Monday, September 15, 2014

Learning Herbalism is an Embodied Experience

As some of you know, I have been leading an 18 month class called "Foundations of Western Herbalism" at the shop. The idea is to create an appreciation for herbalism as a method of healing, to create a group of informed folks who are empowered to help themselves and others in this holistic method of healing, and to learn and grow myself (I learned herbalism in California, and the native flora there is quite different from the natives here. I get to become a student all over again and learn the powers of what grows here and how to use them with my existing knowledge!)

Currently, I have 10 students, meeting every two weeks. We started with learning some herb basics, like how to choose a high quality herb, endangered plants to avoid wildcrafting or instead to cultivate yourself, and the medical actions herbs have in the body. We now are in the midst of our third body system (we started with the immune system, went on to respiratory, and are now on digestive). We spend a month on each system: extensive readings on each system and the herbs that support it, one lecture on the anatomy and physiology, one lecture on the diseases and treatments for that system.

To learn all about herbalism, there is lots of lecture (and lots to memorize!). That can get rather, um, boring. I often try and find illustrative videos to show the workings of anatomy and physiology- it helps the visual learners take an otherwise dry subject and bring it to life. But there is a balance that needs to be achieved, in my opinion, about what we learn and how we learn it when it comes to this subject. Lectures cannot be avoided, but there must also be hands-on learning, working with others and the plants, getting out-of-doors and being in nature (cultivation, wildcrafting, plant identification, harvesting).

One of the less common "herb school" experiences, is in my opinion, one of the most valuable: I have my students ingest herbs as we learn about them. I give them an herb or formula for a two week period and they take it in ever-increasing doses and report back about how it affected them. Nothing like a truly embodied experience to reinforce the actions of a given herb!

And if one day you are going to recommend someone you know take this herb for a specific reason, I believe that you yourself should have taken it as well- know what side effects it can have, both positive and negative. Hear from other students with differing biochemistries how it affected them (it will affect them differently, you know.) I want these students to have their herb learning to be an embodied experience.

If you took herb classes, how did your education differ from what I talk of here? Did you enjoy the experience?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Skin Care & the Products We Choose, Part Two

In part one of this series, we talked about what we do carry in the shop (organic, ethical, pronounceable, and effective remedies and body care). This section is going to talk about what ingredients you should avoid if you wish to avoid ingesting toxins through the skin. As profiled in the last blog post, you need to avoid toxins that have a molecular weight lower than 750 to avoid absorbing the toxin.

FD & C Colors/Pigments: 
These are synthetic colors made from coal and tar. Side effects range from skin irritation, to oxygen depletion, and even death. All those colors that have been tested have shown to be carcinogenic. Molecular Weight: 792.84

Talc: It's in baby powder, it can't be that bad, right? Wrong. (And for the record, it is often in mineral cosmetics, eyeshadow, and body powders, too.) Environment Canada (the EPA of Canada) has talc on its list of ingredients "expected to be toxic or harmful". Why? It's known to cause ovarian cancer. Molecular Weight: 379.2657

Polyethelene Glycol: 
This contains ethylene oxide, which in very small concentrations cause uterine and breast cancers. The products it is most commonly found in are baby products, women's personal care products, and sunscreen.
Molecular weight of this product varies with application from 300-6000.

These are endocrine disrupting chemicals used as preservatives in many personal care and cosmetic products. They mess with your hormones: they have been linked to early breast development in boys and girls, cause birth defects and low sperm count.
Molecular weight 300-600 is typical.

(So-called) Fragrance: 
By law, phthalates must be put on the label as such if they make up 20% or more of the ingredients. Unless, of course, they are part of a "fragrance". Fragrance does not have to list any ingredients at all. If your product simply lists "fragrance" without disclosing the ingredients of that fragrance, you may be getting a very high and undisclosed toxic load. Read more about phthalates here.
We cannot give you a molecular weight without knowing actual ingredients, and by law, a company does not have to give one.

Siloxanes and methicones (these products have ingredients that end with -siloxane or -methicone as part of the word):
These are used as moisturizers in hair and beauty products and are endocrine disruptors that are linked to infertility and uterine tumors. They are also not biodegradable.
Molecular Weight: varies based on which formulation, but 300-600 is typical in cosmetic applications.

DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine), & TEA (triethanolmine): 
These are hormone-disrupting chemicals known to form nitrates and nitrosamines, often in conjunction with other chemicals present in a product (cocamide DEA, or lauramide DEA). They are almost always in products that foam: bubble bath, body wash, shampoo, soap, facial cleanser. All three of these chemicals are hormone disruptors that are linked to cancer. Research indicates a strong link to kidney and liver cancer.
Molecular weight of DEA: 105.14
Molecular weight of MEA: 61.08
Molecular wight of TEA: 149.188

These are those ingredients that start with methyl, ethyl, propyl, and butyl in their names. These are found in 90% of personal body care products on the market today. 99% of the breast cancers that have been sampled have paraben esters present. You read that right. The vast majority of body care available in the US have strong links to breast cancer. These are in anti-perspirants and shampoos and much more.
Molecular weights range from: 152.15 to 194.23.

Propylene Glycol: 
Colorless and odorless, it is used in massage oils and deodorants and... anti-freeze. If the EPA recommends gloves and goggles to anyone handling this ingredient in the workplace, should you be putting it on your skin?
Implicated in contact dermatitis, kidney damage and liver abnormalities; can inhibit cell growth in human tests and can damage membranes causing rashes, dry skin and surface damage. May be harmful by inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption. May cause eye irritation. Exposure can cause gastro-intestinal disturbances, nausea, headache and vomiting, central nervous system depression. (Material Safety Data Sheets)
Propylene Glycol causes a significant number of reactions and was a primary irritant to the skin in low levels of concentrations. -The American Academy of Dermatologists,  January 1991
Molecular weight: 76.09

Mineral Oil: 
Hilarious that both mineral oil
and talc are on this list.
Advertising at its worst.
The original baby oil, right? What could be bad about this? Actually, this is classified as a skin irritant by the EPA and comes from petroleum. It contains PAHs (polycydic aromatic hydrocarbons), which can cause cancer.
A molecular weight cannot be determined, because there are many formulas to make a mineral oil.

Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) (Also known as sodium dodecyl sulphate, dodecyl sodium sulphate, lauryl sodium sulphate, sodium laurylsulphate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sulphuric acid, monododecyl ester, sodium salt): 
This is another ingredient in 90% of personal care products found in the United States! Known side effects include: depression, breathing difficulty, diarrhea, skin irritation, and death.

SLS can damage the immune system; causing separation of skin layers and inflammation of skin. --Journal of the American College of Toxicology; Vol. 2, No. 7, 1983 
To prevent canker sores, avoid Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) which is often used in toothpaste. --Brad Rodu, DDS, Oral Pathologist, University of Alabama At Birmingham School Of Medicine, in "BottomLine Personal" 
"Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), the most widely used detergent in toothpastes, has been reported to cause adverse effects on oral soft tissues. This double-blind cross-over study indicates that sensitive patients may contract mucosal irritation through SLS in toothpastes. Less toxic detergents,..,are desirable in oral hygiene products." --Herlofson BB, Barkvoll P., Department of Oral Surgery and Oral Medicine, Dental School, University of Oslo, Norway. "Oral Mucosal Desquamation Caused By Two Toothpaste Detergents In An Experimental Model," Eur J Oral Sci 1996 Feb
SLS denatures proteins of eye tissues - impairing eye development permanently. --Dr. Keith Green, PHD, D.Sc., Medical College of Georgia 
SLS is a mutagen. It is capable of changing the information in genetic material found in cells. SLS has been used in studies to induce mutagen in bacteria. --Higuchi, Araya and Higuchi, School of Medicine, Tohoku University: Sendai 980 Japan 
The molecular weight of SLS is 288.38 which can easily pass into the cells.  In studies, it has been found lodged in the heart, lungs, liver and brain up to five days after initial exposure.  Seeing as we have multiple exposures a day, SLS accumulates and is constantly present until we stop using products containing it.  In fact, SLS is often added to medicines to transport the active ingredients into the body.

is an artificial sweetener found in an ever-increasing number of foods and toothpastes consumed by adults and children alike. Over 75% of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are due to aspartame.  Many of these reactions are very serious, resulting in seizures and death and worsen or create dozens of other conditions such as migraines, muscle spasms, MS, fibromyalgia, and diabetes.
Molecular Weight: 294.3

Sodium Fluoride (NaF), a constituent of most toothpastes, has been used as the active ingredient in insecticides, wood preservatives, fungicides and rat poison.  It works on rats by causing lesions in their stomachs (which eventually result in the rat bleeding to death). So why would we put this in our mouth and possibly swallow it?

If you have children, you probably find it difficult to stop them from ingesting some of their toothpaste, especially as it has been made to be tasty to encourage brushing. But what could it be doing to their bodies?
In 1998, Dr A K Susheela of the India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, presented a report of her research entitled "Scientific Evidence On Adverse Effects Of Fluoride" to MPs in Westminster. She discovered that "fluoride from these toothpastes enters the circulation within minutes". Given the evidence of how toxic this product can be, this is troublesome:
In 1992 a randomized double-blind study was conducted in which healthy male volunteers were given either sodium fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate (MFP) tablets (both common ingredients in toothpaste) for seven days.
Before the trial, both sets of volunteers  had their stomach linings assessed.  This was repeated again at the end of the trial.
Those in the MFP group showed no significant changes but seven out of ten in the Sodium Fluoride group had significant stomach lesions, including acute haemorrhages and free blood in their stomachs. (Gastroenterology 1992; 30: 252-4)
Sodium Fluoride is a hazardous waste by-product from the aluminum smelting process. It can also be derived from the pollution scrubbers of the phosphate fertilizer industry. This by-product is too toxic to be dumped in the environment and it is classified as a poison. It is found in toothpastes in concentrations of up to 1500 parts per million (ppm).
Molecular Weight: 18.9984

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Skin Care & the Products We Choose, Part One

Your skin is your body's largest organ- and it absorbs 60% of what you put on it. This includes the water from our baths and showers, soaps, topical medications, and body care products. At Boline Apothecary, we only carry and make products that are "organic, ethical, pronounceable, and effective." What do we mean by this?

This is actually a legal term. Organic means that the ingredients in a formula are grown or raised not using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and in the case of animal products, it also means no hormones or antibiotics are given. In the United States, in order for a processed product to qualify as organic, 95% of the ingredients must be organic. We accept organic products or ethical products in their stead.

While not a legal term, we mean specific things by ethical here at Boline:
When it coms to botanicals, if a cultivated plant is not legally certified organic, it must be grown using organic methods. This means a small family farm who cannot afford the annual fee for organic certification may still have organic soil (pesticide-free for 7 years) and may still use sustainable and pesticide and petrochemical-free fertilizer, but not be legally "organic".

At Boline, we actually prefer local-and-ethical to shipped-from-abroad-and-certified-organic. We believe in supporting the community, family farms, and the power of bioregional herbalism. So we will choose a non-certified organic and ethical plant from an Ohio farm over a certified organic plant shipped using fossil fuels multiple times around the globe from a national herb distributor.

If it is a wildcrafted herb, it needed to be cultivated in a sustainable way- not just away from roads and other sources of toxins for the end-user, but sustainable for the plant itself- harvesting only 10-15% of a patch and leaving plenty of rhizome for the plant to make a go of it next year. No ringing trees for their bark, no taking endangered plants from the wild.

When it comes to bee products like wax, honey, propolis, and pollen, there are great producers and not-so-great ones. We all know that local and raw are best when it comes to honey and our personal health. But humans do not exist in a vacuum, and at Boline, we believe that selecting a honey that is best for the bees is best for us. So we choose a bee producer that does small batches over rampant production.

OK, we get a few chuckles about this one- here is what we mean. Lots of chemical isolates have long names and most of the time, they are not necessary to the formula (they are there as a carrier, a foaming agent, a stabilizer, or a preservative). We are going to get into some of the less pronounceable ingredients that you should be avoiding in part two of this topic.


The most common question that I get from people wanting to use natural products (be it deodorant or a migraine remedy) is, "Does it really work?" Because they have tried myriad products in the hopes of switching to something better for them, only to be disappointed in the product. At the shop, we try out things and carry effective formulas.

Why do we have more stringent standards than many other places (like Whole Paycheck, for example) for our body care and remedies?

Until quite recently, scientists believed the skin was a total barrier.  They now know that it allows substances of a low molecular weight through. What is a "molecular weight"?

If you think of the skin as a mesh like a tennis racket, as in the diagram opposite, you will see how some molecules can pass through and others cannot.

Scientists have graded the hydrogen atom as 1 for molecular weight and have discovered that any molecule below 3000 can enter the skin, a molecule below 750 can enter the skin cell, and a molecule below 150 can enter into the bloodstream.  

This discovery is being used increasingly with the introduction of transdermal patches like Nicotine, HRT and pain relief.  (They are popular because entry through the skin bypasses the stomach where many drugs can be altered by the stomach acid.)

This means ingredients that if you are unwilling to swallow and live on some of the ingredients in your shampoo, you should not be using them to "clean" your body either.

Part two of this blog series, appearing next week, will detail toxic ingredients in body care formulas and how to avoid them.