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From the Headlines: Is Your Neti Pot Dangerous?

Yeesh. Two things we love—neti pots and organic food—took a bit of beating in the press last week. Did you guys see? Did someone smug forward you an article about how organic food isn’t healthier after all, or sound alarm bells about why you can’t pour tap water through your nose? (You really can’t.)

Let’s do a quick survey of the facts, starting with neti pots today and organic food tomorrow. The New York Times and others have reported that two cases of a deadly brain infection have been linked to neti pots. From the piece:

The Food and Drug Administration last month reported on two cases in Louisiana in which patients contracted infections after using neti pots filled with tap water. The culprit was an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, which is commonly found in lakes, rivers and hot springs.

But before you swear off your neti for good, known to help irrigate the nasal passage and proven to reduce pesky allergy symptoms, or freak out about your water, here are two important facts: 1) the amoeba in question is killed by stomach acid, so this isn’t a drinking concern; 2) it’s also killed by boiling, which is what you should do if you use tap water in your neti, as opposed to filtered or distilled.

This year, I had allergies for the first time in earnest. And when I reached out for natural remedy suggestions, the neti came up over and over again. It’s a wonderful device, and it can help reduce symptoms by clearing out pollen and other allergens.

But this is a harsh, and very serious, reminder that it’s not OK to just pour in some warm tap water to rinse with, even if it’s easier than boiling.

It’s also super important to keep your pot clean, and as the people from the Mayo Clinic said in the piece: no sharing.

I know a lot of you are neti users. What kind of water do you rinse with, and did this report scare you off your pot?

Last week the New York Times reported that Johnson & Johnson has announced plans to remove a host of questionable ingredients and contaminants from their products—notably formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane—by 2015.

According to the article they also intend to phase out parabens, phthlates, triclosan and other chemicals we’ve long had on our X list, though it was a little bit unclear from the piece whether this was all going to be on the same timeline.

This is notable progress, and even Kenneth Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, told the Times as much:

“We’ve never really seen a major personal care product company take the kind of move that they’re taking with this,” said Kenneth A. Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, one of the organizations that has been negotiating with company officials to change their practices. “Not really even anything in the ballpark.”

Of course, for this crowd, us included, it’s easy to be a bit cynical about the timeline (and if you are, our friend Kathryn Borel’s comedic piece about it in the Globe and Mail might give you a laugh). But if J&J is really going to eliminate all of these ingredients—and we have no reason to assume they won’t—then that’s applaudable, to say the least!

On this new site they’re cleverly explaining the changes as “moving beyond safety.”

For us the big question remains: What will they replace the current chemicals with? Only then will we know if this is atrue move toward changing the market. Any guesses?

Image from the Globe and Mail

Nick Kristof of the New York Times has been one of the most influential voices in the media when it comes to the dangers of endocrine disruptors. Last week he wrote again about the the science fiction that we are living with these chemicals.

The article is a great reminder of why we make such a big fuss around the presence of endocrine disruptors, and why we always advise people to avoid fragrance in their products. (Fragrances notoriously contain phthalates, part of this nasty club.)

Are you very aware of these chemicals in your day-to-day? Do you avoid them at all costs? I still eat many things out of a can (notably sardines) and am at a loss as to how to stop. Is is too much to ask that these chemicals just be banned, once and for all?

This month also happens to be Pregnancy Awareness Month, founded by author and lifestyle expert Anna Getty and producer Alisa Donner. Have you heard of this? It was created in 2008 with the intention of building a support community for mothers and expecting families, and to help educate them around health and wellness.

We should all know about endocrine disruptors, but fetuses are particularly vulnerable. I’ve pasted a few highlights from Kristof’s piece below in case you missed it, or if you’ve capped out on your New York Times articles for the month:

Endocrine disruptors are everywhere. They’re in thermal receipts that come out of gas pumps and A.T.M.’s. They’re in canned foods, cosmetics, plastics and food packaging. Test your blood or urine, and you’ll surely find them there, as well as in human breast milk and in cord blood of newborn babies.

Scientists have long known the tiniest variations in hormone levels influence fetal development. For example, a female twin is very slightly masculinized if the other twin is a male, because she is exposed to some of his hormones.

Now experts worry that endocrine disruptors have similar effects, acting as hormones and swamping the delicate balance for fetuses in particular. The latest initiative by scholars is a landmark 78-page analysis to be published next month in Endocrine Reviews, the leading publication in the field.

“For several well-studied endocrine disruptors, I think it is fair to say that we have enough data to conclude that these chemicals are not safe for human populations,” said Laura Vandenberg, a Tufts University developmental biologist who was the lead writer for the panel.

Need we say more?

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The Power of Habits (and Foaming Shampoo)

How habits take shape in our brains—and how we can override them with new and (hopefully) better habits—is the subject of an exciting new book called The Power of Habits by New York Times writer Charles Duhigg.

I started reading it a couple of weeks ago and, ever the evangelist, have been talking about it to just about anyone who will listen since. You should all check it for yourselves, but here’s the opening premise:

For an act to become a habit, there must be a CUE, followed by a ROUTINE, and finishing with some sense of REWARD. When we start craving the reward before it happens, the act is transformed into a habit and imprinted so deep in our brains (literally) that even in some cases of severe brain damage, where most everything is forgotten, habits can still survive.

Example of a habit loop in action: If you’re a smoker—and FYI the lines between habits and addiction can often become blurred—talking on the phone might be a cue for you, the routine involves lighting up as you gab, and the feeling of reward could come from the nicotine itself or maybe the association between smoking and socializing.

The book posits—backed by exhaustive research—that if you want to change a habit, you must create a new one in its stead. So maybe instead of lighting a cigarette, you pick up a pencil and doodle while you’re on the phone, and when you’re off you admire your artistic skill and take pride in it. OK, pretty dumb example, but you know where I’m going with this. And if you don’t, Duhigg has created a helpful infographic on his blog (partially pictured above) to help people change their habits.

How does any of this relate to shampoo, or more importantly Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, that notoriously sketchy and stripping ingredient? For those not familiar with SLS (or its cousin SLES), it’s the stuff that makes most products foam and studies have shown that it’s often contaminated with a carcinogen. It’s also so harsh that it wreaks havoc on skin and scalps.

But part of why it was added to shampoos (and toothpastes, body washes and so many other things) is that studies by major personal care companies showed that consumers associated that foamy feeling with a reward (I’m oversimplifying here, but that’s the jist). And sure enough, if you ask anyone who’s ever  tried natural shampoos, they all miss that foaming feeling at first. I’ve even had people tell me they’re addicted to it!

Can you think of other products that use the habit loop to sell more stock? Exfoliation comes to mind—people definitely crave that feeling! And just for fun: Any habits you’re trying to break these days?

The New York Times is reporting on a new old trend that’s taking major cities by storm: the modern apothecary. It appears that people are growing wary of big cosmetics companies, you guys. They’re disenchanted by their false claims, and they’re turning instead to smaller brands that are transparent about their ingredients (!). From the article:

In a world where many cosmetics are mass-produced with mysterious chemicals, these luxury brands are bottling “authenticity” and the idea of transparency with oils, grains and herbs.

Obviously this isn’t big news to us—these are the kinds of brands and stores that we’ve been championing from the get-go—but you know how pleased we get to see signs of the movement’s growth.

In fact, I often have to remind myself of just how early we are in this paradigm shift around products. We’re so darn eager for the world to catch up on how much better clean cosmetics are! Anyways, it’s great to see the trend getting good coverage and the future belongs to these people—the ones curating the right brands; the companies carefully choosing their ingredients. We especially liked what Juliette Elliot, founder of yummy In Fiore line (their SF store is pictured above), had to say about the pro-oil movement:

Americans are no longer spooked to the same degree by facial oil, and she believes that a growing factor in their popularity is simplicity. “We just need to manage our skin. It doesn’t need to be that complicated.”

Amen to that!

What’s your favorite apothecary-style line? What about stores in your city?

Image via