How To Avoid Mosquitoes This Summer


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.

How to be Happy


In the Western world, people are wealthier now than they have ever been in the past.  Over the last fifty years, wages for both men and women have risen, taxes are lower, and living standards are greatly improved.  So why does it seem harder than ever to achieve that most ephemeral of things:  happiness?

Many different people, from psychology experts to amateur bloggers, have proffered suggestions for how to feel happier.  They run the gamut, from sensible recommendations like ensuring you eat well, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep at night, to psychological insights, such as keeping a gratitude journal, smiling more often, meditating daily, and forgiving yourself.  But what if you follow all that advice and still don’t feel that enviable spark of life?

Writer Alexander Heyne has an interesting suggestion.  He suggests that we simply play more.  By “playing”, he doesn’t necessarily mean doing things you enjoy, particularly if you’re trying to accomplish something.  “Playing” is the exact opposite of accomplishment.  When playing, you should have no goals, no agenda.  Time should be shamelessly wasted with no effort made to “make it count”.

One big  reason happiness is so elusive today may be our chronically over-booked schedules.  It’s true that we have more money and more things than we ever did before, but we are severely lacking in free time.   Even when we’re not working, our schedules tend to be filled with activities.  These activities may enrich our lives, but they take away from the time we need to truly rest and play.  The best word to describe most of us these days is “stressed”, and “stressed” is the exact opposite of “happy”.

If you’re struggling with unhappiness and wondering what you’re doing wrong, here are some simple suggestions for bringing more spontaneity and yes, some extra happiness back into your life:

First of all, give in to one of your urges.  Feel like driving to the beach after work?  Do it!  Blow bubbles in the bathtub and watch them float on the air.  Buy and then re-learn how to use a hula hoop.  Buy a small gift and leave it for your friend.  Sing!  Especially sing when you leave phone messages.  Throw a party for your dog – or yourself!

The key to improving your life should be lightheartedness and abandon.   Life has made us all so serious.  We fret about our progress towards our goals,  and we try our best to be productive always.  Perhaps it’s not surprising then that the key to happiness is to reject all of that for awhile and just do whatever we please.

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.

Why Your Doctor Should Be Female


How exactly does one achieve true healing?  How can you best protect your health as you age?  The process is becoming ever more murky.

Not long ago, it seemed so much clearer.  If you had a particular health problem, you found and then took a drug known to manage it.  Drugs that did not work any better than a placebo were discarded.  Those which could, were prescribed en masse.  It seemed a simple, linear process.

But recently, studies have shown that it’s not quite so simple.  Sometimes people are healed even when they take a placebo, despite the fact that it shouldn’t work.  Sometimes, people are healed without taking any drugs at all,  by starting a regular exercise routine or by changing their diet.  Sometimes, people are healed through other mechanisms that science cannot verify, such as the soothing touch of massage therapy, or the stern needles of acupuncture.  And now, apparently, some are healed through the simple act of seeing a female physician rather than a male one.

In an intriguing new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, patients treated by a female doctor were 4% less likely to die, and 5% less likely to be readmitted to the hospital than if they were treated by a male one.  These numbers may seem small, but when extrapolated throughout the entire population, it means that 32,000 fewer people would die every year if they were treated by a female physician.  Or, put in another way, a female doctor can save the same number of people who die annually in automobile crashes.

One can’t help wondering why.  The improved health outcomes in the study were relatively small, but researchers were unable to eliminate the gains by adjusting for the type of medical condition, the age of the patient (all were seniors), or the severity of the illness. With no additional data available, researchers can only theorize as to why people are less likely to die when cared for by a female physician.

One naturally jumps to the assumption that women are generally better caregivers than men, with stronger communication skills, a greater aptitude for listening to their patients, and a tendency to spend more time  with them.  Though hard to quantify, these may well be the critical factors that explain the results.  After all, when people know they are being heard, when a more encouraging environment has been created in the doctor’s office, people are more likely to voice their concerns.   If these concerns are validated, rather than dismissed or discounted, then the doctor will have more information with which to make an accurate diagnosis, and hence provide a better health outcome.

Until further studies are done, we can only theorize as to why female doctors provide better health outcomes than male doctors.   But there are some hints that the more open and caring environment in a female doctor’s office my indeed be the critical factor.  In previous studies, female doctors demonstrated better communication skills, and were more adept at responding to both verbal and non-verbal cues among their patients.  They were also more likely to suggest preventative care options before resorting to drugs, and to adhere more closely to clinical guidelines.

It could be that what this new study is really showing is the importance of empathy and caring in patient/doctor interactions.  You can have all the knowledge necessary to be a doctor, or a healer, but if you don’t have a good bedside manner, healing can be elusive.  No matter how many expensive tests you use, no matter the extent of your clinical knowledge, it seems that people still heal better when they feel cared for and heard.





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.

For the Love of Bugs


Bugs are creepy and disgusting.  All those legs, the wriggling antennae, the shiny, hard exoskeletons!  They seem so alien, it’s no wonder we find them psychologically disturbing.  I still remember one time in grade school when my classmates and I were shown a slide of the microscopic bacteria living on our skin.  We were immediately repulsed, and erupted in a loud chorus of “Ewww!”

At that time, there wasn’t the slightest inkling that these strange creatures could be important for our health.  Yet recent studies now confirm that early exposure to bacteria is critical for a strong immune system.  Children who live in more sanitary, modern conditions with less exposure to dirt and germs have a greater chance of developing allergies, asthma, and a raft of auto-immune diseases, as well as obesity and even autism.

Ever since Louis Pasteur discovered that microscopic organisms were the cause of many deadly infections, we’ve been increasingly obsessed with cleanliness.  We’ve spent the last century and a half scrupulously avoiding the microbes in impure water and unpasteurized milk, and it’s saved millions of lives.  But science now tells us we may have gone too far.

Studies have shown that children who grow up on farms, with increased exposure to dirt, germs and animal feces, have a markedly smaller chance of developing asthma and allergies.   Even owning a family dog helps.  A Swedish study conducted in 2013 even found that children whose mothers sucked their pacifiers clean with their own saliva, rather than sterilizing it, had a lower risk of developing eczema.  Another study published in the journal of Occupational and Environmental Health showed that children exposed to bleach have a 20% higher chance of coming down with the flu, and have more infections than those who are not.

The timing of this increased exposure to bacteria also seems to be important.  Moving to a farm as an adult won’t do much to improve your asthma and allergy symptoms.  However, growing up on a farm, or with a family dog, can go a long way towards preventing these same health problems later as a teenager or as an adult.

It’s time to reassess our notion of cleanliness, and widen it to include some exposure to germs.  While it’s still important to drink clean water and wash our fruits and vegetables carefully before we eat them, it’s not necessary to sanitize everything.  Our bodies require a diverse collection of microbes to properly stimulate our immune systems, and ensure the health of our gut.  Bugs and other microorganisms may appear creepy and disgusting, but it turns out our bodies just aren’t as robust without them.






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.

Why Scented Cleaning Products Should Be Avoided


In a recent study from the University of Washington, scented laundry products were found to emit more than 25 “volatile” air pollutants from dryer vents, including carcinogens such as acetaldehyde and benzene.   The extent of the emissions was substantial – equivalent to 3% of the total yearly acetaldehyde emissions from cars.  Yet unlike cars, which must follow stringent vehicle emissions standards, household detergents, such as laundry soaps and dryer sheets, are mostly unregulated.

Ever since this study was published, alarming news articles and blog posts have been circulating on social media, urging readers to avoid scented laundry products.  For some reason, dryer sheets have been particularly implicated, possibly because the data collected in the study was through emissions from dryer vents.  However, all household and personal care products with chemical fragrances  contain similar compounds, and so there is no reason for dryer sheets to be singled out.  Such household products include not just laundry detergents and dryer sheets, but also air fresheners, fabric softeners, dishwashing detergents, personal care products, cosmetics, after-shave, soaps, lotions, and hand sanitizers.

What is of most concern is not just the prevalence of toxic compounds in our household cleaning products, but the fact that so many of them do not need to be listed on product labels.  Of all the volatile compounds emitted during the study, fewer than 3% were disclosed on any product label or MSDS (material safety data sheet) because they are exempt from disclosure.  This means that 97% of the potentially hazardous ingredients used to make up the fragrant scents in our household cleaning products are unknown to us, and to government regulators.

Terms such as “perfume”, “parfum”, “natural fragrance”, “pure fragrance”, or “organic fragrance” sound misleadingly simple and safe, but any of these fragrance mixtures can contain up to several hundred different chemicals; in total,  more than 2600 different chemical ingredients have been documented for use in fragrances.  Yet manufacturers are not required to report any of them unless the chemicals are considered hazardous.   Sadly, surveys of MSDSs found most to be incomplete, inaccurate, or both, as they are reliant on manufacturers or importers to vouch for their safety.

If you think that “natural” or “organic” household cleaning products with fragrances are safer, think again.  The gas chromatography/mass spectometry tests used in the study found that products labelled as more natural, or environmentally friendly emitted similar amounts of volatile organic compounds as the more popular brands.  On average, all fragrant household products emitted 17.1 different volatile organic compounds.

The most common of these chemicals, found in more than one-third of the fragrant household products, were terpenes such as d-limonene, linalool, α-pinene, β-pinene, as well as citronellol, eucalyptol, and geraniol.  Such chemicals have the potential to create adverse health effects like asthma, mucosal symptoms, and allergic contact dermatitis.  Others can interfere with hormone regulation and may even cause cancer.

So, how can avoid unnecessary exposure to such chemicals?  By using fragrance-free household cleaning products, we can substantially reduce our risk.  You can also switch to simple vinegar and baking soda for most of your cleaning needs, although this won’t help you clean your clothes.

Considering the vast number of chemicals now used in the manufacture of personal care products, and household cleaning products, we should push for a change in how they are regulated.  While there are environmental protections for outdoor air, or “air external to buildings”, up until now, there has been little consideration of potential pollutants in our indoor air, even though our exposure now is higher than it has ever been in the past.

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.