Archive | January, 2012

Topics In Aromatherapy-Sweet Almond Oil

31 Jan

Topics in Aromatherapy-Sweet Almond Oil

Welcome to the 3rd post in my blog series, Topic in Aromatherapy.  Each week I will focus on an aspect of aromatherapy such as an essential oil or carrier oil and discuss their healing properties.  I also will discuss how to make some of your own natural products using essential oils.  So far, we have talked about jojoba oil and tea tree oil.

What is sweet almond oil from?

The fruit of the almond is not a true nut, but a drupe.  A drupe has an outer hull and a hard shell with the “nut” inside (source)

The fruit of Prunus dulcis (almond plant) are mainly sweet but a few bitter almonds can be on each tree (source).  The bitter almond is shorter and broader than the sweet almond and has 50% of the fixed oil found in sweet almonds(source).

Sweet almonds are about 49% oils.  62% is monounsaturated oleic acid (an omega-9 fatty acid), 24% is linoleic acid (a polyunsaturated omega-6 essential fatty acid), and 6% is palmitic acid (a saturated fatty acid) (source)

Bitter almonds may yield from 4–9 mg of hydrogen cyanide per almond.(source)(source)

What health properties does sweet almond oil have?

Sweet almond oil has been been “shown” to:

  • Be an excellent emollient and moisturizer.
  • Be  similar in composition to the oil baby’s excrete to keep their skin and hair healthy.
  • Used to treat dry skin
  • Relieve  itchiness, soreness, rashes, dryness, irritation and burns.
  • Keep the proper balance of moisture in the skin
  • Be used  on the delicate skin under the eye to prevent “crow’s feet”.

What studies have been done on sweet almond oil?

Actually, none that I could find to support the above claims.  This may be due to the fact that sweet almond oil actually can’t perform these functions or because there is no funding to carry out these studies.

How is sweet almond oil used in aromatherpy?

Like jojoba oil, sweet almond oil is referred to as a carrier oil which is used to dilute essential oils and help the absorption of the solution into the skin.  Sweet almond oil can be used as part of massage oil, in lotionface scrubsshampoos and conditioners. Sweet almond  oil can also be used plain on the skin or hair for moisturizing.

I currently use sweet almond oil in my daily face scrub.  I mix

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 cup sweet almond oil
  • 1/2 tsp Vitamin E oil
  • essential oils (so far I have used lavendar/rosemsary/tea tree and lemon/orange/tea tree)

As this scrub is slightly oily, I follow it with a toner that I make with equal parts green tea/water and some essential oils.

Caution:  As some can be allergies to almonds, use this and all aromatherapy tools cautiously and only on a small part of your body to test your reaction (source)


Have you heard of sweet almond oil before?  How do you figure out of the health claim of a product is true?


Topics in Aroma Therapy-Tea Tree Oil

24 Jan

Healing Properties of Tea Tree Oil


Welcome to the 2nd post in my new blog series, Topic in Aromatherapy.  Each week I will focus on an aspect of aromatherapy such as an essential oil or carrier oil and discuss their healing properties.  I also will discuss how to make some of your own natural products using essential oils.  Last week we talked about jojoba oil.

What is tea tree oil?

Tea tree oil, or melaleuca oil, is a pale yellow colour to nearly colorless and clear essential oil (source) from leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia (see picture above), a plant native to Australia (source).

Over 98 compounds are contained in the oil (source)

What studies have ben done on tea tree oil?

Tea tree oil has shown to be:

  • antiviral against herpes simplex virus in culture (source)
  • able to kill head lice in vitro (source)
  • comparable to 5% benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of moderate common acne (although with a slower onset) (source)
  • antibacterial againist bacteria known to cause acne (source) and a wide range of other bacteria (source)
  • able to treat dandruff with a 5% solution (source)
  • antifungal (source) for a wide variety of fungi (source) (source)
  • antiprotzoal (source)
  • comparable to clotrimazole in effectiveness against onychomycosis (toe fungal infection) (source)
  • able to kill the yeast Candida in vitro (source)
  • more effective than commercial medications against the scabies mite in vitro (source)
  • anti-inflammatory(source)

This paper has a great summary of most of the studies I cited above

How can you use tea tree oil in aromatherapy?

There are endless uses for tea tree oil!  You can use it at 100% concentration (see warning below about a possible skin irritation) to treat the above mentioned diseases.  You can also add it to your shampoo, lotion, a vaporizer or even used it as part of a house cleaner (source)!

If you don’t want to use the tea tree oil at 100% you can add 2 tablespoons of tea tree oil to half a cup of the carrier oil (such as olive oil or jojoba oil).

Are there any risks to using tea tree oil?

Don’t use it orally!

According to the American Cancer Society

“Tea tree oil is toxic when swallowed. It has been reported to cause drowsiness, confusion, hallucinations, coma, unsteadiness, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach upset, blood cell abnormalities, and severe rashes. It should be kept away from pets and children.” (source)

Only 1 out of 725 patients experienced an allergic reaction when tea tree oil was applied to the skin at 1% dilution (source)


Have you used tea tree oil before?  If so, how have you used it?

What is BPA?

21 Jan

Toxins in Plastics


What is BPA and what is it in?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical  that is used mainly to produce polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins (source).  Over 6 billion pounds of it are produced annually and over 100 tons are released into the atmosphere by this production (source).

BPA can leach from polycarbonate baby bottles (source) and reusable water bottles (source).

Reusable food containers have also shown to have BPA residue (source).

BPA has also been found to leach from residues of cans into foods such as pet foods, vegetables, fish and  infant formula (source).

What studies have been done on BPA?

Early studies aimed to determine if BPA is even in humans’ bodies:

  • Since 1999, more than a dozen studies have measured free, unconjugated BPA concentrations in human serum at levels ranging from 0.2–20 ng/ml (source).
  • BPA in the serum of pregnant women, umbilical cord blood and fetal plasma (source) indicates that BPA crosses the maternal-fetal placental barrier.
  • BPA has also been measured in human urine from several populations around the world.
  • A recent CDC study of over 2500 Americans found BPA in 92.6% of the participants (source)!!!

Studies have also been done BPA to determine if BPA is toxic to humans.  The majority of these studies have been done in animal models.

  • BPA was shown to act like estrogen in mice and produce estrogen-senstive responses  (source)
  • There is some evidence that BPA can prevents the thyroid hormone from binding to its receptor (thus inhibiting the thyroid hormone) (source)
  • However, other studies have found that BPA does not have estrogen-like activity and does not inhibit thyroid binding  (source) (source)
  • The antiandrogenic (sex hormone)  properties of BPA are still in dispute (source)
  •  in utero (in the womb) exposure of animals to low dose BPA can induce alterations in estrogen-target organs of the fetuses that are observed later in life (source)( source).

What is the government doing about it?

The  Chapel Hill Consensus was formed in August 2007 to determine the risk of BPA to human health.  38 authors penned a statement:

“The published scientific literature … reveals that human exposure to BPA is within the range that is predicted to be biologically active in over 95% of people sampled. The wide range of adverse effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals exposed both during development and in adulthood is a great cause for concern with regard to the potential for similar adverse effects in humans … There is extensive evidence that outcomes may not become apparent until long after BPA exposure during development has occurred … These developmental effects are irreversible and can occur due to low-dose exposure during brief sensitive periods in development, even though no BPA may be detected when the damage or disease is expressed” (source).

In 2008, the National Toxicology Program Center For The Evaluation of Risks To Human Reproduction (CERHR) released its stance on BPA:

  • The NTP has some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.
  • The NTP has minimal concern for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier age for puberty for females in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.
  • The NTP has negligible concern that exposure of pregnant women to bisphenol A will result in fetal or neonatal mortality, birth defects, or reduced birth weight and growth in their offspring.
  • The NTP has negligible concern that exposure to bisphenol A will cause reproductive effects in non-occupationally exposed adults and minimal concern for workers exposed to higher levels in occupational settings (source)

The FDA up until 2008 did not consider BPA to be harmful to humans.  However, it was then leaked that a retired medical supply manufacturer (and thus a link to BPA usage), Charles Gelman, gave $5 million to the research center of Martin Philbert (the chair of the FDA panel about to rule on BPA’s safety) (source).

If you now go to the FDA’s website, you will find that they are:

At this interim stage, FDA shares the perspective of the National Toxicology Program that recent studies provide reason for some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.  FDA also recognizes substantial uncertainties with respect to the overall interpretation of these studies and their potential implications for human health effects of BPA exposure.  These uncertainties relate to issues such as the routes of exposure employed, the lack of consistency among some of the measured endpoints or results between studies, the relevance of some animal models to human health, differences in the metabolism (and detoxification) of and responses to BPA both at different ages and in different species, and limited or absent dose response information for some studies.

FDA is pursuing additional studies to address the uncertainties in the findings, seeking public input and input from other expert agencies, and supporting a shift to a more robust regulatory framework for oversight of BPA to be able to respond quickly, if necessary, to protect the public.

In addition, FDA is supporting reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA, including actions by industry and recommendations to consumers on food preparation.  At this time, FDA is not recommending that families change the use of infant formula or foods, as the benefit of a stable source of good nutrition outweighs the potential risk of BPA exposure.


How can I avoid it?

The first step to avoid BPA is to educate yourself about possible sources of BPA in your and your family’s life:  canned foods, old plastic bottles, etc.  Reduce the use of these materials, if possible.

According to the EWG, here are some sources of high BPA exposure (you can also read much more in-depth about BPA on EWG’s website)


How do you avoid BPA?  How do you feel about the fact that individuals with links to BPA can influence the ruling on whether BPA is safe or not?

Toxic Thursdays-Toxins in Water II

19 Jan

Toxins in the Water II


Welcome to the second week of toxins in water!  If you missed the first week, we talked about the types of contaminants that can be in water.

This week we are going to start to discuss the toxins that may be in our water.

The possible contaminants that were mentioned last week include:

  • Insecticides and herbicides
  • Petroleum hydrocarbons, including fuels
  • Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs)
  • Chemical compounds found in personal hygiene and cosmetic products (medicine)
  • Ammonia from food processing waste
  • Fertilizers containing nitrates and phosphates

This week we are going to start to talk about insecticides and pesticides.

Are these toxins really in my water?

To find out if these toxins are in your water, visit EWG’s site.

Why are these toxins in my water?


There are a few major routes through which insecticides and pesticides reach the water:

  • they may drift outside of the intended area when it is sprayed
  • they may percolate, or leach, through the soil
  • they may be carried to the water as runoff
  • they may be spilled (source)
  • they may be carried to water by eroding soil (source)

In streams sampled by NAWQA, at least one pesticide or degradate was detected more than 90 percent of the time in water, in more than 80 percent of fish samples, and in more than 50 percent of bed-sediment samples collected during 1992– 2001 (source)

What types of insecticides and pesticides are we talking about?


Rank Pesticide or Pesticide Class


< 6 years

Adults6-19 yrs. Total*
1 Organophosphates


3274 4002
2 Pyrethrins and pyrethroids** 1100 2850 3950
3 Pine oil disinfectants 1336 903 2246
4 Hypochlorite disinfectants


1291 2109
5 Insect repellents 1081 997 2086
6 Phenol disinfectants


405 1040
7 Carbamate insecticides


817 1030
8 Organochlorine insecticides


454 685
9 Phenoxy herbicides


387 453
10 Anticoagulant rodenticides


33 209
All Other Pesticides


3604 4623
Total all pesticides/disinfectants 7279 15,015 22,433

* Totals include a small number of cases with unknown age.

** Rough estimate: includes some veterinary products not classified by chemical type.

Source: American Association of Poison Control Centers, Toxic Exposure Surveillance


What’s next?

In the next few weeks, we will talk about the top inseticides and pesticides found in water and the toxic effects they can have.


Do you worry about things like inseticides and pesticides in your water?

Topics in Aromatherapy

17 Jan

New Blog Series…Topics in Aromatherapy

Hi and welcome to my first post in my new blog series, Topics in Aromatherapy!

If you have been following my blog, you know that Tuesdays are usually Antioxidant Tuesdays.   If you missed the Antioxidant Tuesday blog series, it was a series highlighting the foods with the highest amount of antioxidants amongst 100 common foods examined in this study.  We  talked about kidney beanspinto beansblueberriescranberriesartichokesblackberriesprunesstrawberries and red delicious apples.

Aromatherpy is

a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile plant materials, known as essential oils, and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering a person’s mind, mood, cognitive function or health


For my new blog series, I will focus on an aspect of aromatherapy each week such as an essential oil or carrier oil and discuss their healing properties.  I also will discuss how to make some of your own natural products using essential oils.

For the first post, I am going to talk about jojoba oil.


What is jojoba oil?

Jojoba (ho-HO-ba) (Simmodsia chinensis) is a woody shrub that grows in southern Arizona, southern California and northwestern Mexico.

Jojoba seeds in husk


Native Americans  have historically used the oil of this plant to treat sores and wounds.

The oil of the jojoba seed makes up 50% of its dry weight.

Jojoba oil is relatively shelf-stable versus other vegetable oils (such as grape seed and coconut oil) as it does not contain triglycerides (source)

Although jojoba is often listed as having anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant abilities, I was unable to find any reputable sources stating so.  If you are aware of any sources, please let me know!

What studies have been done about jojoba oil?

  • Jojoba oil was shown to elicit an antiinflammatory reaction both internally and externally in rats (source)
  • Glycerol and jojoba esters were shown to work together to enhance skin moisture in humans (source)
  • Jojoba oil was shown to  reduce blood cholesterol levels in rabbits by an unknown mechanism (source).  However, jojoba oil should NEVER be internalized by humans as adequate studies looking at its safety have not been done.

How is jojboa oil used in aromatherpy?

Jojoba oil is referred to as a carrier oil.  A carrier oil’s function is to dilute essential oils (which can burn the skin in a pure form) before use in aromatherapy.  Jojoba oil can be used as part of massage oil, in lotion, face scrubsshampoos and conditioners. Jojoba oil can also be used plain on the skin or hair for moisturizing.

Are there any risks?

The EPA has said:

Jojoba oil, when used in accordance with good agricultural practices is useful and poses no hazard to the public health (it can be used as a pesticide)

When jojoba oil was studied both internally and externally in animals:

  • No reactions were observed in marmots or guinea pigs.
  • Some rabbits exhibited skin irritation and diarrhea.

There are some cases of jojoba oil irritating human skin, so, with all substances you put on your skin, be careful, apply to a small area of skin first and be cognizant of irritation.

Jojoba oil should not be ingested as studies have not been done on internal consumption.



Do you make any of your own natural products?  Have you ever used jojoba oil?

Truth About Artificial Sweeteners

14 Jan

Artificial Sweeteners….Sweet or Poison?


What types of artificial sweeteners are currently available?

The five FDA-approved nonnutritive sweeteners are saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, and neotame. (source)

  • Saccharin-saccharin is allowed in most countries.  Countries, such as Canada, in which saccharin was previously banned, are reconsidering the ban  (source).   Saccharin got a bad reputation when, in the 1970s, it was shown that to cause bladder cancer in rodents.  It was then required that all food with sacchain must be labeled.  (source).  This requirement for labeling was removed in 2000 as it became clear that the rodents developed cancer due to  the high pH, high calcium phosphate, and high protein levels in their urine which is not found in humans (source) (source).  Saccharin is most recognized as Sweet ‘n Low (pink packets) (source).  It is much sweeter than sucrose, but has a bitter or metallic aftertaste which is common to most artifical sweetener (source).
  • Aspartame-is a an artificial sweetener which is approximately 200 times sweeter than sucrose(table sugar)(source).  Upon ingestion, aspartame breaks down into compounds which include aspartic acidphenylalaninemethanol (sourceformaldehyde (source) and formic acid.  Thus, aspartame must be avoided with the genetic condition phenylketonuria (PKU) (source).  Food products containing aspartame must be indicated that they contain a source of phenylalanine.  Aspartame comes closest to sugar’s taste profile among artificial sweeteners (source). It has been sold as NutraSweet and  AminoSweet (source).
  • Acesulfame potassium- is an artifical sweetener that is 180-200 times sweeter than sucrose, as sweet as aspartame, about half as sweet as saccharin, and one-quarter as sweet as sucralose.  Like most artificial sweetener, it has a slightly bitter aftertaste.  Unlike aspartame, acesulfame K is stable under heat,which allows it to be used in baking. It is marketed under the trade names Sunett and Sweet One (source)
  • Sucralose- is an artifical sweetner that is approximately 600 times as sweet as sucrose,twice as sweet as saccharin, and 3.3 times as sweet as aspartame.   Like, acesulfame potassium, it can be used in baking.  It is marketed as  Splenda, Sukrana, SucraPlus, Candys, Cukren and Nevella. (source).
  • Neotame- is an an artificial sweetener that is between 7,000 and 13,000 times sweeter than sucrose  with the common metallic aftertaste.  It is marketed as NutraSweet (source)

A no calorie, natural  sweetener option is stevia.

Stevia- a sweetner derived from the glycosides of the Stevia rebaudiana plant.  It was first isolated in the 1970s in Japan.  These gycosides can be 40-300 times sweeter than sucrose.  Stevia tends to have a slower onset and longer duration of taste than sugar although can be bitter (source).

Stevia Plant


Updated:  Rebiana is the trade name for a zero-calorie sweetener mainly made from rebaudioside A (Reb A) (a naturally produced glycoside). Truvia is the consumer brand for Rebiana (marketed by Cargill and developed jointly with The Coca-Cola Company). PureVia is PepsiCo’s brand of Reb A. Enliten is Corn Products International’s brand of Reb A sweetener.


Next week….

Next week we will examine what studies have been done recently on artifical sweeteners.


Do you use artifical sweetner?  Which do you prefer?  Do you worry about the health risks?

Toxic Thursdays-Toxins in Water

12 Jan

Toxins in the Water


If this is the first Toxic Thursday post you have read, check out the posts on shampoolotionsbody washmercury levels in fish and food preservatives.  Each Thursday, I highlight a potential source of toxins in our everyday lives, explain what health risks the potential toxins have been linked to and suggest healthier, safer alternatives.  For the next few weeks, we are going to talk about toxins in our water supply.  

Today we will talk about what toxins are in our waters.

What toxins may be in my water?

You can find out what toxins have been documented in your city’s water here.  For example, I live in Charleston, SC and I am supplied by the city’s main water system.  Contaminants in my water that have been over the health guidelines (and that’s another topic) have included total acetic acids, trihalomethanes, dibromochloromethane and lead.  Even though these were found to be over the health limit, they were still under the legal limit (a little scary).  Other contaminants have included: chloroform, trichloroacetic acid, nitrate and copper.

Some toxins that aren’t over the health limit in Charleston’s water but that have been detected in waters across the country:

  • Insecticides and herbicides
  • Petroleum hydrocarbons, including fuels
  • Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs)
  • Chemical compounds found in personal hygiene and cosmetic products (medicine)
  • Ammonia from food processing waste
  • Fertilizerscontaining nitrates and phosphates

Why are these toxins in my water?

I have broken down the toxins into categories and described why they may be in our water supplies.

  • Microorganism– human and animal waste or normal environmental microbes
  • Disinfectants by-products– bromite, chlorite, haloacetic acids and trihalomethanes
  • Disinfectants– chlormaines, chlorine and chlorine dioxide used to control microbe growth
  • Inorganic and organic contaminants-due to things such as herbicide run off and discharge from chemical factories
  • Radionucleotides– due to erosion of natural products

Still to come….

In the few weeks, we will talk about the potentially harmful effects of these toxins and ways to eliminate them from our drinking supply.


What toxins are in your city’s water?  Which toxins in water do you believe pose the greatest health risks?