Friday, August 28, 2015

The Loathsome Lives of Cold Germs

It never fails: At back-to-school time, your kids are suddenly surrounded by dozens of other kids, and the next thing you know, your home has been invaded by every sniffle, sore throat, and cough that’s going around.

We know that all it takes to pick up cold viruses is to touch a germ-laden surface or touch an infected person and then touch your nose or mouth. But how long do those disease-spreading organisms lie in wait for you? There’s no way of knowing for sure. Studies have shown that, depending upon the particular strain, cold viruses can survive on surfaces for anywhere form a few minutes to 24 hours. But these two factors also play a role in how long germs remain in attack mode:

The nature of the “dumping ground.” In general, germs stay active longer on hard materials such as plastic, metal, and ceramic tile than they do on clothing, upholstery, and other soft surfaces.

Environmental conditions. The higher the temperature and humidity are, the sooner the viruses’ firepower will fade away.

This highly portable DIY hand cleaner will demolish flu and cold viruses on contact — with none of the potentially dangerous chemicals found in most commercial brands.

¾ cup of rubbing alcohol (at least 91% strength)
⅜ cup of pure aloe vera gel
5 drops of cinnamon oil*
5 drops of sweet orange oil*

Pour all of the ingredients into a blender or food processor, and run it on high for a minute or two. (Don’t worry: A thorough washing will remove all traces of alcohol and aloe.) Transfer the mixture to small spray or pump-top bottles, and carry them with you to use as you would any other hand sanitizer. The blend will keep at room temperature for at least six month.


*Or substitute 5 drops of one or a combination of your favorite oils. Lavender, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, and tea tree are all excellent germ-fighting choices. All the oils are available in health-food stores, herbal-supply stores, and online. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sobering Tick Talk

Ticks have gained nationwide infamy for spreading Lyme disease and the potentially fatal Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but that’s just the beginning of the horror story. As of this writing, there are 14 different tick-borne diseases plaguing various parts of the United States, and new ones keep popping up with disturbing frequency. The specific ailments, as well as the exact kinds of ticks that carry them, differ from one part of the country to another. But all of the infections have similar symptoms. Both the severity and the time of onset can vary, but these are the most common signs:
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Rash


All tick-borne diseases are easily treated with antibiotics—but they can be very hard to diagnose. The key to fending off dangerous complications lies in fast action. If you’ve been bitten by a tick, and anywhere from a few days to several weeks later you experience any of the symptoms listed above, see your doctor immediately!

Friday, August 14, 2015

5 Zany Ways to Cure a Headache

Got a throbbing headache that just won’t quit? Over the years, folks have come up with more headache remedies than you can shake an aspirin bottle at. Here’s an assortment of the weirdest — and surprisingly, most effective:

1. Soak for 20 minutes in a steamy hot bath while holding an ice pack on your head. The hot/cold combo will ease the pain by drawing blood away from your head and narrowing the blood vessels in your scalp.

2. Tape a fresh mint leaf on the part of your head that hurts the most, and keep it there until you feel relief.

3. Stick your tongue out about ½ inch, and bite down on it as hard as possible without hurting yourself. Hold the position for 10 minutes — no less and no more.

4. Soak a large white cloth in vinegar, wring it out, and tie it tightly around your head. Keep it in place until the pain is gone.


5. Slice a fresh lime in half, and slowly but firmly rub a cut side on the site of the ache. The pain should vanish pronto. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Tense Truth about Clutter and Stress

Clutter kills. Well, not directly. But it does send your stress-hormone producers into overdrive, and that can do you in — fast! Consider these half-dozen horrific ways that clutter clobbers your mind and, in turn, your body:

1. It bombards your brain with excessive stimuli, forcing your senses to work overtime and often disturbing your health-giving sleep.

2. It distracts you from things that you need to focus on.

3. It makes it harder to relax, both mentally and physically.

4. It constantly whispers to your subconscious that your work is never — and can never be — done.

5. It triggers feelings of guilt and embarrassment, especially when unexpected visitors drop by your home or office.

6. It sends your frustration skyrocketing when things such as keys, bills, or important documents get buried in piles of junk.

There’s no doubt that even moderate amounts of clutter can send your stress level soaring sky high. But a junk-filled, disorganized home or office can also take a toll on your physical health. Here are four ways you may be doing your body a big disservice by letting a lot of possessions pile up throughout your home:
  • The more stuff you have lying around, the more handy hiding places you provide for germs of all kinds.
  • The more dust collectors you have, the more exposed you are to the toxins released by PVC and other plastics.
  • All kinds of health aids, ranging from nutritional supplements and must-have medications to your walking shoes and gym membership card, can easily get lost under the piles of clutter you have.
  • A cluttered home can make you embarrassed to invite folks over — so you deprive yourself of stress-busting social interactions. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

3 Plants That Keep Wasps Away

There are more than 75,000 kinds of wasps in the world. Nearly all of them are not only harmless, but also highly beneficial because they prey on other insects, including disease-carrying mosquitoes and almost every crop-destroying garden pest you can name. But, zowie! Their stings really pack a punch. So place containers filled with any of this trio of repelling plants wherever you want to keep wasps away:

Citronella. This is most potent when you crush the leaves and rub them onto your skin (or use citronella oil, available in health-food stores). But dense groupings of the real deal also discourage wasp visits.

Mint. Both the oil and live plants repel wasps. If you plant it in your garden (rather than in a container), you’ll need to clip it back frequently — otherwise, it’ll take over your whole yard before you know it!

Wormwood. This silvery-gray perennial is highly drought resistant. On the downside, the same aromatic chemicals that repel wasps (and scads of other insects) make wormwood poisonous to people and animals — so don’t plant it if you have small children or pets on the scene.

If you find yourself at the wrong end of a wasp’s stinger, here are two easy ways to control inflammation and ease the pain:

1. Dissolve two effervescent antacid tablets in a glass of water. Then moisten a soft cloth with the solution, and hold it on the bite for 20 minutes.

2. Wet the site, and rub an uncoated aspirin tablet over it.


Whichever remedy you choose, if the culprit was a bee instead of a wasp, remove the stinger before you proceed. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Screen out wrinkles safely

We hear it over and over again, but it bears repeating: Always apply sunscreen to your face, neck, and other exposed skin before you go outdoors. But when you do, keep these two guidelines in mind:
  • To achieve optimal protection, choose a product with an SPF that’s between 30 and 50.
  • Always buy sunscreen labeled “full-spectrum,” which means it’s been proven to protect against both UVB rays, which burn your skin and  increase your risk for skin cancer, and UVA rays, which damage collagen and accelerate the aging process.


When you’re picking out sunscreen in the store, take a look at the label. The jury is still out on how damaging chemical-based sunscreens really are, but with scads of highly effective natural products on the market, why take chances? These three culprits have been shown to be especially damaging to your health and your looks. (And the higher the SPF is, the more chemicals a product contains.)

1. Oxybenzone. This is an active ingredient in most commercial sunscreens. It can cause skin irritation and allergies, and (worse) it reacts with UV rays to create cell-damaging free radicals, which are linked to hormone disruption and increased cancer risk.

2. Parabens. These are synthetic preservatives that disrupt hormones and may stimulate cancerous tumors. In small quantities, they pose little or no risk. The problem is that they’re used in so many beauty and personal-care products, including deodorants, shampoos, shaving creams, makeup, and sunscreens, that you can give yourself a dangerous dose without knowing it. Fortunately, they’re easy to spot because they generally appear last on ingredient lists. Look for methylparaben, propylparaben, and/or butylparaben.


3. Retinyl palmitate (a.k.a. vitamin A). When exposed to UV rays, it breaks down into toxic free radicals, causing premature aging and raising cancer risk. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Incredible Calorie-Burning Power of Housekeeping

Lots of folks love the camaraderie of working out in a gym, where they’re surrounded by their fellow stay-fit warriors. But if you’re not that social by nature, you don’t care for formal workout routines — or you simply don’t have the time or money to squander on a health club membership — don’t fret: Just by performing routine chores around the old homestead, you can easily burn enough calories to keep weight gain at bay and your muscles toned to boot. Here’s a handful of examples:

Digging in your yard burns about 630 calories per hour, in addition to toning the muscles in your calves, thighs, arms, and shoulders. Plus, if you go at it vigorously for 20 minutes or more, you can increase your heart rate and strengthen your cardiovascular system at the same time.

Raking leaves for an hour can burn 450 calories, and the resistance offered by the leaves helps tone all the major muscle groups in your body.

Scrubbing the bathroom burns 400 calories an hour and tones your arm and shoulder muscles.

Sweeping and mopping a floor burns about 240 calories an hour and gives you a great upper- and lower-body workout.

Washing the car burns 286 calories an hour and helps tone your arms and abdominal muscles.


The exact number of calories a person burns during any activity varies greatly, depending on gender, age, weight, and individual metabolism. An Internet search for “calorie burn calculator” will bring up scads of sites where you can type in your vital stats and learn how many calories you’ll expend on common chores, ranging from loading your dishwasher to washing your dog, as well as more athletic endeavors such as swimming, dancing, and hitting the rowing machine at the health club.