Natural Breast Care: Putting Your Health in Your Hands

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When it comes to breast health, a lot of emphasis is put on cancer treatment. Words like ‘survivor’ and ‘early detection’          are common this time of year. What is discussed less frequently is prevention. We now know that certain behaviors and choices can contribute to healthy breast tissue, reducing the chances of disease. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that 38% of breast cancer in the United States could be prevented with diet, physical exercise, and weight management. Why is it that this isn’t discussed as much as how to detect cancer?

Cancer has touched my family tremendously. I lost my young mother to endometrial cancer in 2008. After her death, it seemed as if every year brought with it a cancer diagnosis for a close family member. Grief stricken, I began to wonder if getting cancer was inevitable.  There came a point, however, in which I had to decide to not let fear consume me.  Educating myself on what I could do  (instead of focusing on things beyond my control) has been empowering.   Here is some scientific support  for breast cancer prevention  that I’ve discovered in my quest to take ownership of my health.

 

Diet and Nutrition

It is widely known that eating antioxidant-rich foods (mostly fruits and vegetables) reduces cancer risks. Research on cancerous breast tissue shows high levels of chemicals such as aluminum and parabens. Eating fresh, organic vegetables and fruits instead of commercially raised and packaged produce can greatly reduce exposure to chemicals. It will also limit exposure to estrogen-like compounds (said to be a possible contributor to cancer in high amounts) often found in food additives and plastics. Limiting processed foods is also important for reducing breast cancer risks and improving breast health.  cancer-fighting-foods

Two nutrients that have made names for themselves in breast health are vitamin D and omega -3 fatty acids. It is very important for women to get their vitamin D levels checked regularly through a simple blood test. Currently, normal range is considered 32-100 ng/ml. Women should inquire what their actual number is; falling in the range is great but having optimal levels is even better. A study by prominent vitamin D researchers indicates that women whose levels are above 52 ng/ml have half the risk of the general population of developing breast cancer. As for the omega-3s, researchers in China analyzed the results of 26 international studies involving nearly 900,000 women; 20,000 of whom had breast cancer. They concluded that the women who consumed the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids from fish had a 14% reduction in breast cancer risk, compared to those who ate the least. Scientists found that for each 0.1 gram of fish oil women consumed daily, risk of breast cancer dropped by five percent. These findings support the World Health Organization’s recommendation to include at least two servings of oily fish per week in your diet.

Exercise

4450118_thumbnail_e32xIt is hard to talk about disease prevention without including the role of exercise. Breast health is no exception. In addition to helping one maintain a healthy weight–obesity is a contributing factor to many cancers–exercise improves circulation and lymphatic flow, helping remove toxins from the body. Movements like running and jumping rope are beneficial, because they increase the flow of lymph through the lymphatic system, aiding immune function. Yoga, Pilates, and other resistance workouts improve hormone responses and lower blood sugar levels. Exercise also reduces stress and balances moods by boosting serotonin. Like to exercise outdoors? You get an extra bang for your buck with sun exposure: vitamin D and an even bigger dose of serotonin!

 

 

 

While we can’t isolate all the variables that contribute to cancer risk, other lifestyle choices can also improve woman’s chances of maintaining optimal breast health. Here are some key factors in decreasing and increasing the risk of breast cancer. Some of them might surprise you!

Decreases Risk

Having more than one child

Having one child before age 20

Breast feeding each child for at least six months

Maintaining a healthy weight

Eating a diet rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids           

Having vitamin D levels over 52 ng/ml

Exercising regularly

Getting adequate sleep

Increases Risk

Not having children

Having first child over age 30

Not breast feeding

Being overweight/obese

Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol; smoking

Having low vitamin D levels

Being exposed to hormone-mimicking chemicals

Poor sleep habits

So, although breast cancer has sadly become all too familiar, arming yourself with this knowledge and taking preventive measures can help you maintain good health.

Here’s to doing what you can do… you have two hands and two tatas… take control ladies!

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Tinkering around with Tinctures

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In an (every evolving) effort toward achieve optimal health through sustainable, holistic and cost-effective ways,   I’ve added making tinctures to my toolkit.  Tinctures are a medicinal preparation of  herbs. Alcohol, glycerin, and apple cider vinegar are agents used to extract the healing properties from the plant.  Alcohol is considered the most effective, however, because it is such a potent solvent. Alcohol tinctures  also have a virtually unlimited shelf life.

In the past I have purchased them from the health food store; milk thistle tincture is a staple in my ‘medicine’ cabinet. A known detoxifier,  it gives my liver (which has a tendency to get sluggish due to my sticky blood) a bit of a boost.  It wasn’t until a Ladies Homesteading Gathering  meeting this summer that I realized how easy it is to make them!

Here are the steps to making a tincture as outlined on wikiHow. This is essentially how I prepared mine. I’ve italicized my notes.

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Purchase quality alcohol. The preferred type of alcohol for producing a tincture is vodka. This is owing to its being colorless, odorless, and fairly flavorless. If you cannot obtain vodka, brandy, rum, or whiskey can be substituted. Whatever alcohol is chosen, it must be 80 proof (namely, 40% alcohol) to prevent mildewing of the plant material in the bottle.  I used vodka but I think I will use tequila moving forward. I have found that my body reacts to it best. 

Use a suitable container. The container for the tincture should be glass or ceramic. Avoid using metallic or plastic containers because these can react with the tincture or leach dangerous chemicals over time. Items such as a Mason jar, a glass bottle with an attached stopper, etc., are ideal for steeping a tincture. In addition, you will need to get some small dark glass tincture bottles for storing the tincture in once it has been made; these bottles should have a tight screw-on or tight clip-on lid to prevent air intrusion during storage but to allow for ease of use. Ensure that all containers are both washed clean and sterilized prior to use. I used mason jars to make the tinctures and ordered my tincture bottles from Amazon (less expensive than other options I found). I was able to find four ounces containers…but I had to dig for them. 
Prepare the tincture. You can prepare a tincture by measurement or by sight; it really depends on your level of comfort with simply adding herbs  and judging by eye, or whether you feel more comfortable adding them by measured weight. Also, you should know whether you want to add fresh, powdered, or dried herbs to the tincture. Some suggestions for adding the herbs in the order of fresh, powdered, or dried are as follows:

  • Add enough fresh chopped herbs to fill the glass container. Cover with alcohol. 
  • Add 4 ounces (113g) of powdered herb with 1 pint (473ml) of alcohol (or vinegar/glycerin).
  • Add 7 ounces (198g) of dried herb material to 35 fluid ounces (1 liter) of alcohol (or vinegar/glycerin).

I used a variety of fresh herbs shared with me by the other ladies at the group. I grow a few herbs at home that I purchased from Cedar Seeder (I trust them completely).  I do plan to order dried herbs for future tinctures  from Mountain Rose Herbs. It is very important that you use quality herbs for your tinctures. Remember that you are extracting that which the herb contains. If it has been grown with pesticides, that will also be a part of your medicine.  Totally defeats the purpose.

Seal the container. Place it into a cool, dark area; a cupboard shelf works best. The container should be stored there for 8 days to a month.

  • Shake the container regularly. Twice a day for 14 days is typically recommended.
  • Be sure to label the steeping tincture so that you know what it is and the date on which it was made. Keep it out of the reach of children and pets.

One of the leaders  of our group strongly urged us to label… I am so glad she did. I am very well-known for giving my memory more credit than it deserves. I would have been in trouble otherwise!  11-8blogpic1

Strain the tincture. Once the steeping time is finished (either the tincture instructions you’re following will inform you of this or you’ll know already from experience but if not, about two weeks is a good steeping time), strain the tincture as follows:

  • Place a muslin cloth across a sieve. Place a large bowl underneath to catch the strained liquid.
  • Gently pour the steeped liquid through the muslin-lined sieve. The muslin will capture the plant material and the liquid will pass through into the bowl underneath.
  • Press the herb material with a wooden or bamboo spoon to squeeze out some more liquid, and lastly, twist the muslin to extract any leftover liquid from the herbs.

There is no fast way to do this. Trust me. Take your time. This gets messy and can be frustrating so don’t do this on a stressful day.  SN: I believe that we can pass our energy on into the things we prepare. It is important to be of sound mind when you make your medicine.

Decant the liquid into a prepared tincture bottle. Use a small funnel for this step if you don’t have a steady hand. Tighten the lid and date and label the tincture.

You will need a very small funnel. My daughter and I made funnels out of paper plates.. many of them because they didn’t last. lol. I wasn’t prepared. 

Store and use. A tincture can have a shelf life of up to 5 years owing to the fact that alcohol is a preservative. However, know the properties of the particular herbs you’ve used, and follow the guidance of the recipe from which you’re making the tincture in terms of how long to keep the tincture for.

  • Follow the instructions relevant to your tincture for usage; consult a qualified, reputable herbalist or a health professional if you need more information and bear in mind that herbal treatments can be dangerous if you don’t know the properties of the herb and its consequences.

This is perhaps the most important part of the making tinctures. You MUST remember that this is medicine. Do your research and speak to your health care advisor before taking.   Some herbs have drug interactions with pharmaceuticals.  It is also hard to gauge the actual dosage of a tincture. General rule of thumb is 2 dropperfulls, 2-3 times a day.  Some tinctures are to be taken as needed (peppermint, ginger, fennel for belly issues) and others can be taken on a rotation. I take my milk thistle on a 2 week rotation. 

Working with herbs and alcohol got me to thinking….1800-Tequini-224x300

What about taking this idea and running with it on a larger scale?

Y’all know me, go big or go home. Hee hee!

My friends, I present to you my herb infused tequila. 🙂

 

  • 750ml bottle of premium blanco tequila
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass
  • 1 large piece of fresh ginger
  • infusion jar with tight sealing lid

Follow the same steps as making a tincture but this time no dropper is needed. 🙂

For the cocktail, I mix 2 ounces of the infused tequila, the juice of one lime,  6 ounces of Perrier, and simple syrup I make with local raw honey (equal parts honey and boiling water …1 1/2 tablespoons is perfect to me).

While this is a pretty big leap away from tinctures,  I like to think that my cocktail provides a solid alternative for the healthy-minded.

Questions about tinctures? Have your own personal experience you’d like to share?  Leave a comment and let’s discuss.

Cheers!

Eat Your Damn Veggies (Why I don’t peddle supplements)

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I find  that people often use supplements for the wrong reasons. And I am not just talking about adrenaline pumped muscle heads. I’m talking about the ‘normal’ people I work with. Seeking supplements can be an act of desperation. When “dieting” has failed (let’s face it: it typically does) or when new symptoms surface as we age.  While there is no shortage of magic beans promising vitality, there is just no for substitute for quality nutrition and exercise. You can’t eat crap, pop a pill, (so-called ‘natural’ or otherwise) and expect a miracle. Which leads me to my soapbox: It all starts with food. In my opinion, there is no need to supplement if you are eating a variety of high quality vegetables and fruit unless you have an identified nutritional deficit. Now some would argue that our diet and lifestyle creates nutritional deficits for all of us in some regard. I don’t disagree. However, I still think it is important to consider WHY you feel you need supplements before taking them.  In addition, how you supplement can make all the difference. Not all supplements are created equal. The quality of the original food source, manufacturing/processing practices, and shelf stability can all have an impact on efficacy. All of this should be discussed with your trusted health care professional.

Okay, so now that is out the way let me tell you what I really think. 😉

Not a big fan of multivitamins.

There, I said it.

First of all stop whining and eat your damn veggies. If you do have an issue consider first what is missing NUTRITIONALLY and identify what is needed to address that issue. Trying to cram your diverse needs into one pill doesn’t make sense to me. Shortcuts don’t work long term. Also,  choose the source of your supplements very carefully. The way I see it, most supplement companies are right behind Big Pharma when it comes to preying on sick folk. I give anyone the side-eye that suggest I take something without discussing diet and activity.  I also am not really crazy about the person who makes a recommendation to me making a profit on said recommendation. Muddies the waters a bit.  This is also another reason why I don’t sell supplements. Now before you get all defensive of your Vitamin E, let me clearly state that I take supplements every single day. I have a chronic illness and I feel that they help me tremendously.

Food sources for vitamins we often find laking in our diet

Food sources for vitamins we often find laking in our diet

and I feel that they help me tremendously. BUT a lot of thought goes into what I take. Personal example of why/how I supplement: I have an identified problem with inflammation so I have increased my intake of oily fish, coconut and olive oil, nuts, beets, ginger and turmeric. I periodically take supplements because my health is compromised and it is widely believed that we are all lacking the oils needed in our diet. However, I do a great deal of research before I take anything. Did you know that not all Omega 3 Fatty acids are created equal? Tips on choosing a quality Omega 3 supplement: 1) Know the Source of your Omega 3. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you are going to want to avoid fish sources by looking for ELA (sourced from nuts, seeds, legumes and vegetable oils, etc..). Fish eaters should look for quality EPA (anti-inflammatory) or DHA (improves cognitive function) . Vegans/vegetarians can also source these supplements from algae. 2)Check the amount of the actual oils in the supplement. Many supplements have fillers that should not be considered when determining dosage. I take my oils straight. No chaser. 🙂 3)Check for purity. Companies who have high purity standards want you to know it and it you won’t have a hard time finding them on their label. Also check out consumerlab.com. For a small investment, you will have access to independent testing done on many supplement brands. They let you know if the product contains what it says it does. I really believe in shopping around. Getting your produce from the market, meat from the butcher, and bread from a bakery might be very inconvenient but it makes sense right? Same with supplements. I don’t recommend particular supplements because every body is different. My needs/lifestyle may call for a regiment that wouldn’t work for someone else. It is important for each person to get to learn their body and listen to its cues. A few other rules of thumb for me: I rotate my supplements.  I take as many as 9 supplements but never on the same day. There are one or two that I take daily (namely my oils), The others I rotate. I think it is less disruptive to my gut this way.  I also take most of my supplements at night. If I do burp salmon, I don’t notice and my husband hasn’t complained. Again, don’t implement anything on  MY plan until discussing it with your healthcare professional.   One more thing: EAT YOUR DAMN VEGGIES.

What in the heck is Kombucha?

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I’m addicted to a delicious brew call kombucha. I’ve kept it hush-hush because AGAIN, folks don’t need any more evidence that I am wack-a-doo.  I’ve mentioned it on the blog before but I’ve held back in telling you guys how MUCH I drink it. I’ve been brewing and drinking kombucha daily for over a year. It has changed my life.  I’ll tell you how in a minute but first… what is this stuff?

Kombucha is a fermented tea drink. It is made when a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is added to brewed tea and allowed to ‘feed’ off the sugar. It kinda looks like a mixture of a mushroom and a jellyfish (Ew I know, but whateves I eat sushi :)).  The culture ferments for about a two weeks and a fizzy  tonic is created. It tastes like a cross between apple cider and vinegar. Very unique drinking experience.  You can add spices (ginger, mint, and lemon grass all work great) or organic juices (pomegranate, apple and berry juices are my favorite) to your brew and create a ton of different flavor options!

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My beautiful ‘momma’ scoby, my tea brewing nicely, and the finished product.

One cool thing about Kombucha is that no one is 100% certain where/how it started.  Some say Manchuria (Northern China), others Russia… what we do know is drinking it does require a bit of a leap of faith.  So why do I (and countless others) keep tipping back our glasses? Well, it’s in the probiotics baby!

While there is little ‘proof’ of the healing properties many claim kombucha has, the probiotic content cannot be denied.  The evidence that probiotics are instrumental in restoring gut flora is mounting.  However, those of us who believe in it don’t need scientific research, we have our own experience that speaks for itself.  Given my history of digestive issues, I know almost immediately how something affects my belly. When I drink kombucha regularly, my stomach is calm… even when I am less than 100% with my diet. I have also noticed that I have more energy, my skin is clearer and I have almost no sugar cravings.   I also have endometriosis that at times takes me from washboard abs to the protruding stomach of a second trimester expecting mother overnight. There is lots of pain and misery that comes along with that as well.  When I drink my kombucha daily, that just doesn’t happen. After two trips without it, I’ve decided that I will no longer travel without kombucha. It is just that serious to me.

So how do you get your hands on some? I brew my own. I will tell you in a future article how you can do that as well. In the meantime, swing by your local natural foods store. If they don’t carry it, I guarantee they can tell you how to get it!  My local Whole Foods carries it on tap. It is made in North Carolina called a company called Buchi. Once I had to resuscitate my scoby (long story) and I was without brew for several weeks. Buchi was just starting to be offered so  I bought a couple of growlers. Thank you baby Jesus for small blessings. Their stuff is really very good! My favorite flavor is ‘Fire’ with ‘Earth’ coming in second.  I’ve heard they have a new holiday brew (site says it has cloves, vanilla and cranberries- ummm… yes please!) I’m excited to try that during my next shopping trip.

A word about the bottles they offer in the refrigerated section. Typically, I am not a huge fan. They are really over priced in my opinion. A serving of my brew costs me less than $.50 to make using all organic ingredients. Buchi is $11 for 64ounces (first time the refillable growler is $4 extra). The 16-20 ounce bottles I’ve seen costs $5-6 dollars a piece!  I have also not found one that comes close to the yummy taste of my brew.

Yeah… I know I quickly becoming one of ‘those’. I’m cool with that. I’m realizing that ‘those’ folks are my kinda of people. After all,  I married one of ‘those’.  He is thrilled to see me come around.  He’s wanted to go off the grid for some time.  Not kidding.  Also not going to happen. When it comes to food and nutrition, I’m sold.  I’ll  even give up cable… just as soon as he figures out how I can continue to get the OWN network.  Solar energy and water collecting are up for discussion but I will always need to make my way to my waxonista for routine eyebrow control and make a pit stop at the nail salon for a mani/ pedi. This wild woman will can only take this thing so far!

P.S. If you are in the Atlanta area: I am co-hosting a Kombucha tasting party with my friend Pilar of Rancho Alegre Farm. Let me know if you are interested and I will put you on the invitation list!

Healing Juice (quick post)

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My sister/friend Tomorrow got married on Monday. We’ve been pretty adjoined at the hip since age 11 despite the fact that we lived in the same state for only 4 years total. She has been there from my highs of giving birth to my ultimate low: losing my mother.

When she told me a couple of weeks ago that her fiance was going to make an honest woman out of her (ha!), I had to be there. We are “Beaches” close. All jokes aside. That’s our movie.

The beautiful bride.

The beautiful bride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So one very beautiful wedding, a few celebratory drinks, and several bites of delicious cheesecake later… I present my recovery juice.

Also perfect for those digging through their kiddos candy bag as I type. Caught you, huh?

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  • a fist full of wheatgrass
  • a notch of ginger
  • handful of spinach
  • two small beets
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1/3 pineapple
  • 1 lime
  • half a cucumber

I gave the Vitamix a break and brought out my juicer. I am planning on juicing for the number of days I was ony my trip. My toes looked like cocktail sausages when I got home and my gluten belly returned with a vengence. I started yesterday so I’ll come up for air on Saturday. 🙂

How Does Your Garden Grow?

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So far so good this week,  but last week will be tough to beat. 🙂

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Rancho Alegre

It started with an evening class at Rancho Alegre.  Pilar led a discussion about  probiotic drinks and essential oils.  I’m always game to discuss Kombucha and Keifer!  Besides she and I have really hit it off and it was great to see her and experience her farm first hand.  My daughter loves animals so I took her along for the ride.

Mid week, I went to Truly Living Wells Wednesday Market in East Point.  Remember Rashid? I met him at the Multicultural Sustainable Argriculture Conference last month.  I purchased okra, tomatoes, and red peppers. It’s okra season so I never pass an opportunity to get my hands on them!

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Some of the goodies found at Truly Living Well’s Wednesday Market in East Point

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My favorite Fall Stew

I wasn’t able to speak to Rashid that like I had hoped so when I found myself in downtown Atlanta on Friday, I decided to swing by  TLW’s Wheat Street garden (I had heard from a reliable source that he would be there). He didn’t seem to mind that I was stalking him; he actually invited me to have a seat and join in on an interview that was being conducted by a group of Georgia Tech students.

I had stumbled into a gold mine.

Rashid gave detailed (and sometimes irreverent) accounts of his experience starting his garden and his vision moving forward. He explained how urban agriculture addresses many different urban community concerns including: need for quality whole foods, skill/trade building, crime control and connections between neighbors.  He obviously knows what he’s talking about; it shows in his garden. While we sit, children chase each other through the rows of growing vegetables and young men and women working on behalf of TLW guide customers as they make purchases; all while the city buzzed in the backdrop.

As it turns out Atlanta is a perfect place for growing your own food. Rashid is very proud of the fact that he has an operating market every week of the year. He also sees the demand for the vegetables being greater than the supply  to be a good problem to have; it shows that the community (from high-end restaurants to local residents) value what they offer.  It was great to hear this leader speak about his love of food and people. How wonderful to be able to bring the two together!

Here is how I prepare my okra and tomato stew:

Ingredients: 2 cups sliced okra, 1 onion, diced,  2 cups diced tomatoes, 5 garlic gloves (I leave my cloves whole), Himalayan  sea salt, turmeric, 1 diced chile, (all seasonings to taste- my momma taught me to tap the spoon on the back of my hand and taste until it is right) 1.5 pounds shrimp (peeled and deveined)

Bring all vegetables and seasonings to a boil (I do not add water, I find the tomatoes are all I need to keep it nice and chunky!). Simmer  on low heat for 10-15 minutes (don’t let the okra get mushy).  I add the shrimp after I remove the heat. The hot liquid cooks the shrimp and they don’t get rubbery. That’s all! It taste even better the next day!  The boys eat theirs with rice and hot sauce. 🙂

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Shirt says “This Ain’t My First Rodeo” Sure Ain’t!!! Big things are happening… stay tuned!

I was in downtown Atlanta to scope out locations for an upcoming photo shoot.  It is connected to a really AWESOME project! Yeah I am being secretive. I wish I could say more but  I’ve been sworn to it! Very hard for me but I promise when I share… it’s going to be good!!! The photographer on the project is Jeff Guyer of Guyer Photography.  Check him out, he is an awesome photgrapher and very patient person. Anyone who photographs me has to be. <— not kidding.   Here’s a test shot from that day. I wasn’t prepared to be photographed (hence the t-shirt and barely combed hair- I cropped out the flip flops) but I’m all smiles inside!