Friday, November 20, 2009

the good ol' castor oil pack

Castor oil, which is made from the castor bean, has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Castor beans have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and in ancient Rome, the plant was commonly referred to as the Palma Christi (or "palm of Christ") because of its unique ability to heal whatever it came into contact with.
Today, we use the oil topically in what we call a "castor oil pack" originally introduced by Edgar Cayce in the early 1900's. The pack is generally applied over the liver and/or the majority of the abdomen, often heat is applied either through a heating pack or hot water bottle and left on for about 30 mins.
What does the pack do? Well, it stimulates the flow of your lymph, reduces inflammation, and stimulates blood flow to the application area, all of which aid in you're body's ability to eliminate waste via your liver and GI. It can also be applied topically to areas of inflammation/aches/pains and will significantly aid in the reduction of inflammation and increased healing. The pack is useful to do once a day, a few times a week to really help assist the bodies ability to eliminate efficiently, reduce inflammation, boost immune function, and calm the nervous system. It is a very calming treatment and great to do before bed. Topical castor oil is also a great remedy for babies with colic. A small amount of warm oil can be massaged into their bellies and left to soak in, having a soothing affect.
How does one go about doing a castor oil pack? Good question... first here is how not to do it:

and now, here is how to do it:

Supplies needed:
*cold pressed castor oil (can be found at your local pharmacy)
*flannel cloth (cotton or wool; 20"-40" x 24"-48")
*plastic wrap (optional)
*an old towel or two
*hot water bottle or heating pad
*two safety pins to hold towel in place (optional)
*glass storage container (9x9" pyrex dish or similar container)

1. Fold flannel to fit over abdomen and pour oil onto it until well moistened but not dripping wet
2. Lie down placing flannel directly on skin over treatment area (focus on the area shown in yellow, but don't feel limited to this area)
3. Next cover with plastic wrap and/or an old towel (the plastic is because the oil will stain fabric, but I just have a couple designated castor oil towels)
4. Place your heat source over the treatment area
5. Lay back and relax for 30-60 mins
6. When done, place flannel back in an airtight glass container and it can be reused over and over for a few months, reapplying oil to the flannel as needed
7. To get the oil off your skin after the treatment, hair conditioner works great... just apply and wipe clean or hop in the shower and wash off
(Repeat 1x daily as often as possible)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

skin deep... and then some

As the weather gets chillier, our cheeks get rosier and for most of us, our skin gets drier. How many times have you gone to get dressed in the winter and thought to yourself, "oh man, look at how dry these legs are... oh well no one will see them..."? Right? Well, you're not alone.

It's easy to dismiss our skin during these cold months because well we don't have to wear shorts or swim suits anymore. But, our skin does a lot for us all year 'round. For one, it is a primary form of detoxification and elimination. Our skin breathes, excretes and absorbs, making it important to take care of it just as you would any other organ in your body.
So, take some time for your skin... it'll thank you! Here are a few suggestions:

As our bodies become dehydrated, our skin cells lose their water content, which decreases the plumpness of the skin cells, diminishing our healthy glow and our overall health. We should all be drinking about half of our body weight in ounces daily. So, if you weigh 200 lbs that is 100 oz (roughly 10-12 cups of water daily) and so on. Keeping a water bottle with you and sipping throughout the day is an easy way to insure that you are well hydrated.

Okay so you brush your teeth, your hair, but your skin?! Yep. Not only does dry skin brushing help to remove impurities from the skin's surface and pores, but it also stimulates the lymphatic channels which are just under the skin's surface. All throughout our bodies, we have vessels carrying lymph, an important part of our immune system, but unlike blood vessels, there isn't much pressure within lymph vessels. So, it's good to stimulate lymph flow daily through contracting our muscles/exercising, alternating applications of hot and cold water in the shower, and dry skin brushing. Its easy to do and can just become a daily habit like brushing your teeth.
All you need is a brush with natural bristles (found next to the loofahs etc. in the bath and beauty section of most stores). Start at the feet and work your way up with small, light strokes towards your heart as the diagram to the left shows. It is important to do on dry skin, so taking a few minutes to do so before jumping into the shower everyday is a good idea and your body will love you for it!

One of my favorite things to do whenever I get a free morning is to make a facial (or body if you're adventurous) mask with whatever goodies I have on hand in my kitchen. I often use things like oatmeal, honey, green tea, yogurt, avocados, bananas, olive oil etc. to whip up a quick mask and then sit down and sip some tea for a half hour or so before washing it off. Here's a yummy moisturizing mask I've been wanting to try out... just try to resist licking your fingers after applying this one:
Chocolate facial mask
1/3 cup cocoa powder

3 tbsp. heavy cream
2 tsp. cottage cheese

¼ cup honey
3 tsp. oatmeal

Mix all ingredients together in a blender and smooth onto face. Relax for 10-15 minutes, then wash off with warm water.

Really. Everything we put on our skin absorbs into our system. Here are a couple of helpful sites suggesting what to buy (phthalate and paraben-free products) and what not to buy when it comes to skin care products.


There's a lot of buzz around the word "detox" and from the sound of it, you'd think that I'm implying that you have all this toxic gunk in you that needs to come out in one big flush. It is true that in this day and age, we are exposed to a lot more chemicals and toxins than ever before. But, when I say "supporting elimination" I am mainly referring to the waste that our own bodies produce daily, which we are constantly needing to eliminate.
We produce CO2 in our lungs that needs to be breathed out efficiently, urea in our urine needing ample water intake to flush out, and waste products in our bowels needing the help of proper bacteria to keep a healthy balance of flora inside our guts. So, if one or more of these pathways are stressed or not functioning properly, it can put stress on the elimination processes of our skin.

How can we support our organs of elimination?
*For our lungs: Deep breathing
*For our GI systems: Getting probiotics into our bodies daily, either through naturally fermented food/drink or supplementation
*For our kidneys: Drinking plenty of water
*For our livers: Castor oil packs

Pictures: girl with leaf, skin brushing, chocolate facial, deep breath,

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

wool socks for your woes...

Lions and tigers and SWINE FLU? Oh my!! Fortunately, we are past the peak of this year's swine flu outbreak, but will soon be in the midst of the seasonal flu and boosting the immune system is going to be extremely beneficial as we enter into the holiday season. There are many things we can do to boost our immunity, but one of my favorite ones is a simple at-home treatment called warming socks:

The warming socks treatment is recommended at the first sign of any upper respiratory congestion. It is helpful in sore throats, ear infections, headaches, migraines, upper respiratory infections, coughs, bronchitis, sinus infections, and/or maintaining overall wellness.

This treatment works best if repeated for at least three nights in a row, or as instructed by your physician. Warming socks are best done before going to bed, leaving them on while sleeping. It's an especially effective and easy treatment for children during nap time as well.


  • 1 pair white cotton socks
  • 1 pair thick wool socks
  • Towel
  • Warm foot bath or warm bath


  • Warm feet first in a bath by soaking feet in warm water for 5-10 minutes or taking a warm bath or shower.
  • Take a pair of cotton socks and get them wet with cold water. Wring the socks out thoroughly. You don't want them dripping wet. (ankle socks work well for this... there is no need to have the wet socks above your ankles)
  • Lie down. Place cold wet cotton socks on feet. Cover with thick dry wool socks. Cover up under your blankets to avoid getting chilled.
  • Keep the socks on overnight or as long as you can. The wet cotton socks will warm up quickly and be dry in the morning.

Effects of the Warming Socks Treatment:

This treatment works to reflexively increase the circulation and decrease congestion in the upper respiratory passages, head and throat. In addition to this, the treatment has a sedating action and many patients report that they sleep much better during the treatment. It's effective for pain relief and increases the healing response during acute illnesses.

sock picture via flickr


I wanted to share this little tidbit that I recently came across in the British Medical Journal (Feb 2009) from a study regarding breast cancer screening and whether or not it is as beneficial as we are led to believe. The study looked at 2000 women, screened regularly (via mammography) for 10 years. The findings were:

If 2000 women are screened regularly for 10 years, one will benefit from the screening, as she will avoid dying from breast cancer. At the same time, 10 healthy women will, as a consequence, become cancer patients and will be treated unnecessarily. These women will have either a part of their breast or the whole breast removed, and they will often receive radiotherapy and sometimes chemotherapy. Furthermore, about 200 healthy women will experience a false alarm. The psychological strain until one knows whether it was cancer, and even afterwards, can be severe...

How lucky do you feel I guess? I'm not trying to shed a negative light on the use of mammography... but it is helpful to know the facts ahead of time. If anyone is interested in reading more here is the article.

The important point I want to get across in bringing this up is really that getting screened for breast cancer via mammography is not preventative. It is just that... screening. It is a way to know sooner rather than later that the cancer is already there and growing. True prevention would be changing our lifestyles now... all you young women reading this take a moment to think about this please... research suggests that cancer takes 10+ years to develop before it can even be detected on a mammogram and/or felt on a self breast exam. I would argue that it takes even longer than that, but that's another post in itself :)

So, that means the best prevention is to take care of ourselves NOW. How? The easiest way is by establishing homeostasis/balance within our bodies...

1) Nurture your body's natural rhythms: go to bed (and wake up) at the same time each night/morning, sleep in total darkness to ensure the proper release of melatonin each night (VERY important), move your body regularly, and take time to breathe deeply and slowly.

2) Avoid exogenous hormones which stress the liver and can significantly increase your risk for cancers (especially breast): Buy organic, grass-fed, free-range meat, eggs and diary products whenever possible, consider hormone-free birth control options (copper IUD is a possible option)

3) Eat your fruits and veggies every day: broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower have a chemical component called indole-3-carbinol that directly combats breast cancer by converting the cancer-promoting form of estrogen into a more protective variety.

4) Getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in the diet: It is important to have a good ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Interestingly, the standard American diet is way too high in omega-6 fats so we often need to supplement with omega-3s via fish oil, ground flax seeds etc.

5) Getting your daily vit D: Get outside and be in the sun (sans sunscreen) and/or supplement with vit D. Getting adequate levels of vit D can significantly reduce your cancer risk!

6) Play. Studies suggest that being under stress may as much as double your breast cancer risk. So, take time to nurture yourself. Discover what makes your heart smile and do it... as often as possible!

painting above from here

Monday, November 16, 2009

what's all this "gluten-free" business about anyways?

Lately we are seeing more and more "gluten-free" labels in the grocery store and you may be asking yourself what the heck is gluten anyways and why would anyone want to be free from it? Good question...

What is gluten?
Gluten is the elastic protein in wheat, rye, barley and other grains. It is the reason why your bread is chewy... I like to think of it as the glue that holds your piece of bread together. So, the next question is, how can something that makes such deliciously doughy pizza be so bad for many of us??

How can something that tastes so good be so bad?
Well, first let me state that not all people are sensitive to gluten. For many of us, whole grains are extremely beneficial to our health and should comprise a substantial part of our diet. I emphasize whole grains because the enriched wheat that is in virtually all processed foods is not beneficial and in many ways is actually detrimental to our health, but that's a whole 'nother topic entirely. Unfortunately, research suggests that at least 15% of our population is sensitive to gluten.

So, what is it about gluten that makes it "bad" for some of us? Well, it all starts with our immune systems. Usually our immune systems are our friends and they protect us by making antibodies to foreign things, like bacteria and viruses. Sometimes, however, our bodies get confused and make antibodies to our own cells (autoimmune diseases) and/or foods that we eat (such as gluten). If the lining in our gut walls is not healthy and intact, as the grains break down into smaller and smaller pieces some may get out into our bloodstream before they are fully digested. This is confusing to our immune system and so we often form antibodies to the gluten proteins thinking it is something that needs to be attacked. This attack is what causes inflammation in our bodies every time we consume that gluten, often leading to symptoms such as headaches, joint aches, fatigue, GI distress, irritability and list goes on and on. In addition, this can weaken our immune system so that we tend to get sick more frequently.

What initially causes the inflammation (the "leakiness") of the gut in the first place?
Here are a few possibilities:
*Antibiotic use
*Imbalanced gut flora (not enough of the "good guys")
*Introduction of certain foods too early as a child
*Exogenous hormones
*GI infections (i.e. food poisoning, parasites etc.)
*Medications (corticosteroids, Advil etc.)
*High refined carbohydrate diet
and the list goes on....

What are some of the health effects of gluten intolerance?
Again this is a huge topic, but I'll highlight some of the main points:
1) Malabsorption: if our gut isn't healthy we can't absorb important vitamins and nutrients from our foods. This can ultimately lead to serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies resulting in anemia, muscle cramping/weakness, neurological symptoms, depression, fatigue, headaches etc.
2) GI symptoms: bloating, gas, cramping, alternating between diarrhea and constipation.
3) Neurological symptoms: this is often not discussed as much and many times are the only symptoms people experience; anywhere from numbness/tingling to headaches, depression, irritability and anxiety.
4) Autoimmune diseases: as I stated above, gluten sensitivity starts with our immune system. If we continue to eat the foods that our immune system sees as a foreign invader, then we are putting a lot of stress on our immune system, and eventually it may get further confused and start attacking our own cells, which could lead to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, MS, lupus etc.

Gluten-free - is it for me? Going "gluten-free" can be a daunting endeavor to say the least; however, it can be extremely rewarding and well worth the effort for most who give it a go. The easiest way to know if eating gluten-free is for you is to totally eliminate gluten containing grains and products from your diet for 3 weeks and then reintroduce it (a good amount of it) and see how you feel immediately after consuming it, an hour after, and even a day or two after. There are also blood tests etc. one can do to find out if gluten is a problem for them, but really are not necessary if you're willing to carefully and fully eliminate it from the diet and just listen to what your body is telling you.

What CAN I eat that is "gluten-free"?
Lots. So much that I will have to save it for another entry... to be continued. In the meantime check out a few of these sites for more info and some gluten-free options:

Trader Joe's has a link to a list of all their gluten-free foods
Living Without, an excellent magazine for those who are gluten-free
Bob's Redmill offers plenty of gluten-free grains
Pamela's has the best gluten-free flour for baking... love it!