Archive for September, 2014

Go Plastic-Free


Game On: Ways to Shrink Our Footprint

by Randy Kambic

Besides the customary food and product packaging, plus store bags, consider all the nooks and crannies of our lives that plastic now permeates: eating utensils; baby and pet toys; computer keyboards and accessories; pens; eyeglasses; athletic footwear; backpacks; lighters; beauty care and pill containers; household cleaning bottles; ice cube trays; shaving razors; tool handles; hairbrushes and toothbrushes—even some facial scrubs, shampoos and chewing gum.

Beth Terry, author of Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Habit and How You Can Too, points out compelling reasons to take personal action. In 2007, this Oakland, California, resident saw a photo of the decomposed carcass of a Laysan albatross riddled with plastic bits in an article on water pollution.

“For several seconds, I could not breathe,” she writes. This seminal moment led her to further research, by which she realized, “This plague of plastic chemicals is harming everyone, and especially the most vulnerable members of our planet—children and animals—and that is both unacceptable and unfair.” She’s been working on going plastic-free ever since.

“I made a game of it; a fun, creative, step-by-step challenge,” she advises. “You can’t go through the house and think you can get rid of all plastic immediately. As items get used up, you’ll find alternatives.” Once we are in the habit of staying alert to the plastic scourge, we’ll naturally spot opportunities for healthy change-ups.

Science Sounds the Alarm
In 2011, Harvard School of Public Health researchers made news by discovering that consuming one serving of canned food daily for five days led to significantly elevated urinary levels of bisphenol-A (BPA). This plastic and epoxy resin ingredient is found in the liners of many food and drink cans and sometimes in plastic bottles. It’s known to be a serious endocrine disrupter.

Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, altered functions of reproductive organs and other ailments have been linked to high BPA levels in several studies, including one cited in Endocrine Reviews  journal. The Manchester Guardian also recently reported that the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety has stated that an unborn baby’s exposure to BPA through the mother could be linked to many health problems, including breast cancer later in life.

When plastics are subjected to stress—like heat, light or age—undisclosed additives used in their production for strength, flexibility and color can leach out and even contaminate lab results, as the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry found. Such chemicals can migrate into our digestive systems and through our skin; they can also off-gas into the air, according to a recent study by Weber State University’s Energy & Sustainability Office, in Ogden, Utah. Plus, unrecycled plastic materials can enter waterways and kill marine life through ingestion or entanglement (ocean garbage patches are major examples).

Reducing our own plastic footprint can both safeguard family health and prove that we are serious about pressuring industry to produce less of it. The key, according to Terry, is not to be intimidated or overwhelmed by plastic overload, but persist in taking baby steps (see

How to Begin
As a starting point, Terry notes that plastic enables the long-distance food distribution system. Reducing food miles associated with our meals helps cut down on the use of plastic. In the kitchen, use airtight stainless steel containers or glass jars or simply refrigerate a bowl of food with a saucer on top to hold leftovers for the next day. Compost food waste. Reuse empty plastic food bags and line garbage cans with old newspapers instead of plastic bags.

Terry cautions, “People assume everything that carries the triangular symbol is accepted at all recycling facilities. This is not the case. What isn’t accepted is landfilled or even incinerated.” Also, according to the city of Oakland’s Waste Management Department, she learned that “Much of what we put out for recycling goes to China, and their processing standards are not as strong as ours.”

In Plastic Free, the author provides scores of tips for borrowing, renting and sharing products; buying used plastic equipment if it’s a necessity; and avoiding disposable packaging and paper products. Areas for improvement range from personal care and household cleaning products to bags, bottles, grocery shopping, takeout food, portable leftovers and lunches, plus durable goods. Activists will move on to also participate in area cleanups, donate to green organizations and write their legislators.

Randy Kambic, a freelance editor and writer in Estero, Florida, regularly contributes to Natural Awakenings.

The Great Classroom Pet Debate

Guinea Pig

Kids Like Classroom Pets, Animal Lovers Raise Doubts
by Sandra Murphy

A classroom pet can help students learn about caring for another species, but is it the best way to teach?

“A classroom pet can be a great opportunity to teach children gentle behavior. Many kids take pride in caring for the pet,” observes Terry Manrique, now a professional parent coach in Columbus, Ohio, who earlier worked with children ages 5 and 6 at Little People’s Country, in LaGrange, Illinois. To prevent jealousy, students can rotate responsibilities for animal care in the classroom and during school breaks.

Pet Care Trust, which awards grants to teachers for hosting pets, provides care instructions and information about transmittable diseases for a bearded dragon, tarantula, rat, rabbit, leopard gecko, guinea pig, gerbil, dwarf hamster, beta fish, ball python, mouse and aquatic turtle.

The ASPCA advises that the pet’s environment shouldn’t be stressful and care should meet its specific needs. For example, keep handling of an animal to a minimum, and then only with adult supervision. Provide food, clean water and basic veterinary care, including vaccinations and parasite control, grooming, exercise and social interaction. Diligence in finding and eliminating hazardous substances and situations is equally vital.

Susan Tellem, co-founder of American Tortoise Rescue, in Malibu, California, elaborates on her area of expertise—turtles and tortoises. “A tank isn’t a natural environment for a reptile and doesn’t allow enough room for exercise. It’s like asking a human to live in a bathtub,” says Tellem. She points out that they also need a proper diet and natural sun, not artificial light.

Tellum used to take rescued turtles for classroom visits until a particularly large specimen staged a protest to the unnatural environment by making a mess, tearing up school papers and posters. Tellem further warns that a turtle might bite (and not let go until the person relaxes) or pinch small fingers when retreating back into its shell. These days, she prefers to share an educational DVD that shows turtles at their best—in their own habitat. (Find more information at

“Constant artificial lighting goes against the natural sleep cycle of an animal,” comments Veterinarian Amber Andersen, in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. “You can see it at shelters—dogs and cats are unable to achieve a restful sleep and become agitated.”

Too often, the responsibility for caring for a classroom pet falls on the teacher during holiday breaks and summer months. “We had a popular chinchilla that was usually nocturnal, but also made appearances during the day,” says Manrique. “Then one of the teachers brought her dog to school, which caused stress for the chinchilla. When a new student had an allergic reaction to the furry creature, we had to find a new home for him. Our next pets were fish.”

Manrique’s students have also secured fertilized eggs from a local farmer to watch them hatch before the chicks returned home to the farm. “When we had caterpillars that turned into butterflies, a fun field trip to the park became the official winged release party,” she says.

There is always the chance a pet might die during the school year. Parents are advised when a classroom pet dies and students have a classroom discussion to help them work through their grief. Lisa Cohn, co-author of Bash and Lucy Fetch Confidence, in Portland, Oregon, wrote the book with her son, Michael, after the sudden death of their dog, Lucy, as a way to help them deal with their sadness.

The Humane Society of the United States is not in favor of classroom pets. To avoid being vulnerable to predators in the wild, animals often hide symptoms of illness or injury. In captivity, that behavior can delay veterinary help.

Recommended alternatives to bringing animals into the classroom include field trips to nature centers, wildlife refuges and animal shelters. The society’s Kind News magazine for students from kindergarten through sixth grade shares stories of rescued animals, pet care tips and how-tos for nurturing backyard wildlife (

Before deciding on a classroom pet, consider life from the pet’s point of view—how loud is the class, how old are the kids, how much maintenance will be needed and how much space is needed for a proper habitat. There might be a better way to learn—and teach.

Contact Sandra Murphy at

A Natural Solution to Sleep Apnea

Sleeping Man

According to a National Institutes of Health study, most people believe that sleep apnea is caused by a sagging soft pallet or by some other obstructive tissue in the throat. Actually, it’s the result of a diminishing signal from the brain to the diaphragm (causing one to breathe) that can occur during the transition from initial semi-wakefulness into the next stage of lighter sleep prior to REM sleep. In some people, the unintended reduction in the signal is significant enough that breathing goes beyond being shallow and completely stops.

After a short period of time, the brain, realizing the need to breathe, forces a rapid inhalation to restart respiration that literally drags the sagging localized soft tissues into the airway, as reported in Sleep Apnea: A New Approach to an Emergent Problem by Master Herbalist Steven Frank, of Nature’s Rite. For some, there’s no indication of potential problems when they are awake as the tissues remain in their normal state and the throat doesn’t close off during the day or when relaxing or resting, but then they can experience an obstruction problem when trying to go to sleep.

Instead of resorting to surgery to remove neck tissue or using a machine to force air into lungs, natural herbal solutions can work to increase the pertinent brain signal that maintains continuous breathing without the breakdowns that necessitate rapid inhalation. According to the Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, ingesting herbs like lobelia, thyme and camp bark can intensify the signal from the brain to the diaphragm, increase the gas-transfer efficiency of the lungs and relax some of the skeletal muscles that can obstruct the propagation of the signal.

For more information, call 888-465-4404 or visit

Gentle Leashes Make Sense

Avoid Injuries and Ailments with Compassionate Choices

by Dr. Peter Dobias

Dog Leash

Try this simple experiment: Open your hands, with both thumbs touching. Place your thumbs at the base of the throat with the fingers pointing back and surrounding the neck. Now, take a deep breath and as you squeeze your hands together, firmly pull your head backward. Now you have a good idea of how many dogs feel when they are on their leash.

If you are still keen to continue the experiment, fasten a choke chain around your neck and attach it to a leash. Then ask a friend to grab the end of the leash and jerk on it periodically. Or attach the chain to an extension leash and sprint until the leash runs out.

I do not recommend testing a prong collar or electric shock collar on yourself, but it’s no wonder that dog collars regularly cause injuries and ailments that veterinarians treat in their offices. Common repercussions include:

Whiplash-like injuries.  Being jerked around on a leash is one cause of injuries similar to whiplash. Extension leashes add to the problem, because they encourage dogs to pull and to run faster before they reach the end of the line.

Ear and eye issues.  When dogs pull on their leash, the collar restricts the blood and lymphatic fluid flow to and from the head. Clients are often perplexed when troubling ear and eye issues disappear after they switch from a dog collar to a proper harness.

Excessive paw licking and foreleg lameness.  Leash pulling can impinge on the nerves in the front legs, which may lead to an abnormal sensation in the feet and cause dogs to lick them. These dogs are sometimes misdiagnosed as having allergic reactions.

Hypothyroidism (low thyroid gland hormone).  High rates of thyroid troubles in breeds that frequently pull on the leash, such as Labrador retrievers and German shepherds, make sense when one understands that the collar pushes on the throat in the area of the thyroid gland and may traumatize it. Thyroid trauma can cause low energy, weight gain, skin problems, hair loss and an increased likelihood of ear infections and organ failure.

The best alternative to a collar is a harness, with the spot for a leash attachment at the front of the chest. This design distributes the pressure of tugs and jerks throughout the dog’s entire body and keeps the neck and throat free of pressure. Harnesses that have the leash attached on the back are not recommended, because pulling still restricts the front portion of the neck, thereby pressing on veins, arteries, nerves and energy channels.

Make sure to properly fit a dog’s harness and carefully follow the maker’s instructions. Ensure that the harness is not pressing or rubbing anywhere and that it is washed regularly. Employ the harness only when leash-walking and take it off when a dog is off-leash. Adequately train the animal so that he can be off the leash as much as possible.

A special note: If a dog is considered a puller, have his neck examined by a vet or animal chiropractor experienced in neck assessment. Consider getting his thyroid hormone levels checked and the neck and back examined for any sign of injury. Keep in mind that many veterinarians are not trained to evaluate spinal alignment, so do some homework to find the right practitioner.

After switching your own family to a gentle leash, pass on what you know to others. Whenever you see a dog pulling and choking on the collar, gather the courage to talk to the owner. Everyone will be glad you did.

Dr. Peter Dobias, a holistic veterinarian in Canada since 1988, sold his Vancouver practice in 2008 to dedicate himself to transforming the face of veterinary care with an emphasis on disease prevention. For more information, free webinars and a link to his Facebook page, visit