Category Archives: Green Health

What’s the Big Deal With Oil Pulling?

Let’s start by noting that this is not intended as medical advice. I’ve included some links so you can get what information you can on oral health and oil pulling, but I’m not a doctor, dentist or anyone else who can tell you what will benefit your health. Get your salt shaker and take it along, one grain of salt as necessary as you read.

Oil pulling has become pretty popular lately. All kinds of health benefits have been claimed by proponents. I do it occasionally, and I have friends who do it. Is oil pulling really that wonderful?

Oil pulling is simple but a bit time consuming. Most sources say you should put some sesame seed oil or coconut oil in your mouth and swish it around for 20 minutes for the best benefit, then spit into the trash. This isn’t easy to do, especially if you try in the morning when the kids are up and full of questions. Even five minutes has an effect in my experience, however.

In my experience, it’s pretty good. I don’t know about all the wondrous health claims some people make, but I do think it helps whiten teeth and helps get more stuff out of gums. I don’t believe the bit about pulling toxins from the body. I think any health benefits may come from having a cleaner mouth, which your dentist should agree means better overall health – just take a look at the connection between oral health and heart disease or diabetes.

This does not mean oil pulling will help you with these problems. It only means that you should pay attention to your oral health to benefit your overall health. Don’t neglect brushing, flossing or routine dental care.

Oil pulling looks promising for the reduction of Streptococcus mutans. This may be due more to a saponification and emulisification process rather than anything antibacterial. Studies so far have been small, so there’s a long ways to go in terms of proving any benefit. I also saw a headline on Pubmed about oil pulling being associated with lipoid pneumonia (caused by breathing in small amounts of the oil), but no abstract. Still, it’s good to be aware that it may not be entirely harmless.

This article on it on Jezebel is interesting too, especially the section with opinions from a periodontist.

Please don’t assume that oil pulling will solve all your health problems. There’s a lot being said about it that has not been proven. By the same token, it strikes me as a simple thing to try if it interests you and you don’t expect miracles and understand the risks.

How to Correctly Dispose of Old Medications

Many people have expired or unused over the counter or prescription medications in their homes. They just sit there because you don’t pay attention to them once you don’t need them. With over the counter meds, you may have purchased too much, and it’s pretty common to receive more of a prescription drug than you need too. How can you correctly dispose of these medications?

You have a few options. The FDA suggests looking into community drug take-back programs, and that’s certainly a good option if it’s available for you. You can check at to see if there’s a program in your area. These programs can handle the safe disposal of medications for you.

The problem is that take-back programs aren’t available everywhere. The FDA’s next bit of advice is to check the label of the drug to see what it says about safe disposal. Some say they’re safe to flush, others are not safe to flush.

Another alternative is to throw them into the trash. To make the drugs unusable, you can mix them with something. Some suggest taking them out of the bottle so that they aren’t so easily recognized as medication. The FDA very clearly says to NOT smash capsules or tablets; just mix them with kitty litter or something else that people won’t want to go through.

They say some medications can be simply flushed down the toilet, but you need to be aware of the list for that, as well as consider the potential for environmental impact. The FDA has a list of meds they say can be flushed safely, but not every state agrees that you should do this.

What About Drugs in Our Water?

The problem with flushing medications is that you’re putting them straight into the water, and they don’t always get well filtered out. This isn’t just a problem for human consumption; it impacts wildlife as well.

This is why states such as California, Minnesota, and Florida (as well as other states) prefer that old medications go into the trash if you can’t find a take-back program or a hazardous waste program to handle them for you. California has some very clear instructions (PDF) on how to package medical waste for disposal in the trash.

That said, a major cause of medication in the water is what passes through our bodies when we use medication, not just dumping it in the toilet. If you want to limit your contribution to that, you need to think about your medication use. You may or may not be able to do anything about cutting back, depending on your own needs.

The ecological harms are still being studied, and you can learn more about that on the EPA website. If you haven’t looked at this before, you may be surprised by how many products are causing the problem, including body lotions, sunscreen, cosmetics, as well as medications. It’s great motivation to really think about the products you use, not just for your own health, but for the environment.

Are Neti Pots Still Safe to Use?

I’m rather fond of nasal irrigation, although I don’t use an actual Neti Pot to do so. But in 2011, two people died due to an infection of Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba which enters through the nose and causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, resulting in death. The infections came from misusing their Neti pots.

The mistake was simple enough, and that’s what I want to mention. They didn’t use distilled, filtered or boiled water. They used plain tap water, which should usually be safe, but clearly is not always.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. Keep your nasal irrigation practices safe. I’m not a doctor or anything like it, so check on this yourself, but if you do nasal irrigation, make sure you stick with boiled, sterile or distilled water, and keep your Neti pot clean and dry when not in use.  That’s what the official warning says, anyhow.

Boiled water from your tap is probably the cheapest option, but considering how long it takes to cool, it may not be the most convenient. Not that it’s terribly inconvenient, but when your nose is congested and you’re miserable, waiting for water to boil, then cooling it is not always going to be welcome.

These deaths won’t impact my use of nasal irrigation at all. It has been far more effective for me than taking a decongestant, not to mention I avoid the misery of swallowing a pill. I know that’s not a big deal for most, but that’s one skill I’ve never mastered, and trying tends to lead to vomiting for me, so I’m not exactly interested in learning how.

Is Acetaminophen Safe to Give to Your Children?

I came across an article on Care2 about a possible link between acetaminophen use and asthma in children.  Considering how commonly used acetaminophen is, and how medications such as aspirin are no longer considered safe for children, do parents have something to worry about there?

It’s hard to say. As the article notes, the evidence isn’t perfectly clear yet.

I consider this a good reminder to think before giving your any over the counter medication. Sometimes it’s too easy to grab for the acetaminophen when your child has an ache, rather than try other, simpler remedies. For some, this leads to overuse. The harm in this case is unclear as of yet, but it’s something to think about.

That said, there’s also a place for medication. It’s a good idea to talk to your child’s pediatrician about when it’s appropriate to use any medication. I don’t mean you have to call in before every use, but talking about what to give when in general can be helpful information.

With my own kids, I prefer to remember that low fevers are usually safe to allow to run their course, and encouraging a sick child to rest is a good thing.

It pays to consider your options with common situations such as teething. It’s especially hard to avoid using medications at night when other remedies aren’t working. Two of my kids did great on teething tablets, while my youngest wasn’t helped at all by them, for example. Neither acetaminophen nor ibuprofen did much for her either, though. If you read up on your options or talk to your pediatrician, you may come up with ways to cope that don’t involve acetaminophen if you’d prefer to avoid it.

One of the problems with figuring this link out, apparently, is that it’s hard to tell if it’s how often a child gets a viral infection that results in the use of acetaminophen, rather than the use of the medication itself.  It’s often difficult to separate correlation and causation, and that’s the challenge here. That said, a study that randomized whether a child got acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fevers seems to indicate a relationship between acetaminophen and asthma.

If you’ve been using acetaminophen for your child, it may be a good idea to discuss alternatives with your child’s pediatrician. It’s not like it’s the only option out there for treating a fever. Sometimes even a tepid bath is enough to help, although you really shouldn’t do a full on cold bath. Letting the fever be and just resting can also be an option, so long as it’s not too high. Know what the safe range is for your child’s age, versus fevers that need to be treated or that require medical attention.

Are Genetically Modified Food Crops (GMO) Really That Different From Selectively Bred Crops?

Hearing about genetically modified food crops (GMO) makes a lot of people uneasy. It doesn’t sound like a good thing to be messing around with our food supply, not to mention the surrounding environment. GMO crops have been touted as a boon for farmers, but have produced problems for them as well. Are the stated benefits worth the risks?

Selectively Bred Crops

Let’s start by taking a look at how selectively bred crops come about. This is a much slower, much less precise method of giving a crop the characteristics you want from them.

A grower grows the crop, and chooses to use seed from the plants that are closest to the characteristic he’s after. This could relate to disease resistance, flavor, production, water use and more. Each generation of the crop planted allows the grower to choose the ones that are closest to the desired end result.

This takes time, but it’s why we have such a variety of plants available. Just look at the many different sorts of carrots, tomatoes, roses and so forth available. Many of these came from selective breeding.

Genetically Modified Foods

People in favor of genetically modified crops like to point out that selective breeding is a form of genetic modification. However, when speaking of GMO crops, that’s not what is meant. Instead, genes from other sources are added into the genetic code of the plants, giving them new characteristics that either you couldn’t breed for or that would be more difficult to breed for. It also allows the company to patent the plant, giving them the absolute right to control it even when the farmer grows seeds purchased from the company that modified them.

One of the big ones you hear about are the Roundup Ready crops created by Monsanto. These crops are resistant to Roundup, so farmers can control weeds without damaging their crops.

What Are the Benefits to Genetically Modified Crops?

One of the major benefits touted for GMO crops is that they’re better for the environment because they require less use of pesticides and herbicides. They’re often made to deal with such problems better. This can also lead to better production, as less of each crop is lost to pests. This can also mean less tilling of the soil is required, which results in less loss of topsoil.

GM crops can also be grown in places that aren’t so friendly to other crops. This can be a benefit to areas where growing food is a major problem.

While not directly related to food production, genetically modified organisms also show promise in areas such as biofuel production. Creating organisms which can be used to produce biofuels more efficiently than current methods is an area of great potential.

The potential to grow medications in certain crops is also being investigated. This could bring down the costs of producing certain medications, if it can be done safely and successfully.

What Are the Problems With Genetically Modified Crops?

When people consider the problems with GM crops, they’re mostly considering the food varieties. There are some definite problems with these crops.

A major one is that farmers are not allowed to save seed as they would with non patented seeds. They have to buy new seed each and every year. This is an extra expense for farmers.

The patents have also led to farmers being sued, not just for saving seed to grow the next year’s crops, but for having their crops crossbreed with a GMO variety. Growing such crops is considered a violation of the patent, even though farmers may not know such cross pollination has happened.

Cross pollination is also a problem for organic farmers, who can’t have their crops be contaminated by GMO crops, as their crops would no longer be considered to be organic.

Another concern is that weeds and pests that can easily be treated now in fields with GMO crops will become more resistant to the herbicides and pesticides that can currently be used on such fields. This means more chemicals would need to be used to control problems that are currently easier to manage. One way this could happen is if natural gene transfer happens between GM crop and weeds that are closely related to that food crop in the field.

Some GM crops have also been shown to be damaging to other forms of life. One variety of corn was shown to cause high mortality in monarch butterfly caterpillars.

The claim that genetically modified crops increase the yield has also been disputed. Certainly the use of pesticides means you lose less crop to pests, but that’s true whether the crop is GM or not.

Health Concerns for Humans

Many people are concerned about how eating genetically modified foods will effect humans. Allergies are a potential issue, for example, although genetically modified foods are carefully tested for such things.

The biggest concern with GM foods and human health is that there hasn’t been enough testing to know the long term results from eating such modified foods. Some studies on rats indicate the potential for serious issues. There are concerns about GM foods causing cancer and other conditions.

Social Concerns

There are a lot of social concerns with genetically modified foods as well. The patents on such seeds, as discussed above, mean that farmers cannot just save seed for the next season, and must buy more. This can be a major hardship on farmers in poor countries, or when bad weather ruins a crop.

The issue is that too much acceptance of GM seed means that regular seeds will not be so readily available, giving the corporations too much control over food production.

There are also concerns about how GM foods fit in with religious and other ethical concerns. Are GM foods kosher? Are GM foods harmful to farm animals that are fed them?

Overall, I think it is very clear that genetically modified foods are very different from selectively bred crops. There are potential benefits, but there are also risks that may not be acceptable. It’s best to consider the risks carefully and look and what it takes to manage your contact with GMO foods.

Further Reading