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Warm Weather Herb: Aloe

Looking for a cost-effective, natural treatment for a variety of outdoor-related ailments? Check out aloe (Aloe vera). The gel extracted from aloe leaves can be used topically for the treatment of sunburn, mosquito bites, and rashes from poisonous plants, as well as first and second degree burns, skin irritations or inflammation. It’s a good idea to keep a potted aloe in your kitchen - just slice open a leaf lengthwise and apply the gel to the affected area. You can also keep aloe lotion (look for those with a high percentage of aloe gel) or a gel product in your first aid kit. Be aware that topical use can trigger rare allergic reactions and may delay surgical wound healing. Always contact trained medical personnel for burns with significant blistering.

Aloe vera is one of many ways to treat sun poisoning.


Cleaning Ears and Broken Eardrums

You've probably heard that cleaning your ears with a cotton swab can push wax further down. It can also lead to a perforated ear drum. A study at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found that more than half the patients seen in ear, nose and throat clinics admit to using cotton swabs to clean their ears. The research also showed that when the eardrum is perforated as a result of swabbing, 97 percent of all cases heal within two months without treatment. The rest require surgery. Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum include hearing loss, drainage, dizziness or abnormalities in facial movements - see a doctor if any of these occur. One of the study co-authors advises that instead of using cotton swabs, you can play it safe cleaning the ears by irrigating them once or twice a month with a mixture of equal parts of peroxide and warm tap water (be sure the fluid is body temperature). Other options: use a combination of plain vinegar and water - and place four or five drops in the ear once a week. You can also have a doctor remove your earwax or use an over-the-counter earwax treatment.

Ask Dr. Weil: Eyes and Ears


Worried About Iodine Deficiency?

Iodine, a non-metallic mineral, is required by humans in trace amounts for proper development and growth. An iodine deficiency leads to an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), slowed metabolism and weight gain, as well as other symptoms of hypothyroidism such as fatigue and intolerance of cold. It can also cause neurological, gastrointestinal and skin abnormalities.

Humans need at least 150 mcg of iodine per day. Daily intakes of up to 1,100 mcg daily for adults and children over four are considered safe.

You can get iodine naturally by eating saltwater fish and seafood, kelp and other sea vegetables as well as vegetables grown in soils that contain iodine. Dairy products also provide iodine if the animals graze on plants growing in iodine-rich soils. If you are eating a healthy, balanced, varied diet, you’re probably getting enough iodine. However, if you eat mostly processed foods, don’t rely on them for your iodine requirements: the salt processed foods contain is not iodized. Incorporate more of the whole foods mentioned above to boost your iodine intake. You can also use unrefined (gray) and refined (white) sea salt - they do not have the additives such as aluminum compounds to prevent caking that commercial salts do, and sea salt contains trace amounts of iodine.


Walnuts Are Winners

If you're looking for an all-natural, high-quality source of antioxidants, one of your best bets is walnuts. A new analysis has found that a handful of walnuts has nearly twice the antioxidants as an equivalent amount of any other nuts, and that the antioxidants in walnuts are two to 15 times as potent as vitamin E. The analysis, by Joe Vinson, Ph.D., of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, ranked walnuts above eight other varieties of nuts including almonds, pecans, pistachios, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamias and peanuts. In a presentation to the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in March 2011, Vinson noted that nuts in general are packed with high quality protein as well as vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Even though nuts are high in calories, Vinson said only about seven walnuts a day are needed for the health benefits documented in earlier studies.

Start enjoying walnuts' health benefits now, and try this savory Garlic Walnut Dip. For a sweet, walnut-studded finish to a meal, try my Carrot Cake recipe.


How Do You Boost Your Mood? (Poll)

Here's a Q&A from my site about the effect of mindfulness meditation versus antidepressants to prevent relapses of depression.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with depression, whether short- or long-term. How do you beat the blues? Share in the comments.

Be sure to watch for my new book on this subject, Spontaneous Happiness, to be published by Little, Brown in the fall of 2011.


Socialize for a Better Brain

We know that exercising the brain by doing puzzles, learning a language, reading or engaging in other mentally stimulating activities can lower the risk of Alzheimer's Disease. Now researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have learned that socializing can help as well. The investigation team is studying 1,138 older adults (mean age 80) in an effort to understand what kinds of activities improve cognition as we age. All the participants receive yearly evaluations that include a medical history and neuropsychological tests. The study group also responded to a questionnaire about their social activities, including going to restaurants, sporting events, playing bingo, taking trips (day or overnight), doing volunteer work, visiting friends or relatives, attending religious services or participating in group activities (the researchers gave the Knights of Columbus as an example). The study has shown that the participants who were most socially active experienced only one quarter of the cognitive decline over an average of five years as those who were least active socially. In analyzing their results, the researchers took into consideration other factors that could have influenced cognitive decline and tried to rule out the possibility that cognitive decline leads to avoidance of social activity, rather than the other way around.

My take? Throughout life, connections to others are vital to our health and well being. I believe that we are not meant to be all alone, but rather parts of bigger families, bands, and tribes. We are naturally communal beings and derive great satisfaction from the experience of belonging to a group with a common purpose. I'm happy to know that the Rush study confirmed what many of us know intuitively - that it is better (at any age) to maintain our connections with others than to isolate ourselves. As we age, the more stimulation we receive - intellectual and social - the greater our chances of keeping our minds, and memories, as sharp as they are today.

Learn more: Eight Ways to Connect


Are You at Risk for PCOS?

If you are a woman experiencing irregular menstrual periods, infertility and other hormonal difficulties, you may have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Also known as polycystic ovary disease, the condition is characterized by small, non-cancerous cysts in one or both of a woman's ovaries. PCOS usually has more than one symptom, including:

  1. Irregular or absent menstrual periods
  2. Development of some male sex characteristics, most commonly excess hair on the face and body, deepened voice, and male-pattern baldness
  3. Acne
  4. Weight gain or obesity
  5. Infertility (PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility)
  6. Diabetes or prediabetes might better be stated as insulin resistance
  7. Decreased breast size

PCOS affects between five and 10 percent of females. Conventional treatment includes medication and fertility drugs (if pregnancy is desired). In addition to maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise, I recommend following an anti-inflammatory diet; avoiding conventionally raised beef and dairy products, which may contain residues of estrogenic hormones used as growth promoters; and increasing intake of whole soy foods, which contain isoflavones, substances that may help regulate hormone imbalances.

Since women with PCOS are at higher risk for hypertension, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease, sleep apnea and endometrial cancer, see your physician if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above.

More on Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.


5 Steps to Healthy Grilling

It's delightful to grill outdoors when the weather is warm. Unfortunately, grilling meats can lead to the production of carcinogenic (potentially cancer-causing) chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HAs). To reduce HAs, try the following:

  1. Limit the quantity of meat you grill, and make grilled vegetables the main course.
  2. Pre-cook your foods in the oven or on the stovetop and finish them off outdoors - less grill time means fewer carcinogens.
  3. If you do grill meat, cook it thoroughly but avoid charring or blackening it (don't eat any blackened parts).
  4. Marinate your meats. Marinade may help reduce HA formation, especially if it's made with spices such as ginger, rosemary and turmeric.
  5. Avoid charcoal lighter fluid or self-starting packages of briquettes in a charcoal grill - they will leave residues of toxic chemicals in your food. A healthy alternative is an inexpensive chimney lighter that uses a small amount of newspaper to ignite a mass of charcoal in a large metal cylinder. Gas grills are good alternatives to those that use charcoal.

Along with grilling, try making True Food Kitchen's Watermelon & Heirloom Tomato Salad this 4th of July!