A Holistic Treatment Plan for Seasonal Allergies

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you know how frustrating the symptoms can be. Dealing with running, itchy eyes and nose, sneezing, coughing, and wheezing can make life very uncomfortable and unfortunately, prescription allergy medications can leave you feeling groggy and tired. There are ways, however, to treat allergies holistically. The results are not immediately effective, however, when the treatments are done faithfully, the result is permanent relief from seasonal allergies and better health overall.

PREVENTATIVE PROGRAM

It is best to start this part of the treatment when you are having the least amount symptoms, well before the onset of an acute allergic reaction. Continue the below program for 6 months to a year.

Support the Liver with Diet & Herbs
Allergies occur when the liver over reacts to foreign protein bodies in the environment, including things like plant pollens, dust, animal hairs, chemicals, foods, and cosmetics. Usually, this hypersensitivity to environmental factors is caused by a weakness or breakdown somewhere in our internal system.

If cellular wastes are not being efficiently broken down or eliminated, they build up and begin to weaken internal tissues and organs. This excess protein build up in the blood triggers white blood cell activity, which activates other defense systems in the body. This creates a state of chronic low level agitation in the body that makes it hypersensitive to foreign proteins, also known as antigens.

When an antigen enters the blood stream, the body produces antibodies to “protect” itself. This reaction causes the production of histamine, which is toxic to membranes. This substance causes blood vessels to dilate and makes them more permeable. Histamine is responsible for causing allergy symptoms, like swelling of the mucous membranes in the nose, eyes, and lungs, and the contraction of air passages that results in wheezing and edema.

The liver is responsible for deactivating poisonous substances in the body, even those that the body itself creates. When the liver is healthy, it is able to produce an enzyme, histaminases, which is a natural antihistamine. However, when the liver is stressed, it can not produce enough histaminases to eliminate the histamine the body produced and allergy symptoms continue. Thus, a healthy liver is crucial to being able to eliminate allergies.
Because the liver plays such an important role in the allergic process, the first step to treating hay fever and getting rid of allergies is cleansing and toning the liver.

Diet

Most liver imbalances can be classified as deficiencies or excesses. A person who suffers from hay fever tends to be liver deficient.

In this case, the liver function is slow and weak. Cellular wastes are not properly eliminated, and the body is polluted with its own toxic metabolic wastes (as described above). A liver deficiency results in poor use of ingested nutrients and inefficient uptake of the proteins and cholesterol the body needs to regenerate cells. Diet is crucial to helping to improve the health of the liver and establish balance in the body.

Deficient livers are often caused by a diet that includes too many simple carbohydrates and not enough quality protein and fats. Usually, too much emphasis has been put on raw, or cold “yin” type foods; dairy, fruits, and carbs. So in general, a corrective diet for a liver deficient person should include more high quality proteins, fats & oils, and warming foods, as well as:

  • dark leafy greens
  • fresh sprouts – especially clover, fenugreek & alfalfa
  • fresh, steamed vegetables – especially beets and other root veggies
  • whole grains
  • seeds – especially sesame
  • raw almonds
  • fresh, alkalizing fruits, like lemon & grapefrui

Foods to Avoid 

  • alcohol
  • cold drinks and foods
  • fried, fatty, oily foods
  • dairy
  • food preservatives and additives
  • sweets, sugar, and fruit juices
  • raw fruits and vegetables

Continue reading

Herbs for A Healthy Pregnancy

Herbs are a lovely, natural way to support mom and baby during pregnancy. They can help provide important vitamins and minerals, ease morning sickness, relieve stress, and help to level out mood swings.

The following tea blend is one that herbalist , Rosemary Gladstar, recommends for pregnant mothers. It is tasty and nourishing. This blend can be enjoyed throughout pregnancy to provide essential nutrients, strengthen muscles used during childbirth, ease stress, and gently boost energy levels.

Pregnancy Tea 

  • 4 parts peppermint or spearmint
  • 3 parts raspberry leaf
  • 3 parts lemongrass
  • 2 parts nettle
  • 2 parts oat straw
  • 2 parts strawberry leaf
  • 1 part comfrey leaf
  • Optional: a pinch of stevia

[TONICS]

Tonic herbs strengthen and improve general, overall health and vitality of the whole body or in some cases, a specific body system. They are gentle enough to be used often over an extended period of time, and in fact, often work best when used regularly.

Raspberry (Rubus)
Raspberry leaf is a safe and widely used herb for supporting pregnancy. Prepared as an infusion,* it makes a lovely uterine and general pregnancy tonic. It can be used regularly throughout pregnancy to nourish mother and baby and to strengthen the muscles used during childbirth.

The leaves of raspberry contain an alkaloid called fragrine, which helps to tone the muscles of the pelvis and uterus. It is also rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B complex, C, & E; phosphorus, potassium and iron. The infusion of raspberry leaf also contains calcium in its most absorbable form. The uptake of this mineral is further enhanced by the aforementioned phosphorus, vitamin A & C contained in the leaf.

The regular use of this tonic herb is especially beneficial before and during pregnancy. Prior to conception, raspberry leaf combined with red clover blossoms can help to improve fertility in both men and women. During pregnancy, it can help to ease morning sickness by gently relieving an upset stomach and nausea.
If taken throughout pregnancy, Rubus helps to tone the uterus, which helps prevent miscarriage and postpartum hemorrhage. During childbirth, this toning allows the uterus to contract more effectively, which may make birth faster and easier. Also, because it strengthens the muscles used during labor and delivery, regular use of raspberry leaf during pregnancy can reduce labor pains and healing time after birth.
Raspberry leaf can also be beneficial after the baby is born. The high mineral content of this herb often helps the mother’s body to produce enough breast milk. However, since it is slightly astringent, some mothers may actually experience the opposite effect.

Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Nettle is a wonderfully nourishing tonic herb, especially during pregnancy. It has a high chlorophyll content compared to other herbs and is source of nearly every vitamin and mineral that is known to be needed for human development. It is rich in vitamins A, C, D, & K; calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and sulfur.
Nettle is easy to enjoy. The infusion* is deep and rich tasting. It is also a delicious spring edible in temperate zones. If you’re lucky enough to live in warmer climates, it can be eaten year round.
There are many benefits to regular consumption of nettle before and during pregnancy. Before pregnancy, nettles help to improve fertility in both men and women.

During pregnancy, this herb helps to provide essential nutrients for mother and baby. Nettle infusions supply readily absorbable phosphorus, calcium, and vitamins A & D.

Nettles also help to ease leg cramps and other muscle spasms. Since this herb is mildly astringent and generally nourishing, it strengthens the blood vessels can help to reduce hemorrhoids. Additionally, nettles tone and strengthen the kidneys, which have to cleanse 150% of the normal blood flow during most of pregnancy.
Regular use of nettle throughout pregnancy helps to reduce pain during and after childbirth because it is high in easily assimilated calcium, which reduces muscles pains in the uterus, legs, and other areas. It also is an excellent source of vitamin K and increases the amount hemoglobin that is available, both of which help to decrease the risk of bleeding postpartum. In case bleeding after birth does occur, drinking fresh nettle in teaspoon doses will help to slow it. After birth, nettle helps mothers produce rich, abundant breast milk.

Continue reading

100+ Homemade Christmas Gift Ideas

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is making gifts for my friends and family. Homemade gifts are easily customized to fit the tastes of the recipient and are a truly unique and special way to celebrate Christmas.

This DIY gift round up is sure to give you plenty of ideas for everyone on your list this year.

Gifts to Pamper:

1. Coconut Mango Butter Lip Balm from The Nerdy Farmwife

2. Beach Waves Hair Spray from Wellness Mama

3. Oil Cleansing Facial Bars from My Healthy Green Family

Photo credit: My Healthy Green Family

4. Herbal Mud Mask from The Hippy Homemaker
5. Sweet Lime Lip Scrub from Mountain Rose Herbs Blog

Photo Credit: Mountain Rose Herbs

6. Elderflower Eye Cream from Joybilee Farm
7. Sweet Orange & Rose Perfume from The Herbal Academy

8. Basil Anti-Aging Face Cream from The Nerdy Farmwife

9. Natural Makeup from Wellness Mama

10. Massage Oil from the Mountain Rose Herbs Blog

11. Aloe Mint Lotion from The Nerdy Farmwife

12. Calendula Sugar Scrub from The Herbal Academy

13. Green Tea Skin Serum from the Mountain Rose Herbs blog

Photo Credit: Mountain Rose Herbs

14. Aromatherapy Shower Steamers from The Hippy Homemaker

15. Lavender Cardamom Bath Salts from Shalom Mama

16. Cacao & Vanilla Body Polish from the Mountain Rose Herbs blog

17. Gingersnap Facemask from Growing Up Herbal

18. Honey Body Wash from DIY Natural

Photo Credit: DIY Natural

19. Beard Oil from from Mountain Rose Herbs Blog

20. Buckwheat Relaxation Pillows from Wellness Mama

21. Peppermint Tea Tree Aftershave from The Hippy Homemaker

22. Lotion Bars from Wellness Mama

Continue reading

Digestive Bitters

 

img_3171Bitter foods and herbs play a very important role in digestion and the health of the organs that facilitate it. Bitters stimulate the production of digestive fluids that help to break down food to ensure that the body can absorb the nutrients from it. They also help to tone and heal the digestive tissues.

When you first taste bitter foods, bitter taste receptors on the tongue trigger reactions throughout the digestive tract. In the mouth, bitters promote salivation, which breaks down starches and begins to digest fats.

In the stomach, bitters promote the production of gastrin, a hormone that regulates how much gastric acid is produced. This is especially important because an adequate amount of stomach acid is necessary for the body to be able to uptake minerals from food.

Bitters also aid in the production of pepsin, an enzyme that helps break down proteins and is key to the proper absorption of vitamin B12.

In the pancreas, liver, and gall bladder, bitters promote the production and flow of pancreatic enzymes and bile, which help to break down fats & oils, lubricate the intestines so digested food can pass through, and rid the liver of waste products.

While it is clear that bitters are essential to a healthy digestive system, typical modern diets are severely lacking in bitter foods. According to herbalist, James Green, this can contribute to variety of health issues, including indigestion, abnormal metabolism, liver and gall bladder issues, diabetes, and so on.

Fortunately, adding more bitter foods to your diet can be simple and delicious. Bitter greens taste great, are extremely nutritious, and are easy to find at the farmer’s market or to grow in your own back yard. Greens like dandelion, arugula, mustard, and garlic mustard are tasty additions to stir fries, salads, pestos, or soups. Use sparingly initially if you don’t often eat bitter foods, as they can be a bit overwhelming to a palate that is unfamiliar with bitter flavors. Add acid (like vinegar or lemon juice), fats (like olive oil or butter), salt, herbs, or spices to complement and balance the sharpness of bitter greens.

If you find you aren’t eating enough bitter foods in your diet or know that you have issues with sluggish digestion, making a tincture of bitter herbs is a simple way to benefit from bitters. Tinctures can be stored in small dropper bottles and are easy to keep on hand for cases of acute digestive issues or just to take daily with meals to help promote digestion. In his text, “Blessed Bitters,” Michigan herbalist, jim mcdonald, recommends taking 15-30 drops of bitters tincture for relief of acute indigestion. One could also take a few drops in water before meals to aid the digestive process and help prevent gas, bloating, and stomach pain.

The below recipe for a digestive bitters tincture utilizes the bitter properties of chamomile and yellow dock to help promote a healthy digestive tract and process. Because bitter herbs are cooling in nature, it helps to combine them with a warming herb to help balance this action, thus the addition of ginger to this formula.

Additionally, the aromatic properties of the orange peel and chamomile in this recipe are helpful for relieving gas and bloating. Orange peel has been used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine for thousands of years to aid digestion, promote liver function, and relieve gas & bloating. It can be helpful for abdominal distention, loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Digestive Bitters Tincture

Ingredients:

  • Vodka (at least 80 proof)
  • 1 part orange peel
  • 1 part ginger
  • 1 part chamomile
  • 2 parts yellow dock root

Directions:

Roughly chop the orange peel, ginger, and yellow dock. Combine with the chamomile in a glass jar.

Fill the jar about 1/2 to 1/3 of the way with plant material. Avoid packing the jar too full. The herbs will need space to move freely in the alcohol so that their properties can be fully extracted.

Pour vodka over top so that the roots and flowers are completely submerged in alcohol. Cover the jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake a few times a week or as often as you remember. Cover with more alcohol if the herbs absorb it and are exposed to the air. Let extract for 6-8 weeks.

Strain herbs from the alcohol using a cheese cloth. Rebottle your tincture into a glass bottle with a dropper and label the jar. Store in a cool, dark place. Tinctures can last for several years of stored properly.

Take as needed for digestive issues or daily before meals to promote healthy digestion.

Cheers to happy, healthy digestive system!

 

References:

“Blessed Bitters” by jim mcdonald. http://www.herbcraft.org/bitters.pdf. Accessed September 17, 2016.

“Citrus Peel Medicine” by Don Matesz. Mother Earth Living. October/November 2010 issue. Article online: http://www.motherearthliving.com/health-and-wellness/citrus-peel-medicine.aspx. Accessed September 17, 2016.

The Many Benefits of Red Clover 

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is a lovely little plant that grows abundantly in meadows and along roadsides here in Southwest Michigan and in temperate regions across the world. It is a favorite among farmers, foragers, and herbalists.  In his book, Back to Eden, herbalist, Jethro Kloss, called red clover “one of God’s greatest blessings to man.” And for good reason! This wonderful legume is edible, medicinal, and extremely useful in the garden.

We planted red clover heavily our first year at the Augusta Creek Permaculture site to aid in the transition from lawn to forest garden as it helps to force out unwanted weeds and grass. It also loosens poor, rocky, or clay soil and fixes nitrogen. We chop and drop it throughout the season to prepare areas for planting and feed other plants. It is a low-maintence, easy to grow perennial and is a favorite cover crop among farmers because it easily adapts to a variety of climates, grows quickly, and has few issues with diseases and pests.


Red clover has many medicinal uses. It is blood purifying and improves liver function. It also has antispasmodic and expectorant properties, making it helpful for coughs and other bronchial issues.

It is helpful in aiding the healing of skin problems, such as skin eruptions, eczema, psoriasis, skin growths, and fresh wounds. It is also a great herb for treating skin problems in children, as it is very gentle. Because of these properties, it is a wonderful addition to healing salves.

Red clover and nettle combine well for treatment of skin problems. This lovely clay mask is simple to make and naturally purifies oily, acne prone skin types. The clay draws out toxins and gently exfoliates. Red clover and nettle cleanse and heal problem skin.

Red Clover & Nettle Exfoliating Face Scrub

  • 1 cup betonite clay
  • 1/4 cup finely ground dry red clover blossoms
  • 1/4 cup finely ground nettle leaf

Combine ingredients and mix well. Store in a glass container with a lid.

To use: mix a small amount (1-2 teaspoons) of the clay & herb blend with water to form a paste. Apply mixture to face and massage gently into skin. Rinse with warm water. If desired, follow with an astringent facial spray (click here to learn how to make your own dandelion, cleaver & violet toner!) then a little bit of a natural moisturizer.

Continue reading

Improving Indoor Air Quality with Houseplants

 Did you know that many of the synthetic building materials used in building and furnishing newer buildings are known to emit toxic compounds, including formaldehyde?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most indoor air pollution comes from sources that are inside of the building. These chemicals, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can cause acute reactions at low to moderate levels of exposure and serious health issues in people who are exposed to high levels.  VOCs are most commonly released from things like adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, man-made wood products, copy machines, cleaning products, and pesticides. This problem is compounded by the fact that most newer buildings are constructed to be as airtight as possible to conserve energy used on heating and cooling the building. Thus, pollutants are trapped inside and have little opportunity to dissipate outside.

This is certainly not a good thing, especially considering the average American is spending a lot of time indoors between the office and their home. However, with the simple addition of some common house plants to your living/work space, you can breathe a little easier. A two-year study conducted by NASA found that plants improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. And some plants actually filter pollutants from the air. Several of the plants they studied were even found to absorb some of most common indoor air pollutants — such as formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and trichloroethylene — which are often released by the synthetic materials used in buildings and by chemicals found in household cleaners and solvents.

NASA conducted these air quality studies to find a way to ensure pure air for those living in a space station long-term. They found that in a closed environment, there are certain species of plants that absorb polluted air, filter it, and release clean air back into the atmosphere.  Fortunately, many of these plants are easily found, as they are common houseplants, and most of them require little care. This makes the addition of such plants a plausible clean air solution for everyone, even those who don’t have a “green thumb.”

Continue reading

DIY: Fertility Cycle Bracelet for Women

Fertility bracelets are a tool to help women be more aware of the phases of their monthly cycles.  They can be utilized in natural family planning, but should not be used a primary method of birth control without a solid understanding of your cycle and most likely the aid of some other fertility tracking methods. There are many methods for natural family planning and this is not necessarily the most reliable if it is very important to you to not get pregnant. Be sure to do your research and know the risks before relying on any birth control method.

These bracelets are best suited to helping women get more in touch with their bodies so they are better able to predict their monthly period and phases of fertility. They are a easy daily reminder of where you are at in your cycle and can help cue you into changes that are happening in your body at different times of the month. Overall, these bracelets are good tool for any woman is wanting to be in better touch with the rhythms of her menstrual period. They are easy to make and can easily be customized to match your personal style based on your bead and charm choices.

How to Make Your Own Fertility Cycle Bracelet –

  1. Figure out how many beads to use. Count how many days are in your average cycle. This will be measured by the number of days between the 1st day of your last period and the 1st day of your next/current period. The most accurate way to do this is to keep track of the length of your cycle for many months. Most adult women have menstrual cycles that range from 21-35 days. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days. Some women don’t always have the same number of days in each cycle. If this is you, your total number of beads you use should be however many days are in your longest menstrual cycle.
  2. Thread the beads onto a string or cord. You can use whatever beads and cord fit your own personal style. The below colors can be changed too, as long as you use one distinguishable color for each phase of the menstrual cycle.

Add the beads in the below order:

1 multicolored bead – this marks the first day of your period

6 blue beads – these beads mark your period. Pregnancy is unlikely during this time

12 purple beads – these beads indicate that pregnancy is possible/likely during this phase of your cycle

9-16 more blue beads – pregnancy is again unlikely during this phase in  your cycle. Use however many more beads you need to add up to the total number of days in your cycle. For example, if you have 31 days in your cycle you will need to add 12 blue beads. (If you would prefer to have a different color than the beads that indicate your period, choose a different bead color for this portion of the bracelet.)

3. Thread a rubber gasket or clip onto the bead chain. You will move this each day to mark where you are at in your cycle.

4. Knot the cord on the other end of your bead chain to form a bracelet. You are ready to use your bracelet to help track your fertility cycle.

Foods for Cold and Flu Season

  
We all know that what we eat affects our health, but we often don’t think about how important our diet becomes when we are ill. Eating too much of the wrong types of foods when we are sick can worsen symptoms and weaken the immune system, making us feel worse and making it harder for our body to fight off infection.

Eating healthy foods is always important and becomes even more so when we are sick, as our body needs all the help it can get to fight infection. The following foods help to lesson the severity of cold and flu symptoms and boost immune function to help our bodies recover from illness more quickly.1 Try incorporating some of these fruits, vegetables, and spices into your diet this cold and flu season to help prevent and treat infection.

Fruits

Bananas, pears, persimmons, strawberries, and figs help to moisten the lungs, making them useful in the treatment of dry coughs and bronchitis. Pears and persimmons also help to eliminate excess mucus. Strawberries are rich in vitamin C and help treat sore throat and hoarseness as well.

Lemon and lime provide vitamin C and are antiseptic and anti-microbial. They reduce mucus, and help to treat colds, flus, coughs, and sore throats. Dilute the fresh juice in water or make hot lemonade with ginger and honey. Orange juice is not a good substitute for lemon or lime juice and should actually be avoided during illness as it will only increase mucus production and congestion, which will make you feel worse.

Vegetables

Cold tolerant vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, parsley, winter squash, broccoli, and kale, contain minerals and other compounds that allow them to survive harsh weather conditions and store well. Eating these types of vegetables regularly can help you to better resist cold weather and illness. Add cold-hardy vegetables to your meals throughout the winter to help you better cope with frigid temperatures and fight off disease.

There are also many vegetables that have specific healing qualities that are helpful during cold and flu season. Green and purple varieties of cabbage, for example, are great to have on hand during the winter months. Cabbage is rich in vitamin C and can aid in the treatment of the ailments such as whooping cough, frostbite, depression, irritability and the common cold. Add it to soups or other food dishes, or drink cabbage juice or tea.

Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, a powerful anti-oxidant that helps reduce inflammation in the mucus membranes, making it helpful in the treatment of infections of the ears, lungs, and skin. Drink a cup or two of carrot juice or eat a generous serving of carrots (about 6 ounces) daily to help treat ear infections, earaches, measles, chicken pox, and coughs.

Onions help to reduce chest congestion, phlegm production, and inflammation in the lungs, throat and nose. They also purify the body by promoting sweating, which aids in elimination of toxins, and have antifungal, antimicrobial effects. Chives, scallions, and leeks are also in the onion family and also possess these healing properties.

Parsley is a great source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Besides being highly nutritional, it is also effective in the treatment of ear infections and earaches. Celery is also helpful in speeding recovery from illness. It helps reduce fevers and eliminate toxins from the body by promoting sweating. Combine celery juice with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to treat the common cold.

Spices

Black pepper is a common, but powerful spice when it comes to treating and preventing illness. It helps eliminate toxins and viral infections from the body, and is a great remedy for the cold and flu. This spice is most effective when freshly ground. Use a food mill to grind whole peppercorns into soups, herbal teas, or foods several times a day to treat illness.

Garlic helps to treat the common cold, sore throats, ear infections, and sinus headaches. It is a potent antiseptic, promotes sweating to help eliminate toxins, and helps to boost the immune system. Add garlic to soups, sauces, sautés, and other dishes to prevent and treat illness.

Cayenne is an antiseptic and a great source of vitamin C. It helps to stimulate the body’s natural defense system, reduce fevers, eliminate toxins by promoting sweating, and relieve the muscle and joint aches that are common with colder temperatures and the flu.

Foods to Avoid

Avoid sugar rich foods, orange juice, dairy products, and other foods that will increase mucus production and congestion, as these foods will only worsen the symptoms of a cold2 and make you more miserable. It is also important to eat lightly while ill, so your body can focus its already depleted energy on fighting off infection, not digesting food.

Eating good food is always important, but healthy food choices are a crucial part of staying well in the winter months. Soups, stews, teas, juices, broths, and stir-fries are all good ways to add lots of healing fruits, vegetables, and spices to your diet. Food can (and should) not only feed us, but also be a dose of good medicine. Incorporate a variety of naturally medicinal foods into your diet this cold and flu season to help lesson symptoms, treat illness, boost your immune system, and keep you well.

The Benefits of Having a Furry Friend

It’s no secret that pets can bring a lot of joy to the lives of their owners, but did you know that having a pet can actually improve your health too?

Spending time with pets actually causes physical reactions in your body that reduce stress and improve your mood. Just petting a cat or dog, or watching a fish swim actually decreases your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and helps increase production of serotonin, a feel good chemical that increases feelings of well-being.  Additionally, playing with a pet can increase your levels of both serotonin and dopamine, which will leave you feeling more calm and relaxed.

Having a pet has been shown to help fight depression, stress, and anxiety. In addition to increasing chemicals in the brain that promote feelings of calm, relaxation, and overall well-being, spending a time with a pet can also be helpful because it makes pet owners feel that they are not alone. Feeling isolated and lonely can make disorders like depression much worse, so a pet’s companionship can provide a great deal of comfort by making owners feel needed and wanted. Talking to a pet can also be a source of consolation for pet owners.

In addition to providing many mental health benefits, studies have also shown that having a pet is beneficial for your physical health too. For example, research has shown that owning a pet is linked to lower blood pressure. In one study, married couples who owned pets were found to have lower blood pressure and resting heart rates (both at rest and during a stress test) than couples who did not own a pet. Another study conducted on children with hypertension found that petting their dog lowered the childrens’ blood pressures. Researchers have also found that people who own cats have fewer strokes than those who don’t. This is partially because owning a pet helps improve circulation. But, scientists think that cats may have a calming effect on their owners (more so than other animals). It also may have something to do with the personality of many cat owners, who often focus their interest on their cat, which keeps them from being stressed or worried about other things.

Additionally, people who owned pets have been found to have lower levels of triglycerides and cholesterol (which indicate heart disease) than those without pets. This could be attributed to lifestyle factors and is not an excuse to ignore a healthy diet or exercise, but is certainly encouraging. Pet owners overall, have a lower risk of death caused by any type of cardiac disease, including heart failure.  A twenty year study found that people who had never owned a cat were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack than those who had. Another study found that people’s survival rate one year after a heart attack improved significantly if they owned a dog.

Exposure to a pet can even reduce a child’s risk of developing allergies,  asthma, and eczema in adulthood.  People who have allergies produce antibodies in response to irritants, like pet dander or saliva, which causes inflammation that affects the lungs (asthma) and skin (eczema). However, scientists believe that infants who are exposed to pets may become desensitized to these allergens, making them less likely to have allergic reactions as an adult. A study in 2008 found that prenatal exposure to a pet lowered the production of allergic antibodies in the umbilical cord, which could potentially reduce the child’s chances for developing allergies even further. Children who have pets when they are young also have higher levels of certain immune systems chemicals, indicating a stronger immune system.

Another major benefit of owning a pet is that it can promote a healthier lifestyle. For example, dog owners tend to be more physically active and are less likely to be obese than people who don’t own dogs. A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health  found that people who owned dogs were 34 % more likely to exercise at least 150 minutes per week. Taking your dog for a 30 minute daily walk will benefit both you and your canine. And playing fetch in the backyard afterwards is a way to further boost health benefits from exercise and from the feel good chemicals being released by your brain during play. Chasing your cat around or actively playing with them is another easy way to get exercise and improve your mood.

Owning a pet also promotes the establishment and sustainment of a connection with others, which is key to a healthy life. And the companionship of your pet is just the beginning. Being a pet owner can help you meet new people at dog parks , pet stores, or in training classes. And having a pet will give you something in common with other pet owners, who often love to talk about their pets. Taking a dog for a walk can be a good way to spark up a conversation, either with other dog walkers, or with people who simply appreciate your pet’s adorableness.

Because of the many health benefits pets can provide, animals are now being utilized to help those who have chronic illnesses or are hospitalized for long periods of time. Studies have found that petting a dog helps those recovering from a stroke regain their strength and that people with Alzheimer’s are less likely to have an anxious outburst if there is a pet in the home.

Specially trained dogs are becoming an increasingly popular way to help people with various diseases and disorders function in everyday life. “Seizure dogs,” for example, are trained to alert parents when a child is having a seizure in another room, or to lie next to someone who is having a seizure to prevent injury. Other dogs are trained to assist people with Parkinson’s disease by picking up and fetching items, providing balance and support, opening and closing doors, or even turning light switches off or on with their paws.  Some hospitals, such as Mayo Clinic, are even using pets in a clinical setting to help promote healing and to lessen symptoms of pain, depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Animal-assisted therapy has been used to help the healing process of those in long-term care facilities, or those with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic heart failure, or cancer. “Pet therapy” has also been used to help rehabilitate those recovering from surgeries.

With all the health benefits pets provide, if you’ve been considering getting a pet, it may be a good idea to do so. However, it is important to consider the time, effort, and expenses required to properly care for any pet before you bring them home. Ensuring that your home and lifestyle is appropriate for the type of pet you’re considering is essential to make certain that the addition of your pet will bring better health and happiness for both of you.

 

Sources:

Laughter: The Best Medicine for a Stressful Life

Our bodies naturally respond to stress in a way allows us to protect ourselves in dangerous situations. Because of this, stressful events trigger a “fight or flight” reaction. When our body perceives a threat, the hypothalamus (a small region of the brain) sends nerve and hormonal signals to stimulate the adrenal glands, which then release a rush of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline increases energy, heart rate, and blood pressure, preparing the body to fight off attackers or run away from danger. Cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, increases the glucose (sugars) in your blood and improves the brain’s use of glucose, as well as increasing the body’s availability of certain substances that aid in tissue repair. Additionally, cortisol suppresses systems that wouldn’t be useful in a fight or flight situation, such as the reproductive system and growth processes. This also influences immune system responses and alters regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.

The body usually regulates this stress response quite well and drops the levels of adrenaline and cortisol after the perceived threat is gone. This allows the body and its systems to resume functioning as usual. However, when stressors are constantly present in your life, and you always feel stressed, tense, or nervous, this stress reaction stays activated. This constant triggering of the body’s fight or flight reaction can have serious consequences on your health because long-term exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones disrupts the way your body functions. Some of the health conditions that can develop from constant stress are:

  • heart disease
  • digestive problems
  • difficulty sleeping
  • obesity
  • depression
  • memory problems

People react to life stressors in different ways. Genetics can predispose you to under or over reacting to stress. Additionally, extremely stressful life experiences, such as neglect or abuse, can certainly influence the way people handle stress later on in life. But, whatever your natural response to stress may be, it is certainly in your best interest to learn to manage and reduce stress, for both your mental and physical health. While you cannot always eliminate outside sources of stress, you can change the way that you deal with all that unresolved tension.

One of the best ways to do so is to have a good laugh. I’m not joking. The benefits of laughter not only help reduce stress, but also counter its negative effects. When you start laughing, your mental load is immediately lightened. And this is not the only positive effect. Laughter also helps increase the body’s oxygen intake, which stimulates the heart, lungs, and muscles. This increases the amount feel good chemicals called endorphins that are released by your brain, which creates a sense of well-being. Additionally, a good laugh actually increases circulation and helps with muscle relaxation which helps reduce the physical symptoms of stress.

While laughter is certainly a quick stress-busting fix, it also has long term health benefits. Laughter causes the release of natural painkillers in the body, helping to ease pain. Additionally, holding onto negative thoughts can increase stress levels and decrease your immune system’s functionality. However, positive thoughts (such as those brought on by laughter) causes neuropeptides to be released which decrease stress and help prevent you from getting more serious illnesses. Laughter can also lead to increased levels of satisfaction, can help improve your connections with others, and can make coping with stressful situations much easier.

If you often find yourself stressed and tense, its time to start reading the comics, watching silly TV shows, or exchanging jokes with a friend. Start laughing your way to better health today.

Sources: