Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Growing, Harvesting, and Using Herbs

Even when it’s cold and wintery outside and the growing season for gardens is long gone, you can always have fresh herbs to cook with year round by growing them yourself.

What are the benefits of growing herbs?

It’s easy to do, allows constant availability to herbs, and can cut grocery expenses.
The whole family can get involved. (Check out this post.)
Even when your garden is dormant, you can benefit from growing and using herbs.

How can herbs be used?

Herbs have a variety of uses, some include:

1. Add to soups, salads, and stews for additional flavor.
2. The aromatic qualities of herbs make them great for decorative purposes in the home (wreaths and topiaries, for instance) or to adorn a gift.
3. Make great additions to personal care products. Example: Lavender is very fragrant and is known for its soothing and relaxing qualities. It makes a nice addition to soaps, lotions, and bath products.

Where can herbs be grown?

Herbs can be grown both inside and outside. For those living in an area that experiences seasons, potted herbs can be brought indoors during the colder months.  Check the specific recommendations for any herb you are interested in growing. Some herbs need plenty of sunlight and good drainage, so you’ll need to pick an appropriate spot for them to grow based on their individual needs.

How do you harvest herbs?

In some cases, as with rosemary for instance, you simply snip as needed, remove the needles from the stems, chop finely and add to dishes. For aromatic purposes, bundle the stems together, tie the bunch, and hang.  Check out more ideas at this site.


Why grow your own herbs?

According to experts, half the nutritional value of plants is lost within 30 minutes of harvesting. When you grown your own herbs, you can reap the most nutritional value.

Where should you start?

Here are a few considerations for starting your own herb garden:

1. Consider thyme, an herb that offers antiseptic properties and is often used to treat respiratory ailments. It’s practically calorie-free and provides a great flavor boosts to a variety of dishes. Thyme is a great option for indoor growing, as the plant is attractive and stays small.

2. Chives, dill, and mint are all easy to care for and may be grown indoors or outside. These greens may be added to a variety of dishes for extra flavor.

3. Basil is another great choice for those growing their own herbs. Used in a variety of dishes, especially salads and Italian meals, basil helps to detox the liver and is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits. In fact, basil oil is often recommended for clear skin.

Where can you learn more?

Check out this site for valuable information on beginning herb gardeners, both indoor and outdoor herb gardens, and details on specific herbs. In addition, this source offers information, too.

Remember: whether you’re growing herbs from seeds, beginning with starter plants, or if your preference is growing indoors or outside, herbs are a great way to continue your love of gardening throughout the year.

Live Healthy. Live Smart
-FamilyWize

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Embracing the Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle

From arthritis and asthma to bronchitis and cancer, experts indicate many health conditions share a common factor -- inflammation. What do you need to know about inflammation and how can you keep your family healthy?

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection or injury. It’s necessary for your body to heal.

How does inflammation work?

When injury or illness occurs in your body, blood flow to the affected area increases and healing proteins and infection-fighting cells follow. This begins the healing process.

When is inflammation dangerous?

It’s chronic inflammation in the body, a condition that experts describe as an out-of-control immune system response, which signals a problem. Chronic inflammation stresses and injures your cells, causing damage and aging.

What health conditions are linked to inflammation?

Experts say many health conditions are linked to inflammation, including:
Cardiovascular disease
Cancer
Joint problems
Skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema

What foods are linked to inflammation?

Sugar: White sugar, in particular, causes a high spike in blood sugar levels in your body, triggering an inflammatory response.
Processed foods: White flour, for instance, is a processed food that can cause inflammation in your body.
Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs): Your body tries to protect against food it doesn’t recognize, such as GMOs, resulting in inflammation.
Dairy products, fried foods, processed and red meats.

Some suggestions for an anti-inflammatory diet:

Some foods that may guard against inflammation and calm inflammation already present in your body include:

Fresh fruits and vegetables: From bitter veggies such as radishes, kale, and spinach, to blueberries and red peppers, fresh fruits and vegetables are great defenders against inflammation.
Green tea: Green tea contains powerful antioxidants that help fight inflammation. Consume at least 2 cups per day for maximum benefits.
Mushrooms: If grown under UV light, mushrooms contain vitamin D, which plays a major role in immune system health.
Grain alternatives:  Amaranth, quinoa, millet, and wild rice are good choices.
Bitter herbs:  Ginger and horseradish are very good anti-inflammatories.

For more diet suggestions, visit this site.

Are there other lifestyle factors that can lead to inflammation?

1. Lack of sleep – Sleep is essential to controlling inflammatory hormones in your body.
2. Carrying excess weight – Extra pounds, especially around your waistline, can be a contributing factor to inflammation.
3. Lack of exercise – Exercise increases blood flow in your body, which decreases inflammation.
4. Excess stress - Stress hormones can cause an inflammatory response in your body.
5. Environmental factors - May affect the estrogen balance in your body.
6. Heavy meal overload -- An excess of mercury and lead in the body can contribute to inflammation.

How do anti-inflammatory medications factor in?

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, block pain and reduce fever.  NSAIDs are typically used for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or to ease the pain associated with an injury. They are taken by mouth and are available without a prescription.  Always check with your doctor or healthcare provider before taking any over-the-counter medication.

Steroids help reduce the signs and symptoms of conditions such as asthma, lupus, and more. Steroids may be taken by mouth, via an inhaler or spray, topically, or by injection. Your doctor or healthcare provider prescribes steroids. Remember to use your Familywize Discount Prescription Drug Card for maximum savings on medication.

By educating yourself regarding the options available for treating inflammation and embracing an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, you and your family can lead the best life possible.

Live Healthy. Live Smart
-FamilyWize

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Spirulina – Is It Good for You or Bad for You?

Some give high praise to spirulina, dubbing it a superfood. But how super is it really? While several studies show that spirulina has a wealth of health benefits, recent research warns of risks associated with consuming spirulina.

The benefits and popularity of this odd, super-green powder derived from watery depths are hard to ignore. Equally hard to ignore are the apparent risks implied by some studies and research. Given the controversy, spirulina certainly deserves a closer look at both the benefits and the risks.

What is spirulina?


Similar to blue-green algae, spirulina is found in lakes in the tropics and subtropics. But because of its popularity, spirulina is also cultivated in ponds in the US and many other countries.
Spirulina is about one-fourth phycocyanin by weight. Phycocyanin is a blue pigment that latches onto spirulina's membranes and is  believed to play a role in spirulina’s health benefits.

What are the health benefits of spirulina?


Proponents of spirulina praise it as a rich source of protein, minerals, vitamins, and carotenoids – the substance that gives many plants there bright color, such as watermelon and elderberries.  And scientific studies give credence to many of these claims.
Its nutritional content includes generous amounts of vitamin E, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, beta-carotene, and B complex vitamins. Some specific benefits linked to spirulina include:
  • Cell protection. Spiralina contains antioxidants, known for combating free radicals, strengthening the immune system, and promoting cell regeneration. Spirulina has 400 percent more antioxidant ability than blueberries. A 2008 study, Spirulina in Human Nutrition and Health, showed that spirulina can prevent organ damage caused by toxins.
  • Cancer and eye health. Because of the carotenoids that give spirulina it's rich green color, spirulina may help reduce the risk of some forms of cancer and eye disease.
  • Anti-inflammation.  Spirulina is packed with gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a natural anti-inflammatory agent, making it good for your joints, your heart, and for PMS symptoms management.
  • ADHD symptom reduction. Some research indicates that spirulina may have positive benefits for those who suffer from attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder when used in combination with other herbs.
  • Detoxification. Spirulina’s high chlorophyll content makes it an effective detoxifier, removing toxins from your system.  The chlorophyll binds to heavy metals and radioactive isotopes, which can help to protect organs for those going through radiation therapy (a method of treating thyroid cancer) or recovering from radiation exposure.
  • Eye Health.  Rich in vitamin A – about 10 times as much as in carrots – spirulina can benefit your vision.
There are naysayers….
There are a couple of question marks regarding the nutritional value of spirulina:
  • While there is no doubt that spirulina is a good source of protein – up to 70 percent protein by weight – the U.S. National Library of Medicine states that spirulina is only about as good as milk or meat for obtaining dietary protein per normal serving … but that you will pay around 30 times more per gram to get the same amount of protein in spirulina.
  • Though spirulina is often marketed as being a good source of vitamin B12, several studies (here, here, and here) refute this claim, saying that the form of vitamin B12 in spirulina is in active/not bioavailable for humans –  in other words, it's there, but your body cannot use it.

What are the health risks of spirulina?


Ironically, the fact that spirulina in the body binds to heavy metals and radioactive isotopes – a good thing – spirulina also binds in  nature to binds to heavy metals and radioactive isotopes. Effectively, it’s a natural toxins magnet.
Consequently, if the source of spirulina you use is from a body of water contaminated with radioactive exposure, your spirulina is likely also contaminated, as researchers have found in some spirulina supplements on the market. Reports indicate that some spirulina to to be contaminated with lead, mercury, and arsenic – a particular risk to infants.  Other risks:
  • Testing on spirulina supplements has has shown some to be contaminated with microcystins, which can produce gastrointestinal problems and, with prolonged exposure, even at a minimal levels, liver cancer.
  • It is believed that spirulina may interfere with certain immunosuppressant drugs.
  • Some scientists have connected cases of serious (albeit rare) of muscle disease to spirulina.
  • Samples of spirulina have contained liver toxins and neurotoxins.
  • Some researchers caution that those with phenylketonuria should not take spirulina.

Should I take spirulina?


It’s your call.  Most research shows minimal risks with spirulina supplementation, and plenty of health benefits. On the other hand, with the current lack of regulatory standards in the U.S, it is uncertain whether any spirulina and other blue-green algae supplements are free of contamination.
Given the potential risks associated with contaminated spirulina, you may conclude that the generous benefits of spirulina may not be worth the toxicity risks, unless you are fully confident in the source of your spirulina supplements.
If you want the benefits of spirulina with the risks, check out chlorella, which has many of the same health benefits as spirulina and yet with fewer risks.


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Teens, Texting and Distracted Driving -- A Dangerous Combination

The statistics are alarming. Distracted driving has become an issue that’s hit epidemic proportions.  As a parent, what can you do to keep your family, especially young drivers, safe while behind the wheel?

According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, here are some statistics regarding teens and distracted driving:

4 times more likely to have an accident or near miss when texting.
3 times more likely to crash when eating.
7-8 times more likely to have an incident while reaching for a phone.
8 times more likely to have a mishap when dialing a phone.

And there’s more alarming news. According to a recent study, drivers engage in other activity approximately 10 percent of the time while operating a motor vehicle.



Why is texting while driving such an issue for young drivers?

Distractions of any type – eating, adjusting the radio, windows and seats, and even loud conversation in the car – can result in accidents, especially with young drivers who have little experience behind the wheel.
Texting is particularly concerning because in a recent study, 77% of young adults claim they are very confident they can safely text while driving. That confidence in young drivers can be dangerous, even deadly.
Text messaging makes a crash up to 23x more likely.
Among drivers ages 18-20, between 11 and13 percent admitted sending or receiving texts at the time they crashed.

When should you speak with your kids about distracted driving?

It’s never too early to start speaking with your children about the dangers of distractions while driving. Teach kids of any age the importance of focusing and eliminating distractions while operating a motor vehicle.

How can you make an impact regarding the dangers of distracted driving?

Set a good example. Don’t engage in texting, talking on the phone, or any other distracting behavior while driving. Kids learn more by your actions than by what you tell them. Yet, close to 50 percent of young drivers have seen their parents talking on the phone while driving. Fifteen percent have witnessed parents engaged in texting while behind the wheel.
Share information. Driving while intexticated, a term coined by this organization, can be just as deadly as driving under the influence of alcohol. Discuss this issue with your children, especially those who are driving.
Take the pledge. As a family, agree to engage in safe driving. One way to do this is by taking the text-free driving pledge.

Where can you go for more information?

1. Visit sites such as www.fcc.gov for valuable information regarding the issue of distracted driving.
2. Since laws vary from state to state, become familiar with your state’s laws regarding cellphone use by checking out this site.
3. Check out options such as Drivecam and AT&T drive mode to see if they might be useful for your family.

Keeping your family safe and focused, even while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, can be an attainable and painless goal!  Drive safely.

Live Healthy. Live Smart
-FamilyWize

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Emu Oil: Is it Snake Oil or the Real Thing?

Emu oil is touted by many alternative health proponents as a virtual cure-all for external ailments. Of course, “snake oil” salesmen made bucu bucks in bygone days too, making extravagant claims. Now, however, we’ve got solid scientific research regarding the truth behind the emu oil claims. And the truth is … some of the claims are legitimate! … and many are not.

What is emu oil?


Let’s face it, would you buy a product labeled “emu fat”? Not likely. “Emu oil” sounds much more exotic but, in short, that’s all emu oil is – a rendering of the fat from the large flightless bird native to Australia, known as the emu.

When you buy emu oil on the market, it’s usually sold in a bottle, and marketed as a skin-penetrating ointment. Most of these products contain around 5 percent pure emu oil plus a few other ingredients,  which may include MSM (methyl sulfonyl methane), menthol, aloe vera, olive oil, or other oils.
Emu oil is also sold in a more pure form for taking by mouth, usually marketed as a cough syrup, as a way to improve your healthy cholesterol levels, or to promote weight loss.

What are the emu oil health benefits?


The health benefits of emu oil, according to its proponents, include treatment of rheumatism, arthritis, infections, eczema, prostate problems, Alzheimer’s, ulcers, cancer, gout, heart trouble, eliminating stretch marks, fingernail and toenail ailments, hair and skin dryness, windburn, burns from radiation therapy, hardening of the arteries, diabetes, gangrene, sunburn, rashes, hemorrhoids, poison ivy, insect bites, joint aches, muscle strains, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica, shin splints, ear aches, shingles, bedsores, hemorrhoids, diabetic nerve pain, and more.


Other sellers claim that emu oil works as an antibiotic, pain reliever, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory.  One seller even claimed that emu oil cures “sciatic nerve pain due to 'crushed vertebrae’.” The FDA recently cracked down on that one.

But is this bird fat all that phat? If all these claims were true, the high cost of emu oil might make it a bargain.  Which of these myriad claims hold up when examined by scientific methods? Let’s take a look.

Scientific research on emu oil benefits


Based on lab testing, the bulk of emu oil’s purported benefits cannot be substantiated. What the research shows fairly consistently however is that emu oil can be effective in the treatment of certain kinds of pain, burns, or inflammation. Example studies:
Trying to evaluate the emu oil health benefit claims on your own? Make sure the source provides links to the actual study results.  Many sites proclaiming proven results don’t do this, instead using language that claims that emu oil “is becoming widely used” … “has been praised for” … “has been heralded” … “has been proven to be” … “has been proven through many medical and research studies” – and all without links to verify, and not even providing details on who/when/where the “proof” is being proven. 

Emu oil health risks


For what it’s worth, applying emu oil externally seems quite harmless.  There are presently has no known negative side effects of emu oil, other than some patients experiencing a rash.

Should I buy emu oil?


If you’re thinking about buying emu oil, be prepared to shell out some bucks.  All products with emu oil listed as an ingredient will cost more than just about any other skin moisturizing products. One of the more pure emu oil products on the market (about 99 percent) sells for $12 for 2 ounces, another sells for $14, same amount, and yet another sells it’s 2 ounces for a whopping $18. 
Compare that 2 ounces to the smallest juice glass in your kitchen, which is probably 6 ounces, and you can see that your 12–to-18 dollars’ worth of emu oil won’t cover a whole lot of skin. But at least, thanks to the emu oil research, you’ll know that the emu oil you buy may have some anti-inflammatory properties.


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Potent Power of Garlic

It adds flavor to your meals and health benefits to your diet. Garlic has been used throughout history to protect individuals from the plague, prevent gangrene in soldiers, and as an antiseptic for infection.  What do you need to know about the potent plant known as garlic? Can it help keep you and your family healthy?

Garlic basics:

1. Known as the “stinking rose,” garlic is made up of a head or bulb.
2. Each section within that bulb is called a clove.
3. Approximately 10-20 cloves are in each bulb.
4. Plants grow up to 2 feet tall. Garlic can be grown at home; it’s also readily available at grocery stores.

What are the health benefits of garlic?

Throughout history garlic has been cited for everything from inhibiting tumors and decreasing the risk of certain cancers to helping individuals prevent colds and battle viruses. Here are a few of the conditions garlic is most often used to prevent and treat:

Heart disease. Check out this study for more information.
Colds.
Cancer.

Other uses include:

Mosquito repellent
Headache prevention
Gel to treat skin conditions such as ringworm and athlete’s foot

How does garlic help you stay healthy?

According to studies, garlic is most beneficial in its raw state. Some experts suggest crushing the garlic produces allicin, a natural, broad-spectrum antibiotic; others believe slicing a clove before consumption produces the most benefits. Other chemicals in garlic, including some sulfur-containing compounds, may help fight heart disease, prevent some cancers, and help keep your immune system functioning properly.

What vitamins and minerals does garlic contain?

Vitamin C
Vitamin B6
Manganese
Selenium
Calcium
Copper
Potassium
Phosphorus
IronB
Vitamin B1

What are some ideas for cooking with garlic?

Garlic can be added to salads, dressings, soups, marinara sauces, and pasta dishes.
Check out this recipe for garlic bread.

*Crushed or sliced raw garlic is preferred for maximum health benefits.  However, crushing or slicing garlic and allowing it to stand for 10 minutes before cooking it helps preserve more of the nutritional value.

Who should be cautious about taking garlic?

Individuals with ulcers or thyroid problems.
Those taking blood-thinning medications.

Always consult your doctor or healthcare provider before taking garlic in any form.

What are possible interactions?

Isoniazid (Nydrazid): Garlic may lower the effectiveness of this medication, which is used to treat tuberculosis (TB).
Birth control pills: Garlic may make this form of contraception less effective.
Blood-thinning medications. Medications such as Coumadin, Plavix, and aspirin are blood-thinning medications. Garlic may make these medications stronger, which could increase the risk of bleeding.
Medications for HIB/AIDS. Called protease inhibitors, garlic may lower the blood levels of these medications, making the drugs less effective.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Advil, Motrin, and Aleve, as well as prescription medications, may increase the risk of bleeding.

What about garlic supplements?

The reviews are mixed regarding the benefits of supplements over raw or cooked garlic, according to this study. However, most experts argue that aside from those who should be cautious about taking garlic, you can’t go wrong by adding some form of garlic to your diet.

Find unique ways to supplement your family’s diet with garlic, and reap the health benefits associated with the stinking rose. Do you have a special recipe or home remedy that utilizes garlic?  Feel free to share!

Live Healthy. Live Smart
-FamilyWize

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How can you achieve financial goals?

The start of a new year is a great time to set financial goals of any type.  Enlist the help of your family members, and make financial goal planning a family project.

When should you start financial goal setting?

It’s never too early to start planning for financial goals.  At the same time, if you’ve neglected to plan in the past, there’s no time like the present to start.

Why are setting financial goals important?

It sets importance on reaching a goal.
Demonstrates a good example for kids regarding money management.
Helps your family have an overall plan for large purchases and to achieve your dreams.


How do you get started setting financial goals?

Experts suggest the following steps:

1. Determine short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals.  According to this site,
Short-term goals can typically be achieved within 2 years. Example: A family vacation.
Mid-term goals might take 2-5 years to reach. Example: Buying a house.
Long-term goals can take as long as 5 or more years to reach. Example: Saving for your children’s college education.

2. Complete a worksheet to determine how to meet your specific goals.  This step helps you see how much you need to save and for how long in order to reach your goal.

3. Discuss with your family how you can achieve your goals.  Whether it’s ways to earn more or spend less, or a combination of both, enlisting the help of all family members is important.

Check out this previous post regarding money matters and kids for earning and saving ideas: http://blog.familywize.org/2014/05/money-matters-for-kids.html.

What are key elements of achieving financial goals?

Write it down. Committing a goal to paper helps you see the actual goal as well as ways to achieve it clearly.
Picture it. A photograph or illustration of an end goal – a specific vacation destination, a new car, or receiving a college diploma – helps your entire family visualize the goal, which makes it more realistic and attainable.
Enlist the help of your family.  Encourage kids to come up with their own ideas for saving or earning to help reach family goals.
Re-evaluate. Take time to reassess your goals, evaluate how much you’ve saved or earned.
Track progress. Whether you use a chalkboard or a computerized chart, have some way to keep your family informed of progress.

When setting financial goals, remember:

Be realistic. It will be frustrating for your entire family if you set a goal that’s unrealistic.
Be flexible. Unexpected expenses occur with the best plans.
Keep your eyes on the end goal.
Setbacks do occur.  Don’t let them discourage you.

Where can you learn more?

Check out sites such as www.financialplan.about.com and www.dummies.com/how-to for more information on setting and realizing financial goals.

In some cases, families choose to enlist the help of a financial planner to assist with their goal-planning needs. As is the case when you’re using the services of any professional, it’s always advisable to check credentials and references when considering a financial planner.

Live Healthy .Live Smart
-FamilyWize