Friday, April 26, 2013

Essential Home Remedies: Skin

We live in an age that spoils us with ease of access to medications, remedies, and much more. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not opposed to modern medicine—I’m just a big fan of using natural remedies whenever possible. Humanity got by for thousands of years before medicine as we know it today came along. And sure, some of the old “remedies” did more harm than good, but not all. The base for many of our modern medicines are based on herbal remedies—often just more optimized for the desired effect.

Bet you didn't know that mineral water like San Pellegrino can provide instant relief for minor skin irritations.
Rash? Try mineral water.

There are lots of ailments our bodies can present us with, from surface problems to internal ones. In this article, I’ll be covering some home remedies for skin problems like rashes, acne, and burns. So before you run to the store for that man-made medicine, try some of these out:

Rashes: European mineral water like San Pellegrino is a great way to get instant relief from itchy rashes, burns, and bumps. The minerals work like anti-inflammatories, so spraying a small amount onto affected areas of the skin can help provide instant relief.

Acne: There are lots of all-natural scrubs and masks that can be used to treat acne, but this is one of the simplest. Use coarse salt and neem oil to scrub (gently!) your face and afterwards use plain yogurt to make a facemask that stays on for 15-30 minutes. Salt is a natural antiseptic and neem oil is an antifungal. And the lactic acid from plain yogurt helps exfoliate skin and clear up skin blemishes.

Bug Bites: Most homes have a regular supply of aspirin, but it’s not usually used for bug bites. Aspirin contains salycilic acid, though, which is the main active ingredient in many acne medications Crushed aspirin mixed with water forms a paste that when applied to irritated skin can help relieve redness and inflammation.

Psoriasis? Eczema? Use olive oil to seal skin.
Psoriasis? Eczema? Use olive oil to seal skin.
Image: Shutterstock
Eczema/Psoriasis: Olive oil is a wonderful remedy for outbreaks of psoriasis and eczema. One teaspoon per square inch of skin can help seal skin and prevent it from cracking and drying out. Plus, you won’t have to worry about any added chemicals that might irritate skin further.

Burns: Most of us have burned ourselves at some point in time. Sunburns, curling iron burns, and oven burns all do the same thing to our skin—and it doesn’t feel good. But I bet you didn’t know that burns can be treated with tea! Black and green teas contain phytonutrients, which help reduce inflammation in blood vessels. To treat a burn with tea, just soak a dishrag with cold tea and apply it to the burned skin.

Next time you find yourself in need of a natural skin remedy, try one of these out. Next week I’ll cover home remedies for internal problems, like nausea and hangovers—so be sure to check back for more!

Remember that these are just suggestions to consider. Before treating yourself, be sure to consult with your doctor or other licensed health professional.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Cinnamon Challenge: More Trouble Than It’s Worth

So it’s come down to cinnamon, has it? It seems like people will try anything these days, as long as it makes their friends laugh. Countless YouTube videos have been uploaded of people making fools of themselves (on purpose or not), giving people who watch a laugh. I’m all for a laugh, but some things cross the line.

The “cinnamon challenge” is one of those things. There is a reason why our bodies don’t want to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon: it’s bad for us. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for some people. The cinnamon challenge, like the nutmeg challenge and the milk gallon challenge, has been around for years.

The cinnamon challenge isn't just physically impossible; it's dangerous for your health.
The cinnamon challenge isn't just physically
impossible; it's dangerous for your health.
Image: Shutterstock

I find myself, however, stumped at the “why” of these situations. Most people have at least a slight intolerance to lactose, which is part of the reason it’s so difficult to chug a gallon of milk. Many people end that challenge by vomiting up the milk before they can finish. Classy.

As for the nutmeg challenge, it is less about getting laughs and more about getting high. Nutmeg can cause hallucinations when consumed in large amounts, and some people have even been hospitalized in the past for being so intoxicated by it.

The cinnamon challenge is literally impossible. Our mouths only contain about one tablespoon of moisture at a time, and a small amount of cinnamon absorbs that very quickly. It is conceivable that someone could consume the entire tablespoonful, but it would certainly take more than sixty seconds.

All these “challenges” are using readily legal and available items. So should we ban minors from buying them? Should we carefully monitor how much people buy at one time? Just the idea is silly. These are everyday items that most people use for common sense purposes, like cooking.

Nonetheless, it is frightening how many teens and children have been hospitalized over the past year for attempting the cinnamon challenge. It’s growing in popularity but it really shouldn’t be. Cinnamon, which is made from tree bark, does not break down easily and can cause scarring if it gets into the lungs—which it does when the challenge is attempted and teens inevitably inhale the powder. The cellulose in cinnamon takes a long time to break down, which means it will stay in the lungs for a long time,potentially causing pulmonary fibrosis (think emphysema).

Many have been placed on ventilators, had lungs collapse, developed asthma, and now have trouble breathing. Yet the challenge lives on, teenagers continuing to try it every day.

Obviously, it doesn’t really make sense to limit sales of common spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. But we can’t just ignore the problem, either. Parents and teachers need to stay in the loop and talk openly with kids and teens about things like the cinnamon challenge. Just because it’s a natural, everyday item used in cooking doesn’t mean it can’t do serious harm—and it’s becoming more and more clear that kids need to be taught as much.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Workout Advice for the Gym

How many of you have ever walked into a gym only to stop and think, “I don’t know how to work any of these machines!” I know I have. But I want you to put that panic button aside and resist the urge to avoid gyms simply because you feel like you don’t know how to get the most out of the gym experience.

Make sure you get some treadmill or other cardio time in at the gym!
Make sure you get some treadmill or other cardio time in at the gym!
Image: Shutterstock
Personally, I’m a fan of at-home workouts, but I’ve found that there are some great advantages that gyms have to offer that are certainly worth trying out. Plus, if you are someone who finds motivation in the masses and laziness in isolation, the gym might be the best place for you to work out.

If regular squats are too easy, try goblet squats using a dumbbell or kettlebell. It will  both strengthen and help you build up core stability.
Goblet squats with dumbbells make a simple move a little tougher.
Image from
So what kind of workouts can you do in a gym? First, start with what you know: the basics. There are usually plenty of open, matted spaces inside gyms where you can do the same moves you would at home—pushups, sit-ups, lunges, squats, etc. Plus, chances are that someone else will be doing some of the same activities.

Once you feel you’ve mastered basic moves, you can move on to some of the weights and machines in a gym. While you may want to focus on getting nice legs or arms, remember that if you don’t have a strong core you won’t get very far. Kettlebell workouts, the Captain’s Chair, planks, crunches, exercise ball sit-ups, and medicine ball workouts will help ensure that your core is becoming strengthened as well as your limbs.

Lastly, make sure you get some cardio in! There are plenty of options: treadmills, stair-steppers, ellipticals, and maybe even some aerobics classes. Try to work at least thirty minutes of cardio into each workout. This will help burn extra belly fat and increase your endurance.

Kettlebells will help strengthen arms, legs, and your core.
Simple kettlebell exercises
Image from
Here are some simple workouts you can try at the gym, borrowed from an article by Matthew Katz. He interviewed Frank Paganucci, who has enjoyed taking advantage of the gym at his condo building, Azure.

Complete as many circuits as possible in 10 minutes:
Beginner: 5 sit-ups or crunches, 10 push-ups, 15 walking lunges
Advanced: 5 v-ups, 10 manmakers with dumbbells, 15 walking lunges with dumbbells.

Three circuits as fast as possible:
Beginner: 10 squat jumps, 100m treadmill sprint
Advanced: 10 goblet squats (with kettlebell held to chest), 100m treadmill sprint

Complete as quickly as you can:
Beginner: 100 squats, with four burpees at the start of every minute
Advanced: 100 squats with dumbells, with four burpees at the start of every minute.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cosmetic Chemicals: Yet Another Reason to Avoid Fast Food

Fast food contains potentially dangerous chemicals that can also be found in cosmetics.
Do YOU know what you're eating? Hint: It's not always food!
Image from
If I needed another reason to avoid fast food (other than all the reasons I already know about), I just found it: fast food often contains chemicals found in cosmetics. If you’re thinking, “Wait, what?!” you’re on the same page as me. And yes, I’m totally serious. Here are some cosmetics chemicals you can also find in fast food:

Ammonium Glycyrrhizin

  • Ingredient in facial masks
    Ammonium Glycyrrhizin is found in facial masks--
    and in fast food.
    Image: Shutterstock
  • Flavor enhancer, flavoring agent, and sweetener 

Benzoyl Peroxide (banned in China)—
  • Active ingredient in acne creams
  • Used in fast food to bleach wheat flour white (e.g. buns and breads) 

Calcium Disodium EDTA—
  • Used as a stabilizer in skin products and hair conditioner
  • A “flavor protectant” in fast food sauces, dips and dressings 
Benozyl Peroxide, the active ingredient in many acne medications, is also used to bleach flour white.
The active ingredient in Proactiv is Benozyl Peroxide.
It's also used to bleach flour white.
Image from

Disodium Phosphate—
  • Used in mascara and mouthwash
  • Food preservative

Propylene Glycol—
  • Found in shampoo, mouthwash and hand sanitizers
  • Used in sodas, salad dressings, and spice concentrates

Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate

  • Used in shampoo and soap
  • Widely used in baked goods, cereals, pastas, instant rice, desserts, icings… and more

OK, first of all, you should know that all of these are FDA approved additives. That means the FDA has studied them and determined that in specified quantities they are “relatively safe” to eat. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have negative impacts on our health. Propylene Glycol, for example, is a toxin at any level of ingestion. Though it would be extremely difficult to reach serious toxicity levels, it is nonetheless still a toxin.

Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate (SSL) is used in baked goods, cereals, pastas, instant rice, and more. It's also in your shampoo.
They may be FDA approved, but I don't want these chemicals
in MY food. Do you?
Image from
Ammonium Glycyrrhizin can also cause hypertension and edema (water retention) since it inhibits our cortisol metabolism. Benzoyl Peroxide is a whitener and researchers have long argued over the safety of its use in food.

Perhaps I’m too big a fan of natural living and eating (can one be too big of a fan?), but I don’t think I want to put any unnecessary chemicals in my body. There is so much we still don’t know, and I for one don’t want to wake up and find out one day that the chemical the FDA said was safe really isn’t. Call me paranoid if you’d like to, but I think there’s no harm in being safe.

Besides, what “flavor” are they protecting? The processed, bleached, over salted and sweetened flavor? Because I think I can go without that.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sore Muscles? Exercise More!

Sore muscles are caused by microdamage to muscles.
Sore muscles are caused by microdamage to muscles.
Image: Shutterstock
It might seem like strange advice, but if your muscles are sore from exercise, exercising more can help relieve them. Sore muscles are caused by tiny injuries to muscle fibers and connective tissue—this “microdamage” is common after exercising harder or longer than usual and happens because our muscles are not used to working in that way. We all know the feeling of waking up the next day (or even the day after that) sore.

But don’t worry; a little microdamage is normal when we first start exercising or try new exercises. That’s why normally, after a few times doing that same activity you’ll no longer get sore. Your muscles will repair themselves, become stronger, and adapt to the new set of activities.

It’s all good and well talking about muscle soreness when it’s not around; but when it is, it can be brutal. Luckily, there are some things you can do about it. The first is to be sure that you always stretch before and after exercise, as well as on the days you feel sore. The second is to treat the soreness in some way.

Light exercise and stretching can help relieve soreness.
Light exercise and stretching can help relieve soreness.
Image: Shutterstock
Traditionally, people use hot and cold treatments to lessen soreness. Cold treatments should be used first to stop inflammation and swelling, especially after an injury or particularly strenuous exercise. Heat can be used later to help loosen and relax muscles. Both can help combat soreness. Just remember: cold first, heat later!

Massage is another common treatment for soreness, as it helps with blood flow and relaxes tightened muscles. Some also swear by acupuncture for helping to relieve sore muscles—though I haven’t tried that one yet.

But my favorite—and perhaps the most surprising to some—is treating soreness with more exercise. I’m not talking about going out and running a marathon; I’m talking about doing some light exercise similar to what made you sore. Exercise has been shown to be just as effective as massage at relieving sore muscles, as it also gets blood flowing and stretches muscles out once more. Through increased blood flow, muscles receive more oxygen and can heal faster.