Category Archives: HMN Reports

Product investigations

Food at the Center

As Americans, we think of food as something that should fill our belly and please our mouth. Sure, food should do both these things, but it seems like we underestimate the importance of nutrition. Food should also provide vitamins and nutrients – nourishment.

Do you like how I use we here – my seemingly passive aggressive way of saying other people? But, I don’t really mean other people, by we I mean me, the me I was in my 20s. I spent the first 25 years of my life with a vague recollection that broccoli was good for me. Clearly this post is all about the new me lecturing the old me. Good, now that we’ve got that out of the way…

When I was diagnosed with cancer, my gastro intestinal problems were so bad I was hardly eating. I was starving, malnourished. None of my doctors ever mentioned nutrition. The cancer video they showed in the chemo room only encouraged us to “treat” ourselves to our favorite sugary, fatty foods.

Research increasingly points to the link between nutritional deficiency and illness. A new study shows the lack of nutritional education at medical schools. Most schools don’t provide the recommended 25 hour minimum.

If doctors don’t talk to their patients about nutrition aren’t they leaving out an important part of healing? But where does nutrition fit in the already long and complex medical training?

Combine that lack of knowledge and information with the dismal state of hospital food and it seems like the medical system needs a Jamie Oliver-style cafeteria overhaul. Dr. Preston Maring might be the perfect candidate. He’s a gynecologist and obstetrician with three decades as a surgeon, who is well known as a former physician-in-chief at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland. He’s established an organic farmer’s market outside the doors of the hospital

He believes that “… in the health professions, the kitchen must become as crucial as the clinic.” He believes that “Food is at the center of health and illness and so doctors must make all aspects of food — growing, buying, cooking, eating — a mainstay of their medical educations, their personal lives and their practices.” I think I love him.

He tries to make sure local fresh food is served at the hospital. He has a blog that offers advice and recipes. He even has a culinary road show he takes to health care institutions around the country. He’s got big plans, starting with getting doctors to eat healthier themselves.

I was lucky enough of find a nutritionist who revolutionized my eating habits and helped transform old me into the new, vegetable-pushing, overbearing blogger I’ve become today (so proud!). I’m grateful for her and I hope that other people fighting serious illnesses find someone, whether it’s a nutritionist, Dr Maring or another like-minded medical professional to help them find what they need.


When I was in chemo I tried nearly every holistic and western medical treatment. Yoga? Of course. Poison? You bet. Steroids? If you think so. Massage? Oh twist my arm. Vitamins? Definitely. Chi gong? Sure, sure. I was live experimentation at its best. When I started chemo I went to an acupuncturist and my sessions seemed fine, restful enough, and pleasant but I didn’t know if they were helping because I had nothing to compare them too. I’d never had chemo without acupuncture. Then my practitioner moved away.

I didn’t feel much worse for the next few weeks. Then I started seeing Darin at Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center. He was highly recommended and specializes in the treatment of cancer patients. I entered his office in the midst of weeks of terrible insomnia. When I left I was hardly able to drive home I was so sleepy (I’m just gonna rest myzzzzzzzsnort). At home, I crawled into bed and slept for hours. And that wasn’t the only change. My nausea wasn’t gone but it felt lighter, less crushing. I felt… Better. I have been a believer in acupuncture and a loyal follower ever since.

Since then several studies have come out testing acupuncture and nausea. This one was released around 2000 and found that “Seven of the 8 patients responded to the addition of acupuncture to control nausea and vomiting. These patients generally were able to tolerate additional courses of chemotherapy.” 

This year Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit ran a test on women with hormone positive breast cancer that compared acupuncture to the drug Effexor, an anti-depressant that has been shown to reduce hot flashes. Acupuncture worked as well as Effexor at reducing hot flashes, but with fewer side effects. Women receiving the acupuncture treatments reported more energy and a better sex drive than women taking the drug.

I still see Darin every few months to help me with ongoing problems like hot flashes and anemia. This year Darin was featured in Seattle Metropolitan’s Top Docs issue in the field of acupuncture. I couldn’t be more proud.  When we see each other we still need a good 20 minutes to chatter and get all caught up before the session starts. He has to see pictures of Josie and I have to hear stories about his dog – a great dane named after the Easter bunny who has her own facebook page and says things like I can touch my eyeball with my tongue. Maybe it’s the dog stories, maybe it’s the needles, or maybe it’s both these things, all I know is that when I leave his office I always feel better.

Cell Phones

Alright, enough chitter-chatter and self promotion, it’s time to get back to work. But before we start talking about cell phones watch this 3 minute video. It is hilarious. However, it does contain some profanity so if you are a young child or my grandmother or my mother-in-law you should probably skip it.

Sound familiar? You know that woman? I’m pretty sure I do.

Anyhoo, a friend of mine was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer. The good news is that he is doing very well and has a good prognosis. Questions were raised about the cell phone he kept in his front pants pocket. What about it? Is it safe to keep your phone close to your junk, your privates, the family jewels? Is it safe to use a cell phone at all? Is your cell phone trying to kill you? Probably.

Cell phone radiation emission and possible links to brain and mouth cancers have been getting a lot of coverage these days. GQ’s somewhat hysterical (even by my standards) article makes an interesting and terrifying case that cell phones and wireless networks are doing irrevocable damage to humans. The piece is heavy on the conspiracy theories but makes some valid points.

Fortunately our good-old friends at the Environmental Working Group have taken all this information and put out a guide and rating system of cell phone emissions.

Oh calm down, this doesn’t mean you need to go out and replace your phone immediately. It’s something to keep in mind and refer to when it’s time to buy a new one. Also, they have a list of great suggestions on how – while using your cell phone – to limit exposure.

  1. Use a headset. It emits less radiation. Experts are split on whether wired or wireless is better.
  2. Phones emit most when you are talking or texting, not receiving, so be quiet.
  3. Keep the phone away from your body.
  4. Text more. The phone uses less radiation and it is held away from your head.
  5. Make calls when the signal is strong. Phones emit more radiation when the signal is weak.
  6. Limit children’s phone use.
  7. Don’t use radiation shields. They force phones to transmit at a higher power and higher radiation.

Now, carry on…

Back to School

News flash: Labor Day is in 3 weeks. It’s time to buy a new lunchbox! Even if you aren’t in school, wouldn’t you like a new lunchbox anyway? Shouldn’t we all get a new one each year? I recently bought myself a tiffin and I love it. It’s a great way to pack a salad or strawberries for the beach. It makes me so happy.

Of course our good friends at the Environmental Working Group have put together a back-to-school shopping guide complete with recommendations and materials to avoid. Here are some highlights from their report and some of my own recommendations.

Lunch boxes and bags – Since these touch food, it’s important to get something that is BPA , PVC, phthalate and lead-paint free.

  • EWG recommends these   
  • Look at these adorable bags on Etsy 
  • Or a bento lunchbox

Sandwich bags – Reusable.

Water bottles – Stainless steel is the way to go.

Backpacks – EWG recommends one made of natural fibers, nylon or polyester instead of plastic.

Art supplies – From the EWG site: “Paints should be water-based to avoid solvents and colored with natural, non-metal pigments. Don’t buy polymer clays that stay soft at room temperature or can be hardened in a home oven — they’re made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and often contain phthalates.”

  • I just came across Clementine Art at the grocery store . I haven’t tried their stuff but it looks awesome and is all non-toxic.

Complete Report — For the complete report and more info on markers, pencils, paper and notebooks click here.  

You guys have any good recommendations?


Scenes from the weekend. Seriously? One measly crab and raindrops in the bucket? I’m not impressed, August, not impressed at all. 

It’s time for some randomness.

First, I’ve been listening to David Sedaris reading Barrel Fever while driving in my car. I’m in such a good mood all the time. I laugh at odd times, away from my car and alone. I think it’s his funniest work, and it’s so much better when he reads it aloud. Glenn’s Homophobia Newsletter. You Can’t Kill the Rooster. I just hear the titles and really don’t need to hear anything else.

Another thing that is bringing me great joy: Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss. I haven’t met an ice cream I liked this much in years. It’s made of coconut milk so if you’re not a fan, you probably won’t like it. If you do like coconut, try it, cappuccino in particular. Don’t let the dairy-free and sugar-free business fool you. It’s good.

The final thing that is making me happy… I recently survived my sister’s mattress quest. Oh, it was painful and drawn out for both of us. There were several calls and emails of links and me going no, no, no. We don’t want their special “green tea moisture reducer” or whatever other crap the mattress is treated with. Finally, with a little help from my good friend Google we found this place in Berkley that sells untreated kids’, inner spring mattresses for $400. It’s just a basic mattress with a natural flame barrier (wool) that still meets all government standards without chemicals. When I called they said they don’t advertise it because they make it themselves and she doesn’t think they could keep up with demand (?!). Seriously, anyone looking for a business idea? Here’s a red hot tip: make a cheap chemical-free kids mattresses. Doesn’t have to be organic, doesn’t have to be fancy, just chemical free. In the meantime, I’m not sure if these guys ship but it’s worth asking.

Have a lovely week!

Lice. Ew.

I seem to be on an insect-related writing spree. First mosquitoes, now lice, and I have a special treat coming up for you, a nearly complete post about giant water beetles!

Of course, this is all really my love of bug-eating bats shining through. After my last bat-related post, Marilyn, sent me a story about Mexican Free-tailed Bats carrying bombs into Japanese cities during WWII. It makes perfect sense. They can carry weight, they fly at night, they hide in dark, obscure corners, and then… boom. A dentist came up with the idea and sent a letter to the White House. Can you imagine? Dear Mr. President…

I’m getting off track. The insect of the day is lice! They’re transferred from head to head contact and there’s an estimated 6-12 million infestations every year mostly in children between the ages of 3 and 12. Children are most commonly treated with Rid or Nix. These shampoos include insecticides that kill the bugs and their eggs. Because the lice are becoming resistant to these treatments, the American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending each infested child be treated with the insecticide three times.

Of course these shampoos contain toxic chemicals that kill the bugs and are absorbed through the skin. At high doses they can cause short-term side effects like nausea and vomiting and long-term side effects like hormone disruption and cancer.

So, what to do…

  • Depending on where you live, you can hire someone to come take care of it for you. She uses non-toxic products and sells them online too.
  • Of course there’s manual removal with a lice comb and my favorite hair blog had a few other suggestions. Be sure to read through the comments. One person recommends tea tree oil and another recommends rinsing with Listerine.
  • One friend sent a link to this product: Has anyone tried it?
  • This Wall Street Journal article suggests rubbing Cetaphil skin lotion into the hair and letting it dry in an effort to suffocate the bugs before washing them out.

I have not yet experienced the joy of a lice infestation as a parent. I hear that lice is less common in children with African American, tightly-coiled hair. I’m hanging on to that hope.

Any of you have any experience to share? Any tricks that work?

Lover of Trees

The other day I was at a stoplight, spacing, thinking about the sound of waves and the heat of summer or the whooshing of air though the open car windows – or whatever it is I think of when I’m not really thinking at all. Anyway, there was a woman on the corner, she had waist-length hair and wore a prairie skirt. Her arms were stretched around a tree in a bear hug. I use “tree” loosely, it was really more of a tall shrub, an evergreen column. Her head was turned, cheek to scrub.

Now, there is a woman who really loves trees, I thought, good for her.

Then the light changed and as I pulled away, she stepped back and moved her walking cane from one hand to the other and tapped her way across the street. How awesome is it that she has a perfectly acceptable excuse to hug trees all day? I’m a bit jealous.  

I love trees and have been kind of captivated by their health benefits since I first read about this Japanese study that found men who walked in the forest for 2 hours for 2 days had a 50% spike in natural killer cells (cells that destroy abnormal cancer cells). And the study found that women showed a spike in immune system function that lasted for over a week.

In January a similar study was released. 140 people were instructed to walk though a forest for a few hours while another 140 people were instructed to walk though a city for a few hours. The second day they changed places. The study found that being among plants produced “lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure,” among other things.

It makes me want to try harder to find places to plant trees in my already full yard. Maybe I’ll find a few more places. Maybe I’ll put in a bat house or two. Maybe the barn swallows will like it too. Maybe they’ll eat all our insects. Maybe they’ll all help us live longer.

Mosquitoes (and Bats!)

Begging for a bat house

The garden is doing well (thanks for asking), so well in fact, that we are awash in broccoli. If anyone comes within 10 feet of the house, I force them to take a crown. I pretty much throw broccoli at passersby. It’s like reverse Halloween over here. I’ve given away so much broccoli that Josie has decided that along with happy birthday, enjoy your broccoli is a standard greeting. She’s also in a no-clothes phase of life so our little naked wood nymph has been running around the yard yelling, enjoy your broccoli! to anyone who will listen (ie: the dog).

And this little anecdote has nothing to do with what I really want to write about. Total change of subject. Are you ready?

Mosquitoes! The hysterical’s guide to mosquito repellant (kind of). We don’t have much of a problem here in the northwest with bugs so I’m really not qualified to comment but, as usual that won’t stop me. I came across an interesting article that says wind, even a small amount from a house fan, is an effective deterrent. Mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale, sweat, lactic acid and body heat. The fan works not just because it makes it hard for the lil’ buggers to land, but because it disperses our breath and cools us down. So get an extension cord and move that fan outside.

Also bats! I love bats. Really. I’m fascinated by them and collect odd bat facts. I don’t know why. I keep thinking I will write something that has to do with bats someday but it never happens. Maybe this is it. Maybe this is my big bat story. Did you know that the Brazilian Free-tailed bat consumes 200-600 insects per night? And, the bats of Texas consume 6-18,000 metric tons of insects each year. You’re welcome for that. Anyway, buy them a house. (You can even buy one that looks like a castle.) Paint it black. Maybe it would be tough to carry with you when you go hiking but it could help for those nights on the back deck.

Okay, seriously, this is probably no help at all. It’s definitely no help for those of you who want to leave your yard. Any of you peeps living in mosquito-laden lands have suggestions on keeping them away without harming your children or the planet?

Good News for Friday

No, it's not a cow, but it is a farm animal.

We need some good news around here (rain! more rain!), and guess what? I found some. The Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility reports that:

“Use of genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to induce more milk production in dairy cows reportedly has declined over the past few years. …the number of U.S. dairies using rBGH is now about 9 to 12 percent, down from 15.2 percent in 2007. The number of cows injected is 10 to 14 percent, down from 17.2 percent.”

We don’t want it, we don’t buy it, they stop using it, or they use less of it. Isn’t that wonderfully simple?


Stop with the hormone disruptors, Mom. Sheesh!

Let me first apologize for being SO late on this. For heaven’s sake it’s mid-June and I still haven’t written anything about sunscreens. It’s hard to feel a sense of urgency when it’s raining.

This is one of those stupidly-complicated topics. There’s a lot to cover here, no time to dilly-dally, no messing around, I’m going to get right to it.

First, the Vitamin D issue… We need Vitamin D for bone strength, strong immune system function, and studies have suggested high levels may reduce the risk of some forms of cancer. Many of us who live in the northern territories (rain!) are D deficient. The best source of Vitamin D is sunshine on bare, sunscreen-free skin for about 20 minutes a day.

The best way to prevent sunburns is to cover up. Wide brimmed hats, light-weight, long-sleeved shirts, tube socks worn under Velcro sandals are all a good way to go. OK, you can skip the tube socks, but they epitomize how I feel when I go into the sun completely covered: like a total nerd. I save this special look for working in the yard or any time I don’t really care. Whenever I can go with a completely, or partially, covered look I do. I’m always in search of cute sun hats (that also double as rain hats).

If you’re going to wear sunscreen, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2010 Sunscreen Guide.  is a great resource. When choosing a sunscreen, the first question to ask is: can I tolerate a mineral sunscreen? If yes, the EWG approved mineral sunscreens listed here offer the best protection without any chemicals considered to be hormone disruptors.

Mineral sunscreens are often thick and white and don’t rub into the skin completely. I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t turn Josie’s skin bright blue. I mean bright blue. She doesn’t burn easily and I do my best to keep her covered. If I can’t keep her covered and we’re working in the yard or somewhere she won’t get strange looks, I put mineral sunscreen on her. If we’re out at a beach or some fun place with other people and I don’t want her to look like she just stepped out of Avatar, I occasionally (but rarely) put a non-mineral, well-rated sunscreen, which contains at least one hormone disruptor, on her exposed skin.

Gasp! A hormone disruptor on my baby? This is a good time to remember that we’re trying to decrease the overall toxic load on our bodies across a broad range of categories (foods, cosmetics, air quality, etc). We (and by we I mean I) do the best we can but sometimes we have to compromise even for purely cosmetic purposes.

Of the 500 sunscreens the Environmental Working Group evaluated, they recommend only 39 (8%). Here’s why:

  1. Many sunscreen manufacturers make exaggerated SPF claims that cannot be proven.
  2. There’s new information on two common sunscreen ingredients: Vitamin A and Oxybenzone. A recent study found tumors and lesions develop faster on skin coated with Vitamin A and Oxybenzone is a synthetic estrogen found in 97% of bodies that were tested by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you have a sunscreen you use and love, you can look for its rating here.

If you want to buy a product not on the list, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Stick to SPF 15-50
  2. Avoid ingredient Vitamin A also known as retinyl palmitate
  3. Avoid ingredient oxybenzone
  4. Avoid sunscreens with insect repellant

In case you couldn’t already tell, the federal Food and Drug Administration still has not issued regulations for sunscreens makers. Thank goodness for EWG.

Now, get out there and enjoy the sun, but for heaven’s sake, don’t tell me about it (rain!).