How Long Should You Wash Your Hands?

By Dr. Mercola

Handwashing is one of the top strategies you can use to prevent the spread of colds, flu, salmonella and other germs that cause illness. The key to this technique is to do it correctly and for the proper amount of time. Several studies have evaluated compliance with handwashing in the general public and health care facilities. You may be surprised by the results.

In a study from Michigan State University,1 researchers watched more than 3,700 people after using the bathroom and reported that 95 percent did not wash their hands long enough to kill germs.2

The average amount of time people spent washing was only six seconds. Even more disturbing was that 7 percent of women and 15 percent of men didn’t wash their hands at all. A recent study of 2,000 people from Britain found similar results after using the bathroom, as 84 percent were not washing their hands long enough to reduce the spread of infection.3

Poor hand hygiene is also an issue in health care. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health care providers wash their hands less than half the time that they should.4 The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates only an average of 40 percent of providers wash their hands when appropriate. Passing germs from patient to provider to patient,5 and poor patient handwashing, may be reasons an estimated 1 in every 4 patients who leave the hospital will have a superbug on their hands.6

Handwashing Is Your First Line of Defense Against Germs

Proper handwashing that removes microbes and viruses from your hands is one of the single most important ways of reducing the spread of infection.7 You can infect yourself when you touch your mouth, eyes and nose with fingers contaminated with bacteria, and you may spread those germs to others when you touch them or an inanimate object that they then touch.

A new study released by the British Royal Pharmaceutical Society found that washing your hands for just 20 seconds8 will remove germs and reduce the need for antibiotics.9

Infections triggering a cold, flu or diarrhea may spread when an infected person touches an inanimate object, like a handrail, shopping cart, table tops or toys, thereby transferring the germ. You pick up those germs when you touch the objects. Unwashed hands can transfer germs into your food at restaurants or during food preparation at home. Some bacteria may multiply in food under certain conditions, increasing the likelihood the person eating will get sick.10 Handwashing education has demonstrated a:11

  • 31 percent reduction in the number of people who get diarrhea
  • 58 percent reduction in people who get diarrhea who have a weakened immune system
  • 16 to 21 percent reduction in people who get respiratory illnesses

Military Study Shows Handwashing Reduces Rates of Respiratory Illness

The military was able to achieve a higher reduction in numbers of people who suffered from respiratory illness after an experiment with Navy recruits.12 The most common cause of lost duty time in the military is a respiratory illness. In the past, the military had used ultraviolet lights, vaccines and disinfectant vapors to reduce the number of lost hours.

During the study period, recruits were ordered to wash their hands five times a day, and the drill instructors received education monthly on the importance of handwashing.13 After two years, the handwashing recruits had 45 percent fewer cases of respiratory illnesses than recruits the year before the program began.

Vaccinations and Antibiotics Are Not the Answer

There are at least 200 different viruses that can cause a cold and several different strains of influenza virus that can cause the flu.14 Although it may seem as if the flu is a very bad cold, the two develop after infection from two different types of viruses and trigger two different types of illness. In fact, even when your physician believes you have the influenza virus, you may have rhinovirus that presents like the flu.

The only way to tell the difference is by taking a culture, which many physicians and patients opt not to do as it doesn’t change the treatment. It does, however, impact the number of deaths the CDC attributes to the flu. Each year, the CDC reports an estimate of 36,000 deaths from the flu.15

However, according to the National Vital Statistics Report in 2016, the number of people who actually died from the flu was just over 4,500,16 while the publicly reported number for death attributed to the combination of influenza and pneumonia was just over 55,000, a vastly larger number consisting mostly of people who had died from pneumonia.

Most pneumonia deaths are actually unrelated to the flu. According to the American Lung Association, there are 30 different causes of pneumonia and the flu is only one of them.17 It’s also worth noting that only 10 to 30 percent of flu-like respiratory illnesses at any point in a given flu season are actually caused by influenza type A or B,18 which is what the flu shot is supposed to prevent.

As mentioned, there are more than 200 types of viruses that cause respiratory flu-like symptoms,19 in addition to illness caused by bacteria,20 but they are not included in the influenza vaccine. So, since most of the flu-like illness in any given flu season is not caused by type A or B influenza, the scientific evidence is simply not there for the government to order every child and adult in America to get the flu shot.

Since the flu and rhinovirus are both caused by viruses, antibiotics are also useless against them.21 Only in cases where individuals who have compromised or weakened immune systems, such as children, the elderly or those with specific chronic illnesses, are antibiotics useful when a secondary bacterial infection may develop. The best and most effective way of preventing colds and the flu is to use effective handwashing techniques.

When and How Do You Wash Your Hands?

Handwashing is important before or after different activities. This short video will demonstrate how to wash your hands, and the list below may help you to determine if it might be time to head to the sink for some soap and water.

When your hands are visibly soiled

After coming in from outside

Often during cold and flu season

Before sitting down to eat

After coughing or sneezing

Visiting or caring for sick people

After playing with children or handling children’s toys

After handling garbage, using the phone or shaking hands

After touching your pet, animal waste, pet food or treats

After going to the bathroom or changing a diaper

Before and after handling food, being especially careful with raw eggs, meat, seafood and poultry

After coming home from the grocery store, school, the mall or church where you may have touched objects

Washing your hands helps to reduce the rising problem with antibiotic resistance as it can prevent respiratory infections and infections causing diarrhea, when antibiotics may be unnecessarily prescribed.22 Preventing the overuse of antibiotics is an important factor in reducing the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Correctly washing your hands will help to reduce the bacteria living on your hands that may be transferred from person to person. To be truly effective for disease control, consider the following guidelines:

  1. Use warm, running water and a mild soap. You do NOT need antibacterial soap, and this has been scientifically verified. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated,23 “There is currently no evidence that [antibacterial soaps] are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water.”
  2. Start with wet hands, add soap and work up a good lather, all the way up to your wrists, scrubbing for at least 15 or 20 seconds (most people only wash for about six seconds). A good way to time this is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
  3. Make sure you cover all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and around and below your fingernails.
  4. Rinse thoroughly under running water.
  5. Thoroughly dry your hands, ideally using a paper towel. In public places, also use a paper towel to open the door as a protection from germs that the handles may harbor.

Too Much of a Good Thing Is Not Better

Handwashing to prevent spreading germs is a good thing, but overwashing your hands can actually increase your risk of getting sick. When you wash your hands frequently, it removes protective oils on your skin and increases your risk of skin cracks and breaks that let in bacteria. Irritant contact dermatitis is a condition that leads to red, raw and cracked skin that is 4.5 times more likely in health care workers who wash their hands appropriately.24

Washing your hands frequently removes more oils than your skin can produce. Once this happens, it can be challenging to heal.25 Dry, winter air combined with excessive washing at home may lead to the same problem.

The same issue may occur over your body if you shower more than once daily, especially in the winter months. Another reason you don’t want to wash frequently is that not all bacteria living on your skin is bad bacteria. When you clear your hands completely, you open the door to pathogenic bacteria to take up residence on your hands.26

Scientists are attempting to work out what “clean” means, if it doesn’t mean bacteria-free. A group of University of Oregon scientists argues27 that it’s time the medical community rethinks the definition of clean, outside of the necessity for sterile conditions in an operating room. In the past, researchers used jelly-based agar plates to grow bacterial colonies they swabbed from your skin. Today researchers have found that not all bacteria grow on these plates.

Using DNA sequencing, scientists discovered a vast diversity of bacteria growing on different areas of your body. In fact, the bacteria growing on your elbows is different from that growing on the oily part of your nose or the skin under your arms. If you find yourself becoming anxious about the normal colonies of bacteria living on your skin, it could lead to excessive handwashing that is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).28 This is in high contrast to people who leave the bathroom without washing their hands.

Fear of germs and dirt, with the compulsion to wash your hands over and over, doesn’t occur overnight and is one of the more common manifestations of OCD. In this case, your behavior is a result of more than a desire for cleanliness. The real purpose of your actions is to reduce your feelings of fear and anxiety. While washing your hands excessively with regular soap may increase your risk for significant skin rashes and cracking, using antibacterial soap is actually worse.

Ditch the Antibacterial Soap

In this short video, you’ll discover that even research from the FDA shows using antibacterial soap increases the potential for the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that regular soap is as effective, if not more so, than antibacterial soaps in preventing the spread of infectious disease.

Most antibacterial soaps contain triclosan that kills all germs except for those that are already antibiotic resistant. This increases the potential for growth of superbugs as they now have less bacterial competition in the same area.

Triclosan was originally introduced as a pesticide in the 1960s, and it is still used in some applications today.29 Dangers from triclosan have been studied and are becoming more widely known. It is an endocrine disruptor, has been associated with early onset of puberty and can accumulate in fat tissue. The chemical has been found in human blood, breast milk and urine samples.

Once released into wastewater into the environment, the chemical reacts to light and converts into a form of dioxin, another known carcinogen. Triclosan promotes the development and growth of drug-resistant bacteria and is linked to allergies, thyroid dysfunction, weight gain, liver damage30 and an increased inflammatory response.31 Although many recommend hand sanitizer for widespread use, triclosan has been linked with hormone dysregulation in pregnant women and may affect the development of the unborn child.32,33

It is important to remember that antibacterial soaps are aimed at bacteria, and colds and the flu are caused by viruses. Antibacterial soap is no more effective against viruses than regular soap. The action of using a surfactant agent and friction causes the viruses and bacteria to slip off your hand and not to kill the germs.

Thus, regular soap is as effective against spreading infection without the added danger of exposure to triclosan or other chemicals added to antibacterial products. It is also best to avoid alcohol-based sanitizers. These products will significantly reduce bacterial diversity on your skin. Decreasing diversity may increase your potential for carrying a potential pathogen when you eliminate the naturally-occurring protective species. 34

It’s No Secret — A Healthy Immune System Helps Prevent Illness

You may believe a common misconception that if a virus or bacteria enters your body, you will get sick. However, a simple exposure does not determine whether or not you suffer from an illness. Instead, it is the state of your immune system that dictates your body’s response and therefore your likelihood of illness. In one study, 17 people were purposely infected with the flu virus, but only half got sick.35 When researchers tested the participant’s blood, each had an immune response.

In the patients who became symptomatic, the response indicated both antiviral and an inflammatory response that may have been related to virus-induced oxidative stress.

But the patients who did not exhibit clinical symptoms had more tightly-regulated cell-mediated responses and an elevated expression of genes that function in an antioxidant response. In other words, half of the group were able to fight off the virus effectively. This means that while handwashing is effective in reducing the spread of germs, you also want to nurture an active immune system.

There are many factors that influence your immune system over which you have control. Sleep, gut microbiome, sun exposure, grounding, sugar consumption and nutrition are all ways of having a significant impact on the development and support of a strong immune system.

Fluoride: Poison on Tap

By Dr. Mercola

Today, 74 percent of Americans on community water systems receive fluoridated water.1 Since 1945, it has been widely accepted in the U.S. that fluoride is “safe and effective” to prevent tooth decay. But is it really?

The 2015 documentary, “Fluoride: Poison on Tap,” seeks to expose what may be one of the longest-running and most successful deceptions known to mankind — adding industrial waste, in the form of fluoride, to public drinking water. You may be shocked at the lengths to which corporations, industry and government have gone to make this industrial waste product appear beneficial to your health.

Fluoride = Health: How Did We Get Here?

You may be surprised to know the first American commercial use of fluoride, in the form of sodium fluoride, was to kill insects, lice, mice and other vermin. It was quite effective. In the 1930s, aluminum-industry giant Alcoa was the largest producer of fluoride, releasing vapors into the atmosphere that crippled or killed farm animals and scorched crops and other vegetation. In those early years, many lawsuits were brought against Alcoa to recover damages from lost animals and crops.

Growing concerns about the seemingly negative effects of fluoride gas on human beings motivated the company to devise a means of recycling this potent industrial byproduct. The brainchild of water fluoridation was Gerald Cox, a researcher with the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh. He received a request to look at fluoride’s effects on teeth from Alcoa lab director Francis Frary, who was concerned about mounting lawsuits related to the fluoride pollution his plant produced.

Another motivation was the reality that disposing of fluoride waste from its aluminum plants was becoming increasingly costly for Alcoa. Previously, the Mellon Institute had been the leading defender of the asbestos industry, producing research showing asbestos was harmless and worker health problems were purportedly due to other causes. Using “science” as a smokescreen, the Mellon Institute was able to save the asbestos industry from financial catastrophe.

As a result of their success in using science to prop up the asbestos industry at that time, it makes sense Alcoa chose Cox and the Mellon Institute to craft a story around the perceived health benefits of fluoride. To ensure their success, Alcoa executives realized public opinion about fluoride had to be carefully and continuously manipulated.

In a bold move, they hired public-relations pioneer Edward Bernays, who later became known as the “father of spin,” to head the U.S. water fluoridation campaign. Using psychological principles targeted at what he called, the “mass mind,” Bernays was quite successful in attracting public support for the widespread consumer use of fluoride.2

The Beginning of Water Fluoridation

By the 1950s and ’60s, when the practice of releasing fluoride vapors into the air was reined in due to the introduction of air pollution technology, fluoride had already been added to U.S. drinking water. In January 1945, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, became the first of thousands of U.S. municipalities to proudly add fluoride to its community water source, under the guise of preventing tooth decay.

As technology has advanced, fluoride acid, also known as hydrofluorosilicic acid, is now caught in wet scrubbers, which curtails air emissions. As such, companies like Cargill, Mosaic and Pencco are able to barrel up and sell fluoride to cities across the U.S. which, in turn, add this unrefined hazardous material to their community water supplies.3 You may be shocked to learn that the fluoride added to your water is not pharmaceutical grade.

Indeed, most of the fluoride added to municipal drinking water is simply an unrefined, highly toxic, industrial waste product. Some of the contaminants that accompany the fluoride added to your drinking water likely include aluminum, arsenic, lead and radionucleotide, among others. As noted in the film, water fluoridation was invented as a profitable recycling venue for toxic waste. Instead of having to pay for proper disposal, this industrial waste is sold for profit, and “disposed of” by being dispersed into drinking water.

Fluoride May Be in More Than Just Your Drinking Water

Should you be fortunate to live far from industrial plants where fluoride is handled and lucky enough to reside in a community where fluoride has not been added to your water, you may still get dosed with fluoride. How? Because it’s in beverages and processed foods such as cereal, beer, juice and soda. In fact, anything manufactured with fluoridated water will add to your body’s fluoride toxicity burden.

According to the late Jeff Green, former national director of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, fluoride can also be found in selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications, such as the antidepressant Prozac. Additionally, it appeared in the banned diet drug Fen-Phen. Rohypnol, the so-called date-rape drug, also contains fluoride.

Green noted the teenagers responsible for the shootings at Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999 were using SSRI drugs at the time, which he suspects may have impacted their mood and behavior. If you live in the U.S., nearly 95 percent of all toothpaste sold in this country also contains fluoride. Increasingly, dentists are adding fluoride to their cement and filling materials, and fluoride-containing varnishes are often added to children’s teeth.

Common Misconceptions About Water Fluoridation

It’s a common misconception that fluoride is added to drinking water worldwide. Nothing could be further from the truth. Says Paul Connett, Ph.D., retired chemistry professor and executive director of the Fluoride Action Network (FAN):4

“Water fluoridation is a peculiarly American phenomenon. It started at a time when asbestos lined our pipes, lead was added to gasoline, PCBs filled our transformers, and DDT was deemed so ‘safe and effective’ that officials felt no qualms spraying kids in school classrooms and seated at picnic tables. One by one all of those chemicals have been banned, but fluoridation remains untouched.”

As stated by Connett, the U.S. is one of just eight countries worldwide in which more than half of its population is exposed to fluoride through their drinking water. The other seven countries that fluoridate drinking water are Australia, Colombia, Ireland, Israel, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand.

Water fluoridation has actually been banned in most European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, just to name a few. According to biological dentist Dr. James Rota, these countries, as well as China and Japan, have concluded the practice of adding fluoride to drinking water is “ineffective, toxic and should not be used.” FAN underscores the limited scope and value of adding fluoride to drinking water, noting:5

  • Nearly 378 million people, representing just 5 percent of the world’s population, drink artificially fluoridated water
  • More people drink fluoridated water in the U.S. than in the rest of the world combined
  • Western nations that fluoridate their water have rates of tooth decay similar to those that do not add fluoride to their water6

The Effects of Fluoride on Your Body

Given that fluoride is handled as a hazardous material and labeled accordingly, the lack of transparency about its health effects is a true public health travesty.   According to Rota, several of the scientifically-proven health effects of fluoride are already known. He asserts fluoride has been shown to:

  • Accelerate the aging process
  • Cause genetic damage
  • Contribute to arthritis and joint pain
  • Increase the incidence of cancer and tumor growth
  • Interrupt DNA repair

With respect to fluoride’s presumed link to arthritis and joint pain, Connett stated: 

“The first sign fluoride has poisoned your bones is that you have pain in your joints, stiffness in your joints and pain in your bones … And the doctor will simply tell you that you have joint pain … We have millions of people in the U.S. and in other fluoridated countries who have joint pain —1 in 3 adults on average. But nobody’s ever conclusively looked to see if these arthritis cases have particularly been caused by or exacerbated by fluoride. They just don’t want to look.”

The spike in the number of cases of hypothyroidism in the U.S. has also been loosely linked to fluoride. FAN noted that studies investigating fluoride’s impact on thyroid hormone levels support the belief that fluoride has an “antithyroid” effect under certain circumstances.7

Particularly in instances where your iodine levels are low, fluoride will likely have a greater negative impact on your thyroid. About the probable link between fluoride and hypothyroidism, Dr. Spyros Mezitis, endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said:

“Clinicians … should emphasize to patients this association and should test patients for underactive thyroid. Patients should probably be advised to drink less fluoridated water and consume less fluoridated products, including toothpaste. … [S]tudies have also shown that iodine deficiency, that may be caused by extra ingestion of fluoride, is related to hypothyroidism.” 

Fluorosis: Are Your Children Affected?

Research8 presented at the 2017 National Oral Health Conference highlighted the reality that increasingly more young people between the ages of 6 and 19 suffer from dental fluorosis. Data from 2011 to 2012 indicate that 57 percent of youth are affected by fluorosis, while according to recorded data, just 37 percent were impacted from 1999 to 2004.

Fluorosis results when tooth enamel becomes progressively weakened and discolored. It is often characterized by white spots and yellow or brown discoloration. About fluorosis, FAN states:9

“Fluorosis is a defect of tooth enamel caused by too much fluoride intake during the first eight years of life. Although fluorosis can be cosmetically treated, the damage to the enamel is permanent. Common causes of fluorosis include: fluoridated drinking water (particularly during infancy), ingestion of fluoride toothpaste, use of fluoride tablets and consumption of processed foods made with fluoridated water.”

Often, dentists and public health officials brush off fluorosis as a purely aesthetic issue, one they believe is a worthy trade-off for the supposed benefits of fluoride. In reality, fluorosis is an outward sign that fluoride is damaging not only your teeth, but also most certainly, to some degree, the rest of your body.

Caution: Fluoride Is Extremely Harmful for Infants

Fluorosis is also a huge concern for infants because it is a condition that can progress well before your baby’s teeth are visible. Instances of children developing fluorosis due to the consumption of fluoridated “nursery water” are well documented. Breast-feeding is the ideal choice for your baby for many reasons, one of which is that it contains very little, if any, fluoride.

This is by design because infants are extremely vulnerable to neurotoxins. If, however, breast-feeding is not an option for you, and you must use formula, be sure to prepare it using non-fluoridated water. In the book, “The Case Against Fluoride,” Connett explains:

“In the view of many critics of fluoridation … it is reckless to expose infants to levels of fluoride in orders of magnitude higher than that found in breast milk. In the U.S., infants who are fed formula reconstituted with fluoridated tap water receive the highest levels of fluoride (per kilogram bodyweight) in the human population.

Specifically, infants who are fed formula made with fluoridated water at the current level of 1 part-per-million fluoride will receive a dose up to 250 times more than the breastfed infant.”

The Bottom Line About Fluoride in Your Drinking Water

In their closing remarks, some of the experts featured in the documentary did not mince words about their dislike and distrust of fluoridated water. As noted by Connett:

“Once you put a medicine in the drinking water, you can’t control the dose because you can’t control how much water people drink. You can’t control who gets it because it goes to everybody. If you ask your pharmacist if there’s any drug in his store that is safe enough to give to everyone — young people, old people, sick people, well people — at any dose, he’d laugh at you.”

Said Phyllis Mullenix, Ph.D., a pharmacologist and toxicologist: “There is absolutely no drug on the market that is given as ‘one dose fits all.'” In his earlier writings, Connett shared five reasons he believes fluoridation of community water systems is unethical:10

  1. It violates your right to informed consent to medication
  2. The municipality cannot control the dose of fluoride you personally receive
  3. The municipality cannot track the effects of fluoride on you individually
  4. It ignores the fact that some people are more vulnerable to fluoride’s toxic effects than others; you may suffer while others may benefit from its addition to the water supply
  5. It violates the Nuremberg code for human experimentation

It’s Easy to Safeguard Your Oral Health Without Fluoride

When it comes to good oral hygiene and preventing cavities, drinking fluoridated water and brushing your teeth with toxic toothpaste, which contains fluoride, is definitely not the answer. Your toothbrush and natural fluoride-free toothpaste are important, but don’t be misled by thinking they’re the only options for dental health.

Many natural substances, such as the foods you eat, also have the power to drastically improve not only the health of your teeth and gums, but the rest of your body too. The key to maintaining or improving your oral health hinges on the attention you give to your diet and proper dental care. Areas you may want to consider include:

Eating raw, organic foods

Avoiding sugary foods and processed foods, many of which contain fluoride

Brushing and flossing your teeth daily, ideally twice a day

Rinsing your mouth after meals and, at night, with a solution of baking soda and water to alkalize the pH in your mouth

Oil pulling with coconut oil, which reduces bacterial growth in your mouth, strengthens your teeth, reduces inflammation in your gums and naturally whitens your teeth

Receiving regular dental checkups, ideally from a mercury-free, biological dentist

Landmark Lawsuit Against EPA Seeks to End Fluoridation in US

FAN, along with a coalition of environmental and public health groups, has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This landmark lawsuit is something many of us have anticipated for decades! It comes in response to the EPA’s denial of a petition under Section 21 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that seeks a ban on water fluoridation.

In November 2016, a coalition including FAN, American Academy of Environmental Medicine, Food & Water Watch, International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, Moms Against Fluoridation and the Organic Consumers Association, among others, petitioned the EPA to ban the deliberate addition of fluoridating chemicals to American drinking water under the provisions of TCSA.

The petition, which included more than 2,500 pages of scientific documentation detailing the risks of water fluoridation to human and animal health, was denied in February 2017. At that time, Michael Connett, an attorney with FAN and author of the petition, issued the following statement:

“Unfortunately, the EPA’s decision to deny our petition demonstrates that the Agency is not yet prepared to let go of the outdated assumptions it has long held about fluoride … We believe that an impartial judge reviewing this evidence will agree that fluoridation poses an unreasonable risk.”

Because the TSCA statute provides an opportunity for citizens to challenge an EPA denial in federal court, FAN is now suing the agency as a means of obtaining an independent legal review of the evidence. Stay tuned for further developments!  For now, you can help the coalition continue its momentum by supporting the efforts of FAN, and by joining or initiating a local campaign to end water fluoridation.

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How to Grow Ginger at Home

By Dr. Mercola

Ginger is a spice well worth having on hand at all times. Not only is it a wonderful addition to your cooking (and can be used in a number of beverages) but it also has a wide variety of medicinal benefits, including broad-spectrum antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant and anti-parasitic properties.

It’s a rich source of antioxidants including gingerols, shogaols and paradols, all of which have documented anticancer activity.1 Furthermore, because ginger helps prevent the toxic effects of many substances (including cancer drugs), it may be useful to take in addition to conventional cancer treatments.2

Sampling of Ginger’s Health Benefits

Ginger has also been shown to:

Enhance the bronchodilation in asthmatics

Improve blood glucose, triglyceride, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels in diabetics. It also benefits diabetics by inhibiting carbohydrate metabolism and improving insulin sensitivity3

Relieve motion sickness, morning sickness in pregnant women4 and general nausea and upset stomach

Made into hot tea, ginger releases the compounds gingerol and protease, bringing a rush of comforting warmth that actually increases cardiovascular circulation. Its potent anti-inflammatory effects make it a particularly valuable tool for all sorts of pain relief. For example, research has shown it can help:

Reduce knee pain associated with osteoarthritis5

Decrease muscle soreness in athletes6

Relieve menstrual pain in women as effectively as ibuprofen7

Reduce severity of migraine headaches as well as the migraine medication Sumatriptan, and with fewer side effects8

Grow Your Own Ginger for a Never-Ending Supply

Growing your own ginger is an easy and inexpensive way to ensure you always have this medicinal wonder worker on hand. Growing your own will also provide you with something you won’t get at the store — so-called “stem” ginger, which has its own culinary uses. As noted by The Guardian:9

“Dug straight from the ground the rhizomes are butter yellow with a pink blush. Their flavor is not fiery and drying but warm and delicate — almost floral. Even their texture is crisp and light, like an apple, resulting in a crop that is eaten more like a vegetable than a spice.

Highly prized in the Asian-Pacific region, stem ginger is traditionally sliced finely and served as a fresh condiment with fish or chicken dishes, or added to salads and salsas. Thin slivers are a revelation stirred into juices and drinks. Steep it in sugar to create a syrup to lace desserts and you will wonder why you’ve never grown it before.”

Shogaols are the chemicals responsible for the “hotness” of the ginger, and the flavor difference between regular “root” ginger and fresh “stem” ginger comes down to the fact that the latter is nearly devoid of shogaols. These chemicals develop through a chemical reaction that occurs when the rhizome starts to dry out and the outer skin starts to develop that papery appearance. This is why you’d be hard-pressed to ever find stem ginger for sale commercially. The only way to get it is to grow your own, and dig some out as you need it.

How to Grow Ginger Indoors or Out

Growing ginger is really easy, and can be done either in a container, kept indoors or out, or directly in your garden bed. Most growers tend to favor containers, as it’s easier to control the soil and moisture that way; plus, you can easily move it if it needs more or less light or heat.

All you need to get started is a fresh and healthy-looking leftover piece. Ideally, look for a firm, plump piece with smooth skin and visible eyes — tiny yellow tips on the rhizome that will eventually develop into new sprouts. Here are some tips to propagate ginger.10 While you could potentially grow it at any time of the year, it tends to grow best if planted sometime between spring and fall; April through May tends to be ideal if growing them outdoors.

1. If using a store-bought piece to propagate your ginger, or if the piece you’re using seems a bit dry, soak it in warm water overnight. If pressed for time, three hours of immersion will typically suffice. When replanting a really fresh piece, such as a freshly harvested rhizome that still has the plant stem on it, you can forgo this step.

2. Plant it in a well-draining pot filled with quality potting soil mixed with plenty of organic compost. California Gardening suggests using a ratio of 90 percent compost and 10 percent potting mix. The Spruce suggests adding worm castings. If using a 5-1-1 potting mix, be sure to add a complete vegetable fertilizer. For instructions on how to make a 5-1-1 mix, see the following video. Alternatively, you can plant them directly into your garden bed, provided you’ve made the appropriate soil amendments.

If you have a larger piece of ginger, go ahead and cut it into smaller bits. As shown in the featured video, simply press the ginger pieces into the soil, making sure the eyes face toward the surface, then cover with a light layer of soil (just enough to cover the eye without burying it).

3. Water well, cover the pot with a clear plastic bag to raise the humidity level and place it in a spot with partial sunlight. Mist regularly to maintain moisture. Should the root dry out, its growth will be permanently stunted. On the other hand, you’ll want to avoid overwatering, as soggy soil will encourage rotting. So, keep soil moist but never soaking wet. A drip-irrigation system can be helpful.

The Spruce also offers the following trick to raise the humidity level:11 “[P]lace your pot on a tray of small stones. Keep the tray full of water. This way it is always evaporating and adding moisture right directly to the plant’s area.” If your soil is overly wet and you need to improve drainage, add some perlite or vermiculite into the mix.

4. Once green tips start to sprout — which may take up to a month, depending on the temperature — remove the bag and keep it in a warm room with plenty of natural light. An ideal temperature is right around 75 degrees F. You can expect to begin harvesting the rhizome in six to eight months.

Harvesting Guidelines

If you planted your ginger in the spring, it’ll be ready for harvest in the fall. While you can certainly dig around the rhizome to check its size, the easiest way to assess whether it’s ready for harvest is to look at the size of the plant stems. The root is ready for harvest when the stems have reached a height of at least 3 to 4 feet. The taller the plant, the larger the root.

You have two options when it comes to harvesting. You can either dig out the entire root, or simply snip off a piece for immediate use, leaving the rest. If you want mild-flavored “stem” ginger for a culinary twist, harvest only what you need each time as the root will become “hotter” as the outer skin begins to dry out.

Remember to save some pieces to repropagate your ginger plants. Either select a plump, firm piece and cut in to smaller pieces, as you did before, or simply replant smaller rhizome pieces still attached to the plant stems. This way, you’ll be able to maintain a continuous supply of ginger year-round. In winter months, you could simply bring the pot indoors.

Storage Tips

Fresh ginger will keep for at least three weeks in the refrigerator. To maximize shelf-life, place a whole, unpeeled piece in a resealable plastic bag; squeeze the air out and place it in the crisper drawer.12 If the piece has been cut or peeled, blot the moisture off with a paper towel before storing.

If left out on the counter, it’ll dry out within days. Once the ginger starts to wrinkle, it will have lost much of its flavor and medicinal potency. Grated ginger can also be frozen for about six months, saving you a bit of time and cleanup when cooking. To freeze ginger:13

  1. Peel and grate the ginger
  2. Place scoops of ginger (in whatever measurement is most convenient for you, say teaspoon or tablespoon sized dollops) on a parchment-lined tray
  3. Place the tray in the freezer until the dollops are frozen solid, then transfer the dollops to an airtight container

How to Use Ginger

Ginger is a versatile addition to soups, sauces, marinades and a number of other dishes, from baked apples to stir-fried vegetables. To get the most of its complex, flavorful nuances, add ginger at the beginning of your cooking as well as toward the end, and peel it as little as possible. You can even use ginger in baked goods and desserts! An article in Serious Eats lists no less than 19 different ginger dessert recipes.14

A cup of tea, of course, is one of its hallmarks, not just for pleasant flavor, but also for its soothing, warming qualities. To make ginger tea, simply peel the ginger and steep a couple of thin slices in hot water for several minutes. A little goes a long way, so start with just a slice or two. Following are a couple of creative ways to incorporate ginger into your diet.

Pickled Cucumbers With Ginger

Ingredients; 4 servings

  • 4 cucumbers, peeled
  • 1/2 cup sea salt
  • 1 cup brown rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons stevia, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons sliced fresh ginger, peeled


  1. Slice the cucumbers thinly, and place in a large bowl. Using your hands, toss cucumbers with 1/2 cup sea salt. Lightly squeeze the slices as you toss. Cover and let sit at room temperature for one hour. The salt will draw the water content out of the cucumbers.
  2. Pour the cucumbers and liquid into a colander to drain. While in the colander, use your hands to squish out as much water as possible. Return cucumbers to bowl.
  3. Add the vinegar, stevia, salt, pepper and ginger. Toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours.
  4. Remove from refrigerator and taste. It should be tart with a bit of sweetness and spice. Adjust flavors if necessary by adding more stevia or pepper. If it tastes watery, drain some liquid and add more vinegar.

Coconut and Ginger Kefir Recipe

Ingredients; makes 3 cups

3 young coconuts

Kefir starter culture (alternatively, use one or two probiotic capsules)

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

Note: It’s important to use fresh coconut water from young coconuts. Store-bought coconut water will not work as it is pasteurized, which will prevent fermentation.15


1. Open the coconuts by cutting the top of the shells on each side. Strain the coconut water into a sterilized jar and set aside. 

2. Add the kefir starter or contents of probiotic capsule(s) to the coconut water, then add the ginger. Using a non-metal spoon, stir the mixture.

3. Cover the jar with a piece of muslin and tighten the cloth with a rubber band. Place the jar inside your pantry, or on top of the kitchen counter in a dark area for 24 to 48 hours to allow the mixture to ferment. The kefir will be ready when the water turns from a relatively clear to a cloudy white appearance. 

4. You can taste test the kefir after 24 to 30 hours of fermenting. Pour some into a glass — do not taste directly from the bottle. The kefir should taste sour, with no sweetness left, like coconut beer.

Some batches are fizzier than others, but all are beneficial. If it still tastes a little sweet, place it back in the pantry for the remaining recommended fermentation time.

Growing Guide for Melons

By Dr. Mercola

Sweet, succulent and delicious, melons are one of the largest fruits, offering a completely unique flavor among all other fruit offerings. Why grow them yourself?

One reason is because commercially grown melons are picked at a slightly unripe state to survive being shipped long distances, and there’s also a good chance they’ll sit in a truck, on a skid in the back of the grocery store or in a bin among dozens of others, so they’re picked when they’re still a little green if growers and food chains want them presented for sale at peak ripeness.

However, the longer melons remain on the vine, the sweeter and more delicious they become. That explains why you’ve probably purchased what looks to be a perfectly ripe melon at the grocery store but found it rather bland once it was cut. The solution is growing your own. Can you imagine having vines that grow at the rate of a few inches a day and watching golf ball-sized melons forming that will turn into large, juicy, scrumptious food?

Melons contain fiber, vitamin B6 and folate, plus excellent amounts of vitamin C to fight infection and vitamin A for improved vision. In addition, flavonoids include beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which is a carotenoid absorbed into the retina that may provide light-filtering functions to protect against age-related macular degeneration.

Potassium in melons helps control heart rate and blood pressure and protects against stroke and heart disease. Manganese, also found in melons, is a cofactor for the enzyme superoxide dismutase, a powerful antioxidant.

Origins and Varieties of Muskmelons (aka Cantaloupes)

There are many types of melons; Horticulture at Oregon State University notes that although all melons are classified as Cucumis melo, what’s grown in the U.S. are the netted, aromatic and Persian (reticulatus) varieties. True cantaloupes are grown mostly in Europe (cantaloupensis), although most people in the U.S. call muskmelons cantaloupes.

Other cultivars are casabas, crenshaws, honeydews and late-maturing winter melons (inodorous), which are more oval with a waxy surface, smooth or wrinkled, and less fragrant. These begin ripening as the weather starts to cool and require a full 100 days on the vine. There’s also the snake melon (flexuosus), grown in Asia, and the Oriental pickling melon (conomon).1

Muskmelons can be identified by their vertical ribs and rough, camo-green skin that looks like it’s covered over with tight-knit, tan netting. Rodale’s Organic Life explains that true cantaloupes have orange flesh and rough, scaly skin with rough, distinct veins.2 In a nutshell, the history of cantaloupes is said to have begun in Armenia, from where they were taken to other parts of Europe, including Italy, where there’s a city called Cantalupo. All varieties have developed from centuries of constant cross cultivation. In addition:

“The original Cantaloupe was smaller and not quite as sweet as modern cultivars. Cantaloupes have been developed over time to achieve uniform size, improved flavor and disease resistance. This high level of consistency has contributed to the Cantaloupe becoming the most widely eaten melon variety in America today.”3

What Melons Need for Optimal Sweetness and Texture

Sunshine and warmth are worth their weight in gold for optimal melon growth. The requirement of a good three to four months of warm weather, plus soil that contains plenty of nutrients, are not too much to ask for these beauties to thrive and taste wonderful on your table. Planting tips include:

  • Planting seeds on mounds or raised rows called hills, around 6 to 8 inches high, will lead to better drainage (they don’t like to sit in water), and it helps growing melon vines retain the heat of the sun longer.
  • Seeds should be planted 1-inch-deep, 18 inches apart in hills that are about 3 feet apart. Again, if space is limited, fencing, trellises or other supports can be used to force the crop to climb upward instead of outward.
  • Keep the soil melons are grown in evenly moist, but not soaking, as that sometimes causes the fruit to swell suddenly and become watery. Too much rain or watering after drying out for a period can cause waterlogging, as well as cracking in the ripening melons, so try to keep the soil at a consistent dampness.
  • Before planting seedlings outdoors, harden them off by setting them outdoors in a sunny area during the day, then take them back in at night.
  • Soil that’s rich in organic matter is important to grow exceptional melons, so adding compost is wise. Maintaining a pH of 6.5 to 7.5 is about right for most garden plants.

Besides adding a few inches of compost to the planting area, master gardener Mark Abbott-Compton, featured in the video above, advises feeding the soil with organic potash, aka potassium, and adding an organic fertilizer made from deep-rooted comfrey plants. (Phosphorous fertilizers may damage not only your own soil over time but may contribute to harmful runoff, the University of Minnesota Extension (UMN) notes.4)

According to Grow It Organically,5 potassium provides the plants with higher and better immunity, flowering and fruiting, as well as nutrients. The Organic Gardener6 explains how to make a fermented comfrey extract that’s rich in potassium and nitrogen and acts as a natural pesticide.

Bits to Know About Growing (and Storing) Melons

Granted, melons do take up a lot of space. Comparatively speaking, just one watermelon vine can encompass as much as 100 square feet and net only two melons, while a 16-square-foot area can produce an average of 16 muskmelons. If space is at a premium where you live, there are bush varieties that grow upward on a fence or trellis rather than outward.

If a developing muskmelon is hanging rather than resting on the ground (and either is perfectly fine) it can get so heavy that the vine can snap about a week before the melon is actually ripe.

To prevent this, Abbott-Compton uses a novel approach: Find a pair of sheer pantyhose that can be slipped over the melon and simply tie the legs to points higher on the trellis to better support the melon’s weight. The tights will expand without impeding the melon’s growth, allowing it to remain on the vine for as long as it takes to develop peak ripeness.

You may wonder how to tell if your melons are “ready.” Abbott-Compton offers a few tips. One is to gently squeeze the melon, which will “give” slightly when it’s ripe. Another clue is its fragrance, which should smell like the fruit inside.

Alternately, Specialty Produce notes that muskmelons will feel heavy rather than hollow, and “should yield just slightly to finger pressure at its blossom end, which is opposite of its scarred end, where it was removed from the stem.” 7 On a muskmelon’s twining vines, you get two types of flowers. One type is a male and female, which produces the fruit, and the other is purely male, Abbott-Compton explains. UMN expounds on that bit of information with something quite fascinating:

“Cantaloupe flowers have a pollination window of one day. Pollen must be transferred from the male flower to the female flower on this day for seed set and fruit development. Fruit size and shape are related to the number of seeds set. Poorly pollinated flowers either abort or produce misshapen fruit.

The first blossoms often drop off muskmelon plants but this is not a problem. The first flowers to appear on the vines are male. The female flowers, which open later, have a swelling at the base that forms the fruit (the ovary). After bees pollinate these female flowers, the fruit develops!”8

Growing Melons in Different Gardening Zones

If your garden happens to be in one of the warmer climates, you can plant straight into the soil after any threat of a cold snap is over. You can test the soil temperature; at least 65 degrees F (and 70 to 75 degrees F is even better) is recommended to make sure germination takes place as it should. However, seedlings grown indoors that develop either tendrils or more than four leaves may have trouble getting established once you transplant them.

Melons have a longer growing time than some other plants, so it’s important to get the seeds into the soil as quickly as possible after the last frost in the spring. To warm up the soil (and keep it warm once the plants are in the ground) you can cover it with fabric or black paper mulch a few weeks before planting or transplanting.

Mother Earth News9 suggests anchoring row covers securely with bamboo poles or 2-by-2 lumber. You can also use plastic jugs with the bottoms cut out placed over young individual seedlings to keep them warm and protected from critters.

However, if you happen to live in one of the upper-U.S. planting zones, say, Zone 5B and lower, which denotes a shorter season, it’s helpful to know that planting several seeds one-half inch deep in 4-inch peat pots in a south-facing window or grow lights indoors works well for melons. Thin 2-inch-tall seedlings to the strongest plant by cutting off smaller starts at the soil level.

Then there’s the end of the growing season to consider. A Canadian melon grower asked the Almanac what to do with his nicely growing melons as frost was becoming imminent and wondered if it would bother his crop. The answer:

“Like all melons and ‘water-heavy’ fruit, cantaloupes are indeed susceptible to frost. You will want to cover them with blankets or towels at night to help retain the earth’s warmth and then remove same during the day so that they continue to ripen in the sun. Labor-intensive, but it can be done!”

It’s a good idea to record the day you planted so you can roughly figure the time of harvest, which is generally 65 to 86 days, according to Heirloom Organics.10 A cantaloupe can be refrigerated for a few days if it’s already ripe until you’re ready to use it, or if it’s not, stored at room temperature for few days until it is.

Natural Methods to Deal With Pests and Disease

One last bit of information that’s helpful is that along the growing process, a few problems, namely insects and disease, may cause problems for organic growers. Insects (which can actually precipitate disease) include squash bugs on young plants, squash vine borers that can tunnel through your vines, melon aphids and striped cucumber beetles (causing the most problems) that eat the leaves, stems and fruit.

Identifying the actual pest is important to remedy the problem without resorting to the use of chemicals. Make sure you examine under the melon vines’ large leaves for damage, such as curling leaves, and a sticky substance known as honeydew (ironically), as well as the bugs themselves. Home Guides11 suggests:

  • Suctioning them up with a portable vacuum and emptying them into a bucket of soapy water
  • Picking them off by hand and dropping them into a bowl or bucket of soapy water
  • “Spray[ing] melon vines with a strong jet of water from your hose, which is often enough to kill the majority of melon aphids, as well as small pests such as thrips and mites, that feed on the melon stems and foliage.”12
  • An insecticidal soap made from 3 teaspoons of liquid soap per 1 gallon of water, thoroughly sprayed on leaves every two or three days, plus after rainfall

Sawdust-looking droppings made by boring insects are a clue to their activity, as are wilted vines and/or holes in the stems. A naturally-occurring bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), only toxic to specific insects, has been used by organic farmers to control crop-eating bugs. It’s readily available in stores; mix per directions, fill a syringe and inject into the roots just above the soil line. (This shouldn’t be confused with the damaging way Bt toxin is being used in genetically engineered (GE) crops like corn and soy.)

As for disease, one is called damping off, caused by cold, wet soil. Another is bacterial wilt, which is self-descriptive. Powdery mildew is a fungal disease evidenced by white powdery spots on the leaves that can infect melons. You can buy seeds that are resistant to disease, and further protect your melons by not growing them for three or four years where members of the squash family have been grown.13

Control weeds to help prevent such diseases and get rid of them. Keep plants spaced properly, remove infected plants immediately and burn them. Always clean your tools and wash your hands and gloves after working in the garden. Rutgers University suggests Wollastonite powder, according to Organic Growers School, a site that stresses disease prevention as the very best remedy for growing melons or any other garden plant.14

Saving Your Seeds — Another Reason to Grow Your Own Melons

When picked at peak ripeness, the seeds are mature enough to harvest the seeds for future planting, per Heirloom Organics:15

  • Half the melon with a sharp knife, scoop out the inner seed lining and place the seedy pulp into a bowl.
  • Remove as much of the pulp as possible by hand to discard and add warm water to the bowl. Skim the surface of the water to remove floating seeds that won’t produce plants.
  • Rinse the rest of the seeds to remove any remaining sugar and pulp and place on a screen to dry.
  • Allow the seeds to dry for about three days, then place them in an airtight bag marked with the seed type and the date they were harvested. Place the bag in the freezer until next season.

Another reason to plant your own melons? There’s a real possibility that conventional farmers have used chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides in the growing of most melons found in supermarkets. Melons have also been the source of numerous foodborne disease outbreaks, including listeriosis. By growing your own, you’ll know they’re free of pesticides and are far less likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.

If you buy your cantaloupes, it’s best to look for organic, but if that isn’t possible they tend to be one of the least pesticide-contaminated crops. Currently, cantaloupes are No. 39 on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen list16 of the most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables.

Moods Are Contagious: Good and Bad

By Dr. Mercola

The idea that emotions can travel between populations similar to outbreaks of disease is not new. More than 200 years ago, an epidemic of suicides occurred in Europe. Most of the victims had read a book titled “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” by Johann von Goethe, in which the hero commits suicide. To stop the wave of suicides, the book was banned in several areas, according to a study published in The Journal of Memetics, which continued:1

“During the two hundred years that have followed the publication and subsequent censorship of Goethe’s novel, social scientific research has largely confirmed the thesis that affect, attitudes, beliefs and behavior can indeed spread through populations as if they were somehow infectious.”

Fortunately, it’s not only negative emotions that seem to spread like wildfire; positive emotions are contagious too. It’s an important point to remember when choosing with whom to associate and spend your time, as surrounding yourself with happy people may be key to feeling happy yourself.

Teenagers ‘Catch’ Each Other’s Moods

In a study of more than 2,000 junior high and high school students, researchers used data from depression screenings and surveys to determine social and mood changes over time. As you might suspect, students with friends suffering from bad moods were more likely to report bad moods themselves, while the opposite also held true — students with happier friends were happier themselves.2 Various components of mood, including appetite, tiredness and sleep were assessed, with the researchers concluding:3

“We find that having more friends with worse mood is associated with a higher probability of an adolescent worsening in mood and a lower probability of improving, and vice versa for friends with better mood, for the overwhelming majority of mood components.”

This means that not only can your happy mood benefit that of your friends, but taking steps to boost your mood if you’re feeling down may trickle down to make your friends feel more chipper too. The contagious effect was not strong enough in the negative direction to increase depression incidence, however, which may explain why past research has found the social contagion theory does not appear to extend to depression. It did increase the risk of certain depressive symptoms, though.

That being said, the study has implications for teens and adults suffering from what’s known as subthreshold depression, which is estimated to affect 300 million people worldwide.4 This describes the many cases when a person suffers from discontent and other depressive symptoms but at a level that’s under what’s typically diagnosed as clinical depression. The study found that symptoms of subthreshold depression may spread socially among teens:5

“Subthreshold levels of depressive symptoms in adolescents is an issue of great current concern as they have been found to be very common, to cause a reduced quality of life and to lead to greater risk of depression later on in life than having no symptoms at all.

Understanding that these components of mood can spread socially suggests that while the primary target of social interventions should be to increase friendship because of its benefits in reducing of the risk of depression, a secondary aim could be to reduce spreading of negative mood.”

Facebook Lurking Linked to Depression

It’s becoming increasingly clear that emotions do, in fact, spread, both in person and online. With an estimated 1.65 billion people using the social media site Facebook actively every month, spending an average of 50 minutes on the site daily,6 this has major implications for public health. In this case, unlike the contagiousness of positive moods in person, lurking on Facebook and seeing other people’s perfect, happy posts can in turn make you feel depressed.7

The problem may be social comparison, in that comparing your life to other’s triggers a feeling that you need to “keep up with the Joneses” instead of being happy with what you have. University of Houston researchers found, however, that all types of social comparisons — whether upward, downward or even neutral — were linked to a greater likelihood of depressive symptoms.8

A study of more than 1,000 people in Denmark further revealed causal evidence that “Facebook affects our well-being negatively.”9 Facebook users who took a one-week break from the site reported significantly higher levels of life satisfaction and a significantly improved emotional life. Such gains were greatest among heavy Facebook users, those who used the site passively (lurking but not necessarily interacting with others) and those who tended to envy others on Facebook.

Another study, conducted by researchers from Lancaster University in England, examined studies from 14 countries to explore the connection between Facebook usage and depression. It was found that negative comparisons with others on Facebook were predictive of depression because they increased rumination.10

Likewise, frequent posting on Facebook was also associated with increased rumination and depression. Women were more likely to become depressed than men due to Facebook usage, as were people with neurotic personalities. In addition, Facebook users were more at risk of depression if they displayed the following:11

  • Felt envy after observing others
  • Accepted former partners as Facebook friends
  • Made negative social comparisons
  • Made frequent negative status updates

Social Happiness Can Spread by Three Degrees

In 2008, researchers again found that a friend living within a mile of a happy friend has a 25 percent greater chance of becoming happy over the 20-year study period.12 The neighbor of a happy person increases their likelihood of happiness by an impressive 34 percent, even more than the spouse of a happy person (who is 8 percent more likely to be happy).

Equally impressive, however, was the finding that happiness can spread through social networks by up to three degrees, meaning friends of friends of friends can all benefit from one person’s rosy disposition. According to the researchers:13

“People who are surrounded by many happy people and those who are central in the network are more likely to become happy in the future. Longitudinal statistical models suggest that clusters of happiness result from the spread of happiness and not just a tendency for people to associate with similar individuals …

People’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected. This provides further justification for seeing happiness, like health, as a collective phenomenon.”

The same holds true among groups, such as athletes on a sports team or a group of colleagues at the office. It’s been shown, for instance, that the group leader’s mood influences the mood of the rest of the group. If their mood was positive, the group enjoyed more coordination and expended less effort in one study, compared to groups with negative leaders.14 Even witnessing unpleasant interactions between other co-workers is enough to leave employees feeling emotionally drained.15

You Can Also ‘Catch’ Others’ Stress

Research published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology revealed that simply observing someone else in a stressful situation typically elicits an empathic stress response in the observer.16 When observing stressed participants (who were asked to solve difficult arithmetic tasks and engage in interviews) through a one-way mirror, 30 percent of the observers experienced a stress response in the form of an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.

When the observer had a romantic relationship with the stressed participant, the emphatic stress response was even stronger, affecting 40 percent. However, even when observing a stressed stranger, 10 percent of observers felt similarly stressed. The stress response was transmitted not only when observers watched the event live, through a one-way mirror, but also via video transmission.

About 24 percent of the observers had increased cortisol levels when they watched a televised version of the stressful event. It’s also been shown that viewing a video with a speaker under high stress or recovering from a stressful situation led to changes in viewers’ cardiac activity.

“These data add to the existing literature of emotional contagion research, and bolster the idea that stress can be contagious on a psychophysiological level,” the researchers noted, adding, “These particular findings are of importance as they demonstrate that individuals can detect stress in others, even in the absence of overt context-dependent stress cues (i.e., stressful topic of speech), and have cardiac responses that are related to those of the speaker.”17

It’s interesting to note, too, that catching others’ emotions may be a very natural trait, but one that may be missing in those at risk of psychological problems, particularly psychopathy. In one study, for instance, boys at risk for psychopathy showed reduced laughter contagion.18

Surround Yourself With Happy People

The take-home message here is that the more you can surround yourself with positive, happy people, the better your emotional health is likely to be. This is true for children and teens, too, so be aware of who your child’s friends are. Connecting with positive people may not be as difficult as it may seem, particularly if you involve yourself in activities that you enjoy and/or benefit your community.

Remember that everyone starts out as a stranger, but you can add more meaningful relationships to your life just by being open to communicating with those around you — even those you don’t yet know. Opening up a conversation about a neutral third subject — your dog, the commute or even the weather — can be the conduit you need to eventually get into more meaningful conversation.

You could also consider volunteering or engaging in an activity that uses your time or skills to help others. Giving to others is linked to happiness, and taking part in being generous in a group setting may only magnify this effect while giving you the opportunity to bask in others’ happiness and form new relationships. Still, you needn’t rely solely on others to boost your mood and enjoy happiness.

Perhaps you’d prefer to be the happy person that others gravitate to. In that case, in the video above London School of Economics (LSE) economist Lord Richard Layard, founder of Action for Happiness, a movement of people committed to building a happier and more caring society, suggests not tying your inner purpose to becoming richer and instead focus on achieving happiness and well-being.

Action for Happiness, whose members pledge to try to create more happiness in the world around them, has compiled 10 keys to happier living, which, based on the latest research, tend to make life happier and more fulfilling. They spell out “GREAT DREAM” and make a great place to start your journey to happiness:19

  • Giving: Do things for others
  • Relating: Connect with people
  • Exercising: Take care of your body
  • Awareness: Live life mindfully
  • Trying Out: Keep learning new things
  • Direction: Have goals to look forward to
  • Resilience: Find ways to bounce back
  • Emotions: Look for what’s good
  • Acceptance: Be comfortable with who you are
  • Meaning: Be part of something bigger

What Is the Best Position for Sleep?

By Dr. Peter Martone

My name is Dr. Peter Martone. I am a chiropractor and an exercise physiologist. This is my “sleep story.” When I think back to my earliest memories when I was a child, I can still remember wanting to sleep on my side, which faced the crucifix on the wall in my room. I felt secure and protected and every morning I would end up at the end of my bed or even on the floor. I never stayed in one position. 

As years passed I continued to be a side sleeper because that is what people do. It is how my doctors told me to sleep; I saw commercials depicting people sleeping on their sides; and my parents even bought me a side sleeper pillow. So, there I was a side sleeper and a non-thinker. I just did what other people told me to do because that is what we do. I was a side sleeper until I started having pain. Then I started thinking about the cause — and my life changed.

I can still remember the day I started to think. It changed everything. Before I begin, I want to make this point clear: Thinking never happens all at once. To change your paradigm (way of thinking) it takes multiple events to happen that bring your awareness to a specific topic — just like reading this article might get you to become more aware of your sleeping position.

Although my hope is that you just take my advice blindly, I understand my goal is to get you to start questioning that status quo. Like I tell my patients: “Free your mind and your health will follow.”

The Day I Began to Think

I was watching the movie “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” in 2000 and the two actors came out of the room after “cuddling” all night. The camera gave a quick glimpse of the room they came out of. It showed what the two actors slept on, and to my amazement it was just a thin pad for their body and a block of wood in lieu of a pillow for their head (we will get back to this later). I can remember thinking, “Ouch, that would be so uncomfortable, but then again the movie was set back in the 19th century — that is all they had.”

One of my passions is body biomechanics, or how the body moves and functions. I took a lot of pride in being a pain-free person until one day I had a little too much alcohol to drink at a party and fell asleep in my bed watching TV on my side. To make a long story short, I could not move my arm when I woke up.

I slept on my arm, instigating a frozen shoulder (sprain of the shoulder) just by sleeping on it the wrong way. It was one of the worst pains I had ever experienced. The pain traveled all the way into my neck. I then started to think about the times I would wake up in the morning over the years and either have shoulder pain or neck pain.

Was it the drinking? Was it the sleeping position? Or was it the pillow? Now I was getting close. I was starting to question something that I had taken for granted for years, namely my sleeping position.

How Your Bed and Pillow Affect Your Body Mechanics

Let’s take the two lessons I learned from that movie scene and my episodes of falling asleep in the wrong position and put them together. Beds are made to be more and more comfortable and absorb your body’s weight to decrease pressure points. They support you as you sleep on your side, but what about back in the 19th century? There would be no way you could sleep on your side with just a block of wood and a towel.  

You would be tossing and turning all night long because your body weight would be distributed over a small surface area causing pressure points. The only way you would be able to sleep is on your back, which distributes your weight over the greatest surface area — which is how the actors slept in the movie.

Try lying on your side and watching a two-hour movie. You would not be able to do it without turning (trust me; I tried it). You can only stay on your side for a short time until something either goes numb or gets uncomfortable.

And this is one of the reasons why you toss and turn all night long. The area of the brain that senses pain and the area of the brain that controls sleep are very close. When your body is in pain it wakes up, or the body moves you out of that position (tossing and turning). That reflex is suppressed when you have drugs like alcohol, sleeping pills, pain meds or are extremely tired. So, what happens is that you stay in your abnormal body position (side or stomach sleeping) for prolonged periods of time and pull muscles or sprain ligaments.

Now that is just one night’s effect. Let’s talk about my main reason for writing this article. It is what you do on a regular basis that defines your health and well-being. Remember, your body adapts to your daily lifestyle habits. What you do every day is what defines your current state of health. Years and years of side sleeping and stomach sleeping cause damage to your spine that your body internalizes. 

Structure Affects Function

As a chiropractor, I believe your structure directly effects your function. The structure of your spine effects the way your nervous system functions and, ultimately, your health and well-being. This concept is a lot more than people can handle, so I will keep it basic for the scope of this article. I will talk about biomechanics and about an epidemic that thousands of patients have in common, from 10-year-olds to 90-year-olds. It is the epidemic of spinal degeneration, or what the medical profession calls arthritis.

I started to ask the question “Why do so many patients have spinal degeneration which leads to back and neck pain and ultimately health related conditions?” I started to look at patterns and apply a law to my thinking called the Davis Law,” which states that tissue remolds itself according to imposed demands.

Maintaining proper curves of your spine is critically important in helping your body distribute stress when you walk or move. Another way to think about it is that the shape of your spine works like a big spring and acts like a shock absorber. When you lose the curves of your spine, you cause stress points within the spine, and as Davis Law states you will cause scar tissue to develop in those areas of the spine where you lose the curves. This restriction of motion in the joint leads to degeneration (arthritis) in that area.

As a culture, we are spending more and more time on computers, driving or texting on our phones. All of these positions are done in a forward head posture (head forward position). I find that the average person can spend up to eight hours a day in forward head position posture. This must be offset if you want to maintain a natural curve in your cervical spine.

The Importance of Sleep Posture

The only other time you are in one position for another eight hours is at night when you are sleeping. It is important to offset your forward head position posture of your workweek and daily texting habits. Sleep is when your body heals and grows. Sleep is an opportunity for your body to offset or externalize the stressor that you have exposed it to throughout the day.

The only way to do this is to sleep on your back with a pillow under your neck. I repeat: under your NECK (not your HEAD), supporting your cervical spine. We are in the final product design of a pillow what will help you lie on your back and stay on your back. It is important to support your neck and not your head. Supporting your head or using the wrong pillow in the wrong position will reinforce an abnormal curve. Please watch my video at the top to see how to properly use your pillow.

When I talk to patients about sleeping position, the most common thing I hear is that I start on my ________ but I end up on my _________. Fill in the blank. They toss and turn all night long because as we stated earlier, they do not sleep in a neutral position and their brain senses they are in pain, which causes them to toss and turn. Remember, the pain is caused from side sleeping for two reasons:

  1. Weight distributed over a small surface area as compared to sleeping on your back
  2. Abnormal lateral forces applied to your spine from side sleeping

What Is a Neutral Sleeping Position?

You should be able to fall asleep in one position and stay in the position the entire night if your body is in a supported neutral position. A neutral position is when your body weight is distributed over the greatest surface area and your spinal curves are supported. The only neutral position of the spine is sleeping on your back with a pillow under your neck.

Your arms are down by your side and your feet are out of the covers. Please see my video for a representation of this position. For more information on sleep you can visit

How Do You Start Sleeping on Your Back?

When you first start sleeping on your back it will NOT be comfortable and you will not stay on your back for the whole night. Just like working out for the first time, or doing a new activity, your body will be in pain as it adapts. Don’t get frustrated and do not expect to succeed right away.

Our experience is that it takes an average of three to four months for some to convert from a side sleeper to a back sleeper, and even longer if you are converting from being a stomach sleeper. There are different techniques we give to our patients to use. You can visit for more healthy sleeping tips.

Dr. Mercola’s Comment

I have known Peter for many years and he is always fun to be with. I was really impressed with his rationale for using this sleeping position and have personally been using it for a number of months and really enjoy it. I am not claiming that it is the only way to sleep, but encourage you to consider it and see if it works for you.

I do have three other comments that I think would help, though. The first is to recognize that a large percentage of the population has sleep apnea and if you are going to sleep on your back, this will likely worsen it. A solution for many, and one that I use myself, is to use paper tape over your mouth before you go to bed, thus forcing you to breathe through your nose and stop snoring.

The second, and perhaps most important, is probably one of the single most important things you can do for sleep, and that is to turn off ALL electricity to your room by going to the breaker box and shutting it off. You can have an electrician install a remote breaker for convenience, which is what I have done. This will virtually eliminate most electric fields in your bedroom.

This is important, as exposure to electric and magnetic fields during sleep can seriously impair your melatonin production and deep sleep. I used an expensive gigahertz electrical and magnetic meter to determine that the electrical fields in my bedroom decrease by 1,000 times when I shut off the electricity. It helps to use a battery operated talking clock so you can tell what time it is. I use one with a large button1 that works really well for me.

Lastly, remember to block all blue light once the sun goes down. This includes not only your home lighting but the lighting from your devices, phones, tablets, computers and TVs. 

What Are Parsley Oil’s Uses and Benefits?

Parsley is a popular and versatile herb that adds a mild flavor to many dishes. Oftentimes you’ll see it added to your plate for a more attractive presentation. However, parsley actually provides a number of benefits that you may be missing out on if you only use it as a garnish — for instance, it is made into a versatile essential oil with many uses. Learn more about parsley oil in this article.   

What Is Parsley Oil?

Parsley oil is extracted from Petroselinum crispum, a hardy and fragrant biennial herb from the Apiaceae family.1 Parsley is native to the Mediterranean region, but is now grown in gardens worldwide as a versatile culinary herb. Its name is derived from the Greek word “petros,” which means “stone,” as this plant often grows in rocky terrains.2

Parsley reaches only 1 to 2 feet in height before flowering and thrives best in areas with partial shade.3 There are two common types of parsley: Italian parsley, also known as flat-leaf parsley and popular in Mediterranean countries; and curly leaf parsley. Between the two, Italian parsley has a more intense flavor, making it a more popular choice for cooking.

In culinary applications, freshly picked parsley is preferred. Simply wash the leaves and stems, chop into small pieces and then sprinkle over the dish before serving. 

Parsley oil, on the other hand must be extracted from the seeds, roots and leaves of the plant. The seeds actually contain more essential oils, although the entire plant can be used for making the oil. Parsley oil is either colorless or a very pale yellow color, and has a more bitter scent compared to the fresh plant.  

Uses of Parsley Oil

In industrial applications, parsley oil is used as an ingredient for soaps, cosmetics, detergents, colognes and perfumes, especially men’s fragrances.4 It also has aromatherapeutic uses and has been used to treat various illnesses, including jaundice and malaria.5 This oil also has antibacterial and antifungal properties that can help treat pimples, acne and skin infections, as well as disinfect pores.

Diluted parsley oil can also be massaged onto the scalp to help prevent hair loss.7 However, do NOT use undiluted parsley oil topically (especially concentrated formulations) because it can burn your skin. Instead, you can:6

Dilute parsley oil in a carrier oil like olive or almond oil and then apply it to the face. Leave it for at least 30 minutes before rinsing.

Mix a drop of parsley oil with tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar and use as a toner to help keep your skin blemish-free.

Composition of Parsley Oil

The principal constituents of parsley oil include a-terpinene, a-pinene, apiole, a crystalline substance, as well as myristicine, glucoside apiin, palmitic acid, oleoresin and tetramethoxyally-benzene.8 It also contains certain flavonoids such as apigenin, appiin luteolin and crisoeriol.9

Benefits of Parsley Oil

Parsley oil exhibits antimicrobial, antiseptic, astringent, carminative, digestive, diuretic, and detoxifying properties. It can be useful for various health ailments, such as:

Infections — Parsley oil can help kill microbes and inhibit their growth, protecting you from various infections and diseases.

Rheumatism and arthritisThese are diseases that result from obstructed blood circulation and the accumulation of uric acid in the muscles and joints. Parsley helps detoxify your body of toxins and refreshes your blood. It also increases circulation, which helps relieve pain brought on by these ailments.

Digestive issues — Parsley oil’s carminative properties can help relieve and treat indigestion, nausea, flatulence, vomiting and stomach aches.

Animal studies have also found that parsley’s potent volatile oils, particularly myristicin, may help inhibit tumor formation, especially in the lungs. This means that parsley and its essential oil potentially have chemoprotective properties.

How to Make Parsley Oil Infusion

Most parsley oil brands sold today are highly concentrated and are made via steam distillation. However, you can easily make an edible oil infusion in your kitchen. Here are the steps: 10, 11

Parsley Oil Infusion

3 bunches flat-leaf parsley

3 cups olive oil (you can also use coconut oil)


Boil a pot of water. Once it’s boiling, blanch the parsley, stems intact: Simply place the parsley in a sieve and put it into the boiling water for 10 seconds and then immediately remove and transfer to a bowl of iced water for a few seconds, until the parsley is cold. Dry the parsley on paper towels.

Place the parsley in a blender along with a cup of the olive oil and blend completely or until the paste turns a bright green color. Do not let the blender run for too long, though, as the friction may create heat, causing the color of the parsley to fade.

Transfer the parsley paste into a clean glass jar. Add the remaining oil and shake well, then cover tightly. Place in the refrigerator for a day. You’ll notice that the herbs will settle to the bottom of the jar.

Put an unbleached coffee filter over another glass jar and then ladle the parsley mixture into the filter. Let it drain.

You can drizzle this parsley oil infusion over your salads, adding a beautiful green color and flavor to them. You can also use it to decorate serving plates. Mix it in a vinaigrette, add it to a cold soup or use it to garnish chicken or fish. Refrigerated, it will stay fresh for a week. For a longer shelf life, store it in the freezer.

How Does Parsley Oil Work?

Parsley oil’s health benefits mostly come from its unique plant compounds. For example, apigenin was found to be a potent antioxidant that has anticarcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties. Meanwhile, the apiole is associated with antispasmodic and vasodilatory effects.12

While fresh parsley leaves can be consumed or added to facial masks and other homemade natural remedies, the same cannot be said for parsley essential oil. Most brands are highly concentrated and, if used incorrectly or in excessive amounts, may actually do more harm than good. When utilized as an essential oil, you should always dilute parsley oil with a carrier oil.

Is Parsley Oil Safe?

I do not recommend the aromatherapeutic use of parsley oil without the supervision of a qualified health care practitioner. Do not ingest this oil, especially in large amounts, as it can be hepatotoxic, meaning it may cause severe liver damage. Do not use it if you are suffering from any liver-related ailments.

I also advise pregnant women and nursing moms to avoid using this oil because it is an abortifacient, meaning it can induce spontaneous abortion. Do not use this oil on very young children either. When applying topically, dilute parsley oil in a safe carrier oil like olive, almond or coconut oil. I also advise doing a skin patch test before using this oil to make sure that you do not have allergic reactions to it.  

Side Effects of Parsley Oil

Parsley oil contains oleoresin which, according to research, acts as a distinct stimulus on your brain’s and spine’s nerve centers. Beware: In large amounts, it can produce the opposite of the desired effect and may be dangerous. Watch for symptoms like sudden low blood pressure, giddiness, deafness and slow pulse. Seek a doctor immediately if you experience any of these effects.

Bedbugs Like the Smell of Dirty Laundry

By Dr. Mercola

Bedbugs are little parasitic insects that feed exclusively on blood, preferably human blood. An adult bedbug is about the size of an apple seed, with a flat brown body. However, after feasting on your blood, their body swells and turns a reddish color.1 Although these tiny insects are a nuisance and multiply quickly, they’re not likely to spread disease.

Typically, these little vampires hide during the day in the crevices of your mattress, couch, dirty laundry or any small crack they can find. They don’t create nests or little homes, but travel and live in groups, making them a little more visible when you search for them in your headboard, behind wallpaper or bedframe. While their body remains as round as an apple seed, they can flatten to the width of a credit card making it easier to fit into small spaces.2

A female bedbug can lay hundreds of eggs in her lifetime. The average lifecycle of a bedbug is between 10 months to one year, going through multiple stages.3 If there is a viable host available, the bugs can progress through those stages rather rapidly, reaching maturity in approximately one month.4 In order for the nymph stage bedbugs to survive they need a blood meal at least every few weeks, but an adult may survive for up to five months without a meal.5

The population of bedbugs has been rapidly increasing since 2004.6 There may be many reasons for the resurgence of these little pests in the past 15 years. Some researchers theorize the growing bedbug population may be the result of their resistance to pesticides or the difficulty killing all of them to eradicate the problem in one area. Another reason may be how quickly humans have spread the problem across the world.

Have Bugs, Will Travel

Bedbugs rely on a variety of sights, smells and changes in temperature to find their next blood meal. Bedbugs live year-round as they are sheltered in your home or hotel room, but they are most active during warm summer months. More infestations are reported in summer months, likely since more people are traveling. If you are traveling, you’ll be interested to learn how to avoid bringing bedbugs home to roost in your house.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield in England investigated what drives bedbug behavior in the absence of a viable host,7 hoping to find clues to reduce the number being transported from place to place around the world. In this small study, they set up two bedrooms with two bags of clothing. One bag was full of clean clothing and the other with clothes that had been worn for several hours. One of the rooms also had a steady flow of carbon dioxide piped in to simulate human breathing.8

The scientists were not surprised that the bugs in the room with carbon dioxide more actively searched for a blood host as this behavior of bedbugs is well documented. However, what they did learn is that the bugs appeared to be more attracted to the bag of clothing that had been previously worn.9 The ability of the bugs to discern human odor apparently plays a predominant role in the spread of the bugs and offers valuable information on the development of scents that may detract the bugs.10

One way the bugs may have become world travelers is in the bags of dirty laundry we cart from hotel to home. This study demonstrates it may be in your best interest to store your dirty clothes tightly away to prevent parasitic hitchhikers. It takes only two or three to fully infest your home after a couple of months.

How to Find Bedbugs at Home or When You Travel

Prevention is the key to keeping your home free of bugs. While you can’t stop the little critters from coming in on your company’s clothing, you can reduce the risk you’ll bring them home when you travel. In this short video bedbug expert Lou Sorkin from the American Museum of Natural History describes the life cycle of the bugs, and helps you determine where and how to look for them.

Before making reservations at any hotel, check out their Bedbug Report,11 a free public database of hotels and apartment complexes across the U.S. and Canada. The database lists the hotels by regions, so if your hotel has a report of bedbugs, you can find one on the list that has a clear report.

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, whether it’s a hotel or a friend’s home, there are several ways of determining if there are bedbugs in residence. Don’t unpack when you arrive, but leave your luggage in a clean bathroom tub, or on a rack off the floor while you inspect the room.12 A flashlight and credit card will help you find the buggers. Start with the pillows, peeling the pillowcase back and looking along the seam of the case for small insects, eggs, excrement or small blood stains.

Next, move to the bed sheets and cover, lifting them up slowly and looking carefully along the seams where they might hide. Peel the sheets back, being sure to go all the way to the mattress. Search along the seam and in the tiny air vents located on the sides. Be thorough and look at all four corners of the bed and not just one.

Look under the box springs, upholstered furniture, curtains, along the headboard and even under the nightstand where they may hide until their next meal. If you do find bedbugs, pick up your luggage and leave immediately.

When you get up the next morning, look for tiny red blood stains on the sheets that are evident after a bedbug bite. If you didn’t see them on inspection, but find them the next morning, you’ll be able to take precautions, so you don’t bring them home.13 Bedbugs may arrive after you travel, when a friend comes to visit or even on the clothes of an appliance repair person.

So, it’s a good idea to routinely do a basic inspection of your home for bedbugs, even if you haven’t traveled. Remember bedbugs are more likely to be attracted to your dirty clothes, so when traveling keep those clothes packed up tightly to reduce the potential any bugs in the room will be coming home with you.

Bedbugs May Not Spread Disease but They Do Take a Toll on Your Health

Many believe bedbugs don’t spread disease. To date, evidence of the transmission of disease has not been documented,14 but it also has not been extensively studied. Some people are highly allergic to the bites, and excessive scratching from the itch may lead to secondary skin infections. Since the bedbug first injects a chemical that anesthetizes the area so you don’t feel the bite, if you’re losing sleep thinking you’re being bitten, it’s likely from anxiety and not from the bugs.

The anxiety and stress from a bedbug infestation may take a psychological toll on your health, leading to physical symptoms of stress. In one case, a woman committed suicide after repeated bedbug infestations. Researchers who studied the case concluded,15

“Our case report shows that the bedbug infestations were the likely trigger for the onset a negative psychological state that ultimately led to suicide. Given the recent surge in infestations, rapid action needs to be taken not only in an attempt to control and eradicate the bedbugs but also to adequately care for those infested by bedbugs.”

Studies have shown that people who have lived with bedbugs are more likely to report anxiety, sleep disturbances,16 suicide, financial distress, mood swings and delusional behavior.17 Psychological and emotional effects associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have also been reported after a bedbug infestation.

Compounding these psychological issues is a pervasive misguided stigma that bedbugs are the result of uncleanliness. Others may want to distance themselves as much as possible from those who have the problem, increasing feelings of isolation and keeping people from turning to friends and family for support. Suddenly, the place they call home and their sanctuary has been invaded by tiny insects that feed on your blood and your vulnerable psychological state.

Steer Clear of Pesticides

Although you may want these bugs gone as quickly as possible, you’ll also want to use caution before accepting standard pesticide treatments around your family and pets. The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC)18 has reported a dramatic increase in the number of reports of mild to serious side effects, including one death, as the result of pesticide exposure to kill bedbugs.

In most cases, the illnesses were related to an excess of pesticides applied to the area, a failure to change pesticide-treated bedding and inadequate notification of the chemical application. In one case in Ohio, a statement to a health advisory released by the CDC stated:19

“These illegal applications were made five times over 72 hours and included spraying of ceilings, floors and even beds and a crib mattress. The occupants included a family with small children, who displayed health symptoms typical of pesticide poisoning, including headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness and muscle tremors.”

Healthier Nontoxic Treatments Can Kill the Bugs

Ridding your home requires a focused and consistent effort. Unless you use thermal remediation, the bugs won’t all die overnight. You have to be vigilant when leaving the house, so you don’t infect your car and track those bugs back into your home or anyone else’s house.

Bedbugs are highly susceptible to heat. Extreme heat, called thermal remediation, over a period of several hours is often enough to kill bedbugs. You can leave everything in your home, except plastics, pets and your family, when the home is treated. Although slightly more expensive than chemical treatment, it is healthier and safer for everyone involved, except the bugs! If you have a relatively small area, you may want to try a steam cleaner with an attachment to clean your bed, all furniture and the carpeting.20

If it’s the summer months, be sure to leave your car in full sun with the windows completely shut to drive the heat in your car to temperatures that will kill the bugs. Rubbing alcohol is another option to help kill the eggs of bedbugs.21 A 91 percent isopropyl alcohol solution in a spray bottle may be used to thoroughly wet areas likely to contain eggs, such as upholstered furniture and mattresses. Bed sheets, pillows, blankets and towels can be run through the dryer on high heat for at least 30 minutes.22

Bag your clothes and seal them tightly until you know your home is free of bedbugs. You can remove clean clothes as needed and only put them away when you are sure your home is free of bugs. Other natural means of killing bedbugs include diatomaceous earth, which doesn’t evaporate or go away until you vacuum it up.23 It works by cutting the outer membrane of the insects. Essential oils, such as tea tree oil, lavender oil and peppermint oil are effective repellents.

Open Questions Remain Over Safety of New Biopesticide

A new biopesticide called Aprehend,24 developed by Penn State, is being approved for sale on a state-by-state basis. The product is a proprietary formulation of fungal spores that adhere to the legs of the insects. Within 20 hours of contact, the spores germinate and colonize the body of the insect, effectively killing it.25

Direct spray contact is not necessary in the way chemical pesticides are used to kill the insects. Instead, the fungus adheres to the legs of only a small percentage of the population, who then bring it back to the group and physically transfer the spores to others as they groom.

In the lab, scientists were able to achieve nearly 100 percent eradication with one application. The product also continues to work over three months. This particular fungus has been used as a pesticide in the past to control grasshopper and locust populations in Africa. It was only recently that company scientists turned their attention to bedbugs.

However, the long-term effects of releasing a fungus into the insect population have not been studied, and may have far-reaching effects, well beyond killing bedbugs in your home. So, to be on the safe side, I’d recommend diligently implementing the suggestions above first, before trying this novel biopesticide.