Celebrate Earth Day Every Day

Every April 22, millions of people in nearly 200 countries celebrate Earth Day, and I’m one of them. Originating in 1970, Earth Day is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on how we can make our Earth a better place. It’s a time to be mindful of your impact on the Earth and challenge yourself to adopt new, environmentally friendly habits that conserve resources, save money, and encourage healthy living all-around. In fact, with wonderful benefits like those, doesn’t it make sense to live every day like it’s Earth Day?

Well, you can. Over the years, my family and I have used Earth Day as a starting point to implement new and creative changes in our lives. Here are 30 ways we celebrate Earth Day that you and your family can try, too. Some of them may seem small, but small changes add up and if you sustain that change for the rest of your life, it will profoundly lighten your environmental footprint and help make the Earth a better, cleaner place to live.

Earth Day Infographic

 

In Your Home

1. Use Essential Oils

Many candles, scented plugins, and room sprays contain toxic, synthetic fragrances. Instead of those, add pure or mixed essential oils to a diffuser or humidifier to spread a pleasant aroma throughout your home. Many essential oils boast health benefits or have calming effects on mood.

2. Declutter Your Home

Spring is a great time to conduct a thorough home cleaning and discard, recycle, or donate all the unused items that are only taking up space. Make a conscious decision to keep the items that bring you joy and let go of the ones that don’t. Additionally, designate a spot in your home for every item you keep. Having a place for every item and returning it after use reduces clutter and will ensure you’re always able to find what you need when you need it.

3. Use Lavender in Your Laundry

Many types of dryer sheets contain synthetic chemicals and fragrances. Ditch those and add about 20 drops of lavender essential oil to a damp washcloth or a few wool dryer balls and throw them in the dryer with your wet clothes. It’ll give your clothes a pleasant, natural scent that will even be noticeable throughout your home.

4. Adopt a Tree

A single tree can absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. If you live in an apartment or townhouse, get a small, indoor-friendly ficus. Yucca, kaffir lime, Madagascar dragon, or bonsai are other small trees that thrive indoors. Keep in mind that if you have pets it’s best to double check that the tree you select isn’t toxic to them.

5. Plant Flowers

Native flowers look beautiful and they provide pollen and nectar for pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. Even better, locally-sourced flowers are typically low maintenance because they’re accustomed to your climate.

6. Use Natural Pest Control

Reduce your reliance on synthetic pest control methods like toxic powders and sprays. Encourage local insect-eating animals to visit the area around your home by installing a birdhouse or, if you dare, a bat house. You can also create a welcoming environment for predatory insects like praying mantises and ladybugs to help control pests. If you have slugs or snails, protect your precious plants with a sprinkle of diatomaceous earth.

Saving Energy

7. Change Your Air Filter

There are many different types of air filters available, opt for the ones that are washable or made from eco-friendly materials. Reusable filters reduce waste and they’re more economical over the long run. Even better, clean filters improve the efficiency of air conditioners and can reduce energy costs.

8. Seal the Door

A little air flow is a good thing but too much can work against your home’s heating and cooling efforts. Install a draft stopper on your door and seal up major cracks or leaks where you can. It’ll help you save on heating and cooling costs and keep pests out of your house.

9. Take Cooler, Shorter Showers

According to the US Department of Energy, the water heater accounts for about 17% of the average American’s monthly energy bill. In other words, it requires a lot of energy to heat water for a shower or bath. Taking a cooler, shorter shower can reduce energy use. As an added bonus, cold showers may help you feel more alert and reduce feelings of fatigue.

10. Install a Smart Thermostat

Depending on where you live, central air conditioning might account for as much as 50% of your energy use. To reduce waste, consider installing a smart, programmable thermostat. These devices shut off automatically when you’re away and have other built-in features that facilitate efficient heating and cooling.

11. Check Your Fridge

If you frequently find half-frozen produce or leftovers in the fridge, you’re ruining your food and wasting energy. Set your fridge to 37º F to reduce unnecessary energy use and keep your food fresh and unfrozen.

12. Lower Your Water Heater

Water heaters are often set unnecessarily high, sometimes as high as 140º F. Lowering the settings to 120º F saves energy. And, since exceptionally hot water dries out your skin, it’s better for your complexion.

13. Put on a Sweater

If the house feels a little chilly, put on a sweater, warm socks, and cozy sweatpants. Prepare some herbal tea or a homemade soup rather than turning on the heater.

14. Keep Cool, Naturally

Consuming something cold is a great way to cool down. If it’s hot out, shed some layers and drink iced water or tea. Or, blend together and freeze organic frozen fruit to make a homemade sorbet.

15. Turn on the Fan

It’s easy to reach for the air conditioner when it’s too warm but, next time, turn on a fan instead. Even the most efficient air conditioners account for a significant portion of your monthly energy expenditure. Fans use a tiny fraction of this energy.

16. Let There be Sunlight

Open up the curtains and blinds to let in more natural light whenever possible. More than just conserving energy, sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D and it strengthens your immune system.

17. Skip the Shower

Consider whether or not you need a shower before taking one. Less frequent showers are becoming the norm once again. In fact, people used to bathe about once a week and just wash up at the sink the week leading up to their next bath. The idea of regular bathing became popular when soap salesmen invented the need for a daily shower.

That said, personal hygiene is essential for your health and it’s something the people closest to you appreciate, but you might be showering too often. If you haven’t performed any strenuous activities, you might not need a shower. Additionally, keep in mind that some types of soap disrupt your skin microbiota, so try to use natural hygiene products.

18. Use Gentle Cleaners

When cleaning your home, use eco-friendly cleaning products instead of harsh, toxic agents. Plant-based cleaning solutions are widely available; you can find them at both big box stores and natural markets. Alternatively, castile soap or a simple solution of white vinegar diluted in water is an effective cleaner you can use on many types of surfaces.

19. Reuse Glass Containers

Before you recycle your glass bottles and jars, think about how you can reuse them. Large jars are great for salads and soups, small ones are the perfect size to measure portions of nuts and dressings. You can even reuse the dropper bottles from Global Healing Center products; just wash them out when you’re finished with the product and use them to hold or blend your favorite essential oils.

Transportation

20. Check Your Tire Pressure

Improve fuel efficiency and lower your carbon footprint by keeping your tires properly inflated. It’s also a good strategy for prolonging the life of your tires and, in turn, saving money.

21. Walk or Bike to Work

Not only is walking or biking to work great exercise, it reduces your carbon footprint. It can also be good for your mind—people that commute by car experience greater stress than people who walk, bike, and use public transportation, so it’s in your best interest to take a stroll to work. As a bonus, you’ll also get a little exercise and some much-needed sunshine on your way.

22. Start a Carpool

If you have a few coworkers in your neighborhood, consider carpooling with them. You’ll help reduce CO2 emissions, decrease traffic congestion, and you get the bonus of social interaction before and after work. Studies report that talking to friends and coworkers offers substantial health benefits.

Lifestyle

23. Eat Less Meat

If everyone cut back on their meat and dairy consumption it would be a great contribution to the environment. Raising livestock requires an astounding amount of resources; it contributes to deforestation, habitat loss, greenhouse gas emissions, crop contamination, and water pollution. Even worse, studies show that the consumption of animal products contributes to many chronic and debilitating diseases.

I don’t eat meat, but if you do eat meat, challenge yourself to replace it with plant-based food more often. Organic plants don’t have the same environmental impact as factory farming and a diet rich in plant-based food provides the specialized nutrition to support your health, and increase your lifespan. Starting a “Meatless Monday” habit is a great way to get started. If you like the results, take it a step further and become flexitarian, reduce tsarian, pescatarian, or semi-vegetarian to reduce your reliance on animal products even more.

24. Unplug and Go Outside

Today, too many people spend too much time indoors consuming media in some form or another—usually electronic. A climate-controlled environment requires energy to maintain, as do devices. Do yourself and the planet a favor by powering down, going outside, and enjoying nature with your friends and family. You don’t need to get on a plane to have an adventure. There might be some local undiscovered spot that will become your new retreat. National parks and nature preserves are resources many people don’t take advantage of and, unfortunately, parks that don’t receive a lot of visitors are at risk of being defunded, developed, or mined of their natural resources. Plan a visit to a less popular park to help protect its funding and maintenance.

25. Support Sustainable Businesses

If you can buy it, there’s an eco-friendly version of it. Support companies that use sustainable practices, ingredients, and packaging in their products. Many businesses have started incorporating recycled or upcycled materials into their products.

26. Get a Reusable Water Bottle

Disposable, plastic water bottles may be convenient but they release toxic plasticizers and hardeners that make their way into your body and the environment. Plastic does not degrade easily, and it may take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Instead, buy a reusable water bottle made of glass and fill it with purified water every time you leave the house. It’s a habit that will reduce waste, and take a water bottle wherever will encourage you to drink water more often and stay hydrated.

At the Office

27. Take a Plant to Work

Air purification devices are handy but wouldn’t it be great to clean the air naturally? Well, it turns out that you can literally clear the air of pollutants with certain plants. According to a NASA study, some plants help remove toxic compounds from the air. Florist’s Chrysanthemum is cited as the most broadly effective and reported to remove pollutants like benzene, formaldehyde, and ammonia; English ivy is another excellent choice. Take a small desk plant to work and breathe a sigh of relief.

28. Take a Mug to Work

Disposable cups are convenient but using them is a tremendous source of waste. Even worse, most of the disposable cups you use every day are not recyclable and contain objectionable chemicals like styrene (found in Styrofoam), which is linked to neurological effects. Skip the disposable cups and bring your own mug to work. There are many nice options that are made with non-toxic materials.

29. Pack Your Lunch

In the United States, over 30% of food is thrown away at the consumer level. That is a massive amount of waste and the majority of it ends up in landfills where it contributes to the production of greenhouse gasses. Do the Earth a favor: save your leftovers and take them for lunch instead of going to a restaurant. If you have some veggies that have seen better days but are still good, turn them into a soup and pour it into jars for an easy grab and go lunch.

30. Stop Printing

The average American uses seven trees worth of paper and paper products every year. That’s a lot of trees, and most of it ends up in the garbage. Whenever possible, avoid printing at work. A link or a PDF is often easier to keep up with and won’t clutter your coworkers’ desks.

Lasting Changes

Small changes add up quickly and can make a measurable difference on your carbon footprint and use of the Earth’s natural resources. Hopefully, these will provide a good start and encourage you to explore other areas such as using fewer disposable goods and recycling regularly. If everyone adopted just a few of these changes, we could significantly reduce our collective impact on the Earth.

Advertisements

Meta-analysis Finds Standardized St. John’s Wort Extracts as Effective as Conventional Antidepressants

  • St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum, Hypericaceae)

St. John’s wort (SJW; Hypericum perforatum, Hypericaceae) aerial parts are a popular treatment for depression, and many countries in Europe prescribe SJW for that purpose. According to the authors, SJW has been well researched; however, the results are conflicting. The last large published meta-analysis was conducted in 2008, and it found SJW superior to placebo and similar to conventional antidepressants. Since then, additional research has emerged. Hence, the objective of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to provide an updated analysis.

The following databases were searched from January 1, 1960, through May 1, 2016, according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines: PubMed; Ovid; Clinical Trials Register of the Cochrane Collaboration Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Group (CCDANTR); Cochrane Field for Complementary Medicine; China National Knowledge Infrastructure; and Wanfang. The following search terms were used: [St John’s Wort OR Hypericum perforatum OR hypericin OR hyperforin OR johannes kraut (German for St John’s wort) OR 圣约翰草 (Chinese for St John’s wort)] AND [depression OR antidepressant OR SSRI]. Reference lists of articles also were searched.

Studies were included if the following criteria were met: (1) were randomized controlled trials; (2) compared a standardized extract of SJW with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI); (3) included patients clinically diagnosed with major depressive disorder according to criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision (ICD-10), or Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders, Third Edition (CCMD-3); (4) had extractable outcome measures for treatment efficacy and safety; and (5) included ≥ 20 human subjects. The primary outcome measures were treatment response and safety/incidence of adverse effects (this was evaluated as dropout rate). Treatment response was assessed with (1) the response rate (or relative risk [RR]) ratio of the proportion of responders in the treatment group versus the control group, with response defined as reduction in Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) score > 50% and (2) remission rate ratio, which is the proportion of remitters in the treatment group versus the control group, with remission defined as reduction in HAM-D score > 75%. The Jadad scale and the Cochrane Collaboration’s tool for assessing the risk of bias were used to assess methodology. Heterogeneity was tested statistically, and sensitivity analyses were conducted.

A total of 5428 articles were located and 27 articles met the inclusion criteria. Included studies were from China, Germany, Denmark, Brazil, and the United States. Studies from China had weaker methodological quality and a higher risk of bias, such as inadequate generation of a randomized sequence (selection bias), lack of blinding of outcome assessment (detection bias), and incomplete outcome data (attrition bias). Based on statistical analysis, the likelihood of publication bias was small. The studies included 40 to 428 patients with mild-to-moderate depression. The studies evaluated the following SJW extracts: WS® 5570 (Dr. Willmar Schwabe GmbH & Co. KG; Karlsruhe, Germany), WS® 5572 (Dr. Willmar Schwabe GmbH & Co. KG), Ze 117 (Zeller AG; Romanshorn, Switzerland), STW3 (Steigerwald Arzneimittelwerk GmbH; Darmstadt, Germany), STW3-VI (Steigerwald Arzneimittelwerk GmbH), LoHyp-57 (Dr Werner Loges and Co., GmbH; Winsen, Germany), and LI-160 (Lichtwer Pharma; Berlin, Germany). They contained standardized 0.3% hypericin and 2-5% hyperforin, with doses of 300-1350 mg/day. The duration of treatment ranged from four to 12 weeks.

According to the meta-analysis, SJW had a similar response rate to SSRIs (pooled RR, 0.983; 95% confidence intervals [CI], 0.924-1.042; P < 0.001). Similar results were found when using a subgroup analysis of only trials with good methodological scores (Jadad scale of 3 or higher). SJW also had similar remission rates to SSRIs (pooled RR, 1.013; 95% CI, 0.892-1.134; P < 0.001). SJW had a significantly lower discontinuation/dropout rate compared to SSRI treatment (pooled odds ratio, 0.587; 95% CI, 0.478-0.697; P < 0.001).

The authors conclude that the “findings further strengthen the support for St John’s wort’s clinical efficacy in reducing depressive symptoms and more conclusively showed that St John’s wort had a significantly smaller number of patients discontinuing treatment/dropping out due to adverse/side effects. This is significant as discontinuation of antidepressants by patients is a common problem faced in the clinical setting, and greatly hampers the success of treatment.” The conclusions of this study support the 2008 Cochrane review1; however, the present meta-analysis includes more recent studies, larger studies, and studies published in the Chinese literature, thereby extending the findings of the Cochrane review. The authors acknowledge a lack of consensus regarding the appropriate dosage of SJW; however, they did not evaluate the doses used in this meta-analysis. It would have been beneficial if they could have done a sub-analysis to elucidate the optimal dose. Based on the availability of the research, the authors acknowledge that longer-term studies and studies in children < 18 years are needed. This study was very well designed, conducted, and written. It is unique in that it did not exclude non-English articles. The authors report no conflict of interest.

Reference

1Linde K, Berner MM, Kriston L. St John’s wort for major depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. October 8, 2008;(4): CD000448. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000448.pub3

Ng QX, Venkatanarayanan N, Ho CYX. Clinical use of Hypericum perforatum (St John’s wort) in depression: A meta-analysis. J Affect Disord. 2017;210:211-221.

Atrial Fibrillation: Natural Treatments, Remedies, and Tips

The heart’s upper chambers normally beat in a regular, coordinated rhythm with the heart’s lower chambers. In atrial fibrillation, the heart’s upper chambers can quiver out of rhythm.

The result is an irregular heart rhythm that can cause symptoms, such as shortness of breath, weakness, and heart palpitations. The condition can also lead to blood clots developing in the upper chambers, which can cause a stroke.

Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) treatments can vary based on the symptoms that people experience. While it’s important for people to follow a doctor’s advice related to A-fib treatments, they might also choose to supplement medical treatments with natural ones.

Natural treatments

Acupuncture
Acupuncture may help control the heart rate of people with A-fib.

Although natural treatments are often not widely studied, there are several treatments and activities that may help to reduce the symptoms and effects of A-fib. Some of these treatments may include the following:

Acupuncture

Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine approach, may help those with A-fib control their heart rates, according to a study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Acupuncture involves applying small needles to specific points on the body to promote energy flow. The acupuncture point is linked with controlling heart rhythm problems, but more research is still needed.

Yoga

Yoga is the practice of deep breathing, meditation, and body postures. Regular yoga practice for 1 hour, 3 days a week has been shown to reduce the amount of A-fib episodes, according to one study.

While the exact way that yoga reduces the incidence of A-fib isn’t known, researchers suggest that yoga could reduce stress and inflammation that damages the heart as well as reduce a person’s resting heart rate.

Herbs and supplements

One of the natural herbs reported to reduce A-fib and its symptoms are the Chinese herb extract Wenxin Keli (WXKL).

In a review of current studies regarding WXKL and its proposed effects, the authors found that taking the herb could have the following effects:

  • reduce changes to the heart that can occur as a result of A-fib
  • improve the maintenance of regular rhythm
  • have similar benefits as the beta-blocker sotalol in maintaining regular heart rhythms
  • reduce symptoms associated with A-fib, such as chest tightness, palpitations, and difficulty sleeping

However, the researchers noted that there are not a significant amount of studies or recommendations regarding a dosage for WXKL.

Another study studied the effects of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbs compared with prescription medications in treating A-fib.

traditional chinese medicine herbs
Traditional Chinese medicine herbs may help to treat females that are younger than 65 who have A-fib. However, research on the use of TCM herbs is inconclusive.

At the conclusion of the study, researchers made the following conclusions:

  • The TCM users had a reduced risk for stroke (1.93 percent) compared with non-TCM users (12.59 percent).
  • TCM users who were female or younger than 65 experienced the greatest stroke reduction benefits.
  • Those older than age 65 did not experience a significantly reduced stroke risk.

However, it’s important to note that one Chinese herb called Dan Shen can interact harmfully with warfarin, a blood thinner that doctors often prescribe to people with A-fib.

The researchers noted that there were several limitations to the study. For example, they did not track any of the participants’ lifestyle factors that could have affected their risk. The participants could also have been using other herbal medicines that the researchers weren’t aware of.

Other herbs and supplements that may help treat Afib, according to the Journal of Thoracic Diseases, include:

  • barberry (berberis)
  • cinchona
  • hawthorn
  • motherwort
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • shensongyangxin

Substances to avoid

Lifestyle habits and eating certain foods and drinks can potentially trigger episodes of A-fib. One such habit is smoking. Other examples include:

  • Drinking alcohol excessively: no more than 1 to 2 alcoholic drinks for a man each day and no more than 1 drink per day for women. People older than age 65 should have no more than 1 alcoholic drink per day. Moderate to heavy alcohol drinkers were 1.35 times more likely to have A-fib than non-drinkers.
  • Consuming excess amounts of caffeine. About 400 milligrams of caffeine is a safe upper limit for adults on a daily basis. This is roughly the same as four brewed cups of coffee.
  • Taking cough and cold medicines that contain stimulants, such as dextromethorphan or promethazine-codeine cough syrup.
  • Eating more than four servings of “dark” fish per week. According to one study, eating more than 4 servings of dark fish, such as salmon, swordfish, bluefish, mackerel, and sardines can actually increase the risk for A-fib.

Some people are more sensitive to medications and additives than others. If a person notices that eating a certain food or drink increases the incidence of irregular heart rhythms, they should talk to their doctor.

Lifestyle tips for living with A-fib

Many people with A-fib have a condition called sleep apnea. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea, which causes a person to stop breathing for brief periods while they are asleep.

Sleep apnea can weaken the heart because the heart has to start working harder to make up for the lost oxygen when a person stops breathing.

Symptoms that suggest a person could be experiencing sleep apnea include:

  • being told they snore
  • waking themselves up at night with snoring or irregular breathing
  • having excessive daytime sleepiness

Anyone with these symptoms should see their doctor or a sleep medicine specialist.

A healthful lifestyle overall tends to promote heart health. As a result, a person may experience a reduced incidence of A-fib or lessen the risk of their symptoms getting worse.

Examples of healthful habits to follow include:

  • eating a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • exercising regularly
  • managing high blood pressure through both medications and natural treatments, if desired
  • avoiding excess intakes of alcohol and caffeine
  • managing long-term conditions that could contribute to or worsen A-fib

Long-term conditions that could contribute to A-fib include high blood pressure, sleep apnea, thyroid disease, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.

According to the American Heart Association, a person with A-fib is five times more likely to have a stroke than someone who does not have a history of heart disease. By working to prevent cardiac complications, a person can live a healthier life with A-fib.

Simply Spicy: Exploration of Botanical and Culinary Medicine in Integrative Practice :: School of Medicine: Office of Education | The University of New Mexico

Source: Simply Spicy: Exploration of Botanical and Culinary Medicine in Integrative Practice :: School of Medicine: Office of Education | The University of New Mexico

Nighty Night® – Traditional Medicinals

Source: Nighty Night® – Traditional Medicinals

Personality
Peaceful, soft and sleepy.

Herbal Power
Helps you relax and get a good night’s sleep.*

Reason to Love
Passionflower. We love it both for its wildly intense beauty and for its ability to calm and soothe your nervous system and help relieve occasional sleeplessness.* When the Spanish missionaries chanced upon it they saw the perfection of the universe reflected in its anatomical structure. The native people of the Americas used this plant for its ability to promote rest and relaxation—something modern people occasionally need help with too. We’ve added other relaxing herbs, like chamomile, linden flower, and hops, to create a mellow blend that will help you rest easy.*

Taste
Minty, mildly bitter and sweet, with notes of citrus and spice.

Passionflower – Mountain Rose Herbs

Passionflower is cooling to the body, calming to the mind, and soothing to the spirit. It quells anxiety and quiets the ruminating mind. This plant is gentle yet profound. It can be administered as a soothing tea for children or the elderly and can help to induce a deep sleep in those that are overworked or stressed out.

Source: Passionflower – Mountain Rose Herbs

   NorthWest Herb Symposium        “Botanicals at the Beach” – NorthWest Herb Symposium: “Botanicals at the Beach”

Source:    NorthWest Herb Symposium        “Botanicals at the Beach” – NorthWest Herb Symposium: “Botanicals at the Beach”

Black Cumin Does Not Decrease Levels of Oxidative Stress Markers in Women with Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Black Cumin (Nigella sativa, Ranunculaceae)
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative Stress

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a progressive, inflammatory autoimmune disease that causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and deformity of the joints. It is thought that the pathogenesis of RA involves chronic oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. Hence, treatments that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects may be beneficial. Black cumin (Nigella sativa, Ranunculaceae) seed oil is used in Iranian traditional medicine. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity in animal models of inflammation by suppressing the elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and pro-oxidants. The purpose of this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was to evaluate the effects of black cumin seed oil on the concentration of selected inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress markers in women with RA.

Patients (n = 42, aged 20-50 years) were recruited from Sheykholrayis Outpatient Clinic, affiliated with Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, in Tabriz, Iran, from May 2012 to November 2013. Included patients had mild to moderate RA according to the 2010 American College of Rheumatology/European League Against Rheumatism (ACR-EULAR) criteria; were being treated with methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, or prednisolone; were not receiving any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or cytokine inhibitors for ≥ 2 months prior to study entry; and had body mass index (BMI) < 40. Excluded patients were pregnant or lactating; were taking hormone therapy or oral contraceptives; had metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus, lactose intolerance, Cushing’s syndrome, or thyroid dysfunction; had kidney or liver disease; had chronic inflammatory disease including inflammatory bowel diseases; had a history of taking antioxidant or anti-inflammatory supplements 4 weeks prior to the study; or had a history of being on weight-reduction diets or smoking.

Patients received placebo (paraffin) or 1000 mg/day black cumin seed oil capsules for 8 weeks. Both placebo and black cumin seed oil soft gels were formulated, developed, and produced by Barij Asans of Kashan (Barij Essence Pharmaceutical Company); Kashan, Iran. The authors do not describe the composition or concentration of the black cumin seed oil. Physical activity level and psychological stress were assessed via International Physical Activity Questionnaire and State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Form Y (STAI-Y), respectively. Dietary intake was evaluated using a 3-day dietary record before and after the intervention, and the data was analyzed using Nutritionist IV software. Disease activity was monitored via the Disease Activity Score Calculator for Rheumatoid Arthritis. Fasting blood was collected at baseline and after 8 weeks of treatment. Serum levels of the inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and interleukin-10 (IL-10) and the oxidative stress indicators total antioxidant capacity (TAC), superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), and nitric oxide (NO) were measured.

Groups were similar at baseline. Fifty women were enrolled in the study and 42 completed the study. Of the 25 women in the placebo group, 7 dropped out for reasons not related to the intervention and 2 were excluded from the analysis due to infection or medication change, leaving 16 patients in the per-protocol analysis. In the black cumin group, 1 patient dropped out for reasons not related to the intervention and 1 was excluded due to the medication change, leaving 23 patients in the per-protocol analysis. The author’s power calculation indicated that 18 patients in each group were required for statistical significance. Compared with baseline, at 8 weeks, there were no significant changes in BMI, STAI-Y, physical activity, micronutrient intake, energy intake, or macronutrient intake.

At study end, disease activity score was significantly decreased in the black cumin group compared with baseline (P < 0.05), while there was no significant change in the placebo group (data not shown; the between-group difference was not reported). The black cumin group had a significant increase in IL-10 (P < 0.01) and significant decreases in malondialdehyde (MDA; P = 0.04) and NO (P = 0.01) compared to baseline; however, the difference between groups was not statistically significant. There were no significant effects on TNF-α, SOD, CAT, or TAC.

The authors conclude that black cumin “could improve inflammation and reduce oxidative stress in patients with RA … .” However, the data presented do not support their conclusion. Black cumin significantly increased the level of the inflammatory cytokine IL-10, indicating a pro-inflammation effect. Although black cumin decreased the levels of the oxidative stress markers MDA and NO compared to baseline, there was no significant difference in these parameters between the black cumin and placebo groups, and black cumin had no effect on the other 4 oxidative stress markers. Limitations of this study include the following: the size of the placebo group was too small to detect statistically significant treatment effects; relatively short study duration; lack of safety/adverse event and compliance reporting; and chemical composition and concentration of the black cumin seed oil was not reported. The authors declare no conflicts of interest; however, one of the authors *(Hosseini) is an employee of Barij Essence Pharmaceutical Company.

*Hadi V, Kheirouri S, Alizadeh M, Khabbazi A, Hosseini H. Effects of Nigella sativa oil extract on inflammatory cytokine response and oxidative stress status in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2016;6(1):34-43.

Five of the Best Meditation Apps: Which One is Right for You?

Between stressful deadlines, family responsibilities, and countless social media notifications, modern life can leave many of us feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and even unhappy. If this sounds like you, meditation may provide an answer – and with meditation apps, you can now carry your own personal mindfulness trainer in your pocket. But which app should you choose? We review our pick of the best meditation apps available.
[A woman relaxing while using her phone]
There are now more than 1,000 meditation apps to choose from, but which one is right for you?

A national survey from the American Psychological Association reports that overall stress levels have increased in recent years, and a considerable number of people in the United States think that they are not doing enough to manage their stress.

So what can we do to relax and lead healthier, more fulfilling lives? One answer may come from meditation – the ancient, holistic practice that aims to bring us into the present, soothe our worries, and improve our overall well-being.

Evidence suggests that meditation is good for our health; it lowers our blood pressure, alleviates several gastrointestinal disorders, and helps to relieve anxiety and insomnia.

Smartphone users can now install their own meditation trainer with a tap of the finger. With almost 1,000 apps to choose from, however, knowing which one is right for you can be challenging. To help narrow down the choice, we tried some out for ourselves.

All the apps we review here are available on both Android and iOS.

Headspace: Unlocking the universe of mindful meditation

Probably the most popular meditation app, Headspace was also ranked first in a comprehensive review of meditation apps regarding functionality and user satisfaction. We were, therefore, thrilled to give it a go and see what the hype is all about.

The app offers a 10-day free trial that takes you through the entire foundation level, called Take 10. Throughout, you are guided by Andy’s reassuring voice – that is, Andy Puddicombe, the former Buddhist monk, inspirational TED speaker, and founder of the app.

[illustration of man on cloud meditating]Headspace scored 4 out of 5 on the Mobile Application Rating Scale.
Image credit: Headspace

We loved how friendly this app is, with a pastel-colored interface that feels lively without being intrusive, enchanting illustrations, and an introductory video great for those who have never tried meditating before.

Take 10 is peppered with colorful animations that motivate and bring you back on track when you feel you have lost your focus, as well as creative analogies that support and sustain you in your journey: “Imagine yourself sitting by the side of a busy road. The passing cars representing the thoughts and the feelings.”

For $7.99 you can access the entire app, but only if you have completed the foundation level – a great way to ensure that users actually go through the motions and fully benefit from the training. After unlocking the first level, you are rewarded with a message of kindness and self-love: “Be kind to your mind, don’t be too self-critical.” After this, you are granted access to everything that Headspace has to offer, and it is a lot.

The app has a wide array of purpose-specific series, covering almost every aspect of life: health, relationships, sports, and performance. Each series has themed sub packs of up to 30 sessions. Add to these the one-off meditations – tailored to needs as specific as “fear of flying” or “commuting” – and the result is a vast universe of mindfulness, with hundreds of different sessions to choose from.

Whil: The meditation app for a happy workplace

With a sleek business feel to it, Whil is primarily aimed at companies wishing to bring an extra bit of focus and happiness to the workplace.

Whil provides personalized, goal-centered training programs for each employee. Companies can choose from four training options: the teen-focused “Grow,” the adult-centered “Thrive,” the Google-born “Lead” – which centers on emotional intelligence, teamwork, and leadership – and finally “Move,” a yoga program intended to exercise the mind and body.

[whil meditation app logo]Whil turns mindfulness into a competitive advantage for businesses.
Image credit: Whil

Each option includes tens of programs, adding up to hundreds of sessions. Additionally, individual, on-demand “Whilpower” sessions are available for relieving negative emotions or boosting positive ones, as well as for improving sleep.

A distinctive feature that we found appealing is the HIPAA-compliant analytics dashboard. Whil allows individuals to track their own progress like any good app, but in a couple of weeks, they will also be rolling out the administrator analytics dashboard, enabling companies to track the well-being of their workplace community.

The focus on quantifying the employees’ well-being with the ultimate goal of increasing productivity might seem cold and off-puttingly programmatic. But Whil grounds its approach in rich scientific data: economically, stress costs the U.S. approximately $300 billion per year in absenteeism, medical costs, or low productivity; statistically, 83 percent of people rank work as their primary source of stress; and, finally, from a neuroscientific point of view, the brain’s ability to rewire itself offers amazing opportunities for improvement.

Whil seems to have put the science to good use, as we tried out the sessions designed for individuals – which are completely free – and found them very effective. The app allows you to set very specific goals, making it easier to stay motivated. We chose “Sleep better and feel rested,” completed the breathing exercises, and started yawning within minutes. Overall, Whil comes across as an efficient and uncomplicated tool, capable of providing immediate results.

Sattva: A quantified experience for self-driven meditators

A self-titled “Meditation Timer & Tracker,” Sattva seems to be aimed at more experienced and autonomous meditators. It does not offer sessions specifically designed for beginners, and the overall experience feels less “gamified” compared with some of the other apps.

[sattva meditation app screenshot]For those who are not new to the world of meditation, the Sattva meditation tracker is a great option.
Image credit: Sattva

On iOS, Sattva integrates seamlessly with the Health app, pulling information on your heart rate and blood pressure. Apple Watch lovers will be happy to know that the app is also available on their device. You can choose to do a “Quick start,” a “Guided meditation,” or a “Chant.”

Before and after the sessions, you can have your heart rate measured with a simple tap; Sattva uses your phone’s camera to take your pulse using just your fingertip.

You can download most of the meditations and chants for free. We tried “Transforming emotions,” which starts gently with breathing exercises, transitions smoothly toward a nonjudgmental acceptance of your negative emotions, and ends with a smile. For $1.99, we found “Happiness with Sri Sri” – that is, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, spiritual leader and founder of the The Art of Living.

Sattva feels very calculated and data-driven. The dashboard counts the total number of minutes you have spent meditating, averages out your beats per minute, tells you when your last session was, your current and best streak, how many other people are meditating, the number of challenges completed, trophies achieved, and much more.

The dashboard also includes a leaderboard, which informs you where you rank among your meditating friends – a competitive approach we thought to run slightly against the ethos of mindful meditation.

Additionally, we thought that some of the stats were a touch redundant. For instance, the “Total minutes” of meditation can be found in the main dashboard screen, under the “More” button, and in the profile section, as well as under “Community.” We did enjoy the small pieces of motivational wisdom sprinkled throughout the app, however, alongside the easy-to-access recommendations.

Smiling Mind: Taking children on a journey to the Land of Mindfulness

Both Smiling Mind and Headspace were reviewed using the Mobile Application Rating Scale. Of the 23 apps included, Smiling Mind came out second, so we were very excited to try it out for ourselves.

[Smiling mind app]
The Smiling Mind program aims to bring mindfulness to schools.
Image credit: Smiling Mind

Every session starts by asking you to assess your mood based on three criteria: happiness, contentedness, and alertness. At the end of the session, you are sent back into the world “with a smile on your mind.”

The app offers three modules: “Smiling Mind for Wellbeing” (aimed at adults), “Smiling Mind in Education,” and “Smiling Mind in the Workplace.” The adult program offers 10 modules making up a total of 42 sessions, along with “Bite Size” sessions of between 1 and 3 minutes, “Extended Meditations”, and sessions intended to complement regular sports activities.

What we loved most about the app is the focus it places on children and teens. Smiling Mind offers programs for children of various age groups, centered around their experience of growing up.

From slowly discovering who they are and gaining a sense of independence, to learning how to interact socially and respect others, the app offers support for the potential challenges of being a child. Finally, the program for 16- to 18-year-olds aims to help teens plan for the future as they transition into being young adults.

You may wonder what mindfulness can offer to such a young audience, but the sessions are creative, imaginative, and seem well attuned to a young sensibility. Children are invited “on a journey to the Land of Mindfulness – a place inside you where you are safe and strong.” They are asked to imagine that they are seaweed that is being gently rocked by the current or to “put a smile on their mind” by making a happy wish for themselves in a magical tree.

The app is completely free, but if you feel grateful for it, you can make a donation to help Smiling Mind bring mindfulness to all Australian schools.

Stop, Breathe & Think: A friendly guide for beginners

Simply called “Breathe” on a smartphone, this app invites you to check in by closing your eyes and dimming the screen for a few seconds. Then, it invites you to assess how you feel – but there is a twist.

What we really liked about Breathe is that it offers a much wider range of feelings to choose from, and harnesses your input more effectively than other apps.

When checking in, you can select up to five feelings from five different categories – ranging from very happy to very sad – and each of these categories has up to 35 different emotions to choose from. Breathe makes you feel that your emotions really matter, as the selections are fed into an algorithm that then comes up with more than 25 meditations tailored to your needs.

Some of these sessions require a premium membership, which costs $4.99 per month. The sessions are a combination of meditations, breathing exercises, yoga, and even acupressure videos. We tried the “Deep Breathing” premium meditation, and we liked that it prepares you for the possibility that you might get lightheaded – something that occurs quite often when you are a beginner, but which has not been addressed by the other apps.

Overall, Breathe is an ultragamified, particularly beginner-friendly app. At the end of each session, you are asked to re-evaluate your state of mind and body, and you are rewarded with unexpected stickers and awards. The app offers a “Learn to meditate” pack that uses simple words and straightforward science to explain what meditation is and how it benefits the mind.

With its friendly interface, simple explanations, and cute illustrations, Breathe is perfect for those wishing to step down the path of mindfulness for the very first time.

Milk Thistle Uses to Improve Your Health

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), a member of the Asteraceae family, is a therapeutic herb with a 2000-year history of use in traditional Chinese, European, and Ayurvedic medicine. Originally native to Southern Europe, Asia Minor, and the Mediterranean region, the plant now grows wild throughout the world. In addition to being one of the most commonly used supplements for supporting liver health, milk thistle also offers specialized nutrition for the cardiovascular system, prostate, and gallbladder. High-quality, organic milk thistle is inexpensive, readily available, and should be on your list. Let’s take a look at seven exciting ways milk thistle supports good health.

1. Assists Antioxidant Activity

The health benefits of milk thistle lie in its seeds, the extract of which is called silymarin. Silymarin is a potent antioxidant. The extract contains natural compounds called flavonolignans, which are phytochemicals that are part flavonoid and part lignan. Silibinin is the most active flavonolignan in silymarin. While silibinin itself is a strong antioxidant, silymarin is 8-10 times more potent than silibinin alone in scavenging free radicals.

2. Nutritional Support for the Liver and Gallbladder

Milk thistle’s foremost role in traditional medicine is to support liver and gallbladder health. The liver is one of your body’s primary organs for detoxification. Maintaining its proper function is critically important to overall wellness. Milk thistle is one of the best herbs you can use to promote liver health. Silymarin helps the liver grow new cells by boosting protein synthesis. Animal testing has revealed that silymarin may counteract some toxin-induced liver ailments.

3. Encourages Normal Lipid Profiles

Milk thistle may support normal lipid profiles. Early research suggests that silymarin, combined with other flavonoids, may promote ideal lipid absorption and synthesis in the body. The exact mechanism behind these properties is unknown, although it may relate to the herb’s strong antioxidant properties.

4. Promotes Healthy Skin

Topical preparations of milk thistle extract may offer beneficial effects for the skin. Animal studies have found that silymarin encourages normal skin cell development in mice. One purely observational study concluded that a topically-applied, silymarin-based skin cream effectively encourages healthy skin. Preliminary investigations have even begun to examine the potential of silymarin as a natural replacement for conventional sunscreen.

5. Supports Normal Blood Sugar

Recent studies have focused on milk thistle’s potential to encourage normal blood sugar. In both animal and human testing, daily administration of silymarin was found to promote normal blood sugar levels. Silibinin has also demonstrated beneficial effects on problems that may result from imbalanced blood sugar. Again, more research is required to fully understand the relationship between milk thistle and blood sugar.

6. May Counteract Mushroom Poisoning

Amanita phalloides, more commonly known as the death cap, is a deadly mushroom commonly mistaken for edible varieties. The appropriately-named death cap is one of the most poisonous mushrooms on Earth and the most frequent cause of fatal mushroom poisonings worldwide. Milk thistle can not only help prevent this, intravenous administration of silymarin is the only thing that works. Silymarin stabilizes cell membranes and inhibits the absorption of the toxin.

7. Supports Prostate Health

The prostate is a small organ in the male reproductive system. It produces prostatic fluid, which nourishes and protects sperm. Unfortunately, the prostate can also be the point of development for threatening conditions. Fortunately, milk thistle may support normal prostate health. Silymarin has demonstrated numerous benefits to prostate health both in vitro and in vivo, including normal cell development and the development of new blood vessels. A related milk thistle compound, isosilybin B, was found to be particularly effective. More research is necessary, but studies like these provide strong support for the use of silibinin to support prostate health.

The Side Effects of Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is safe for most people, but those with a ragweed allergy should avoid it. As a member of the ragweed family, the plant can upset the condition. Due to its effects on blood sugar, those who already suffer from low blood sugar should exercise caution. While safe for humans, milk thistle is toxic to cows and sheep when eaten in large amounts over a period of days or weeks.

Best Tips for Growing Milk Thistle

You can buy organic milk thistle seeds online, but if you want them fresh, you may have to grow your own. Fortunately, the plant is extremely easy to grow. Maybe even a little too easy. There’s a reason it’s often thought of as a highly invasive weed.

In fact, be sure to check your local laws before planting. Because of its prolific nature, some jurisdictions restrict milk thistle. For example, the state of Washington recognizes the plant as a “Class A Noxious Weed” that must be eradicated when found. You could face a stiff fine for growing it intentionally.

Once you’ve checked your local laws, you’ll need to obtain viable milk thistle seeds. These can be ordered online or harvested from an existing plant. You can start the seeds indoors, but the plant is hardy enough that you can probably plant directly outside.

In mid to late summer the flowers will dry and transform into a white puff that’s similar to a dandelion. This is when it’s time to harvest your seeds. Beneficial aspects aside, remember that the plant is still a thistle. It has little, spiky barbs, so wear thick gardening gloves and be careful. Remove all the puffy white flower heads and put them in a paper bag. Keep the flowers in the bag for about a week to dry. At the end of the week, shake the bag vigorously to separate the seed from the fluff.

Easy Milk Thistle Tea Recipe

Making a tea is a great way to access the health benefits of milk thistle seed. Using a mortar, grind one tablespoon of milk thistle seeds into a powder. Steep in 3 cups of boiling water for about 15 minutes and strain. Enjoy a cup 30 minutes before meals or bedtime. Some cultures even enjoy roasted, crushed milk thistle seeds as an alternative to coffee.

What Are the Benefits of Milk Thistle Seed?

Milk thistle seed (Silybum marianum) has a history dating back over two thousand years as a favorite among herbalists for its positive effects on the liver and gallbladder. The ancient philosophers Pliny and Galen both praised the herb for liver cleansing. Now, milk thistle is one of the most well-researched plants for liver support applications.

What is the Active Component of Milk Thistle Seed?

The seeds contain the highest concentrations of the active compound, silymarin. Silymarin is an antioxidant that reduces free radical production and oxidative damage. It may also inhibit the binding of toxins to the liver. In animals, silymarin reduces liver injury caused by acetaminophen and has been shown to have positive effects on alcoholic liver disease, hepatitis and toxin-induced liver problems. It’s also very encouraging that milk thistle has a good safety record; side effects are rare and serious toxicity has not been reported, neither have drug interactions.

Liver Support Applications

With research that may open the door for more examples of traditional medicine to be successfully transposed into modern medical interventions, the Université of Montréal in Quebec assessed the protective potential of milk thistle extract in liver transplantation injury and concluded that silibinin shows promise in protecting the liver from certain damages.

Milk thistle is native to the Mediterranean and the stems, also rich in antioxidants, are regularly eaten by those in the area to reduce oxidative damage in the liver and biliary tract. Oxidative damage is thought to be one of the main mechanisms involved in nearly all chronic liver disorders. Overall, when investigating the value of herbal therapies for liver disorders, milk thistle is of high interest due to its high antioxidant capacity.

Milk thistle seed has even been examined for a potential role in battling hepatitis C in Pakistan, where infection is a major problem.

Other Actions of Milk Thistle

Interestingly, milk thistle seed has historically been given to people that ingested amanita, a toxic mushroom. It appears science agrees with this folk remedy, as researchers at the Institute of Complementary Medicine at University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland reviewed 65 papers on milk thistle trials and studies and, based on the available evidence, concluded it was reasonable to use silymarin for amanita toxicity. A review of all information also prompted them to encourage new research to explore new uses.

Milk thistle has structural relation to compounds demonstrated active on liver metabolic processes, leading to speculation milk thistle reduces blood sugar. Further examination has in concluded the effects on liver glucose metabolism do have a blood sugar lowering effect.

Milk thistle seed extract is known to have estrogenic effects and effects on memory by estrogen have been reported. Studies involving rats showed silybin administration during pregnancy resulted in positive brain changes and better memory. Could this lay the groundwork for further exploration of silybin and memory impairment diseases?

Supplementing with Milk Thistle

Milk thistle can be found as an extract in supplements in liquid or capsule form. As mentioned above, this herb possesses a wealth of benefits, mainly supporting and protecting the normal functions of the liver. Due to these benefits, organic milk thistle is one of the main ingredients in Livatrex®, a powerful blend of herbs that aid digestion and support the liver and gallbladder.