Blood Suckers

Having a period sucks. I think that’s something pretty much everyone can agree on. The only reason we like it, is because it means we aren’t pregnant. Everything to do with it sucks. Cramps, blood, mood swings. To be honest, mine is pretty mild and it still sucks, so I can only imagine what some of you have to go through.

Even though I’ve been getting my period for almost ten years, I still feel like I’m never prepared for it. Perhaps that’s due to a lack of education or the fact that everything to do with the female body is taboo. I still feel like a preteen when I’m trying to figure out what tampons to buy, or googling how to get out blood stains.

But yea know, I wrote a 20 page paper on The Female Orgasm a couple months back so I figure I am brave enough to tackle periods. Also I need to educate myself and stop being so clueless.

One of the reasons I am doing this is because I keep hearing about how feminine hygiene products are bad for your body, and more obviously, the environment. It’s estimated that women use about 20 feminine hygiene products per period. If every women in the world is using 20 products every three weeks . . . that’s a lot of waste created and a lot of money spent that you’re literally throwing away.

In addition to this stuff filling up landfills, it’s filling our bodies with chemicals. Tampons are made using cotton and/or poly fibers that are usually farmed using harsh pesticides. The cotton is then bleached using chlorine. Then you stick these things into an incredibly absorbent part of the body, which soaks up all the chemicals. So now you have all these chemicals entering your body (some of them unknown because tampons are virtually unregulated, and do not have to disclose the ingredients used to make them) and we don’t even know what the effects of these chemicals will be. One can avoid most of these chemicals by using organic tampons, but they still create a lot of waste.

Something that is a totally new idea to me, is that the average pad contains the same amount of plastic as four plastic bags. Obviously this is creating a ton of waste, but it’s also exposing a rather sensitive part of your body to a ton of plastic and the chemicals in it. This can lead to yeast and bacteria growth or even organ damage.

The solution to all of these problems is the menstrual cup. There are a ton of different brands available, most notable is the Diva Cup. Menstrual cups are little cups inserted into the cervix that catch all the stuff flowing out. The cups are safe for your body and are reusable (they recommend to replace them about once a year), saving you cash and preventing a lot of waste from ending up in landfills.

I found the Diva Cup website (http://divacup.com/) to be super helpful because, like I said, I know nothing. However I didn’t choose to buy a Diva Cup. I looked at several reviews that basically all said that every brand is good. So I ordered a Blossom Cup off of Amazon, mostly because it was only $20 and I get free shipping.

I think I’ll feel pretty good about this thing once I figure it out. It will mean I’m saving money, putting less chemicals into my body and producing less garbage. Apparently it is also supposed to prevent any smell and leaks, so that’s a bonus.

There’s one more reason I think menstrual cups are so great. Millions of women around the world cannot afford feminine hygiene products. I think in some places, the government might cover the costs, but it’s a rarity. In many places when girls get their period, they are prevented from leaving their homes because they do not have these products. The menstrual cup is the perfect solution and would be a great item to donate to families in need. If you are interested, you can donate here: https://www.femmeinternational.org/donate/

http://divacup.com/sustainability/

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Summer Protection

Perhaps you spent your summer at the beach and having campfires. I bet you didn’t escape without a sun burn or bug bite. But luckily for us, sunscreen and bug-spray exist. However, like the majority of our manufactured products, most brands are full of chemicals that are dangerous to our bodies and the environment.

Sunscreen is one of those things that you grow up with. You get to the beach and before you can run off to play in the sand, your mom grabs you and smears sunscreen all over you. You knew it was going to happen but you hate it anyway and run away before she can get you completely covered and you end up with a little burnt patch of skin. After that, you (mostly) learn your lesson and wear sunscreen. You never really think about it, you just know that if you don’t want to get burned, you put it on.

But what we don’t grow up knowing, is that this shit is full of chemicals that are potentially harmful. In contrast, we are led to believe that sunscreen helps to prevent ones’ risk of skin cancer. There is however, no proof of this. In addition, it can actually increase the risk of skin cancer in some cases. Most sunscreens are chemical based and do not last as long or protect as good as mineral based products (http://www.care2.com/greenliving/the-dangers-of-sunscreen-new-report.html). Additionally, all these chemicals seep into our skin and linger in our bodies. When we enter bodies of water, these chemicals wash off of our skin and pollute the environment, and harm aquatic life.

Thank-goodness for all natural products! They are safe for our bodies and the environment. A prime example is Mexitan (https://mexitan.com/). Their sunscreen is natural and biodegradable which makes it safe for the environment. They also believe in the importance of maintaining the quality of their products. And of course they have many other products, including aftercare and bug repellent.

Bug spray is another product that we let sink into our skin that’s full of chemicals. For example, DEET is a bug repellent that is actually intended to kill insects and is harmful to rodents as well. DEET can be found in a variety of bug sprays. I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to spray a chemical on my skin that is capable of melting a fishing net, which is why I have decided to switch to natural bug repellent. Mexitan has multiple forms of bug repellent available in the form of spray and wipes available. Although I haven’t tried it, mixing certain essential oils is supposed to make a worthy bug repellent (https://wellnessmama.com/2565/homemade-bug-spray/). This will leave you smelling fresh, feeling good and not feeling the urge to wash all those chemicals off your skin. You don’t have to worry about putting it on your children, or accidentally getting it in your mouth.

Keep the chemicals out of your body and keep our planet clean!

Bee Pollen

About a year ago, I was at home (my parents’ house) for the weekend when my mom asked me if I knew anything about bee pollen. Besides the fact that it was made by bees, I didn’t. She gave me a small container of it and told me I should add it to my morning smoothies as a natural supplement of protein and vitamins. I did this a few times and then kind of forgot about it. There’s no flavour or notable difference to the smoothie and I didn’t know or care much about it at the time. It wasn’t until last week that I began to take interest in it again – thanks to my mom, who suggested I do some research on it.

The first site I came across was ‘WebMD’ (http://www.webmd.com/balance/bee-pollen-benefits-and-side-effects) which I honestly thought would be much more informative than it was. It claims to address the benefits and side effects of the human consumption of bee pollen. Even without any prior knowledge on the subject, the website seemed useless, uninformative and biased. It gives off the vibe that one should be careful when using a ‘natural’ product such as this, and consult a doctor. WebMD claims that it is dangerous to consume bee pollen for long periods of time and that it can stimulate allergies and other health problems. Clearly this website is geared towards medicalization, and claims that this product has no health benefits and could in fact be harmful… especially to pregnant or breastfeeding women. It gives no explanation for why it might be dangerous or cause health problems and makes no mention of the nutrients the pollen contains.

The next site I found was much better (http://www.mercola.com/article/diet/bee_pollen.htm) and has a highlight sections which outlines the articles main points. It explains that bee pollen is what bees make, collect and eat. It takes them an incredibly long time to make enough for humans to harvest. However it is considered a superfood, containing nearly all nutrients required by humans (proteins, free amino acids, and vitamins, including B-complex and folic acid). In addition, it claims that bee pollen has incredible health benefits such as increasing fertility, treating allergies (in opposition to WebMD), and stabilising metabolism. I would definitely recommend checking out this site and exploring the subject in more depth. I have also found additional sites that confirm these health benefits and propose additional ones (https://draxe.com/bee-pollen/ | http://www.beepollenhub.com/bee-pollen-benefits/ | http://www.secrets-of-longevity-in-humans.com/bee-pollen-benefits.html). Basically every site that a google search brings up confirms health benefits… except for WebMD which appears first, is the least informative and is quite obviously biased (and funded).

Now that I know a bit about it, I am definitely going to start putting bee pollen in my smoothies again (mainly for the protein benefits). Which means I need to find a place to get it. There are plenty of online stores from which it is available, but I am going to check my local health food store first (Goji Berry Health Foods in Westdale). I’m not certain about prices, but one site shows that a regular 1 pound bag of pollen is about $20. However, half a pound of organic pollen is also $20. It seems safe to assume that the price ranges by brand and quality. In addition, there are a ton of products made with bee pollen (such as soap) that are great for your body as well (which can be found here https://shop.bee-pollen-buzz.com/collections/bee-pollen).

**If you are going to purchase bee pollen, please make sure you are buying it from a cruelty free producer. WeSaveBees.org sells a large variety a bee related products including pollen and skin care products. This page – https://www.wesavebees.com/buying-bee-pollen/ – explains the importance of protecting the bees and harvesting the pollen in a safe way.

Lavandula officinalis

lavender.jpg

Lavender is an herb that has many different forms and uses. My interest in it, is as an essential oil. Lavender essential oil is commonly used in aromatherapy and is a known remedy for headaches and migraines (I am hopping this will work for me), as well as stress and muscle pain.

Many sources recommend that the oil be added to a bath or used with a compress on the forehead. Although I have not tried it yet, I am a little bit skeptical because I think the main source of my headaches is neck pain/stiffness. I will try different methods though, including a compress on the neck of the neck.

I picked up this little bottle from Goodness Me for about $15. There are cheaper and more expensive bottles based on the quality of the lavender (organic).

I will be testing this method over the next few days/weeks to see how it works in comparison to common chemical pain killers.

Killing Me Painfully

Over the counter pain killers are incredibly common and widely available. The most common of these are acetaminophen and ibuprofen, often under the label of Tylenol, Advil, etc. I have a collection of this stuff in my cupboard – ibuprofen gel caps, Tylenol extra strength and Alieve – and usually take it weekly, or sometimes daily due to chronic headaches and knee pain. But I saw something a few months ago that made me think twice about it – regularly taking these medications can lead to health problems.

Acetaminophen is the leading cause of liver failure in the United States and is found in allergy medication, cough and cold remedies, fever reducers, pain relievers, and sleep aids. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are taken too often and in doses that are too high which leads to heart and stomach conditions in addition to liver failure. A quick google search on the topic will reveal the extent of this problem.

Pharmaceutical companies provide the illusion that these medications are safe and the solution to our pain, but they are essentially chemicals and have the potential to harm our bodies. My goal for this summer is to limit the amount of these pain killers that I am taking and find natural, alternative methods to use instead.

Preservatives

Preservatives are something humans have been using to keep food fresh for a very long time. Beginning with natural methods such as smoking, salting or pickling, preservatives allowed us to store food and have reserves over winter or in other times where food sources were scarce. Now, preservatives are used to keep foods fresh during shipment and to prolong their shelf life.

I find it kind of weird to look at the expiry date on certain items I buy and see that the ‘best before’ date isn’t until 2019. I know that even if I leave a package of store bought cookies open, they might get a bit stale, but they won’t really go bad. And this makes me wonder what they are putting in these foods to make them last so long, and how is it affecting my body.

Of course there are regulations regarding what chemicals and how much can be in our food, but the government websites are not super user friendly if you don’t have prior understanding (links below if you want to check them out). And of course they insist that everything in our food is harmless at these levels.

Some chemical preservatives are more harmful than others. In fact, there are some in use in North America that European countries have banned because they are toxic. I am not going to list all the chemicals used because it will just be a bunch of words no one can pronounce, but if you are interested in what chemicals do what, check out the links below.

The most common health related issues caused by chemical preservatives are headaches, asthma and triggering allergies. But others can lead to the development of tumors, cancer or birth defects.

There are three primary ways that you can protect yourself from harmful chemical preservatives.

  1. Organic – organic food are free from preservatives. Or alternatively, look for a ‘preservative free’ label
  2. Fresh – fresh food is much less likely to contain preservatives. Especially those with less packaging and processing
  3. Natural – natural foods should be free of all chemicals, including pesticides, preservatives, dyes, additives and flavours

Generally, I try to avoid buying things that come in a package (a. to reduce the amount of plastic/garbage I create and b. to reduce the amount of chemicals I ingest in my food). When I do, I buy vegetarian/vegan, organic and natural products as much as possible. But of course, I usually end up with a package of cookies, some granola bars, bread, etc. In our society, it is difficult to avoid these things entirely, but I think it is important to try and limit these things (for our health and for our planet). And of course it is important to be aware of what you are buying/eating.

Resources

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/addit/list/11-preserv-conserv-eng.php

http://www.foodadditivesworld.com/articles/harmful-preservatives.html

http://livehealthy.chron.com/effects-food-preservatives-human-body-6876.html

http://www.foodadditivesworld.com/preservatives.html

http://greatist.com/health/are-preservatives-food-bad-my-health

Pesticides

Most of the food we consume goes through quite a long process to reach our plates. Fresh fruits and vegetables are no different. We usually make sure to wash our produce before we consume it, but is that enough? The Pesticide Action Network presents evidence and many types of pesticides being found on common foods such as apples and peaches. Some of these pesticides are linked to cancer.

They also note that some pesticides are “systemic, meaning they are taken up by roots and distributed throughout the plant — so no amount of washing will remove them.” Everyone will react to pesticides differently, but many of them take some time to be flushed out of the body and can accumulate over time. They also have the potential to harm children in the womb, causing neurological disorders.

“What’s on my Food” is a great site that allows you to search through food items to see what pesticides have been found on that food item, what ones are hormone disruptors, carcinogens, and development or reproductive toxins.

Health Canada maintains that Canadian produce is regulated and the levels of residue found are nothing to worry about and are not linked to any health issues. However, they fail to mention is that farmers and those living in rural areas are at a higher risk than others because of the proximity they maintain to arears where pesticides are used: they have more exposure. Studies have also found that children exposed to pesticides are much more likely to develop ADHD. This is not the only harm. Despite the fact that the Canadian and American government’s state that organic food is no better and pesticide residue is harmless, there are many arguments that it can lead to headaches, nausea, skin conditions, eye irritation and cancer.

The use of pesticides is not only harming those of us who consume them, but also the environment. Obviously pesticides are meant to eliminate ‘pests,’ but they do their job too well, harming species that are not their targets, and polluting the air and water. They also damage the land they are intended to protect by killing worms, insects and organisms in the soil.

One way to protect ourselves against pesticides and prevent more harm to the environment is to start buying locally grown, organic food. There are plenty of studies that argue organic food is healthier than non-organic food, in addition to being pesticide free. Many people believe that organic food is too expensive to buy. It usually is slightly more expensive, but it’s not outrageous (I can afford it as a broke university student, so I believe in you). I would also argue that it is worth spending a dollar more if it means reducing the amount of chemicals you’re ingesting, but that is just a personal choice.

Resources

https://www.panna.org/food-farming-derailed/food-field-fork

http://www.panna.org/sites/default/files/Final_Paper-1.pdf

http://hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pubs/pest/_fact-fiche/pesticide-food-alim/index-eng.php

https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/food-and-pesticides

http://www.toxicsaction.org/problems-and-solutions/pesticides

https://www.organicfacts.net/organic-products/organic-food/health-benefits-of-organic-food.html

Toxic Living

The use of synthetic chemicals has become a part of our everyday life. Our household products are full of chemicals, many of which are carcinogens and linked to cancer. We often associate these products with being clean and although they may help remove dirt, they leave harmful chemicals behind.

Although products containing harmful chemicals are labeled, these are often only on the most dangerous. Other products have not been fully tested and labels do not account for repeated exposure.

Cleaning products often contain Ammonia (damages respiratory tract), Lye (corrosive), and hydrochloric acid (corrosive). Laundry and Dish detergent packets are the leading cause of child poisonings, likely because of the bright colours. Carpet cleaners contain carcinogens which are harmful for many areas of the body.

Personal care products such as shampoo are also full of chemicals. These products that we rub into our skin on a daily basis are absorbed into our bodies and can cause chronic health problems, including cancer. Most of these products also remain in the body for long periods of time before being flushed out. In many cases, we are taking more chemicals into our bodies before the old ones are even gone, constantly increasing the levels in our bodies (you wash your hair with shampoo every day and it takes up to five days for the chemicals to be flushed out of your body).

The good part is that you can buy natural, non-toxic alternatives or make your own products. Laundry detergents also have organic alternatives available. Products that are fragrance free are often a healthier choice, eliminating many of the harmful chemicals that are in air fresheners, etc.

References

http://www.breastcancerfund.org/clear-science/environmental-breast-cancer-links/household-products/

http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/most-common-hazardous-household-chemicals/

http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/most-common-hazardous-household-chemicals/

https://experiencelife.com/article/8-hidden-toxins-whats-lurking-in-your-cleaning-products/

http://naturalsociety.com/5-toxic-chemicals-probably-found-shampoo/

Animal Testing

One of the reasons I’m interested in cruelty free products is because many products are tested on animals. It is estimated that over 50 million animals are used for animal testing, each year, in the United States alone (Some countries like England have banned animal testing in some forms). Obviously, this is done for a purpose. Testing on animals helps us to develop medical treatments, and predict if a product will be safe for humans. Defendants of these methods argue that it has helped to develop “life-saving treatments” and that there are regulations that prevent the mistreatment of animals in labs (This is bullshit. Testing on animals is mistreatment and most animals aren’t protected anyway).

As mentioned in a previous post on why I decided to stop eating meat, I don’t view humans as being any better than animals. We are equal. And just as it would be wrong to keep humans caged up and test on them, I believe it is disgusting that this is how millions of animals spend their lives. I understand that these methods have led to many products and medicines that are now used daily, but that does not mean they need to continue (experimenting on humans during the Second World War led to many discoveries, but we have survived without continuing to do that). Furthermore, many of the studies conducted on animals are flawed, leaving the results useless and claiming millions of lives. The ones that are successful usually fail during the human trials. Despite this, animals are treated as disposable.

In addition, there are other methods (some might argue, better), which do not involve testing on animals and may be more accurate. Animals are a different species and therefore, there is always the chances that humans will react differently (there are several cases of this happening). In Vitro testing, largely eliminates this possibility, as it can be done with human cells. Animal testing is also more expensive than other methods such as In Vitro.

These tests can also take many different forms. Some test the effects of substances on pregnant animals and their fetuses. Others include skin and eye irritation tests (they rub chemicals on exposed skin or into eyes with no pain relief – seems humane right?). Pesticides, products that are specifically designed to exterminate animals, are also tested.

And just so we are all on the same page – it’s not just rats that are used in labs. There are dogs, cats, and many other species. And this is happening here, in North America, not some far off land. Next time you think that the Chinese Dog Eating Festival is barbaric, remember that you’ve probably used a product that has been tested on a dog.

Resources

http://animal-testing.procon.org/

https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-animal-testing

http://www.hsi.org/campaigns/end_animal_testing/qa/about.html

One Step at a Time

Lately I have been seeing a lot of articles about the effects of using soaps and shampoos that are full of chemicals. On top of this, there are thousands of DYI videos dedicated to making your own cleaning products out of household items such as vinegar. Obviously using products full of chemicals is harmful not only to our bodies, but also for the environment, and if you haven’t been paying attention, the environment is in pretty bad shape. In addition to chemicals, many products (especially beauty products) are tested on animals who are bred to live a short and cruel life in a cage.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 is to transition away from the use of products that are tested on animals/contain animal products and that are full of chemicals. In the last few years I have found select brands, stores and products that sell cruelty free, vegan and natural products – some of which I use daily. Despite this, I admit I am not very knowledgeable in this department. My goal here is to research products that are cruelty free, vegan, natural, etc. (perhaps even making my own cleaning products), and move away from using harsh chemicals and products that are tested on animals. I also aim to provide research on the effects of using chemicals on your body and on the environment, as well as the effects of animal testing.

Hopefully by writing this, I can make people aware of these issues and perhaps begin to cut down on harmful products as well. If not, well.. at least I’m getting something out of it