Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can kill viruses and bacteria and prevent the spread of illness, especially at playgrounds, mall food courts and other places where you may not have easy access to soap and water. And there's no doubt that pressing on your wrist takes slightly less effort than pulling a bottle of sanitizer out of your pocket or purse. But before you buy Pure-Go for yourself or someone on your shopping list, ask yourself: How convenient does sanitizer really need to be?
Frankincense and myrrh
According to the Bible, frankincense and myrrh were two of the hot gift ideas for the first Christmas. Although the aromatic tree resins have since been eclipsed by gift cards and gaming systems, you can still buy them at health food stores or online.
For thousands of years, wise men and others have prized frankincense and myrrh for their earthy, spicy fragrances. To see what the fuss was about, consider buying vials of essential oils made from the resins. Expect to pay about $10 for 5 milliliters of either. Mix a little oil with a bath or pour it into an aromatherapy nebulizer, and you'll instantly re-create the scents of the manger scene -- at least the pleasant parts.
Both resins may also have some medicinal benefits. Myrrh -- sometimes added to mouthwashes and toothpastes -- can kill bacteria and also seems to ease inflammation. Websites selling myrrh recommend putting a small amount of essential oil on mouth sores, but there's no good evidence that this works. Test-tube studies suggest that frankincense also has some anti-inflammatory powers, and a small study found that a product combining the resin with three other herbs (ginger, turmeric and ashwagandha) seemed to relieve osteoarthritis pain.
Overall, though, it seems that frankincense and myrrh have more to offer the nose than any other part of the body.
Health by Chocolate
Devotees of chocolate have already heard the good news: The antioxidant flavonoids and other nutrients in dark chocolate can actually be good for you. For example, a 2004 Finnish study found that eating 75 grams of dark chocolate daily boosted HDL, or "good," cholesterol, by more than 10%. Other studies suggest dark chocolate can relax blood vessels and discourage blood clots.
It was only a matter of time before chocolate migrated from the candy aisle to the world of health products. And perhaps no product has made that move more explicitly than Health by Chocolate, sold at health food stores, upscale grocers and over the Internet. Shopping online, you can buy a 24-pack of 1.75-ounce bars for a little less than $90, or nearly $3.75 per bar.
Health by Chocolate makes claims that go beyond the heart. One variety -- the Instant Bliss Beauty Bar -- is touted as "the most delicious way to give yourself soft, smooth, luxurious looking skin." It's not a completely far-fetched claim: A small study recently published in the Journal of Nutrition found that drinking flavonoid-rich cocoa powder every day for three months improved circulation to the skin, leaving it thicker and better hydrated.
The Beautiful Bones bar promises to "give much-needed support to your beautiful bones," an offer that's bolstered by extra calcium and vitamin D.
Any dark chocolate bar made with real cocoa is likely to offer health benefits, as long as you don't eat enough to blow your calorie budget. (Milk chocolate has fewer flavonoids and more calories.) In comparing brands, the real issue is taste. And for that, shoppers might prefer bars with a richer, more decadent flavor.
Tanita Ironman Body Composition Monitor
If you're planning to give someone a scale for the holidays, you've already shown a willingness to take risks. (Certain people would see a gift-wrapped scale as an invitation for violence.) But some gambles are doomed from the start.
Consider the Tanita Ironman Body Composition Monitor, sold for about $130. One of the scale's main selling points is that it purportedly measures levels of visceral fat, the kind that builds up around the intestines and other organs. Experts believe that visceral fat can throw off a person's metabolism, greatly increasing the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Unfortunately, no bathroom scale can accurately measure visceral fat, says Kenneth Ellis, principal investigator of the Body Composition Laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "It really surprises me that they are claiming to do it," he says. Instead, scales such as the Ironman can make only a rough estimate based on a person's weight and the ease with which a small jolt of electricity runs through the body. (Electricity moves easily through lean tissue, but lots of fat will make for a sluggish signal.)