Switching On a Healthier You

Switching On a Healthier You - Help Your Body to Heal Itself

Change your life and heal by changing what you eat and how you exercise

Have you ever heard of the term “epigenetics”?  Technically, “an epigenetic trait is a stably inherited phenotype resulting from changes in a chromosome without alterations in the DNA sequence.” (Science Daily – Apr. 1, 2009)

Basically, it appears our genes have “switches,” and we can turn them on or off depending on our lifestyle and dietary choices. (There’s a lot of fancy work being done in the labs, too, of course, but I’m a DIY kind of gal.)

Good news: If you’ve got a family history of health problems (obesity, diabetes, arthritis, arteriosclerosis, etc.), you CAN do something about it.

Bad news: With the dietary and lifestyle choices most Americans make (heavily processed food, loads of sugar and sitting on our backsides way too often), we’re turning on way too many bad switches. [Read more...]

The Best Herbs and Spices for Colds and Flus – Plus How Your Kitchen Sink May Help You Stay Healthy

The Best Herbs and Spices for Colds and Flus - Plus How Your Kitchen Sink May Help You Stay Healthy

This is the final post in our “Cold and Flu” series.  One could go on almost indefinitely with healing options, as our bodies are very complex and a great many things influence our immune response, but I think this series represents some of the best “tools” available for boosting your immune system.

This post discusses how herbs, spices, traditional remedies and your kitchen sink can help boost your immune system and protect you from colds and flus.

Herbal Antibiotics for Colds and Flus

You are probably aware (hopefully) that most colds and flus are not caused by bacteria, they are caused by viruses.  Therefor, standard antibiotics are useless as a remedy for colds and flus.  There are now anti-viral medications, but they are most effective if administered early on, and may have some side effects.  Plus, who really wants to schlep into the ER when you feel lousy and your immune system is already compromised?  Secondary infections are often more dangerous than the original virus.

It turns out that many common herbs are not only antibacterial but also antiviral, and have minimal to no side effects.  In the book Herbal Antibiotics, Stephen Harrod Buhner presents his top choices for cold and flu fighting herbs, including echinacea, wormwood root, balsam root, boneset, red root, licorice, sage, garlic and honey.  (While not technically an herb, honey is often used in herbal medicine and so is included in the book.)  Complete dosing instructions and contraindications are given in the text.  I highly recommend the book, as it gives not only practical information on herbal use, but an overview of the history of antibiotics and how antibiotic resistance spreads.  Technically, he includes both herbs and spices in his arsenal, as various plant parts are used.

An example of the easy to use recipes that Stephen provides is The Best Cold and Flu Tea, which contains:

2 teaspoons sage
juice of one lemon (or one teaspoon lemon balm herb)
Pinch cayanne pepper
1 tablespoon (15 ml) honey

To prepare the tea, pour one cup boiling water over sage and allow to steep for 10 minutes.  Strain out herbs, ad remaining ingredients, and drink hot.

Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony company

Mountain Rose Herbs has an excellent stock of organic herbs and spices.
Your MRH purchase helps support this site.

 

Best Herbs and Spices for Colds and Flus

One of my favorite remedies for cold and flu season is a big batch of chicken soup. Chicken contains an amino acid called cysteine, which can thin the mucus in your lungs and make it easier to expel.  Proper soup often includes an assortment of herbs and spices, many of which have healing properties.  The Weston A Price Foundation website states:

Stock contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily—not just calcium but also magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. It contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons–stuff like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain.

I always include bay leaf in my soups, which is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.  Parsley is loaded with vitamins and minerals, and can act as a stomach soother.  Sage is another herb that is popular with poultry, and is also anti-bacterial and anti-viral.  Fresh sage is best when available because many of the beneficial compounds are concentrated in the oil.  Celery, too, has a long history of medicinal use.

Other spices that are commonly used in holiday cooking that help boost your immune system are cinnamon, nutmeg, rosemary and cloves.

Rule of thumb:  strongly scented and flavored herbs and spices come with strong oils that can add flavor, improve your health and often extend the life of your food

Put some extra cinnamon or nutmeg in your eggnog.   Be generous with the spices in your pumpkin pie or scones.  Throw some extra sage in the stuffing.  Make a rosemary vinaigrette for your salads.  Experiment with the flavors.  Regular use over time will help boost your immune system.

copper faucets

Copper faucets are antibacterial

How Can Your Sink Fight Germs?

While frequent hand washing is an obvious answer (please skip the anti-microbial soaps – plain soap and water acts as a surfactant to lift germs away without breeding superbugs), your sink may help keep you healthy in another way – if you use copper faucets.  A recent study in Europe demonstrates:

Under normal daily conditions the level of multi-resistant Staphylococci Aureus (MRSA) bacteria decreased by a third, and their resettlement on copper door handles and switches decreased considerably.

In our home, we have copper handles on all the cabinets, and copper faucet in the kitchen and brass door handles (brass is typically 63% copper and 37% zinc).  Not as much copper as in the study, but we’re not coping with MRSA.  If you don’t have a big budget, you may want to consider just swapping out drawer pulls in your most germy/heavily used areas, like near the kitchen or bathroom sinks.

copper drawer handle

Copper drawer handle

If you’ve found this post useful, please share it with your friends.

You may also enjoy the other posts in the series:

Preparing for Cold and Flu Season:  Step 1 – Probiotics
Coping with Stomach Flu Symptoms (Why the BRAT diet may not be your best choice)
Preparing for Cold and Flu Season with Essential Oils
The Best Vitamins and Minerals for Fighting Colds and Flus

and the related post:

Elderberries:  How to Make Syrups and Jellies

This post has been linked to Fat Tuesday and Homestead Barn Hop #38.

 

The Best Vitamins and Minerals for Fighting Colds and Flus

Best Vitamins and Minerals for Fighting colds and Flus @ Common Sense Homesteading

What are the best vitamins and minerals for fighting colds and flus?

There’s been a lot of hype in recent years about this supplement or that supplement being able to prevent colds and flus or lessen their duration and severity, but how much is real and how much is hype?  Here are the top choices for my cold and flu arsenal.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C has been demonstrated to have a strong anti-viral effect.  Orthomolecular.org states:  “In high doses, vitamin C neutralizes free radicals, helps kill viruses, and strengthens the body’s immune system. Taking supplemental vitamin C routinely helps prevent viral infections.”  It has been shown to be effective against both the swine and bird flu. [Read more...]

Preparing for Cold and Flu Season – Step #1- Probiotics

Fight Colds and Flus with Probiotics @ Common Sense Homesteading

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms similar to the “friendly” bacteria found naturally in the body’s digestive system. Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) of Maryland states that we each house two to five pounds (1.0 to 2.26 kilograms) of live bacteria inside our bodies.

How do probiotics work?

Unlike antibiotics, which work by killing bacteria, both friendly and unfriendly, probiotics work with your body.  By boosting populations of beneficial bacteria, you effectively crowd out the bad bacteria, at at the very least make it more difficult for them to thrive.

Do probiotics really help with colds and flu?

Yes.  After an 18 month study that examined the effect of probiotics Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium animalis on children aged 3 to 5, the results showed that:

  • the Lactobacillus acidophilus group had 53% fewer fevers, 41% fewer coughs, and 28% fewer runny noses than the placebo group
  • the group given both bacteria strains had 72% fewer fevers, 62% fewer coughs, and 59% fewer runny noses than the placebo group
  • the Lactobacillus acidophilus group recovered from cold symptoms 32% faster and the two-bacteria group recovered 48% faster than the placebo group, when they did get sick, with less antibiotic use (68% and 84% less, respectively)

In the article “Probiotics and the Flu“, the National Kefir Association states:

Probiotic-containing foods like kefir are essential during cold and flu season for preventing offending molecules from entering the bloodstream and creating reactions that can cause symptoms of ill health. South Africa-based Ingrid van Heerden, D.Sc, “DietDoc” for www.health24.com, says that probiotic containing foods like kefir are important for maintaining a strong natural defense system because they stimulate the production of immunoglobulin in the intestines, which improves the body’s immune response.

A recent survey of kombucha drinkers indicated that 82% felt they had increased resistance to cold and flus.

kombucha comparison

black tea and green tea kombucha

Other studies have shown similarly positive results. If you consider how much surface area there is in the digestive track (some estimates calculate that it forms up to 70% of the immune system), it makes sense that keeping it healthy helps keep you healthy.

IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and (IBD) inflammatory bowel disease are other ailments that plague many people as they age. New studies are showing that certain probiotics can help with IBS and IBD symptoms, too – without the side effects of medications. To address problems in the intestinal tract, researchers have focused on probiotics that remain intact past the stomach (yogurt is not going to help much), such as Lactobaccilus plantarum 299v. Lactobaccilus plantarum species are commonly found in milk kefir (along with many other beneficial bacteria and yeasts).  (You can see my post on fermenting yogurt and milk kefir here, along with my “secret weapon” for cold weather fermenting.)

Can I make probiotics at home?

Yes – and it’s easy!  I have started fermenting kombucha, milk kefir, water kefir, and viili yogurt. I got my kefir grains and yogurt culture (and sourdough starter) from our affiliate Cultures for Health and my kombucha scoby from a friend. You may also be able to find starters through online forums such as  Heal Thyself.  I tried beet kvass, but no one would drink it except for me. The post “Water Kefir Versus Kombucha” identifies the probiotics typically found in water kefir and kombucha.

I’ve made sauerkraut, lacto-fermented asparagus, and lacto-fermented dilly beans.  Any naturally fermented product that is not heat treated (pasteurized) is likely to help.

If you purchase probiotics, make sure you look for live and active cultures (read the label – you want good bacteria that are still frisky). Watch out for brands that are full of sugar and/or artificial ingredients. These work against your body’s ability to heal.

I know many of us are looking for ways to keep our food budgets low while still preparing healthy foods for our families. Fermenting at home can provide healthy foods for pennies on the dollar compared to store products.   You can also “sneak” probiotics in for fussy eaters by making probiotic smoothies using your homemade ferments, such as probiotic smoothies.

smoothie

Duncan’s probiotic breakfast smoothie

I hope you’ll be encouraged to add more live foods to your diet this year, and keep an eye out here and on my blog for more information on their benefits and how to culture your own.  It takes time to build up the numbers of protective organisms in your digestive track, so it’s best to start as soon as possible taking live culture foods to boost your immunity before cold and flu season gets into full swing.

If you’ve found this post helpful, you may also enjoy the next posts in the series:

Preparing for Cold and Flu Season with Essential Oils

The Best Vitamins and Minerals for Fighting Colds and Flus

The Best Herbs and Spices for Colds and Flus – Plus a “Secret Weapon”

Coping with Stomach Flu Symptoms (Why the BRAT diet may not be your best choice)

If you want to know more about live culture foods, but don’t have a clue, check out The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods by my friend, Wardeh, from GNOWFGLINS.

 

My Thyroid Journey – Working Towards Natural Thyroid Health

lwmthyroid

More than 25 million Americans have some type of thyroid disease.  In my case, I have been diagnosed as hypothyroid (under active thyroid) due to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks the thyroid gland.  In this post I’d like to share with you part of my journey to (hopefully) heal my thyroid naturally.

I was diagnosed earlier this year (2008) with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. My thyroid is enlarged and has three nodules on it. Two ultrasounds about six months apart showed no growth in the nodules. They appear to be benign. I was told I did not need an ultrasound again for two years. They still want me to get my TSH checked every six months. Dr. Scott also wanted to check free T4 during the November tests.

11/12/2008 – I visited Dr. Scott to get my thyroid checked again. My TSH and free T4 levels had come back at the edge of high normal range and I had been having some symptoms commonly associated with hypothyroidism (cold hands and feet, fatigue, dry skin, some depression). I was not experiencing weight gain, but I was not losing weight, either, even though I exercise nearly every day. Dr. Scott suggested I try 25mcg Levothyroxin daily to see if this helped with the symptoms. He asked me to come back to retest TSH and free T4 in four weeks.  When I specifically asked the doctor about diet or lifestyle changes I could make to treat the underlying causes of my disease, he told me there was nothing I could do.  I should just get on medication and resign myself to my thyroid eventually destroying itself.

Over the next four weeks my beginning symptoms did not improve. In addition, I developed moderately severe joint pain in my right knee (this knee has bugged me occasionally but rarely this bad). During my menstrual period, I had severe cramping (much worse than normal) and felt physically ill for 2-3 days. I also felt that I had difficulty concentrating. I found myself rereading the same paragraph over and over again. I developed gastric reflux and by the third week it was starting feel as though my throat was closing up and it hurt/was difficult to swallow. This was similar to the (I believe) allergic reaction I experienced on amoxicillin and prednisone.

12/8/08 – When it came time to renew my prescription I decided not to do it. I called the doctor and canceled the blood work and notified them that I was going off the medication. We currently have no insurance and I do not know when we will have insurance again.  (Note – my husband was unemployed at this time.  Stress levels were way up for both of us.) I told them that I would check back in sometime in the future. The doctor was not happy and instead wanted to increase my dosage, but I declined.

I have decided to try alternative thyroid treatment. After doing some research online, I am continuing to use NatraBio Thyroid Support tablets three times per day. I have also begun taking about a teaspoon of coconut oil three times per day. I am also taking Rainbow Light Women’s One Multivitamin/Mineral, Rainbow Light Food Based Super C (1000 mg daily) and Schiff Vitamin D 2000 I.U. daily.

I corresponded via email with a lady named Darcy from California that I found on a thyroid board (she mentioned she was treating homeopathically after trying meds with similar side effects). She recommended Thyroid Assist by Native Remedies and virgin coconut oil and that she had visited a homeopathic practitioner who recommended these things to her and suggested that part of her problems might be sluggish adrenal glands, which do tend to become less active as we age. The symptoms are similar to hypothyroidism.

12/27/08 – The throat swelling went away in under a week once I stopped the Levothyroxin. I am no longer having acid reflux. My knee does not ache excessively. My hands and feet still tend to be cold and my skin is still dry, but it has been very cold this month with record breaking snowfall (over 3 feet for December alone). I have started using coconut oil as a face/body moisturizer, too. My head is clearer and I am able to read normally again. I started my period today and am not having any significant cramping/pain/fatigue, etc. Much better.

The bursitis is still present in my left hip. I found out that Mary and Lois (my two sisters) also both have pain in their left hip – Mary from her surgery and Lois probably from bursitis (she hasn’t been checked). It doesn’t bother me too much most of the time. I feel it more when I am tired or if I lay on that side when I sleep.  (Note:  The bursitis showed up after my second pregnancy.  Dr. Scott said my hips were out of alignment from the delivery and did an adjustment in his office (he is an O.D., not an M.D.) that he said would resolve the problem.  No such luck.)

I have been starting each day (before I get out of bed) with listing things that I am thankful for and asking that August find a good job, preferably in the area or at least reasonable within driving distance of mom. I am practicing counting my blessings instead of my worries.

1/22/09 – Symptoms are about the same – skin still dry, hands still cold – but, hey, it’s winter! Joint pain has decreased significantly. I am exercising every morning again.

Dec 2009 – I started dry brushing and cold rinses in the shower, and decreasing my carbs while increasing my fat intake after reading “Eat Fat, Lose Fat”.  Over the month of December, I dropped ten pounds, even  with the holidays.  Skin is much less dry and itchy, as are eyes.

January 2011 – Down about another ten pounds.  Recently read “Primal Blueprint”, and other material indicating that gluten may be contributing to my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  Working to reduce/eliminate gluten/grains in the diet, but I’m not there yet.  I’ve changed up my work out routine, and started including “sprints” and weightlifting again.  Still under a lot of stress due to job uncertainly.  Bought a TRX system, which just arrived this week, so looking forward to incorporating that into the workout routine as well.  My skin is softer and smoother, and bowel movements are regular (constipation is a common symptom of an under active thyroid).

Where I’m at nutritionally:

  • I’ve settled into a diet that is relatively high in fat, lower in carbs, working to eliminate grains/gluten.
  • I don’t use refined salt, only sea salt, but include small amounts of kelp or other seaweed in my diet.
  • I still take coconut oil before every meal.
  • I do eat cruciferous vegetables, but I try to cook or ferment them before consumption.
  • I eat a Brazil nut every day, as they are high in selenium.
  • I consume one or more fermented foods/drinks per day, including kombucha, water kefir, milk kefir, sauerkraut, raw milk cheese, yogurt and other fruit and vegetable ferments.  Kombucha’s my favorite.  I believe that digestive health is critical to the health of the rest of the body.
  • I’m working to get more veggies into my diet, and have started eating/drinking green smoothies.
  • When the weather allows, I get plenty of sun exposure.  In the winter months I supplement with vitamin D3.
  • I try to include turmeric and plenty of other anti-inflammatory foods and spices into my diet.
  • I avoid unfermented soy, excessive amounts of peanuts and raw cruciferous vegetables.
  • Processed foods, fake fats and all the other garbage passing itself off as food is a no-no.
  • Sourcing my meat and eggs locally, from people I trust.  All of the critters spend time on pasture and are light on grains.
  • I grow most of my own veggies, and try to source the rest organically.  Working towards the same with fruits.

I haven’t been back to the doctor.  I’m looking for a practitioner that’s more open minded and haven’t found one yet.  I am largely asymptomatic at this point, so I am reluctant to go in to someone I don’t trust.

Do you have a thyroid disorder?  If so, what have you done to help your thyroid heal?  I hope other people will find my story useful in finding solutions that work for them.

I will be updating this story soon, as I just went in for a blood draw on Friday (yesterday) and an ultrasound.  Still waiting for official results, and still not expecting much from conventional medicine.  I’ve started a new detox protocol, which I will also be writing about, that I am hoping will help my body to continue healing.

Some folks has asked for additional resources, so I’d like to recommend the following books that I found helpful:

Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal: A Revolutionary Breakthrough In Understanding Hashimoto’s Disease and Hypothyroidism – If you’re only going to read one book, this is the one I’d recommend.  There’s discussion about gluten, adrenal connections, liver connections, detox, gut issues – a lot about the “why” of your thyroid going on the blink.  it did leave me wanting more information about the specifics of “how” to fix it, but I guess the author needs to keep his practice in business and avoid getting sued by the FDA.

Iodine: Why you need it, Why you can’t live without it by David Brownstein, M.D.

Overcoming Thyroid Disorders Second Edition by David Brownstein, M.D.

I read Dr. Brownstein’s books first, and they opened my eyes to the importance of iodine.  I’ve read some mixed reviews on Dr. Brownstein’s supplement recommendations, so please do your own research before making any decision to supplement and speak with a trained healthcare provider.

A couple more related books that deal with coconut oil that may also be helpful are The Coconut Oil Miracle and Eat Fat, Lose Fat.   I know saturated fats are currently demonized, but I have lost weight on coconut oil, and these books explain why.