in the European Union because it is a possible human reproductive or developmental toxin. The data from several peer-reviewed scientific studies indicated that DBP is a probable endocrine disruptor, which means that it disrupts the natural balance of hormones in the body.
Q. Who’s making safe nail polish?
A. Several companies who have signed the Compact make nail polishes, treatments and removers without harmful chemicals, including Anise Nail Care, Honeybee Gardens and NAIL-AID Treatments. So you don’t have to give up your mani-pedi visits, just BYOP (Bring Your Own Polish) the next time you go! And it won’t hurt to let your salon know about the health effects associated with polishes and treatments and how they can swap toxic products with safer alternatives to protect their own health, too. For more information about health risks to salon workers, read Glossed Over: Health Hazards Associated with Toxic Exposure in Nail Salons from Women’s Voices for the Earth.
Q: Where can I find information on sunscreens?
A: Environmental Working Group’s 2011 investigationof more than 600 sunscreen products found that 4 out of 5 contain chemicals that may pose health hazards or don’t adequately protect skin from the sun’s damaging rays. Some sunscreen makers are using nanotechnology in their products, and not always telling consumers about these risky nano-sized ingredients. Friends of the Earth published a report in 2007 focusing on nanotechnology and sunscreen, which is available on their website.
Q: Can I really get exposed to as much formaldehyde eating Brussels sprouts or apples as I can from a Brazilian Blowout treatment?
A: In a word, no. This is a myth perpetuated by defenders of Brazilian Blowout and other keratin hair-straightening products. Apples and some other fruits and vegetables do contain naturally occurring formaldehyde, typically around 10 mg/kg (or parts per million), or 0.001 percent. But the levels of formaldehyde found in Brazilian Blowout by Oregon OSHA in 2010 were close to 10 percent, 10,000 times higher than the levels of formaldehyde found in apples.
SOME LABELS INDICATING A PRODUCT IS PARABEN FREE
Check the products you use to see if they have earned any of these labels.
OTHER BAD STUFF IN OUR COSMETICS
For the sake of simplicity, I decided to focus on parabens in this post but there are many other problematic chemicals included in the products we use on and put into our bodies.
The ingredients below are often found in skin moisturizers and other personal care products:
Mineral Oil, Paraffin, and Petrolatum— Petroleum products that coat the skin like plastic, clogging pores and creating a build-up of toxins, which in turn accumulate and can lead to dermatologic issues. Slows cellular development, which can cause you to show earlier signs of aging. Suspected cause of cancer. Disruptive of hormonal activity. By the way, when there’s an oil spill in the ocean, don’t they rush to clean it up — fast? Why put that stuff on your skin?
Parabens— Widely used as preservatives in the cosmetic industry (including moisturizers). An estimated 13,200 cosmetic and skin care products contain parabens. Studies implicate their connection with cancer. They have hormone-disrupting qualities — mimicking estrogen — and interfere with the body’s endocrine system.
Phenol carbolic acid– Found in many lotions and skin creams. Can cause circulatory collapse, paralysis, convulsions, coma and even death from respiratory failure.
Propylene glycol— Used as a moisturizer in cosmetics and as a carrier in fragrance oils. Shown to cause dermatitis, kidney or liver abnormalities, and may inhibit skin cell growth or cause skin irritation.
Acrylamide– Found in many hand and face creams. Linked to mammary tumors in lab research.
Sodium laurel or lauryl sulfate (SLS), also known assodium laureth sulfate (SLES)– Found in car washes, engine degreasers, garage floor cleaners… and in over 90% of personal care products! SLS breaks down the skin’s moisture barrier, easily penetrates the skin, and allows other chemicals to easily penetrate. Combined with other chemicals, SLS becomes a “nitrosamine”, a potent class of carcinogen. It can also cause hair loss. SLES is sometimes disguised with the labeling “comes from coconut” or “coconut-derived”.
Toluene— Poison! Danger! Harmful or fatal if swallowed! Harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Made from petroleum or coal tar, and found in most synthetic fragrances. Chronic exposure linked to anemia, lowered blood cell count, liver or kidney damage, and may affect a developing fetus. Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) contains toluene. Other names may include benzoic and benzyl.
Dioxane– Found in compounds known as PEG, Polysorbates, Laureth, ethoxylated alcohols. Common in a wide range of personal care products. The compounds are usually contaminated with high concentrations of highly volatile 1,4-dioxane, easily absorbed through the skin. Dioxane’s carcinogenicity was first reported in 1965 and later confirmed in studies including one from the National Cancer Institute in 1978. Nasal passages and liver are the most vulnerable. Dioxane is easily removed during the manufacturing process by “vacuum stripping”. Warning: It is a synthetic derivative of coconut. Watch for hidden language on labels, such as “comes from coconut”.
Like parabens, phthalates are also known to be hormone-mimicking chemicals which disrupt normal hormonal processes. And, also like parabens, they are frequently included in our cosmetic and body care products. Phthalates have been found to cause a broad range of birth defects and lifelong reproductive problems in laboratory animals exposed to them during pregnancy and after birth. The US Environmental Protection Agency lists phthalates as “Chemicals of Concern”. (Think Before You Pink)
Phthalates are esters of phthalic acid used principally as plasticizers to increase flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity in a large variety of products – including personal-care products, nail polish, fragrances, enteric coatings on pharmaceutical tablets and nutritional supplements, detergents and surfactants, packaging materials, PVC shower curtains, pharmaceuticals, food products, children’s toys, paints, printing inks, lubricants, emulsifying agents, adhesives and glues, vinyl flooring, electronics, building materials, medical devices, food additives, textiles, and inert ingredients in pesticides. (Wikipedia, 2014)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found most of the people they tested in the US had metabolites of multiple phthalates in their urine. Recent human bio-monitoring data found the “tolerable intake” of phthalates for children to be far exceeded, in some instances up to 20-fold. (Wikipedia, 2014)
Phthlates have been found to interfere with the production of male reproductive hormones in laboratory animals. These effects include lower testosterone level, decreased sperm count and lower sperm quality. Exposure to phthalates during gestation can also cause malformations of the male reproductive tract and testicular cancer. (Natural Resources Defense Council, undated)
Because phthalates are not chemically bound to products, they easily off-gas – especially with heat. Exposure to phthalates is by ingestion, inhalation, and applying products which contain them to the skin. (Natural Resources Defense Council, undated)
Phthalates are banned in cosmetics sold in the EU but not in the US. In this country, they are allowed in color cosmetics, scented lotions, body washes, hair care products, nail polishes and treatments. They may appear on the labels of these products as phthalate, DEP, DBP or simply as ‘fragrance’. (Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 2011)
Or they may not appear on the ingredients list at all. (Berl, 2012)
CHEMICALS ALLOWED IN THE US – BANNED ELSEWHERE
The Environmental Working Group says our personal care products expose women to an average of 168 ingredients per day while men encounter about 85 a day.
This list compares US policy versus other countries for some of the more problematic ingredients (Brown, 2014) and (Plasticisers.orgn, 2013):
* Legal in the US.
* Denmark first banned them in 2010 in products made for young children.
* The rest of the EU announced in 2012 that it was following suit.
* The US banned several types of phthlates in children’s toys in 2008 but continues allowing them in cosmetics.
* High phthalates will continue to be used in Europe. After February 2015, some others will be allowed in the EU only if they’ve been granted for a specific use while low phthalates will be phased out.
FORMALDEHYDE – used as a preservative in cosmetics
* Legal in the US.
* Canada bans its use in personal care products.
PETROLEUM DISTALLATES – used as inexpensive emolients; can cause contact dermatitis or be contaminated with carcinogenic imporities
* In the US they’re ingredients in eye shadow, lotions, creams, hairspray, foundation makeup and wart remover.
* Banned in the EU.
HYDROQUINONE – an effective skin lightener; linked to lung irritation and tumors in mice
* Legal in the US.
* Banned by Canada and some Asian and African countries.
OCTINOXATE – a popular ingredient that works as a chemical sunscreen; an endocrine disruptor that can upset thyroid hormones and interfere with brain signals
* Legal in the US.
* Perhaps banned in Japan – I couldn’t track this down.
METHYL CELLOSOLVE – a solvent used in anti-aging creams, moisturizers and serums; a neurotoxin and irritant that may cause DNA mutations. Often lumped into ‘fragrance’ when included on labels
* Reviled by the CDC but nevertheless legal in the US.
* Banned in Canada.
* Restricted in the EU.
BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE (BHA) – extends shelf life in lipsticks, moisturizers, shaving creams, fragrances and other personal care products; interferes with hormone function, is a possible human carcinogen, and adversely affects the environment by bio-accumulating in aquatic species
* California requires a warning label on products containing it; legal elsewhere in the US.
* The EU prohibits it in fragrances.
QUATERNIUM-15 – a formaldehyde donor preservative used in body washes, cosmetic powders, shampoos, conditioners and eye shadows; an eye irritant, allergen and probable carcinogen
* Legal in the US, Canada, China, Australia and Indonesia.
NANOPARTICLES – particles so small they can get into the cells themselves and disrupt them; can lodge in airways when inhaled from cosmetic powders and aerosols or absorbed through the skin when in topical preparations.
* The US doesn’t require products containing nanoparticles to be labeled.
* Canada, the UK, and the US Organic Standards Board have or are going to ban nanoparticles in certified organics.
Are you one of those people who attract every mosquito in the neighborhood while others around you don’t get a single bite?
Mosquitoes have been around for about 170 million years – considerably longer than modern man. Archeological and fossil evidence says Homo Sapiens evolved around 276,000 years ago. So it seems modern humans have been dealing with mosquito bites from the very beginning.
There are about 2,500 to 3,000 different species of mosquitoes found around the world. (Mosquito Magnet, 2014) More than 175 species have been identified in the US alone. (Heubeck, 2005-2014)
Makes you itch just to think about all those mosquitoes, doesn’t it?
The most common – and most dangerous – are the various species in the Culex, Anopheles, and Aedes genera. Culexpipiens, known as the northern house mosquito, is the principal carrier of West Nile virus. Anopheles carries the parasite that causes malaria. The parasite gets transmitted through the mosquitoes’ saliva when they bite us. Anopheles‘ bites are responsible for over one million deaths per year. Two species of Aedes are carriers of other dangerous diseases: Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito, transmits dengue fever and eastern equine encephalitis while Aedes aegypti, the yellow fever mosquito, transmits dengue and yellow fever. (Mosquito World, undated)
Mosquitoes cause more human suffering worldwide than any other organism – killing over one million people every year. They also transmit serious diseases and parasites to dogs and horses.
The National Center for Infectious Diseases (NCID), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), publishes a list of some of the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. (NCID, 2007) The American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) also publishes information on mosquito-borne diseases affecting humans, horses and dogs. (AMCA, 2013) Below is a combination of both lists:
Rift Valley Fever
La Crosse encephalitis
St Louis encephalitis
Chikungunya – rarely fatal but causing excruciating joint pain that is debilitating and may persist for several weeks
Dog Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis)
Eastern equine encephalitis – affects both horses and humans
Western equine encephalitis
Mosquitoes’ sensory organs seek sources of carbon dioxide and lactic acid – because these substances lead them to humans and other warm blooded animals. Chemical repellents like OFF! work because the DEET in them is highly effective at masking the smell of both carbon dioxide and lactic acid, not because mosquitoes don’t like the smell of the repellents themselves. (Reinagel, 2010)
A common misconception is that mosquitoes are attracted to humans and some other warm blooded animals who have sweet or pleasant tasting blood. Mosquitoes aren’t particularly interested in our blood – although people who have Type O blood are known to get more bites than people with other blood types. What they ARE very attracted to is the scents emitted by various bacteria and other micro-organisms living on our skin. These can differ from person to person and on us at different times.
Mosquitoes can detect plumes of carbon dioxide in our exhaled breath at a distance of several hundred feet. At under 100 feet they smell the odors of the bacteria and micro-organisms living in our skin microbiota. (Mosquito World, undated)
It’s only the female mosquito that bites – and what she does isn’t actually a bite. She lands on your skin and uses heat sensors on her antennae and around her mouth to detect a capillary near the surface of the skin. When she finds one, she inserts her proboscis (a long, needle-like mouth part containing two tubes) into the vessel and draws some blood out through one tube. Through the proboscis’ second tube, she inserts a little of her saliva, which contains enzymes that keep the blood from coagulating so she can feed freely. These enzymes also act as a mild painkiller so we don’t notice that our skin has been punctured. The female mosquito needs a protein in human blood to make her eggs fertile. (Ferris, 2013)
Our body’s immune system recognizes these enzymes as foreign. Antibodies prompt our mast cells to release histamines, which arrive at the scene and start to do their work of healing the breach and neutralizing the foreign enzymes by binding to receptors, causing the blood vessels there to dilate. The increased blood flow attracts more white blood cells to help vanquish the invading antigens. The histamines cause the spot to swell and become itchy. (Mosquito World, undated)
A 100 trillion or so micro-organisms live on and inside our bodies. One percent of these, about a trillion, live in and on our skin and determine our unique body odor. Without these bacteria, human sweat would be odorless. And these microbes, our skin’s microbiome, produce a variety of chemicals – some of which smell more attractive to mosquitoes and some of which don’t interest them at all. The composition of these trillion microbes varies greatly from person to person: We share 99.9% of our DNA with other humans but share only about 10% of our microbes. (Loria, 2014)
Interesting tidbit: It’s not the smell of our blood but the unique odors given off by our skin microbiota that so-called blood hounds can pick up. We’re constantly shedding a cloud of minute skin flakes. Bloodhounds are particularly adept at following a trail of these flakes, sniffing their odors. (Black, 2012)
Dutch researchers demonstrated that it is certain types of micro-organisms living on our skin that attract mosquitoes. For the study, they asked 48 adult male volunteers to avoid consuming alcohol, garlic, onions, and spicy foods, and not to shower or wear scented cosmetics for two days prior to the sampling event. The men were also instructed not to use soap the last time they showered before the experiment. All 48 volunteers were free from chronic illnesses and not taking any medications on a regular basis. (Verhulst, 2011) (Loria, 2014)
The men were given nylon socks to wear for 24 hours to build up a collection of their unique skin microbes. For the testing, researchers rubbed glass beads against the soles of the men’s feet to collect their scent as mosquito bait.
The sweat from 9 of the 48 men in the sample proved to be especially attractive to mosquitoes. Mosquitoes largely ignored the odors of the sweat from 7 of the men. The ‘highly attractive’ group’s sweat contained a 2.62 times higher concentration of one common skin microbe (Staphylococcus spp.) and 3.11 times higher concentration of another common microbe (Pseudomonas spp.) compared to the 7 in the ‘poorly attractive’ group. There was no significant difference between the amounts of Brevibacterium spp. and Cornynebacterium spp. in the ‘highly attractive’ and ‘poorly attractive’ groups. The ‘poorly attractive’ group also had a significantly more diverse bacterial colony living on their skins. (Loria, 2014) (Verhulst, 2011)
The microbial ecology of human skin is highly complex but science is still in the early stages of studying it. At this point, little is known about its species composition and only a small fraction of the micro-organisms living on – and in – us is culturable now – many species have not even been identified yet. The same is true for the microbes living in our gut microbiomes.
Nonetheless, the findings from this study are leading to the development of new mosquito attractants and repellents.
Another study, this one conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, found that mosquitoes and biting insects are also attracted to beer drinkers. Even one beer was found to increase the number of times subjects were bitten.
The researchers hypothesized that the attraction was due to increases in the amount of ethanol in sweat or because alcohol raises body temperature, but neither was found to correlate with mosquito landings.
This study also found that exercise, metabolism, clothing color, and pregnancy affected vulnerability to mosquitoes. (Salaky, 2013)
Wearing solid, dark clothing and dark, flowery prints
Using beauty products and lotions such as hair spray, perfume, and suntan lotion
Having standing water around – such as in backyard pools and in undisturbed pails or buckets
Working up a sweat. When you exercise, you give off more lactic acid and more carbon dioxide.
Being outside early in the day or at twilight, when mosquitoes bite the most
Eating sweet, sugary foods
Eating salty foods or ones high in potassium: Salt and potassium increase the amount of lactic acid you off-gas. Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables are the foods richest in potassium. Cabbage, green peppers, cucumbers, blueberries, apples, and watermelon are relatively low in potassium. Potatoes, lima beans, acorn squash, spinach, prunes, raisins, bananas are high in potassium.
Eating limburger cheese: It’s made with the same bacteria that cause our feet to smell.
Drinking beer: Consuming even one bottle of beer makes you bait for mosquitoes. I’ve been unable to find what it is about beer that is so attractive to them but only learned that it’s not due to an increased amount of ethanol excreted in sweat or because alcohol increases body temperature. If you find out what the connection is between beer consumption and attraction to mosquitoes, please let me know.
Being pregnant: Pregnant women attract roughly twice as many mosquitoes as non-pregnant people. Pregnant women exhale about 21% more carbon dioxide and run about 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit warmer. Mosquitoes are attracted to both the carbon dioxide breathed out and the heat given off by warm blooded animals.
Using alpha hydroxy products on your skin: Many skin care lotions and creams contain lactic acid, which is highly attractive to mosquitoes.
THESE MAKE YOU LESS INTERESTING TO MOSQUITOES:
Wearing plain, light-colored clothing
Spraying your skin with a diluted mixture of essential oils that are known to repel mosquitoes – such as tea tree oil, geranium oil, oil of cedar, peppermint oil, lemon grass oil, and citronella
Dabbing small amounts of the above essential oils on your skin is also effective against mosquitoes. A good choice is TerraShield, made by doTerra – a blend of 15 essential oils, it repels mosquitoes and ticks for up to six hours. It has a pleasant citrus smell and can be dabbed directly on your skin.
Diffusing one of these essential oils or oil blends (such as TerraShield) into the air
Placing a few drops of these essential oils or oil blends on ribbons and strings and hanging them near air vents, windows or openings where bugs might come in
Applying crushed herbs directly on your skin. Crushed catnip, citronella, vanilla leaf, tea tree, lemon balm, clove, lavender, eucalyptus, sagebrush and pineapple weed are safe to use in this way.
Spraying your skin with an infusion of herbs and plants that mosquitoes don’t like – such as calendula, catnip, lavender, pennyroyal, rosemary, basil, lime basil, peppermint, horsemint, lemon balm, lemon thyme, lemon grass, chamomile and goldenseal
Planting fragrant herbs from the list above, plus aromatic plants – such as ageratum, citronella grass, citrosa, marigolds*, common lantana, fever tea, myrrh, stone root and pennyroyal – in your garden or in pots outside. They’re all natural mosquito repellents.
Using a garlic spray in your garden or a garlic-scented lotion on your skin
Eating garlic provides mild protection – both from the scent of your breath and the sulfurous compounds you’ll emit through your skin. Of course, eating garlic or smearing its scent on your skin will probably keep away more than mosquitoes!
Eating foods high in vitamin B – such as fish, brown rice, molasses, brewers yeast and wheat germ. Mosquitoes don’t like vitamin B.
Here’s a good article containing recipes for making your own natural mosquito repellent using essential oils. Non-chemical mosquito repellents contain a diluted mixture of essential oils that mosquitoes find distasteful or which confuse their ability to detect your own odors so they can’t find you and therefore won’t bite you.
* WARNING: Never keep marigolds in areas close to windows, patio tables and other outdoor areas where you spend time as the flowers’ bright colors often attract wasps. (wikiHow, undated)
I would have included Avon’s Skin So Soft in the list of mosquito repellents except that they contain some not so nice chemicals – including methylparaben and proplyparaben.
Parabens are used as preservatives to increase shelf life in many cosmetic products (lotions, underarm deodorants and antiperspirants, hair care products, moisturizers, shaving products and make up), medicines and foods. Some of the major parabens we absorb or ingest in these products are benzylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that parabens have hormone-disrupting qualities that mimick estrogen interfering with the body’s endocrine system. The EPA has linked methylparabens in particular to metabolic, developmental, hormonal and neurological disorders, as well as to various cancers.
Companies like Burt’s Bees, Botanical Skin Works and Barefoot Botanicals do not use parabens in their products. For more information on products containing parabens visit www.thinkbeforeyoupink.org.
For more information on the parabens-breast cancer link and some paraben-free alternatives, see here (Johnson, 2011) and here (Mercola, 2012).
AO+ REFRESHING COSMETIC MIST – TO REPLENISH THE MICROBIOME OF MICROSCOPIC ORGANISMS LIVING ON OUR SKIN
In doing the research for the post just before this one, Living Bacterial Skin Tonic – Instead of Soap?!, I came across this about a living bacteria skin tonic being developed by a Massachusetts start up called AOBiome – I’ve highlighted the last two sentences:
The company’s scientists think that this product will be good for us because it could refill our bodies with microflora that do us good. In this way, it could actually be better for us than the antibacterial hygiene products that we are accustomed to using. Although these kill off bacteria, they can harm us due to the chemicals they contain (such as triclosan) which have been linked to various health problems.
If you’re still not convinced that you would want bacteria on your skin, consider this: bacteria can assist in treating various skin conditions, such as eczema and acne. It helps to heal wounds that are resistant to antibiotics. It can also change body odour so that it keeps mosquitos at bay.This is especially good if one considers illnesses like malaria that can run rampant and affect many people. (Simolo, 2014)
Our usual approach to the bacteria and other micro-organisms living on our skins – and everywhere else we can get to them – is to KILL THEM DEAD. We generally regard bacteria and their relatives as dangerous and just plain nasty. So this is an entirely new approach – a U turn in how to think about the bacteria living in and on our skin: This new spray contains billions of cultivatedNitrosomonas eutropha, an ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB)
It’s to be used in lieu of – or as an adjunct to – taking showers. Bathing with most soaps and shampoos KILLS ALL THE HEALTHY ELEMENTS OF OUR SKIN MICROBIOME. This new living bacterial skin tonic REPLENISHES the biome of microscopic organisms living on our skin.
If you recall the Dutch experiment described above, in the OUR SKIN MICROBIOME section, one of the findings was that the group of men who were the least attractive to mosquitoes had a significantly more diverse bacterial colony living on their skins.
So it makes sense to me that we would want to reverse our ill-considered search and destroy approach to bacteria and begin valuing and supporting our skin microbiomes, the trillion bacteria and other micro-organisms that dwell in and on our skin – for many reasons, not making ourselves so attractive to disease and parasite spreading mosquitoes being only one.
Information on a new product called AO+ Refreshing Cosmetic Mist caught my eye recently. (Scott, 2014)
It’s a liquid developed by a biotech start up company in Cambridge MA to spray on our bodies in lieu of – or as an adjunct to – taking showers. Showering with most soaps and shampoos kills all the healthy elements of our skin microbiome. The company, AOBiome, says its new living bacterial skin tonic, made of safe live-cultured Nitrosomonas bacteria, replenishes the biome of microscopic organisms that live on our skin.
This does indeed sound novel, interesting – and important!
I started this site to write about how the micro-organisms living in our guts – the gut microbiome – affect the entire body and how to restore your gut – and the rest of you – to good health. See The Gut Microbiome – Our Second Genome. Reading about AOBiome’s brilliant work on restoring our skin’s microbiome, produced a moment of clarity in me – one of those true light bulb moment: It’s not just our gut’s we’re destroying but our other microbiomes as well.
Our usual approach to the bacteria and other micro-organisms living on our skins – and everywhere else we can get to them – is to KILL THEM DEAD. We regard bacteria and their relatives as dangerous and just plain nasty. So this is an entirely new approach – a U turn in how to think about bacteria: The new spray contains billions of cultivated Nitrosomonas eutropha, an ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) most commonly found in dirt and untreated water in rivers, lakes, and the sea. (Martinko, 2014)
VARIOUS PARTS OF THE HUMAN MICROBIOME
The aggregates of micro-organisms living inside and on our bodies, collectively referred to as the human microbiome or microbiota, make their homes in many places:
In our GI tracts
On the surface of and in deep layers of our skin
On our hair
In the saliva and mucosa in our mouths
In our noses and sinuses
In our urogenital tracts
In the conjunctiva (the lining inside the eyelids and covering the white part of the eye)
OUR SECOND GENOME – THE HUMAN MICROBIOME
Sources: (AOBiome, 2014), (Wikipedia, 2014), and (Baylor College of Medicine, 2013-2014)
There are 100’s of trillions of micro-organisms in the various microbiomes in and on our bodies, our Second Genome.
The number of non-human micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea and single-celled leukaryotes) inhabiting a healthy human adult is estimated to outnumber human cells by a ratio of 10 to 1.
The human microbiome contains about 3,000,000 non-human bacterial cells to our 23,000 human cells. (See correction below)
The total number of genes in our microbiome exceeds the number of genes in our human genome by a factor of at least 200.
So, even though the microbial cells making their home in and on us are only 1/10th to 1/100th the size of our human cells, they account for up to 5 pounds of an adult’s body weight.
To date, only a small percentage of the bacteria comprising our human microbiome have been identified.
Correction (8/22/2015): A reader named Stephen sent the following comment:
I just need to point out that you have one fact slightly, but importantly, inaccurate. You cite that:
The human microbiome contains about 3,000,000 non-human bacterial cells to our 23,000 human cells.
When in fact, you should replace the two occurrences of the word “cells” with the word “genes”. This fact is often misunderstood. What it means is that the human genome has about 23k unique genes, whereas the bacteria that inhabit us have about 3x10E6 unique genes, not that there are 3 million genes among them. The point is that the bacteria on our bodies possess incredible functional diversity and can do many things for our bodies that we cannot do ourselves.
And these miniscule critters aren’t invaders trying to harm us. The vast majority of them are necessary and beneficial to us – as we are to them.
Yet for a century, we’ve been unintentionally, but systematically, distorting and destroying the healthy workings of our various microbiomes with processed foods, pharmaceuticals – especially antibiotics, cleaning products, cosmetics, pesticides and herbicides, genetically modified foods and more, resulting in the degradation of our immune systems and huge increases in diseases and chronic medical conditions.
At the same time, and with many of the same products, we’ve also been degrading healthy microbiomes in the soil and our water supplies – making not only humans ill but also wreaking havoc on the other fauna and flora on our planet.
THE HUMAN SKIN MICROBIOME
From the AOBiome website (AOBiome, 2014):
Human skin, a large and heterogenous organ, harbors a fascinating array of species of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. The specific makeup of the skin flora depends on many factors, such as whether the particular skin area is dry, moist, or sebaceous, the age of the host, external conditions, etc. Dry forearms and hairy, moist underarms are very distinct habitats, despite their relative proximity. People living together also seem to share a larger portion of their microbimes than those are not cohabitating, and pet owners share some with their animal companions.
Here are some of the most common microorganisms that reside on our skin:
Propionibacteriaare the most prevalent on sebaceous, or oily skin, such as nostrils, scalp, upper chest and back. They are lipophilic anaerobes, decomposing oily sebum secreted by our glands, producing propionic acid. Although they are present in infants and babies, they become more dominant around the onset of puberty, as the sebaceous glands increase their output. One of the bacterial strains, Propionibacterium acnes, is thought to be responsible for inflammation of the glands that can lead to acne.
Staphylococcihave their name derived from Greek word for grape, as their colonies resemble grape clusters. They reside predominantly in the moist areas of the body, such as the armpit, the elbow crease, etc. As aerobic bacteria, they produce lactic acid that lowers the pH of the skin and controls growth of other microorganisms. They are particularly prevalent on the skin of babies and infants, their relative abundance decreasing with age. While normally harmless, certain species of staphylococci, such as S. aureus, can act as human pathogens. Methicilin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) infections are a difficult public health problem in hospitals and beyond.
Corynebacteriaare rod-shaped, and mostly innocuous. They also prefer moist environments, such as the navel, or back of the knee. They grow slowly, even when the food is abundant.
Betaproteobacteriaare a diverse group, which includes Nitrosomonas, currently excluded from human skin. They are the most prevalent group in the dry areas, such as the forearms. Also, these are the bacteria that the dog owners have the most in common with their dogs
Malassezia– as fungi, Malassezia get a honorable mention. They are found on our skin in large quantities, and are typically harmless, but certain species can cause dandruff or skin discoloration.
NITROSOMONAS BACTERIA IN DIRT
Ever wonder why horses love to roll around in dirt? We know horses, like humans, sweat a lot. We also know how unpleasant our skin can feel – and smell – after we’ve worked up a sweat. David Whitlock, the M.I.T.- trained chemical engineer who invented AO+, theorized that horses dirt bathe to manage their sweat. He reasoned, “The only way that horses could evolve this behavior was if they had substantial evolutionary benefits from it.”
The goal of using AO+ spray is to encourage the growth of a healthy colony of probiotic bacteria on the skin. This probiotic bacterial colony will then act as a built-in cleanser, deodorant, anti-inflammatory and immune booster by feeding on the ammonia in our sweat, converting it into nitrite and nitric oxide.
Scientists at AOBiome hypothesize that humans also had healthy, mutually beneficial, colonies of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB), such as Nitrosomonas eutropha, living on our skins. These AOBs regulated our nitrogen metabolism. Then in the 20th century, we began regarding all bacteria as dangerous and started trying to scrub them all away. (AOBiome, 2014)
THE HYGIENE HYPOTHESIS
The Hygiene Hypothesis – also called the Biome Depletion Theory or the Lost Friends Theory – states that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms (eg, probiotic gut flora – referred to as Our Old Friends), and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of the immune system. In particular, the lack of exposure is thought to lead to defects in the establishment of immune tolerance. (Wikipedia, 2014).
The Hygiene Hypothesis is consistent with the destruction of the ammonia oxidizing bacteria (AOB) on our skins. Many ingredients in most of our personal care products have been found in laboratory tests to inhibit or have been found toxic to AOB: sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium coco-sulfate, castile-type soaps, and amine oxides (such as lauryl dimethyl amine oxide). AOBiome’s laboratory is still in the process of testing the AOB toxicity of other ingredients commonly found in soaps, shampoos, skin creams, and deodorants.
The encouraging news is that AOBiome has found ingredients that ARE compatible with ammonia oxidizing bacteria. Their goal is to test, certify and develop a variety of hygiene products with these ingredients – including soaps and shampoos. (AOBiome on facebook, 2013-2014)
WHY IT’S GOOD TO HAVE COLONIES OF THESE BACTERIA ON OUR SKINS
Here’s an explanation of why restoring healthy colonies of this bacteria on our skins is important – from the AOBiome website (AOBiome, 2014):
Modern hygiene has selectively depleted the natural balance of the skin microbiome particularly affecting AOB. By restoring the appropriate AOB levels, we believe a range of human health conditions could be impacted. AOBiome is interested in exploring potential physiologic effects including:
Improving skin architecture
Before the advent of anionic surfactants,Nitrosomonaswould have colonized our skin, our sweat glands in particular, constantly secreting low amounts of NO. Due to their particular sensitivity to detergents, however, they have been eradicated from our skin microbiome. As a consequence, we are dermatologically and systemically NO-deprived – in a mildly pro-inflammatory state, with a number of our systemic NO-mediated regulatory mechanisms out of balance. This deprivation may contribute to a number of skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, potentially also neuropathies, and more. AOBiome aims to re-introduceNitrosomonasto our skin’s bacterial flora, restoring natural NO levels, stabilizing the NO-dependent signaling pathways and alleviating symptoms resulting from NO imbalance.
Nitrosomonas are naturally occurring in most aquatic and soil environments and seem to totally lack pathogenic potential, as indicated by the absence of pathogenicity factors and also evidenced by the complete lack of human infections reported to date. SinceNitrosomonasdepend on ammonia and urea for their growth, their numbers on the skin are necessarily limited, and are naturally regulated by the amount of sweat the body produces. This ensures that the amount of NO produced would be relatively low, without any adverse effects. Because of its reactivity, the Nitrosomonas-produced NO will exert most of its effects locally, in the skin of the host. If desirable, however, one could eliminate the bacteria using a simple soap treatment.
AOBiome’s scientists have also found that using concentrated AO+ led to a hundredfold decrease of Propionibacterium acnes, bacteria associated with acne breakouts. And they have found that a two week treatment with a formulation of AOB heals skin ulcers on diabetic mice. (Scott, 2014)
ARE WE GOING TO GIVE UP SHOWERING?
AOBiome says NO. The probiotic bacteria in AO+ Refreshing Cosmetic Mist thrive in water so you can use it and also continue showering – just not lathering yourself up with soap or shampoo that will kill those useful bacteria. The ammonia oxidizing bacteria in AO+ can survive limited exposure to the chlorine and chloramine added to municipal water supplies to purify them. From the company’s facebook page (AOBiome, 2013-2014):
Our research shows that daily application along with normal showering in regular tap water produces a sustained level of AOB on skin. In our initial cosmetic study we showed that AOB are detectable and present in 95% of cases with daily showering and application and that AOB continue to survive in 60% of subjects for up to 7 days without additional applications as long as shampoo is not used. This is the basis for our recommendation that you apply AO+™ Refreshing Cosmetic Mist daily as part of your usual personal hygiene routine.
A note for those of you who’ve read the New York Times Magazine article, “My No-Soap, No-Shampoo, Bacteria-Rich Hygiene Experiment” (Scott, 2014), and came away from it thinking the choice will be between using the ammonia oxidizing bacterial spray or showering:
The article’s author was using the spray and not showering for 28 days as part of a clinical trial for AOBiome. When she started showering again but not also using the spray, the colony of ammonia oxidizing bacteria on her skin was quickly destroyed by showering with soap.
When the Company has succeeded in bringing to market an AOB-friendly shampoo and AO+ Refreshing Cosmetic Mist is also readily available, we should be able to both shower and wash our hair with these products while maintaining a healthy colony of AOB. And when an AOB-friendly skin cream has been developed and approved for marketing to the public, we’ll also be able to nurture our AOB colonies by using it.
SAVING OUR SKINS – FIGURATIVELY AND LITERALLY
As Michael Pollan wrote in an excellent article last year titled Some of My Best Friends Are Germs (Pollan, 2013):
As a civilization, we’ve just spent the better part of a century doing our unwitting best to wreck the human-associated microbiota.
Now this brilliant biotech company, AOBiome, is working on a big piece of the solution to our ills. If you want to be wowed by the work they’re doing, take a look at their website.
The article that became the starting point for this Allergies and Your Gut website is The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis, which I’d written for the Oriental Medicine Journal. The issue of the Journal containing the article is now in print (Spring 2014, 22:3).
This is the introduction the OMJ‘s editor, Mary Rogel, wrote:
notes from the editor’s desk
The more we learn about life on this planet, the more we discover that is strange and wonderful. It used to be, for example, that we only encountered “symbiotes” in comic books or science fiction, where aliens invaded the bodies of humans and used them for their own benefit, sometimes turning the human into a zombie and sometimes giving the human added powers. As it turns out, truth is stranger than fiction. As we learn in this issue of Oriental Medicine Journal, humans not only are involved in symbiotic relationships with other species, but many of these relationships are mutual and obligate, meaning that neither species involved can survive without the other. If we did not have bacteria living in our digestive tracts, we could not digest our food; nor can those bacteria survive outside our digestive tracts.
In this issue, psychologist Joan Hardin takes us on a journey through our guts to learn about our mutual symbiotic relationships (both parties benefit), commensal relationships (one party benefits and the other is not significantly harmed or helped), and parasitic relationships (one party benefits while the other is harmed). Anyone who has had food poisoning will have some idea what it feels like to share a body with a parasitic symbiote. But you will be surprised and amazed to learn how much we depend on the mutual and commensal relationships.
The human microbiome, i.e., all our colonies of symbiotes, has a profound effect on our very existence. Not only is a healthy microbiome absolutely necessary for our survival, but it even affects our decision making and our psychological state.
What is even more incredible is the fact that our ancestors in the practice of our medicine somehow knew these things. They assigned the role of The General, the decision-maker, to the Gall Bladder, which functions as a part of our digestive system. Hardin explains how our gut and our brain are in constant communication, so much so that some of our decisions are made by our guts . . . as in “gut reaction.” It is a real thing, and scientific findings are now beginning to be able to explain just how it happens.
Just as a well-balanced and fully functioning microbiome is essential to life, dysbiosis is the root cause of much of our ill health, whether it manifests in the body, the mind, or the spirit. Hardin helps us understand how the microbiome can become out of balance, what the consequences are, and how to restore it to health.
Prepare to embark on an incredible journey!
Mary J. Rogel, PhD, LAc
If you’re interested in reading the article in its published form, you can find it here:
If you have the least interest in why our health is so compromised, Katie Couric’s new film FED UP is definitely worth watching.
The film focuses on the link between sugar consumption and the growing obesity epidemic. Over 70% of Americans are now considered obese – and the epidemic is spreading around the world.
Sugar – 36 varieties of it – is an important ingredient in most processed foods. Nutritionists now call the consumption of sugar a ‘toxic exposure’. And thin Americans are not immune from the epidemic either. Thinness can belie a dangerous concentration of visceral fat inside the body surrounding the vital organs and a fatty liver. It’s such a common condition, there’s even an acronym for it: TOFI – thin outside, fat inside.
And, as we all know from personal experience, sugar is highly addicting.
FED UP shines a bright light on how it came to be that, after decades of concentrating on fitness and healthy eating, obesity and the serious problems resulting from it continue to get worse.
FED UP is the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see.
From Katie Couric, Laurie David (Oscar winning producer of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH) and director Stephanie Soechtig, FED UP will change the way you eat forever.
A 20-ounce bottle of soda contains the equivalent of approximately 17 teaspoons of sugar. (Source: Kick the Can)
Individuals who drink one to two sugar-sweetened beverages per day have a 26 percent higher risk for developing type II diabetes. This includes any type of orange juice except fresh squeezed. (Source: Kick the Can)
Consuming one sodaa day increases a child’s chance of obesity by 60%. (Source: Lasater, G., Piernas C., Popkin, B.M. Beverage patterns and trends among school-aged children in the US, 1989-2008. Nutrition Journal, 2011;10:103)
Latino children who watch Spanish-language television see 49 percent more ads for sugary and energy drinks compared with their white counterparts. (Source: Lasater et al, 2011)
Kids watch an average of 4000 food-related ads every year – about 10 per day. (Source: Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine: Trends in the nutritional content of television food advertisements seen by children in the United States)
98% of food-related ads that children view (about 3920/year) are for products high in fat, sugar and sodium. (Source: Archives of Pediatric Medicine: Trends in the nutritional content of television food advertisements seen by children in the United States)
It will take a 110-pound child 75 minutes of bike riding to burn off the calories in one 20-ounce bottle of soda. (Source: American Academy of Pediatrics)
In the United States it is estimated that 93 Million Americans are affected by obesity. (Source: Obesity Action Coalition)
One in five black children ages 2 to 19 is obese, compared with approximately one in seven white Children. (Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Food and beverage marketing to children and adolescents research brief)
Almost 45 percent of overweight or obese children ages 10 to 17 are poor. (Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Food and beverage marketing to children and adolescents research brief)
Some of the most moving parts of FED UP come near the end when two of the families with seriously obese children the film has been following get the message and switch from consuming diets based on processed foods to diets consisting largely of fresh foods. The health saving changes they experience are revelatory to them.
I hope Katie Couric and Laurie Davis will now turn their considerable talents and resources to making another film – one about the systematic assault of GMOs on the health of humans, animals and the soil.