Archive for the ‘health’ Category

A Plug for EWG, and the Stepwise Approach to Less Toxic Products   Leave a comment

This year’s summer eco-audit was exposure. For the audit I’ve focussed on personal care products, and this year also looked at cleaning products. Previously it has been a bit of a challenge to do this audit as it was hard to find information about safety of the various ingredients in the products I was using. And what resources I did find didn’t really help with the questions “how much should I be concerned about this?”, or “what’s in this product that doesn’t list ingredients?”. But thanks to Environmental Working Group, I was actually able to do a comprehensive audit of every personal care product that Conan and I use this year because if the product itself isn’t in their Skin Deep database, I could search by ingredients. (I only had one bottle from a gift set that didn’t have ingredients listed, and I ended up tossing it anyway because the rest of the set turned out to be unacceptable.) Since Skin Deep includes a 0 to 10 ranking for each product and ingredient, as well as an indication of how much data there was on which to base the ranking, it is a great tool for getting a sense of where to focus my concerns. The Guide to Healthy Cleaning isn’t as comprehensive, but I still found the rankings to be really helpful since I otherwise have no idea if some complicated chemical name is something inert or harmful.

Overall I found that my products are generally pretty well ranked (it helped that I just tossed all my conventional makeup when Conan became tall enough to reach into that drawer, and tossed a couple other things that I had laying around when I found out the ingredients). That made me realize that my “stepwise” approach to reducing exposure to potentially harmful compounds in personal care products works better than I had expected. When I first did this I was completely overwhelmed by the list of compounds that “they” say are “bad” and not to use. Most of those compounds are also things that I would never be able to keep in my mind between shopping trips and I’m not willing to keep a bunch of wallet cards. So I focussed on a couple things at a time. Turns out you reach a point where the products that don’t contain the easy-to-remember chemicals-to-avoid, also don’t contain many of the hard-to-remember chemicals! (It might also help that I’ve all but stopped shopping for personal care products at conventional grocery stores and drug stores.)

My personal path started back in college when I decided that I wanted to avoid mineral oil and petrolatum (aka petroleum jelly) as they are petroleum products not plant products. As time went on I started to avoid D&C and FD&C colors (not necessarily an exposure thing but based on the desire to avoid compounds derived from coal tar), BHT, parabens, and “fragrance” (which is an issue because it can include anything and often includes some very toxic compounds). Lots of “natural” brands do still use the term “fragrance” on their ingredient lists, but for some of those brands I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since they do explicitly say that they don’t use any toxic compounds (like Aveda, Dr. Bronner’s, and Toms of Maine).

My next step? Aside from “fragrance” in a handful of my products, most of which are companies that I’ll take the gamble with, the only red-flag compound in my list was retinol (vitamin A). Since I need to go to the dermatologist soon anyway, I’ll talk with her about Vitamin A. Apparently, it’s a cancer hazard when exposed to sunlight, and can bioaccumulate to the point of being a developmental toxin. I sort of knew this already from a dietary standpoint: too much vitamin A is bad since it can build up in the body, but eat all the beta carotene that you want (it won’t build up but is easily converted into vitamin A). I’m guessing that the little amount in my lipstick and under-eye concealer isn’t really a concern but I’ll follow up anyway.

I will also add that this is why we need a Safe Chemicals Act! No one should have to worry about whether the personal care products they are using contain carcinogenic or toxic compounds, and we shouldn’t be the guinea pigs used to find out.

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Pregnancy Exercise   Leave a comment

I really wanted to run through my pregnancy. Oh well. How some women train for and run in marathons while pregnant is beyond me. I dropped as soon as the first trimester exhaustion train hit me. For a couple of months I could barely go for a mile walk. At one point I thought I had my energy back and I went running. I went on my previous short run route of two miles, and got almost three-quarters of the way before I had to stop and walk because I was afraid I’d collapse. I waited a few weeks before trying again. Then when I finally did have my energy back I got in one run before the temperature shot up into the mid-90’s. Given how difficult it is to stay hydrated while pregnant, and the risks of elevated body temperature to fetal development, I would not run while the daytime temperatures were above the low-90’s. And since we started October in the 100’s, that meant that I’ve only had a month of cool enough temperatures to even think about running. I was hoping to get in one 1-mile run per week, but I’ve only managed two runs in a month. I’ll take it. Unlike all the people who warned me that I wouldn’t be comfortable running with all the relaxin coursing through my body and stretched ligaments in my belly, I’ve had no pain in joints or abdominal region while running. Really intense soreness afterwards, yes, but pain no.

Since I couldn’t run through the summer I tried to figure out alternatives. Walks with the husband are good. Healthy for the body, the mind, and our relationship. Belly dancing, “slow calisthenics”, and light strength training have also been on my list. I’ve been trying to get back into regular strength training for a while now, with no success, so it’s not surprising that I haven’t been able to make it a go in the last few months. Occasionally I’ll do a couple arm exercises and some lunges or wall sits, but it’s been really hit or miss. I’m doing a little better with the slow calisthenics. By slow calisthenics I mean most of the same exercises I did back when I ran track and rowed crew: high knees, butt kicks, shallow jumps, and deep jumps. But what makes them slow is that I’m doing them without the jumping part. Even without the jumping aspect a few minutes of these exercises are both an aerobic and a strength workout. They are also the perfect way to finish off a little belly dancing session, as well. I never managed to drag myself out of the house to take a belly dance class, so I’ve only used the one video that I’ve had for years. At this point I know the basic moves from the video, I just suck at doing them, so I wrote down the list and instead of belly dancing in front of the TV in the living room I’m now belly dancing to a CD in our bathroom where I have a couple mirrors. One thing about belly dancing while pregnant is that I can’t see what my hips are doing, and my perception of what my belly is doing is totally off since in my peripheral vision it looks like my belly is always sticking out. Using the mirrors helps me know what I’m doing, and also helps to make sure that I’m not arching my back.

But what about those exercises that pregnant women are “supposed” to do? Things like pelvic tilts (aka cat and dog), leg lifts, and groin stretches? Well in my opinion slow calisthenics and belly dancing are a more fun way of doing pelvic tilts and leg lift-type exercises. I don’t do them every day, but hopefully it’s enough to keep my muscles toned and ready for the squatting etc of labor. I don’t have back pain, so I’m not worried about not doing daily cat and dog stretches. When I get out of the shower at night and my body is warm I try to remember to do some quick stretches. I’m rather proud of the fact that I can still touch my toes (I don’t think it counts as cheating that I have to spread my legs a bit to make room for the belly). In the next month I hope to focus more on flexibility and stretching, as well as not stressing out and tensing up my muscles. While I’m an expert at making life difficult for myself, I’d really like to have toned and relaxed muscles for labor and not make that any more difficult than it has to be.

Posted November 7, 2012 by mayakey in health, pregnancy

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Why We’re Doing a Home Birth   3 comments

Come this December, whenever Baby decides to come, there will be no packing a bag, taking out the trash, and driving to a hospital for us. Instead we’ll be relaxing at home, calling the midwives, and filling the birth tub. Barring complications, of course, I cannot imagine a better scenario.

This decision is the culmination of a long evolution of thought for me, and I don’t even remember when it started. For as long as I can remember I have felt that the act of giving birth is a natural act, and unless there are distinct risks of complications, not a medical procedure. Even as I teenager, as I recall, I did not like the idea of giving birth in a hospital. This may have been an attitude partly (subconsciously) influenced by cultural attitudes at the time, because I think that was when the labor and delivery rooms in hospitals started being redesigned to be more comfortable and private. But to me even a nice private birthing room with a non-metal bed and room for spouse/visitors is still located in a hospital. Maybe another contributor to my attitude is the fact that my father was an emergency physician. Other people visited hospitals to see their doctors for regular health care visits; but when I visited the hospital it was the emergency room to see my dad either for fun or for care. I was much older before realizing that my mental picture of a hospital is very different from the average person’s. In any case, I vaguely remember as a teenager not wanting to give birth in a hospital and wanting to celebrate the natural part of childbirth instead of smothering it in medical procedures. I’ve also always wanted a natural birth with no drugs, especially after I found out what an epidural is. At the time, though, the thought of home birth was extremely scary. Over the years I heard about birth centers and figured that would be a nice compromise, but that still felt like a compromise. I have no idea when the idea of home birth went from scary and unsafe in my mind to being the ideal birth setting.

In our previous house (rental), I would not have been comfortable giving birth. It was just not up to my standards (old, drafty, moldy, almost entirely carpeted), and so I was trying to adjust my feelings to be okay with some kind of birth center. Then we realized we could afford to buy a house, and moved into a house that will work quite well for a home birth. So when I first met the midwives who will assist us, and they gave me a packet of information, I needed no convincing but still enjoyed the reading. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to talk my husband into it as he is pretty much willing to along with whatever I want to do in this arena. It did make for interesting reading. Apparently the World Health Organization recommends that birthing be done outside of the hospital setting for normal pregnancies. It was really comforting to read statistics, articles, and stories about the experience of homebirth. Maybe it’s because I’m already fairly granola, but I have no problem believing that homebirth is just as safe if not safer than hospital birth, involves less pain, and will leave us with more satisfaction. I’ll be able to wear what I want; walk/sit/lay down when and where I want; eat or drink what and when I want. I’ll be in my own comfortable surroundings, if I want we can watch a movie during the early stages of labor to help me relax. It’s my domain, and not the doctors, so if I decide that I want no one in the room but the midwives and myself so be it, but if I feel like I want/need the support of others it is within my control to ask for them. In any case, there won’t be anyone in the house who is a stranger or with whom I am not intimately comfortable. When the baby is born, I don’t have to go anywhere, and over the course of the next few weeks the midwives will come to my house for the postpartum check-ups on both Baby and me. For that matter even now I don’t have to go anywhere as prenatal visits are also in my house. (Obviously not things like blood draws and ultrasounds, though.) We have an emergency plan, and the hospital we transport to will depend on time of day (read: direction of rush hour traffic). The midwives have many years of experience and I feel very comfortable with them. Like I said, barring complications this could be a dream. Painful, yes, but still a dream come true.

One other aspect of homebirth that I had been told but didn’t know until recently whether or not it is true is the cost. Our cost will be $4k for prenatal visits, birthing assistance, and postpartum visits for 6 weeks. My health insurance organization’s website has a cost estimator tool that I used because I was curious how that number compares to a typical hospital birth. In the Sacramento area, apparently the total cost for normal (no complications) birthing in a hospital is $10k – $14k!! Of course that includes costs for the blood draws etc that aren’t included in our $4k, so for comparison sake we’ll bump it up to $5k to include three blood draws, two ultrasounds, and the birth kit. Granted, if I went to an in-network facility, my direct cost would only be $3k. We’re assuming that the midwives will be considered out-of-network and so my deductible is $6k. Maybe we’ll get lucky when we submit the claim afterwards and we’ll get some of that back, but I doubt it. So basically, as far as direct costs go it is significantly more expensive to give birth in a hospital vs. home without insurance, but slightly more expensive at home vs. hospital with insurance. However, by keeping my company’s overall health care costs a little bit lower this year, I do my part to keep our premiums from going up next year and since I work for an employee-owned company that means more money in my pocket next year.

Posted July 9, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, health, pregnancy

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So How Did Pregnancy Prep Stack Up to First Trimester?   Leave a comment

(Side benefit to getting my energy back – I have time to blog again!) For the last few years I’ve been preparing for pregnancy, preparing to be a good host. My goals included diet improvement, strength training, meditation, and posture improvement. Well, now that it has happened, how did I do for the start of the “race”? Better than I think and feel I did, but unfortunately what I think and feel matters regardless of whether it’s true or not. Psychologically I felt lost. Like I was alone in the middle of a lake, just floating in my in my life preserver, to tired to swim or cry or do anything but hope a current pushed me to safety. To be completely honest I’m just incredibly grateful to the universe that my blah never turned into depression, although there were days when I was very afraid. Thankfully pregnancy brings hope and excitement along with blah.

Over the last couple years improving my diet has been a huge focus. My sugar intake was already below the 5 tsp (20 grams) recommended intake, except for special occasions like birthday celebrations. How did I do in my first trimester? Just fine, thank you. I think my sugar craving has actually decreased and my chocolate cravings are fluctuating between non-existing to mild. There were a handful of splurges in the first couple of weeks as I was just desperate to get food in me and stop the hunger and nausea; and I did give in and buy the requisite saltines as emergency gut fill. Another goal was to avoid regular junk food. How’s that going? Completely derailed. Even with a nice sour cherry-pecan trail mix at my desk, a free bag of salty potato chips wins when hungry (even well knowing that the chips won’t make a dent in my stomach). This is totally a willpower check, and I’ve absolutely failed over and over again. As I feel better, though, I’m failing less often/badly.

The last big diet-related goal was the most important to me, and that was increasing my intake of fruits and vegetables. I really did get into the habit of making sure that I was eating at least one serving with every meal, and even snacks had a component. Unfortunately in my first day of nausea I made the mistake of forcing myself to eat my leftovers for lunch, and was almost unable to think about eating a non-avocado vegetable for a couple weeks. I can honestly say I felt crushed, and found it downright depressing to be consuming almost 100% carbs, fat, and protein. Isn’t that stuff supposed to be comfort food? It just left me feeling more blah then exhaustion already made me feel. It’s been a rough haul, but I’m back to vegetables (although bitter greens may have been an extremely unfortunate casualty of war). I’m not even trying to hit every meal yet, since the number of daily meals has just about doubled, but it feels good. The temporary catastrophic failure of this habit is probably the biggest contributor in my overall psychological struggles.

The attempt at restarting a regular strength training routine had already failed before I got pregnant. So being so tired that I didn’t run or do strength training for a couple months is kinda moot. Except for the fact that I love running, and when feeling blah not being able to run just contributes to more blah.

The next major thing that I did as part of my preparation was to commit to daily meditation. It was awesome, felt great, and may have been one of the best decisions that I ever made in my life. With the exception of one evening per week at my prayer group, I haven’t meditated since April. Blame the exhaustion, every evening I go from up to crash in about 5 minutes. Sometimes it’s at 9, sometimes it’s at 11, but when I start thinking about brushing my teeth and meditating my body decides it’s time to sleep NOW, and not in ten more minutes. For my own psychological state I’d really like to get my act together again. Daily meditation just felt so incredibly awesome! Luckily the calming, centering, and grounding effects have lingered so far.

My efforts at improving posture is one of the current goals, specifically focusing on lower body posture. I can proudly say that I managed to not cross my legs even as my mood dropped. Feels especially good since at my last massage my therapist found that my pelvis is significantly more level than it was a few months ago. This goal is still on track (keeping a better stance – feet shoulder width apart), and growing (keeping my back and neck straight).

Posted June 27, 2012 by mayakey in centering, goals, health, pregnancy, psychology

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Time to Take Care of the Nestee   Leave a comment

Upon reaching the unfortunate “1 year of trying to conceive without success” milestone (it’s closer to 1.5 years on the calendar but interruptions like gallbladder surgery messed with the schedule), I started doing some self-evaluation in addition to testing. One of the things that I realized was that I had gotten distracted in this process and had been neglecting myself. I suppose this is in general a problem for many people, and mothers especially, but when trying to get pregnant I’d guess it is counter productive. I’ve been so focussed on house stuff and financial matters, and the intellectual side of trying to become a good baby-host, that I kept procrastinating the stuff that was just for me. After years of being pretty good about monthly massages, I got ONE massage in 2011. After a few years of being good about monthly clothing purchases I bought a pair of jeans and some socks in the first 10 months of 2011, and both of those were almost-emergency purchases (translation: I had 7 pairs of socks left, and jeans with an impending hole). I don’t remember if I did any home facials all year, most weekends involved fairly extensive to-do lists and attempts at productivity, and I can’t remember the last time I cuddled up with a good book. It’s not that I didn’t do anything fun, or that I wasn’t taking care of myself in the basic sense, but that I wasn’t taking care of my emotional/mental self.

As my friend also pointed out, I usually approach everything in life with a rather spiritual/emotional perspective, but so far have been largely intellectual on the trying to conceive front. I’ve focussed on reducing external stressors, eating right, maintaining my exercise routine, charting, taking supplements, and house-projects (nesting). Yes, I was doing some visualization, and trying to deal with internal stressors, but entirely unsuccessfully.

It is time for that to change. I am re-committing to myself. One of my personal golden rules is that I am the most important person in my life, and I need to live by my own rule. February has been a good month to get that started with two massages (courtesy of a gift certificate), a hair cut so that I like the person in the mirror for the first time in over  a year, and a consistent visualization practice. I created a daily invitation/prayer to my future child, and am doing myofascial release treatments in the pelvic region to release stored tension (the pelvic region is the seat of the second chakra, which deals with relationships and sexual function among other things). Maybe the most important thing is mentally putting my foot down on the recent habit of putting the house first, and the inclination to be busy. It’s hard since there’s so much I’d like to do, and I enjoy doing it; but it creates internal stress and pressure to do-do-do-go-go-go. Internal psychological pressures are a bear! Especially for those who could be described as planners, or people who love to have multiple “projects” going on at any given time.

Some of this stuff is considered luxury by many even if it isn’t: like monthly massages, hair cuts, or clothing purchases. On a spiritual/emotional level taking that sabbath-time for a massage, even just one hour a month, has a huge effect. No, your muscles will not stay loose, but the benefits of a release of surface tension, break from mental stressors, and possible release of stored tension will last longer when it is a regular practice. And believe me, not liking what you see in the mirror or dreading getting dressed in the morning because your clothes are worn out or you have to wear the same things every week, has an incredibly negative effect on a persons psyche.

Can Something Be Unknowingly Stressful?   Leave a comment

Alternative title: When other people insist that something is stressful, but you don’t think so.

This past week we went to the doctor for a fertility consult and are starting to do some testing since we’ve passed 15 months of trying (technically 12 months + 3 months off due to gallstones/gallbladder surgery) to get pregnant. In addition to discussing testing options, the doctor suggested that while it has been very helpful that I’ve been charting so that I know I’m ovulating, I should stop because it is stressing me out. Apparently it happens all the time that people stop charting and then get pregnant because the charting is “stressful”. When we walked out of the office, though, I told Mike that I have no intention of stopping charting. I think it would be WAY more stressful to not chart than it is to chart. In fact, the month that we moved into our current house I didn’t chart and it was incredibly stressful for me because I felt lost in my own body. It was like someone had taken away one of my senses, and I didn’t like that experience. Am I missing something here?

I got introduced to Natural Family Planning/Fertility Awareness Method by my friend, and started charting more than a year before we started trying to get pregnant. I was immediately hooked! The self-knowledge and self-understanding that comes with observing fertility signs is an incredibly wonderful experience to me, and I intend to continue charting through menopause. So observing my fertile signs and charting is just as much a part of my day as brushing my teeth, and occupies about as much of my mental state. Taking my temperature in the morning doesn’t require any more thought than to roll over and stick the thermometer in my mouth when my alarm clock first goes off. (It’s a zen alarm clock, with chimes at increasing frequencies following the golden ratio). Checking cervical fluid is just a matter of observation throughout the day. Sure, there’s a little bit of stress related to timing sex during the fertile phase. However it seems to me like it would be more stressful to do so without  observing fertile signs and having no idea when your body is at its most fertile. And I also question the idea that I experience more stress around the time when I might get my period than someone who’s not charting. It seems like we’d be going through the same emotions regardless since most women have a sense of how long they usually go between periods.

This is probably partially a personality thing, after all I am definitely an engineer and someone who wants to be intimately knowledgeable about/involved with myself and my health and wellness. Maybe there’s also a difference that I didn’t start charting when we started trying to get pregnant for the purpose of trying to get pregnant. This doctor was not the first doctor to suggest that charting may stress me out as my naturopath suggested the same thing about a year ago. Unless I’m in total denial or completely missing something, though, I do not feel that observing my fertile signs and charting is causing stress in my life and interfering with my ability to get pregnant. Is it possible to have other people tell you that something is stressful for you and yet not experience that thing as stressful? I think so, obviously, but I’d love feedback.

Posted January 15, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, health, pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, self-care

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Avoiding Medicine: Insane or Rational?   Leave a comment

At the very outset let me make it clear that this post is not about not seeking medical care, not taking medicine to treat serious medical/health conditions or avoiding antibiotics during a bacterial infection (just no antibiotics during a viral infection).

The context is the fact that I am sitting here right now covered with hives everywhere except my face and back. My chest is the worst, and the sensation is setting my mind totally on edge. It is taking all of my mental skills to stay calm and maintain some semblance of relaxation right now. On the way home from Mass I saw a grocery store and the thought ran though my head, “Do I want to see if they have anything that would soothe my skin?” The answer was a very clear “no” and instead I came home to work through the arsenal of cold water, oatmeal, aloe, honey, and baking soda to see if any of them work on my chest. I just have no desire to take something. For the most part mental tricks are working really well and the only part of my body that actually itches is my chest where I have hives upon hives.

This aversion to medicine has very early roots. Like single-digit age roots. As a kid I couldn’t understand pain killers. “If you take an aspirin or other pain killer, how does the medicine know where you feel pain and dull those nerves without dulling ALL of your nerves?” I wondered. Since no one ever answered me, I grew more and more leery of pain killers and eventually started avoiding them. (This may have been the only instance where my apparently all-knowing dad “failed” me.) As a teenager I got interested in complementary medicine, but I don’t really see the difference between taking an aspirin and drinking a decoction of willow bark (it’s even the same chemical). Prevention, mental state, rest, hydration, diet, etc. seemed to me as a teenager to be a much more effective path. In college I realized that my acne medication was doing nothing whatsoever, and neither was the Pepto-Bismol that was my last remaining convention medicine. Since then, I have hardly “taken” anything, and generally speaking don’t want to. I use treatments like honey and lavender for a sore throat, acupressure for cramps, and essential oils on a tissue for congestion; and I trust my body.

Occasionally, like now with these hives, I wonder if there’s something wrong with me that I have no desire to use medication. Sure it would be more convenient to pop a pill rather than leave work and take a nap when I have cramps, or take something for hives instead of resting with a poultice on my chest to ease the itching. But I trust my body to be healthy. I know it can take care of itself if I do my part, and that any discomfort will pass. Obviously, based on the contents of the drug aisles in a grocery store or drug store, most people feel differently from me and probably understand my perspective about as little as I understand theirs.

What will happen in the future when I’m a mother? I don’t know. I’ve been told that I’ll give up my silly ways and fall back into the conventional western medical practices, but I’m a bit skeptical. This is not just a fad, but a way of thinking and being that has been ME since childhood. State-of-mind treatments may not work for young children, but surely there’s a safe and healthy middle ground.

 

Posted August 7, 2011 by mayakey in health, musings

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