Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Natural Nurse Podcasts: Herbs and Natural Remedies

Stumbled upon the "Natural Nurse" podcasts while poking around the Natural Standard webinar page. Looks like a great cast; glancing through the guests, I noticed some big names in the herb and natural remedies field. I guess I know what I'll be listening to on my trip out to Oregon next week. :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

According to FDA, Ear Candling Unsafe and Unproven

On February 20, 2010, the FDA's Medwatch released a report that ear candling is unsafe, harmful, and should not be used. In ear candling, a cone of wax (such as beeswax) is placed in the ear and lit. Supposedly, the pressure difference caused by the heat draws earwax out of the ear and into the cone. In reality, the cones can deposit wax into the ear and cause serious injury. (We're talking surgical removal of cone wax and eardrum rupture.)

I did a review of the literature on Pubmed.gov. Of the seven articles I found, none had found evidence that ear candling is effective, including a trial in 1996 and a review of evidence in 2004. Years ago, I bought a pair of ear cones myself following the glowing recommendations of a shop owner. The science of the therapy seemed sound (the heat is supposed to create a sort of chimney effect in the cone), and the packaging was really persuasive, but I'm a chicken when it comes to fire and never liked the idea of balancing one in my ear. And what, I wondered, would happen if hot wax dripped into my ear?

I'm glad I never tried the things. Not all things "natural" or "alternative" are safe or effective. Seek expert advice, educate yourself, and use common sense. The world is full of people trying to make a quick buck -- yes, even people who sell "natural" products.

If you have suffered an injury from ear candles or any other therapy, consider reporting it to FDA's Medwatch program. It's voluntary, and you may be saving someone else from harm.

Interested in reading more about the harmful effects of ear candling? Check it out here and here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Interesting, But Mostly Useless, Trivia About the Natural Active Ingredients of Listerine and Gold Bond Powder

Listerine and Gold Bond Powder both have four naturally-derived ingredients in common. I discovered this recently while doing research on a chemical called thymol, which is an antibacterial component of the essential oil of thyme. Hey, who would have known that essential oils -- or at least their chemical components -- were hanging out in your commercial mouthwash?

The active ingredients of Listerine are eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, and thymol. These four plant-derived chemicals also show up in Gold Bond Powder, and -- for what it's worth -- I've noticed that both products share a very similar smell. (Try comparing the scent of original Listerine, which is the yellow Listerine, with Gold Bond Powder.)

Here's a quick summary of these ingredients:

  • Thymol is derived mainly from thyme essential oil. It is a proven antibacterial.
  • Eucalyptol is derived mainly from eucalyptus essential oil. Just scanning through recent research, I see that it's been shown to have broad-range antibacterial effects somewhat like thymol (but perhaps not quite as strong). It also appears to be a deodorant.
  • Methyl Salicylate is derived from essential oil of wintergreen. Not finding much research on this chemical. According to King's American Dispensatory (see the link for "wintergreen" just above), it is a stimulant, a taste-disguiser, and a local pain reliever. It's quite toxic to people, so I can only assume that it would kill bacteria, too.
  • Menthol should be a familiar compound. It's the active ingredient in cough drops. Menthol is actually derived from the essential oil of peppermint; it's what gives that herb its distinct smell and its cold, tingly bite. It is pain-relieving, cooling, and -- according to King's American Dispensatory -- most likely antibacterial.
Thymol, eucalyptol, and methyl salicylate are all quite irritating and toxic to humans. Make sure you don't swallow that Listerine. Interesting -- some of the compounds that are used as antiseptics in Listerine perform double duty in Gold Bond Powder: eucalyptol is also a deodorizer, and menthol and methyl salicylate are both stimulants and local pain relievers.

By my reckoning, you could probably use Listerine for other purposes besides cleaning your mouth. It was originally formulated as a surgical antiseptic, after all. Sore throat gargle? Disinfectant?

Of course, these ingredients, though all naturally-derived, are probably synthesized for use in commercial products, because it would take a lot of plant material to isolate each of them! So, are they technically natural ingredients, then?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Natural Frizzy Hair Product

About a year ago, I decided to gradually change out all of my commercial personal care products for natural ones. Soap was easiest. Fluoride-free toothpaste wasn't too hard to find. Natural shampoo and conditioner are a bit of a problem because they are so relatively expensive, but I manage and it's definitely worth it. I even found aluminum-free deodorants.

Problem was, where would I find a natural frizzy hair product? I couldn't imagine life without my antifrizz serum!

Previously, I'd bought a tin of Burt's Bees hand salve. It's a thick beeswax salve with a strong, pleasing herbal smell. I didn't find it too effective for my hands at the time (what I needed was a good natural lotion, which I've found!). So, the tin sat there for a time. It smelled too good to throw away.

One day, when I stepped out of the shower after washing my hair, a thought struck me, and I decided to act on it: I rubbed a little bit of the salve into my hands and smoothed it onto my hair. After combing it in with my fingers, I let my hair air dry (as always). I was a little worried about greasing my hair or making it stiff, but when it dried it was soft, manageable, natural feeling, and...most of all...there was no frizz!

Usually, if I didn't use antifrizz serum, I would be a puffball. A little dab of the salve smoothed it right out, though!

I've been exclusively using the salve for my hair for almost a year now, and it's working out just great. I don't miss the serum, and if I notice a little frizz after my usual treatment, I just comb in a little extra salve...and voila!

I found that any beeswax salve works good. I prefer the hand salve by Burt's Bees (only because I like the smell), but I've also successfully used homemade salves, too. After washing my hair, I just spread a dollop about the size of a dime into my hands and run my hands through my hair while it is still wet. I don't go too wild with it, because I know if the little bit I use isn't enough, I can always add more. I found that adding a little extra -- even when my hair is dry -- does the trick OK. Instant smooth, shiny hair!


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