Archive | February, 2012

Topics in Aromatherapy-Shea butter

28 Feb

Shea butter

Welcome to the next post in my blog series, Topic in Aromatherapy.  Each week I am focusing 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 oiltea tree oilsweet almond oillavender and ylang ylang.

This week, we are going to talk about shea butter.

What is shea butter?

Shea butter is a slightly yellowish or ivory-colored fat from the nut of the African shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) (source)

Shea butter is widely used where it is grown as a cooking oil, for soap, and in pharmacological and cosmetic products.

Shea butter can be unrefined or refined via chemicals or clay  (source).  Refined shea butter and is white and has had less of an odor

What health benefits does it have?

Shea butter has Vitamin E in it (source)

In fact, it was shown that the Vitamin E content of shea butter actually differs depending on where the tree was grown due to climate differences (source)

Shea butter also has oleic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, linolenic acid and arachdic acid, all fatty acids (source)

Shea butter has shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor promoting compounds. (source)
It has been used traditionally to relieve nasal inflammation and may rival conventional nasal drops (source)

How can you use shea butter?

Shea butter is quite hard at room temperature but will dissolve with body heat.  You can use it right from the container or melt it with some liquid oil (jojoba, sweet almond, etc) to make it smoother at room temperature.
I buy my shea butter from Amazon and it’s unrefined, from Africa.  
Do you use shea butter?  Do you use it plain or with additional oils?  What do you think of its smell?

What does Europe know that we don’t?

25 Feb

You may be surprised to know that several food items that are banned in the European Union (EU) are still allowed in the United States.

What are these items?

  • Genetically Modified Foods (GM)
  • Irradiated Foods
  • Antibiotics given to cattle
  • Food dyes
  • Pesticides
  • Chlorinated Chickens
  • Food Contact Chemicals

What is the EU’s stance on these items?

Genetically Modified Foods (GM)

  • Six E.U. member states — Austria, Hungary, France, Greece, Germany and Luxembourg — ban the cultivation of GM maize on their territories (source)
  • Europeans have had a food labeling law in place since the 1990s (source)

Irradiated Foods

  • Nearly no irradiated foods can be found in Europe due to strict regulations(source)

Antibiotics given to cattle

  • The EU banned the feeding of antibiotics and related drugs to livestock for growth promotion purposes in 2006 (source)

Food dyes

  • Several EU nations have  banned artificial dyes and require foods with any approved dyes to be clearly labeled  (source)


  • The EU has strict guidelines for pesticides and has passed a law that could result in bans on up to 10 percent of insecticides, 10 percent of herbicides, and 32 percent of fungicides (source)

You can read more about some of the dangers of pesticides here

Chlorinated Chickens (source)

  • The EU and Russia have outlawed the chlorination of chickens as an anti-microbial measure (source)

Food Contact Chemicals

  • Bottles containing BPA were outlawed as of June 2011 (mainly for political vs. scientific reasons) (source) 


What do you think about the differences between what’s outlawed here and in the EU?  Would you like to see any of these things outlawed in the US?

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and DHA

23 Feb

Last week we talked about how fish oils are a great source of Omega-3s and DHA.  In this post, we will explore the health benefits of Omega-3s and DHA as well as list additional food sources for this health promoting compounds!

What are Omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega−3 fatty acids can be found in marine and plant oils. They are polyunsaturated fatty acids and are called N-3 fatty acids due to the placement of their double bonds.

N-3 fatty acids are called “essential fatty acids” because our bodies need them for metabolism but cannot create them.  Our bodies do have the ability to form some long chain n-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA and ALA (3 of the most important ones for human health)

So when someone says Omega-3 fatty acids, they are actually referring to a large collection of different fatty acids that differ based on their length.


What are healthy sources of N-3 fatty acids?

  • Cold water fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines (as mentioned before, be careful to choose fish with low mercury levels or a supplement made from fish with low mercury levels)
  • Plant seeds such as flax (18% of its weight is actually ALA!) (flax seeds must be ground to properly digest them so try flax meal or grinding them yourself) and hemp (read all about hemp here!)
  • Hemp seeds

  • Eggs (especially those fed special diets-usually labeled on the carton)
  • Grass-fed (not grain fed) beef

  • Mammal brain and eyes (if that’s your thing!)
  • Algae (great if you are a vegan/vegetarian)

Why are they good for us?

N-3 fatty acids have numerous health benefits due to their ability to modulate inflammation.  Below is just a small sampling of the studies that have been done.  N-3 fatty acids have shown to:

  • Lower plasma triglycerides, resting heart rate, and blood pressure and might also improve heart function and lower inflammation.  National and international guidelines recommend the general population to consume at least 250 mg/day of long-chain n-3 PUFA or at least 2 servings/week of oily fish (source)
  • Help  recovery following traumatic brain injury and they may be beneficial before injury, as well (source)(source)
  • Reduce triglycerides (source)
  • Have some indication for helping bipolar depression (source)
  • Be essential for neurodevelopment and cognitive maintenance in older adulthood (source)
  • Be effective in the treatment of ADHD (source)
  • Help babies have a faster immune maturation  (source)
  • Reduce pain, number of tender joints, duration of morning stiffness in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients (source)


The US FDA  Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, has said that known or suspected risks of EPA and DHA consumed in excess of 3 grams per day may include the possibility of:

  • Increased incidence of bleeding
  • Hemorrhagic stroke
  • Oxidation of omega-3 fatty acids, forming biologically active oxidation products
  • Increased levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol or apoproteins associated with LDL cholesterol among diabetics and hyperlipidemics
  • Reduced glycemic control among diabetics (source)

What are Omega-6 fatty acids and what is the meaning of the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6?  Tune in next week to find out!


How do you get healthy fats into your diet?  Do you try to eat foods with them or do you take a supplement?

Topics in Aromatherapy-Ylang Ylang

21 Feb

Ylang Ylang

Welcome to the 5th post in my blog series, Topic in Aromatherapy.  Each week I am focusing 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 oiltea tree oilsweet almond oil and lavender.

What is ylang ylang?

Ylang ylang is the common name for Cananga odorata, a fast growing tree with flowers that can reach a height of 40m.  It is grown in temperate climates.

The fragrance of ylang-ylang is  due to the components benzyl acetate, linalool, p-cresyl methyl ether, and methyl benzoate.  It has been said to smell like  rubber and custard with hints of jasmine and neroli (source).

What are the health benefits of ylang ylang?

Ylang ylang essential oil have been shown to:

  • Be antifungal and cytotoxic(source)
  • Repel beetles (source)
  • Be part of a compound, Slim339, which was shown to be a potential therapy for obesity (source)
  • Produce relaxation after applied on the skin (source)
  • Be antifungal, anti-mycobacterial, antimalarial and be able to kill human malignant melanoma cells (all in vitro)
  • Reduce psychological stress responses and serum cortisol (stress hormone that causes the retention of belly fat) (combination of lavender, ylangylang, and bergamot)  (source)
  • Reduce the blood pressure of individuals with essential hypertension (combination of lavender, ylangylang, and bergamot)  (source)

It has been shown that ylang-Ylang oil does not pose a health risk to humans (source)

How is ylang ylang used in aromatherapy?

As ylang ylang has shown to induce relaxation, this would be a great essential oil to put onto a pillow before you sleep or to add to a face scrub used at night.  Small quantities could be gently massaged into the temple or added to massage oil, lotions, etc.  People in the tropics actually use it to protect their hair from salt water damage. (source)


Have you ever heard of ylang ylang?  What scents do you find to be most relaxing?

What is hemp?

18 Feb

What is hemp?

Cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa var. sativa is the variety grown for industrial use, while C. sativa subsp. indica  is primarily used for production of recreational and medicinal drugs.

The real difference between the two substrains is the amount of THC secreted by the plant.  The plant substrains grown for seeds and fiber only has THC below 0.3%, while cultivars of Cannabis grown for marijuana can contain anywhere from 2% to over 20% THC (source)

What is hemp used for?

Hemp is used for a variety of functions including:

  • to make cord and clothing
  • to make food (oil and seeds)
  • in mulch
  • in animal bedding and litter
  • as jewelry
  • to clean contaminants from water
  • to kill weeds by minimizing weed seeds in the soil-reduces necessary pesticides
  • as a fuel from its oils


How can you eat it?

Hemp seeds can be:

  • eaten raw
  • ground into a meal
  • sprouted
  • made into milk
  • made as tea
  • used in baking
  • made into protein powder

Health Benefits of Hemp

  • 44% of the seed by weight are healthy oils such as alpha-linolenic acid, omega-3 and omega-6
  • 33% of the seed by weight is protein
  • Hemp seeds are a source of complete protein (contain all essential amino acids)



Have you eaten anything with hemp in it?  If so, what?

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

16 Feb

Fish Oils

Today we’re going to take a little break from the blog series, Toxins in Water and we’re going to talk about fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids!

What is fish oil?

Fish oil is derived from the tissues of oily fish.  The oils typically contain omega-3, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (source)

What are the health benefits of fish oil?

Fish oil (mainly the omega-3s in it) have shown to help various aspects of mental and physical health.  EPA is linked to heart health and DHA may help brain function.  Omega-3s have been linked to improving numerous health conditions such as:  diseases related to inflammation such as heart attacks, strokes, cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, high cholesterol, diabetes, PMS,memory loss, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and insulin resistance, or rheumatoid arthritis may also benefit from the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil (source).

What are the best sources of fish oil?

You may be surprised to know that fish don’t produce omega-3 but accumulate them from the algae and fish they eat.  It makes sense then that fatty fish high up on the food chain have high levels of omega-3 fats but can contain high levels of mercury as well (source).  If you buy fish oil capsules, look for ones with 2 g of one that contains EPA and DHA.  Also, make sure the supplement has been tested to be free of heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and other toxins.  However, your best bet is to consume oily, cold-water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, mackerel, sardines (see below), herring and black cod  a few times per week (source)

Caution according to Dr. Weil:  Because they can affect blood clotting, avoid fish oil supplements if you’re taking any anticoagulant drugs such as Coumadin (warfarin), have had a hemorrhagic stroke, or are scheduled for surgery. People with allergies to fish should avoid fish-derived omega-3 capsules. Fish meat may contain mercury, so pregnant and breastfeeding women and children should take care to eat species of fish that are low on the food chain and relatively free of contaminants (source).
If you are a vegetarian:  flaxseeds can be a great source of healthy omega-3s!
Next week we are going to talk about the specific health benefits of omega-3s, EPA and DHA.



Do you eat cold-water fish?  Do you take a fish oil supplement?

Topics in Aromatherapy

14 Feb

Topics in Aromatherapy-Lavender

Welcome to the 4th post in my blog series, Topic in Aromatherapy.  Each week I am focusing 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 oiltea tree oil and sweet almond oil.

This week, we are going to talk about lavender.

What is lavender?

Lavenders (Lavandula) are a genus of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. (source)

What claims have been made about lavender?

A number of studies have reported that lavender essential oil may be beneficial in a variety of conditions, including:

  • insomnia
  • alopecia (hair loss)
  • anxiety
  • stress
  • post-operative pain
  • being antibacterial and antiviral
  • The German Standard license and European guidelines for medicinal tea preparation lists lavender for use in sleep disorders, lack of appetite, mild tranquilizer, and treatment of irritable stomach (source)

What studies have been done about lavender?

Most of the studies concerning lavender were not well carried out, too small or used a non-standard dosing of lavender

Some reputable studies have found:

  • The combination of lavender and imipramine was significantly more effective than imipramine alone in treating depression (source)
  • Animal models have found that Lavandula angustifolia can treat painful and inflammatory conditions (source)
  • Lavender extract can reverse learning deficits in rats with Alzheimer’s Disease (source)
  • Lavender oil is effective in reducing challenging behaviours in individuals with dementia (source)
  • Lavender has shown to decreased perception of stress in nurses (source)
  • Lavender was shown to reduce needed pain medication, improve sleep patterns and enhance perception of well-being in patients with rheumatoid arthritis  (source)
  • Lavender was found to be anti-fungal  (source) and anti-bacterial(source)

How it is used in aromatherapy?

Commercial preparations are made from dried flowers and essential oils of the lavender plant to be used in:

  • Aromatherapy oil
  • Bath gels
  • Extracts
  • Infusions
  • Lotions
  • Soaps
  • Teas
  • Tinctures
  • Whole, dried flowers


I recently made some lotion and a face scrub with dried lavender and they smell so lovely and are very relaxing.

Cooking with lavender

Lavender is also used in cooking:

  • Its flowers yield a nectar which is transformed by bees into honey.
  • Its flowers can be candied for cake decorations
  • It can be made into sugar
  • It may be blended with tea
  • It can be added to baked goods (source)


Some people may develop an allergic reaction to lavender (source)


Have you used lavender before?  What is your favorite way to use it?  Have you grown lavender?