Uplifting Essential Oils: Using Aromatherapy To Lift Your Mood

essential oils

I’ve been a fan of aromatherapy since I learned about essential oils in a workshop at my local yoga studio awhile back. I’d been using scented candles and those plug-in air fresheners to keep my home smelling good, but I wasn’t comfortable with the ingredients in those products.

Aromatherapy with pure essential oils soon replaced my candles and air fresheners. The benefits turned out to be more than I expected, especially when I discovered uplifting essential oils.

Diffusing essential oils does more than keep my home smelling great. Each oil has specific properties as well. I learned that aromas travel through the capillaries in our sinuses and trigger nerves that send direct signals to the brain. Many of these signals have to do with emotions.

A number of uplifting essential oils can boost mood and even alleviate depression. And you can go a step further to target specific kinds of depression.

For example, do you tend to feel tired when you’re feeling down? You can lift both your mood and your energy level with geranium, lavender, peppermint, basil, or rosemary. Anxiety can be calmed with clary sage, frankincense, patchouli, ylang ylang, or chamomile.

How to use uplifting essential oils to lift your mood 

There are many ways to use essential oils. Start by simply opening the bottle and inhaling the aroma! Some other great uses include:

Diffuse them. Place a few drops in a room diffuser and the aroma will last for hours. There are many types of room diffusers on the market. You can also make your own aromatherapy reed diffuser.

Bathe in them.  Add your favorite oil to warm bath water and soak your way to good mood. Scented water is extremely relaxing and very therapeutic.

Use them in lotions or bath products. You can make aromatherapy products yourself by adding essential oils to unscented bath products, or you can buy them already made.

Spray them in your room or car. Essential oils can be added to pure water in a spray bottle and sprayed anywhere to instantly fill your space with pleasing aromas.

Sleep with them. Put a few drops of essential oil on a tissue or piece of cotton that you slip under your pillow case. You can even put a drop of relaxing oil inside each nostril at bedtime. If you choose the latter, make sure to use oils that won’t irritate your skin. The labels on most essential oil bottles will tell you if you can use them directly on skin.

Use them for a relaxing massage. You can add essential oils to unscented massage oil. Another option is to buy aromatherapy massage oils infused with essential oils.

Once you discover the benefits of aromatherapy with essential oils, you may wonder how you ever lived without it!

Simple Ways to Reduce Stress Naturally

At times I feel very stressed. I know. It happens to everyone, even those of us with a generally calm demeanor. Life can throw a lot of little challenges at us, and unfortunately sometimes some bigger ones as well. Stress can add up, so managing it in small doses before symptoms spiral out of control is a smart thing to do.

With the holidays approaching, stress is an especially timely topic. People seem to get crazy around this time, but I don’t think it has to be this way. Some simple strategies can help you cope.

You do have time to manage stress

Maybe you’re thinking that adding a stress management strategy to your routine is just one more thing to do. And your to-do list is what’s causing the stress to begin with, right? But remember, a step in the right direction is better than taking no action at all. And once you take one step, you’re likely to take another.

You don’t have to have a perfect plan that guarantees you will never feel stressed, but the more strategies you have in place the better, even if you don’t use all of them all of the time.

So what are some simple ways to manage stress effectively (without a trip to your doctor for a prescription)?

Choose stress-relieving nutrients

Different foods affect your body and your stress response in different ways. The trick to managing stress with nutrition is choosing foods that are calming, nourishing and soothing over those that will give you a jolt or make your blood sugar sore. Three simple nutrients to start with are vitamin B6, potassium, and magnesium.

Vitamin B6 helps create serotonin, the “feel good” chemical that is quickly depleted when you’re stressed. You can increase the amount of B6 in your diet by eating leafy greens, seeds, beans, egg yolks, and fish.

Potassium and magnesium help relax muscles that tend to get tense when you feel frazzled. You can get potassium from whole grains, potatoes, and bananas, while spinach, nuts, beans, and chocolate are good sources of magnesium. (If you opt for chocolate, don’t overdo it; sugar counteracts the relaxing qualities of magnesium.)

Try some calming herbs

Calming herbs include chamomile, valerian, passionflower, and lemon balm. There are capsules and tinctures you can take as supplements, or you can brew a nice cup of herbal tea. Be sure to choose a high-quality product so you can truly experience the herb’s anti-stress properties.

Stay active

If you don’t exercise regularly, ask yourself why that’s the case. You will never regret finding time to get up and move your body. You don’t need to work out for an hour or spend a lot of money to do so. Ten minutes three times a day will do if that’s all the time you have.

If you have time for a coffee or internet break, you have time for a quick, brisk walk, some light weight lifting, or simple stretching. If you have more time, do more. Join a gym or sign up for tennis lessons. Or turn on some music and dance! Do whatever works for you as long as you’re moving.

Practice yoga and meditation

While yoga can come under the heading of exercise, it is really so much more. Combined with meditation, it’s the ultimate antidote to stress. The physical yoga postures help tone and strengthen the body and get blood flowing throughout your body, even to your brain, where you’ll need it to deal with all the things life throws your way. You can do all kinds of yoga, from the most passive, restorative poses, to all-out power yoga. Again, do whatever works for you.

No matter what kind of physical yoga practice you choose, keep in mind one of the most important goals of yoga is to prepare your body for meditation. If you can cultivate a regular meditation practice, whether for 5 minutes, 30 minutes or even an hour or more each day, you’ll be amazed at what a powerful stress-management tool it is. And it doesn’t have to be a formal meditation practice. Even paying attention to how you’re breathing while you scurry about doing all those tasks can count as meditation.

Surround yourself with relaxing aromas

Did you know your brain processes emotions and scents in the same area? That’s why aromatherapy is so effective. So, if you want to feel calm, fill the air with relaxing aromas from high quality essential oils. Some pacifying scents include sandalwood, lavender, geranium, cedarwood, jasmine, and lemongrass. Use a diffuser, or add essential oils to bath water or unscented body lotion.

Stress does not have to get the best of you

Chances are at least one of the tools on this list will work for you, so why not start there? If you need more, try another. As you get more skilled at stress management and develop your own set of strategies, you’ll uncover the power of calm.

How to Make Safe and Healthy Reed Diffusers with Essential Oils

Essential oil reed diffuser

I like my home to be filled with pleasing aromas, but I’m wary of the ingredients in air fresheners, scented candles and other common items people use to mask odors in their homes. So, I was excited to come across an easy way to make homemade reed diffusers from pure essential oils! All you need is mineral oil, vodka, the essential oil (or oils) of your choice, a small vase, and some diffuser reeds, which you can buy in any craft store.

Here’s what you do:

Pour ¼ cup mineral oil and 2-3 tablespoons of vodka into the vase. Then add a 15-ml bottle of essential oil (or a total of 15 ml of the the oils you decide to blend). I chose geranium and lemongrass in mine.

Stir everything with the reeds and then let it go to work. It’s that easy! You can flip the reeds every once in a while to diffuse the oil better.

The fragrance you’ll enjoy will not comprise your health! In fact, it will probably improve it since essential oils have so many wonderful properties and benefits.

Want Better Sleep? Here’s Help!

sleep remedies

I’m finding more and more information about the relationship between sleep and overall health. According to experts on the subject, people who sleep well live longer, live better, and have fewer chronic diseases.

So what do you do if, like me, you find yourself wide awake at 3 am more often than you’d like?

Get on a schedule

The general consensus is you should go to sleep at the same time each night and wake up at the same time in the morning (including your days off). Sleep experts seem to agree that 10 pm is the sleep “sweet spot.” Apparently, that’s because our bodies produce melatonin between 10 pm and 2 am, and we need melatonin to relax and get to sleep. Most of us need seven or eight hours of quality sleep each night.

Go into sleep mode

If you’re involved in some kind of stimulating activity just before 10 pm, chances are slim you’ll be sleeping during those prime melatonin-producing hours. So instead of watching TV, having a heated debate with a family member, or getting some work (or homework) done after 9 pm, try something relaxing instead. Doing a bit of restorative yoga, listening to calming music, and meditating are good things to try.

Sleep in the dark

This may seem obvious, but many of us do not do it. In order for your body to create melatonin, you need to sleep in as near to pitch black darkness as possible. That means the light from streetlights streaming through windows, glowing clocks, cell phones and nightlights or a television kept on while you’re trying to get to sleep no-nos.

And it’s not just while you’re trying to fall asleep that you’ll need darkness if you want to sleep well. You’ll need it for at least two hours before you fall asleep.

Of course, if you’re like most people, turning the TV or computer off before bed is not going to happen every night. But it turns out if you’re stubborn about flipping the TV off early, there are a couple of ways around it.

If you’re going to watch TV or surf  the net at night, wear sunglasses while you do it.  I learned this seemingly odd tip from the Dr. Oz Show, tried it the next night, and to my pleasant surprise it actually did help! According to Dr. Oz, the sunglass remedy works because certain dark lenses block out the blue light that prevents the body from producing melatonin.

Wear a sleep mask. (It’s a lot more comfortable than trying to sleep with your sunglasses on.) This may be the single best thing I ever added to my sleep routine. Credit for this tip goes to my brother!

Get help from herbs

Herbs like chamomile and valerian root can also help improve sleep. You can take them in capsule form or drink a cup of tea containing calming herbal ingredients before you go to bed. (If you drink tea, brew it well and drink only a few ounces so you won’t wake up to go to the bathroom!) When I’m feeling sleep deprived or worried I’m going to have a restless night, I take valerian root capsules to help me stay relaxed.

Try aromatherapy

Aromatherapy works wonders for sleep-challenged folks. This simple practice is my favorite trick for getting a better night’s sleep. I’m in awe of the tools nature has provided in the essential oils of plants.

Science has shown the aromas from essential oils have many remarkable properties. Oils that can calm the mind, relax the body, and promote sleep include lavender and ylang ylang, as well as blends created just for sleep.

You can use aromatherapy oils in a diffuser that fills your bedroom with the scent through the night, or, if you don’t have a diffuser, simply dab some oil on a piece of cotton or even inside the rim of your lower nostrils.

Sweet dreams!

I’ve tried all these remedies, and they work for me most of the time (which is great, considering at one point I was lucky if I slept through the night once a week).

If you have trouble sleeping and these or other natural solutions don’t work for you, it might be worth visiting your doctor to see if you have a more serious sleep disorder.

Why I’ve Supported Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals (And Hope You’ll Support the Sanctuary Too)

In past years, Farm Sanctuary held its Walk for Farm Animals in cities across the country in October. This year, there was only one walk. It took place in Chicago on October 1, 2016.

The Walk for Farm Animals events raise funds for the sanctuary, which cares for farm animals and educates people about the abuses they suffer at the hands of mass food manufacturers. In 2017, the sanctuary will launch a new fundraising event.

Why I’ve supported Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals

When I first moved toward a vegetarian diet decades ago, I found an article called “Why I Am a Vegetarian.” I typed up a list of bullet points from the article to carry in my wallet so I’d have an easy reference to share with people who wanted to know why I had stopped eating meat.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know why, but in those early years, I found it difficult to talk about without being defensive or sparking a pointless debate. At the time, many people around me weren’t in tune with my decision.

Over the years since, most people who know me have made peace with the idea that I’m not going to touch the Thanksgiving turkey, and it’s really not an issue any more. More importantly, I’ve grown in my own understanding of the issues.

I’ve learned more about how industrial farming abuses animals, destroys the environment and threatens the health of human beings. And that’s why I’ve participated in Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals twice and supported the event since I learned about it almost a decade ago.

I’m not much into preaching or telling other people how to eat (unless they ask; then I might share my views ), but I do think this is important. Here’s why.

It’s not just about the animals; it’s also about our planet and you!

Farm Sanctuary is a group of three havens for rescued farm animals (one in New York and two in California). Their mission goes beyond the home they provide for rescued animals. As I mentioned, they educate people about the ways factory farming harms the entire planet and all its creatures.

You can visit Farm Sanctuary (I’ve been to the New York site) and meet the animals. If you do, your eyes will probably open a bit wider to the fact that each of these creatures is unique and has a distinct personality, just like your pets.

For some people, the fact that animals are treated cruelly is reason enough to stop eating them. But there’s much, much more to it.

Here, in a nutshell, is why I support Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals…

(And by the way, nuts are a great source of nutrients for most vegetarians.)

I’m not against humans eating meat if the meat is compassionately raised and healthy. But the thing is, it’s incredibly hard to find that kind of meat, and if you do find it, it’s likely to cost you more than you spend on a week’s worth of groceries.

The reason compassionately raised meat is so expensive is the process of raising meat (and producing many other “foods” as well) has been transformed.

Your burgers and chicken wings are mass-produced industrial products. They are brought to you by conglomerates that have little or no interest in the well-being of animals, the environment, soil, water quality, food safety, nutrition, or your health.

Do you think I’m exaggerating? If you’re not convinced, but you are interested, there’s a great site, Sustainable Table you can visit to learn a lot more about why we need to change the way we produce our food.

The Problems with Factory Farming

When you think of a factory, you probably think of things like mass-production, economies of scale, getting as many products as possible made as cheaply as possible, and things of that sort.

But do you think of health? Do you think of nourishment? A factory is not a good place to produce food meant to nourish you and keep you healthy.

Here are just a few reasons why not. The list is condensed from information you can find on the Sustainable Table website.

  • Factory farming is cruel and inhumane.
  • Livestock agriculture contributes to destruction of rain forests, global warming, soil erosion, water shortages, air and water pollution, and the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria.
  • It takes far more fossil fuel and water to produce a single calorie of protein from beef, pork or poultry than it takes to produce a calorie of protein from soy.
  • It takes up to 16 pounds of soybeans and grains to produce 1 pound of beef and between 3 and 6 pounds to produce one pound of pork or turkey. People in underdeveloped countries cannot afford meat. The grain used to produce so much meat could be feeding them.
  • The correlation between meat consumption and a wide range of diseases is well documented.
  • Because of industrialized farming practices, animal fat contains high concentrations of pesticides, herbicides, sterols, antibiotics, growth hormones, and other veterinary pharmaceuticals.

Still not convinced?

I know this issue is complicated and not everyone is convinced it deserves attention. But if you’re one of those people, please answer this (at least for yourself). Why is it okay that we treat certain animals as parts of our family and others as mass-market products?

The animals in places like Farm Sanctuary have a special bond of friendship with their caretakers and supporters, and I assure you they are not less special than your own pets (if you don’t have pets, take a look at the pet-human relationships of people you know).

But  if compassion for all beings is not your thing, consider the environmental, political, economic, and health issues. Our food production system needs reform.

Without organizations like Farm Sanctuary helping to educate us all about the abuses of factory farming, we probably wouldn’t make a dent in changing the status quo. But luckily, such places exist, and the good news is things are slowly changing.

Is this just a vegan or vegetarian cause?

It’s not! In fact, if you’re a meat-eater, it might be even more important for you to support places like Farm Sanctuary, that is, if you want safe, healthy food and would prefer not to see animals abused.

In order to reform the factory farming system, all people, whether strict vegans or just people who care about the health and happiness of other beings, need to get on board and support reform.

Will you help?

You don’t need to make a huge donation to make a difference. The more people behind this cause, the more likely the minds and hearts of those that can make a difference will change. We need people who have the power to clean up our food supply and treat farm animals with the respect all creatures deserve!

Please consider a donation to Farm Sanctuary to support its mission. Or just let me know you think about this issue too!


My Awesome Experience With Reiki, A Crystal, and a Healer’s Visions

For a while now, I’ve wanted to explore alternative methods of healing. I’ve always been interested in going beyond what’s mainstream. So when I was recently invited to try reiki—a healing technique I’d heard of but knew little about—I happily accepted the invitation.

When I think of reiki, I remember an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Debra treats herself to a reiki session, and Ray flips out because she’s paid money for “a massage where they don’t even touch you”! But Debra insists she feels great after the experience.

It’s true that reiki is not like other kinds of massage. In fact, I think it’s more accurate to call it a form of energy healing. Jeanne Placier, a yoga teacher and healer who invited me to try reiki at her new location in Ridgewood, NJ, explained that reiki is an exchange of energy in which the practitioner holds her hands just above or lightly on various parts of the body.

When I walked into Jeanne’s massage room, I instantly felt relaxed. I’m sure this had something to do with Jeanne’s friendly personality as well as the peaceful décor. There is definitely a special energy in her space.

Healing Crystals

Before we started, Jeanne and I talked a bit, and she asked me if I’d like to hold a crystal during the session. I had no idea why she was asking, but I said, “Sure. Why not?” She offered me an amethyst crystal because I’d just mentioned my strong attraction to third eye energy. While the color for the sixth chakra is traditionally indigo, Jeanne said she likes to use amethyst for both the sixth and seventh (crown) chakras.

Later, I asked Jeanne why she offered me the crystal. She explained that gems enhance the energy-healing experience. “I’ve always been drawn to crystals and colors, especially in jewelry,” she told me. “As I got older, I started to understand their healing properties and started to collect them to wear, admire, and use for healing.”

Jeanne is someone who trusts her intuition, and that trust pays off. She went on to explain that sometimes a client has something going on that he or she prefers not to share, but in choosing a crystal, that person instinctively chooses a color that corresponds to whatever is going on.

After the session, if the person is interested, Jeanne shares information about the properties of the crystals the person chose. “It’s always dead-on related to an issue they have,” she said. “The experience is inspiring to most clients because they learn they truly know how to heal themselves.”

My Reiki Experience

Still not exactly sure what to expect, I settled onto the massage table, holding the lovely amethyst crystal in one hand. Jeanne then explained a bit more about what to expect; she told me people have a variety of experiences with reiki. Some see colors or “something comes up,” she said. “Others report feeling very relaxed and lighter.”

It must take a lot of courage, I thought, to offer this kind of service and trust the outcome.

According to The International Center for Reiki Training, the word reiki can be loosely translated to mean God energy. If the word God doesn’t work for you, call it the energy of the universe or a higher power. Reiki works, says Reiki Master William Lee Rand, by changing the vibratory level of the energy field around a person’s body. The benefits can be physical, emotional, and/or spiritual.

During a session, there’s an exchange of energy between client and healer. The exact nature of the exchange, as I understand it, depends on what’s being worked on—a headache, emotional issue, back pain, or chronic fatigue, for example.

As Jeanne began to work on me, I immediately felt intense heat radiating from her hands, which she held in various spots around my head. I didn’t know until later that she stayed in that space because, she said, “There was a lot going on there.”

A lot going on in my head? Sounds about right, though in recent years I’ve tried to lessen the noise with the help of my yoga and meditation practice.

Oddly, I also had the sensation that my throat was constricted. It wasn’t something I expected to experience during a healing treatment, but I felt it for a few minutes. Then I started to feel very relaxed and the sensation of constriction went away.

Light and Color

I was in a more or less meditative state for a while when I began to see an intense bright white light. Though my eyes were closed, my first thought was it must be the sun coming out from behind some clouds and shining through the window. But it was so intense that I began to suspect it was something more.

As I focused on the light, it turned green. I waited to see other colors, in fact I tried to see other colors (Is that allowed?), but I only saw green. The green then dissipated, and I drifted back into a meditative state.

Then again there was an intense bright white light that faded and turned green. Throughout the entire experience, I continued to feel the comforting warmth that radiated from Jeanne’s hands.

When the session was over, Jeanne asked me about my experience. I told her about the constriction and the white and green light. I already knew green is the color of the heart chakra. Maybe the constriction had some connection. I often feel like I can’t speak my truth to loved ones for various reasons, not because I don’t trust my truth but because my loved ones have trouble receiving what I tell them. Rather than cause conflict, I often choose to stay silent. The white light, of course, is the crown chakra, my strong connection with intuition and a higher power.

A Healer’s Visions


I thought that was the end of the session, but to my surprise, there was more. Jeanne shared some visions she had while working with my energy. She told me she saw a newly paved black road (“like brand new and freshly paved,” she emphasized) and a beautiful goldfinch with bright yellow feathers and a black crown.

She also saw a little girl dressed in a pinafore holding an old-fashioned doll, the kind with arms and legs that move.

I paused and digested this, struck by the image of the little girl with the doll. We talked a bit about the obvious symbolism of the “new road” and the bird (which can fly), and I agreed it was related to the book project I’m working on.

The little girl in the pinafore holding a doll made sense to me as well. She was me, of course, and while I’m not quite sure why she showed up, I knew exactly what she was wearing. It was a pinafore with a blue and red flowery print my mother made for me when I was a child. Just the other day when I visited my mom, she was repairing the garment, which she’d found in her attic!

The doll  was one of two cherished toys I still have from my childhood. It was a gift from my grandparents, who brought it back from Italy when I was six years old.

The Goldfinch

I left Jeanne’s space intrigued with all this symbolism and imagery. I knew for sure that a freshly paved black road was important symbolism for my life. As always, I was making an effort to move beyond the past.

But what about the goldfinch? Its golden color, we’d decided, is associated with the solar plexus chakra, the center of power. And of course it has the ability to fly. But I wondered what else the goldfinch symbolizes.

So I went home and looked it up.

According to Spirit Lodge, as a spirit animal, “the presence of goldfinches usually indicates an awakening to the activities of those beings that are normally relegated to the realm of fiction.” The beings in question include angels, fairies and the like.

And maybe also things like reiki if you have a skeptic’s mind going in.

Perhaps more importantly, goldfinches are said to help us understand the value of change. In particular, they can give us the “ability to resolve family conflicts in a healthy manner, creating balance in dealing with different people.” Goldfinches give us an “understanding (of) the power of voice.”


So if I put this all together, I need to speak my truth in a new way—a more effective way, I guess— and I can do that on my journey down that freshly paved road. The little girl holding the doll—my former self, a child who always quietly and respectfully held back so as not to get in trouble—is not who I am now.

As Jeanne Says, There’s Always More

Obviously, there are lots of ways I could have put the pieces of my reiki experience together, but the point is like yoga, reiki seems to be a practice you turn to for one reason that ends up offering so more than you imagined it would.

As it turns out, reiki is not only relaxing and healing, it’s an excellent tool for self-discovery if one is open to that kind of thing. Of course, you’ll need to find a practitioner who is right for you to work with. In my case, Jeanne’s down-to-earth friendly nature and her amazing power as a healer worked perfectly for me.

So what about you? If you haven’t experienced reiki, why not give it a try? If you can find a reiki practitioner you click with, you might be inspired and surprised by all this practice has to offer. And if you’ve already discovered the practice, I’d love to hear about your reiki experience!

Essential Oils for Vertigo, Dizziness, and Nausea

When it’s Time for Yoga but You’re Feeling Dizzy…

Every now and then, I experience a bit of vertigo. If you’ve ever had this experience, you know it is not fun! Recently, I was feeling a bit queasy an hour before yoga class. I didn’t want to skip class, but I couldn’t imagine how I’d get through it either. Still, I went, figuring I could always spend the hour in the back of the room in savasana.

A few minutes into the drive to class, I had second thoughts and feared I was going to get into an accident. I was feeling like I’d just gotten off a roller coaster.

But I was halfway there, so I kept going, and, thankfully arrived safely. When my teacher got there a short while later, I was sitting outside the studio with my head in my hands thinking about a bottle of peppermint essential oil I knew was on a shelf inside! A few drops might help steady me, I thought. I often use peppermint oil when I have a headache or when I feel that “roller coaster” feeling.

I told my dear teacher what was happening, and it turns out, she had something even better to offer. She reached into her bag, and pulled out an essential oil blend by doTerra called  AromaTouch. I rubbed a few drops in my hands and inhaled the aroma.

To my surprise, I felt better almost immediately! Odd, I thought, since I this blend is typically used as a massage oil.

Armed with the peppermint and AromaTouch blend, I placed my mat at the back of the room (just in case) and managed to get through the entire class feeling pretty good (and glad I’d showed up when I could easily have gone back to bed).

Essential Oils for Vertigo

So what, I wondered, what was in this AromaTouch blend, and were any of the ingredients known to help with nausea or dizziness?

When I got home, I looked up the product and found the list of ingredients. AromaTouch Blend contains:

  • Cypress
  • Peppermint
  • Marjoram
  • Basil
  • Grapefruit
  • Lavender

I already knew that peppermint is effective in treating dizziness and nausea. And it turns out that more than one of the other ingredients is steadying as well. In fact, when I did some research, I found this list. :

  • Peppermint
  • Cypress
  • Basil
  • Lavender
  • Tangerine

No wonder this oil blend helped my dizziness! I don’t know why they don’t market it for that purpose, but maybe they should. According to doTerra, AromaTouch is good for relaxation and stress relief, and it also helps promote circulation. All good!

In any case, now I know which ingredients to turn to the next time I feel like I’ve just gotten off a roller coaster. If you have similar symptoms, you may want to try these oils as well. If you do try them (or if you already have), let me know how they work for you!

Good Food, Bad Food; Eat This, Not That

I recently had a conversation with a man—I’ll call him Kenny—who insisted that “all foods are good.” In fact, he went beyond that to suggest “all foods are healthy.” The conversation went something like this:

Kenny: All foods are healthy.

Me: No they’re not.

Kenny: Yes they are.

Me: No they’re not

Kenny: Yes they are.

Okay, we both made some other points, and in the end we agreed more than we disagreed, but the one issue I do take with Kenny is the idea that all foods are healthy (or “good” if you want to use that word instead).

There is No Perfect Diet

Kenny is a man on a mission to dispel the idea that there is a single diet that anyone must follow in order to be healthy. I agree. But Kenny also believes that:

  • There is no such thing as a superfood.
  • GMOs pose no health risk to people.
  • If you are trying to lose weight or get healthier, you should not cut any specific food or group of foods from your diet.
  • No food has the ability to boost brain power, improve immunity, or do anything else in particular.
  • Organic foods are not better than conventional foods.
  • Additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients are fine.

Well, Kenny. Where do I begin? I don’t disagree with all of this, but some of it is just sloppy thinking. I’ll elaborate by responding to this statement (from Kenny): “All foods are healthy; that’s why they’re called food.”

Okay, maybe Kenny and I have a different definition of food. For starters, pesticides, artificial ingredients, and the like are not substances that belong in food, so when they are added to anything intended for human consumption, I do my best to avoid that thing. Sure it’s not always possible, but it’s worth my attention.

And while it may be true that no specific food boosts brain power or improves immunity, it is certainly true that certain nutrients do. And where do we get these nutrients? Well, from certain foods, of course (but not all foods).

All Foods Are Not Healthy

So, like I said, Kenny and I went back and forth on this until it dawned on me that I didn’t really have an issue with what he was trying to say; I just had an issue with what he was actually saying (that all foods are healthy).

That part of the conversation went something like this:

Me: Diet cola is not healthy.

Kenny: Yes it is.

Me: No it’s not.

Kenny: Yes it is.

Me: No it’s not.

And then I realized I was trying to say it is not healthy, while Kenny was trying to say it is not unhealthy.

What’s the difference? Kenny’s point was if I drink a can of diet soda once in a while but my overall diet is healthy, the diet soda won’t hurt me. My point was that the diet soda does not nourish me in any useful way, so it is not healthy. And this is just me, but because it is not healthy, I choose not to drink it. Ever. Because it’s not healthy.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some things I do consume even though they probably don’t contribute to my health in any meaningful way.

This not healthy versus unhealthy issue reminded me of a point I often try to make about people. There aren’t many people I dislike, as in I actively do not like them. But there are plenty of people I don’t like, as in I am not particularly drawn to them.

Get it? Okay, back to the food.

I asked Kenny if he thought it made no difference, given a list of 100 foods, which ones I choose to eat on a regular basis. Since I didn’t actually give him a list of foods, he told me he couldn’t answer the question.

So I told him I was going to choose, bacon, lollipops, hot dogs, and diet cola. And then the next day, since all foods are good and it doesn’t matter what I eat on any given day, I would choose those same foods again. And I would keep this up every day because all foods are healthy and it doesn’t matter what I eat.

No, that was not Kenny’s point! (And yes, I knew that.)

But my point was it is not true that all foods are healthy! To be healthy, they need to nourish my body. They need to provide me with some benefit that outweighs any deficit.

Kenny thought I was trying to say there is no single axis measure by which I can compare foods and decide if one is healthier than another.

Well, of course there’s not. I wasn’t looking for one. A banana has some health-promoting minerals. An egg is a good source of protein. Leafy greens are loaded with vitamins. I can’t say that one of those foods is healthier than the others.

But they are all healthier than diet cola!

Really, Kenny? You can’t give me this one?

When I asked Kenny what is “good” about diet cola, he said it was hydrating.


All Foods Can Be Part of a Healthy Diet

In fairness to Kenny, I have to say he did make some good points. They were just not points that had anything to do with the purpose of the conversation, which was to flesh out what people mean when they say, “All foods are good.”

Kenny and I both agree that all foods can be part of a healthy diet. As he said, “It’s much healthier to look at your diet as a whole than to fret about individual foods.”

But he also said, “Calling certain foods ‘unhealthy’ just indicates an unhealthy relationship with food. Any food can be part of a healthy diet. No exceptions. There are foods that should probably form a larger part of your diet, and foods that should form a smaller part, but all those foods are good.”

I decided not to repeat my whole thing about how saying something is unhealthy is not the same as saying it is not healthy. So we ended the conversation like this:

Kenny: You can’t compare apples to eggs.

Me: I’m not trying to. But I’ll pass on the diet cola.

Using Essential Oils as Herbal Remedies: What I Learned from ACHS

I’ve been interested in therapeutic uses of essential oils for a while, so I was happy to have the opportunity to sign up for a free webinar on the topic. Dorene Peterson, a trained naturopath from New Zealand and current president of the American College of Healthcare Sciences (ACHS), led the event.

I discovered ACHS  recently while searching for places to learn about essential oils. The school in Oregon and offers accredited training in herbal medicine, holistic nutrition, aromatherapy, and other wellness modalities.

The webinar was titled “Harnessing the Herbal Powers of Essential Oils.” At first, I wasn’t sure about the phrase “herbal powers” in relation to oils. I’ve always thought of herbs as stems and leaves of plants. But essential oils are also derived from plants, and they have therapeutic properties like other plant constituents.

The therapeutic herbal properties of essential oils

I was happy to learn there are many studies to back up claims about the therapeutic uses of essential oils. Of course, there’s also a lot of anecdotal evidence. I’ve personally experienced a number of therapeutic benefits from using essential oils; ylang ylang, lime, lemongrass, frankincense, and lavender are among my favorites.

Lavender, I was not surprised to learn, is the most popular essential oil by far. If you’ve used essential oils for any purpose, you’ve probably had some experience with lavender. I’ve used it as a sleep remedy, to de-stress, and even to help reduce swelling.

Peterson went on to discuss four of the most popular oils. In addition to lavender, we learned about peppermint, frankincense, and eucalyptus. Here’s a rundown on the uses of each:

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)

• reduces pain
• reduces anxiety
• improves sleep/reduces insomnia
• antimicrobial
• antibacterial
• antifungal

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

• anti-carcinogenic
• helps with nausea
• reduces mental fatigue (uplifting)
• antibacterial
• antifungal

Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)

• anti-inflammatory (great for arthritis and IBS, among other conditions)
• helps enhance memory

Eucalyptus (globulus & E. smithii)

• antimicrobial
• antibacterial
• enhances absorption and penetration of topical remedies

Choosing essential oils for their herbal properties

Peterson pointed out there are a lot of essential oils on the market, but for an oil to be therapeutically effective, it must meet certain quality standards.

Some oils have interesting labels like “therapeutic grade” and “all natural,” but, according to Peterson, these labels are mostly marketing tools. The terms themselves are not regulated. That doesn’t mean the products that use these labels are ineffective; it just means the labels themselves don’t distinguish one product from another in any meaningful way.

So, I asked, what should you look for when choosing an essential oil for therapeutic use? As it turns out, there’s no simple answer to that question. The only way to ensure the quality of an essential oil is to research the product and make a decision about its quality after gathering as much information as possible.

Here are some tips recommended by ACHS:

1. Find out if the oil was tested for purity (and what the results were).

Gas chromatography and mass spectrometry are the methods used to test essential oils for purity. While they are somewhat expensive tests, they provide essential (no pun intended) evidence that an oil is pure (or not).

You can contact a manufacturer or distributor and ask about gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Some companies provide this information on their website or as part of their marketing materials.

2. Look for the product’s Latin name and know what it means.

You don’t have to be fluent in Latin to know which oils are therapeutically useful, but it’s important to understand that many oils have more than one variety, and the one you choose may make a significant difference in the oil’s effectiveness.

For example, many lavender products are made with lavandin (Lavenula intermedia), which, according to ACHS, is not as effective as true lavender (Lavendula agustifolia).

When you read or hear about a study about an essential oil’s effectiveness in treating a certain condition, make sure you know which variety of the oil was used in the study.

3. Remember that most of the time, you get what you pay for.

We all love to save money, and it’s certainly possible to purchase good quality essential oils without emptying your wallet, but don’t expect to buy safe and effective products at bargain basement prices.

Remember quality oils must be tested; the process costs money. In addition, pure oils cost more than oils with additives and extenders. Spending a bit more for products that work can be a wise investment. In the long run, it will be a lot less expensive than prescription drugs and visits to a doctor.

The bottom line is that most inexpensive essential oils have little use beyond the pleasant fragrance they may provide, so if you’re interested in health benefits, you’ll probably need to invest a bit more money.

But before you choose the most expensive product on the market, do some research; compare prices and ask for recommendations from health care providers who have experience with these products, and perhaps be wary of any company that claims to have the only oils worth buying.

4. Find a supplier or practitioner you trust.

Once you find a supplier that meets the criteria for quality, you can return to that source for all your essential oil needs. Many companies have rewards programs or offer free products and other incentives to regular customers, which can be a benefit of having a go-to company.

Just be sure to choose a company based on the quality of its products, not the cleverness of its marketing campaign. If you’re not sure you can do this on your own, ask someone trained in aromatherapy or contact an aromatherapy school for recommendations.

Essential oils are a true gift of nature, and there are many ways to incorporate them into your healthy, happy life. They can be used to calm the mind, help you sleep, heal the body, sanitize your home, and even to improve the health of your pets!

But don’t take my word for it. First, spend some time learning for yourself. Find out as much as possible about the science behind essential oils from experienced people who know the facts so you can be sure you’re choosing products carefully and using them safely.

Are Your Supplements Safe and Effective? Practical Tips For Your Health and Your Wallet

When I first became interested in complementary and alternative medicine, the general belief was the Food and Drug Administration did not care much about supplements. It’s true that the government does little to regulate the use of dietary supplements. The reason for this is dietary supplements are classified as foods, not drugs.

I learned very little about supplements in my college classes when I studied nutrition a few decades ago, and I suppose there was a good reason for that. It was not until 1994 that Congress decided on a definition of dietary supplement with a law known as the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).

Dietary supplements are products that contain ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, and amino acids. They may also contain enzymes, organ tissue, glandulars, and metabolites. They come in tablets, softgels, liquids, and powders. You probably used one or more at some point.

Not Drugs or Foods

It’s important to note that DSHEA puts dietary supplements in a special category. They are not considered drugs, but they are not conventional foods either. They do fall under the umbrella of foods, but they must be specifically labeled as dietary supplements.

What’s new?

DSHEA also distinguishes between a “dietary ingredient” and a “new dietary ingredient.” This is important because the only time a manufacturer needs to inform the FDA about a new product is when the product contains a “new” dietary ingredient, that is, any ingredient that was not already being sold as a dietary supplement before October 15, 1994.

In other words, a company that makes vitamin C tablets does not need to get approval from the FDA before it makes this product. Since there’s no definitive list of “old” dietary supplements, it’s up to the manufacturer to determine whether an ingredient is new. (To use an extreme example, if you decided to market shredded paper as a dietary supplement, you’d have to clear it with the FDA first.)

Does the FDA regulate dietary supplements?

As long as there are no “new dietary ingredients” in a supplement, manufacturers do not need approval from the FDA to make and sell a product. However, firms do have to register with the FDA before they can legally manufacture and market dietary supplements.

For the most part, it’s up to the company that makes a supplement to do the necessary research to ensure that a product is safe and effective. Equally important is the responsibility of individual consumers to be aware of the ingredients in the products they are using and to learn as much as possible about the safety and efficacy of these ingredients.

Good practices

In 2007, the FDA published guidelines for companies to use when creating dietary supplements. According to the FDA website, “These regulations focus on practices that ensure the identity, purity, quality, strength and composition of dietary supplements.”

So if you want to know how reliable and safe a product is, find out if the company follows Current Good Manufacturing Practices (sometimes abbreviated CGMP or GMP) as dictated by the FDA.

How must supplements be labeled?

The FDA requires the following information to appear on all dietary supplement labels:

  • the name of the supplement, which must include a statement that it is a supplement
  • the name and address of the manufacturer, packer or  distributor
  • the net contents of the product
  • a “Supplement Facts” nutrition label that lists all ingredients in the product

All ingredients in the product must be listed either on the “Supplement Facts” panel or below the panel under the heading “other ingredients.”

Who ensures the safety of dietary supplements?

US law states that manufacturers are responsible for determining the safety of their products. Since supplement companies do not need approval from the FDA to sell most products, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you trust a particular brand and product. (Before you decide whether or not this is a good thing, consider that the FDA does approve prescription drugs, and some would say it’s not a stretch to say the drugs it approves are not always safe.)

So the bottom line is it’s up to you to find out what you’re taking, whether it’s safe, and whether it’s effective for the reason that you’re taking it. You should also be aware that while the FDA does not approve supplements, it can ban the sale of supplements shown to be unsafe.

Supplement manufacturers are required to submit reports of adverse side effects to the FDA, but it’s much more likely that health care providers and you, the consumer, will be the ones responsible for alerting the government when there is a problem with a product. You can do this by filing a report with FDA yourself.

How to choose supplements

Before you get the idea that I’m discouraging the use of supplements or that I think the FDA always has everyone’s interests in mind, let me say neither of these is necessarily the case.

I do think many supplements have tremendous value. And there are many more that are useless and a waste of money. Hopefully, there are not too many that are downright dangerous.

Supplements which have been on the market for a long time are probably safe (though this doesn’t mean they’re effective). Newer supplements may not have been around long enough to determine whether or not they’re safe. However, even if you’re buying something as common as calcium, it’s still a good idea to do some research and choose wisely. The FDA does have some commonsense tips on this:

  • Consider your overall diet before deciding that you need a supplement.
  • Talk to your doctor and get his or her input on the need, safety and efficacy of a supplement you want to use.
  • Find out if the supplement you are considering has any interactions with any prescription or over-the-counter medications you are taking.
  • Carefully evaluate the source of information you find on the web or in other places, and look for actual research studies that support any claim that a supplement manufacturer makes.
  • Think twice before accepting a claim that sounds too good to be true.
  • Don’t assume that “natural” necessarily means “safe.”
  • Contact the manufacturer for more information about a product if you have any remaining doubts about using it.

It’s up to you

When it comes to dietary supplements and your health, it’s up to you to decide what’s good for you and what’s not. That can mean finding someone you trust who has done the necessary research for you or taking the time to do it yourself. In most cases, it will probably mean a combination of both.

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