Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Road Food

The holidays always mean extended car trips for us and, despite grand intentions, we never seem to have all the food or snacks we need to get us through. Plus, traveling with the kids and two dogs also means everyone needs a break and a chance to move around. Although a little compromise always seems to be in order to keep everyone happy, road food is not exactly filled with great options for holistic-minded families. Rest stops are desperately in need of some healthier options, although I have to say we have come across a few random farmers markets set up at highway rest stops much to our surprise. While we couldn't make a meal out of the offerings, we were excited to pick up organic garlic, local apples, and winter squash for our destination.

Although McDonald's feeds more than 27 million people a day, an astounding figure, even on road trips it remains out of the question for our gluten-intolerant, health-oriented family. Yes, you can make "healthier" choices at the fast food locales that you will find at the average rest stop but even these may be pretty significant compromises. Those of you who are organized or high-tech do have some options: you can map out your trip in advance and locate healthier places to eat, coordinating your route accordingly or if you have an iPhone, you can search out restaurants along the way. Unfortunately, I am neither. But, there is a resource that should not be missed by those of us lacking organization, planning, or technological savvy: Healthy Highways: The Travelers' Guide to Healthy Eating by Nikki and David Goldbeck. This handy little guide, perfect for your glove compartment, lists nearly 3,000 stops across the U.S. where you can locate vegetarian, natural, or health food eateries or stores en route to your destination. Each chapter maps out a state marking the locations of health food stores, markets, restaurants, and other places to find organic, fresh, whole foods options. Addresses, phone numbers, and directions will guide you there even without a GPS and keywords will tell you if it is an eat-in, take-out, cafe, self-service, or other type of establishment. Non-smoking and handicapped accessible notations can also serve as useful guides.

Thanks to the Goldbecks, you can eat healthier on the road and also support greener, more sustainable options. Enjoy the holidays!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Personal Touch

My kids are snugglers. They love to curl up on your lap, to be held and carried, and to cozy up to their parents, our pets, and to each other. I am always surprised when people remark at how affectionate they are because it is so natural. Nothing can calm an upset or help an ill child better than personal touch.

Science backs up the importance of being close to our kids. Touch advocates recount the work of Dr. Fritz Talbot who visited a children's clinic in Dseldorf in the 1940s and discovered that children who received regular touch and mothering grew and thrived, even when all medical possibilities had been exhausted. A 2001 study by Dr. Lynda Harrison showed that very brief (10 minutes twice a day) touching of premature infants significantly reduced stress behaviors. Yet another 2003 study of orphaned Korean infants demonstrated that an extra 15 minutes a day of stimulation (personal touch, auditory simulation, and eye contact) improved weight gain, head circumference, and overall health. "Kangaroo Care" has been adopted in many hospitals, encouraging skin-to-skin contact between mothers and their newborns, helping to regulate the infant's temperature and promoting better physiological outcomes and greater success with breastfeeding. The University of Arkansas even has a fun worksheet about hugs and their importance to share with friends and family!

So why is touch so controversial? Parents lament that they are spoiling their children by carrying them too much, being too affectionate. Plenty of websites back this up, advising that we should be able to walk away and set boundaries, even at the tender age of six months! Inappropriate touch and media reports of child and sexual abuse have created a rather touch-phobic culture, with devastating results. More than 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, including aphenphosmphobia, the fear of being touched. Early social experience and the deprivation of physical touch can have a long-term impact on future development. A 2005 Natural Academy of Sciences report shows that "the social attachments formed between human infants and their caregivers begin very early in postnatal life and play a critical role in children's survival and healthy adaptation."

As parents we instinctively want to hold, hug, and snuggle our children, and with good reason. A simple hug is a vital component of physiological, emotional, and social health both over the short and the long term. Parents should trust their instincts, and snuggle away, no matter the age of the child. Personal touch benefits extend way beyond childhood and may help overcome some of the disconnection of future generations. New research on a variety of touch therapies are showing positive results with geriatric patients, including improving communication and overall health with those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Physical interaction is a simple and vital aspect of well-being and a cornerstone for overcoming our detached social order. Sometimes getting back to basics is the most powerful thing we can do.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

How Clean is Too Clean?

As a parent, I gave up on serious cleaning a long time ago. But then I have never been blessed with a penchant for cleaning. Commercials of sparkling kitchen floors, shimmering countertops, and spotless bathrooms always fascinated and repelled me at the same time. And now, thanks to Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE), I feel better about lacking the clean gene.

WVE's new report, Disinfectant Overkill, demonstrates the dangers of overuse of antimicrobial chemicals in the home and beyond. Despite the report's contention that "old-fashioned cleaning with soap and hot water has been scientifically proven to keep most homes sanitary," many of us are on a quest for something stronger, more powerful, or more thorough to rid our homes of dirt and germs. As a result, we are welcoming products into our home that were intended for sterile hospital settings, with a great deal of risk to our own health and well-being.

More than 5,000 antimicrobial products are currently registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many of them are classified as pesticides. However, recent efforts to "streamline" the approval process for such products may remove the more stringent warnings about these chemicals and expedite their approval for public use, allowing even greater numbers of antimicrobial products to flood the market. Of concern is that these products are not only dangerous to human health, but may be ineffective and may lead to "increasing acquired bacterial resistance" while also polluting groundwater.

A number of conditions, from asthma to skin rashes, are associated with antimicrobial chemicals. Newer studies indicate that antimicrobial agents may act as hormone and endocrine disruptors and may mimic both estrogen and testosterone in the body. These pollutants are also passed through breastmilk to babies and are stored in fat cells among women.

Of course, the cleaning industry is big business. According to WVE, "analysts project that the global disinfectant market will reach $2.5 billion by
2012." As consumers continue to demand cleaner, germ-free environments, the number of products containing antimicrobial agents will continue to grow. Estimates show that nearly 70% of all liquid soaps currently available contain antibacterial agents, despite the research indicating that they have essentially no benefit over plain, standard soaps.

Reducing our exposure to these chemicals is as simple as using or making your own natural cleaners. Simple, safe ingredients such as baking soda, castile soap, and vinegar can become your primary tools for effective home cleaning. Both HMN cookbooks, Growing Healthy Families and Many Paths, One Journey to Health include easy recipes for natural cleaners to use in your home. Gather your friends or fellow holistic parents and host a green cleaning party - it's easier and more fun than you might think!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

The holiday season is rapidly approaching and despite tough economic times and a year filled with personal challenges, many of us sense building excitement as twinkling lights and decorated trees begin to appear.

As holistic-minded parents, we may view the season's arrival with both anxiety and happiness. We may dread the commercialism of the holidays; the wastefulness of the cards, trees, and wrappings; and the unhealthy temptations that creep into our diets. But we may also celebrate the sentiments in which this season is embedded: generosity, family, love, and giving. Embodying these virtues is the jolly figure of Santa Claus, a legend of the season that is hard not to embrace. My eight year old puts us on the spot regularly about the existence of Santa Claus, looking for evidence to demonstrate that he is real or any indication of a total commitment to the fantasy in either of his parents.

Our response? We wax poetic about jolly old Santa Claus, leave him gluten-free cookies (and organic carrots for his reindeer), and insist upon the veracity of his being. Although we may be roundly criticized for telling tall tales or being dishonest with our children, we believe that Santa Claus is, in fact, a part of all us. Yes, we know that the legend is grounded in the benevolent Saint Nicholas and his penchant for giving to children and those less fortunate and that there may well be some truthful historical roots for the character we celebrate today. But our certainty about the existence of Santa Claus is an acknowledgement of our personal philosophy that people are essentially good and generous at their cores, and that love and giving are values we all want to live by.

So when asked by my older son "Mom, do you really believe in Santa Claus?", I can honestly say "yes" because I have seen people who give of themselves every day, people who anonymously reach out to help someone who is struggling, people who dedicate their lives to making the world a better place for all of us, people who radiate love and generosity, light and passion. I believe in the magic that Santa can create by bringing smiles and love to families, opening hearts, and how his presence (real or mythical) inspires us to give and to share. I believe in the Santa in all of us and celebrate the season that allows us to bring forth that positive, loving energy. Besides, who can resist a good belly laugh?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cultivating Gratitude

Sharing this Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends reminds us to put our attention on what we are grateful for in our lives. Cultivating gratitude is a spiritual practice and one that may not come easily in our secular, materialistic world. But from a holistic perspective, learning to be grateful has benefits on many levels. For example, research on gratitude has found that people who express gratefulness have higher vitality, more optimism, suffer less stress, and are less likely to experience clinical depression. Jeffrey Froh, professor at Hofstra University also found that "students who counted blessings were less likely to report headaches, stomach aches, pains in the body."

How do we shift our attitude to one gratitude? According to Robert Emmons, one of the foremost authorities on the topic of gratitude and professor at UC-Davis, keeping a gratitude journal is an important first step. "This process of writing, just putting it on paper, helps people focus, and people report that it helps them to think about things a little differently than they had before," says Emmons. Emmons' research shows that those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, and were more optimistic about their lives compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

You can start with a simple list of things that you are grateful for today or this week, and jot them down in a notebook. You may be grateful for the sunny day, a kind word, or a moment of peace and quiet. Acknowledging the simple things can help you refocus from what you may not have, to what you do have. The practice of keeping a gratitude journal may also help people to feel more connected and to be more helpful, according to Psychology Today Magazine.

While the holiday season is a wonderful teaching moment to help our children to understand gratitude, we can help them learn gratitude all year round. Putting loose change into a jar for a charitable cause, bringing our children along to help out with food or clothing donations, or putting our children in charge of special clean up or tree-planting projects are simple yet powerful ways to help them to cultivate gratitude at an early age. Gratitude is best expressed in our actions and how we choose to live. As John F. Kennedy once said, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New Mammography Guidelines

Just this week the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new guidelines regarding routine mammograms for women in their forties suggesting that they skip the dreaded routine mammograms until later on. "The benefits are less and the harms are greater when screening starts in the 40s," said Dr. Diana Petitti , vice chair of the panel. The new recommendations are not without controversy, as a few vocal healthcare professionals and journalists feel that women may now become "complacent about the dangers of breast cancer". Although some medical professionals are up in arms about the new guidelines, they may actually be a blessing for women.

As a medical procedure, mammography is certainly not without risk. Mammography uses low levels of radiation to detect cancer. Terry Rondberg, author of Under the Influence of Modern Medicine argues that radiation-induced breast cancer is a growing concern. Taking four films of each breast in a standard mammography means that "premenopausal women undergoing annual screening over a ten-year period are exposed to a total of about 10 rads for each breast," according to Samuel Epstein, MD. In addition, according to Epstein and Seaman, the breasts of premenopausal women are "highly sensitive to radiation, each rad of exposure increasing breast cancer risk by 1 percent, resulting in a cumulative 10 percent increased risk over ten years of premenopausal screening, usually from ages 40 to 50."

Mammographies may also be less effective than women are led to believe. False positives are common in mammograms, with studies showing that "70 to 80 percent of all positive mammograms do not, upon biopsy, show any presence of cancer." Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, author of The Politics Of Cancer, "claims that in women ages 40 to 49, one in four instances of cancer is missed at each mammography."

So why the protest and disagreement coming from organization such as the American Cancer Society? According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition "cancer is a multi-billion dollar business". Large organizations such as the American Cancer Society have much at stake here. James Bennett, professor of economics at George Mason University, stated that "in 1988 the ACS held a fund balance of over $400 million with about $69 million of holdings in land, buildings, and equipment. Of that money, the ACS spent only $90 million— 26 percent of its budget— on medical research and programs." Both the ACS and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have been criticized for conflicts of interest, including links to the major manufacturers for mammogram films and machines, such as DuPont, Kodak, and General Electric. Corporate "heroes" and "friends" listed by ACS include Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Novartis, among others. Novartis manufactures Femara, a breast cancer drug, and earlier this year Johnson & Johnson acquired Cougar Biotechology, a maker of experimental cancer medicines.

Once again it is up to women to become informed and educated about the risks and benefits of a medical procedure such as a routine mammogram. Women should explore alternatives, such as thermography, with their healthcare providers and also take into account what is behind the messages and recommendations that they receive from their doctors or through ad-driven campaigns targeting their participation.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Whole Pets

Somewhere along our holistic parenting journey as we become informed about the quality and safety of the foods we eat, the risks and benefits of the healthcare choices we make and the products that we bring into our homes, we realize that our holistic perspective applies not only to our children, but also to our pets. Our beloved family pets are subjected to the many claims and products of a multi-billion dollar pet industry that may not have well-being as their guiding principle.

Holistic pet choices, like parenting decisions, should begin before the pet or pets are welcomed into our homes. According to the Humane Society, more than 5 million cats and dogs are killed in shelters each year in the United States - that's one every six and a half seconds (and several while you are reading this blog). Adopting homeless pets saves lives, reduces the profits of inhumane puppy mills, and offers a sustainble alternative to pet purchases. What's more, many animals in shelters are pure breeds. In fact it is estimated that this number may be as high as 25 to 30percent.

As a pet parent, you'll be faced with many of the same choices - how to feed your pet, how to care for and discipline your new family member, and what the benefits and risks are to vaccinations. Increasingly, veterinarians are beginning to question our vaccination recommendations as recent studies show substantial links between frequent vaccines and cancer rates. Author and veterinarian Dr. Richard Pitcairn has also pointed out the rising incidence of vaccinosis among pets, manifesting itself in a variety of common pet problems such as diarrhea, eye conditions, and skin eruptions. Fortunately, there are quite a few veterinarians who will check titres on pets rather than continually revaccinate against common illnesses. In addition, there are a growing number of holistic vets who focus on disease prevention and health through diet, as well as through the use of natural remedies and homeopathy. Other natural solutions, such as herbs and essential oils can offer holistic approaches to common challenges from skin disorders to nervousness.

Nutrition is an important key to well-being for all living things and our pets are certainly no exception. Food additives and byproducts are frequent components of commercial pet food. The Animal Protection Institute describes the commercial pet food industry this way: "What most consumers don't know is that the pet food industry is an extension of the human food and agriculture industries. Pet food provides a market for slaughterhouse offal, grains considered 'unfit for human consumption,' and similar waste products to be turned into profit." To preserve shelf life, many pets foods also contain BHA, BHT, and propylene glycol, the safety and toxicity of which has not been accurately determined.

Whole foods, natural remedies, eco-friendly pet beds and toys made from sustainable, non-toxic resources need to be part of every holistic pet owner's program. Sharing out lives with pets can bring great joy, compassion, and love. Good health and well-being should also be part of that equation.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Unsavory Alliances

An old Japanese proverb says "when the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends." The same could certainly be said about organizations and corporations - who we choose to align with reflects our own integrity and the level of commitment we have to our purpose, above and beyond convenience or financial gain. Building a community, an organization, or a corporation is about building trust and bringing our vision to a wider audience. But if we are not honestly serving the common good, we may choose an unsavory alliance that exposes our truth.

As Norwegian economist Eivind Reiten once said "Credibility takes years to build, but a few hours to destroy." Perhaps the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) needs to listen up. The AAFP "is the national association of family doctors. It is one of the largest national medical organizations, with more than 94,600 members in 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam." Among their stated purposes are: "To provide responsible advocacy for and education of patients and the public in all health-related matters" and "To promote and maintain high standards among physicians who practice Family Medicine." Where exactly an alliance with one of the world's greatest offenders to public health, Coca-Cola, fits into this purpose is beyond comprehension. Seriously, folks. It is almost too unsavory to speak of, to write of, even to think. But, alas, here it is. Just this week, The American Academy of Family Physicians has signed a six-figure alliance with the Coca-Cola Company.

Talk about integrity. Putting aside the AAFP's CEO claiming that "the deal won't influence the group's public health messages", let's speak for a moment about credibility. Can any family physician who is a member of the AAFP honestly believe that being in the back pocket of Coca-Cola sends a positive message about their commitment to health and well-being? Soda consumption has been linked to osteoporosis (Mayo Clinic), obesity (UCLA), and diabetes (American Diabetes Association), among other ills. Drinking just one can of soda a day can increase a woman's likelihood of developing Type 2 Diabetes by 85 percent, not a statistic health professionals should be overlooking. As Harvard University epidemiologist and nutrition expert Dr. Walter Willett told the Associated Press "Coca-Cola, like other sodas, causes enormous suffering and premature death by increasing the risks of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, gout, and cavities." But perhaps these are no longer "health-related matters" for the AAFP or are now outside the scope of the practice of family medicine? According to the AAFP's press release on the new alliance, "The Consumer Alliance program is a way of working with interested companies to develop educational materials to help consumers make informed decisions so they can include the products they love in a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle," said AAFP President-elect Lori Heim, M.D., of Vass, N.C. So, Coca-Cola can now be part of a "balanced diet and healthy lifestyle" according to America's family physicians?!

Credibility lost.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Upside of Halloween . . . or Hand Over the Chocolate!

Not being a big fan of ghouls and goblins or anything remotely resembling a werewolf, one might correctly assume that Halloween does not rank high on my favorite holiday list. Except, of course, for the chocolate.

Without a doubt, I am a confessed complete and total chocoholic. Nothing is quite as irresistible as smooth, silky chocolate. Chocolate has a magical ability to transform a moment into something rich and delectable, with a hint of the exotic. And, yes, as a holistic mom I am the strange lady down the street handing out fair trade chocolate, organic lollipops, or non-toxic crayons to the little neighborhood trick-or-treaters. But I am also the first one to plead with my family to save some of the chocolate for last (in case Halloween "traffic" is light this year), in hopes of sequestering the leftovers into a secret chocolate stash.

But, honestly, what's so bad about chocolate? Well, according to some scientists, not all that much. Studies have shown that "cocoa powder, dark chocolate and milk chocolate have higher Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC) values than many common foods, such as prunes and blueberries. (ORAC values measure how powerful an antioxidant a substance is. An antioxidant is a substance that inhibits oxidation or reactions promoted by oxygen and peroxides, and that include many held to protect the living body from the deleterious effects of free radicals. Examples include beta-carotene, vitamin C, and alpha-tocopherol)." Although some of the pro-chocolate research trials have been funded by those with a vested interest in the outcome, I personally have little motivation to refute their findings.

But not all chocolate is created equal. Rich, dark, organic chocolate holds the greatest potential for positive health benefits and the less processed, the better. More importantly, how our chocolate is produced is critically important as trafficking in children to be sold into labor in cocoa fields in West Africa or their exposure to high levels of pesticides during farming should be a deciding factor for all of us when we choose to indulge. The wages earned by cocoa farmers around the world are desperately low, largely due to a lack of corporate responsibility. "Producer income remains low because major chocolate and cocoa processing companies have refused to take any steps to ensure stable and sufficient prices for cocoa producers," explains the Global Exchange website.

Fair trade, organic chocolate is not hard to find. It may not be what is offered at the next house on your Halloween tour of the neighborhood, but it should be! With a little effort and a lot less guilt, we can all enjoy the spoils of Halloween for weeks (well, maybe days) to come!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lack of Choice, Loss of Freedom

President Obama has paved the road for the end of freedom and choice for parents (and others) in this country. Declaring the swine flu pandemic to be a national emergency, President Obama has given broad powers enabling the government to act as they deem appropriate to prevent and treat this illness.

Despite the CDC's own reporting that the swine flu pandemic may well have peaked out already, the President has initiated a crisis state inciting both fear and panic. But his actions are not going without criticism. Mike Adams of the Natural News ponders the motivation behind declaring a state of emergency, even more concerning coming on the heels of the rescission of NY H1N1 mandate for health care workers and growing media reports of public distrust of the vaccine and the severity of the swine flu. The more resistance to the vaccine that arises, the harder the push to enforce it.

This second of two actions to broaden government powers during a "pandemic" also "allows drug companies, health officials and anyone who gives experimental vaccines to Americans during a declared public health emergency, to be protected from liability if people get hurt." There will be no recourse despite reports of adverse flu vaccine reactions, including the tragic story of Desiree Jennings. The insert to the H1N1 vaccination itself clearly states the the potential side effects including increased risk of hospitalization and wheezing in young children, immune system disorders, Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), and gastrointestinal disorders. And there is no regard for reports of deaths from the swine flu vaccine along with hundreds of cases of GBS. And what about the swelling number of credible, informed professionals who warn of the danger of the swine flu vaccination? Do any of these factor into the equation?

Parents across the country are scared. Not by swine flu, but by the lack of choice and loss of freedom that they are facing. Most physicians are not helping matters. Anecdotal reports from Holistic Moms across the nation indicate that anyone appearing in a health care facility with flu-like symptoms are being told they have H1N1, without testing, simply because "no other flu viruses" are circulating this early in the season, inflating reports without any clinical evidence.

Will parents lose all choice in this emergency? Can we no longer decide what medical practices are or are not appropriate for our children? We have seen "mishaps" already of children given the vaccine "by mistake".

As parents, we have a right to make informed, educated decisions about the health and well-being of our children. We should be guided by the principles of informed consent. As the National Vaccine Information Center explains:

"Informed consent has been the central ethical principle of the practice of modern medicine since the Nuremberg Code was issued by the Nuremberg Tribunal after World War II. Although the Nuremberg Code specifically addressed the human right for human beings to give their voluntary informed consent to participate in scientific experiments, the First Principle of the Nuremberg Code has become an ethical standard for allowing patients to give their voluntary consent to engage in medical interventions that carry a risk of harm."

Without such a guiding principle, we and our children are not only at risk but also have no legal means for justice. A national emergency indeed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just a Mom

For those of you unfamiliar with the Holistic Moms Network, we are a non-profit support and resource network for parents interested in holistic health and green living. I like to say that we are part community building, part support, and part education and information provider.

At a recent event, a man asked me about HMN and what we did. I offered my standard explanation.

And his response was, “Oh, so you’re just a mom’s group.”

Years ago this might have thrown me into a state of rage.

The feminist in me would be angered by the suggestion that moms are undervalued in our culture, that our child-rearing is not accounted for economically, much less psychologically or socially.

The political scientist in me would be frustrated by the dismissal of a “group”, particularly one of parents, and the failure to acknowledge that significant social and political change has occurred in this country because of the passion, knowledge, and dedication of parents who have rallied around an issue and demanded change from our legislators.

The mom in me would be dismayed to hear that my community was viewed as some irrelevant social club that doesn’t matter to the larger society.

But instead, I just smiled knowingly because I know the truth.

The truth is that we’re a mom’s group who calls on parents to embrace nature and all that it has to offer us for life, health, and the future.

A mom’s group that honors a woman’s natural ability to birth and to feed her baby, empowering her to be in control. To instill a mother with the confidence that her body is powerful and able.

A mom’s group that validates a mother’s desires and dreams and to realize that childbirth is a sacred rite and not an inconvenience.

A mom’s group that recognizes the power of a parent’s natural instincts. To trust in our wisdom about what is best for our children and not to be devalued by anyone, simply because they claim to be a professional, and to reinforce what a parent already knows.

A mom’s group that understands and respects children, that nurtures their needs and desires and does not push them into independence before they are ready, helping to raise a positive and powerful generation.

A mom’s group that embraces the power of the body to heal. To nurture ourselves and our children naturally and simply, allowing the body’s innate power to shine through. To be open-minded to the ways in which our bodies heal and thrive that do not come in a bottle, off a shelf, or from a prescription. And, by doing so, we empower parents to make choices to enhance their innate power to achieve wellness.

A mom’s group that understands the connection between food and health. To call on nature to provide us with nutritious, abundant food. To honor food as it should be: fresh and local, untainted by chemicals or pesticides, cultivated by the hands of farmers whose passion and commitment gives grace to our meals. To shun food that is altered in a science lab or trucked across the country at huge environmental waste. A mom’s group that protects family agriculture and the land that feeds us.

A mom’s group that accepts the idea that there is not one path for education. To recognize that our children learn in many ways and to honor their choices, their interests, and their passions, regardless of whether or not they fit into an “appropriate” curriculum. A mom’s group that helps our children learn to be the future leaders of our society.

A mom’s group that understands that holistic parenting is a journey that takes time. That some of us pursue our journey in baby steps and others speed through. We respect the journey – the places where we are and where we’ve been, the many options and choices, and the people around us, wherever they are in their journey. A mom’s group that honors diversity, refrains from judgment, and encourages respect.

A mom’s group that realizes that the decisions we make impact others and the earth. A group that empowers families to change their lifestyles to reduce environmental impact, to respect the power of nature, and to honor the beauty of the world around us. A group that will take the road less traveled because it is less damaging to the planet. To make simple choices every day to conserve, to live simply, to work in harmony with our environment and not against it. A mom’s group that is protecting the health and well-being of our planet, providing for a future of our children’s generation.

A mom’s group that accepts people from all walks of life and that is open to more than moms. A group that welcomes dads and partners, step-parents and expecting parents, practitioners and professionals, because we recognize that our voices are stronger if we work together and that there is power in us coming together. A mom’s group that understands that social change comes from community building and that community is the wellspring from which activism begins.

A mom’s group that is proud to take the unconventional route and to stand our ground by becoming informed and educated. A group that understands that popular wisdom is not always wise and that convention does not mean truth. A mom’s group that has created a community voice for holistic living and that helps thousands of parents across North America to stand their ground, to be unified, and to be heard.

This is who we are. This is the Holistic Moms Network.

So to the man who asked me:

Yes, we’re “just” a mom’s group. And I am “just” a mom.

Nancy Massotto, Executive Director
2009 Natural Living Conference Introductory Remarks

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Day of Education and Empowerment

With the growing popularity of all things green and natural, there seem to be expos and conferences popping up each month to support holistic living. The Holistic Moms Network's own 2009 Natural Living Conference is just a few short days away, coming up on Saturday, October 17, 2009 in Basking Ridge, NJ.

Why go to a conference? I have heard from a mom I know that she's "just not a conference person." As a person driven to research, education, and community I find this a bit baffling. What are the reasons you might want to go to a conference? For starters, education is the foundation for change. When you attend a conference, a lecture, or even a Holistic Moms monthly meeting you have the opportunity to learn and raise your awareness. Without awareness, there is no change or desire to improve. But if you are seeking better health, positive ways to parent, or want to live a greener, more sustainable lifestyle the possibilities out there are endless. Interestingly, I have found that even when I think I know the topic at hand whenever I attend a conference or expo, I discover a new piece of information or a new product that alters how I live or what choices I make.

Certainly there are great websites, books, and magazines that we can all learn from. But there is nothing quite like being surrounded by like-minded people, by feeling the energy and enthusiasm of others, or the opportunity for face-to-face conversation to learn, teach, and share. Sometimes the most valuable thing I take away from a public event is a five minute conversation with an exhibitor who helps me find a new service or product, a ten minute exchange with a mom who has similar challenges with their kids, or one tidbit of information that I pick up in a lecture that leads me down an entirely different path. Or, it may be that I am the one doing the giving. Perhaps I can share my own experiences with my holistic journey, help another parent struggling with food allergies or special diets, or recommend a practitioner or product that I have used - enabling a new hope or a reassuring word that can have a significant impact. We cannot anticipate what gift we may receive (or give) by opening ourselves up to such interaction, but should know that there is always something that we can benefit from whenever communication is possible.

Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to be a participant in a conference or event is the sense of empowerment that you can experience as a result. Empowerment, according to Cherly Czuba of the University of Connecticut "is a multi-dimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives. It is a process that fosters power (that is, the capacity to implement) in people, for use in their own lives, their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important." The inspiration you get from "being there" translates into the confidence to act on your instincts and to produce viable change. That sense of empowerment is worth every minute of having to rearrange schedules, set up travel plans, or negotiate babysitting. There are always excuses not to be there, but what you miss is always more than you can even anticipate.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mercury and Aluminum and Squalene, Oh My!

This week, millions of doses of the vaccine for H1N1 - or swine flu - will begin to be dispersed across the United States. Media hype has cultivated fear and anxiety over the possibility of a swine flu pandemic but what you are not hearing is what hundreds of healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, scientists, researchers, advocates and activists are learning and speaking out about the vaccination and the alleged health crises.

The Fourth International Public Conference on Vaccination hosted by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) has been a powerful, empowering, and enlightening event. Dozens of professionals from all walks of life have come together to share science and research, knowledge and experience to educate and inform on vaccination. Hot among the topics is the forthcoming H1N1 (swine flu) vaccination.

Without a doubt, there are serious concerns about the safety and efficacy of this vaccination, not to mention questions about the origins of the virus and the motivation for whipping up public fear and for the mass production of the vaccination itself. Conference Speaker Dr. Joe Mercola points out that, among other concerns, adjuvants in the vaccination include thimerosal (mercury), as well as squalene which has been associated with devastating autoimmune problems as well as with arthritis, memory loss, and neuropsychiatric problems. Conference speaker and Emmy award-winning investigative reporter Gary Matsumoto published a book on the dangerous toxic effects of squalene. The new H1N1 vaccination will contain both thimerosal and aluminum, in addition to squalene, increasing the toxicity of the shot. Each shot is reported to contain 25 mcg of mercury, 250 times the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) safety limit. Adding aluminum and formaldehyde to the mix complicates the possibility of adverse effects. According to an article published in the International Journal of Clinical Investigation (2005), those receiving regular flu shots for 3 to 5 years had a ten-fold increase in the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease compared to those receiving no flu shots. Click here for a recent video about the risks of these neurotoxins from an expert on infectious diseases.

Becoming educated and refusing to be part of media hype is the first step for every parent to take. Of course, staying away from the hype will be much harder this time around. Several speakers at the NVIC Conference mentioned the CDC's 12 million media campaign, including Elmo and Sesame Street, to advocate for vaccination of children. Click here for more information and find out what more and more parents are learning about the safety of the H1N1 vaccination and about the swine flu "pandemic".

Monday, September 28, 2009

Is This Your Child?: Meeting an Inspiration

My first child was a miserable baby. He was big and healthy and full of energy. But he was miserable. He rarely slept well and always awakened with a scream, even in my arms. He banged his head on the floor, had tantrums and outbursts on a daily basis, and raged until he was red in the face. I nursed and wore him, danced and sang, soothed and distracted. But something was not right with my baby. Family members questioned our holistic choices, wondering if we hadn't set ourselves up for problems. He grew and surpassed all of his developmental goals, but in my gut in knew we were missing something. We were politely removed from music classes, whisked away from playdates, and leered at in the supermarket. And mother guilt set in.

Then, one day, I picked up "Is This Your Child?" by Doris Rapp. My world unfolded in the pages of her book. This was my child. My child was reacting to toxins and food allergies. They did not manifest themselves in hives or eczema or, thankfully, anaphylaxis, but in his mood and behavior. Things started to click and make send. Another one of her books, The Impossible Child, helps parents and teachers to "help children who have been erroneously labeled as dumb, lazy, nasty, rude, overactive, irritable, slow or impossible." Rather, many of these kids are suffering from food or chemical sensitivities. We were able to confirm multiple food allergies and sensitivities through testing, including an off-the-charts gluten intolerance for my son. A simple elimination transformed him. He is still an intense, bright, and energetic kid, but his behavior is more even and predictable. When he gets out of sorts, the first thing we do is look at what he ate or what he was exposed to. I was now armed with knowledge. And I could finally take charge, make a difference and know that it wasn't me. Thank you, Dr. Rapp, for showing me that "No, it's not your kid. And, no, it's definitely not you, mom!"

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Rapp in person earlier this month. At the wise age of 80, she pursues her passion and commitment to educating parents about environmental medicine. Her latest book, "Our Toxic World - A Wake Up Call", is a must-read for every parent. The facts are there and they are alarming to say the least. We are destroying our bodies and harming our children by living in a toxic soup of chemicals. Epidemics of autism, ADHD, cancer, early puberty, obesity, and much more are right in front of us and the cause is at hand. To hear Dr. Rapp speak is to be transformed into a new level of awareness and concern for future generations. For any parent who wonders about the health of their children, I would like to introduce you to Dr. Doris Rapp. She has my deepest and most sincere gratitude for changing my life, the lives of my two children, and hopefully the lives of many children whose parents will fight to protect them and our planet!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Losing Yourself, Finding You: Motherhood and Identity

I remember a time, before kids, when people would ask "What do you do?" when we were introduced. But, as a mom, the questions have changed. When I meet someone new, the questions are "How old are your kids?" or "How do they like school?" Or, in a rare moment, "What did you do before you became a mom?"

Crossing into the world of motherhood can be filled joy and excitement, but it may also be a time of transformation and loss of identity for women. The birth of baby can lead to "nurture shock", according to The Mask of Motherhood author Susan Maushart, a "virtual frenzy of caring" placing the mother in the center of spiral of need and selflessness. During this time, "many women have reported a feeling as if they have ceased to function, or even to exist, as people in their own right."

We can lose our self-identity in motherhood and fall into a sea of guilt, self-doubt, and uncertainty, feeling as though we are no longer part of the "real" world - an image that our work-driven culture deepens even further. The devaluation of childrearing combined with an idealist image of "super mom" can make any strong, confident woman crumble in the face of motherhood.

And yet a new generation of mothers is reclaiming its choice to stay at home and is staring this identify shift squarely in the eyes. These moms are not traditionalists, but rather "they want to be home because in some quiet moment caring for their children, they have suddenly experienced the vastness, the intricacies, the delicate nature of this work," say the authors of What's a Smart Woman Like You Doing at Home?. Many of today's moms are choosing to set aside their careers or to transform them creatively to work flexible hours or part-time in order to be at home with their children. Unfortunately, we are still struggling with both the identity issues and the guilt. Women choosing to be home feel guilty for not "using" their professional skills or education, for not contributing "something important to society", for disappointing the women's movement, or for not bringing financial resources into their families.

In spite of the destabilization, identity crisis, and prospective guilt we experience through motherhood, being a parent also finds a way for us to build a stronger, more confidence sense of self. Parenthood is filled with challenges to our core values, our beliefs, and our daily activities. As our children begin to define themselves, we are forced to redefine who we are, what we believe, and what we choose to stand for. We may ignite new passions and rebuild our identities on things that matter to us, and not so much what is given importance by others. How we redefine ourselves begins to come from a place of depth, as opposed to how we earn our paychecks or what our tastes may be. Parenthood may also take you on spiritual journey - a journey about compassion, love, and understanding. Becoming a parent may enable us to review and reconnect with our past, learn to live in the present moment as our children do, or renew our inspiration or faith. Even though we appear to be caught in the midst of repetition and daily routine, personal growth in parenting can be astounding. As spiritual teacher Bhagwan Ranjeesh has said "The moment a child is born, a mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Other Drug War

Although the political lingo about the "war on drugs" seems to have subsided, there is another battle going on that doesn't get nearly as much attention: the pharmaceutical industry's antics and blatant disregard for public welfare. Recent headlines such as the record-breaking federal fines of Pfizer for their illegal drug promotion highlights the problems rampant in legal drugs or pharmaceuticals. Although pharmaceutical company media campaigns attempt to portray them as working hard to combat illness and save lives, this recent (and recurring) violation demonstrates a corruption that permeates the entire industry. According to Maggie Mahar, author of Money-Driven Medicine, pharmaceutical company spending on marketing far outstrips research and development (R&D). A 2002 Report by Families USA showed the drug companies spent only $19 billion on R&D, while "shelling out some $45 billion for marketing, advertising, and administration." When money governs industry, it's a breeze for ethics to fly out the window.

Aggressive drug marketing and advertising is a relatively new phenomenon, but it is one that you can hardly ignore if you are still breathing. Turn on the television, listen to the radio, or flip through a magazine and you will hard pressed not to see a glossy, sassy ad for the latest prescription fad. Certainly, some drugs can save lives. But peddling dangerous medications through illegal means is not something we should sit back and ignore.

Since 1997, when the FDA essentially gave pharmaceutical companies the green light to mass market their wares, direct consumer marketing skyrocketed into a multi-billion dollar industry. By the year 2005, Pfizer employed a staff of 38,000 sales representatives to market their drugs - nearly the size of three army divisions (Mahar, p.50). A large part of this effort targets medical doctors and selling them to the benefits of a particular drug. Between 1993 and 2003, the price of prescription drugs rose an average of 7.4 percent, more than the rate of inflation. Undoubtedly, the cost of this marketing army and the plethora of ads needed to be accounted for.

And the doctors are not simply pawns in this game. The physicians who participate in such practices are equally to blame. Let's remember that part of the Hippocratic Oath states: "I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect." Waving fancy vacations and massage services in the faces of our healthcare professionals is bad enough, but those electing to join in the game are equally at fault for the increasing distrust of the medical profession and reducing their credibility as professionals.

It's high time for some accountability and the Pfizer fine is a small drop in the bucket. The federal government has to stop looking the other way when it comes to the practices of drug companies. For the sake of everyone's health, we need to address the "other" drug war.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Wacky Weather

Here in the northeast US, summer weather was unusual to say the least. The skies appeared to open up and pour rain for weeks on end while cool temperatures made for a seemingly short season. Could it be that global warming is just a figment of our imaginations?

Not according to Joseph Romm, MIT-trained physicist. Although cool, wet summer weather may make one wish for some warming, heavy downpours and drenching rains are actually part of the global warming phenomenon. “One of the core predictions of climate change is that one-day rain events of 2 inches and 4 inches or more will become more commonplace," says Romm. The rain not only dampens summer fun plans, but creates problems for agriculture, sewage systems, and flood zones.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, global warming will likely continue to bring about severe weather changes including fiercer hurricaines, wildfires, droughts, and floods.
Forecasts for future weather are not encouraging. The Nature Conservancy predicts that by 2100, hot summer temperatures in the northeast could arrive three weeks earlier and last three weeks longer; higher temperatures in the northwest could increase forest fires and summer drought; and increased storm surges from rising sea levels could threaten the southeast. And global warming is exactly that: global. Researchers from the UK's Hadley Centre predict that heatwaves similar to the 2003 one that resulted in more than 50,000 deaths are "now four times more likely to occur due to the rise in greenhouse gases."

So how do we stop - or at least reduce - global warming? We need to minimize the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide emissions in the environment that occur when we burn fossil fuels such as gas, oil, and coal. Here are some practical things YOU can get started with today that will help stem the tide of global warming:

Recycle. Paper, plastic, glass, aluminum - the more you recycle, the better. Estimates indicate "that recycling half of your household waste, you can save 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide annually."

Ditch the Car. Or at least consider walking or biking more, minimizing your trips, carpooling, or using mass transit. "Every gallon of gas you save not only helps your budget, it also keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere."

Plant a Tree. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, helping to stabilize our environment. Just one tree will absorb approximately one ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.

Change Your Temperature. Reduce your thermostat in winter by just 2 degrees and raise it 2 degrees in summer and you could save 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.

Buy Organic. Organic soil captures and stores carbon dioxide better than soil from conventional farms. If we grew all of our corn and soybeans organically, we’d remove 580 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Health Benefits of Community

Did you know that if you joined and participated in just one group - such as the Holistic Moms Network - you could cut your risk of dying next year in half? Seriously! Sure, it sounds like a great membership building tool, but according to political scientist and author Robert Putnam, being part of a social network has a significant impact on your health. "Joining a group boosts your life expectancy as much as quitting smoking" according to the Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement in America published by Harvard University.

In recent years, we have seen a remarkable decline in the social and civic engagement of Americans. Over the past 25 years there has been a 58% drop in attendance to club or group meetings, a 43% decline in family dinners, and a 35% reduction in simply having friends over (www.bowlingalone.com). Oh, sure, we're busy. We have other things to do. So what's the big deal? The problem is that a decline in connection reduces "social capital" or the collective value of our social networks which help build trust and cooperation. A reduction in social capital has been linked to decreased worker productivity, rising rates of depression, higher rates of crime, juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, and child abuse. Social capital is also what makes governments more accountable and responsive to their populace. And, on an individual level, a lack of social capital leads not only to loneliness, but also to a lack of trust among people and an unwillingness to help others. In 1960 55% of American adults believed that others could or should be trusted most of the time while by 1998, only 30% agreed. "By virtually every measure, today's Americans are more disconnected from one another and from the institutions of civic life than at any time since statistics have been kept. Whether as family members, neighbors, friends, or citizens, we are tuning out." (Better Together Report)

Reconnecting through social groups by being part of community, serving on a town committee, organizing a neighborhood block party, supporting local businesses and farms, or singing in a choir can help rebuild our social capital, reaping benefits on individual, group, and national levels (click here for more ideas on building social capital). Being part of Holistic Moms is another way to help recreate community and play an active role in strengthening not only social capital, but your own personal health and well-being. It matters for all of us and for the sustainability of future generations!

Monday, August 17, 2009

PVC Goes Back to School

The back to school buzz is in the air. Parents are rushing off to gather up supplies, clothes, and gear for their kids as September peeks just around the corner. But before you head off to stock up for your kids, take a moment to review a new report from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice entitled Back-to-School Guide for PVC-Free School Supplies.

Yup. PVC is lurking in our kids' school supplies! Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a toxic plastic, is neither healthy nor green. Commonly referred to as "vinyl" PVCs are present in many household products, children's toys, and building materials. And school supplies. What's wrong with PVC? According to Greenpeace, PVC "is the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics." PVC production accounts for "nearly 40 percent of all chlorine used in the United States" and is a building block for CFCs, which are destroying the Earth's ozone layer. Dioxins are released in the production of chlorine-based chemicals and have been detected in unsafe levels in the bloodstreams of humans and animal life and have been implicated in rising infertility, birth defects and developmental problems among wildlife. According to the CHEJ report, PVCs contain chemical additives including phthalates and lead, among others.

Reducing our children's exposure to toxins and PVCs is important for their health, as is refusing to support the industry creating these environmental pollutants. So what do you need to look for? PVC products may be labeled "vinyl" - as in colorful 3-ring binders or zip-up pencil cases. You may also find the number "3" or the letter "V" or "PVC" under the recycling logo, indicating that the item was made from PVCs. Likely suspects: notebooks with spiral binders covered in plastic, backpacks with shiny plastic designs, colored plastic-covered paper clips, plastic rainwear, umbrellas, and boots, vinyl lunch boxes and plastic water bottles.

To download a copy of the CHEJ report, which also provides suggestions for manufacturers of PVC-free alternatives, just click here! Start the school year off with a commitment to a healthier and greener future!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Rights of Nursing Moms

Gotta love Maine. Oh, the lighthouses, rocky coast, and wilderness are fabulous (not to mention the lobster) but for nursing moms, Maine is a wonderful place to be! A new law, going into effect on September 12, requires employers to make "reasonable efforts" to provide clean, private spaces for working moms to pump and to allow them the time (paid or unpaid) to do so, as well as enforcing that nursing mothers will not be discriminated against in the workplace.

To raise awareness of the new law and of breastfeeding, the city of Portland rolled out life-sized cutouts of breastfeeding moms scattered across the city. As the Portland Press Herald reported, each image also bore a sign reading "When breastfeeding is accepted it won't be noticed."

Maine is certainly not the only state to defend breastfeeding moms. Forty-three US states currently have laws that support a woman's right to breastfeed on public property (these are:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Federal legislation, signed into law by President Clinton in 1999 also allows nursing moms to feed their children on federal property. (Yes, the next time you visit a national park or monument, feed away!)

And yet, women continue to be asked to relocate to new locations, cover up, or stop feeding their babes by business owners and their staff. But change is only going to happen if we make it happen. As mothers, we can help educate people about the many benefits of breastfeeding for mom and for baby, as well as to raise awareness by bucking the culture and being open and honest about our breastfeeding. Simple tips on public breastfeeding can help new moms and give them the confidence they need. And the next time you see a nursing mama, give her an encouraging word or, better yet, join her if you're nursing as well!

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer, Portland Press Herald.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Organics No Better?

A study released by the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency (FSA) this week had the media headlines screaming "Organic Food No Healthier", attempting to erode consumer preferences for organically-grown, pesticide-free produce and meats. The study and its touted findings are creating a stir here in the US as well. So, let's take a closer look.

Putting aside consumer preferences for organics due to the environmental impact of factory farming, overuse of pesticides and chemicals, and deterioration of farmland by agribusiness (none of which were part of the FSA study), the researchers focused on the nutritional value of organic foods versus conventionally grown and raised products. What might be surprising to consumers who read the headlines are the findings of the actual study itself as well as the methods used to derive this conclusion.

First, let's start with what the study is. It is not a clinical testing of actual produce to analyze nutritional content. Rather, the study is a review of published literature aiming to investigate findings of other researchers and compare the results to develop a larger-view perspective on the issue. This yields some questions from the start. The authors cite 52,471 citations located, 292 articles found and 281 deemed to be relevant (studies determined to be "unsatisfactory" were not included). In the end 162 actual studies were included in the review. This narrowing will inherently drop out certain research findings and may necessarily produce a different conclusion.

Interestingly, the 2007 University of California Davis study demontrating higher concentrations of minerals and vitmain C in organic foods was included in the review, although potentially diminished by other studies when viewed collectively as not statistically significant. Other studies, such as that by The Organic Center, report findings of higher nutritional content among organic foods than conventional.

The second part of their review examined the health impact of eating organics versus conventional foods. Again, of 91,989 reports only 11 (yes, eleven) studies were deemed relevant for their review based on research critera, methodology, etc. "It should be noted that this conclusion relates to the evidence base currently available on the nutrient content of foodstuffs, which contains limitations in the design and in the comparability of studies," state the authors. "Most of the included papers did not study direct human health outcomes" but did look at biomarkers, such as antioxidant status which was reported to have significantly different outcomes between organic and conventional foods. Even with the biomarkers displaying results, the authors were looking for a more measurable health outcome to report on. "Additionally, it is possible that peer-reviewed journals were less likely to publish papers reporting non-significant differences," the authors note, demonstrating that a primary bias may exist in their review.

Even with these data sources, there are some facts the researchers discovered that did not grab the media's attention. For example,

Organically produced crops were found to have significantly higher levels of sugars, magnesium, zinc, dry matter, phenolic compounds and flavonoids than conventionally produced crops. The authors explain these imbalances with regard to magnesium, zinc, phosophorus, and dry mattter (related to mineral content) to be insignificant from a public health/large scale viewpoint as dietary deficiencies in the population are not a publich health concern. However, with regard to the higher phenolic compounds and flavonoids found in organic foods, the authors note:

"Numerous health benefits have been ascribed to the actions of phytochemicals such as phenolic compounds and flavonoids, many of which related to their antioxidant activity. The recent World Cancer Research Fund report suggests that quercetin (a flavonol) may prevent lung cancer (although the strength of evidence for this relationship was graded as “Limited - suggestive”4) (17). There is also some evidence from cohort studies (although not from randomised controlled trials), that high flavonoid intake is associated with lower rates of coronary heart disease mortality (18). "

Polyunsaturated fatty acids were statistically higher in organic meats than conventionally raised products, according to the report. Research shows polyunsatured fats may help to reduce coronary artery disease, along with reducing saturated fat consumption.

On the review of flavonoids and phytochemicals alone, media reporting could easily have announced "New Study Shows Organics Higher in Antioxidants" - a significant finding for the health-conscious. Low levels of magnesium and calcium in conventional foods are also important as magnesium insufficiency is linked to osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, and migraines, among others. Low levels of zinc are related to birth defects, depression, and insomnia as well.

Rather than a media explosion, what we should have seen was a more tempered response noting the study's parameters and limitations, as well as noting some of the more balanced results. For holistic moms, organic is better on many fronts: sustainability, reducing toxins, and for good health!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Nature Deficit Disorder

As childhood obesity rates rise and technology creeps into every corner of our homes, it seems evident that today's children are not getting out to play the same way their parents did. Long gone are days of idling in the woods, creating imaginative playgrounds of fantasy from sticks and stones, and exploring our natural world with the curious eyes of a child.

Television, video games, and web surfing create a complex level of play for our children. Author of Everything is Bad for You, Steven Johnson, argues that intricate video games and high tech fun may make for a smarter and more savvy generation. On the other hand, author Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods) believes our kids are suffering from a Nature Deficit Disorder.

According to Louv, "Children benefit greatly from unstructured play, particularly make-believe play. And kids are far more creative in natural play spaces than on the typical flat playground, whether it’s made of concrete or turf. They are far more likely to invent their own games in natural places." What's more, exposure to nature can improve a child's ability to concentrate and focus. A University of Illnois study demonstrated that a simple 20 minute walk outdoors can improve the attention of a child with ADHD. A 2005 study by Drs. Hillary Burdette and Robert Whitaker reveals that contact with nature offered physical, social and emotional benefits for children: "The authors cite cognitive benefits from play in nature, including creativity, problem-solving, focus and self-discipline. Social benefits include cooperation, flexibility, and self-awareness. Emotional benefits include stress reduction, reduced aggression and increased happiness."

As parents, we know instinctually the powerful impact of nature on our children and are witness to the joy and excitement of discovery and exploration. Simple outdoor games in the yard, helping with the family garden, or strolling through a nearby park can reap substantial benefits. Need even more suggestions? Check out the Children & Nature Network or A Natural Sense of Wonder: Connecting Kids with Nature through the Seasons by Rick Van Noy for creative ways to bring nature back into childhood!

[Photo care of Holistic Moms Network, Queens, NY Chapter]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sun Sense

Summer is here and the sun is shining. We all know we need some sunburn protection but conventional sunburn products are a toxic soup. So what's a holistic mom to do? Let's start by getting informed!

Melanoma is on the rise and excessive skin exposure is a concern on many fronts. According to Dr. Joe Mercola, sunscreen may not be the answer. The ingredient list in your everyday sunscreen can make your head spin: methylparaben, benzophenone-3, phthalates, parabens, oh my! What's more, products make some powerful claims about their SPFs but according to the Environmental Working Group sunscreens with 55-100+ ratings block just 1-2% more sunburn rays than an SPF 30. Even your everyday SPF moisturizer may not be doing its job, warns EWG, as 1 in 5 that they tested offered little protection from UVA rays.

Organic and "natural" products are no easy solution. This month's Organic Spa Magazine features their Skin-Care Guide packed with product reviews to give you the truth behind the labels. Helpful categories for each product include: active ingredients, what they liked, and where there is room to improve. The guide gives you practical insights to avoid dangerous ingredients and also to pick a sunscreen that doesn't feel too greasy or difficult to apply. Before you hit the beach, you'll want to pick up this issue!

Even armed with sunscreen, keep in mind that some of the best defense against skin cancer depends not only on what you put on your skin, but what you put in your body. Vitamin D is essential for health and well-being and ensuring that our diets contain a balanced omega 6:3 ratio can make a big difference. Feed your body, protect your skin, and eliminate the toxins for a happy, healthy summer!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Real Food for Real Kids

With 30 million children nationwide taking part in school lunch programs, it is high time parents stood up for getting real, whole, and healthy food into our schools. It's time to connect the dots and to understand that the ailing health of our children, rising obesity rates, food sensitivities and allergies, and many learning challenges are directly related to the low quality food that is dished up in school systems across the country. With only 2 percent of American children reaching the USDA food pyramid's recommendations, we are sacrificing the health of children and the environment by allowing low food standards to slip under the radar.

Slow Food USA is mobilizing their Time for Lunch campaign to put pressure on Congress this fall when the National School Lunch program is up for reauthorization. The campaign will push for getting real food into school lunch programs, provide funding for farm-to-school programs, and create incentives for schools to buy local for better health, local farm sustainability, and for the environment.

The Holistic Moms Network is proud to support this effort. We encourage our members to learn more about the Time for Lunch campaign and consider gathering with other members to organize an Eat-In and to support local farms. Not sure how to get started? Time for Lunch has a wonderful packet to help you organize and get involved! And check in to our new Take Action! page for other partnerships and efforts to bring personal change to a larger scale!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Meet Mayim Bialik, Holistic Mom

Actress Mayim Bialik is proud to be a holistic mom. Best known for her lead role as Blossom Russo in the early 1990’s NBC sitcom “Blossom” and for capturing hearts playing the young Bette Midler in “Beaches”, Mayim has been named celebrity spokesperson for the non-profit support and resource organization the Holistic Moms Network.

Health-conscious and green mom to two small children, Mayim Bialik has been a member of the Holistic Moms Network for several years. “For those of us who parent against current trends, and for those of us who are parenting after educated, compassionate decisions, to do so without support can be disheartening, discouraging, and often leads to straying from our instinct,” explains Mayim. “HMN provides the support and education that we historically have gotten from close-knit communities.”

As a parent interested in natural childbirth, holistic medicine, non-toxic living, and organic food choices, among others, Mayim “found her tribe” with the Holistic Moms Network. “In HMN, I really found my people and it helped me gain confidence so that I did not feel defensive or ashamed to share my parenting choices when asked.”

“Mayim is a true holistic mom,” says Executive Director Nancy Massotto. “Like so many of our moms, she is striving to find holistic options for her family to live healthier and greener. She is smart, savvy, and looking for both the information and support that the Holistic Moms Network can offer.” The Holistic Moms Network, founded in 2003, welcomes a diverse membership of parents who are interested in holistic health and green living. With more than 120 Chapters across North America, the organization is a voice for natural living and parenting.

As a spokesperson for the organization, Mayim Bialik will be sharing her knowledge and experience about holistic parenting with other parents and will be part of a national advertising campaign on behalf of the Holistic Moms Network.

To learn more about Mayim and about HMN, visit our website at www.holisticmoms.org.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Holistic Approach to Special Needs

Three years ago today we nearly lost our second born son. He was brought into this world after a normal, healthy pregnancy and a fast, uneventful home birth. But within 24 hours, he was given last rites at a local hospital, overcome suddenly by the rare staph infection that stunned the medical doctors.

His journey has been a challenging one for all of us and is rich with many lessons. We are enormously grateful for all that modern medicine had to offer and simultaneously frustrated by its rejection of a more holistic and natural approach. Our family chiropractor had to visit incognito to work on our son while he was in the hospital; our insistence to keep our baby close and to hold him whenever possible (in spite of the tubes and wires) garnered sidelong glances (and a few arguments); and the knowledge that I had actually chosen to have both my children at home was viewed as very strange indeed. On the flip side, a number of younger residents were open and receptive, including a cheery nurse who was a fellow breastfeeder and honored our request to give our baby only breastmilk, even waking my husband at bedside in the wee hours of the morning so that he could come home to retrieve more stored breastmilk when they ran low.

When discharge rolled around, we had to fight to remove our child from hospital care and were given dire warnings about his future. The endocrinologist insisted he faced a life of medication and within months, testing at a different facility proved her diagnosis to be completely wrong. Still, our child has special needs and requires that we blend and meld our conventional and holistic options at each and every hurdle.

Today, more and more parents of children with special needs are seeking out holistic and complimentary medicine to maximize their children's potential and health. Parents of children with autism have found enormous results in dietary and lifestyle changes, homeopathy, chiropractic, and craniosacral therapy, among others. According to a 2008 article from the American Academy of Pediatrics, 30% of healthy children and more than half of kids with chronic conditions use complimentary and alternative medicine. From ADHD to Downs Syndrome, there are a wide range of holistic options out there but the medical community may not always embrace these alternatives, much less inform parents of their existence.

All parents need to be advocates for their children. The internet provides us with a huge opportunity to learn and access information that we may not have otherwise discovered. We can also learn so much from the experiences of other families, their trials and tribulations, and the successes that they have had along the way. Bringing parents together to share and to support one another may be one of the most valuable resources we can offer. Knowing that there are others out there who honor your choices and respect your desire to live naturally and holistically can make all the difference - for parents and for their children.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Celebrating Dads

"Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it . . . And what I’ve realized is that life doesn’t count for much unless you’re willing to do your small part to leave our children – all of our children – a better world. Even if it’s difficult. Even if the work seems great. Even if we don’t get very far in our lifetime. " - President Barack Obama, June 15, 2009.

Today we celebrate our fathers, our partners, the dads. HMN dads have a passion for their children, for the future, and for protecting their families and the planet. They are gentle and wise, loving and attached, brave and forthright. They stand up for informed choice, embrace green living, and believe in natural parenting. And they work to make a difference for all of our families and for the future.

As parents we are all on a journey. We are figuring our how to raise our children consciously, how to keep them healthy, and how to be the best parents that we can. Parenthood transforms us. It brings out our abilities - the way we can make our children laugh, our lovingness, and our patience. It also illuminates our shortfalls and provides us with an amazing opportunity to grow and develop. And parenthood brings us wisdom as well as an appreciation for the challenges and insights of our own parents.

We honor the dads today and take a moment to show our gratitude for being the teachers and coaches, mentors and roles models described by President Obama. We applaud them as they stand strong to protect their holistic passions. And we celebrate their unique perspectives and insights as we navigate this parenthood journey together!