Thursday, November 29, 2012

Natural Beauty: Olive Oil Spotlight

Products made with olive oil can help your skin be silky smooth.
Want silky smooth skin? Try a little olive oil in your diet & beauty regime.
Image: Shutterstock

Ever wonder what natural products you can use to help with beauty? I hate putting chemicals on my hair and skin, so finding out about completely natural ways to cleanse my skin, wash my hair, and add to my daily routine always make my day a little better.

According to Lisa Drayer, RD, author of The Beauty Diet: Looking Great Has Never Been So Delicious, eating a diet rich in olive oil makes for less skin damage and wrinkling. Use it instead of vegetable oil when cooking or add it to bread instead of butter. Yum!

In fact, olive oil is so good for your skin that you can buy face cleansers made with water squeezed out of olives during processing. Extremely nourishing and super natural, L'Occitane En Provence Olive Tree Cleansing Milk couldn’t be much more nature-friendly.

Olive oil moisturizers can also be used to revive the skin around your eyes, which can often get puffy or develop bags. If your concern is other parts of your skin, there are also rich olive oil-based moisturizers packed full of vitamins available.
Moisturizers and soaps made with olive oil are extremely nourishing and natural.
Moisturizers and soaps made with olive oil are
extremely nourishing and natural.
Image: Shutterstock

You can even get soaps packed with olive oil and olive leaf extract that make your skin soft and silky. If you need to exfoliate, try a body scrub in the shower. The olive oil in such scrubs will keep your skin from drying out and getting irritated like with so many other body scrubs that make skin feel tight and uncomfortable.

While I wouldn’t go around rubbing olive oil all over my body, I love that there are so many products out there that are composed with a mix of vitamins and oils that naturally occur in a simple food like olives.

If you are interested in purchasing some olive oil products, check out Health magazine’s list here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

5 All-Natural Migraine Remedies

Rosemary oil stimulates blood flow.
Rosemary oil stimulates blood flow.
Image: Shutterstock
I’ve talked before about migraines and how frustrating, painful, and completely debilitating they can be. And as someone who’s had them for over ten years, I certainly know how difficult it can be to get rid of them. Certainly I’ve never had complete success at vanquishing the old foe, but there are some natural remedies that make my life a lot easier.

Most of the time, migraines are triggered by something. If you can find out what is causing your headaches, you can potentially eliminate that trigger from your life. Sometimes it’s food: sharp cheeses, alcoholic beverages, caffeine, and even grapefruit can trigger a migraine. 

If you suspect your trigger might be some type of food or drink, go on an elimination diet for two weeks. During this time, remove all common food allergies (gluten, dairy, citrus, peanuts, caffeine, sugar, and soy), then slowly reintroduce them once your two weeks are up. If you display signs of a food allergy, you may have found your culprit.

Sitting up straight has personally been my biggest obstacle in overcoming migraines. I slouched until I was about fifteen, when I realized it was giving me some serious grief. Poor posture can torque your neck, shoulder, and back muscles, causing tension and potentially migraines. This is why my preferred therapy is massage therapy, and sitting up straight is my preferred remedy!

Good posture can help prevent migraines.
Good posture can help prevent migraines.
Image: Shutterstock
Magnesium is a powerful remedy in the fight against migraines. It affects the blood flow regulation to your brain, which is something migraines severely compromise. It’s also a natural muscle relaxant, and could potentially help with those tight back, neck, and shoulder muscles I was talking about.

Herbal medicines like feverfew can also help with migraine attacks, decreasing their frequency and intensity. Butterbur is also another herb that can relax blood vessels in the brain and prevent migraines. Rosemary oil stimulates blood flow and can help remedy migraines, too.

Coq10, or Coenzyme Q10 has been found to reduce migraine attacks and resulting nausea from migraines. It’s also a natural energy booster and can also be good for the heart, blood sugar balance, the nervous system, cholesterol management, and blood pressure in individuals with diabetes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Foods That Boost Your Immune System

Cold & flu season calls for immune-system boosting foods.
Cold & flu season calls for immune-system boosting foods.
Image: Shutterstock

As I sit at work, I’m reminded of the fact that it is cold and flu season and my immune system needs all the help it can get. I can literally feel my body fighting off sickness when I’m around others who are sick—I get run down, tired, and exhibit a few symptoms of the sickness. Sometimes I do get sick, but when I’m lucky, my immune system wins the battle and that run-down feeling passes in just a few days.

Most of us hate being sick, and if you’re like me, you don’t mind adding a few extra steps into your daily routine to ensure that the bad bugs stay out and your immune system stays strong. So, what can you do to help your body out? For starters, you can feed yourself foods that help your immune system fight off viruses and bacteria.

The following foods can help prevent sickness, and I’m more than willing to make sure they stay in my diet for the next few months:
Chamomile tea can help boost your immune system.
Chamomile tea can help boost your immune system.
Image: Shutterstock
  1. Chamomile Tea
  2. Oats (especially steel-cut)
  3. Salad Dressings (the ones with healthy fats from nut and olive oils, NOT the fat-free kind)
  4. Whey Protein (found in protein powders and yogurt)
  5. Tomatoes
  6. Butterbur plant extract supplements
  7. Sports Drinks (think Gatorade and Powerade)
  8. Wine (especially reds)—in moderation
  9. Hot Sauce (or peppers containing capsaicin)
The above foods boost your immune system in a variety of ways, from helping it produce its own antibodies to warding off food poisoning to providing you with valuable antioxidants. What could be easier than adding some of these in to your daily routine? It seems a small price to pay for avoiding sickness.

Foods with capsaicin, like peppers, help your body fight off sickness.
Foods with capsaicin, like peppers, help your body
fight off sickness.
Image: Shutterstock
Another recommendation from Women’s Health to help ward off sickness is to cut your daily calorie intake by 200-300 calories if you are overweight. Though it may sound like a lot, it’s really not hard to do—substitute a serving of pasta for steamed veggies or cut the sour cream and cheese out of your chili and you’re done. This can help you lose weight and keep all your vital systems (including your immune system) in better shape.

Do you already eat any of these foods? Which is your favorite? I love a glass of red wine with dinner and we also eat a LOT of spicy food. Comment below!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Making Probiotics Work for You

Probiotics help fight off infection, inflammation, and more.
Probiotics help fight off infection, inflammation, and more.
Image: Shutterstock 
Chances are, you’ve heard of probiotics before. But do you know why they're supposed to be good for you and where to find them? They can be incredibly helpful and essential to your body’s functions. As research has developed over the years, we’ve discovered that our bodies are home to more than just us. I recently read an article from Time Magazine that discussed both the bad and the good microbes (“bugs”) living with us, and it taught me some valuable things.

Miso is a great source of probiotics.
Miso is a great source of probiotics.
Image: Albert Lynn via Flickr CC
The truth is, most microbes are good. The ones that cause disease and sickness are the minority of “bugs” on and in our bodies. According to Lita Proctor, coordinator of the Microbiome Project at the National Institutes of Health (NICH), “Tens of thousands of species of microorganisms live with is. They belong there, they’re good for us, and they support health and well-being.”

These helpful microorganisms are called probiotics, and are extremely beneficial to our health, possibly reducing intestinal inflammation, diarrhea, urogenital infections, and atopic diseases.

When we get sick, our doctors often prescribe antibiotics, which do not discriminate between good and bad bacteria. While they take care of the bad bacteria, they may also be killing probiotics in your body. Taking probiotic supplements or eating foods with probiotics can be a good way to help your body recover swifter from sickness. Just be sure to consult a doctor first.

And luckily, probiotics can be found in lots of popular foods, making this simple health-booster easily available:
  • Yogurt or Kefir (a fermented milk drink)
  • Miso, a Japanese soy-based seasoning
  • Tempeh, a soy-based substitute for meat
  • Saurkraut
  • Dark chocolate
  • Red wine
  • Probiotic soy beverages and fruit drinks
Of course, like any vitamin, probiotics can also be ingested in pill or powder form, though it’s a good idea to consult with a pharmacist or caregiver before using them.

Garlic contains valuable prebiotics.
Garlic contains valuable prebiotics.
Image: Shutterstock
Some foods also contain prebiotics, which can help your body keep up its own probiotics growing. These foods are easy to include in any diet:
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Chicory Root
  • Artichoke
  • Banana
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Honey

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Healing by Placebo

Placebos, as it turns out, are actually quite effective in some cases.
Placebos, as it turns out, are actually quite effective in some cases.
Image: Shutterstock
If you don’t believe in the healing powers of the mind, just take a look at the placebo effect. Patients suffering from serious medical conditions have been treated with sugar pills, saline injections, and other placebo treatments—and despite the fact that they had no actual medicinal power, the patients’ conditions often improved.

In traditional research, placebos are used to allow researchers to objectively determine whether their methods and treatments are effective. Using a placebo ensures that the results are pure and unbiased. But lately the studies have switched from using placebos as the “no result” medicine to the treatment in question.

And those studies are finding that placebos are, in fact, very effective. Researchers argue that this is because rather than providing the active ingredients, they instead give the patient hope and therefore the brainpower to trick the body into feeling better. And it’s a method that has been used by doctors and specialists for years. There isn’t always a treatment available, and sometimes the simple prescription for vitamins or otherwise common system boosters can help.

The dominant theory with placebos is that patients want to feel better, or think they should feel better—so they do. But neuroscientists these days are interested in finding out more about the actual neural pathways that contribute to the placebo effect.

Bendetti says the real placebo effect is actual  psychobiological phenomena in the brain.
Bendetti says the real placebo effect is actual
psychobiological phenomena in the brain.
Image: Shutterstock
Fabrizio Bendetti, author of The Patient’s Brain says that the real placebo effect is not simply wishful thinking or simply feeling better when you’re not. They are instead actual psychobiological phenomena occurring in the brain that really do create measurable biological changes. Our brain transmits expectations to our body, which reacts in turn.

But there is still much research to be done. Patients sometimes respond differently to different placebo treatments and some patients seem to be “immune” to placebo treatment altogether. And some diseases and illnesses don’t seem to be affected at all, such as Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, Parkinson’s patients are generally very receptive to placebos.

There’s also the question of morality that has to come up here. I am certainly a fan of my body’s own self-healing, but is it right for doctors to prescribe a placebo and tell patients that they’re getting medicine? What do you think?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Spotlight: Massage Therapy

Massage therapy has a long list of health benefits.
Massage therapy has a long list of health benefits.
Image: Shutterstock
When I think about physical therapy of any kind, massage therapy is the first thing that pops into my head. It’s one of the most common forms of physical therapy, and that’s because it comes with a TON of health benefits. And since I get migraines when my back and neck muscles clench up, I’m a big fan. Muscle tightness can last for days on end, and can literally be a pain in the neck.

But muscle tightness and pain isn’t the only reason to look into massage therapy. It can also improve flexibility of joints and muscles, improving your range of motion. It can help you sleep better, maintain concentration, and reduce fatigue.

Getting a massage stimulates blood circulation and lymph flow, which helps enhance your immune system and keep you from getting sick. It keeps nutrients pumping steadily through your body, reducing spasms, cramping, and soreness. That’s significant for those with arthritis, asthma, menstrual cramps, and those who’ve suffered from injuries. Scar tissue and stretch marks can be reduced as well.
Massage helps lower depression, anxiety, and illness.
Massage helps lower depression, anxiety, and illness.
Image: Shutterstock

Massage lessens depression and anxiety because it releases endorphins, which elevate mood and act as a natural painkiller. This also reduces stress levels and promotes healing—both physical and mental. Expectant mothers who have regular massages generally have easier, shorter labors and hospital stays. Infants of these mothers also show better weight gain than others.

Because the majority of diseases are stress related (some experts say up to 90%), a therapy that is so effective in dispelling stress certainly deserves a try. Sometimes our bodies just need a little extra help in staying balanced, and massage can assist us in that.

Massage can be expensive, yes. But many insurance providers have at least partial coverage for massage therapy if it’s doctor recommended. Some massage clinics also offer special program rates, which offer reduced fees to those who have at least one massage per month. My favorite program like this is the Elements Wellness Program. 

To read more about the health benefits of massage therapy, check out

Friday, November 9, 2012

3 Exercises to a Happy, Healthy Heart

One of the most common and fatal
health problems today is heart disease.
Image: Shutterstock
One of the most common and fatal health problems these days is heart disease. And just like it’s easier to maintain a social life than it is to find one, it’s always better to prevent heart problems before they start.

Your heart is a muscle—a very important muscle. And like any other muscle in your body, it needs to be active and exercised regularly to stay healthy. If you don’t work it, it can become weak and inefficient, making you more susceptible to future problems.

Did you know that if you are overweight, you are 80% more likely to develop heart disease? Staying physically fit will not only keep your body fit, but it will also strengthen your heart and help prevent heart disease. These three types of exercise are the most effective at keeping your whole body in shape:

Aerobic Exercise, such as walking, running, swimming, dancing, and rowing help your body absorb oxygen from the blood stream and spread it throughout your body. This increases heart strength and boosts your fat and carbohydrates burning metabolism.
Dancing is an aerobic activity that can help prevent heart disease.
Dancing is an aerobic activity that can help
prevent heart disease.
Image: Shutterstock

Resistance Training strengthens bones, muscles, and joints. Free weights and other exercises that challenge your strength are all resistance exercises. Unlike aerobic exercise, resistance training doesn’t directly affect heart health, but it does keep your weight down and your metabolism up, making you less susceptible to heart disease.

Flexibility Exercises help increase blood flow throughout your body. Stretching helps lengthen muscles and keep you from getting stiff. You should try to stretch for 5-10 minutes per day. Classes like Yoga and Pilates can greatly improve your flexibility while at the same time gently strengthening your core muscles and heart.

Do you already do some of these types of exercise? Which ones do you prefer/practice more often? I enjoy yoga for the relaxation it offers. I also enjoy various aerobic exercises because it helps me with stress relief and leaves me feeling extremely satisfied.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Four Apps to Boost Your Health

Some apps can help you track your mental and physical well-being
Some apps can help you track your mental and physical well-being.
Image: Shutterstock
If you have a smartphone, chances are that you spend a significant amount of time on it, playing games, checking mail, listening to music, and navigating a slew of other apps. I know I’m always on the lookout for useful apps to make my life easier, so when I saw a Yahoo! Screen video on health-related apps, I knew I had to share.

The video recommends four apps related to both physical and mental well-being:
  1. Breathe to Relax—Did you know that when you are stressed out, your body turns on its “fight or flight” response? I sure didn’t. The truth is, when you’re feeling elevated levels of stress, your body’s digestive system starts to shut down. That’s why you might not feel hungry when you’re slammed at work or have a crazy schedule. It’s not that your body doesn’t need the nutrition; it’s just focused on other things. This app literally helps you take some deep breaths before sitting down to eat so that your body can properly digest and process food, and get those cortisol levels down.
  2. Whole Foods Market Recipes—For those of you that cook, this app is seriously cool. It’s got several health-related categories for recipes (e.g. vegan, gluten free), and it allows you to plug in ingredients you have at home to search possible recipes. And like many recipe sites these days, it will even compile a shopping list for you.
  3. Fooducate—Ever spend several minutes debating which brand will be better for your well-being? Fooducate allows you to scan barcodes and compare nutritional information to determine which food is better for your needs.
  4. Lose it!—Even though I’m not a huge fan of calorie counting (I prefer just eating healthy in general), this app has the potential to seriously put things into perspective, especially for those of you that are chronic snackers. We don’t always realize exactly what we’re putting into our bodies, and this app acts as a food diary that tracks what you eat and keeps you aware of what, exactly, that means for your well-being.
Whole foods has a recipe app to help you plan meals
Image: Whole Foods
Which of these apps seems most useful to you? I’m excited about the recipe app because it’s not always easy to find recipes that fall into the guidelines I want to follow, and I always have leftover produce that I don’t know what to do with.

If you'd like to view the Yahoo! video, check here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Low-Calorie, Vitamin Rich

Some of the most versatile foods are also the best for you. I’ll confess I wasn’t much of a veggie eater until recently. I grew up eating mostly frozen and canned veggies, which, let’s face it, are usually lacking. I never realized how much I was missing out on—both in taste and in substance—until I finally started cooking for myself. For me, using fresh veggies is not only easier, but it tastes a heck of a lot better in whatever I’m making. Here are some of my favorite low-calorie superfoods to use:
Coffee can help prevent liver and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson's disease. It also speeds up your metabolism and helps burn excess fat.
Coffee helps prevent cancer, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease.
It also speeds up your metabolism and helps burn excess fat.
Image: Shutterstock
  1. Arugula4 calories per cup. A peppery leafy green packed with fiber, potassium, vitamins A, C, and K, and loads of other nutrients.
  2. Asparagus27 calories per cup. Don’t overcook it! A detoxifying food that flushes out your system and contains vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, folate, iron, copper, and protein.
  3. Broccoli31 calories per cup. A nice, crunchy green with plenty of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that could help fight cancer.
  4. Brussels Sprouts38 calories per cup. Looks like little mini lettuce-heads. Packed with phytonutrients and fiber and can help prevent cancer. I like them with their stems cut off and steamed with a few spices.
  5. Beets37 calories per ½ cup. Red or gold, they have a nice earthy sweetness. Lots of antioxidants for fighting cancer, as well as iron, fiber, folate, and potassium.
  6. Coffee (black)0 calories per cup. Without all the sweeteners, black coffee can help reduce risk of liver and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s. It also speeds up your metabolism and helps your body burn fat.
  7. Grapefruit39 calories per half fruit. Great for heart health. Lots of vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, pectin, vitamin A, and lycopene.
  8. Kale5 calories per cup. Many think it might be the healthiest food around. It contains cancer-preventing phytonutrients, B vitamins, folic acid, and manganese.
  9. Garlic4 calories per clove. It can help fight colds, cancer, and UTIs (not to mention vampires!).
  10. Tea0 calories per cup. Straight tea (without sugar, etc.) contains antioxidants that help fight cancer and other diseases. It may also lower cholesterol, prevent osteoporosis, and keep our brains nimble.
  11. Berries32 calories per ½ cup. Whatever kind you like, berries area all full of anti-inflammatories that reduce your chances of getting cancer or heart disease. They’re also packed with antioxidants.
  12. Carrots22 calories per ½ cup. They’re also low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Lots of good vitamins and minerals, too: thiamin, niacin, B6, folate, manganese, dietary fiber, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and K.
Berries are a powerful source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. They can also help prevent heart disease and cancer.
Berries are a powerful source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
They can also help prevent heart disease and cancer.
Image: Shutterstock
Believe me, the list could go on… and on. These are just my favorites. I use most of them on a weekly basis—and now I’m hooked. They taste better and are better for me. But the big thing is that feel better eating fresh, pure, raw foods. What are your favorite superfoods?