Essential Oils: Do They Live Up to the Hype?

oil-1205635__340I’m all for natural healing remedies. The Bible addresses them in several places as gifts from God’s creation. I love reading stories of people healing from all sorts of things, including boils by intrepid use of a “cake of figs”. (Isaiah 38:21).

For more than 30 years, I have studied everything I can get my hands on about nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management for good health. I also keep up with what is going on in the fields of “natural medicine”, or the use of food/herbs/plants for healing.

So what about essential oils? I had no clue that the liquid in those little bottles I kept reading about had any real properties for symptom relief.

That is, until I suffered a brain injury caused by a misprescribed medication. Not the doctor’s fault, he didn’t know that a drug he gave me for stomach pain in the ER would affect my brain receptors, neurotransmitters, calcium ion channels, etc.

Nevertheless, I struggled with a variety of mental and physical symptoms for two years. Unless you’ve been through a chronic illness or condition, you have no idea how awful it is to literally have no options. There is nothing you can do, nothing you can take, no one to fix it. You can’t plan out your day because you can’t think beyond the current minute.

That was my daily experience until a friend had me try some essential oils: lavender, vetiver, lime, copaiba and some others. Honestly, I couldn’t really tell that they were making a difference. Thanks, but no thanks. I thought it was all MLM hype.

Another friend sent me a different brand of lavender. Based on my last experiment, I was VERY reluctant to give it a go. But I did, and my life changed that day.

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I won’t go into brand or quality distinctions here. All that mattered to me was that inhaling some of this stuff right from the bottle took some of my symptoms away and got me off of the couch. I called my daughter at college and told her something was working and she immediately started Googling why lavender would impact a chemical brain injury.

Before anyone tells you that there is no scientific evidence for the belief that pure, high-grade essential oils can have therapeutic properties, do your research. While many more studies need to be done, several have already been conducted. I could find dozens on lavender and its chemical constituents alone, including a Frontiers in Pharmacology study published in May 2017 entitled,

Exploring Pharmacological Mechanisms of Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) Essential Oil on Central Nervous System Targets

The first thing this study taught me was that each essential oil, whether lavender, tea tree, lemon, peppermint, frankincense or many others, are made up of dozens of naturally occurring chemical constituents, each having a unique impact on the body. These constituents are perfectly combined together to benefit the plant in some way. When the “essence” of that plant is extracted through steam distillation or other method, we get a concentrated “dose” of the properties of the plant.

I also learned that people have been using essential oils around the world for thousands of years for their healing abilities. Why are we behind the times in the U.S.?

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I knew what I needed an oil to do for me, so I read many more studies, some on rats/mice and some on humans. I couldn’t believe I didn’t know that extensive research about these oils was going on across the globe and these studies could be accessed on the internet.

While I don’t claim to be a chemist, physician or pharmacist, I can tell you that I am an expert on ME. Using a combination of essential oils is what allows me to get out of bed, think clearly, leave my house, do work that takes much concentration, exercise, sleep and help care for my family and household–all things I couldn’t do for two years without them. And no, I don’t believe I started to spontaneously heal because when I don’t use the oils I feel like hell.

I use essential oils topically, aromatically and a couple internally. I’ve researched many popular thought leaders on the subject of sourcing, quality, safety and have come up with my own regimen.

So in my opinion–yes, essential oils are worth the hype that you are hearing about them.

But you have to understand that no one is an expert in essential oils. Many will tell you to be overly cautious in their use, others will tell you to use them with abandon, even if you take medication. Just be careful to do your own research on which EOs may benefit you.

That’s what I did. Then I spoke with my physician and a pharmacist friend. Both listened to the studies I presented and said that they made sense, even though they didn’t have great familiarity with the subject.

Don’t let an overly enthusiastic EO salesperson turn you away from trying these products. We all have that one girlfriend or family member who joined an MLM and gives advice with very little knowledge. Not to say that all of the oils produced by these companies are bad (I’ve found quite the contrary), just do your homework.

girl in field of flowers

Study for yourself. Listen to other people’s stories. Don’t give up trying because one oil may not help you, but another oil will (for instance, I can’t stand bergamot and others swear by it for brain healing). We all have different bodies so don’t think because salesperson Suzy says that Ylang Ylang won’t work for your needs means that you should believe it.

Try one at a time. Learn how to use them. Take good notes about your body’s response to an oil. Then build a regimen.

One last thing…I am a stickler for quality. I found out the hard way that poor quality oils (that you find at many health food stores) don’t work or can make things worse. Know where your oils are coming from. Are they coming directly from the grower or from an oil broker who sells to a bunch of different companies, some who may add other ingredients to stretch it out (and make it less effective)?

So be encouraged. Know that you have options. Believe the hype that these can be very powerful and effective, but know what you’re using and why.

I wish you the best!!

 

 

 

 

Six Things We’ve Been Duped into Believing About What We’re Eating

basket-1375743_1920Well, THAT title sounds rather negative, something I don’t like to be on this blog.  But today it’s for a good reason.

I’m mad, and you should be too.  I’m mad that although we have more information about how to be healthier through good nutrition, more Americans are overweight or obese than ever before.

Are we not listening to what we are hearing, or are we misinterpreting what we are hearing?

My Sister’s Story

I have a 50-year old sister who has a mild developmental disability.  Last year, she was diagnosed as having diabetes and high cholesterol (she is at a healthy weight).  I had so many things going on at the time that I didn’t realize that she was subsequently given three prescription medications by her physician.  When I found out, I asked her, “Did your doctor say anything about how to heal from diabetes and high cholesterol through diet and exercise?”  “No, never,” she said.  I confirmed this with another sister who had accompanied her, and made sure that the doctor didn’t diagnose her with forms of both that could not be reversed by a healthier lifestyle.

Needless to say, I was less than pleased.  My sister makes very little money and is spending a huge portion of it to buy these medications, and now is dealing with significant side effects.  My sister may have cognitive deficits, but she is not stupid.  If her doctor had just given her some sound advice about diet and exercise, she would have followed them to the letter.  There wasn’t even a discussion of taking meds for a short time while she worked on improving her health. Sure doctors are overworked and have little time, but what would it have taken to direct my sister to some helpful resources?

It’s a moot point now because I am now working with her to make these changes, and will present these to her physician.

Who Are You Listening To?

When I took my sister to the store to read food labels in order to make better choices, I was struck by how little she knew about eating well.  Again, it was obvious that this was not because she is “slow”.  It seemed like she had bought into the misinformation that commercials and the words on the front of food packages cause.  If we are looking to these two sources to tell us the optimal way to eat, we are in trouble.

Which of these six things have you believe?

Lowfat is Healthy

OK, admit it.  You’ve bought into this one.  I have too.  Just because something is lower in fat, doesn’t make it the best choice if it doesn’t have any other redeeming value.  Case in point:  all of the low-fat chips whether baked chips, lentil chips, rice chips, pita chips, veggie chips, as well as pretzels.  Often there is little nutrition and more salt than your body wants.  If you’re like me, however, you crave crunchy and salty food, and these SEEM like a better choice than Frito’s.  But they are adding calories that will not fill you up or give you sustained energy.  Try to incorporate some low-salt or raw nuts instead, or something like apples, carrots and celery to satisfy your need to crunch.

Zero Calories is Healthy

The only things you want to ingest that have no calories are O2 and H2O–oxygen and water.  Don’t think that you are doing yourself a favor by drinking zero calorie soda.  Take Coke Zero for instance.  Here is the ingredients list:  Carbonated water, colour (caramel E150d), phosphoric acid, sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame-K), flavourings (including caffeine), acidity regulator (E331).  The only thing that sounds remotely nutritious is the phosphoric acid.  Yet even that has been linked to lower bone density in some epidemiological studies, including a discussion in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  Even Vitamin Water Zero contains things like sorbitol that can aggravate irritable bowel syndrome and other gastro disorders.  Try water with really natural flavoring, like fresh lemon juice or naturally flavored teas.

If It’s Labeled “Organic” It Must Be Good For You

We fell for this one in our household when we jumped on the organic bandwagon years ago.  We started buying packaged meals because they contained all organic ingredients.  The problem?  The ingredients weren’t much to brag about–cornmeal, white rice, high sodium or high fat sauces, etc.  We realized that we saved money buying unprocessed, organic foods and that their preparation didn’t take much more time than these “convenience” meals.  Also be aware that “natural”, “all-natural”, “100% natural”  and “organic” do not mean the same thing.  Natural foods are processed without preservatives or additives, but may have been grown with the use of pesticides or other conventional methods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the term ‘natural’ only as it applies to added color, synthetic substances and fragrances.

Sugar-Free is Healthy

This was a big source of misinformation for my sister, especially with her diabetes.  She thought she could ingest whatever amount of artificial sweeteners that she wanted because sugar was the devil.  But Sucralose (Splenda) and Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweeet) come with a whole host of problems themselves.  They have proven to cause headaches and intestinal distress, and have recently been linked to cancer and the increase in MS, lupus, fibromyalgia and even diabetes (ironic).  Why risk it?  Food additives are not your friend.  Did God design our bodies to be able to process artificial ingredients?  Don’t just listen to me, there is so much information available about these sweeteners.  There are fabulous natural alternatives like agave nectar and honey, so why not give them a try?

Multi-Grain is the Same as Whole Grain

According to Mayo Clinic Registered Dietitian Katherine Zeratsky, multi-grain and whole grain are not interchangeable terms.  “Whole grain means that all parts of the grain kernel–the bran, germ and endosperm–are used.  In contrast, multigrain means that a food contains more than one type of grain, although none of them may necessarily be whole grains,” she says.  The reason we want whole grain is that fiber, nutrients and other healthy parts of the plant are lost when they are milled.  So we should look for breads and pastas that are labeled “whole wheat” or “whole oats” for example.

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Wheat Flour is the Same as Whole Wheat Flour

Since whole grains keep you fuller longer due to a higher fiber content (which also helps with blood sugar and colon health), they are a better choice.  But don’t be fooled by ingredient labels that say “Wheat Flour”, because that has been refined to lose the outer bran that contains the majority of the fiber.  Choose only “Whole Wheat Flour” if you are eating wheat at all.

It took a little while for my sister to realize that just because a commercial or a label gives the impression that a food is good for you, doesn’t mean that it truly is.  I think she has become a wiser consumer and actually feels empowered with this new information.  We both look forward to seeing her “numbers” at her next doctor’s appointment.

(And yes…she has also started walking and doing a bit of strength training which will also help).

What are some things that have tripped you up in your quest for better nutrition?

Aldi and the Search for My Lost Dignity

I consider myself, and have been told by others, that I’m a reasonably intelligent adult.  I graduated cum laude from one of those “Ivy League of the Midwest” colleges back in the day.  I am a freelance writer and have run successful businesses.  As I result, I’m fairly confident, and think I’ve maintained a healthy, not-too-arrogant sense of self-esteem.

But today my self-worth was shattered.  In a way I never would have imagined.  It happened because I chose to test my commitment to frugality by shopping at Aldi.

I have to admit that I used to think that Aldi was a step above a food pantry.  There had to be a place for people who were subsisting on 59 cent mac and cheese.  Somewhere to buy generic sausage links and butter cookies.  God bless them.

Then I heard people say, “Oh, Aldi is the best.  They’ve even got organic produce now.”  So I headed out this afternoon, planning to impress my husband that I picked up our favorite foods for a fraction of the price that we normally pay at other stores.

shopping cart

Gaffe #1:  The Shopping Cart

The humiliation began before I walked into the store.  There were several other people walking in at the same time, so I thought I could blend into the crowd like a regular.  They didn’t have carts, so I didn’t need a cart.  I glanced over at the outdoor cart corral to see the chain gang of shopping carts, assuming that they were taking a time out because they hadn’t behaved.  You know those carts that make you look like a fool because their  wheels are all wonky and it ruins your entire excursion?  This must be their penalty box.

Once inside the store, the look of bewilderment on my face couldn’t be disguised.  Why was there absolutely no rhyme or reason to where items were located?  Why were there tents next to tomatoes and crew socks next to croutons?  Was it meant to be a scavenger hunt and I missed the sign as I walked in?

I played it cool and starting picking up items.  Indeed, there were organic berries, grapes, peppers, bananas, avocados.  Cool.  I started loading my arms with fruit, and realized I absolutely needed a cart.  But I didn’t see any.  Had Jesus come back and raptured the good shopping carts and I was left behind with the imprisoned ones?

As grapes began spilling out of the bag, I found an employee who indicated that you have to pay a quarter to get a shopping cart outside.  What?  I don’t come to the store with real money!  Where was I going to find a quarter?  Would I be forced to stand outside like a ticket scalper and try to con someone into giving me their cart as they were leaving?

Thankfully, the woman said I could borrow one that was up by the cashier.  As I did so, I could feel people sneering at me.  “Who does she think she is? I had to pay a whole 25 cents and she just waltzes in?”

Gaffe #2:  Are These Generic Brands?

Aldi cereal

My father has tried to convince me for years that there are only a couple of manufacturers that package food and they sell them to companies who put their own brand on them.  It’s possible.  But I’m skeptical as I’m looking at the weird, all-too-gleeful names on the products at Aldi.

Maybe it was because my parents bought generic items when they were the rage in the ’70s.  Who can blame them with seven kids and one income?  But while my friends were eating Lucky Charms in the beautiful red box with the joyful leprechaun, I got the black and white box that said “Marshmallow Cereal”.  To this day, I still can’t look that leprechaun in the eye without tearing up.

So as I looked at the brand names, I couldn’t figure out if they were indeed generics.  I looked around at the other shoppers.  They didn’t seem to have a problem.  I’m sure they knew the secret that my father knew and understood that generics were just as good, but I imagined having to con my husband into eating “G Free” brand of gluten free products, and I baled.

Instead I got “safe” foods:  eggs, milk, fruit and veggies and Kerry Gold butter.  Ah…Kerry Gold…a beacon of hope in a sea of brand confusion.

Gaffe #3:  The Checkout

Grocery bag

As I kept filling my cart I no longer felt like a newbie.  Seeing the lower prices for similar items took away some of the sting of my stupidity and I began to feel accomplished.  In fact I had planned to brag to my husband that I was the queen of the good deal.

And then I headed for the cash register.

As my items were headed down the conveyor belt, I realized the cashier was just piling up my purchase.  There was no bagging.  There was no bagger.  Was Timmy off work today?  I looked over to see a woman who had pulled over to the shoulder to package her own groceries in a bag she brought with her.  Oh okay.  I looked around in a panic and saw some plastic bags, and grabbed them with such flair that the guy behind me must have thought I had done this a thousand times.

That was until I too pulled over to the shoulder to bag up my stuff.  I had only grabbed and purchased two plastics so I had to make it work.  But I never took physics, and with the same concentration and effort that it likely took Newton to figure out why the apple fell on his head, I tried to determine how to get these groceries home unscathed.  What is the force exerted against a bunch of bananas by a jug of V-8 juice?  Should the eggs go on top even though the grapes underneath were no match for them?  The cashier checked out a half a dozen people in the amount of time it took me to put the contents of my purchase in two bags.

Of course I started dropping things in my haste to exit, and as I bent over to pick them up, my last-day-before-laundry underwear breached the top of my too-small capris.  When I put on the granny panties this morning, the last thing on my mind was that I would be sharing them with Aldi’s afternoon clientele.  It was the last straw.

I slunk out of the store, defeated in the 30 minutes I spent inside, and glared at the two women who were joyfully exchanging their carts at the corral, one handing the other a quarter.

Then I dropped my keys as I tried to open my car door.

You know, that never would have happened at Jewel.

 

 

 

Popcorn Contains Antioxidants? Who Knew?

My husband came home from work the other day with a spring in his step and a piece of paper in his hand. He triumphantly placed it in front of me as I sat at the computer doing research for a freelance assignment. “I’ve always told you that popcorn was good for you, and now here’s the proof,” he beamed.

Picking up the sheet he printed off of a news site also reported by Dr Mercola here, I took a quick glance at the headline “Popcorn Contains More Antioxidants Than Fruits and Vegetables”. It summarized details of a study conducted at the University of Scranton that found that popped corn serves up twice as much antioxidants as the foods we’ve been trying to eat to stay healthy.

girl eating popcorn

I immediately knew I would be eating crow, as well as eating more popcorn. For the ten years we have been married, I’ve rejected any and all notions that my husband’s favorite food was actually good for you. Of course I knew that it offered a healthy amount of fiber, but beyond that I thought it was about as nutritious as packing styrofoam.

I looked up from the paper and saw his face glowing with a mixture of vindication and relief akin to a death row prisoner being acquitted after years behind bars. I wish I could tell you that describing it as such was cheesy hyperbole, but no. My husband is undoubtedly the world’s foremost connoisseur of all things popcorn (challengers pay heed), and for the last 50 years has shot down anyone who has told him that his nightly treat was nothing but junk food.

I read on. Apparently a Scranton professor of chemistry, Joe Vinson, Ph.D., and one of his students Michael Coco, found that compared to fruit, popcorn has a greater concentration of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant purported to defend the body against free radical damage to cells.  A number of degenerative diseases including cancer and diabetes are known to be caused by harmful free radical reactions.

By grinding up corn kernels and popped corn, the researchers found the amount of polyphenols was up to 300 mg a serving compared to 114 mg for a serving of sweet corn and 160 mg for all fruits per serving. Popcorn is about 4% water compared to most fruits which average about 90% water, which helps explain the higher concentration.  And similar to fruit, the greatest amount of antioxidants are found in the skin, or hull.

I found that I was right on the fiber issue: Vinson notes that popcorn is the only 100% whole grain food (did you know that according to the Whole Grains Council, food only has to have 51% whole grain to be labeled “whole grain”?)

However, there’s always a caveat when someone releases a pioneering study on nutrition.  Of course you know what Vinson said next:  you can benefit from the polyphenols in popcorn, but you’re defeating the purpose if you load it with butter, salt, caramel, cheese or any of the other glorious toppings that make popcorn so incredibly tasty.

My husband cooks his in organic olive oil and puts on a bit of organic butter (healthier than margarine any day) and a bit of organic sea salt.  I don’t know if Vinson would approve, but if my husband’s health history is any proof, forget the apple—a bowl of popcorn a day keeps the doctor away