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Ayurveda

Which means “the science of life,” originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. It’s the medical system from which yoga, massage, and meditation spring. Ayurveda offers its own system of herbal medicine to preserve health as well as treat disease. Currently there’s no certification or licensing process for Ayurvedic physicians in this country, although professional organizations, such as the National Ayurvedic Medical Association are developing licensing requirements. Make sure to ask about a practitioner’s training and experience. (www.ayurveda-nama.org)

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Bamboo

Bamboo regenerates and grows prolifically without the use of pesticides or extensive agricultural tending. Some varieties grow several inches to several feet a day. After the stalks are cut, many bamboo root systems send up new shoots to replenish growth without being replanted. Bamboo cultivation gets high eco-friendly marks: It improves soil quality, shores up erosion, and sequesters carbon out of the atmosphere at an impressive rate. Bamboo fabric is lusciously soft and supple yet strong. (The trade-off: Making stiff bamboo stalks into silky fiber can require a lot of harsh chemical solvents. Newer processing technologies, such as the Lyocell process, dissolve pulp using less toxic and nontoxic chemicals in a closed-loop system that captures and recycles the chemicals to be efficiently used again and again.)

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Biodegradable

Products deemed biodegradable must break down into elements found in nature within a reasonable amount of time. Supposedly, there must be competent and reliable scientific evidence to back up the claim and prove a substance will decompose in a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal, though that period of time is not legally defined. While it’s illegal to misrepresent a product as being biodegradable, there’s no substantial regulation. Look for products that provide information, specifics, and qualification to back up biodegradable claims, including full disclosure of plant- and mineral based ingredients.

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Calcium

Keeps bones strong. Calcium helps build and maintain the strength of your bones and teeth and is vital for muscle contraction, blood vessel contraction and expansion, hormone and enzyme secretion, and for sending messages through the nervous system. If you don’t eat calcium-rich foods such as dairy products, dark leafy greens, or beans, and if you don’t take calcium supplements, your body will compensate by pulling what it needs from your bones. Don’t rely on getting your calcium from a multivitamin. If you’re not getting enough from your diet, take a separate calcium supplement that also contains vitamin D, such as True Organics Calcium.

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Certified organic

You probably have a good idea of what the US Department of Agriculture organic label means when you see it on fruits, vegetables, and grains. “Organic” essentially means the same thing on textiles, with one main caveat—how the fiber is processed. On the farm itself plants are grown without toxic and persistent pesticides or fertilizers. Farmers employ natural, biological methods to control pests. Keeping soils productive by managing compost and rotating crops is also key to organic production. Genetically modified organisms and ionizing irradiation are prohibited in organic production. Once organic fibers leave the farm and are processed into textiles, however, there are no further restrictions. To avoid harsh processing chemicals, determine if the manufacturer discloses the processing chemicals; if not, request that information.

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Chlorine free

Chlorine-free products don’t contain chlorine, period. Chlorine is not green. It is a severe irritant and corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs. It’s dangerous to breathe and touch and is acutely toxic to aquatic life. Oxygen bleach and enzymatic ingredients offer the same disinfecting and whitening properties as chlorine without the human and ecological hazards.

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Energy Star

Trying to figure out the actual operating costs of an appliance or electronics device can be a knotty task for the average consumer. Luckily, one handy label makes it easier. The blue-and-white Energy Star label instantly conveys that an appliance is 10 to 50 percent more efficient than standard models, depending on the class of device. The label was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE).More than 18,000 products in 35 different categories qualify for this label by meeting efficiency standards and providing solid performance at a reasonable price. A home fully equipped with Energy Star products will use about 30 percent less energy than standard houses, saving an average of $600 a year. Actually, entire homes can be Energy Star certified. (www.energystar.gov)

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Fair-trade certified

More textiles are being labeled “recycled,” which means the same thing as it does on paper or plastic products. Today you can find textiles in home furnishings and apparel that are made from recycled plastic and recycled cotton. The more recycled content, the better. The claim is a voluntary one that’s not independently certified.

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Folate

Guard against anemia. Folate, a B vitamin, helps produce and maintain new cells and prevents changes to DNA that could lead to cancer. Both adults and children need folate to make normal red blood cells and prevent anemia. Folate occurs naturally in foods; its synthetic form is folic acid. Pregnant women should take 600 mg a day to lessen the chances of having a baby born with spina bifida or anencephaly.

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Green cotton

Labeling cotton “green” implies that the cotton was grown conventionally but wasn’t treated with bleach, dyes, or formaldehyde. Since no independent agency certifies this claim, it’s only the manufacturer’s word.

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Green Seal

Green Seal maintains a system of rigorous, independent certification that takes into account many variables. Heating and cooling units can qualify, as can paper, paints, adhesives, household and industrial cleaners, windows, and more. (202-872-6400; www.greenseal.org)

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Hemp

Hemp grows like a weed. It’s sustainable and highly renewable, and it grows more easily than cotton in less-than-ideal conditions without the use of pesticides. Hemp can produce two to three times more fiber per acre than cotton. Hemp is absorbent, extremely durable, and versatile—it blends beautifully with other natural fibers and can be as soft as soft cotton, as sturdy as denim, and as flowing as linen. (The trade-off: The stigma of hemp, due to its drug-related cousin marijuana and the early burlap-sack eco-designs, have made it an often overlooked fiber for fine clothing, though that’s changing. Like linen, hemp needs to be ironed for a smooth appearance, and it does wrinkle.)

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Ingeo (corn fiber)

Made from corn, Ingeo is one of the few truly renewable synthetic materials. It’s 100 percent biodegradable. Ingeo combines the comfort and feel of a natural fiber with the specialty performance of synthetics: It’s extremely strong, resilient, and dimensionally stable. (The trade-off: Since Ingeo is made from corn, it may contain genetically modified organisms, because most corn does.)

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Licensed naturopaths (NDs)

Are physicians who graduate from a 4-year graduate-level naturopathic medical school. They study the same basic sciences as MDs, but they also learn holistic and nontoxic approaches to therapy, with a strong emphasis on promoting wellness and preventing disease. In addition to meeting the standard medical curriculum, a naturopathic physician is required to complete 4 years of training in clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, psychology, and counseling (to encourage people to make lifestyle changes to improve health), after which he or she takes rigorous professional board exams so that he or she may be licensed by a state or jurisdiction as a primary care general practice physician. Naturopaths are currently licensed to practice in 16 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Visit naturopath.org for more information and to find an ND near you.

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Magnesium

Manage chronic conditions. This mineral helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, steadies heart rhythm, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong. It may also help people manage chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. The independent laboratory ConsumerLab.com investigated magnesium supplements and found two with high lead levels. Whole Foods brand passed that evaluation.

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Natural fragrances

Phosphates have long been used in laundry and dish detergents as water-softening agents (to keep detergents from leaving scum all over everything) and for deflocculating action (to keep dirt and grime from settling back during washing). Though phosphates are cheap ingredients that do make detergents work better, they’re on the ecological no-no list because they wreak havoc in water ecosystems, causing algae blooms, suffocating fish and aquatic life, and throwing everything wickedly out of whack on a large scale. The good news is that even major laundry detergent manufacturers are phasing out phosphates, thanks in part to governmental efforts to restrict and ban them altogether. The bad news is that some of those manufacturers are opting for petro-based synthetic phosphate substitutes, which cause a different set of eco-hazards. Phosphates are still prevalent in conventional automatic dishwasher detergents. Look for natural laundry and dish detergents that are phosphate free.

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Number 1 Plastic (PETE)

PETE is the most common, used for soda and water bottles, vinegar bottles, and medicine containers, among many other things. It’s recyclable everywhere.

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Number 2 Plastic (HDPE)

HDPE is used for laundry and dish detergent, fabric softeners, bleach, milk, shampoo, conditioner, motor oil, and some toys. It’s generally recyclable.

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Number 3 Plastic (V, for polyvinyl chloride) is

Used for pipes, shower curtains, cooking oil bottles, clear medical tubing, coffee containers, and seat covers. It is generally not recyclable.

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Number 4 Plastic (LDPE)

LDPE is filmy polyethylene plastics such as wrap and plastic grocery and sandwich bags. It is generally recyclable

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Number 5 Plastic (PP)

Polypropylene is not recyclable, and it’s found in Tupperware, yogurt tubs, diapers, outdoor carpet, and syrup bottles.

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Number 6 (polystyrene)

Polystyrene isn’t recyclable, which is unfortunate because billions of coffee cups are made from it, as well as both clear and colored disposable cups and cutlery, plus Styrofoam insulation and packing peanuts.

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Number 7 Plastic (”other”)

N is a grab bag of uncommon plastics, some made from a combination of numbers 1 through 6. If there’s no symbol on the container, you should probably assume it’s made of multiple plastics and not recyclable.

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Organic Cotton

Certified organic cotton is grown without chemical pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizers. It supports a healthy ecosystem, improves soil quality, often uses less water than conventional cotton, and won’t contaminate water with toxic chemicals. Organic cotton is often very high quality. Cotton is extremely versatile, breathable, durable, and delectably soft. (The trade-off: Organic cotton can have a longer growth cycle, require more skill to grow, and cost more to produce than conventional cotton. Therefore it’s often more expensive. Be aware that some companies use organic cotton only in part or uncertified cotton and still make the claim to green fame. Not all organic cotton is dyed or bleached naturally, so look for companies with transparent practices whenever possible.)

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Phosphate free

Phosphates have long been used in laundry and dish detergents as water-softening agents (to keep detergents from leaving scum all over everything) and for deflocculating action (to keep dirt and grime from settling back during washing). Though phosphates are cheap ingredients that do make detergents work better, they’re on the ecological no-no list because they wreak havoc in water ecosystems, causing algae blooms, suffocating fish and aquatic life, and throwing everything wickedly out of whack on a large scale. The good news is that even major laundry detergent manufacturers are phasing out phosphates, thanks in part to governmental efforts to restrict and ban them altogether. The bad news is that some of those manufacturers are opting for petro-based synthetic phosphate substitutes, which cause a different set of eco-hazards. Phosphates are still prevalent in conventional automatic dishwasher detergents. Look for natural laundry and dish detergents that are phosphate free.

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Plant-based and mineral-based ingredients

Products deemed biodegradable must break down into elements found in nature within a reasonable amount of time. Supposedly, there must be competent and reliable scientific evidence to back up the claim and prove a substance will decompose in a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal, though that period of time is not legally defined. While it’s illegal to misrepresent a product as being biodegradable, there’s no substantial regulation. Look for products that provide information, specifics, and qualification to back up biodegradable claims, including full disclosure of plant- and mineral based ingredients.

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Recycled fiber

More textiles are being labeled “recycled,” which means the same thing as it does on paper or plastic products. Today you can find textiles in home furnishings and apparel that are made from recycled plastic and recycled cotton. The more recycled content, the better. The claim is a voluntary one that’s not independently certified.

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Solvent free and nontoxic solvents

Chemical solvents are usually used in heavy-duty cleaning. They effectively cut grime, dirt, oil, and soil. But they are also harmful to lung tissue, skin, and human organs, and they are dangerous to touch or breathe. Petrochemical solvents (such as glycol ethers, 2-butoxyethanol, and ethanolamines) aren’t biodegradable, period. Nonbiodegradable chemical solvents contaminate distant rivers, lakes, and streams and build up in and contaminate our homes. There is a bevy of solvent-free, nontoxic household cleaning products capable of heavy-duty action without the harmful hazards posed by chemical solvents. Look for solvent-free cleaners and those that call on the strength of plant based solvents.

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Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)

An ancient healing system, has a distinctly different philosophy based on the Taoist concept of balance, yin and yang. Practitioners believe that imbalanced yin and yang lead to the blockage and stagnation of qi (pronounced “chi”), the body’s invisible life force, which runs throughout the body on invisible pathways known as meridians. TCM practitioners use acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, food therapy, and other techniques to restore balance. Learn more and find licensed practitioners at aaaomonline.org.

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Transitional fiber

This label is a general claim that fibers are grown using organic practices, but grown on land used for conventional (nonorganic) production less than 3 years ago. The US Department of Agriculture says any land that’s being converted from conventional to organic production must undergo a 3-year transition period. But neither the department nor any other entity officially certifies this label. Any type of finishing chemical can be used in processing transitional cotton fibers.

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Vitamin A

Not enough veggies? Unless you have five to nine servings of fresh, organic fruits and veggies every day—especially dark leafy greens and yellow and orange veggies—you may not be getting adequate vitamin A. This vitamin enhances immunity by stimulating the production and activity of white blood cells, keeps epithelial tissues (which line your body’s interior surfaces) healthy, regulates cell growth and division, and prevents night blindness. If your produce consumption is spotty, consider taking a vitamin supplement that contains an organic, whole-foods source of vitamin A (look for the words beta-carotene or mixed carotenoids on the label).Aim for 2,300 international units (iu) per day.

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Vitamin B6

Nerve cell helper. B6 enables normal nervous cell communication. Researchers suspect that vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid may protect you against heart disease and cancer by reducing levels of the amino acid homocysteine. Do not exceed 100 mg a day of vitamin B6; high levels are associated with nerve damage.

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Vitamin B12

Over 50? This helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells and is essential to making DNA. People over 50 often have trouble absorbing enough B12 from food sources, so experts advise boomers and seniors to take a multivitamin that contains B12. In fact, some people diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease actually have a reversible B12 deficiency, according to nutritionists at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

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Vitamin C

Guard against colds. This vitamin helps your body make collagen, the tissue needed for building and maintaining bones, teeth, gums, and blood vessels. A recent review of vitamin C studies shows that 200 mg a day shortens colds by 8 percent in adults and by 13.6 percent in children. Most experts agree that official Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for vitamin C are too low; they suggest adults take 250 mg to 500 mg a day.

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Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin. Research on this vitamin is one of the hottest areas in nutritional science these days. Its ability to preserve strong, healthy bones and prevent rickets in well known, but additional discoveries about vitamin D’s abilities to prevent disease are emerging on what seems like a daily basis. Sunshine helps your body form vitamin D, but people with dark skin, who wear sunscreen, or who live in northern areas (above the line from San Francisco to Philadelphia) may not absorb enough sunlight to make vitamin D, especially in winter. A 1998 study concluded that nearly 60 percent of the people admitted to a Boston hospital were vitamin D deficient. Some leading nutrition experts recommend taking supplements and eating vitamin D fortified foods to get a minimum of 5,000 iu and suggest that the official DRI, 400 iu per day, be revised to reflect recent research.

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Vitamin E

Free-radical shield. This antioxidant protects your cells against free radicals that contribute to the development of heart disease and cancer. Vitamin E also enhances immune function and is a factor in DNA repair. According to vitamin experts, most people don’t get enough vitamin E from their diets. Taking 600 iu every other day helps prevent blood clots; just 33 iu a day may reduce your risk of dying from various chronic diseases by about 50 percent. Listed amounts are for the natural form of vitamin E, d-alpha-tocopherol, the kind experts recommend.

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