Monday, August 25, 2014

USDA Organic vs. "Therapeutic-Grade" Essential Oils

Every once in a while I'll get an e-mail asking which brand of essential oils we use in our products and if they're "therapeutic-grade." Because we're a USDA certified organic manufacturer, we have to use (and choose to) use oils that are not just "therapeutic-grade" but USDA certified organic, which is actually a much higher standard.

A higher standard? Even than Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade? How can this be? 

Let me explain...

Now, before anyone gets upset: I'm not saying or implying that any brand is "bad" or "unpure" or unethical. The point of this article is to state that as a standard, USDA certification is a stronger set of regulations than "therapeutic-grade." "Therapeutic-grade" is not a published set of regulations that are independently inspected and verified. It's a standard created internally by a company and is basically whatever a company says it is. It's more of a trademark term than a certification.

I don't sell or tout any one particular brand of essential oils; there are many great options out there. BUT when you choose certified organic you can be sure that not only are you choosing the highest standard, but not contributing to the use of synthetic herbicides like roundup (which is becoming persistent in our environment and increases cancer risk) pesticides (like neonicotinoids that are killing bees).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

8 Detoxifying Foods

We talk a lot about chemicals to avoid and their side effects, but the bottom line is, at some point in our lives we've all been exposed to toxins. So, what can we do when we've already been exposed to toxins like aluminum compounds and phthalates? Today, here are eight foods that can help give your body a boost in eliminating harmful compounds.

Brazil Nuts

Are a rich source of selenium, known to help the body rid itself of mercury and other heavy metals.

photo credit: Márton Divényi via photopin cc


Have been found to protect the liver from certain toxins. Betalain, a compound in beets has been found to help reduce toxicity associated with gamma radiation.

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc


Has been found to boost metabolism and help the body flush out toxins.

photo credit: Scot Nelson via photopin cc


contain silymarin, an antioxidant that supports the liver in detoxification, and cynarin, an acid that helps the liver break down fats efficiently.

photo credit: spychic via photopin cc


Onions (especially raw) contain sulfur-containing amino acids that help support the liver in detoxification.

photo credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy via photopin cc


contains an enzyme that helps to chelate heavy metals from the system.

photo credit: Qfamily via photopin cc


contain pectin, a type of fiber that can help remove certain food preservatives as well as metals from the system.

photo credit: Leading Line Photography via photopin cc


contains a compound called allicin, which has been found to be a powerful detoxifier, removing levels of lead from the body.

photo credit: Pero Kvrzica via photopin cc


[For educational purposes only. If you have a serious toxicity, please visit a healthcare professional immediately.]

Friday, August 15, 2014

Can USDA Organic Be Trusted?

Over on the Facebook page of a (very) popular natural/organic food website, link to an article was posted with the title "USDA Clips Wings of Misleading Organic Marketers."

Comments ensued on the article wondering "Can we trust USDA Organic?"

The story: The Cornucopia Institue has been, for a couple years, working with the USDA National Organic Program, to get companies to not use the name "organic" in their name of their packaging unless the product contains enough organic content to bear the organic seal, not just those that are in the "made with organic" category (70% plus.) The USDA made an internal ruling to review these cases and be more strict about the use of the word "organic" in product names.

Just reading the title it sounds like there's a rampant problem with organic fraud. (It didn't help that the image the link pulled up was the organic seal.) Many people were questioning the validity of the USDA Organic seal, so, I wanted to take a moment to clear up a couple common misconceptions about organic.

Misconception: The USDA is in cahoots with corporations like Monsanto, thus USDA Organic can't be trusted.

The NOP (National Organic Program) is one very small office inside the USDA. It doesn't work with or answer to any other offices within the USDA. Because the regulations are set forth by the independent council of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the NOP doesn't answer to anyone else inside the USDA, just the NOSB. NOP regulations are very specific, so there is little room for misinterpretation, corruption, or influence. If a company breaks the rules, they're fined and/or stripped of their certification. Distrust of the (general offices of the) USDA to protect our food supply from GMOs and harmful pesticides would be the exact reason to choose organic.

Misconception: Oregon Tilth Organic, etc, is better than USDA Organic

Oregon Tilth, QAI, etc are all third-party certifiers under the National Organic Program. The USDA doesn't actually go out and inspect farms or organic processing facilities--that's the job of the third-party certifiers. Every USDA certified organic operation must have third-party certification. So, USDA organic and Oregon Tilth Organic are one and the same. Oregon Tilth answers to the USDA NOP. It's all the same set of regulations.

That said, always look for the third-party certifier to verify that the company is truly USDA Organic and not just using the seal. If there is a question and you suspect organic fraud, you can always look up a company in the NOP database:

The Bottom Line

In any industry there's fraud. However, most of the fraud within the organic community comes from overseas operations that are trying to export raw materials in to the US. They're usually caught before the ingredients enter the country. Of course, it always helps to buy your organic products from sources you trust, and companies that have demonstrated their dedication to organic standards. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

5 Benefits of Using a Certified Organic Deodorant

 1. Ingredients ON the label are what's actually IN the product.

So many times I've seen ingredients lists that don't fully disclose their ingredients. Some are inadvertent mistakes, sometimes companies don't know better. Sometimes they outright lie. But, organic certification is a way that you can ensure that an ingredients list on the product matches exactly what's IN the product, and it's been verified by a third-party certifying agency.

2. No GMOs!

GMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms...crops that have been genetically engineered to stand up to toxic herbicides like Round-up, or to produce more per acre. There are numerous problems with GMOs, one being that they encourage the overuse of toxic herbicides and pesticides. Another being that they have not been adequately studied for their health effects in humans. Some animal studies have found their long term use to be associated with liver and kidney failure, as well as cancer.  

3. No synthetic chemicals to interfere with the natural process of sweating. 

Sweating is a natural process of the body! It helps the body regulate temperature and even helps kill viruses and bacteria. The body uses the mechanism of sweat to remove buildup of toxins, such as by-products of protein metabolism that would otherwise have to pass through the kidneys. When you use an anti-perspirant, you're interfering with that natural process. 

4. No Metalloestrogens.

Many anti-perspirants and deodorants (like the crystal deodorant stones) contain aluminum compounds. Aluminum has been found to mimic and interfere with estrogen (a metal that interferes with estrogen is called a metalloestrogen.) Metalloestrogens are suspected of increasing breast cancer risk, among other risks. More about the dangers of aluminum here.

5. No synthetic fragrances or fillers.

Synthetic fragrances can be loaded with endocrine-disrupting phthalates that also interfere with hormones in the body. It may seem harmless on the label, but "fragrance" can be a chemical cocktail of thousands of chemicals, from phthalates to neurotoxins. There are also fillers and stabilizers in conventional deodorants, like steareth-20, a chemical created with the carcinogen ethylene oxide, traces of which, and its carcinogenic by-product 1,4-dioxane can remain in the product. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

pH and Skin

We all have heard commercials and seen ads with the term "pH balanced." It seems like it would be a good thing. We all want balance, right? But what does "pH balanced" it really mean?

First, a quick primer on pH. pH is a chemistry term that indicates the acidity or alkalinity of a substance on a scale of 0 to 14, roughly. 0 is the most acidic, 7 is neutral, and 14 is most alkaline. So, something like a lemon juice concentrate, with a pH of 2, is acidic. Soap, with a pH of 8 would be alkaline. Pure water is a neutral 7.

The natural pH of skin is around 5.6-- mildly acidic. Intricate mechanisms in the skin create what is known as the acid mantle. Lipids and other trace liquids within the skin create this mantle, the acidity of which helps to defend the skin and body from pathogens (bacteria, viruses, etc).

The marketing concept of "pH balanced" products started with detergent manufacturers. All true soaps are naturally alkaline. When the pH of a soap becomes acidic, it turns in to a mushy slime and no longer works as a soap.  Synthetic detergents, however, don't typically have this problem, so formulators are able to add acidifying agents to the formula to give it a mildly acidic pH that matches that of skin. So, marketers took this opportunity to tell you that because our skin is mildly acidic, our cleansers should be too. But, the truth is, just because something is "pH balanced" doesn't mean the product will necessarily be the best for your skin. For instance, cocamidopropyl betaine, a common "gentle cleanser" was named by the American Contact Dermatitis Society as 2004's "Skin Irritant of the Year" because it contains traces of a processing chemical called dimethylaminopropylamine that is highly irritating to skin. While a product with this ingredient may be "pH balanced" it can also cause some extreme reactions. Other potentially irritating ingredients in detergent-based "pH balanced" products are artificial colors, micas, "fragrance," and preservatives. "pH balanced" really is just a marketing term, and doesn't necessarily mean safety for your skin.

Because it is acidic, the most effective way to clean skin, along with excess oils, dirt and bacteria, is to use an alkaline substance--like a true natural soap. While it does remove the acid mantle temporarily, your most people's skin begins re-secreting the mantle immediately. This varies slightly person to person, and there are rare cases of this mechanism failing due to impaired skin function or illness. If you find that even the most mild soap is "drying" to your skin, it's likely a function of pH, and following up your soap use with a hydrosol (which are naturally mildly acidic) or diluted apple cider vinegar with re-acidify your skin and get rid of the tight or dry feeling. If you have troubles using soaps, you may also want to look at your water, as hardness can create soap scum that can irritate skin in some individuals.

Of course, not all soaps are created equal. I've used soaps that made my skin feel extremely tight afterwards, and others that are completely fine. And pH isn't necessarily related. You can have a soap with a pH of 9 that feels better on your skin than a soap with a pH of 7. It's about the concentration of the alkalinity (which is separate from the pH) and the amounts of free fatty acids in the formula, AND the presence or absence of other irritants (micas, fragrance, allergens, etc). Mildness doesn't necessarily correlate with pH.

Over the years, true soap (oils which have been saponified with an alkali like lye or potash) has gained a bad reputation. It brings to mind Grannie from the Beverly Hillbillies and her harsh "lye soap." But that was because in years past, we didn't have the technology we do today with saponification tables, digital scales, and a wide variety of wonderful oils. We now know exactly how much lye to add to which certain oils to make a bar or liquid that lathers and that's still gentle. Our soaps (both liquid and bars) go through the superfatting process, meaning that just a little extra oil is added so that we are sure there is no free alkali in the bar or liquid. Our facial cleansers have a special blend of oils that are additionally gentle with extra free fatty acids. Additionally, we add extra vegetable glycerin to keep the soap super gentle. And of course we don't use micas, synthetic fragrances, synthetic preservatives and other potential irritants.

Now, that's not to say that all detergents are bad, either. For instance the glucoside family of detergents (which we use in products that soap doesn't work, bubble baths and salt scrubs) contain no processing impurities and are also non-irritating to skin (I've used decyl glucoside at full strength on my skin with no issue.) pH adjustment can help, but it's all about overall formulation--percentages of surfactants used, humectants like glycerin, moisturizing oils and the presence (or absence) of common irritants.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Helpful Herbs: Green Tea

I can't start my day without my organic green tea. And it's a good thing because green tea is one of the best things you can drink! Let's take a look at some of the benefits:

Cancer Prevention
Green tea extract found to protect against oral cancers:

Bone-protective and breast cancer protective effects in animal studies:

Protection of liver cancer and damage in animal studies:

This study found green tea extracts to slow the growth of lung cancer cells:

Green tea may protect from breast cancer:

Healthy Weight
Green tea may help control blood glucose levels, helping to reduce weight gain:

Green tea may help prevent metabolic syndrome:

Healthy Skin
Green tea extract is being studied for its possible role in reversing oxidation of skin cells:

Brain Health
Green tea, along with a blend of vitamins and other natural substances, may help the symptoms of Alzheimer's:

Compounds found in green tea may have neuroprotective effects:

These are just a few of the
studies on green tea. So drink up!  Dr. Mercola advises that the best green tea:

  • Is Organic
  • Comes from Japan, not China because tea can absorb lead. Tea grown in China is likely to be exposed to more environmental pollution. 
  • Is loose-leaf
He also provides tips on brewing. From (source)

How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Loose-Leaf Tea

  • Bring water to a boil in a tea kettle (avoid using a non-stick pot, as this can release harmful chemicals when heated)
  • Preheat your teapot or cup to prevent the water from cooling too quickly when transferred. Simply add a small amount of boiling water to the pot or tea up that you’re going to steep the tea in. Ceramic and porcelain retain heat well. Then cover the pot or cup with a lid. Add a tea cozy if you have one, or drape with a towel. Let stand until warm, then pour out the water
  • Put the tea into an infuser, strainer, or add loose into the tea pot. Steeping without an infuser or strainer will produce a more flavorful tea. Start with one heaped teaspoon per cup of tea, or follow the instructions on the tea package. The robustness of the flavor can be tweaked by using more or less tea
  • Add boiling water. Use the correct amount for the amount of tea you added (i.e. for four teaspoons of tea, add four cups of water). The ideal water temperature varies based on the type of tea being steeped:
    • White or green teas (full leaf): Well below boiling (170-185°F or 76-85°C). Once the water has been brought to a boil, remove from heat and let the water cool for about 30 seconds for white tea and 60 seconds for green tea before pouring it over the leaves
    • Oolongs (full leaf): 185-210°F or 85-98°C
    • Black teas (full leaf) and Pu-erhs: Full rolling boil (212°F or 100°C)
  • Cover the pot with a cozy or towel and let steep. Follow steeping instructions on the package. If there are none, here are some general steeping guidelines. Taste frequently as you want it to be flavorful but not bitter:
    • Oolong teas: 4-7 minutes
    • Black teas: 3-5 minutes
    • Green teas: 2-3 minutes
  • Once the desired flavor has been achieved you need to remove the strainer or infuser. If you're using loose leaves, pour the tea through a strainer into your cup and any leftover into another vessel (cover with a cozy to retain the heat)
Of course green tea without any added sugar is best, and brewing at home will typically give you more antioxidants than bottled tea.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Do You Really Need a Multivitamin?

We've all been there before. You're living a stressful life and not eating as well as you could be. Perhaps you're feeling generally run down and could use a boost.  So, you might thing taking a multivitamin would be a good idea, just to cover your bases.

But taking a multivitamin may not be the answer. 

Recently I had some bloodwork done. One thing they checked were my hemoglobin (iron) levels. They came back showing that my blood was really rich in hemoglobin (iron.) To the point that it was slightly above normal. Had I been taking a multivitamin with iron, I could have pushed my iron levels to an unhealthy level and became seriously ill. 

They also took my vitamin D levels, which were on the low side of normal. To really get the benefit of D and raise my levels, my doctor wanted me to take 5000 IUs of vitamin D daily.  In a multivitamin you'll get maybe 400 IUs--not enough to raise your levels or really see any benefit from it. Most of us are D deficient and can benefit from at least 5000 IUs a day. Some people may not need that much. Others may need way more. Without testing, it's a shot in the dark when it comes to a dose, so it's always best to find out first what's going on with your levels before supplementing. (You can get tested at your doctor's office or try a test kit like this.)

Well, what about just eating whole, nutritious foods?

Eating whole, fresh, nutrient-dense foods is always a great idea and what we should all strive to do. But even with eating the best foods, there may be things that your body still needs. Especially when it comes to B vitamins. B12 is especially difficult to get from your diet because it's only present in a handful of foods (salmon, calf liver, grass fed beef, lamb, eggs).  The cards are stacked against me when it comes to B12 because not only do I not eat much of the food sources, I found out through my blood testing that I actually have a gene mutation that makes it difficult for my body to absorb and utilize B vitamins. (Called a MTHFR mutation) So, I have to take care to supplement with the active forms of B12 (methylcobalamin), and folic acid (l-methyl folate) (and niacin to help absorb their by-products once the body has broken them down.). Sometimes diet and even the whole food supplements just aren't enough and you need to get pure standardized forms of these vitamins. 

When it comes to supplementation, it's all very individual. It's about what your body actually needs. When you take a multi, no matter how "clean" it may be, you're putting yourself at risk for either getting too much of something or not enough of what you need. If you're experiencing sluggishness, brain fog, and general malaise, you may be deficient in one or more vitamins or nutrients and getting a blood test can help you figure out the missing pieces of your nutrition puzzle.  There may be instances where taking a multivitamin is a good idea, but it's really dependent on what your body needs.