Organic vs. Not Organic: Which Wins?

My first trip to the organic grocer was filled with awe, then shock.  The store in my town is tiny, and resplendent with a cast of characters most fitting for nuts and crunch – little makeup, lots of sandals, and an unparalleled passion for produce.  The fruits and vegetables,  rich in color and beautifully displayed, quickly filled my reusable bags. I had enough produce for my family of four to last one week and made my way to the cashier.  And then - yikes – sticker shock set in…never have I paid so much money for so few grocery items!

I am an active participant in the organic movement.  I do not think that organic foods necessarily taste better, but I do believe that foods without chemicals make a difference in our long-term health and the health of our environment.  I am also a realist.  Buying organic can significantly add to a weekly food bill, and for many, is an unaffordable luxury.

So what to do? If there is only one change to your grocery list that you are able to make, it should be this:  buy more produce!  You should eat at least four to five servings of mostly vegetables but also fruits every day.  We know that consumption of diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces your risk of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancer, and many other evils.

Some fruits and vegetables are more likely to have chemical residues than others. With this in mind, you may opt for some organic choices.  The Environmental Working Group has put together a handy list.  The “Dirty Dozen” are 12 foods that have higher levels of pesticide residues and are more safely consumed when organically grown.  This list includes apples, strawberries and grapes.   The “Clean Fifteen” are 15 foods that are less likely to have residues and includes foods such as corn, avocados, and cantaloupe.  You can see the full list here.  Forgot to bring this list to the store?  No worries, you can download a *free* app for your smartphone by searching in your app store for the “Dirty Dozen.”

At your next shopping trip, remember the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.  Burlap bags and Birkenstocks optional.

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Bite Me

Swish. Swash. Splat! Or so I think. As I lift up my hand slowly, carefully, I find no evidence of an insect corpse. I know it will be moments before another buzz in my ear or tickle on my skin. The summer cycle continues…

Ever notice how a mosquito’s bite hurts less than that of a fly? Mosquitos have needle like appendages that dip into your skin and suck. Flies have knife like jaws that slice and cut your skin. Ouch. Both can cause swelling, soreness, redness, and of course, itch.

Biting insects are more than just an itchy annoyance. Mosquitos can transmit serious infections, even in the US, such as the West Nile Virus. This virus can cause fever, joint pains, vomiting, and in serious cases, encephalitis or meningitis. Flies have the potential to transmit foodborne illness as they skitter across your food-filled picnic table. These infections typically cause vomiting and diarrhea, but can lead to more serious illness. Both mosquitos and flies are found all over the globe, and in some countries can cause life-threatening infections.

There are several strategies that you can use to prevent getting these pesky bites.

When Outdoors:
-Insect repellent is recommended for your skin and clothes. DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and the plant-based oil of lemon eucalyptus are all repellents recommended by CDC. You can find more information about insect repellents here. Keep several bottles or packets of the repellent around – in your house, your beach bag, your car, etc.
–Clothing can also make a difference. Long sleeves, long pants, and socks minimize your skin exposure and can reduce but not totally eliminate bites.
–Avoid peak mosquito biting hours. Some mosquitos are particularly active from dusk to dawn.

When Indoors:
–Repair screens
–Consider using air-conditioning
–Consider mosquito netting for beds – these are inexpensive, made out of a gauze type material and do not restrict airflow. They can also be used when camping.

General Prevention:
–Minimize stagnant outdoor water. Drain pool covers, bird baths, flower pots, pet bowls, gutters, etc
–Report dead birds to your local health department. They are can be a sign of West Nile Virus activity

Treatment for most insect bites is simple. Wash the affected area with soap and water. Ice cubes or cold water can be soothing. Topical products, such as those with calamine, can also ease the discomfort. While there are numerous “home-remedies” – anything from vinegar to toothpaste – none have been proven to be any more effective than standard measures. What works best? Patience! Most symptoms go away within a day.
If you have a severe reaction, oozing, pus, or fever, contact your health care provider.

Happy summer and stay safe!

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You’ve Planned…….You’ve Packed…..But Have You Protected Your Health Before Travel?

Today’s blog comes to us from our CWH Nurse Practitioner and avid traveler, Kathy Woods:

You are going on your dream vacation or honeymoon, don’t let poor planning land you in an urgent care away from home or in line for hours waiting for medicine or sick instead of having fun.

Schedule a Pre-travel Health Consultation. 

Ideally, you should see a health care provider at least 4 to 6 weeks before travel, especially for international travel.  This could be with your primary health care provider or infectious disease specialist. Even better, a Travel Health Specialist has the latest information on outbreaks at any ports of call, as well as information about health concerns specific to cruise ships and/or countries around the world.  Passport Health is the largest provider of travel medicine services in the US.  Many infectious disease specialists will also give these vaccinations.  Your local health department is also a resource for vaccine information and administration.

Domestic or International Travel?  How to Stay Healthy According to the Center for Disease Control.

Many travel vaccines may require multiple shots and take time to become fully effective but if you are leaving on a sudden trip a visit to your primary care provider or a travel medicine facility is still valuable.  Some vaccines may give only partial protection, but some is better than none, and your provider can give you good information on ways to stay safe and reduce your risk of illness or injury on your trip.  For detailed information regarding specific destinations check

Unsure of Your Vaccination History?  Titer Testing is for You!

Antibody titer testing measures the body’s immunity to disease.  Titer testing helps determine which vaccines are needed when records are lacking.  Titer tests are available for all individuals at all Passport Health clinic locations or at your primary care provider’s office.

Travelling alone?  Top Safety Tips for Travelers.

Research the destination and local culture.  Pay special attention to weather, health and safety hazards,  food and water and be sure not to wander into unsafe areas.  The CDC website offers destination-specific information about food and water, and visit the State Department’s travel alert list for specific safety hazards for American travelers. Share your itinerary with at least 2 friends or family members, stay connected and keep someone updated to your whereabouts.  Secure valuables and utilize the hotel safe.  Prescription Medications should be in their original containers, and keep several days’ worth in your carry-on bag in case of lost luggage.  Be sure to consider destination climate and temperature guidelines when packing medications.  Consider your health status and pack over the counter medications for diarrhea, constipation motion sickness or the common cold if you think necessary.  Don’t forget travel health supplies such as sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and first aid items.

Bon Voyage!

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Makeup 101: Beauty Product Do’s and Don’ts

Today’s entry is via Dr. Sarah Wistreich, CWH staff physician:

I admit it. I am a beauty product junkie. Ask anyone who knows me well, and they will tell you that I love it all- lotions, shadows, glosses, conditioners. I could spend hours and hours wandering cosmetic stores and be happy. With all the products on the market, there are definitely some things to be aware of while shopping, and also while using your coveted favorite products.


We all love how mascara and eyeliner make us look, but are there things we need to be careful of? Definitely! Here’s how:

  • Although you want to save time on the bus, subway or in the car, resist the temptation! This is a cause of eye injuries. One bump or sudden stop can cause an abrasion to your cornea.
  • Avoid eye products containing kohl. Traditional kohl eye liner was made from grinding a lead based black dye. Heavy metals like lead can be toxic and cause problems with the heart, bones, kidneys and other body systems. Use caution and read the labels.
  • Avoid bacterial contamination. Replace your mascara and liquid liners every three months. Don’t add water if they start becoming dry. You know that “pumping” motion you use to get every last drop out? You are forcing air, which can contain bacteria, into the container.
  • NEVER use hair dyes in eyebrows or lashes. The risk of non eye approved products includes eye damage.  They are only approved for hair. There are approved safe colors for mascara and brow pencils.


Most of us see how gloss or lipstick comes off on cups and glasses, but the average woman absorbs about four pounds of lipstick into her system in her lifetime!

  • Use caution with products with pigment, as some lip products have been shown to contain lead. Lead is a toxic metal that can lead to problems in the heart, bones, kidneys and many other systems when found at toxic levels in the body. The pigments that are used in the coloring of lip products are often regulated for lead, but the product itself may not be.
  • Lips can get cancer too! Make sure your lip product has at least an SPF 15 in it. SPF 30 is even better.


As women, we reserve the right to change our mind. This applies to our hair as well! Although there are many ways to move between blonde and brunette or curly and straight, the key is to do so safely. Tips:

  • Do a patch test on your skin first to make sure that you don’t have an allergic reaction to the product.
  • You may want to go blonder or darker, but don’t leave the product on for longer than instructed.
  • Rinse your scalp well after completion to reduce skin reactions.
  • If you have an asthma history, you can be especially sensitive to products with strong chemical odors. Proceed with caution, and with a rescue inhaler at hand.

Whether you shave, wax, thread, puck or laser, know what to look for from a safety standpoint:

  • Laser treatment can be a permanent form of hair removal, but it has risks. These include blisters, skin discoloration, scarring and redness.
  • Depilatories such as gels, creams and lotions should not be used near the eyes and can cause burns, blisters and rashes.
  • Waxing, sugaring and threading can cause irritation and infection, but overall can be safe. Use caution with the temperature of products to prevent burns with waxing and sugaring.
  • Shaving is most effective when hair is wet and done in one direction. Use a clean razor with a sharp blade.


Packaging can be especially confusing and very often misleading when it comes to beauty products. Remember that “all natural” or “organic” products are not always hypoallergenic  and that the label “dermatologist tested” does not guarantee you will not have a reaction.

There are many websites you can refer to for cosmetic safety, such as the FDA and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. My favorite? The Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. You can find it here: Be conscientious about what products you like and use often and pay attention to common safety issues. The goal is to keep you healthy and looking your very best!

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Walk vs. Run: The Right Exercise

Physical activity is a key component of your healthplan and is the single most often prescribed therapy in my practice.  We know that exercise decreases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis and cancer.  It can lighten depression, improve self esteem and decrease joint pain.  Best of all, you can derive all of these benefits for the cost of a good pair of sneakers – no gym pass needed.  I totally love that!

So what is the best type of exercise – walking or running?  And, to be clear, I am not talking about a walk admiring the flowers – I am talking about an “I’m missing the bus!!” kind of a walk…a walk where you can talk but not sing.  The answer is both – walking and running can give you great health benefits.  The difference is in two key points:

  1. Walking has less injuries and is easier on the joints
  2. Running burns more calories

The best exercise is one that you will stick with and that you enjoy.  You should target 30 minutes on most days of the week.  Super busy and don’t have time for a 30 minute block?  No worries – a 10 minute walk or run counts! 

If you are beginning anew or have joint or other conditions that would limit a run, perhaps walking is best.  If you have been walking successfully and want pick up the pace, perhaps running will be best.  Or, you can mix it up based on how you feel each day. 

Handy tips:

  • -For the walkers among you that want to try to run, consider a free training app for your smartphone, for example, the “couch potato to 5K runner app”
  • - If you are exercising outside be safe with these tips
  • -If you are using a treadmill as part of your routine, consider listening to music.  There is a science behind the beats, and the type of music you listen to helps you maintain your pace.  You can readily find these online.  Some examples are below:
    • Beginner pace walk – 116 beats/minute:   “Smooth” by Santana
    • Brisk pace walk – 120 beats/minute: “I Feel The Earth Move” by Carole KingFast pace walk – 129 beats/minute: “Faithfully” by Journey
    • Power pace walk – 139 beats/minute: “Roxanne” by The Police
    • Running –  160 beats/minute: “I Saw Her Standing There” by The Beatles

The more you move, the more you will want to move. 

Lace Up – Move On – Live Well 

Speak to your healthcare provider  about the right exercise for you.

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