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Prevent Depression and Save Your Brain

stress

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” –William James, American philosopher and psychologist.

Feelings of depression have become increasingly common in the modern world.   According to the WHO, 350 million people now suffer from depression worldwide, and in the US alone, 16 million adults had at least one depressive episode in the year 2012.  These numbers are quite different from what they were just a generation ago.  According to recent data collected from 6.9 million adolescents and adults, North Americans are struggling with more symptoms of depression, such as difficulty sleeping and eating, than their counterparts did in the 1980s.

The increasing prevalence of depression among adolescents has been even more alarming.  In a study of national trends published last November in the journal Pediatrics, teens were 37% more likely to have suffered from a major depressive episode compared to a decade ago.  In California’s largest school district, more than 5,000 incidents of suicidal behaviour were tallied last year, compared with only 255 during the year 2010-11.

In a paper written for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientist Robert Sapolsky wrote, “humans have dragged a body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived, competitive, inequitable, and socially-isolating environment with dire consequences [for our emotional health]”.

Despite the increasing prevalence of depression, we still don’t quite understand how it’s caused, and the results of new research has been sobering.  It now appears that prolonged stress or trauma is strongly associated with decreased volume in the hippocampus,  the part of the human brain responsible for regulating thoughts and feelings, enhancing self-control, and creating new memories.  Unfortunately, the hippocampus also has the unique function of rapidly generating new connections between brain cells, so when the hippocampus shrinks, your brain shrinks too.

Under prolonged stress, your brain becomes flooded with high levels of glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, which we now know can disrupt normal information processing so that higher-order reasoning and decision-making becomes more difficult and fragmented.  As a result, positive or compassionate interpretations of events become more difficult to envision, and thinking becomes stuck in a negative groove of self-criticism and pessimism.

So, how can we prevent these increasingly common depressive episodes?  How can we protect our brains from the shrinking effects of excess cortisol?

Well, there are three things that have been proven to help:

1)  Take an omega-3 supplement.  Omega-3 fatty acids contain DHA or docosahexaenoic acid, which is a central building block of brain tissue.  DHA has natural anti-inflammatory properties that help to combat the effects of cortisol and prevent plaque build-up, which should promote the formation of more dendrites.

2) Exercise every day.  Increased blood circulation to the brain through daily exercise can  strengthen brain cells and neuronal connections.  Researchers suspect this is why daily physical exercise  has been shown to reduce the chance of developing dementia as you age.

3)  Practice daily prayer, meditation, or yoga.   All of these daily rituals strengthen what is called  “the relaxation response,” which lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety.  When your body is more relaxed, new studies show that gene expression becomes altered so that inflammation and cell death is less likely, and your body is better able to handle free radicals.  In the case of meditation, daily practice has been shown to strengthen the pre-frontal cortex, which grants us greater distance and control over our thoughts.  When we have greater ability to choose the thoughts we dwell on, and which to let go, depressive thinking has less chance to take hold.

Unfortunately for us, there is very little we can do to avoid emotional traumas like unexpected job loss, chronic illness, or physical and emotional abuse.  However, by taking certain preventative measures, we can help our brain stay more resilient against these stresses.  A strong brain is a controlled brain.   When our brain functioning is strong, we can choose and direct our thoughts rather than allowing them to run off a cliff.   So far, this has been proven to be the best protection against depression and dementia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Is There a Limit to the Human Life Span?

JeanneCalment

My great aunt celebrated her 95th birthday this year.  She’s doing so well!  She is still able to walk by herself, although she sometimes uses a walker when she feels tired.  She still has all her teeth.  Her main difficulty is her diminishing eyesight, so her daughters regularly come to read to her.  Although she lives in a nursing home, she is in a room of her own, so  she still has some independence.  With her health in such good condition, we all hope she’s able to live for many more years.

After all, not many people reach her age.  Some scientists think there could be more healthy, elderly people like her in another generation.  Others think people like her will remain rare.  There’s been a heated  debate among scientists on this very subject in recent years, one that you’ve probably been unaware of, and it’s hard to say who might be right.

Approximately one year ago, Jan Vijg, a molecular scientist at the Albert Einstein College of medicine in New York, declared a maximum limit to the human life span.  He capped life expectancy at the age of 115, declaring that there are certain biological limits that just can’t be overcome by technological or medical advances.   According to his predictions, humans won’t be able to live any longer than that.

This declaration incited a rather riotous debate, with other scientists like Maarten Peter Rozing, Nick Brown, and Siegfried Hekimi of universities in Copenhagen, Groningen, and Montreal all declaring that Vijg was reading the data incorrectly.   They don’t see a limit to the human lifespan, and cite the death of Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment at the ripe age of 122 as proof that the human life span is steadily increasing.

But Calment died in 1997, and no one has been able to top her for twenty years.  This could either be a sign that a plateau has been reached, and it’s simply not possible to live any longer, or,  it could merely be a temporary lull.  Who knows, really?   With such a small data set, almost any conclusion can be drawn, and most of the scientific debate is a mere quibbling over the definitiveness of Vijg’s statement, not his reasoning.

Like me, most people probably don’t care so much about the length of human life.  We would just like to be assured that the quality is good, not matter how long it lasts.  And I think we’ve learned enough in recent years to be reasonably assured that if we can follow enough of the preventative measures, we’ll experience fewer of the negative parts of aging.  After all, no one wants to spend their last years stuck in a hospital bed all plugged up with tubes and wires.

So, I once again wish a hearty “Happy Birthday!” to my great aunt and very much hope that she lives many years more – and in continued good health.  I wish the same to all of you!  We’ll keep fighting the good fight, and with any luck, maybe we can follow in the footsteps of Frenchwoman Jeanne Calmont, and break that age barrier of 115 years – in good health, of course.

 



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

How To Live to Be One Hundred

centenarians

My aunt lived an exceptionally full life.  Although her husband died early in his sixties, she just kept on going, and lived disease-free for another three decades!  Mother of two children, and grandmother of two more, she was still traveling with her daughter, attending social functions, and acting as treasurer for her church well into her eighties.  Whenever I saw her, she invariably sported a big, bright smile, and her walk had a lively bounce in it.  She was sharp as a tack up until the very end, when liver cancer finally felled her.  She lived just two months after the diagnosis, and died in a bed surrounded by her loved ones.

I think we’d all love to live a life like that. What exactly did she do to grant her that gift? No one will ever really know for sure, but I do know she generally tried to follow all the recommended advice. She ate her vegetables, she exercised daily, she watched her weight. And then, I suppose there was probably a little luck thrown in as well.

Experts say that we can all live a life as healthy and full as my aunt, as long as we are careful with our daily choices. 80% of our lifespan is lifestyle determined. This means the daily choices we make now can have a phenomenal effect on how long we live, and how well we live as we enter old age.

Back in the year 2000, scientist Michael Poulain set out to find and catalogue the areas of the world where centenarians seemed to concentrate.  He called these areas Blue Zones, and they included now famous places like Okinawa, Japan, and Sardinia, Italy.  He went to each of these places, interviewed the centenarians there, and then watched how they lived and what they ate.  He wanted to determine what had led to their extended lives.

Author Dan Buettner became intrigued by the results of his studies, and in 2003, he wrote a book on these centenarians entitled “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest”.  In it, he catalogued nine lifestyle choices that experts now believe will help us all live ably into our golden years.  I think they’re pretty well known by now:

1) Physically move your body often, going for a daily walk, or working in your garden;
2) Find a way to de-stress your life, either by napping regularly, doing yoga, or taking up meditation;
3) Drink wine only moderately.  It not only helps to counter stress, but contains high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants, and can triple the amount of flavonoids we absorb from our food;
4) Eat a mostly plant-based diet;
5) Eat fewer calories generally.  Try to eat until you’re only 80% full;
6) Have a strong sense of purpose for your life;
7) Put your family first;
8) Cultivate strong friendships;
9) Have faith.  It doesn’t matter what you believe in – just believe it!

Sadly, it seems that as a more modern way of life is entering these mostly poor, rural Blue Zones, their life expectancy is shortening.  The children and grand-children of these exceptionally healthy centenarians are experiencing higher rates of obesity,  high blood fat, heart disease, stress,  and cancer after having taken up a more meat-based diet, and using cars or mopeds instead of walking.  Researchers predict that after the current crop of centenarians dies, more average life-spans will most likely predominate there.

Poulain now thinks that the extreme longevity he discovered in these Blue Zones may have been a temporary “generational phenomenon”.  When these centenarians were young, up to 20% of their peers died due to disease or accident, leaving only the strongest and healthiest alive.  After an old-fashioned,  physically demanding childhood, they then grew up to have access to modern medicine, which helped to extend their lives.

Nevertheless, their lifetime experiences still offer us extensive information on how our diet and exercise choices can affect our long-term health for the better.   For example, all the diets in the Blue Zones were plant based.  Not only did they eat plenty of vegetables, but they also socialized often and walked everywhere.

Now, committed Blue Zone communities, like Spencer, Iowa are popping up in the US, where all citizens vow to eat a plant-based diet, marginalize junk food, walk more, and join moais, or programmed social networks.  Remarkably, over the course of just one year of following these new rules, the healthcare costs for city employees dropped by a whopping 25 percent.

If we’re determined to make the right choices for our health, and with enough luck, we should all be able to live a life like my aunt did.  All we need is the will to do it.  It would take effort, and change, but if we all support one another, I believe we can change our societies for the better.  We can create more pathways for walking, provide more parks and plant more trees.  We can add higher taxes to junk foods to make them less attractive meal options, and ensure there are more grocery stores than fast food outlets in food desert communities.  We can also take the time to really get to know our neighbours and expand our social networks.  The facts are already in:  not only will this help us live longer, it’ll decrease healthcare costs as well.  I think these are things that everyone wants.



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Take the Time to Read

book

The Harry Potter series of books were just being written when my boys were young.  Every night, we’d read a chapter together, taking turns reading alternate pages aloud.  Sometimes, when the action got very intense and exciting, we’d extend our reading session past their usual bedtime, as none of us expected to sleep well until we knew what happened next.

Although it began as a way to advance their reading level at school, this night-time reading wasn’t just academic.  It was a time for us to relax together and to bond.  It allowed them to ask me questions about life, and for me to see how they viewed the world.  And then together, we’d look forward to the time when the next book in the series arrived, counting down the days until our journey through the Potter world could continue.

This is how reading brings people together.  Although a seemingly solitary activity,  it provides a bridge between the reader and the author through the simple act of reading their thoughts and feelings.  As we explore and digest another’s world, we become more empathetic and less judgemental.  And for those who read a book together, like the members of a book club, or my sons and I, it helps us to learn from one another more deeply than we would in any casual conversation.

Non-fiction self-help books may abound on store shelves, but we may learn important life lessons more viscerally from non-fiction books.  My first favourite book was “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White.  I read it over and over again, until my copy became dog-eared, wrinkled and torn.   The internal lives of the animals fascinated me, as I lived on a farm myself.  Through their lives, I learned the importance of kindness among all living things, and the value of friendship and loyalty.  I still cry when Charlotte dies.

Since then, many other books have also provided me with valuable wisdom as I journey through life.  From the book “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan, I learned that life is never perfect.  The book jumps back and forth through time, allowing you to see people before they achieved their dreams, and afterwards as well.  Even when they got exactly what they wanted, it still feels bittersweet.  Through them, I learned then that happiness is elusive, even for the most successful among us.

From the book “Middlemarch” by George Eliot, I watched as complicated people from the Victorian age navigated lives that were easily as difficult as our own.  Through them, I learned that all caricatures are false.  No one is absolutely good or absolutely evil; we all have reasons for the things we do, and the choices we make.  I was surprised at my ability to empathize with all  of the characters, even the most flawed.  In so doing, I learned to love myself despite my own shortcomings.

Right now, with technology pulling us farther and farther apart, we need to read more than ever.  Always distracted with our phones and laptops, we’ve become more isolated, jealous and depressed.  This summer, I hope you find some time to unplug, slow down, savor and ponder.   And when you do, I hope your mind gets expanded and recharged through the reading of a book.

 



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

The Reason Your Hair is Falling Out

hair

Ever drawn a brush through your hair and been alarmed at the number of hairs that came out with it?  Or maybe you’ve been in the shower, in the  middle of washing your hair, when an uncharacteristically large clump comes out, all tangled up in your hand.  Certainly, it’s a cause for some distress, and some people may even panic.

Research has shown that 1 in 3 women will struggle with hair loss, or experience reduced hair volume, at some point during their lives.  Of course, aging men have well-known battles with hair loss too.  According to the American Hair Loss Association, two thirds of men over the age of 35 will suffer from some appreciable hair loss, and that number climbs to 85% by the time men are 50.

Some hair loss is natural.  For example, it’s completely normal to lose anywhere from 50 to 100 hairs every day.  It’s also normal to experience increased hair loss after a stressful event, like the end of a pregnancy, a marital break-up, or a death in the family.  In those instances, the amount of hair lost can be up to ten times the normal amount, and will occur roughly three months after the stressful event, at the end of the hair’s natural life span. (Yes, hair has a life span too!)

But what about abnormal hair loss?  First off, let’s dispel some myths.   Hair loss can’t be prevented by washing your hair less frequently.  In fact, if a dirty, oily scalp isn’t regularly cleaned, it can lead to dandruff and inflammation which can actually exacerbate hair loss.  Also, tightly worn hairstyles, like ponytails, or tight-fitting hats may be uncomfortable, but haven’t generally been shown to increase hair loss either.

The most common cause of hair loss is a hormone imbalance.  This is one reason why many women experience some hair loss after giving birth, when their hormones suddenly go into free-fall.  Androgens are the most common culprit for hair loss.  These hormones, which are in highest concentration in men,  are not very hair friendly, and can shorten the hair growth cycle and cause hair to fall out when levels become abnormally high.

Subconsciously, we all recognize this link between high testosterone and hair loss.  In a 2012 study from the University of Pennsylvania, both men and women considered bald men to be larger, stronger, smarter, more powerful, more successful, and more dominant than men who still had hair.  It seems now that all the hand-wringing men have gone through over the ages was completely unnecessary.  They may actually gain status by losing their hair.

For women, of course, the picture is completely different.  Our health, strength and sex appeal is still strongly associated with the length and luxuriousness of our hair, so any amount of hair loss is of deep concern.  In this case, higher than normal androgen levels are the most common cause of hair loss too.  Sufferers of conditions like PCOS, which is strongly associated with an abnormally elevated androgen level, will need to  balance their hormones and reduce their androgen level so that hair can be retained.

The best way to balance hormones is to cleanse the liver of any congested bile so that it can function more optimally again.  Since the liver is the organ which metabolizes and excretes hormones from the body, ensuring optimal liver functioning is essential for maintaining balanced hormones.  In fact, the main reason that stress causes hair to fall out is likely the increase in the hormone cortisol, which is always accompanied by an increase in androgens.  When levels of androgens are increased, they can over-stimulate hair follicles and cause hair to fall out.

Other hormonal conditions, like hyper- or hypothyroidism, can also cause hair loss, and since the liver is the organ which converts T4 to the active form of T3, sub-optimal liver functioning is implicated in thyroid problems too.

If you are currently struggling with some form of hair loss, you should consider using our products to improve the health of your liver so that hormone balance can be restored.   Supplementing with some vitamins and minerals may also help to combat hair loss.  Vitamins B12, D, and the minerals zinc and iron have also been linked to hair loss, although these deficiencies tend only to aggravate an existing problem, and are typically not the main cause.  Contact us for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

A New Reason to Love Yoga

yoga

It began in Warrior II pose.   One day, while balancing (precariously) on my legs, my front knee bent at a ninety degree angle, and looking out over the length of my right arm, I began to feel a sensation of poise.  Odd, that.  Other yoga practitioners will know what I mean.  How can one possibly feel poised while twisted into these seemingly unnatural poses?  And yet it happens.  Softly and subtly at first, but more strongly with each day of practice.

Even stranger is how it carries over into your every day life.  While waiting in line at the bank, or at the grocery store, while driving in the car, I will suddenly remember that sensation of poise and sit up straighter, balance my weight more evenly across my hips, and become more mindful.  My breath slows and becomes more even.  Worries scatter.

Apparently, this feeling of relaxed concentration signals a change that has gone much deeper than my mood.  According to a new review published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, by regularly performing mindful activities like yoga, meditation or tai chi, I have actually changed the way my DNA reacts to stress.   Instead of pumping out a swarm of inflammatory proteins that increase my risk of cancer, depression, and auto-immune disorders, my genes have learned to do the opposite and now produce less.

If this sounds incredible, it is.  Don’t believe me?  Try it yourself! Choose any mind-body activity that intrigues you and stick with it for a few weeks.  Notice what changes. Notice what doesn’t.  Are you breathing more deeply? Maybe your neck is starting to feel less tense.  Have you ever noticed before how tight your hips are?  And then gradually, very gradually, those physical sensations will start to soften and relax your mind too.  And then you’ll realize, like I did, that you need to keep doing this for the rest of your life.

 



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Improve your Fertility Naturally

sperm

With considerable alarm, researchers have reported a more than 50% decline in sperm count this week, but only among men in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.   Sperm counts in Asia, Africa and South America have remained mostly unchanged.  The decline occurred over the last 40 years, from 1973 to 2011.

This study, which was published in the journal Human Reproduction Update, did not delve into the possible causes for the sperm decline, so we can only speculate.  However, rising rates of obesity, environmental estrogens, exposure to chemicals and pesticides,  and increased  stress are all possible causes.  All of these factors are known to contribute to hormone imbalances, and could negatively effect fertility in both men and women over time.

Through the experiences of many of our customers, we have found that fertility can be improved through the use of our Chinese Bitters and Coptis tinctures.  All these tinctures do is ensure that the liver is able to function as efficiently as possible. Since the liver is the organ which breaks down and removes all excess hormones and toxins from the body, by improving the health of the liver hormones can become more balanced, and fertility is naturally enhanced.

Many couples who had given up hope of ever conceiving a child have followed our fertility program to balance hormones,  and been very thankful of the results.  If you are interested in giving our fertility program a try, please contact us by phone at 416-248-2930, or by email at rebecca@sensiblehealth.com.



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

The Dangers of Trampoline Use

trampoline

In 2005, our neighbours bought one of those big, backyard trampolines.  It was used quite heavily by  their teen-aged kids, and as the fence between our two yards was low, we could often see them soaring high into the air.  My kids were mesmerized by their athletic back flips.

Although we never bought one ourselves, trampolines soared in popularity that year, with sales tripling in 2005.  According to the trampoline industry, more than one million backyard trampolines are now sold in the US every year.  It didn’t take savvy entrepreneurs long to catch on to the trend; trampoline parks now proliferate in all major city centres, with 5 or 6 parks opening every month in the US.  But are they a good idea?

Despite the much-needed increase in physical activity they provide, injuries at trampoline parks, and at homes with backyard trampolines, are soaring.  According to estimates from the National Electronic Surveillance System, trampoline injuries have  lead to nearly 100,000 emergency room visits a year since 2012.  The most common injuries at trampoline parks are leg fractures, which account for 59% of emergency room visits.  Home trampolines tend to cause more upper body injuries, such as elbow and forearm fractures.

But trampoline injuries can be far more devastating than that.  Marc Rabinoff, at the Metropolitan State College of Denver, Colo., calls trampolines “quad machines” because you can become a quadriplegic in four seconds or less.   Dr. Gary Smith, of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says “trampolines were originally developed as a device for use by acrobats, gymnasts, or fighter pilots – they were never intended to be used as a backyard toy”.  There are now calls from prominent pediatricians to actively discourage recreational trampoline use.

Are these doctors going too far?  Are these recommendations just another sign that we’re bubble-wrapping our children far too tightly?  Aren’t a certain amount of bumps, scrapes and bruises de rigeur for any happy childhood?

Well, trampoline experts say you can considerably reduce the risk of injury by preventing children ages 6 and under from using the trampoline at all, by ensuring protective nets are in place to prevent serious falls, by allowing only one child on the trampoline at a time, and by having an adult always on hand to supervise.  But despite all these precautions some serious injuries still take place.

Much of the reason for the increase in injury is that many parents are not fully aware of how dangerous trampolines can be.  Serious, even crippling injuries can still take place, even if padding, mats and nets are safely in place.   We all want our kids to be active and have fun, but perhaps we should begin to view trampolines more like motorized ATV vehicles, which have also been known to cause serious injuries in children if safety precautions aren’t followed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Embrace The Grey

greyhair

We all like to look good, and we’ll often do questionable things to achieve that aim.   In our quest to look younger, slimmer, and more attractive, we’ll follow odd, faddish diets that may cause long term damage to our health, or spend time on tanning beds that can cause skin cancer.

It seems we can now add hair colouring and straightening to that list.  A new study of 4,285 African-American who use dark hair dyes,  found a whopping 51% increase in breast cancer incidence.  White women who use chemical hair straighteners had even worse news:  they had a 74% increased risk of breast cancer.  The cancer risk was even higher when white women used both dark hair dye and chemical straighteners, doubling their risk of breast cancer compared with white women who used neither.

It’s estimated that one-third of women over the age of 18 use some type of hair dye, so the information in this study affects a lot of people.  But will it cause us to change our habits?   According to the National Institute of Health, use of indoor tanning beds has remained prevalent despite  strong evidence associating them with an increased risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.  Considering the number of women who struggle to conceal their grey hair each month, I suspect that most will relinquish their hair dye very reluctantly, no matter the negative health outcome.

On its website, the National Cancer Institute notes that few studies have ever been published on the association between hair dye and any form of cancer.  Clearly, this subject merits further study.  In the meantime, you may want to reconsider colouring your grey.

 



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

How To Avoid Mosquitoes This Summer

mosquitoes

I think I was around five years old when I first learned what a mosquito was.  We were visiting relatives at my grandmother’s house when my aunt spotted a mosquito buzzing through the room.

“Quick!  Kill it!” she cried.  I could see the mosquito flying through the air a few feet in front of me.  It seemed annoying but harmless – like a fly.  Having never heard of mosquitoes before, I couldn’t understand my aunt’s revulsion and alarm.  When it was explained to me that mosquitoes suck blood out of your body through a needle-like stinger that they stick into your skin, it sounded like a freakish creature out of my nightmares.  I thought perhaps she was teasing me, but the rest of my relatives nodded their heads solemnly and assured me it was all true.  Like all humans, I’ve been wary of them ever since.

I must say that I haven’t had particular need to be cautious of mosquitos throughout my life.  I seem to be one of the 80% of people who attract them only weakly.  My husband, on the other hand, seems particularly cursed.  He has been bitten at all times of day, in all manner of locations.  The mosquitoes find him wherever he is, and appear to enjoy his blood above all others.  It’s always puzzled me why this was so.

Apparently, mosquito – attractors like my husband make such delicious meals because they release more heat and carbon dioxide through their skin.  Essentially, they have a faster metabolism that runs hotter and therefore releases more gas and chemicals, like lactic acid or uric acid, than other people.  High concentrations of hormones or cholesterol near the surface of the skin will also attract them.

Some mosquitoes are attracted to the strains of bacteria on your skin, which varies from person to person.  This may be why mosquitoes tend to target bacteria-rich areas like your ankles and feet.  Or, they may prefer the warmth of the skin near your neck and armpits,  or the greater volume of acetone and carbon dioxide released near your mouth.

Your blood type can also make you a more delicious meal.  People with blood type ‘O’ appear to attract twice as many mosquitoes as other blood types, with blood type ‘A’ bitten the least often.

Essentially,  if you attract mosquitoes like a drop of syrup attracts ants, you are a “yang” type person.  Yang-type people have heat and energy to spare, and have particularly rich blood due to their stronger digestive abilities.  They’re like a wandering gourmet buffet compared to those more “yin” type people, who offer a sparer lunch.  These comparisons to meals aside, it should be noted that mosquitoes don’t actually eat the blood they take.  The females who collect it use it to develop their fertilized eggs, which is why a richer blood is preferred.  They want the best for their children after all, and who can blame them?

So, how can you avoid being bitten if you’re one of those unlucky yang-type mosquito – attractors?  Wearing light -coloured clothing will make you less visible to mosquitoes, and moving slowly so as to exude less heat, carbon dioxide and chemicals through your skin should also help. (Playing a sport is not a good idea).  As always, it’s best to avoid going out at dawn and dusk when the wind dies down, humidity rises, and mosquitoes are particularly populous.  Also, if a fan is pointed at you, it makes it harder for a mosquito to reach you.

Other than heavy use of citronella candles, you can also prepare a chemical-free mosquito repellent by filling an empty spray bottle with 1/3 vodka, witch hazel, or rubbing alcohol, and then topping it up with water.  Then add a mixture of these essential oils:  10 drops peppermint, 5 drops rosemary, 5 drops eucalyptus, 10 drops lemon, 5 drops lavender, and 5 drops of clove.  It may not work quite as well as DEET, but it’s safe and chemical-free.

With this small list of advice, I hope you’re able to minimize the number of mosquitoes that surround you this summer.   We’ll never truly beat those flying vampires – they’ve been around for 170 million years! – but we can try to make ourselves as comfortable as possible so we can enjoy the gorgeous sights and smells of summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.