Make Your Own Immune Boosting Fire Cider

Fire ciders are a well loved folk preparation that have been used traditionally to boost digestion, aid healthy body processes, warm one up on cold days, and help to ward off illness. Autumn is the perfect time to make a big batch of fire cider so that it can be used to promote health throughout the winter months.

Fire cider is simple to prepare, but it does need to infuse for some time before it’s ready. Depending on who you ask, the exact recipe varies, but the basic formula remains the same: vinegar + health boosting herbs + honey.

For my version, I use a homemade fruit vinegar as the base. This adds a pleasant flavor and extra health boosting properties. However, using organic apple cider vinegar will work perfectly fine too.

Onion is often used to treat colds, flus, and coughs. It is antibiotic and helps to reduce mucus. It is also anti-inflammatory and is helpful for rheumatic conditions.

Garlic has antiseptic and antibiotic properties. It has long been used to treat colds, flu, and ear infections. It is also an expectorant that helps to reduce mucus.

Ginger is a warming herb that is helpful for treating sore throats, colds, coughs, and chronic bronchitis.

Nettle is a tonic herb that improves overall health and resiliency. It is beneficial for treating fevers or colds. It can also be used to boost the immune system. The root has high levels of sterol, which enhances production of white blood cells.

Thyme is an antiseptic herb that is an effective remedy for colds, flu, coughs, bronchitis. It also is helpful for boosting the immune system and relieving congestion.

Oregano is a powerful antiseptic that can be used to treat respiratory problems, like coughs, tonsillitis, bronchitis, and asthma. It also helps to boost digestive processes.

Turmeric is helpful for inflammatory disorders, like arthritis. It boosts digestion and improves liver function. It also has antibacterial properties.

Lemon is valuable as a preventive medicine. It improves circulation and the body’s ability to fight off infection. It is also an antiseptic and antibacterial that can be used to treat sore throats, colds, flu, and chest infections and to reduce fevers. It eases rheumatism and arthritis. It also helps to detoxify the liver and promotes a healthy digestion.

Aji and cayenne peppers are warming and stimulating. Both are high in capsaicin. This constituent improves circulation and thus helps to bring more blood to the hands, feet, and vital organs. It helps to relieve pain and arthritis. It is antimicrobial and has been used traditionally to help prevent infections. It also relieve gas and digestive problems.

I like to enjoy a shot of fire cider diluted in a bit of hot water on cold nights. It’s also a delicious, healthy addition to soups, stir fries, and salad dressings. It can also be taken straight if you don’t mind some spice! I like taking bigger, more frequent doses to boost immunity if it seems like illness is threatening to come on.

Below you will find the recipe for my version of fire cider. It yields roughly a half gallon of cider. If this seems like it will be too much for you feel free to half the recipe, however, you may just find that you appreciate having lots of this spicy tonic on hand throughout the winter.

How to Make Fire Cider


  • homemade fruit vinegar or apple cider vinegar (about 1/4 gallon)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 15 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp fresh ginger root, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh stinging nettle, roughly chopped
  • several sprigs of fresh thyme
  • several sprigs of fresh oregano
  • 2 Tbsp fresh turmeric root, chopped
  • 1 lemon, juice & zest
  • 2-3 fresh aji peppers, chopped or 1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper powder
  • honey, to taste


Roughly chop onions, peppers, & herbs and put into a large jar. (This recipe works best in at least a 1/2 gallon size jar.) You can substitute dried herbs if fresh ones aren’t available, but if so, decrease the amount of herbs you are using. Dried herbs will expand as they absorb the vinegar.

Pour the vinegar over the other ingredients until they are covered by an inch or two of liquid. Cover the jar and let sit for 4 weeks. Strain out the liquid and set aside. Compost the other ingredients. Add honey to taste and mix well.


Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. 2nd ed., Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2000.

Grieves, M. A Modern Herbal.

Kloss, Jethro. Back to Eden. Lotus Press, 2009.


Holistic Treatment of Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac Rash

Photo Credit: WebMD

If you live in the United States (or parts of Canada), there’s a good chance that you are all too familiar with the effects of a run in with poison ivy, oak, or sumac. These plants contain an oil called urushiol (you-ROO-shee-all) that causes an itchy, blistering rash when it comes in contact with the skin. This rash often goes away within a few weeks, but can cause a lot of misery in the meantime. Try the following suggestions to avoid getting poison ivy, oak, or sumac this summer.

Preventative Measures

If you live in an area where one or more of these plants grow, learning to identify them is an important first step to avoiding exposure in the first place. Once you know these plants, be careful to respect them and keep your distance.

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac grow prolifically and vigorously throughout the United States. The below images from map out specific areas where you can expect to find each of these plants.

This PDF from Michigan herbalist, jim mcdonald, is helpful for learning to ID poison ivy. also offers information on identifying the different types of poison ivy, oak, and sumac.

You can sometimes prevent an outbreak of a urushiol rash by washing well with fels naphtha soap. (You can find it online or in grocery or drug stores.) Try this if you have been walking or working in an area where poison ivy, oak, or sumac grows. The sooner you do this after possible exposure the better. It takes about 12 to 72 hours for a rash to form after coming into contact with the plant, so you will want to wash off the urushiol oils long before then to avoid an outbreak.

If you do end up with a rash from exposure to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, the following holistic treatment plan can help speed recovery time and reduce symptoms, without the use of conventional medications, such as antihistamines and steroids.

Cleanse & Support the Liver

The liver plays an important role in cleansing the blood and ridding it of metabolic wastes and environmental toxins. An unhealthy liver that isn’t functioning properly can cause issues with kidney, heart, skin, respiratory, and glandular functions. Thus, when skin problems manifest, it is important to boost liver health as support therapy to help the body regain balance.

The following regime will help improve liver health:

Liver Cleansing Tea

  • 3 parts dandelion root
  • 2 parts burdock root
  • 2 parts cinnamon
  • 2 parts licorice root
  • 1 part pau du arco
  • 1/2 part yellow dock
  • 1/4 part echinacea

Combine about 3 tablespoons of the above herb mixture per quart of water in a saucepan. Bring the mixture slowly to a boil, then simmer gently for 20-45 minutes. Then remove from heat and strain the herbs from your tea. Drink 2-3 cups daily.


Liver Tonic Tea

  • 3 parts peppermint
  • 2 parts lemon balm
  • 2 parts red clover blossom
  • 2 parts nettle
  • 1 part alfalfa
  • 1/2 part parsley
  • 1/4 part stevia

Add 1-3 tablespoons of above herb mixture to a strainer or tea ball and place in a cup. Bring water to a boil. Pour hot water over herbs and cover. Let infuse 15 minutes to an hour and then strain out herbs. Drink 2-3 cups daily.

Switch to a Cleansing Diet

To support the body during flares of any skin related problems, the diet should be cleansing and eliminative in nature.

Eat light simple foods, including:

  • Miso
  • Vegetable broth
  • Millet
  • Brown rice
  • Tofu
  • Steamed veggies


  • Sweets, chocolate, and foods high in sugar (even fruit and juice)
  • Alcohol
  • Fatty foods
  • Large or complex meals
  • Processed or refined foods


Relieve Stress & Support the Nervous System 

Supporting the nervous system is especially important during flares of skin issues, like poison ivy, oak, or sumac, as the rash and itching can cause stress and increased inflammation.

Try one or more of the following to help soothe nerves and reduce irritation.

Peppermint-Valerian Tea

  • 2 parts peppermint
  • 1 part valerian
  • 1 part milky oats and/or oat straw
  • 1 part licorice root

Combine water and licorice root in a saucepan. Bring the mixture slowly to a boil, then simmer gently for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add other herbs, and let infuse for 45 minutes. You’ll want to use about 3 tablespoons (total) of herbal blend per quart of water. Strain the herbs from your tea. Drink as often as needed throughout the day.

Nerve Soothing Tea

  • 3 parts chamomile
  • 2 parts lemon balm
  • 1 part milky oats and/or oat straw
  • 1 part lavender

Add 1-3 tablespoons of above herb mixture to a strainer or tea ball and place in a cup. Bring water to a boil. Pour hot water over herbs and cover. Let infuse 15 minutes to an hour and then strain out herbs. Drink as often as needed.

Valerian tincture

Take 1-2 teaspoons diluted in water or tea 3 times daily or as often as needed.

Skullcap tincture

Take 1/4 tsp diluted in water or tea 3 times daily.

Reduce Further Irritation

Dealing with poison ivy, oak, and sumac rashes can be pretty miserable. Do yourself a favor and don’t make things worse! Try the following suggestions to avoid further exacerbation.

  • Avoid hot showers, water, & heat. For a relieving soak, add baking soda to lukewarm bath water.
  • Avoid oil based treatments, like salves and ointments.

Internal & External Treatment

The following natural treatments will help to dry up poison ivy, oak, or sumac rashes, relieve itching, and speed recovery.

  • Drink drying, astringent teas of mugwort, oak bark, or witch hazel.

  • Mix clay with enough apple cider vinegar to form a paste. Spread into the affected area and let dry. Rinse with cool water.

  • Apply yogurt to affected areas. It is slightly astringent and drying. It is also a good option for topical treatment for the skin around the eyes, as other treatments may be too harsh.

  • Dilute the below linament with a little cool water and apply to affected area.

The following recipe is adapted from Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss.
Jethro Kloss’ Herbal Linament

  • 1 oz golden seal root
  • 1 oz myrrh gum
  • 1/4 oz cayenne
  • 1 pint rubbing alcohol

Combine ingredients in a glass jar with a lid that fits tightly. Cover and let sit in a warm place for 2 weeks or more, shaking daily. After 2 weeks, strain well and store in a glass jar.

  • Mix green clay, sea salt, & water till a paste forms. Stir in a few drops of pure peppermint essential oil. Apply to affected area as needed. Store in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.

  • Apply the following tincture to affected areas frequently.

Poison Ivy/Oak Tincture
Fill a jar with wilted fresh mugwort and cover with apple cider vinegar. Cover jar and put in a warm place, out of direct sunlight for 14 days. Then strain and add 2 tablespoons of salt per pint of tincture.

To use: dilute a small amount with water and apply as needed.


The consequences of a too close encounter with poison ivy, oak, or sumac can certainly be uncomfortable, however, hopefully with increased care and awareness when working or walking in areas where these plants grow can help to reduce these types of run ins for you in the future. And if you do end up with a poison ivy, oak, or sumac rash, it is nice to know that there are natural options for treatments, as antihistamine and steroid medications can often have unpleasant side effects.

If you’re struggling with why “pesky” plants like poison ivy even exist, you may want to check out this short video featuring jim mcdonald. He offers a more positive point of view on poison ivy that may be helpful to you. Best of luck this season as you share the woods and fields with these powerful plants!

Have a favorite natural remedy for poison ivy, oak, or sumac that I didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments below!


Gladstar, Rosemary. “Herbal First Aide: Skin Problems and What to Do About Them.”

Gladstar, Rosemary. “Herbal Therapeutics for the Liver.”

Kloss, Jethro. Back to Eden.

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac.” American Academy of Dermatology. 6/21/2017.

Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs.

Herbal Dream Pillows & Tea

Throughout history, dreams have had a special significance in many cultures. There is written record of dream interpretations dating back to over 5,000 years old. Ancient Egyptians, for example, highly valued dreams, especially vivid ones, as they believed they were messages from the gods. The ancient Greeks also felt that dreams were divine messages and used interpretations of their dreams to help them make decisions, predict the future, and solve problems.
Today, dreams are still a bit of a mystery to us. Some researchers claim that they help to store memories, while others feel that they are important for resolving conflicts and regulating mood. While the specific benefits of dreams are still uncertain, it is clear that healthy sleep patterns are important to health and well being.

Insomnia and difficulty with dream recall can make it hard to benefit from sleep and dreams. Herbal dream pillows and teas, however, promote vivid dreams, peaceful sleep, and dream recall. They are simple to make and are a natural, non-habit forming way to promote healthy sleep and dream cycles.

The herbs in these dream blends are naturally calming and dream boosting. Mugwort is used to enhance and promote lucid dreams. It has also traditionally been used for protection and was woven into necklaces by Native Americans to help keep away dreams about the dead.

Lavender and chamomile are calming herbs. They promote relaxation and restful sleep. Passion flower is soothing and naturally reduces stress. It aids in easing anxiety and quieting a busy or worried mind.

Oats are a natural sedative and are well-loved by herbalists for their soothing effect on the nervous system. They have been used traditionally to help calm anxiety and alleviate insomnia.


Dream Pillows


  • 3 parts lavender
  • 3 parts roses
  • 2 parts mugwort
  • 1 part chamomile
  • 1 part rosemary
  • 1/2 part eucalyptus


Combine all dry herbs in a large bowl and mix well. Scoop this herbal mixture into pouches sewed from fabric scraps of your choosing. Sew the pouch closed.

To use: tuck the herb sachet under your pillow to promote peaceful sleep and enhance dreams. Drink a cup of sweet dreams tea before bed for an added effect.

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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


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


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!



“Blessed Bitters” by jim mcdonald. Accessed September 17, 2016.

“Citrus Peel Medicine” by Don Matesz. Mother Earth Living. October/November 2010 issue. Article online: Accessed September 17, 2016.

Purple Dead Nettle: Not Just A Weed

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium Purpureum) is a lovely and useful herbaceous plant. It grows abundantly around our site in Southwest, Michigan and I see it popping up all over this area. It can be found throughout the US, Canada, and many other parts of the world. This hardy weed thrives in lawns, roadsides, and can grow in a variety of conditions. It is also frost tolerant. It is most commonly found growing in loamy or sandy soils, but will also do well in clay soils. It is an self-seeding annual. Each plant produces lots of seeds (it’s estimated to be several hundred to several thousand) and those seeds can germinate year round.

Purple dead nettle is considered to be an “invasive species” due to its ability to thrive and reproduce in many environments. In fact, much of the literature available on this plant is geared towards methods of eradication, including pulling up the herb to control its population. It is interesting to note that purple dead nettle seeds germinate better when the soil is disturbed. “Invasive” plants like purple dead nettle often grow in places where humans have disrupted the natural balance.  These plants are simply trying to restore equilibrium to their environment. When we pull and spray these plants we are further disturbing the areas where they grow and actually increasing their ability to return and spread.

If we care about the environment, should be be attempting to eradicate these species, like purple dead nettle, that have been determined to be invasive? Research shows that meddling with nature isn’t necessary and could cause more harm than good. Tomás Carlo, assistant professor of biology at Penn State, states that “Invasive species could fill niches in degraded ecosystems and help restore native biodiversity in an inexpensive and self-organized way that requires little or no human intervention.”In 2011, he conducted a study on how invasive species affect their ecosystems.  He found that some invasive plants actually helped improve natural areas that had deteriorated due to human use. He stated that attempting to get rid of invasive species could actually harm the newly found balance in these ecosystems. In fact, the areas he studied, for example,have actually had an increase in the native migratory bird population because the invasive plants that grow abundantly there provide an important food source that had previously been displaced by human development. Carlo also stated that trying to eliminate invasive species on a large scale could also be a waste of time and money. He explained that when organizations try to rid an ecosystem of a particular invasive plant, it often ends up growing back despite all of their efforts.

Instead of pulling and spraying these weeds, we can appreciate and utilize them. Invasive plants often play important roles in their ecosystem. For example, purple dead nettle blooms in the early spring and is an valuable food source for insects when not much else is is flowering.  Many invasive plants are also useful to humans and make wonderful food and medicine. They require little to no care as they often occur and thrive naturally in our gardens and yards. These wild edibles can be a great low-maintenance, free food source. Foraging wild greens like purple dead nettle is easier than tending to more fickle commercially grown greens and is certainly cheaper than buying organic greens at the store. If you aren’t sure how to forage purple dead nettles, visit the Edible Wild Food site for more tips on finding and identifying this plant so you too can enjoy this spring green.Always be sure you properly identify a plant before eating it! For more foraging tips, check out our post on foraging spring edibles.

Purple dead nettle can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves have tiny little hairs that some may find strange texturally, but I have found that they aren’t bothersome when the plant is cooked. The leaves taste similar to spinach. When bruised, the plant has a noticeable green, earthy scent. Purple dead nettle leaves are great source of fiber, iron, and other important nutrients. They can be used in recipes much as one would use more conventional greens like kale or spinach.

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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.



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.


Snack Smarter to Stay Healthy

Fresh tomato slices and herbs from the garden make a great summertime snack.
Snacks can be an important way to help you stay energized and alert between meals, especially if you’re always on the go. However, making poor snack choices can be quite detrimental to your diet, even if you eat healthy at meal times. Learning to snack smarter can boost your energy, satisfy your hunger, and save your waistline. The following tips will help you avoid common snacking mistakes and choose better quality snacks to keep you fuller and healthier.

Snacking can be very dangerous  if you don’t pay attention to how much you’re actually eating. Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a study showing that adolescents get an average of 526 calories from snacks every day (That’s almost a quarter of the calories they need in a day!) The study also showed that the more snacks that adolescents eat in a day, the more total calories they consumed. Meaning that snacking more between meals ultimately does not lead to eating less at meal time. Additionally, the study found that  teens who snack 4 or more times a day end up eating more than 1.5 times the calories of those who don’t snack at all.

A good way to prevent consuming so many calories from snacks is to stop eating when you are preoccupied.  A study from the American Society for Clinical nutrition found that eating in front of the TV leads to overeating because when people eat when they are distracted they do not realize they are full, or how much they have actually eaten. Another way you can prevent overeating between meals is by portioning out snacks onto plates, or into small plastic containers if you are bringing them on the go. This will keep you from eating more than you should.

Snacks can also be quite harmful if the types of foods you are choosing to snack on are packed with calories and have little nutritional value.  Making smart snack choices can make all the difference when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Additionally, healthier snack choices will also leave you feeling full, alert, and satisfied for a lot longer than high calorie snacks with no nutrients.

If you’re a fan of the 100-calorie packs, please know, these packets may be easy and low-calorie (if you only eat one package), but they are certainly not the ideal snack. If you like these packages because they are quick and easy to grab in the morning, ditch the 100 calorie packs of cookies or chips and pick up some individual pre-packaged almonds. These packages of nuts have the same amount of calories and their nutritional content far exceeds that of the cookies. Additionally, the protein packed nuts will keep you feeling full for longer than the sugary, processed cookies will.

If you enjoy sweet snacks, try fresh fruit instead of cookies, cakes, candy, pudding cups, etc. The sugar in these treats is likely to cause spikes in energy, which can be followed by a crash. Fresh fruit will help keep you energized and fuller much longer than sweets would. Plus, fruit is a great source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.  For on-the-go snacks, try apples, oranges, or bananas (pre-packaged for your convenience by nature!)  Fresh veggies also make a great snack. Like fresh fruit, they have a high nutritional content and taste great. Try eating a variety of colored fruits and vegetables as they all contain different nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy. Many grocery stores now offer fruits and vegetables from different parts of the world that most Americans have never heard of. Trying these different, exotic fruits and veggies can be a fun way to spice up your snack life!

Smart snacking is key to maintaining your health .If you are mindful of how much you are consuming between meals and make smart snack swaps, you can be satisfied and energized between meals, without sacrificing your weight or well-being.



The Truth About Caffeine

Caffeine is one of the most popular and commonly used drugs in the world and is consumed by up to 90% of the global population in some form or another. Despite caffeine’s frequent use, however, many people don’t really know how caffeine affects their health or even how much caffeine they consume on a daily basis. The following should clarify some of the most popular facts (and fictions) about caffeine and its use.

The average person person consumes about 200 mg (about two, 8 oz. cups of coffee) per  day. To help you determine how much caffeine you intake, some of the most common sources of caffeine are listed below with the average amount of caffeine they contain.

  • brewed coffee (8 oz):  85 mg
  • instant coffee (8 oz): 75 mg
  • brewed or instant coffee (8 oz):  3 mg
  • single shot of espresso (2 oz): 80 mg
  • black tea (8 oz): 40 mg
  • decaf black tea (8 oz): 4 mg
  • green tea (8 oz): 40 mg
  • dark, semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz): 20 mg

Now that we understand more about how much caffeine we’re consuming, let’s talk about what it does to our bodies. One of the most commonly known facts about caffeine is that it has addictive qualities. Recognizing caffeine’s effects on the body can help us better understand why. Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It causes increased neuron firing in the brain, which tricks the pituitary gland into thinking there is an emergency and causes the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. Caffeine also increases dopamine (the neurotransmitter that is affected by highly addictive drugs) levels in the brain, which may be what causes it’s addictive properties.

While regular caffeine use can cause a mild physical dependence, it certainly doesn’t threaten your physical, social, and economic health the way highly addictive drugs do. However, if you regularly consume caffeine and stop doing so abruptly, it is likely you will experience some withdrawal symptoms. These will often last a day or more, especially if you consume more than two cups of coffee a day, and may include: headache, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, mild depression, and difficulty concentrating.

While caffeine withdrawal may make you uncomfortable for a few days, the symptoms are nowhere near as severe as those experienced when withdrawing from alcohol and other street drugs, which is why most experts don’t consider caffeine addiction serious or especially harmful. However,  if you need your morning cup of coffee to avoid headaches and irritability this may be a sign you should cut back. This doesn’t mean you have to quit drinking coffee, soda, or tea entirely though.  Switching to decaf coffee and soda and herbal teas are good ways to enjoy your favorite beverages without getting too much caffeine.

Though caffeine addiction is not extremely dangerous, excessive caffeine consumption can have consequences. High doses of caffeine can cause headaches. Caffeine can also cause you to feel jittery, skittish, excitable, or anxious. Too much caffeine may make it difficult to concentrate and may exacerbate feeling of stress. While these effects are mild, certain caffeinated beverages may pose more serious health risks.

For example, the acid  in coffee can upset the stomach and irritate ulcers. And many coffee and energy drinks have a lot of sugar and calories, which can contribute to conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. In order to enjoy your caffeine fix safely, it is best to moderate your intake of sugary coffee and energy drinks. It also helps to be informed about how all the calories from flavored syrups, whipped cream, and milk add up. So, if you frequent Starbucks, make sure to check out nutritional information for your favorite drinks online. Try asking for skim milk, light syrups, less pumps of syrup, and no whipped cream to reduce sugar and calories.

Though caffeine itself can cause some mild discomfort, studies show that caffeine consumption does not lead to any serious health risks. The truth is, moderate amounts of caffeine, meaning 300 mg (about 3 cups of coffee) or less, have been proven to have no negative health effects on most healthy adults.  High levels of caffeine intake (consumption of 744 mg per day or more), can cause increased calcium and magnesium loss in urine. But, this does not increase your risk of bone loss, if you are getting enough calcium on a daily basis. The calcium loss from drinking one cup of coffee can be offset by adding just 2 tablespoons of milk. Elderly people should limit their intake of caffeine, however,  as their metabolisms may be more sensitive to its effects. Additionally, some research has shown links between calcium intake and the risk of hip fracture in older individuals. 

For those who are sensitive to caffeine, it is normal for consumption to cause a minor, temporary rise in blood pressure and heart rate. But, many studies show there is no definite link between caffeine intake and high cholesterol, irregular heart rhythms, or increased risk of heart or cardiovascular disease. There is little research to determine whether caffeine increases the risk of stroke for people who have high blood pressure, however, so if you do have high blood pressure it is best to discuss with your doctor how much caffeine is safe for you.

Furthermore, a number of studies have shown that there is no relationship between cancer and caffeine. And some studies even indicate that caffeine may help prevent certain types of cancer, and other serious health conditions. A study conducted in Mexico and published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry B,  found that caffeine, an antioxidant, actually helps fight damaging free radicals (molecules in the body that can lead to disease because they attack and harm healthy cells), especially those associated with Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Another study published in Neurology‘s online edition, showed that people who regularly use caffeine are less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. This study also showed that caffeine can modestly improve the severity of symptoms, such as amount of stiffness and speed of movement, for people who already have Parkinson’s disease. Also, limited evidence has also shown that caffeine may reduce the risk of liver disease, colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.

Many studies also show that low amounts of caffeine (one cup of coffee a day) are not actually harmful to women who are trying to get pregnant, as was once believed. These studies show that drinking one cup of coffee a day or less has no link to difficulties with conception, miscarriage, birth defects, premature birth, or low birth weight. However, the March of Dimes does recommend that pregnant women drink less than 200 mg of caffeine a day because limited studies have shown that women who consume high levels of caffeine have a higher rate of miscarriage.

Studies also show that caffeine does not actually cause dehydration. While it does act as a mild diuretic, the fluid you consume while drinking a caffeinated beverage cancels out the fluid lost during urination. Caffeine is also often linked to insomnia, which is also not entirely accurate. Since caffeine is processed by the body very quickly, 8-10 hours after consuming caffeine the liver has already  eliminated 75% of it. This means, for most people having a cup of coffee or two in the morning isn’t going to keep them from falling asleep later that evening.

However, caffeine consumed later in the day can affect sleep. For most people, avoiding caffeinated foods and beverages at least 6 hours before bedtime will ensure that sleep is not disrupted. Some people may be more sensitive though, depending on their regular caffeine intake and metabolism. In general, while caffeine will not cause insomnia, it is best not to drink excessive amounts of caffeine if you tend to have trouble sleeping. 

Ultimately, studies prove that caffeine does not cause any real health risks and could even potentially have certain important health benefits. However, due to caffeine’s mildly addictive qualities and potential exacerbation of certain age and health related conditions,  as with any “drug,” when it comes to caffeine, moderation is key.


Hydrate Your Health

Did you know that staying properly hydrated can prevent an array of health issues and promote better overall well-being? The secret to better health may be no further away than your faucet.

Water makes up about 60% of the human body and is an essential part of bodily function and maintenance. It helps your body digest food, absorb nutrients, circulate bodily fluids, create saliva, transport nutrients, flush wastes, and regulate body temperature.

When your body loses more fluid than you are drinking or getting from foods, you become dehydrated. We all lose fluids daily through the evaporation of water vapor when we breathe, as well as in urine, stools, and sweat. Illness, especially when accompanied by fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive urination, can cause increased risk of dehydration. Exercise and exposure to heat will also cause you to lose fluids more quickly and can cause dehydration quite quickly.

For most healthy people, thirst is a good way to tell if you need to drink more water. However, if you exercise regularly, are ill, or live in a warm climate, you should not wait until you feel thirsty to start replenishing lost fluids. Additionally, altitudes above 8,200 ft (2,500 meters) can affect how much fluid you need so those living at these elevations may to adjust their fluid intake as well.

The signs and symptoms of dehydration vary and can be moderate or quite severe. They include:

  • Thirst
  • Dry mouth or swollen tongue
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Sluggishness
  • Inability to sweat
  • Decrease in urine output

So, how much water (and other fluids) should we be drinking to keep from getting dehydrated? Reports now say that the well-known recommendation of 8 glasses a day is just a guideline with no scientific evidence to back it up. The Institute of Medicine has determined however, that for the average, healthy adult male living in a temperate climate 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total liquid intake a day is sufficient. And for the average, healthy adult female living in the same climate 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total liquid a day is an adequate intake. It is also recommended that pregnant women drink 2.3 liters (about 10 cups) of fluids daily and women who are nursing drink 3.1 liters (about 13 cups) of fluids daily.

These numbers are a good starting point to help you get a better idea of just how much fluid you should be drinking in a day, but  you may need to increase your beverage consumption based on your health, location, or lifestyle.

Determining whether you are properly replacing the fluids you lose each day in most cases, only requires paying a little extra to your body and its functions. In addition to thirst, urine can actually be a good indication of how well hydrated you are. If your urine is colorless or light yellow and you rarely feel thirsty throughout the day, you are probably getting enough fluids.

It is important to note that you can drink too much water, though this is rare. Hyponatremia occurs when your kidneys are unable to get rid of excess water and the electrolyte levels in the blood become diluted. This condition usually only occurs in endurance athletes who drink a lot of fluids (like marathon runners) and is very uncommon for the average, healthy American adult. However, we should realize that you can have too much of a good thing.

Drinking water is certainly important for maintaining healthy bodily functions. But, did you know that water can also aid your weight loss efforts? Substituting water for high calorie beverages and eating water rich foods can help you cut calories and ultimately lose weight.

Penn State researcher Barbara Rolls, PhD, and author of The Volumetrics Weight Control Plan, states, “What works with weight loss is if you choose water or a non-caloric beverage over a caloric beverage and/or eat a diet higher in water-rich foods that are healthier, more filling, and help you trim calorie intake.” Water rich foods are also absorbed more slowly by the body and can take longer to chew, which can help you feel more full. Fruits and vegetable are great water rich foods because they are also high in nutrients and low in calories.

Additionally, water also can help you get more out of your workout when you exercise. If your body’s cells don’t have enough water or electrolytes, they’ll shrivel, which will cause your muscles to feel fatigued. Drinking water before, during, and after exercise will energize your muscles and help you to feel and perform better.

Drinking enough fluids regularly can help prevent headaches caused by dehydration. It can also help improve body functions, sleep and energy levels, eliminate toxins, and thus, reduce your risk of various serious or chronic health conditions.

If you have trouble drinking enough water during the day or notice that you are often dehydrated, try these tips to increase your intake of fluids:

  • Drink a beverage every time you eat, whether it be a snack or a full meal
  • Find a beverage you like. You’re more likely to drink something if you enjoy the taste.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. They have a high water content and will help hydrate you.
  • Keep a water bottle with you during the day. Take it with you in your car, or bag, or keep in on your desk at work.
  • Choose low-calorie beverages if you’re trying to lose/maintain your weight. Liquid calories don’t fill you up and can add up quickly. Water is a great zero calorie option.

Staying hydrated is an easy way to improve and sustain your body’s functions. Start drinking your way to better health today!