Prevent and Treat Cold & Flu Naturally

The aisles are full of over-the-counter medications promising to alleviate the symptoms and even shorten the duration of colds and the flu. But what if those medications don’t work for you? What if your kids are too young to take them? What if you are pregnant or just prefer to avoid the possible side effects of conventional medicines?

Here are some tried-and-true ways that my family treats colds and flu naturally. Bonus: many of these are so benign that they can be done regularly as a way of preventing cold and flu as well.

Minimize the Risks of Swimming in Chlorinated Pools

Last summer one of my kids' favorite activities was swimming with friends at a local pool. So this summer I decided to fork over the money for a pool membership. Which means I am committing to taking my kids swimming frequently in order to get my money's worth. But the pool is chlorinated, as most are, and swimming in chlorinated pools has certain risks. Nonetheless, I believe for my family the pros of physical activity and fun with friends outweigh the risks. Still, I'd like to mitigate those risks as much as possible. First a bit about the risks.

The Dangers of Swimming in Chlorinated Pools

Feel free to skip over this section and go straight to the strategies for minimizing the risks below. We don't all need to know the depressing details! But for those interested, here goes. When contaminants such as sweat, hair, sunscreen, or urine mix with the chlorine in the pool, they form disinfectant by-products, or DBPs. One type of DBP, chloramines, is responsible for the strong chlorine smell we associate with pools. DBPs are known respiratory irritants. Many DBPs are toxic or suspected carcinogens.

Indoor chlorinated pools create an additional danger compared to outdoor pools because of the enclosed atmosphere. I have long disliked indoor pools because of the mugginess and extra strong chlorine smell (which is actually chloramines) of the indoor air. Volatile chemicals can be transferred from water to air and then inhaled by swimmers and spectators. Outdoor pools offer greater ventilation.

Numerous studies have connected swimming in chlorinated pools to health problems, particularly for the very young and the highly exposed (for example, elite swimmers and pool workers). Health problems associated with exposure to chlorinated pools include increased risk of respiratory problems, childhood asthma and allergies, DNA damage and bladder cancer (see this discussion of the effects of DBPs). Several studies have highlighted the risks of swimming in indoor chlorinated pools in particular. For example, studies have linked swimming in indoor pools to testicular damage, as well as asthma and recurrent bronchitis in children. But the research on DNA damage and cancer is in the early stages, and the research reviews on chlorinated pool exposure and childhood respiratory problems that I read stated that the connection is inconclusive (since some studies find no connection, or even associate swimming with a decrease in respiratory symptoms).

For me, the bottom line is that toxic chemicals are present in and around chlorinated pools, and while researchers are busy studying the health effects of those compounds, my family will enjoy the benefits of recreational swimming while doing our best to mitigate our exposure to harmful chemicals.


How to Limit Exposure to Harmful Substances in Chlorinated Pools

Gluten-free German Pancakes (just as good as the wheat version!)

The deliciousness has landed!

Since my diagnosis with Celiac Disease a year ago, I have slowly been expanding my repertoire of gluten-free breakfasts. This has been one of the very easiest. I love to whip this up, put it in the oven, and let it bake while I make the kids' lunches and help them get ready for school. Even my not-a-morning-person daughter, who often tries to skip breakfast, will eat several helpings. In fact, she's the one who said, "These are just as good as the gluten version!"

I first got the idea for making German Pancakes gluten-free while staying with my sister-in-law. She made them with sorghum flour. They were a little heavy (similar to German pancakes made with whole wheat flour), but still quite tasty, and I realized that this recipe had potential. She recommended I try oat flour (lighter and less strong taste), which I did, and that's how I've been making them ever since. If you cannot tolerate oats, I recommend trying sorghum flour (for a heartier version) or experiment with brown/white rice flours, millet flour, and so on.

[For those without gluten issues, here is my delectable gluten version. I still miss them just a little.]

Top Ten Tricks for Early Potty Training Success

Are you interested in saving money? Conserving resources? Preventing diaper rash, UTIs, and constipation? Side-stepping years of changing diapers containing "man-poops"? Do you want a greater range of choices for preschools? Would you like to avoid potty training an uncooperative 3-year-old? Then early potty training just might be for you.

If you want to try early potty training, it's as easy as taking off your child's diaper, and plopping them on the potty every once in a while.  Here are my best tips for successful early potty training, based on my experiences potty training my second and third children.

9 Ways to Limit Your Family's Exposure to Toxic Chemicals: Top Tips for Parents and Parents-to-be

Recently I was asked what advice I had for parents or soon-to-be parents who want to limit their family's exposure to toxic chemicals.

In putting together this post, I've thought long and hard about my response. I've been in those shoes and when you first try to learn more about toxic chemicals in everyday products it can be extremely time-consuming and overwhelming. And at a time in your life where you are already probably quite overwhelmed and short of time! This post is my advice for busy overwhelmed parents who want doable, affordable steps that will significantly limit their family's exposure to toxic chemicals.

Toxic Teflon: 10 Ways to Minimize Your Family's Exposure

To learn more about the story of toxic Teflon, read last week's post:
Toxic Teflon: How a Deadly Chemical Evaded Regulation and Ended Up inside 99.7% of Us

PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) or C8 is an essential ingredient in Teflon and for decades was used in a huge range of different products (nonstick cookware and bakeware, pizza boxes, coatings for eye glasses, waterproof clothing, and stain-proof coatings for carpets, to name a few). Because of exposure through consumer products and due to exposure as a result of the disposal of millions of pounds of chemical waste into the air, water, and landfills, 99.7% of Americans have PFOA in their blood. (source 1)

Studies have tied PFOA to an incredible range of health effects throughout the body, often even at very low exposure levels. These health effects include:
  • ovarian cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • lymphoma
  • reduced fertility
  • arthritis
  • hyperactivity
  • altered immune responses in children
  • hypotonia, or 'floppiness,' in infants" 
  • ulcerative colitis
  • high cholesterol
  • pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • thyroid disease
  • testicular cancer
  • kidney cancer
(sources 1, 2)

The story of toxic Teflon is a horrifying illustration of our broken regulatory system, and proof that consumers cannot rely on the reasonable assumption that if something were truly dangerous, companies wouldn’t be allowed to sell it.
In some ways, C8 [or PFOA] already is the tobacco of the chemical industry — a substance whose health effects were the subject of a decades-long corporate cover-up...And, like tobacco, C8 is a symbol of how difficult it is to hold companies responsible, even when mounting scientific evidence links their products to cancer and other diseases. (source 1)

While U.S. companies have participated in a "voluntary" (read "unenforceable") phase-out of PFOA, the not-so-different replacement chemicals industry is now using instead appear to be just as problematic. (source 3)

Does What I Do Matter?

In the face of this kind of information, it is easy to feel outraged but also helpless. However, I take the same stance with PFOA that I do with all other toxic chemicals I learn about. While I cannot eliminate my family's exposure, I can refuse to support these companies financially and minimize my family's exposure to PFOA (as well as the novel “fluorochemicals” that have replaced PFOAs in consumer products) whenever possible. Here are some ways to do that.

Toxic Teflon: How a Deadly Chemical Evaded Regulation and Ended Up inside 99.7% of Us

There is a prevailing sentiment among well-meaning people who don’t want to be unduly influenced by alarmists and worrywarts: if something were truly dangerous, they wouldn’t be allowed to sell it. Unfortunately, this logical line of thinking has been disproven time and again as a result of our broken regulatory system. The story of Toxic Teflon, as recently laid out in The Intercept’s three-part series, is a horrifying illustration of this fact. 

DuPont Suspected Teflon Harmful for Decades

PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid), also known as C8, is an essential ingredient in Teflon (first introduced in 1946). DuPont is by far the leader in PFOA use and emissions in the U.S. Due to recent court battles many internal documents from DuPont have been uncovered, including “write-ups of experiments on rats, dogs, and rabbits showing that C8 was associated with a wide range of health problems that sometimes killed the lab animals…[and] hundreds of internal communications revealing that DuPont employees for many years suspected that C8 was harmful and yet continued to use it, putting the company’s workers and the people who lived near its plants at risk” (source 1).

Kids Need to Hear Good News about Environment

Recently I've been reading and writing about How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott P. Sampson. The chapter on "The Rewilding Revolution" included a passage that grabbed my attention:
"One of the greatest gifts we can give to children is an optimistic outlook on the future. Particularly for kids in early childhood, avoid negative stories about the natural world and the declining environment. This can lead to emotional detachment rather than caring. Recognize, however, that kids in middle childhood will likely be getting a doom-and-gloom message about the state of the world, even if it doesn't come from you. It's important to listen to kids' fears for the future, to respond honestly, and even to share your own fears. Equally important, however, is balancing any fears with positive, hopeful stories of change, stories that demonstrate how people are working to solve the problems, and how youths can be part of this critical work." (emphasis mine)

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Eco-novice's Top Picks for Reusable Lunch Gear (based on 3 years of rigorous testing)

I have children entering the first and third grades and after packing four-years' worth of school lunches (plus innumerable snacks and lunches for summer and weekend family outings), I'm ready to tell you my very favorite reusable lunch products.

When it comes to reusable lunch gear my top priorities are: toxin-free (or in other words, mostly plastic-free); durable; and dishwasher-friendly. There is no way I am going to hand wash my two kids' lunch gear everyday, so I put a very high premium on dishwasher-friendly containers. I also want some products that are truly leak-proof, and able to maintain temperature (so that I could send hot and cold foods).

Gluten-free Goodness: Whole Grain Pancakes for the Whole Family

Some for now, some for later (see double recipe below)

I am coming up on 6 months since I was diagnosed with Celiac and started eating gluten-free. And in that time I have found that some of my whole wheat favorites have easy and delicious gluten-free versions, and others don't. For example, bread. Gluten-free bread is a tough sell for me since I still remember well the deliciousness of my honey whole wheat bread and the airy crumb and crunchy crust of an artisan loaf.  But pancakes! My gluten-free pancakes are just delicious! If I do say so myself.

One thing I've quickly realized is that most recipes for gluten-free goods are decidedly not whole grain. But after spending years tweaking recipes to achieve deliciously healthy whole grain baked goods with wheat, I'm not willing to settle for the fiber-less not-hearty un-filling recipes full of starches and white rice flour that so often populate my search results.

After much searching and experimenting, I present to you this delicious recipe for whole grain gluten-free pancakes. If you hate weight measurements, I'm really sorry (and I did include a volume approximation just for you!), but I have already been thoroughly converted to baking by weight with gluten-free flours. I dug a decade-old IKEA digital scale out of my cabinet and have never looked back. I find it much easier to pour rather than scoop out when dealing with all these types of flour. Baking by weight makes doubling or tripling a recipe easy-peasy too.

Often gluten-free recipes will say, "use 1 cup or so many grams of gluten-free flours," and then provide a list of about 300 different gluten-free flours you might use. As a gluten-free newbie, I did not find this useful. I want a combination of flours that will work and taste delicious right now!  So this recipe prescribes specific flours in specific amounts, but of course you can and should substitute your favorite gluten-free flours (although the mysterious properties of buckwheat may be why this recipe needs no oil) or fudge the amounts and flours based on what you've got on hand, as I often do. But here is my favorite version so far. The one I keep coming back to.


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