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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vitamin D


Vitamin D has been all the buzz in natural health circles for some time. According to recent news reports, Vitamin D deficiencies are hugely prevalent among American adults and children, and are associated with everything from type 2 diabetes and rickets to osteoporosis and lung disease. Of grave concern is how widespread deficiencies may be in our population. A groundbreaking study published last year found that as many as 59 percent of the population may be deficient in Vitamin D. So, let's look at few basic questions to sort out the information.

What is Vitamin D? Vitamin D is not technically a vitamin but rather a secosteriod hormone that helps build strong bones and teeth, and is essential for maintaining hormonal balance and a healthy immune system. It helps to regulate calcium metabolism and is synthesized when UVB rays from the sun are absorbed through the skin.

Why is it such a problem in modern society? Scientists are wary about pointing the finger at the cause of Vitamin D deficiency, but many agree that consistent use of 15 SPF or higher sunscreen, which blocks out the skin's Vitamin D production by 99 percent, may be to blame. Diet provides only a small clue, as there are few foods that we consume that are naturally rich in Vitamin D, including sardines, salmon, shrimp, cod, and eggs.


In addition to sunscreen use our indoor lifestyle, particularly for those in less sunny climes, may also be a significant factor. For those living in the northern US, the "region above latitude 40 (a horizontal line that runs from just below New York City west to northern California), then the sun is only strong enough between May and September to trigger the vitamin D conversion (or the converse in the Southern Hemisphere). This means that a large percentage of the population is at significant risk much of the year for vitamin D deficiency."

How do you know if you are Vitamin D deficient? The only way to know, according to the VitaminD Council, is to "get a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test, also called a 25(OH)D. Levels should be above 50 ng/ml (125 nmol/L) year-round, in both children and adults." These levels are important from infancy through the lifespan and may vary and menopause are advised to increase Vitamin D intake to prevent bone loss.

How do we get enough Vitamin D? While some dairy products and even juices are fortified with Vitamin D, the current recommended levels of consumption are way above what you could ingest daily of these beverages. Even Vitamin D rich foods may not provide enough for the new higher recommendations for daily intake. New guidelines suggest anywhere from 600IU daily for adults to as much as 2,oooIU or more, through supplementation. In addition, it is recommended that we spend at least 15 minutes in the early morning or late afternoon sun each day, twice a day, without sunscreen to help Vitamin D production in the body (longer for darker skin tones).

What about Vitamin D and breastfeeding? Not all babies are at risk for Vitamin D deficiency, especially if they are exposed to natural sunlight and if the nursing mom has adequate Vitamin D levels. For a great discussion of this important topic, visit Kellymom.com.

As the research continues to mount, adding a quality Vitamin D supplement to our diets seems wise if we do indeed have an insufficient amount. Eating a diet of whole foods and getting outdoors in early or late day sunshine are also great choices for wellness!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Eco-Overwhelm



Ignorance is bliss, as they say, and there are times as a holistic mom that ignorance is downright appealing. The information overload about toxic, unhealthy, chemical-laden, unsustainable, unethically-produced products can freeze anyone in their tracks, paralyzed by an overwhelming fear of making the “wrong” choice. Despite our best intentions and efforts, just when we’ve eliminated a basic staple in our food pantries or substance in our household, we are advised that our new choice is also plagued with danger. The journey to living a healthier, greener life can indeed seem daunting.

Just this week I started to question some of my own choices. First came an article from Reader's Digest about organic eggs. Looking beyond the labels and the minimal USDA requirements for organic egg production, the article highlights a study by the Cornucopia Institute revealing the truth behind farm practices and why just buying food with an organic seal isn't always good enough. Fortunately, the Institute's Organic Egg Scorecard can help busy parents sort through their organic options and locate products that meet their needs and desires for humanely-raised, healthy, and nutritious eggs. While organic labeling is a cornerstone for many consumers, this study may help you make even better choices beyond simply looking for the organic seal. Similarly, the Cornucopia Institute also rates organic dairy and reveals factory farming behind the labels, sometimes in places where you least expect it. In both cases, there are some fabulous options for parents looking for highly-rated products including those from HMN Sponsors Organic Valley and Pure Indian Foods!

Then came the BPA-free warnings. While we applaud the broad scale movement to reduce BPA exposure and remove products from store shelves due to health concerns, we learn from The Atlantic that buying BPA-free products might not give us the level of safety we are looking for. As with USDA regulations on foodstuffs, the oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration leaves much to be desired. The authors point out that "because the U.S. system of regulating chemicals relies primarily on information supplied by a material's manufacturer, we know relatively little about these new plastics." And, consequently, relatively little about their safety and whether or not they are just as toxic as Bisphenol A. So while plastics have some advantages by way of convenience, a return to more trusted resources such as stainless steel and glass may well be in order.


The wealth of natural, non-toxic products and food options today are a boon to holistic-minded parents, to be sure. But being informed of the truth behind the labels, practices, and ratings is what empowers us to be make the choices that match our personal values. Both of these articles came to my attention through fellow Holistic Moms members. We can't always be on top of every issue, but by being connected to a passionate community who shares similar lifestyle choices, we can stay in communication with concerns and information, as well as to find the support we need when it all seems too hard and too overwhelming. And as we're ready to take that step to make changes in our health and wellness, we know our fellow HMN sisters can share their knowledge and experiences and enrich our journey!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Life Lessons



"Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity," Louis Pasteur once said. Indeed, it is tenacity, persistence, and commitment that seem to be the theme of this past weekend. And it’s one of those life lessons that hits you over the head when you least expect it. Funny how that happens sometimes. I am continually amazed (and occasionally annoyed) by the ways in which life gives us lessons. Often, in the moment, the lesson is hidden. The task or event before us swallows us up, distracts us, and pulls away from seeing the big picture. And sometimes the method of the lesson just makes you stand back and say "What the . . . ??"


And so it was with my most recent lesson. This past weekend HMN's Director of Chapter Mentoring, Nina DeSanto, and I headed off for our first Holistic Moms Regional Leaders Training. It was a long-awaited opportunity to meet with Holistic Moms Leaders across the Midwest Region, offer some guidance and inspiration, and enrich our HMN community. Off we went to Newark Airport to promptly discover our flight to Chicago was delayed for 2 hours. We calmly wandered off to the coffee shop reconciled to arriving late to our destination. And as we sipped coffee and chatted about our planned workshop, a voice over the loudspeaker announced that our flight had been canceled. The first inkling of panic and worry reared it's head. So we headed off to be pushed onto the next flight, also now delayed. And then canceled. And again. And again. And so it went as our nerves started to fray and stress levels began to rise. Flight after flight, each subsequently posting hours of delay, then being cancelled altogether. We pondered our options and circumstances.


We had to be in Chicago. Our meeting started at 9 am the following morning, and after 6 hours at the airport, we were nearing disaster. The annoyed Continental clerk suggested we wait for the one last possible flight out and keep our fingers crossed. We couldn't chance it. We found ourselves instead jumping into the last two seats on a flight to Milwaukee, quickly dialing up car rental services as we shuttled to the gate and preparing to drive to our final destination. But the challenges had only just begun. Arriving in Milwaukee, we soon discovered that our luggage was left behind in Newark despite a multitude of assurances that our bags had be rerouted to our flight. No materials for our workshop, save a few. No clothes. No toothpaste. Nothing but what we had on us and a presentation awaiting us. And as it was nearing midnight on the ground, with a two hour drive looming on the horizon, we had to summon up our persistence. We soon found ourselves in a rental car at a 24 hour Walmart, of all things, pulling items from the shelves in a desperate race to gather up our basics and some clothing to get through our morning seminar. We detoured to a nearby Wendy's for much-needed coffee discover they were just closing their doors. A kind employee managed to scrounge up a couple of coffees and waved us off as we jumped on the highway for our trek.


And we sat back and said - really?!? What is the meaning of this? Here we were, headed off to inspire and train our local Chapter Leaders and all we have before us are obstacles and challenges. We wanted to turn back, give up, surrender. We wanted to say "enough" and decide it wasn't worth it. We pondered how there could be a lesson in all this chaos. And we wondered what we would tell our Leaders. Leaders. Leadership. And then it hit us. What is leadership, after all? Leadership is staying the course. Leadership is persisting in the face of obstacles and finding your way through. Leadership is overcoming and discovering the path to success. Leadership is accepting humility but not defeat. Leadership is making it work. "If you're going through hell, keep going" said Winston Churchill. Find the way through to succeed, to grow. Life is full of obstacles and challenges, but "the secret of success is constancy to purpose", advises Benjamin Disraeli.


And it all started to make sense. At least enough sense that we could begin to laugh at the events of the day as we cruised through Milwaukee and on to Chicago, overcoming the challenges before us. Yes, it was about leadership. It was about walking the walk, talking the talk. It was not only talking about leadership but demonstrating leadership. It was a message that we could embrace more fully by living it, breathing it, knowing it.


We were honored and inspired to have had that moment. Sure, we could have done without the stress and aggravation. But the lesson came through loud and clear. And we rose to the challenge. We can all rise to the challenges of our life lessons. We can look past the obstacles and find the way through. The path to success is always there, we just need to persist to discover it. Whether the challenge is small or great, going through it makes us stronger and more able. And that's the true proving ground for leadership.