Plastic Free Period. It can be done.

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Men, stop reading. Women, this one is just for you.   I’ve talked about the damage plastic is doing to our environment and our health as well as how we can all reduce our plastic use in two of my previous articles.  Now I want to talk about how we can reduce our plastic use during that time of the month.  Disposable menstrual products are one of the top contributers to landfill never mind the plastic they are wrapped in.  Menstrual pads take between 500-800 years to biodegrade.  But never fear, there are better solutions!

When we have our periods, all we want is to feel more comfortable.  These reusable solutions are actually more comfortable while being better for you and the environment.

Period underwear is all the rage these days.  And honestly, I can’t speak more highly of it.  No one wants to wear a pad but sometimes there are leaks that need to be caught.  Period underwear is super comfortable, and now comes in lots of colours (they only had black when I bought mine).  You can get different thicknesses for light or heavy flow.  I find the light one handy for everyday use especially if you have had a few children and you know you will be jumping or sneezing that day. The heavier one is advertised as holding 20ml or 2 tampons worth of liquid.  And you will no longer have to buy pads that are made of and packed in plastic. I chose to purchase Modibodi underwear because they are an Australian company, but there are several other companies.  Thinx is popular but it is an American company.

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If you still want the bulk of a pad for overnight purposes, I highly recommend getting cotton reusable ones.  I have had mine for years, so I can’t even guess how much money I have saved.  I use them overnight with my period underwear just in case.  They come in all sorts of patterns and colours.  In the morning just pop it in the washing machine and job done.  They are more absorbent than disposables, more affordable, do not contain toxic chemicals, last for years, are super comfortable, and are stylish! No more wasting money on pads and throwing plastic in the bin.  There are many companies that sell reusable pads.  Hannahpads come in lots of different colours and are 100% organic cotton. Ecopads are an Australian company that also support womens’ and girls’ education, empowerment and environmental projects.  For every pad bought they send one to a women or girl in need.  I spoke to Freda and she will have more in stock on 30 June. Or you can even make your own.

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Many women still rely on tampons during their period.  Unfortunately there are no rules that companies have to state the ingredients of tampons on the packages so you don’t know what chemicals may be in the product.  Cotton growing uses large amounts of pesticides so chances are there are lots of them in your tampon.  Each tampon is individually wrapped in plastic as well as coming in a box that all ends up in landfill. There is also the chance of toxic shock syndrome with tampon use. This is a life-threatening bacterial infection that is associated with tampon use.  Menstrual cups are the healthier, more environmentally friendly alternative.  Before you get squeamish, these are so much better than tampons.  You insert it in the morning and just pour out the blood and reinsert it through the day.  You don’t have to carry anything around with you.  They are easy to use, easy to wash and will save you lots of money as you only need to purchase one and they last for years.  I use the Diva Cup, but there are many others on the market.  I found the Menstrual Cups Australia Online website that compares and sells all the major brands of cups.

Now you have some solutions to making your period more comfortable, healthier and better for the environment. Win for you and the world!

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Healthy Chocolate Avocado Pudding

Pudding in bowls with fruit

This recipe is certainly a family favourite.  I had to fight off little hands in order to take pictures for this post! This is a different kind of chocolate pudding in that it tastes amazing while being loaded with healthy ingredients.  It is also very easy to make, just blend all the ingredients together. We like to mix in some fresh fruit just before eating, but you can also just eat it plain.  If you have any leftover it also freezes well, although I rarely get any into my freezer!

Pudding ingredients

So why is this pudding so healthy? The ingredients are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, good fats and fibre.  How could you go wrong?

Avocados are a great source of healthy fat and fibre.  Read my other articles to learn more about what fats are and the truth about fats and why they are an important part of your diet. They also contain vitamin C, E, K, B6, folate, magnesium and potassium. Don’t shy away from an avocado, they are great for your health.

Cacao powder is considered a ‘super food’ in the media.  It differs from cocoa in that it hasn’t been roasted.  This retains its natural vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content as well as being a good source of protein, chromium, potassium and magnesium. Watch out for cheap cacao powder though.  I once bought a cheap version and it tasted awful.

Cinnamon is a super tasty way to add a bit more healthiness into your pudding.  It can help lower resting blood sugar, it contains lots of antioxidants, has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and it may even improve your memory (I think;)

I know many of my readers are in Australia, so you may not understand the beauty that is maple syrup, but trust me there is no substitute.  You need to get 100% pure Canadian maple syrup, not a sugar knock off.  While maple syrup does still contain glucose and fructose, it is much lower than regular sugar and has a lower glycemic index.  It is also high in antioxidants, riboflavin, zinc, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Oh and did I mention it tastes fantastic!

We have all heard that bananas contain lots of potassium, but did you know they also contain calcium, manganese, magnesium, iron, folate, niacin, riboflavin and B6? Now enough of this explanation as to why this pudding is so healthy, lets make it!

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Ingredients

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 tablespoons cacao powder
  • 5 tablespoons real maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Put all the ingredients in your blender.
  2. Blend all the ingredients until smooth.
  3. Enjoy!

I have a Vitamix.  I would suggest using either a Vitamix, Thermomix, or Kitchenaid processor to ensure you get a smooth texture.

Pudding 2

 

 

 

What to do with all this plastic?

Plastic Ocean diagram

Last week I talked about how big a problem we have with plastic.  Now that you have spent the week looking around and realising how much plastic we have in our lives, I will discuss some of the simple changes you can achieve that will make a big difference in the world, and your health. First though, I wanted to mention what inspired me to write these articles about plastic.

I have a friend and colleague who undertook a plastic free March challenge.  Her and her husband and 3 young children tried not to bring anything plastic into their home or use any disposable plastic for the whole month.  She posted about their successes and struggles throughout the month.  It was great to see such an encouraging conversation get started with so many people interested in reducing their plastic use.  Although I have known that plastic is an issue, her challenge and the ensuing conversations made me so much more aware of some of the things I buy and has inspired me to try to reduce the amount of plastic I use.  You can check out her website if you would like to read more about some of the lessons she learned from their challenge.

I mentioned the 6Rs last week. Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.  First, we as a society need to Rethink our plastic and other garbage use.  Do bananas really need to be wrapped in plastic at the grocery store? Are there better ways to make certain products?  Does water need to come in a tiny plastic bottle? Do we need so much stuff? We need to start by questioning the way we currently do things.

Next we need to Refuse.  Refuse to buy things that you don’t need.  Everything produces waste.  I recently learned that each individual piece of clothing at the department store comes wrapped in plastic that a worker then takes off to hang the article on the rack.  Do you really need the $5 t-shirt?  Maybe you do, and that’s ok.  But I just want you to take a moment to think before you buy.

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There are many steps you can take to Reduce and Reuse. Start with taking your own plastic shopping bags. Most of the plastic found in the ocean is broken up single-use plastic bags. Coles and Woolworths (grocery stores in Australia) have already pledged to remove single-use plastic shopping bags from stores. They will both be selling reusable plastic bags for those who forget their own.  Most grocery stores in Canada charge you to use single-use plastic bags. But what about the plastic produce bags? These are even difficult to reuse for much. Although they can be recycled in Australia at a redcycle bin, the best idea is to bring your own reusable one.  I own the onya produce bags and they are fantastic. The other big thing to remember is to bring your reusable shopping bags with you to the shopping centre when you are buying clothes or gifts.  I really like envirosax bags because they roll up and fit in my purse easily.  I also keep one in the car for unscheduled shopping trips.

Take a reusable drink bottle with you … everywhere. Bundanoon was the first town in the world to ban the sale of single-use water bottles, with other cities and universities following.  San Francisco has banned the sale of water bottles on city property. Most popular areas have filtered drinking water stations for filling up your bottle. My mother recently made fun of me asking how many water bottles does one family need.  Well, we are 5 people now and we take them with us everywhere we go so sometimes they get temporarily misplaced.  Having a few extras around is helpful. Reusable water bottles come in all shapes and sizes these days so there is no excuse not to have one or three.

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Use reusable straws. Plastic drinking straws also make up a lot of the plastic found in landfill and the ocean.  There are many options for reusable ones.  I like silicone ones as they don’t break, are easy to clean, and feel the most like a plastic straw with the added benefit that they go back to shape after being bitten by small teeth.  You can also buy glass, metal and bamboo straws. I even saw pasta straws the other day!  If your kids love straws, take a couple in your handbag when you head out to dinner so you don’t have to use the plastic single-use straws at the restaurant.

Do you work in an office and get takeaway? Take your own container with you to bring back to the office. This is becoming more common with some restaurant offering a discount if you bring your own container.

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Buy in bulk. Find your local bulk store and head there with your reusable bags.  Many products can be bought online in bulk and delivered to your door.

Other ways that you can Reuse is to wash plastic party plates.  They are advertised as being disposable, but that’s definitely not good for landfill.  I bought a stack for a party years ago and just toss them in the dishwasher when we’re done. If you use ziplock bags, make sure you wash them when you are done and reuse them.  This is such a common practise you can even buy dryer stands on Amazon.

Recycling is still important.  Make sure you rinse your plastic before putting it into the recycling bin.  And as mentioned, any soft plastic can go into a redcycle bin. Equally as important though is buying recycled products.  I mentioned last week that Replas is a company the recycles soft plastic. The concept of recycling only works if people buy the recycled products. Also remember to buy recycled printer cartridges, batteries and paper.  We also need to encourage local councils to put recycling bins in all our local parks and public spaces.

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The last R is for Rot. Any food scraps should be composted.  There are many composting options these days including ones that will fit on apartment balconies. Sutherland Council offers free workshops on composting, worm farming and Bokashi. Toronto, Canada picks up your compost from the curb like garbage. This is great because large scale composting can breakdown almost everything including meat and diapers, which don’t break down in backyard compost bins.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of plastic in our lives.  Just start small with one or two of these suggestions. If we all do a little bit, it will make a big difference.  For more inspiration on how to decrease your use of plastic, you can read my article about having a plastic-free period, check out the film The Clean Bin Project or join a Facebook group such as A Survival Guide for the Plastic World. If you have any ideas you would like to share, please comment on this article.

We have a problem with plastic … and it is BIG!

Plastic bottles in lake

Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic enters our oceans.  Most of this comes from debris on our streets, beaches and highways that float down storm drains.  This consists of plastic bags, bottles, straws, balloons and food wrappers as well as fishing gear and nets.  Some of this plastic washes up on our beaches while some of it gets consumed by marine life or fed to their offspring.  Over 100 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic in the ocean. Sea turtles commonly eat plastic bags and other items causing blockages in their guts, ulceration, perforation and death.  When seabirds eat plastic it remains in their stomach causing them to eat less actual food and slowly starve.

Platic bag under water

The plastic that doesn’t get eaten or washed up on the beach stays in the ocean where it collects and slowly starts to break down into microplastics (less than 5mm diameter). There is currently a mass in the Pacific Ocean of plastic 3 times the size of France, or over 2500 km, often called the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’.  There is also another similar one called the ‘North Atlantic Garbage Patch’.  This is not a big pile of plastic bottles and straws that we can take pictures of from space or easily cleanup. It is spread out more like garbage soup with small bits of plastic floating just under the surface.

But how does this effect my health you ask.  As plastic breaks down, chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) leach into the water.  Plastics also absorb chemicals such as PCBs and DDT from the surrounding water.  The concentration of PCBs in plastic in the ocean has been found to be up to 1 million times higher than the surrounding water.  Aquatic organisms that live near the surface consume these microplastics and chemicals.  These chemicals bioaccumulate, meaning the concentration grows the more the fish eats.  Then a bigger fish eats them (along with many of their chemical saturated friends) and the chemical concentration just continues to grow.  We then consume these fish, chemicals and all. PCBs from fish consumption can cause circulatory, nervous, immune, endocrine and digestive system problems.  A study in California found a quarter of the fish at markets contained plastic in their guts. This is a BIG problem, and it is only getting bigger.

Gone are the days when you could feel good about yourself for recycling.  China used to take most of the world’s recycling, but they are now refusing all but the cleanest recycling from countries.  This is leaving Australia with a million tons of metal, paper and plastic that it would have sent to China, but now has to deal with on home soil. Some councils have already put some recycling into landfill. Canada also used to export most of its recycling to China with some cities there now saying that recyclables may end up in the dump as well. Others are trying to meet the new purity standards set by China, which includes no glass mixed with plastic, and no food stains on paper.  This will mean that only the cleanest recyclables will be sent to China, and the remaining will be sent to landfill.

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There are some local Australian recycling companies.  Replas takes the soft plastic recycling from the REDcycle program and turns it into over 200 products including bollards, signage, outdoor furniture, decking and more.  Don’t feel so good about returning your plastic shopping bags to your local grocery store just yet.  The only thing that makes this a viable option, is if people buy the recycled products they make.

 

Although plastic slowly breaks down, it will never go away.  The EPA (USA) says that every bit of plastic ever made still exists. We can’t keep going like this, we need to use less plastic!

So now you know about the problem – plastic isn’t going away and we can’t rely on recycling all of it. In my next article I’ll discuss some steps that you can take to make a difference by using the 6 Rs (yes six!) – Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. You can also read about how to have a plastic-free period.  I hear you thinking – just one of us reducing our plastic isn’t going to change anything, but if we all do our best, we can make a big difference.

Are You Being Preserved?

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In my previous article on the advantages of organic food, I focused on the health risks involved with pesticides.  In order to be organic, foods must also be free of chemical preservatives.

Many foods are prepackaged and need to be able to sit on the grocery store shelf for long periods of time.  This has led to manufacturers using preservatives to keep the food from going off before the consumer buys the product.  Some natural preservatives include sugar, salt, vinegar, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), freezing and pasteurizing (heat treating).  Others are not so natural and may be detrimental to your health.

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The recent health trend to help reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) has been to cut down on eating saturated fats and cholesterol by decreasing the intake of red meat.  This has led people to increase their intake of ‘low fat’ processed meats.  A study published in 2013 in the journal BMC Medicine found that there was no link between unprocessed red meat and CVD.  Eating processed meats on the other hand increases your risk of CVD by 30% and increases your risk of cancer, in particular colon cancer.  This includes bacon, devon, ham, bologna, salami, lunch meats, hot dogs and sausages.  This increased risk is due to the high sodium and preservative content.

A study from the US published in 2013 found that kids who drank more soft drinks were more likely to have asthma regardless of their weight.  They only looked at kids who drank regular soft drink so they were not consuming artificial sweeteners.  The authors speculate this is most likely due to the preservatives. So just because you exercise and burn off the calories, soft drinks still have detrimental effects on your health.

Preservative 211 Sodium Benzoate

Certain preservatives have been found to have a wide range of side effects.  Sodium sulfite (221) and sorbic acid (200) suppress immune cells.  Sodium nitrate (251) and sodium benzoate (211) alter DNA, which is how many cancers begin.  Sodium sulfite and sodium benzoate decrease the hormone leptin. Leptin levels falling are a trigger for us to eat. Consumption of these preservatives can lead to overeating which leads to weight gain. Sodium benzoate and artificial food colourings are linked to hyperactivity in children.  Sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate (212) when combined with ascorbic acid (found in juice) creates benzene, which is a known carcinogen.  Benzoates are slowly being phased out but they are still in circulation so you need to watch out for them.

Sodium metabisulphite (223) has become more popular as a preservative because it actually kills food contaminants as opposed to the others, which just inhibit the growth.  It is used to sterilize equipment for wine and beer brewing.  It is used during processing and is present at levels lethal to bacteria when we consume the products that contain it.  As I have mentioned in previous articles, having healthy gut bacteria is important to our overall health status. Consuming foods that contain lethal levels of preservatives is going to put your gut bacteria out of balance potentially causing illness.

In Australia, as in many other countries, if an ingredient is at a concentration of less than 10 parts per million (ppm) it does not have to be declared on the label. This is in spite of the fact that 10ppm is an effective level for killing bacteria. This has led some companies to advertise their products as ‘preservative free’ despite containing preservatives. Also, artificial colours and flavours are loaded with preservatives. If you see these on a label you know the product contains some sort of preservative.

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Although it is important to keep microbes off our food, the best thing is to eat it fresh so you don’t need to eat any chemicals. If you do eat preserved food, make sure you check the labels carefully.  If you have any questions, talk to your local naturopath.

Is Eating Organic Worth It?

Laughing kids eating apple

There is an ongoing debate about whether organic foods are really better for you than conventionally grown foods.  As it is more expensive, it is important to know whether it is worth the money or not.

For a product to become certified organic it must pass several criteria including being free from synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, antibiotics and food additives.   These products are then labeled with the logo of the certifying body.  These organizations include the USDA, Australian Certified Organic, Canada Organic, or EU Organic Farming.  Some products aim to deceive by putting the word organic in their name, but this does not necessarily mean it is organic.  In Australia, several ‘organic water’ bottlers have been forced to remove the word organic from their name.  Water cannot be organic or otherwise.  Also, organic does not necessarily mean it is free from genetic modification, but these often go together.

Pesticides are made to kill bugs on plants. Although they are allowed in low amounts on food, it only makes sense that if they can kill big bugs, that they could kill the small bugs in your gut.  Dr. Mark Donohoe is a GP in Sydney who previously thought there was no reason to eat organic, has recently discovered that pesticides can have a big effect on your normal gut bacteria. Good gut bacteria are needed to keep the bad bacteria at bay.  An overgrowth of bad gut bacteria has been connected to everything from IBS and headaches, to arthritis and weight gain.  With almost every health complaint, I start by making sure a patient’s gut is functioning properly.  To learn more about the importance of your gut bacteria, read my article 10% Human.

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It is still unknown the extent of the health problems that could be caused by pesticides but it is hard to believe they can kill bugs without affecting us.  The use of neonicotinoid insecticides has been banned in the EU due to its effects on bee health.  Beekeepers in Australia are calling for a ban on them too.

A study published in 2013 found that fruit flies fed organic produce had greater fertility and lived longer. These flies were also more active and showed more resistance to stress.  Another study published in 2015 found that tomatoes that were grown organically were subjected to more stress. This stress caused them to be smaller, but higher in vitamin C and phenols.  Phenols can act as antioxidants that may help lower cholesterol.

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Several studies have shown the effects pesticides can have on our health. Organophosphates have been banned in Europe and restricted in the US but are still widely used in Australia. These pesticides are linked to reduced IQ, weight gain, Type II diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Children under 7 years old do not have the enzyme required to excrete these chemicals from their little bodies so it just builds up. It impairs the development of the prefrontal cortex in the brain decreasing cognitive skills and short term memory.  Children with higher levels of metabolites in their urine are more likely to develop ADHD as well as asthma.

A mother’s exposure to dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), a breakdown product of DDT, during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of asthma and wheezing in young children. Children with higher levels in their blood are also more likely to have asthma. Exposure to permethrin, an insecticide commonly used to kills lice and often used on cotton, corn, wheat and alfalfa, is also associated with a higher risk of wheezing and asthma.

A 2012 study found a higher risk of being exposed to antibiotic resistant bacteria after eating conventional chicken or pork as well as higher concentrations of pesticides in the urine of children eating conventionally grown foods.

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Lowering your pesticide concentration isn’t hard.  It can take as little as 2 weeks of eating organic food to lower the levels of many of these chemicals in your body.  Check out this video about a family who ate only organic food for 2 weeks.

To keep the cost of buying organic down, you can pick and choose some foods to buy organic and other conventional. Pesticides bioaccumulate in animals so eating organic meat and dairy is the most important first step. In Australia the foods with the highest pesticide residues are, in order, apples, wheat, strawberries, pears, grapes, lettuce, nectarines and peaches.  If you eat apples every day, but only have pears once in awhile, then you want to buy organic apples but could let the pears slide.  The foods with the lowest pesticide residues are onions, sweet corn, pineapple, asparagus, sweet peas, mango, eggplant, kiwi and cabbage. These foods are safer to eat conventional. Buying seasonal, local food is also cheaper.  When you do buy conventional produce, make sure that you wash it well.  Studies have found that washing with baking soda gets off the most pesticide residue but you can also use a 10% salt solution.  Here are some instructions for washing your fruits and vegetables. Remember though, just because it is organic, doesn’t mean it is good for you. Organic sugar is still sugar!

If you have any questions about organic produce, talk to your local naturopath.  Next week I’ll talk about the preservatives found in many processed foods and why you need to avoid them for your health.

 

Healthy Travel

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Many of us travel from time to time for business or pleasure. No matter where you are going, you don’t want to arrive sick. This can be especially problematic during plane travel as everyone is in a small space with limited air circulation. Here are a few suggestions that can help keep you healthy and rested during flights. I like to keep everything all in a small case that fits in the seat pocket so I can access them at all times.

Vitamin C is great for helping your immune system to function properly. You can take 1 gram every 2 hours while you are flying then take 2-3 grams/day while you are away. If you feel like you are getting sick while away, increase this to 5-6 grams per day. If you get loose stools, decease the dose. Saccharomyces boulardii is a specific strain of probiotic that is great for helping diarrhoea. It doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge so it is easy to travel with. If you have symptoms, take up to 2 capsules, 2x/day. Flying can be stressful not matter what your circumstances and stress does a number on the immune system. Rescue Remedy can be calming as well as help stave off headaches or colds.

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Bring your own water bottle. The occasional small glass of water is not enough, especially for long fights. The air on planes is dry, so you need to drink more than usual. If you are on a flight that is more than a couple hours, take electrolyte tablets with you as plane (get it, plane) water just won’t cut it.  This is especially important if you ever get headaches on the plane.  These are my favourite as they are low in sugar – https://nuunlife.com (I have no affiliation with them, just really like the product). I put half a tablet in the little plastic cups you get on the plane.

A saline nasal spray can also be helpful in such a dry environment. Bugs love dry nasal passages. Keep them moist to ward off getting sick and also to prevent cracking and bleeding. Thyme oil is also great at killing bugs. Put a few drops on a cloth and breathe deeply.

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If you are traveling a long distance it is important to sleep on the plane and adjust to the time change easily. Melatonin can be helpful for this. It occurs naturally in your body to maintain your circadian rhythm, but if you don’t sleep properly your body won’t make enough. Take 1-2 mg as you try to sleep on the plane, and then when you go to bed at your destination. Keep taking each night until you get a good night’s sleep. This can be taken in conjunction with some prescription sleep medication to improve the quality of sleep, but please talk to a naturopath before doing this. It is also helpful to take an eye mask. Bodies like to sleep in the dark, so your sleep will be much better if you wear an eye mask.

Last but certainly not least, exercise! The longer the flight the more important it is. You aren’t expected to stick to your regular fitness routine on a plane, but you want to get up every 1-2 hours to keep your blood circulating and prevent clots. If you can’t get up because the person next to you is sound asleep, you can still keep your blood moving – flex your muscles, starting at your toes and working your way up to your buttocks. Do this 10-15 times every hour to keep your blood moving.

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Here are a few non-health related suggestions from a veteran traveler:

  • Give a photocopy of your ticket and passport to a friend or family member staying at home. You can also scan them both and email them to yourself so that you can get a copy anywhere you go.
  • Arrive early and ask about the seating. If flying economy, the best seats are usually the ones either right behind business class or by the emergency exits as they have more leg room and can sometimes get up without disturbing the person beside you. These are sometimes saved until the day of the flight. Ask at the gate if you can change to a better seat.
  • Put all your carry-on luggage in a small rolling suitcase or a comfortable backpack as you will have to walk far through the airport.
  • Wear comfortable clothes. Even if you have to go to a meeting at the other end, it is nicer to travel in something comfortable, and then you can change either on the plane or before you get your luggage.
  • Take a toothbrush and toothpaste to brush your teeth on the plane
  • Always pack a spare pair of undies and a shirt in your carry-on.  You never know if your luggage will be arriving with you.

If you have any questions about travel, talk to your local naturopath.  Happy travels!