Are Supplements Part of Healthy Eating?

Supplements are a big market, to the tune of approximately $37 billion a year. I was once a part of that industry. (Taking them, not making or selling them.)

After my brain injury, my blood test levels were quite low: My iron, vitamin D, vitamin B, and white blood count plummeted. Other levels were off as well, but it’s been so long, I can’t remember what they were.

In any case, my doctor put me on a bunch of supplements: Iron, Vitamin D, calcium (because I don’t eat dairy due to an allergy), fish oil (to help my brain), a multi-vitamin, and protein powder (I’m guessing this was also to help my brain). I also took Calm (magnesium supplement) occasionally to help during bad evenings when I wasn’t sure if I’d sleep, bee pollen (to help with my allergies), nutritional yeast (vitamin B), and acidophilus to help with my never-ending bout of stomach aches.

Over the course of time, I improved. My blood levels increased, except for my white blood count, which is always low. (We’ve come to the conclusion it’s probably due to environmental allergies.)

At the same time I was taking supplements, I began changing my diet. I started eating more whole foods and less processed. I also ate mainly organic, and lots and lots of fruits and vegetables. I juiced whenever I could, and made meat more of a side dish and less of a main course.

My health was looking up. As my brain and body improved, I got to wondering, are all these supplements necessary? Is it the supplements making me better, or is it the food?

I did some research. This is what I found:

*Supplements aren’t well-regulated. They don’t need preapproval by the FDA, and the companies that produce them don’t have to provide evidence that the supplement is safe. Read:
http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm047470.htm

*Since they aren’t a prescription, it’s easy to overdose. (Yes, you definitely can overdose on vitamins. It’s serious.) Check out:https://smartypantsvitamins.com/the-overdose-risks-of-vitamins-why-proper-dosage-matters/ and
http://www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/supplements-remedies/can-you-overdose-on-vitamin-and-mineral-supplements/

*The FDA can recall a product, but there are so many companies, it’s almost certain they can’t keep up. Really, anyone can put together a supplement and sell it. How scary is that? Check this out: http://www.consumerreports.org/vitamins-supplements/we-made-this-weight-loss-supplement/

*There can be additives in the product that may not be listed on the bottle, or might be written in such a way that you don’t know exactly what you’re getting. http://consumerhealthchoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Dangerous_Supplements.pdf

*23,000 people end up in the emergency room each year after taking a supplement. http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/23000-people-us-end-er-annually-because-supplements/

*Supplements can interfere with drugs, and even other supplements. https://www.drugs.com/slideshow/herb-drug-interactions-1069

After reading all this, I was sick. All that money spent on junk sitting in my gut that might actually be causing me more harm than good.

I decided it was time to drop the pill addiction, and rely on the one true drug we’d been given at the beginning of time: Real Food.

I upped my dosage on produce, cut out grains, juiced occasionally, and did everything I could to stay healthy. And you know what? It worked.

It’s been about two-and-a-half years, and I am supplement-free, and healthier than ever. Rarely do I get a cold, but when I do, it lasts a couple of days instead of the seven or ten like it does for most people. I have had a sinus infection, but even that went away quickly. And other than getting tired (which I should by the end of the day-I work hard), I am really, really healthy.

(Research has shown that people who take supplements are generally already concerned about health. They exercise, eat right, drink in moderation, don’t smoke, and rarely eat out.)

I can’t say for certain that the supplements didn’t contribute to my improvement, I can only say I don’t need them now. I have a new medicine cabinet, supplements supplied by nature.

My new medicine cabinet: Fruits, vegetables, daily greens (produce equals 10-12 per day, on bad days I get 8)- I do smoothies to ensure I get my daily needed allotment of produce; nuts; lentils and beans; fish; olive and coconut oils, along with avocado and walnut occasionally; organic, whole meats; no dairy; no grains; homemade fudge (recipe: equal amounts of honey, melted coconut oil, cocoa powder; stir; add extras like: walnuts, shredded coconut, cinnamon or sea salt; place in 8 x 12 pan and freeze; cut into 48 bars); other desserts are usually raw; baked products and processed foods are minimal.

I’m still allergic to dairy, but a recent bone scan assured me, and my doctor, that my bones were stronger than ever. Apparently there’s a lot of calcium to be found in greens. And there’s a lot to be said for walking and lifting weights.

I am not a medical professional, or in the nutritional field. I can only tell you what worked for me. While I think there is still a place for a few supplements, I think the overall strategy we were given at the beginning of time provides us with every vitamin and mineral we need.

I’m not saying never take a supplement, but please, before you do, know the facts. And always see your doctor.

Here’s to healthy living!

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Stress is a Pain in the Neck (And Sometimes in the Back)

To say I don’t handle stress well is putting it mildly. I used to thrive on stress, juggling children, activities, career, all the while balancing a calendar and house atop my head. I looked for stress the way Winnie the Pooh searches for honey. The more I had, the happier I was.

But brain injuries have a way of changing a person. I can no longer handle stress. I push it away, eliminating situations I know I can’t handle. Unfortunately, sometimes the old me tries to sneak back into my life, tries to fool me into thinking I can do anything. Kind of like it did the last few weeks.

Plans and Changes
It began with summer and fall plans my husband and I were making. Things weren’t falling into place as easily as we had imagined. We had to make changes to our calendar, and leave a few things in the air. Not a big deal, if that had been all there was.

My body is tired. My mind is worn. I do not hear.

My family, both close and extended, are experiencing many changes in their lives. They are all adults, and the changes are good, but I couldn’t help but be a little worried, because, after all, they are my family.

My back twinges, my neck begins to ache. I will not listen.

My husband has seen a lot of changes in his company lately, and his job has become a bit precarious. When your spouse is stressed, so are you.

My body cries, my muscles tighten. “Sit, relax,” it says to me. I refuse.

My husband and I have designated Memorial Day weekend as “Catch-Up Weekend,” a time to complete forgotten and abandoned chores. This year, we should have gone away, if only for day. Instead, we opted to paint the office. The only place we would go would be Home Depot.

We stripped the walls of pictures, emptied closets, removed furniture. We washed walls, taped bright blue strips around the trim, and painted. Halfway through, I felt it.

Stop! Tense muscles. Pain. I close my ears.

I barely made it through the first coat. But by then, my body had rebelled. It screamed things I had never heard, shooting pains from my lower and middle back into my stomach, making it difficult to eat or breathe. My only relief was bending over or lying down.

Stop and Listen
If only I had listened the first time. If only I had paid attention when my body told me to rest.

Back pain is, well, such a pain. Back pain costs employers 7.4 billion dollars a year in missed days of work (based on ages 40-65, per www.painmed.org), it will affect about 80 percent of adults at some point in their lives (per ninds.nih.gov) and is the number one reason Americans visit a doctor (per Johns Hopkins University study – www.disabled-world.com)

Back pain can truly ruin your day, or even your life. I knew I couldn’t live with this kind of pain for long, and I knew the exact reasons for why I felt this way.

The first thing I did was lay on a heating pad, rest, and enjoy a movie, letting my mind wander away from that sometimes stressful thing called life.
Then I did something else. I thought about what I was dwelling on –family, house, unsolved vacations. I thought how I had turned a simple life into something difficult. And then I knew what I needed to do. I needed to let it go.

Let it go
*Don’t try to do so much. Some things, like painting, can wait. Some things just aren’t that important.

*Don’t try to live other’s lives. If they are happy and okay, let it go.

*Accept situations. Do what you can to change it, but if you can’t change it, learn to live with it.

*Most importantly, don’t gather stress like it’s an honor to carry around.

Remedies
We all incur stress at some point in our lives. It’s the way life is. And sometimes, when we have stress, our body rebels. If this happens to you, here are a few simple remedies I found to be helpful:

1. Heating pad. (Follow directions, don’t leave on too long, or turn on too high of a heat.)

2. Mild yoga (This is not the time for head stands or balancing on one hand.)

3. Hot shower. Or better yet, a hot bath with Epsom salts.

4. Topricin. Use like Icy Hot. (I love Topricin. It doesn’t smell like Grandma’s muscle cream, isn’t greasy, and it works.)

5. Massage. (Light massage.) With oil.

6. Rest.

7. Relax. Breathe.

8. Remember, life is simple. We just make it difficult.

9. Mostly, learn to let it go.

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Turning Wine into Water, or Why I Gave Up Wine

I love a glass of dark red wine, hints of chocolate, the feel of the earth upon my tongue, the aroma of a forest in my glass. I love red wine so much, I invent descriptive phrases, like, “She is wild and untamed, a complicated spirit, both bold and shy. Her feet are adorned with leather, white roses decorate her hair.”

But this isn’t a post about my expressions for red wine. This is a post about health.

Red wine is said to contain health benefits (though I think that information was invented by the wine industry), lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancers. It can even eliminate an upset stomach. (The last one I can attest to.)

But every good thing has its downside, and wine is no different. Liver damage, disturbed sleep patterns, and weight gain are among the detrimental side effects of too much wine.

My husband and I have long enjoyed wine. For many months it was our beverage of choice with our evening meal, just a half-ounce or an ounce to keep cancer and heart risk at bay.

But apparently our budget didn’t love wine as much as we did. We found ourselves spending more than we wanted on this simple luxury. So we did what all good couples would do, we cut back.

Instead of drinking wine each evening, it became a weekend indulgence, and instead of sticking to my little half-ounce, I upped the amount, just a bit. My husband did the same. We ended up drinking the same amount, but in a shorter amount of time.

(Now, before you think we are a couple of lushes, or as Bing Crosby calls Fred Astaire (in the movie “Holiday Inn”), ‘fractured,’ keep in mind the amount we drank was still nothing compared to the amount doctors claim we can have (one glass for women per day, two for men, the typical glass containing five ounces). Still, it was too much for us. (Especially for a girl who passes out after an ounce or two).)

Like most everyone, our weekends had become our time to unwind, and wine was our weapon of choice, so when the holidays hit this last year, it was easy to carry our weekend unwinding into weekday celebrations. But by the end of the year, I began to notice something.

I wasn’t feeling well. Neither was my husband. Since we knew wine could help our stomachs, guess what we did? Yup, we drank more wine. (I never said we were quick learners.)

By early March, something snapped in both of us. I’m not sure of the key moment, but one day we looked at each other and said, “Enough.” And for the first time in years, we gave up wine. We turned our wine into water.

It wasn’t a magical moment. We didn’t turn into energy machines, and we certainly didn’t feel better. In fact, the first two weeks were pretty crappy. We were tired, restless at night, dreamt wild dreams, and our bodies went through some crazy cleanse.

I never thought of us as heavy drinkers, and by society’s standards, and according to doctors, we weren’t. Yet the constant stream of wine had begun to take a toll. It was when we let go of wine and drank more water that we began to see the impact.

I have always drank a lot of water. But I wonder if it was enough, considering how alcohol has a tendency to dehydrate our bodies, causing us to lose water quickly. And my husband has been borderline dehydrated many times he has had a physical. Crazy, considering we a world full of water.

Water is a necessary ingredient in our bodies, with many benefits. Here are a few:

BENEFITS OF WATER:

Hydration. Our bodies contain about 60% water. If we are sweating and eliminating water, our bodies expect to be replenished.

Calorie-Stopper. If we fill our bodies with the necessary amount of water, it’s hard to over-eat.

Natural Skin Moisturizer. What better way to moisturize your body than from the inside out.

Prepares Muscles for Working-Out. Muscles need not only food, but water.

 

We discovered the health benefits of water, something I knew all along, but didn’t realize how much I was stopping those benefits by drinking wine. It wasn’t only health benefits we discovered by giving up wine. It seems there were other benefits we would discover:

Time. Without shopping for wine, and making extra stops at the store on Friday night, we have more time.

Money. We spend less. By spending less, we have money to give to a worthy cause.

Sleep. We sleep better, overall. I can’t say we never have disrupted nights of sleep, but it is better than it used to be.

Health. My wine belly is gone, and my husband has lost weight. Both reasons to celebrate.

I still love a good glass of red wine. But now it will be a treat reserved for special occasions, which not only simplifies my life, but expands the budget. For now, I will enjoy a great glass of water.

If you have a hard time drinking water (I know many people who find water disgusting), here are a few things you can do.

  1. Add lemon, lime, or a squeeze of fresh orange.
  2. Add cucumber and celery.
  3. Add mint and a touch of honey.
  4. Add smashed berries.
  5. If you are having a really difficult time, try some sparkling water with the above ideas. It tastes like soda!

 

Have a simply happy, healthy day.

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Allergic to Life

Sometimes I feel like I am allergic to life. If you have allergies, you know what I mean. I’m pretty sure my first allergy arrived when I was a teenager. I sneezed constantly, was sick a lot, and suffered many headaches. But it wasn’t until my early twenties that a doctor would discover my allergy to dust.

Next was dairy, something that occurred after my second child was born. Cheese was hard to give up, but it was nothing compared to the allergies I would have to deal with later in my life.

 

*** Story:

It was spring. My husband and I wandered the aisles of a local garden store, enjoying the pink tulips and yellow daffodils that lined the tables. As my husband stopped to admire a few roses, I wandered to the clearance section at the back of the store.

On one of the shelves, I spotted a pretty metal can labeled “Soft Peach Room Spray.”

Sounds nice, I said to myself. I sprayed a light mist into the air and leaned forward to sniff the mellow scent. Then it hit. I dropped the can and ran to find my husband.

I grabbed his sleeve. “I can’t breathe,” I said.

“What?”

“I can’t get air.” By now, I was gasping. Everything in the room began to spin, my ears were ringing, my palms filled with sweat, and worst of all, my tongue was beginning to swell.

We ran to the car and my husband quickly drove me to the clinic. I was in a panic, and so was he. When we arrived, he found a nurse who immediately brought me to a room. I don’t remember much after that, except receiving a shot and an epi-pen before I was released. I do remember the first real breath that came back, and how I had never been so thankful for air.

***

It was a dramatic moment in my life, one I will never forget. It was also the first of many. It seems my brain injury triggered something in my body, which I guess can happen to brain injury victims. I developed many allergies after that, mostly foods, some of which I discovered on my own, some found during allergy testing.

Allergies are scary. Some are mere nuisances (like the sniffles and headaches I get from dust), or minor inconveniences (like tummy issues from dairy), but then there are those that are life-threatening (like the spray, and for me, cranberries).

It’s those life-threatening ones we worry about. But any type of allergy is a problem. Allergies wreak havoc on our systems. They make us tired and cranky. They cause joint pains, headaches, hives, breathing problems, sneezing, diarrhea, and a host of other problems. They wear on our immune systems and make us more susceptible to other illnesses.

If you have any type of allergy, you need to stay away from that allergen, because some, especially food and bee stings, can get worse over time.  Check out this article on WebMD.com

But some allergens, like dust and pollen, just can’t be avoided. If you suffer from these, stay tuned, I just may have a few things that will help you.

I swear my allergies to pollen and dust get worse every year, and this year, I was so listless and foggy brained some days, I felt pretty worthless, so I decided it was time to fight. I have tried everything you can imagine. And this is what I found.

*Himalayan Salt Lamp:  I have to be honest, this has something to do with negative ions, and for the life of me, I have no idea what that means. Many people swear that this lovely little lamp has improved their health. Honestly, I didn’t notice a difference. But I still keep one in our family room – it’s pretty, provides nice ambiance, and maybe somehow it is helping and I just haven’t noticed.

Moso Bags: Bamboo charcoal. It’s supposed to trap particles in the air. Again, not sure if they have helped, but I do like the looks of them. The only thing you need to know is that they need ‘recharging’ in the sun approximately once a month.

Air purifier: One of the best things I have done. We removed our purifier from our bedroom for a few months. I noticed a huge difference, especially when we brought it back. I know it is working because the filter gets filthy each month, and I breathe so much better with it. I would recommend this for anyone with allergies.

Humidifier: While I love the moisture in the air, the filters get disgusting, and molds gather inside quickly, which isn’t healthy for anyone.

Diffuser: Love, love, love this. This is what saves me at night. I gave up the humidifier for reasons stated above, and bought a diffuser on Amazon. Each night I fill it, add a few drops of Eucalyptus oil (peppermint also works well for allergies, but is a little strong for me), and turn that baby on. It’s amazing. I can breathe.

Vicks: Yup, the old-fashioned Vicks rub. I put it under my nose often. I am that geeky girl.

Vacuum: If you have dust or pollen allergies, you must vacuum often. Even better, go without carpet.

Shower: I am assuming you are already doing this. If not, well, we won’t get into that. In any case, I added an extra shower to my day. Every evening I take a shower and rinse off the pollen. Especially necessary after walking. I couldn’t believe the yellow pollen on my husband’s and my clothing one evening when we got back from our walk. As long as we are talking about showers, I need to mention my filtered shower-head (another item I don’t regret purchasing). It is amazing how much better my skin feels since I started using it. I know when it’s not working because I can smell the chlorine in the water, and my skin begins to itch. While we are talking about water…

Laundry: Wash your clothing when you’ve been outside. And wash your sheets weekly.

Scented candles, perfumes, etc.: Smell nice, but these things just make allergies worse.

Now to the good stuff – food. I truly believe food is medicine (unless you are allergic to it). I’ve seen the benefits of healthy food in many areas of my life. I still struggle with allergies, after all, I can’t cut down all the trees and plants in the area, and dust will always be floating in the air, but I have found a few food remedies to make my allergies a little more tolerable.

Ginger– Ginger is medicine. It fights tummy problems and infections. Its strong scent and taste clear the nasal passages. It’s great in tea or in an orange and carrot smoothie or juice.

Peppers- Admittedly, not my favorite. But if you can include some jalapenos or anaheims in your salsa, that capsicum just may fight off some sniffles.

Tea- I am addicted to tea. Great stress reliever, not only mentally, but physically as well. Tea has many benefits. I drink green or black in the morning, often with lavender or mint, and a concoction in the evening which includes nettle or Echinacea. Add honey or lemon.

Honey- Local honey if you can. Some claim local honey helps fight against local pollen. Honey is great in many things, but my favorite is in my homemade chocolate recipe, adapted from Sally Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions. (Recipe at end of article.)

Smoothies- I start each day with a mixture of banana, berries, coconut milk (or other non-dairy milk), hemp, flax, spinach, and make extra for a small one later.

Juice- I should say ‘juicing.’ Fresh juice is always the best. The versions at the store have been pasteurized, removing the enzymes. If you can make fresh juice, even occasionally, you will feel the benefits.

Water- Plenty of it. Filtered. Pure. Add lemon if you wish.

Food- Healthy foods, preferably organic. No junk food, because, as the old adage goes, “You are what you eat.”

The problem with allergies, especially dust and pollen, is that we can’t remove them from our lives. They are all around, every day. It is a daily fight to stay healthy. But isn’t life worth fighting for?

None of these remedies are perfect. Some will work wonders for you, some will not work at all. For me, I think it is a combination of everything that has prevented me from seeing a doctor this year. And that alone is worth the fight.

Happy allergy season! I hope this article helps you find a tiny bit of relief. If you have any other suggestions to share with fellow allergy sufferers, I would love to hear them.

And now for the promised chocolate recipe:

1 cup raw honey

1 cup raw organic cocoa

1 cup coconut oil, melted

Stir fast and really well (because the sooner you get done, the sooner you get to eat it). I love adding extras to this recipe, any combination of these things: Chocolate nibs, cinnamon, cayenne, sea salt, walnuts, macadamia nuts, and (my favorite) coconut.

Place in large baking pan (8×12, or whatever you have handy) lined with parchment paper.

Place in freezer. Note: This fudge needs to be kept frozen.

Enjoy! (Perfect served with a hot cup of tea.)

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