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Dr. Mercola

To Sleep Better, Spend More Time in the Dark

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Recent research1 reveals that you have more than one biological clock in your body. As it turns out, virtually every organ in your body has its own clock or circadian rhythm, and in order to keep them all in sync, you need to keep a regular waking and sleeping schedule that is linked to the rising and setting of the sun.

When your sleep schedule is erratic, a cascade of effects can occur, raising your blood pressure, altering hunger hormones, and disrupting your blood sugar control, for example.

Chronic sleep disruptions also promote metabolic dysfunction that can result in weight gain and type 2 diabetes. It also increases C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker associated with deadly heart attacks.

Basically, the various systems in your body are programmed to perform scheduled tasks at specific times during the 24 hour wake-sleep cycle, and when you consistently act against these clocks, your internal systems start to malfunction.

Shift workers who stay awake all night and sleep during the day are especially at risk.

For example, three years of intermittent night shift work can increase your risk for diabetes by 20 percent, and this risk continues to rise with time. Shift workers also have higher rates of obesity, and a four- to five-fold higher rate of cancer than the average population.

How Light and Darkness Influences Your Health

Ever since the advent of the light bulb, people have become increasingly “darkness deficient” at night, while simultaneously getting too little light during the day, courtesy of working indoors. 

In terms of light intensity, outdoor light is far more intense than indoor light. Light intensity is measured in lux units, and on any given day, the outdoor lux units will be around 100,000 at noon. Indoors, the typical average is somewhere between 100 to 2,000 lux units—about two orders of magnitude less.

The brightness of the light matters, because your pineal gland produces melatonin roughly in approximation to the contrast of bright sun exposure in the day and complete darkness at night.

If you are in relative darkness all day long, it can't appreciate the difference and will not optimize your melatonin production, and that can have some rather significant ramifications for your health.

We now know that a whole host of physiological processes are directed by your endogenous circadian rhythm, which is calibrated to the rising and setting of the sun—provided you’re exposed to natural sunlight and darkness. As explained in the featured article:2

“The light – and the dark – are important signals for the cycle. This circadian rhythm has developed over three billion years as life evolved on Earth in the context of the sun’s day/night cycle. It is built deeply into our genetic makeup.

During the night, in the dark, body temperature drops, metabolism slows, and the hormone melatonin rises dramatically. When the sun comes up in the morning, melatonin has already started falling, and you wake up.

This natural physiological transition into and out of night is of ancient origin, and melatonin is crucial for the process to proceed as it should.

If you were to put someone in a dark cave with no time cues at all, the cycle will last about 24 hours, but not exactly. Without time cues like those from the sun, eventually that person would become out of sync with people outside.”

Aside from lowering body temperature, slowing metabolism, and raising melatonin, your body also undergoes a number of other changes when in the dark. For example, levels of the hunger hormone leptin rises, which decreases feelings of hunger.

Research3 has shown that when you’re exposed to light at night, even if it’s brief, your leptin level decreases, which makes you hungry in the middle of the night—a phenomenon that wouldn’t have been very convenient for our ancestral hunter-gatherers.

Gene expression is also affected by your endogenous circadian clock, as is cellular growth and repair, and hormone production. Exposing yourself to light at night leads to the disruption of all of these processes, setting the stage for diseases like obesity, diabetes, cancer, and depression.

Different Wavelengths of Light Have Different Effects

While the light emitted from the sun is “full-spectrum” light, it has a strong blue, short wavelength light that makes you alert and awake. It also has a potent mood-boosting effect.

In fact, according to one 2010 study,4 blue light appears to play a key role in your brain's ability to process emotions, and its results suggest that spending more time in blue-enriched light could help prevent seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Getting a healthy dose of sunlight first thing in the morning will help “reset” your circadian clocks, as will getting at least 30 minutes of sunlight during the brightest part of the day, right around noon.

In the evening, however, blue light is inadvisable as it tricks your body into thinking that it’s still daytime. It does this by inhibiting the production of melatonin.  

One 2011 study5 compared daily melatonin profiles in individuals living in room light (<200 lux) vs. dim light (<3 lux). Results showed that, compared with dim light, exposure to room light before bedtime suppressed melatonin in 99 percent of individuals, and shortened the time period when the body has an elevated melatonin level by about 90 minutes.

Melatonin is a regulator of your sleep cycle, and when it is suppressed, there is less stimulation to promote sleepiness at a healthy bedtime. Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger that helps combat inflammation as an integral component of your immune system. It may even have a role in slowing the aging of your brain.

Even more importantly, melatonin has been proven to have an impressive array of anti-cancer benefits.6 It not only inhibits the proliferation of a wide range of cancer cell types, it also triggers cancer cell apoptosis (self destruction) and promotes anti-angiogenesis, meaning it prevents the growth of blood vessels that feed the growing tumor.

Somewhere between 50-1,000 lux is the activation range within which light will begin to suppress melatonin production. However, wavelength is important here as (long-wavelength) red and amber lights will not suppress melatonin while (short-wavelength) blue, green, and white lights will.7

Moreover, the range of light that inhibits melatonin is fairly narrow — 460 to 480 nm. So to promote healthy melatonin production, shift to a low wattage bulb with yellow, orange, or red light as soon as the sun goes down. A salt lamp illuminated by a 5-watt bulb falls within this ideal color range. Electronics such as tablets, phones, computers, and compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) all emit blue light, and are therefore best avoided for at least an hour or more before bedtime.

Night Owls Have Higher Risk of Metabolic Dysfunction

Another recent study8,9 demonstrating how living out of sync with the rising and setting of the sun can affect your health was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Here, night owls were found to be more prone to having diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and sarcopenia (muscle loss) compared to those who got up and went to bed early, despite getting the same amount of sleep.

According to study author Nan Hee Kim, MD, PhD:10

“Regardless of lifestyle, people who stayed up late faced a higher risk of developing health problems like diabetes or reduced muscle mass than those who were early risers. This could be caused by night owls' tendency to have poorer sleep quality and to engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking, late-night eating and a sedentary lifestyle... Considering many younger people are evening chronotypes, the metabolic risk associated with their circadian preference is an important health issue that needs to be addressed.”

Simple Strategies to Optimize Your Body Clocks’ Synchronization

In terms of practical advice to help you maintain healthy synchronization of your circadian clocks, make sure you get bright light exposure during the day. Keep in mind that many indoor environments simply aren't intense enough, so try to get outdoors for at least 30 minutes. Sixty minutes is even better. This will “anchor” your circadian rhythm and make it less prone to drifting if you’re exposed to light later in the evening. The ideal time to go outdoors is right around solar noon but any time during daylight hours is useful.

During winter months, or in situations when you cannot get outside during the day, a blue-light emitter like goLITE BLU11 can be helpful. It's a small light therapy device you can keep on your desk. Using it twice a day for about 15 minutes will help anchor your circadian rhythm. At night, the reverse needs to occur. Now, darkness should prevail, starting about an hour or so prior to bedtime.

This means abstaining from watching TV or using your computer, as electronics emit blue light. If you must use a computer or cell phone, consider installing a free computer program called f.lux.12 It alters the color temperature of your computer screen as the day goes on, pulling out the blue wavelengths as it gets later. In addition to dimming your lights and/or using salt lamps for illumination, there are also special blue light-blocking bulbs you can buy.

When it comes time to sleep, aim to make your bedroom as dark as possible. Simply closing your eyes is not enough, as light can still penetrate your eyelids. I recommend installing blackout shades for this purpose. In my house, I installed accordion pleated blackout drapes. Opt for shades that are on a track, otherwise light may still leak through.

Another inexpensive alternative is to use a sleep mask. Also keep in mind that digital alarm clocks with blue light displays could have a detrimental effect, so if you have to have an LED clock, opt for one with a red display, and set it on its dimmest setting.

More Tips That Can Help Improve Your Sleep

Small adjustments to your daily routine and sleeping area can go a long way toward ensuring you uninterrupted, restful sleep—and thereby better health. In addition to what was already discussed above, the following suggestions can also be helpful if you’re still having trouble falling or staying asleep. You can also review my 33 Secrets to a Good Night's Sleep for even more tips.

Address mental states that prevent peaceful slumber A sleep disturbance is always caused by something, be it physical, emotional, or both. Anxiety and anger are two mental states that are incompatible with sleep. Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities is another common sleep blocker. To identify the cause of your wakefulness, analyze the thoughts that circle in your mind during the time you lie awake, and look for themes. Many who have learned the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) find it is incredibly useful in helping them to sleep. One strategy is to compile a list of your current concerns, and then “tap” on each issue. To learn how to tap, please refer to our free EFT guide. Keep the temperature in your bedroom below 70 degrees Fahrenheit Many people keep their homes too warm (particularly their bedrooms). Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Take a hot bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime This raises your core body temperature, and when you get out of the bath it abruptly drops, signaling your body that you’re ready for sleep. Be mindful of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in your bedroom EMFs can disrupt your pineal gland and its melatonin production, and may have other detrimental biological effects. A gauss meter is required if you want to measure EMF levels in various areas of your home. Ideally, you should turn off any wireless router while you are sleeping—after all, you don’t need the Internet when you sleep. Develop a relaxing pre-sleep routineGoing to bed and getting up at the same time each day helps keep your sleep on track, but having a consistent pre-sleep routine or “sleep ritual” is also important. For instance, if you read before heading to bed, your body knows that reading at night signals it’s time for sleep. Sleep specialist Stephanie Silberman, PhD suggests listening to calming music, stretching, or doing relaxation exercises.13 Mindfulness therapies have also been found helpful for insomnia.14 Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs, including nicotineTwo of the biggest sleep saboteurs are caffeine and alcohol, both of which also increase anxiety. Caffeine’s effects can last four to seven hours. Tea and chocolate also contain caffeine. Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but it makes sleep more fragmented and less restorative. Nicotine in all its forms (cigarettes, e-cigs, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, and smoking cessation patches) is also a stimulant, so lighting up too close to bedtime can worsen insomnia. Many other drugs can also interfere with sleep. Use a fitness tracker to help you get to bed on time, and track which activities boost or hinder deep sleepTo optimize sleep you need to make sure you’re going to bed early enough. If you have to get up at 6:30am, you’re just not going to get enough sleep if you go to bed after midnight. Many fitness trackers can now track both daytime body movement and sleep, allowing you to get a better picture of how much sleep you’re actually getting. Newer fitness trackers like Jawbone’s UP3, which should be released later this year, can even tell you which activities led to your best sleep and what factors resulted in poor sleep.

Green Tea Linked to Decreased Risk for Dementia

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Aside from water, tea is the most commonly consumed beverage in the world.1 In the US, black tea is by far the most popular, but green tea (which accounted for just 15 percent of the tea consumed in America in 20142) may have particularly powerful health benefits.

Regardless of variety, black and green tea (as well as oolong, dark, and white teas) come from the same plant, an evergreen called Camellia sinensis. It is the processing method and degree of oxidization (exposure to oxygen) that creates the different tea types.

While black tea is oxidized, green tea is not oxidized at all after the leaves are harvested. This minimal oxidation may help to keep the beneficial antioxidants in green tea intact. As explained by the World of Tea:3

"Controlled oxidation usually begins after tea leaves are rolled or macerated, two processes that break down the cell walls in tea leaves. Chemically speaking, oxidation occurs when the polyphenols in the cell's vacuoles and the peroxidase in the cell's peroxisomes come in contact with the polyphenol oxidase in the cell's cytoplasm.

The resulting reaction converts tea catechins into theaflavins and thearubigins. Theaflavins provide tea with its briskness and bright taste as well as its yellow color, and thearubigins provide tea with depth and body and its orange-brown color.

This conversion of catechins to theaflavins and thearubigins means that the longer the oxidation, the lower the amount of catechins in the finished tea. Also, during oxidation chlorophylls are converted to pheophytin, a pigment that lends to the dark color of oxidized teas. Lipids, amino acids, and carotenoids also degrade during oxidation to produce some of tea's flavor and aroma volatile compounds."

Drinking Green Tea Every Week May Slow Mental Decline

Green tea shows promise for protecting brain health. In a study presented at the 2015 International Conference on Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Diseases, those who drank green tea one to six days a week had less mental decline than those who didn't drink it.4

In addition, the researchers revealed that tea drinkers had a lower risk of dementia than non-tea drinkers. It's not the first time green tea has been linked to brain health. In a study of 12 healthy volunteers, those who received a beverage containing 27.5 grams of green tea extract showed increased connectivity between the parietal and frontal cortex of the brain compared to those who drank a non-green tea beverage.5

The increased activity was correlated with improved performance on working memory tasks, and the researchers believe the results suggest green tea may be useful for treating cognitive impairments, including dementia. According to the study authors:6

"Our findings provide first evidence for the putative beneficial effect of green tea on cognitive functioning, in particular, on working memory processing at the neural system level by suggesting changes in short-term plasticity of parieto-frontal brain connections.

Modeling effective connectivity among frontal and parietal brain regions during working memory processing might help to assess the efficacy of green tea for the treatment of cognitive impairments in psychiatric disorders such as dementia."

What Gives Green Tea Its 'Super Powers'?

Green tea is rich in naturally occurring plant compounds called polyphenols, which can account for up to 30 percent of the dry leaf weight of green tea. Within the group of polyphenols are flavonoids, which contain catechins. One of the most powerful catechins is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which has been shown to positively impact a number of illnesses and conditions.

Green tea also contains theanine, an amino acid that crosses the blood-brain barrier and has psychoactive properties. Theanine increases levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, dopamine, and alpha wave activity, and may reduce mental and physical stress and produce feelings of relaxation.7

Theanine may also help to prevent age-related memory decline8 and has been shown to affect areas of your brain involved in attention and complex problem-solving.9

Green Tea May Be a Whole-Body Health Tonic

Tea has been enjoyed for close to 5,000 years. It was reportedly discovered in 2737 BC when tea leaves accidentally blew into Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung's pot of boiling water.10 Tea has been used traditionally as a beverage and healing tonic ever since. As reported by the University of Maryland Medical Center:11

"In traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, practitioners used green tea as a stimulant, a diuretic (to help rid the body of excess fluid), an astringent (to control bleeding and help heal wounds), and to improve heart health.

Other traditional uses of green tea include treating gas, regulating body temperature and blood sugar, promoting digestion, and improving mental processes."

Modern-day research has also confirmed green tea's myriad of health benefits, which extend even beyond brain health. What else is green tea good for?

Reduced Mortality and Chronic Inflammation

Drinking green tea is associated with reduced mortality due to all causes, as well as mortality due to heart disease. Research also shows holistic benefits to green tea consumption, including lower blood pressure, oxidative stress, and chronic inflammation.12

Heart Health

Green tea improves both blood flow and the ability of arteries to relax, with research suggesting a few cups of green tea each day may help prevent heart disease.13

Study results also show EGCG can be helpful for the prevention of arterio­sclerosis, cerebral thrombus, heart attack, and stroke—in part due to its ability to relax your arteries and improve blood flow.14

Type 2 Diabetes

One study found people who consume six or more cups of green tea daily had a 33 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who consumed less than one cup per week.15

Weight Loss

There is some evidence that long-term consumption of green tea catechins is beneficial for burning fat and may work with other chemicals to increase levels of fat oxidation and thermogenesis. According to research in Physiology & Behavior:

"Positive effects on body-weight management have been shown using green tea mixtures. Green tea, by containing both tea catechins and caffeine, may act through inhibition of catechol O-methyl-transferase, and inhibition of phosphodiesterase. Here the mechanisms may also operate synergistically.

A green tea-caffeine mixture improves weight maintenance, through thermogenesis, fat oxidation, and sparing fat free mass… Taken together, these functional ingredients have the potential to produce significant effects on metabolic targets such as thermogenesis and fat oxidation."

Bone Health

Green tea polyphenols combined with a form of vitamin D called alfacalcidol could boost bone structure and strength, according to a new study in mice. The mixture may reverse damage to bones caused by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) induced chronic inflammation, which could in turn reduce the risk of osteoporosis.16

Green tea is a relative newcomer in the bone-health arena, but previous studies have also found that epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a component of green tea, blocks the activity of two molecules, IL-6 and cyclooxygenase-2 (Cox-2), which play a role in breaking down bone.

Vision Health

Catechins in green tea could help protect you against glaucoma and other eye diseases, as research found that the compounds travel from your digestive system into the tissues of your eyes. During the study, the catechins found in green tea were absorbed into various parts of the eyes anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours after rats were given tea.17

Cancer

Green tea components have been shown to downregulate the expression of proteins involved in inflammation, cell signalization, cell motility, and angiogenesis, while an association between green tea intake and decreased risk of cancers (including ovarian and breast18) have been reported.19

Previous research has shown that green tea polyphenols act on molecular pathways to shut down the production and spread of tumor cells.20 They also discourage the growth of the blood vessels that feed the tumors. EGCG even acts as an antiangiogenic and antitumor agent, and helps modulate tumor cell response to chemotherapy.21

Tea Readily Absorbs Pollutants from Soil

It's difficult to find many drawbacks to tea, but there is one potential issue you should be aware of: pollutants. Green tea plants are known to be especially effective at absorbing lead from the soil, which is then taken up into the plants' leaves. Areas with excessive industrial pollution, such as China (where nearly 90% of the world's green tea is produced),22 may therefore contain substantial amounts of lead.23

According to the ConsumerLab.com analysis, tea from brands like Lipton and Bigelow contained up to 2.5 micrograms of lead per serving compared to no measurable amounts in Teavana brand, which gets its tea leaves from Japan. While the lead in the tea leaves is not thought to leach very effectively into the tea you end up drinking, if you're consuming Matcha green tea, one of my favorites, it's especially important that it comes from Japan instead of China.

Matcha tea contains the entire ground tealeaf, and can contain over 100 times the EGCG provided from regular brewed green tea. Both black and green teas are also naturally high in fluoride, even if organically grown without pesticides. This is because the plant readily absorbs fluoride thorough its root system, including naturally occurring fluoride in the soil.

According to fluoride expert Jeff Green, who sadly passed away unexpectedly last year,24 there are reports of people who have developed crippling skeletal fluorosis from drinking high amounts of iced tea alone.25 If you live in an area with fluoridated drinking water, as the majority of Americans do, then you could be getting a double dose of fluoride when you drink tea.

When selecting tea of any kind, it should preferably be organic (to avoid pesticides) and grown in a pristine environment because, as mentioned, tea is known to accumulate fluoride, heavy metals, and other toxins from soil and water. A clean growing environment is essential to producing a pure, high-quality tea.

A Quick Trick to Boost the Health Benefits of Your Tea

To boost the benefits of green tea, add a squirt of lemon juice to your cup. Previous research has demonstrated that vitamin C significantly increases the amount of catechins available for your body to absorb. In fact, citrus juice increased available catechin levels by more than five times, causing 80 percent of tea's catechins to remain bioavailable.26

On the other hand, while adding lemon juice is beneficial, adding milk is not. The proteins in milk may bind to and neutralize the antioxidants in tea, such that its health benefits are significantly reduced. One study even found, "All [beneficial vascular protective] effects were completely inhibited by the addition of milk to tea."27

Finally, know what to look for in terms of quality. A telltale sign of high-quality green tea is that the tea is in fact green. If your green tea looks brown rather than green, it's likely been oxidized, which can damage or destroy many of its most valuable compounds. Many enjoy using loose tea leaves, which ConsumerLab found may offer even more antioxidants (while also avoiding potential toxins in tea bags).

A cup of green tea will give you anywhere from 20-35 mg of EGCG, so three in a day will supply you with 60-105 mg. There are some studies that have used much higher doses than this -- upwards of 1,500 mg a day -- but as of now there's now clear-cut evidence of exactly how much is best.

The good news is that much of the research on green tea has been based on about three cups daily, which is easily attainable, and enjoyable, for most people. Here are a few simple guidelines for making the "perfect" cup of tea:

  • Bring water to a boil in a tea kettle (avoid using a non-stick pot, as this can release harmful chemicals when heated)
  • Preheat your teapot or cup to prevent the water from cooling too quickly when transferred. Simply add a small amount of boiling water to the pot or tea up that you're going to steep the tea in. Ceramic and porcelain retain heat well. Then cover the pot or cup with a lid. Add a tea cozy if you have one, or drape with a towel. Let stand until warm, then pour out the water
  • Put the tea into an infuser, strainer, or add loose into the tea pot. Steeping without an infuser or strainer will produce a more flavorful tea. Start with one heaped teaspoon per cup of tea, or follow the instructions on the tea package. The robustness of the flavor can be tweaked by using more or less tea
  • Add boiling water. Use the correct amount for the amount of tea you added (i.e. for four teaspoons of tea, add four cups of water). The ideal water temperature varies based on the type of tea being steeped:
    • White or green teas (full leaf): Well below boiling (170-185° Fahrenheit or 76-85° Celsius). Once the water has been brought to a boil, remove from heat and let the water cool for about 30 seconds for white tea and 60 seconds for green tea before pouring it over the leaves
    • Oolongs (full leaf): 185-210° F or 85-98° C
    • Black teas (full leaf) and Pu-erhs
  • Cover the pot with a cozy or towel and let steep. Follow steeping instructions on the package. If there are none, here are some general steeping guidelines. Taste frequently as you want it to be flavorful but not bitter:
    • Oolong teas: 4-7 minutes
    • Black teas: 3-5 minutes
    • Green teas: 2-3 minutes
  • Once the desired flavor has been achieved you need to remove the strainer or infuser. If you're using loose leaves, pour the tea through a strainer into your cup and any leftover into another vessel (cover with a cozy to retain the heat)

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo Agree to Remove Flame Retardant Chemical from Their Products

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Bowing to public pressure, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have both agreed to remove brominated vegetable oil (BVO) from all of their beverages in the near future. BVO was first patented as a flame retardant, but has also been added to many American sodas for decades.

The problem is recent research shows that bromine builds up in your body, and in breast milk.

BVO has resulted in some soda-drinkers requiring medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss, and nerve problems related to bromine overexposure, which is why Europe and Japan have banned this chemical from their food and beverages.

Public pressure to remove BVO was suddenly fueled by a 2012 petition with more than 20,000 supporters, initiated by then-15-year-old girl Sarah Kavanagh who wanted chemicals removed from sports drinks like Gatorade.1

This is a great reminder about what a powerful force consumer pressure can be. If a 15-year-old girl can push through a petition with this much consequence, consider what YOU can do by voting with your pocket book, each and every day!

Out with BVO—In with Franken-Rosins

Coca-Cola vowed to remove BVO from its drinks by the end of 2014, but at present, it still appears to be included in some of Coca-Cola's products,2 specifically Fanta Orange, Fanta Orange Zero, and Fresca Original Citrus.

PepsiCo removed BVO from Gatorade in 2013 and, following Coco-Cola’s May 5, 2014 announcement, said it would be dropping the chemical from the rest of its products, although it did not give a time frame.3

Coca-Cola says they add BVO to improve the stability of soft drinks, especially those with citrus flavorings. According to the San Diego Reader, “Without BVO, your favorite lemony-limy soda would look like the Gulf of Alaska in the wake of the Exxon-Valdez.4

Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi companies deny that their decisions to remove BVO are in any way health-related. Coca-Cola says it plans to replace BVO with sucrose acetate isobutyrate (SAIB) and glycerol ester of rosin (GEGR and GEWR).

The safety of these additives is debatable, as very few studies exist. Gum rosins received a negative safety rating by the European Food Safety Authority.5 Meanwhile, Germany and other countries have found safer, more natural substitutes for BVO.

For example, food chemist Walter Vetter at Germany's University of Hohenheim suggests American soda makers could easily replace BVO with hydrocolloids, which are used in many European sodas. Hydrocolloids are natural agents that achieve similar results, minus the health risks.6

It isn't clear why American beverage manufacturers are unwilling to swap out BVO for something like a hydrocolloid, but I would guess that their unwillingness to change most likely has something to do the cost.

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo Are Not the Only Beverage Companies Adding BVO

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is vegetable oil, derived from corn or soy and bonded with the element bromine. It's added to beverages as an emulsifier, to prevent the flavorings from separating and floating to the surface.

According to Scientific American,7 the numerous bromine atoms in BVO weigh down the citrus flavoring so that it mixes with sugar water, or in the case of flame retardants, slows down chemical reactions that cause a fire (the effectiveness of which is debatable, by the way).

Brominated flame retardants have lately undergone intense scrutiny, because research has shown that they are building up in people's bodies, including women's breast milk, around the world.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi aren't the only beverages that contain this potentially hazardous ingredient, though.BVO is added to about 10 percent of all sodas sold in the US, as well as many energy and sports drinks and fruit drinks, including but not limited to the following brands:8,9

Diet Mountain Dew Mountain Dew Fanta Orange Sunkist Pineapple Gatorade Thirst Quencher Orange Fresca Original Citrus Powerade Fruit Punch and Strawberry Lemonade Fresca Original Citrus Crush Orange Soda Safeway Grapefruit Diet Soda
Diet Sundrop Squirt Many Amp Energy Drinks Great Value Sports Drinks Wegmans Fruit Punch Safeway Tom Collins Mix     Beyond Soda, There Are Several Other Sources of Bromine

BVO is not the only source of bromine exposure you should be concerned about. You can be exposed to other forms from a variety of sources and products, from brominated flour to your asthma medication:

Pesticides(specifically methyl bromide, used mainly on strawberries, predominantly in California) Baked goods and flour: potassium bromate is added to many as a "dough conditioner"10,11 Drugs such as Atrovent Inhaler, Atrovent Nasal Spray, Pro-Banthine (for ulcers), and anesthesia agents Plastics, like those used to make computers and some polyethylene beverage bottles Flame retardants used in fabrics, carpets, upholstery, mattresses, and children's products Swimming pools and hot tubs: many use bromine-based treatments Bromine Can Do Significant Damage to Your Thyroid

Bromines are endocrine disruptors, and part of the halide family, a group of elements that also includes fluorine, chlorine, and iodine. Studies suggest that BVO can build up in human tissues, and animal studies have linked large doses to reproductive and behavioral issues. One characteristic of bromine that makes it detrimental to your health is that it competes for the same receptors your body uses to capture iodine. If you are exposed to a lot of bromine, your body will not hold on to iodine, which is needed by every tissue, including your thyroid gland.

Iodine is crucial for proper thyroid function. Without iodine, your thyroid gland would be completely unable to produce thyroid hormone. Thirteen million Americans are estimated to have hypothyroidism, but the actual number is probably higher. Some experts claim that 10 to 40 percent of Americans have suboptimal thyroid function.

If you are one of those with suboptimal thyroid, your thyroid gland itself may not be the problem. You may instead be suffering from iodine deficiency brought on by inadequate consumption of iodine-rich foods and/or excessive bromine exposure, which ends up blocking your iodine uptake. This problem appears in conventional blood tests as a glandular problem, but is actually a problem of nutrition and/or toxicity.

The Risks of Bromine Reach Well Beyond Your Thyroid

The buildup of bromine in your body can result in iodine deficiency and bromine toxicity12 that can manifest a variety of serious health problems over time, including the following:

  • Increased cancer risk: Iodine deficiency can increase your risk for cancers of the thyroid gland, breast,13 ovary, and prostate as a result of "bromide dominance"14
  • Infertility: One animal study found that rats receiving one percent BVO in their feed suffered impaired fertility, and at two percent, they became completely infertile15
  • Psychological/psychiatric problems: Because bromine is a central nervous system depressant, it can produce acute paranoia, psychosis, and other types of mental illness. In an audio interview, physician Jorge Flechas reported that between 1920 and 1960, at least 20 percent of all hospital admissions for "acute paranoid schizophrenia" were a result of common bromine exposure16
  • Skin rashes and lesions (bromoderma tuberosum): Severe acne, folliculitis, papules, pustules, and other skin eruptions17
  • Miscellaneous other problems: Fatigue, anorexia, abdominal pain, metallic taste, and cardiac arrhythmias (triggered by iodine depletion)18

Scientific American19 cites two case studies that illustrate how bromine toxicity can threaten your health. In 1997, emergency room doctors at University of California, Davis, reported a patient with severe bromine intoxication from drinking two to four liters of orange soda every day. He developed headaches, fatigue, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination), and memory loss.20

Then in 2003, a 63-year-old Ohio man developed ulcers on his swollen hands after drinking eight liters of Red Ruby Squirt every day for several months. The man was diagnosed with bromoderma, a rare skin hypersensitivity to bromine exposure. The patient quit drinking the brominated soft drink and months later recovered.21

Government and Industry Claim BVO Is 'Safe Enough'

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permitted the use of BVO on an interim basis—meaning, temporary approval pending additional study—way back in 1970.22 This effectively means they did not feel there was enough evidence to support the designation of GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) without further scientific investigation. But four decades is not temporary! Yes, 44 years later, those studies have not been done and BVO is STILL on the "interim" list. Why? It boils down to one more example of how FDA favors policies that protect big industry at the expense of public health.

According to the FDA, changing the status of BVO would be costly and is "not a public health priority" at this time. Other food additives that are in similar FDA limbo include saccharin, mannitol, and acrylonitrile. You are swimming in a sea of chemicals that are essentially untested—well, you and your children ARE the test subjects...23

In 1977, FDA established what it considered to be a safe limit for BVO in beverages—15 parts per million. But some scientists say that limit is based on thin data that is several decades old and should be revised.24,25 Toxicity testing has changed significantly over the past few decades. It is now possible to observe neurodevelopmental, hormonal, and reproductive changes across multiple generations of laboratory animals, not possible decades ago.

Why Ditching Soda Should Be a Crucial Step in Your Health Plan

There are many reasons to banish soda from your diet, beyond BVO. Soda and other sweetened commercial beverages have essentially no nutritional benefits, but are loaded with other chemical additives and high amounts of refined sugar, typically in the form of high fructose corn syrup—or even worse, artificial sweeteners. The average 12-ounce can of soda contains 40 grams of sugar, at least half of which is fructose, so one can of soda alone exceeds your daily recommended allotment of fructose (15 grams/day) if you're insulin resistant, which about 80 percent of Americans are.

Excess sugar has been unequivocally linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and many other serious health problems, so the less sugar you consume, the better.

In order to break free, you may need to address the emotional component of your food cravings using tools such as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). You can even tap along with Julie in the guided EFT video above. Be sure to check out our Turbo Tapping article, which is an extremely effective and simple tool to squelch your soda addiction quickly and painlessly. The most effective way to eliminate sugar cravings for good is to teach your body to use fat for fuel. Ditching carbs and adding healthy fat is a key component of this, which I discuss in my optimized nutrition plan. Intermittent fasting can also help your body make the transition from burning sugar to burning fat as its primary source of fuel.

As for beverages, remember that nothing beats pure water when it comes to serving your body's needs for fluids. If you really feel the urge for a carbonated beverage, try sparkling mineral water with a squirt of lime or lemon juice, or sweetened with stevia or Luo Han, both of which are safe natural sweeteners. If you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or extra weight, then you have insulin sensitivity issues and would likely benefit from avoiding ALL sweeteners.

Sweetened beverages, whether sweetened by fructose, another form of sugar, or artificial sweeteners, are among the worst culprits in the fight against obesity and related health problems. Ditching ALL of these types of beverages can go a long way toward reducing your risk for chronic health problems and weight gain, not to mention your exposure to potentially dangerous chemical additives like BVO.

Study: US Spends $4B a Year from False-Positive Mammograms and Breast Cancer Overdiagnosis

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

A mammogram, which is an x-ray of your breasts, is offered by conventional medicine as the best “prevention” strategy for breast cancer. The idea is that by detecting potential cancer early on, it is easier to treat and therefore should be less dangerous and, ultimately, less deadly.

Unfortunately, this theory is flawed for several reasons, including the fact that it does not account for the risks of the screening itself. Mammography is not an innocuous risk-free test.

As an x-ray, mammography exposes you to ionizing radiation that can cause cancer. Perhaps even worse, its rate of false positives is high, which means women are being subjected to additional invasive testing, psychological distress, and even treatment for “cancers” that pose no real health threat.

In November of 2009, the US Preventive Services Task Force, a federal advisory board, revised their cancer screening recommendations for these very reasons, saying annual mammograms weren't necessary for women under age 50 and that screenings were recommended only every two years after that.

The panel based the new guidelines on data indicating that mammography does more harm than good when used on younger women. Many cancer groups refused to adopt these guidelines, however, and still recommend women over the age of 40 to be screened annually.

This includes the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the American College of Radiology. But yet another study, this one conducted by a research fellow at Boston Children's Hospital along with a professor at Harvard Medical School, has again questioned mammography’s merits…

Mammograms Result in $4 Billion a Year in Unnecessary Medical Costs in the US

Every year in the US, $4 billion is spent on false-positive mammograms and breast cancer overdiagnosis among women ages 40-59, according to new research published in Health Affairs.1 The researchers noted:

“The costs associated with false-positive mammograms and breast cancer overdiagnosis appear to be much higher than previously documented… the economic impact of false-positive mammography results and breast cancer overdiagnosis must be considered in the debate about the appropriate populations for screening.”

The findings echo previous research that has found a strikingly high rate of false positives. In 2007, the Archives of Internal Medicine published a meta-analysis of 117 randomized, controlled mammogram trials. Among its findings: rates of false-positive results are as high as 20-56 percent after 10 mammograms.2

Similar results were found in a 2009 meta-analysis by the Cochrane Database Review, which found that breast cancer screening led to a 30 percent rate of overdiagnosis and overtreatment, which actually increased the absolute risk of developing cancer by 0.5 percent.

The review concluded that for every 2,000 women invited for screening throughout a 10-year period, the life of just ONE woman was prolonged, while 10 healthy women were treated unnecessarily.3

And in 2014, the Swiss Medical Board reported that for every breast-cancer death prevented in US women over a 10-year course of annual screening beginning at 50 years of age:4

  • 490 to 670 women are likely to have a false-positive mammogram with repeat examination
  • 70 to 100, an unnecessary biopsy
  • Three to 14, an over-diagnosed breast cancer that would never have become clinically apparent
False-Positive Mammograms Exact a Large Psychological and Potentially Physical Toll

When a woman is told she may have breast cancer, it causes considerable anxiety and psychological distress. Meanwhile, you will be subjected to more testing, such as biopsy or surgery, which carry their own set of risks, unnecessarily.

If a mammogram detects an abnormal spot in a woman's breast, the next step is typically a biopsy. This involves taking a small amount of tissue from the breast, which is then looked at by a pathologist under a microscope to determine if cancer is present.

The problem is that early stage cancer like ductal carcinoma in situ, or D.C.I.S., can be very hard to diagnose, and pathologists have a wide range of experience and expertise. There are no diagnostic standards for D.C.I.S., and there are no requirements that the pathologists doing the readings have specialized expertise.

Dr. Shahla Masood, the head of Pathology at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville, told the New York Times:5

"There are studies that show that diagnosing these borderline breast lesions occasionally comes down to the flip of a coin."

Some even hesitate to call D.C.I.S. “cancer” at all. Also known as stage zero cancer—or cancer you may die with but not from, D.C.I.S. is often essentially harmless... According to Dr. Christiane Northrup, a practicing physician and ob-gyn specialist:

"[Researcher Gilbert Welch] pointed to a study [from] way back, of women who died in car accidents in their 40s. They sectioned their breast tissues and found that 40 percent of them – this is normal healthy women dying in car accidents – had evidence of ductal carcinoma in situ that was never going to go anywhere. This is the big dilemma."

One of the Largest and Longest Mammogram Studies to Date: Mammograms Do Not Save Lives

Last year, one of the largest and longest studies of mammography to date, involving 90,000 women followed for 25 years, found that mammograms have absolutely NO impact on breast cancer mortality.6 As reported by the New York Times:7

"One of the largest and most meticulous studies of mammography ever done, involving 90,000 women and lasting a quarter-century, has added powerful new doubts about the value of the screening test for women of any age. It found that the death rates from breast cancer and from all causes were the same in women who got mammograms and those who did not. And the screening had harms: one in five cancers found with mammography and treated was not a threat to the woman's health and did not need treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery or radiation."

Research published in The Lancet Oncology in 2011 also demonstrated for the first time that women who received the most breast screenings had a higher cumulative incidence of invasive breast cancer over the following six years than the control group who received far less screenings.8

Susan G. Komen for the Cure Uses Misleading Statistics to Promote Mammography

A 2012 report in the British Medical Journal9 (BMJ) exposed how Susan G. Komen for the Cure is using misleading statistics to persuade women to undergo mammography. The authors wrote:

"Unfortunately, there is a big mismatch between the strength of evidence in support of screening and the strength of Komen's advocacy for it. A growing and increasingly accepted body of evidence shows that although screening may reduce a woman's chance of dying from breast cancer by a small amount, it also causes major harms.

In fact, the benefits and harms are so evenly balanced that the National Breast Cancer Coalition, a major US network of patient and professional organizations, ‘believes there is insufficient evidence to recommend for or against universal mammography in any age group of women.’

...In contrast, Komen's public advertising campaign gives women no sense that screening is a close call... The advertisement states that the key to surviving breast cancer is for women to get screened because 'early detection saves lives. The 5-year survival rate for breast cancer when caught early is 98%. When it's not? 23%.' This benefit of mammography looks so big that it is hard to imagine why any woman would forgo screening. She'd have to be crazy. But it's the advertisement that is crazy..."

The data Komen uses—the five-year survival data—presents a dramatically distorted picture. Furthermore, the advertisement makes no mention of any of the harms clearly associated with the screening at all. The authors go on to explain why survival data cannot be used to make a case for or against mammography:

"To see how much lead time can distort five-year survival data, imagine a group of 100 women who received diagnoses of breast cancer because they felt a breast lump at age 67, all of whom die at age 70. Five-year survival for this group is 0%. Now imagine the women were screened, given their diagnosis three years earlier, at age 64, but still die at age 70. Five-year survival is now 100%, even though no one lived a second longer."

Overdiagnosis also distorts survival statistics because women who receive false positives are counted as having survived the cancer! As mentioned earlier, for every woman saved, 10 women are misdiagnosed and treated unnecessarily, so the distortion due to overdiagnosis is massive. And, as the authors explained, the more women are overdiagnosed, the more the survival statistics are skewed.

"If there were an Oscar for misleading statistics, using survival statistics to judge the benefit of screening would win a lifetime achievement award hands down. There is no way to disentangle lead time and overdiagnosis biases from screening survival data," the authors stated.

Mammograms May Also Offer a False Sense of Security

Aside from false positives, there's also the risk of getting a false negative, meaning that a life-threatening cancer is missed. It's important to realize that a negative mammogram cannot be equated with a clean bill of health. All a negative mammogram can tell you is that IF you do have cancer, it hasn't grown large enough yet to be detected. This is particularly true for women with dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue and cancer both appear white on an x-ray, making it nearly impossible for a radiologist to detect cancer in these women. It's like trying to find a snowflake in a blizzard.

Forty-nine percent of women have high breast tissue density,10 and mammography's sensitivity for dense breasts is as low as 27 percent11—meaning about 75 percent of dense-breasted women are at risk for a cancer being missed if they rely solely on mammography. Even with digital mammography, the sensitivity is still less than 60 percent.

Breast density laws have been passed in California, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, and Texas, making it mandatory for radiologists to inform their patients who have dense breast tissue that mammograms are basically useless for them. A law is now being considered at a federal level as well.

Some radiologists already provide density information to their patients and encourage them to utilize other options like thermography, ultrasound, and/or MRI. I believe it reasonable for a woman to trust that her radiologist is not withholding vital breast-density information. Unfortunately, many have kept this potentially lifesaving data from women for decades, and our government agencies have failed to protect them from this unethical, albeit profitable practice.

Women with BRCA ½ Mutations Are Especially at Risk from Mammogram

Another at-risk group are women with BRCA 1/2 mutation, which is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. But results published in BMJ in 2012 showed that women carrying this mutation are particularly vulnerable to radiation-induced cancer.12

Women carrying this mutation who were exposed to diagnostic radiation before the age of 30 were twice as likely to develop breast cancer compared to those who did not have the mutated gene. They also found that the radiation-induced cancer was dose-responsive, meaning the greater the dose, the higher the risk of cancer developing. The authors concluded that:

"The results of this study support the use of non-ionizing radiation imaging techniques (such as magnetic resonance imaging) as the main tool for surveillance in young women with BRCA1/2 mutations."

Despite these findings, the National Cancer Institute reports that some expert groups recommend women with BRCA 1/2 mutation have a mammogram every year starting as young as age 2513 – the exact scenario that the BMJ study found may double their breast cancer risk!

Please understand that there are other screening options, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and you have a right to utilize those options. Also remember that in order to truly avoid breast cancer, you need to focus your attention on actual prevention and not just early detection.

How to Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer Naturally

Cancer screening that does more harm than good can hardly qualify as your “best bet" against becoming a cancer statistic. I believe the vast majority of all cancers could be prevented by strictly applying basic, commonsense healthy lifestyle strategies, such as the ones below.

  • Avoid sugar, especially fructose, and processed foods. All forms of sugar are detrimental to health in general and promote cancer. Refined fructose, however, is clearly one of the most harmful and should be avoided as much as possible. This means avoiding processed foods, as most are loaded with fructose.
  • Optimize your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D influences virtually every cell in your body and is one of nature's most potent cancer fighters. Vitamin D is actually able to enter cancer cells and trigger apoptosis (cell death).
  • If you have cancer, your vitamin D level should probably be between 70 and 100 ng/ml. Vitamin D works synergistically with every cancer treatment I'm aware of, with no adverse effects. Ideally, your levels should reach this point by exposure to the sun or a safe tanning bed, with oral vitamin D used as a last resort.

  • Optimize your gut health. Gut microbiota is known to affect inflammation and metabolism, both of which are hallmarks of cancer. Microbes can affect cancer susceptibility by modulating your immune system and inflammation. They can also influence gene expression, and appear to have the ability to alter the stability of your genes.
  • Gut microorganisms even appear to impact the efficacy of various cancer treatments. In addition to avoiding sugar, you can optimize your gut health by eating fermented vegetables and/or taking a high-quality probiotic supplement.

  • Limit your protein. Newer research has emphasized the importance of the mTOR pathways. When these are active, cancer growth is accelerated. One way to quiet this pathway is by limiting your protein to one gram of protein per kilogram of lean body mass, or roughly a bit less than half a gram of protein per every pound of lean body weight.
  • For most people, this ranges between 40 and 70 grams of protein a day, which is typically about 2/3 to half of what they are currently eating.

  • Avoid unfermented soy products. Unfermented soy is high in plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens, also known as isoflavones. In some studies, soy appears to work in concert with human estrogen to increase breast cell proliferation, which increases the chances for mutations and cancerous cells.
  • Improve your insulin and leptin receptor sensitivity. The best way to do this is by avoiding sugar and grains and restricting carbs to mostly fiber vegetables. Also make sure you are exercising, especially with Peak Fitness.
  • Exercise regularly. One of the primary reasons exercise works to lower your cancer risk is because it drives your insulin levels down, and controlling your insulin levels is one of the most powerful ways to reduce your cancer risks. It's also been suggested that apoptosis (programmed cell death) is triggered by exercise, causing cancer cells to die.
  • Studies have also found that the number of tumors decrease along with body fat, which may be an additional factor. This is because exercise helps lower your estrogen levels, which explains why exercise appears to be particularly potent against breast cancer.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. This will come naturally when you begin eating right and exercising. It's important to lose excess body fat because fat produces estrogen.
  • Drink a pint to a quart of organic green vegetable juice daily. Please review my juicing instructions for more detailed information.
  • Get plenty of high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil. Omega-3 deficiency is a common underlying factor for cancer.
  • Curcumin. This is the active ingredient in turmeric and in high concentrations can be very useful adjunct in the treatment of cancer. It actually has the most evidence-based literature supporting its use against cancer of any nutrient, including vitamin D.14 For example, it has demonstrated major therapeutic potential in preventing breast cancer metastasis.15It's important to know that curcumin is generally not absorbed that well, so I've provided several absorption tips here. Newer preparations have also started to emerge, offering better absorption. For best results, you'll want to use a sustained release preparation.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol, or at least limit your alcoholic drinks to one per day.
  • Avoid electromagnetic fields as much as possible. Even electric blankets may increase your cancer risk.
  • Avoid synthetic hormone replacement therapy, especially if you have risk factors for breast cancer. Breast cancer is an estrogen-related cancer, and according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer rates for women dropped in tandem with decreased use of hormone replacement therapy. (There are similar risks for younger women who use oral contraceptives. Birth control pills, which are also comprised of synthetic hormones, have been linked to cervical and breast cancers.)
  • If you are experiencing excessive menopausal symptoms, you may want to consider bioidentical hormone replacement therapy instead, which uses hormones that are molecularly identical to the ones your body produces and do not wreak havoc on your system. This is a much safer alternative.

  • Avoid BPA, phthalates, and other xenoestrogens. These are estrogen-like compounds that have been linked to increased breast cancer risk.
  • Make sure you're not iodine deficient, as there's compelling evidence linking iodine deficiency with certain forms of cancer. Dr. David Brownstein, author of the book Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can't Live Without It, is a proponent of iodine for breast cancer. It actually has potent anticancer properties and has been shown to cause cell death in breast and thyroid cancer cells.16
  • For more information, I recommend reading Dr. Brownstein's book. I have been researching iodine for some time ever since I interviewed Dr. Brownstein as I do believe that the bulk of what he states is spot on. However, I am not at all convinced that his dosage recommendations are correct. I believe they are far too high.

  • Avoid charring your meats. Charcoal or flame-broiled meat is linked with increased breast cancer risk. Acrylamide—a carcinogen created when starchy foods are baked, roasted, or fried—has been found to increase cancer risk as well.

Factory Farm Meat: Why Vegetarians, Ranchers, and Conscious Omnivores Need to Unite

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 02:00

By Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

For the first time since the advent of industrial agriculture, the federal government is considering advising Americans to eat “less red and processed meat.”

That advice is the outcome of studies conducted by an independent panel of “experts” which was asked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for recommended changes to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

The February 19 “eat less red and processed meat” pronouncement by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) was reported widely in mainstream media.

It set off a heated debate about whether or not consumers should eat meat, a debate that included the standard name-calling by factory farm front groups, including the Farm Bureau, denouncing consumers and environmentalists (and their alleged pawns on the DGAC) for being “anti-meat” and “anti-farmer.”

Unfortunately in its recommendations, the DGAC didn’t really come out and tell us the whole truth, which would go something like this:

“Americans should eat less, or rather no red and processed meat from filthy, inhumane factory farms or feedlots, where the animals are cruelly crammed together and routinely fed a diet of herbicide-drenched, genetically engineered grains…

…supplemented by a witch’s brew of antibiotics, artificial hormones, steroids, blood, manure, and slaughterhouse waste, contributing to a deadly public health epidemic of obesity, heart disease, cancer, antibiotic resistance, hormone disruption, and food allergies.”

95% of US Red Meat Comes from Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)

If the DGAC had really told us the truth about America’s red meat horror show (95 percent of our red meat comes from these Confined Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs), we’d be having a conversation about how we can get rid of factory farms, instead of a rather abstract debate on the ethics of eating meat.

With a real debate we could conceivably start to change the self-destructive purchasing and eating habits (the average American carnivore consumes nine ounces or more of toxic CAFO meat and animal products daily) of most Americans.

Instead we are having a slightly more high-volume replay of the same old debate, whereby vegetarians and vegans, constituting approximately 5 percent of the population, tell the other 95 percent, who are omnivores, to stop eating meat.

Nothing much ever comes of that particular debate, which leaves thousands of hard-working, conscientious ranchers, and millions of health-, environment-, and humane-minded omnivores, out of the conversation. I say thousands of “hard-working, conscientious,” ranchers are being left out of the conversation because I know lots of them.

North American cattle ranchers, for the most part, have no love for Cargill, Tyson, Monsanto, JBS, Smithfield, Elanco (animal drugs), or McDonald’s. Most of these ranchers practice traditional animal husbandry, conscientiously taking care of their animals from birth.

They graze their cattle free-range on grass, as nature intended, before they’re forced to sell these heretofore-healthy animals at rock-bottom prices to the monopolistic meat cartel.

Grass-Fed Meat Is Better for You Than CAFO Meat

Before these hapless creatures are dragged away to hell, to be fattened up on GMO grains and drugged up in America’s CAFOs, their meat is high in beneficial omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), and low in “bad” fats.

Unfortunately by the time their abused and contaminated carcasses arrive, all neatly packaged, at your local supermarket, restaurant, or school cafeteria, the meat is low in omega-3 and good “fats,” and routinely tainted by harmful bacteria, not to mention pesticide, steroid, and antibiotic residues.

What was once a healthy food has now become a literal poison that clogs up your veins, makes you fat, and heightens your risk of heart attack or cancer. I mention millions of “health-, environment-, and humane-minded” consumers being left out of the “meat versus no meat” conversation because, as director of the 2 million-strong Organic Consumers Association, I talk and exchange emails with conscious consumers every day.

No organic consumer, vegetarian, or omnivore I’ve ever encountered consciously supports the cruelty of intensive confinement for farm animals. Nor do they support feeding herbivores genetically engineered, herbicide-drenched grains, mixed with slaughterhouse waste.

No one supports dosing factory farmed animals with antibiotics and hormones that then end up in your kid’s hamburger at school (unless it’s organic or 100-percent grass-fed.) No one in their right mind, or at least no one who has ever experienced a factory farm first-hand or even read a book or watched a video about what’s going on, supports CAFOs.

‘Ag Gag’ Laws, Lack of Labeling Aim to Keep You in the Dark

That’s why corporate agribusiness is working overtime to pass state “Ag Gag” laws making it a crime to take photos of CAFOs. That’s why the beef cartel and Big Food spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to keep you in the dark about CAFOs, about whether or not your food contains genetically engineered ingredients, and about the country-of-origin of your food.

If CAFO meat and animal products had to be labeled (a proposition I support wholeheartedly), the entire factory farm industry would collapse. If CAFO meat had to be labeled, not only in grocery stores but also in restaurants, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and the rest would immediately be on the phone, contacting ranchers directly to buy their grass-fed, healthy, free-range beef.

Before we go any further, let’s identify the real culprits in this CAFO horror show. Four multi-billion-dollar transnational companies—Tyson, JBS, Cargill, and Smithfield—produce about 85 percent of the factory farm meat in the U.S., making it difficult for ranchers to sell their livestock to anyone but the Big Four.

And of course these same Big Four companies, along with their front groups such as the North American Meat Institute, are lobbying the government to ditch the 2015 dietary guidelines to “eat less red and processed meat” recommendation because they understand what that recommendation will do to their bottom lines.

But what the Big Four fear even more is the thought of consumers waking up to the horrors of factory farms, and the filthy, contaminated meat that comes out of these animal prisons.

Fortunately, demand for healthier, sustainably raised grass-fed beef is growing rapidly. Here in Minneapolis-St. Paul where I spend a good part of the year, there are now over 100 restaurants that offer grass-fed beef on their menus. Local co-ops and natural food grocery stores are barely able to keep up with the increasing consumer demand.

Most Grass-Fed Beef Sold in the US Is Imported

But unfortunately 95 percent of beef today still comes from factory farms and feedlots. Meanwhile most of the 100-percent grass-fed meat sold at restaurants such as Chipotle or Carl’s Jr. (a popular chain on the West Coast) is imported from Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay, and Argentina, rather than produced here in the US.

Why? It’s not because consumers don’t want healthier, more humanely raised 100-percent grass fed beef. It’s because Cargill and Big Food have monopolized the market by brainwashing the public into believing that cheap CAFO meat is OK, while controlling nearly all of the meat processing plants in the country.

The time has come to shift the American diet away from unhealthy, inhumane, GMO factory farmed food. But as Kendra Kimbirauskas of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP) pointed out at her TEDx talk in New York City recently, we, conscious consumers and farmers, “need to get on common ground” and stop “in-fighting over whether to eat ethical meat, go meat-free, or advocate for bigger cages…”

As Kimbirauskas emphasizes, we need to enlist environmentalists in our anti-CAFO campaigning as well. “As long as animals are in factory farms, they are polluting our environment…” And, Kimbirauskas added, “Those most impacted by the problem (farmers and rural people adjacent to CAFOs) need to be most visible in the fight to change it.”

It’s Time to Boycott CAFO Foods

Meat (along with eggs and dairy products) from factory farms is literally killing people with diet-related diseases. Factory farms are a disaster, not only for the animals, but also for the communities where manure and chemical fertilizers and pesticides pollute the air, the soil, streams, lakes, rivers, and drinking water.

Factory farms and the GMO farms that supply them with animal feed are a disaster for the climate as well, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases, including CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.

The grasslands that support grass-fed beef, on the other hand, if grazed properly, sequester CO2 from the air and put it in the soil, while drastically reducing or eliminating altogether methane and nitrous oxide emissions. It’s time to stop fighting among ourselves about whether or not to eat meat. Americans need to boycott all factory farmed meat and animal products. Period.

Beyond boycotting CAFO products, if consumers care about their health and the health of the planet, we need to reduce our consumption of sustainable grass-fed animal products to approximately three or four ounces a day (not nine ounces a day, the current average). We are what we eat. We must get rid of factory farms and put the Earth’s billions of confined farm animals back outside on the land, grazing and foraging, where they belong.

Ronnie Cummins is the international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico-based affiliate, Via Organica.

Driving GMOs and Monsanto’s Roundup off the Market

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 02:00

By Ronnie Cummins

Since genetically engineered (GE) crops, foods, and animal drugs were brazenly forced onto the market in 1994 by Monsanto and the FDA, with neither pre-market safety testing nor labels required, consumers and small farmers worldwide have mobilized to ban, label, or boycott these controversial "Frankenfoods."

With mounting scientific evidence1 underlining the human health and environmental toxicity of GE foods, and growing alarm over the toxic pesticides such as Monsanto's Roundup that invariably accompany genetically modified organisms (GMOs), currently 64 nations require mandatory labeling of GMOs.

Numerous states and regions in the European Union, and several dozen entire nations, including Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, and Russia, have banned GMO crops altogether.2

In the European Union (EU), where mandatory labeling laws are in effect, little or no GMO crops or food are on the market (except for imported GMO animal feed). In addition to banning GMOs, a growing number of countries, including El Salvador and Sri Lanka, have begun to ban the use of Monsanto's Roundup.

This  toxic herbicide is sprayed heavily on 84 percent of all GMO crops, and increasingly applied as a pre-harvest desiccant, or drying agent, on scores of other non-GMO crops including wheat, rice, beans, potatoes, barley, oats, flax, peas, lentils, and sugar cane.

Even in the US where 168 million acres of GE crops are under cultivation (including 90 percent or more of all corn, soy, cotton, canola, and sugar beets), survey after survey has shown that Americans, especially mothers and parents of small children, are either suspicious of, or alarmed by, unlabeled GMOs.

This is understandable given the toxic track records of the chemical companies pushing this technology (Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, Dupont, BASF, and Bayer), as well as the mounting scientific evidence that these controversial foods and crops—and the toxic herbicides and insecticides sprayed on them or laced into their cells—severely damage or kill birds, bees, butterflies, lab rats, farm animals, and humans.

Currently US regulatory agencies, in sharp contrast to Europe, rely on industry's own indentured scientists to determine whether GMOs—and the toxic chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers that accompany their use—are "safe" for human health, animals, the environment, and the climate.

Meanwhile mass media journalists and food industry representatives monotonously regurgitate Monsanto's dangerous mantra: Genetically engineered foods and crops are just as safe as "conventional" foods and crops, and there is no "mainstream scientific evidence" that GMOs are dangerous.

Consumers Want Genetically Engineered Foods to Be Labeled

Polls consistently indicate that 90 percent of Americans want to know whether or not their food has been genetically engineered, even though massive lobbying and advertising by the GMO lobby has prevented labeling laws from passing at the federal level and in most US states.

The notable exceptions are mandatory GMO fish labels in Alaska (passed in 2005) and mandatory food labels in Vermont (passed in 2014). In addition nine counties in the US have banned the cultivation of GMOs.

Stimulating demands for GMO labeling or bans, the prestigious IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) of the World Health Organization published a report3 in March 2015 declaring that Monsanto's Roundup herbicide (active agent glyphosate), sprayed heavily on 84 percent of all GMO crops (including soy, corn, cotton, canola, and sugar beets) is a "probable carcinogen."

 After reviewing 44 scientific studies, half of the IARC panel thought that that glyphosate should be classified as a Group 1 "known carcinogen," with the other half opting for a Group 2 "probable carcinogen" rating.

Given the fact that new peer-reviewed studies damning glyphosate are being published nearly every week, the IARC may very well reclassify glyphosate as a "known carcinogen" in the near future.

Conscious Consumers Wield Enormous Power

While continuing to push for mandatory labeling, stringent safety-testing and outright bans on GMOs, glyphosate, and other toxic chemicals and animal drugs, consumers need to understand that their purchasing power in itself has major potential to marginalize or drive GMOs and pesticides out of the marketplace altogether.

In the US, consumer pressure has prompted the nation's largest retailer of organic and natural foods, Whole Foods Market (WFM), to announce that all 40,000 or so food items in their stores will have to be labeled by 2018 if they contain GMOs. This labeling policy includes meat, eggs, dairy, and all deli or take-out items.

Again, although this policy will only affect the 40,000 or so food products sold in WFM stores, brands selling to Whole Foods will suffer a public relations disaster if they are forced to label their items in WFM as GMO-tainted, but then refuse to do so in other stores.

Many of the thousands of suppliers to Whole Foods are now racing to get GMOs out of their products so they won't have to put the proverbial GMO "skull and crossbones" on their products in 2018.

Other natural food chains such as the Natural Grocer are following in Whole Foods' footsteps, either banning or requiring mandatory labels on all GMO and GMO-derived foods.

On the restaurant front, consumer pressure has forced the highly profitable Chipotle restaurant chain to make a similar promise. Other grocery brands and restaurant chains (most of whom are watching their profits decrease, while WFM's and Chipotle's rise) will shortly be facing enormous pressures from their customers to do the same.

Monsanto's Minions in Washington Aim to Preempt Labeling Laws

Monsanto's minions in Washington are currently lobbying for passage of the infamous Pompeo bill that will prohibit states from requiring GMO labels.4 They are also pushing through approvals of super-toxic Agent Orange and dicamba resistant crops,5 and negotiating secret international trade deals to stop mandatory labeling or bans on GMOs and glyphosate.

Big Food and the Gene Giants have made make it clear that they are quite willing to abolish the last vestiges of democracy, if necessary, in order to protect the massive profits of their paymasters, the big corporations.

But consumers still have massive power to educate themselves, via the alternative mass media of the internet, and massive economic clout via boycotts and "buycotts" (buying organic and non-GMO foods) to avoid GMOs and toxic pesticides and vote with their food dollars for an organic and healthy food and farming system.

Consumers in the US suffer under a food and farming system that is both abusive and bankrupt, but is kept on life support with government-sponsored taxpayer subsidies and corporate handouts.

Government subsidies and corporate cronyism engender not health and environmental sustainability, but rather diabetes, heart disease, cancer, strokes, obesity, water pollution, oceanic dead zones, excessive greenhouse gas emissions, and soil and water degeneration.

For the first time in history, the entire human species is confronted with a deadly universal threat: GMOs, toxic pesticides, junk foods, factory farms, and catastrophic climate change. The good news is that this common threat gives us the potential, for the first time ever, to unite the world's population in a cooperative effort to save the human species.

Farmers and gardeners: vote with your farming and gardening practices to save the Earth and the climate. Consumers: vote with your forks, spoons, and knives to stop this destructive form of food production and distribution.

GMOs—Just as 'Safe' as Toxic 'Conventional' Foods?

When Monsanto, the FDA, or the Biotechnology Industry Organization are asked whether GMO-tainted foods are safe, notice that they always say that GMOs as "just as safe" as "conventional" (i.e. chemical and drug-tainted) foods, and pose no "unique" risks to human health or the environment. In a twisted sense they are right, because both GMO and non-GMO chemical-intensive, factory-farmed crops and foods are dangerous.

Both GMO and non-GMO chemical-intensive foods destroy public health, animal health, soil health, the environment, and are the major driving forces behind global warming and climate change.

GMOs and Roundup, neonicotinoids, 2,4 D, atrazine, glufosinate, and dicamba—and all the other chemicals being sprayed on the food that we eat, and ultimately running off into water that we drink—are poison. The major reason chronic diseases like cancer, autism, diabetes, and obesity, along with reproductive, behavioral, endocrine and immune system disorders, are spiraling out of control is that our environment is toxic, and we are ingesting, from the womb, to the hospital, to the grave—poisoned, pesticide-laden food.

Certainly we want mandatory labeling of GMOs at the state level (the feds are obviously too corrupt to trust on GMO labeling). But the main reason we want labeling is to defend ourselves, our families and the environment from further assault—by boycotting and driving GMO food, animal feed (most GMOs go into animal feed and biofuels, not human food), and Roundup off the market.

This means that organic and grass-fed or pasture-based foods must move from being five percent of the market to becoming the dominant force in US food and farming, as soon as possible. To achieve this, we need to boycott not just GMO foods, but all chemically contaminated foods, including factory farmed GMO-fed meat and animal products, as well as non-organ foods such as wheat, potatoes, or beans sprayed with Roundup "pre-harvest,"6 not just in the US, but globally as well.

US Regulators May Start Testing Food for Glyphosate Residues

It appears that concerns over glyphosate’s toxicity is finally starting to be taken seriously. The US EPA recently announced it may start testing for glyphosate residues on food.  While thousands of foods are tested for about 400 different pesticides each year, glyphosate is not on that list simply because it’s been thought to be safe.

According to the EPA:7 "Given increased public interest in glyphosate, EPA may recommend sampling for glyphosate in the future.”

While that’s good news, it’s worth noting that the EPA raised the allowable limits for glyphosate in food in 2013, and the allowable levels may be too high to protect human health, based on mounting research. Root and tuber vegetables (with the exception of sugar) got one of the largest boosts, with allowable residue limits being raised from 0.2 ppm to 6.0 ppm.

Meanwhile, malformations in frog and chicken embryos have been documented at 2.03 ppm of glyphosate.8 And, as reported by the Institute for Science in Society:9 “The amount of allowable glyphosate in oilseed crops (except for canola and soy) went up from 20 ppm to 40 ppm, 100 000 times the amount needed to induce breast cancer cells.”  [Emphasis mine]

10 Actions We Need to Take to Protect Ourselves and Our Families
  1. Stop Congress from passing the Pompeo bill (HR #4432) in 2015, which would take away states' rights to pass mandatory GMO food labeling bills, and make it legal for unscrupulous food and beverage companies to continue mislabeling GMO-tainted foods as "natural" or "all natural."
  2. Stop Congress from "fast-tracking" and passing secretly negotiated "Free Trade" agreements (the TPP-Trans-Pacific Partnership, and TTIP-Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) that would weaken consumer and states' rights to label and safety test GMO and factory-farmed foods. Contact your member of Congress and tell them to oppose Fast Track.
  3. Support the passage of more state laws requiring mandatory labels on GMOs.
  4. Pass more bans on GMOs, neonicotinoids, and Roundup (glyphosate) at the township, city, and county levels.
  5. Support Vermont, Maui (Hawaii), Jackson, and Josephine counties (Oregon) in their federal and state legal battles to uphold their laws requiring labels and/or bans on GMOs.
  6. Educate the public on the dangers and cruelty of GMO-fed, factory-farmed meat, dairy and egg products, and join the "Great Boycott" of all factory-farmed foods.
  7. Support mandatory state legislation to label dairy products and chain restaurant food coming from factory farms or CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations).
  8. Pressure natural food stores, coops, and restaurants to follow the lead of Whole Foods Market and the Natural Grocer to label and/or ban all GMO-derived foods, including meat and animal products and deli foods.
  9. Educate your friends and family on the positive health, environmental, ethical, and climate friendly (greenhouse gas sequestering) attributes of organic, grass-fed, and pasture-raised food and farming.
  10. Boycott the "Traitor Brand" products of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, International Dairy Foods Association, and the Snack Food Association.10

Also please consider making a donation to the Organic Consumers Association. Your donation today will help us support GMO labeling efforts in New England, including Maine and Massachusetts.

Chinese Government Sued for Genetically Modified Food

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Chinese citizens have filed a lawsuit against China's Ministry of Agriculture, demanding that the agency make public an animal study used to approve Monsanto's Roundup herbicide nearly three decades ago.

Monsanto provided the animal test to the Ministry in 1985, but to date the Chinese government has refused to release the report, citing Monsanto's right to protect their commercial secrets.

The lawsuit is demanding increased transparency over Roundup, with Chinese citizens eager to review the supposed "safety" study used for its approval. The case has been accepted but a date for a hearing has not yet been set.1

While genetically modified (GM) food crops are banned for cultivation in China, the government is reportedly "trying to foster positive public opinion of GMO food crops."2 The country also imports 65 percent of the world's soybeans, many of which are GM and doused with Monsanto's Roundup. China is also the biggest producer of Roundup worldwide.3

Roundup's Active Ingredient Ruled a 'Probable Carcinogen'

The lawsuit comes on the heels of an announcement by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate, as a "probable carcinogen" (Class 2A).4 According to Dr. Aaron Blair, a cancer epidemiologist and scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health (NIH):5

"There were enough studies to suggest something was going on, but not enough to be sure that was absolutely happening."

IARC is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO) and is considered the global gold standard for carcinogenicity studies, so this determination is of considerable importance. IARC is also one of the five research agencies from which the OEHHA—which is the California agency of environmental hazards—gets its reports to declare carcinogens under Prop. 65.

So, eventually, foods containing detectable levels of glyphosate will likely have to have a Prop. 65 warning label to be sold in California. While glyphosate is commonly used on conventional crops, GM crops tend to be more heavily contaminated.

GM Roundup Ready crops are designed to tolerate greater amounts of the chemical, and farmers growing GM plants tend to have more trouble with resistant weeds, requiring ever-heavier herbicide applications.

Monsanto Doctor Says Glyphosate Is Safe

Monsanto, not surprisingly, has called for the IARC to retract its report, saying it's based on cherry-picked data, a statement GM Watch called hokum:6

"This is pure hokum, as is evident from a glance at the system for regulatory approval of every GMO and pesticide in the world. Approvals are based solely on a set of safety data provided by the GMO or chemical company that manufactures the product and stands to profit from its approval. Independent studies — which are far more likely than industry studies to find risk — do not get a look in.

Epidemiological studies and other studies by independent scientists, which generally do not conform to the outdated protocols designed decades ago for industry toxicology studies, are excluded from the risk assessment as irrelevant and unreliable.

Industry's own safety data on its pesticides are a commercial secret. Independent scientists and the public are not allowed to see them… IARC based its verdict on published studies and publicly available government reports.

This is how real science is done – when findings are published, other scientists are free to build on the work and refute or confirm it."

Meanwhile, Daniel Goldstein, Monsanto's associate medical director, wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times stating that glyphosate is safe and "probably the most thoroughly studied pesticide in history."7

In other words, trust us… it's safe. Monsanto has steadfastly claimed that Roundup is harmless to animals and humans because the mechanism of action it uses (which allows it to kill weeds), called the shikimate pathway, is absent in all animals.

However, the shikimate pathway is present in bacteria, and that's the key to understanding how it causes such widespread systemic harm in both humans and animals.

Glyphosate causes extreme disruption of the microbe's function and lifecycle. What's worse, glyphosate preferentially affects beneficial bacteria, allowing pathogens to overgrow and take over.

In the interview above, Dr. Seneff reviews a variety of chronic diseases, explaining how glyphosate contributes to each condition. So to learn more, I urge you to listen to it in its entirety. It's quite eye opening. This includes (but is not limited to) the following:

Autism Gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhea, colitis, and Crohn's diseaseObesity AllergiesCardiovascular diseaseDepression CancerInfertility Alzheimer's disease Parkinson's diseaseMultiple sclerosisALS and more US Regulators May Start Testing Food for Glyphosate Residues

It appears that concerns over glyphosate’s toxicity is finally starting to be taken seriously. The US EPA recently announced it may start testing for glyphosate residues on food.  While thousands of foods are tested for about 400 different pesticides each year, glyphosate is not on that list simply because it’s been thought to be safe. According to the EPA:8 "Given increased public interest in glyphosate, EPA may recommend sampling for glyphosate in the future.”

While that’s good news, it’s worth noting that the EPA raised the allowable limits for glyphosate in food in 2013, and the allowable levels may be too high to protect human health, based on mounting research. Root and tuber vegetables (with the exception of sugar) got one of the largest boosts, with allowable residue limits being raised from 0.2 ppm to 6.0 ppm.

Meanwhile, malformations in frog and chicken embryos have been documented at 2.03 ppm of glyphosate.9 And, as reported by the Institute for Science in Society:10 “The amount of allowable glyphosate in oilseed crops (except for canola and soy) went up from 20 ppm to 40 ppm, 100 000 times the amount needed to induce breast cancer cells.”  [Emphasis mine]

New Study: GM Crops Don't Reduce Pesticide Use

The majority of soybean, corn, canola, and sunflower seeds planted in the US are coated with another type of chemical called neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics).

The chemicals, which are produced by Bayer and Syngenta, travel systemically through the plants and kill insects that munch on their roots and leaves. Neonicotinoids are powerful neurotoxins and are quite effective at killing the pests… but they're also being blamed for decimating populations on non-target pests, namely pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Neonicotinoids have become the fastest growing insecticides in the world. In the US, virtually all genetically modified Bt corn crops are treated with neonicotinoids. Pesticide makers have claimed that GM crops actually cut down on pesticide use, including the use of neonicotinoids, but a new study found this is not the case.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University revealed that the use of neonicotinoids increased rapidly from 2003 to 2011 "as seed-applied products were introduced in field crops, marking an unprecedented shift toward large-scale, preemptive insecticide use."11 According to study author Margaret Douglas:12

"Previous studies suggested that the percentage of corn acres treated with insecticides decreased during the 2000s, but once we took seed treatments into account we found the opposite pattern.

Our results show that application of neonicotinoids to seed of corn and soybeans has driven a major surge in the U.S. cropland treated with insecticides since the mid-2000s."

Neonicotinoids Treat All Seeds, Even if Pests Aren't a Problem

US pest management policy is supposed to include Integrated Pest Management (IPM), in which insecticides are used only in situations where pest damage threatens crops. Yet neonicotinoids are applied "pre-emptively," whether pests are a significant problem or not. As reported by GM Watch:

"[Study authors] Douglas and Tooker pointed out that many pest attacks are sporadic and not troublesome, which may explain why studies have not found consistent yield benefits from the use of neonicotinoids. They concluded that neonicotinoid seed treatments are being used on many hectares where they do not deliver an economic return and cannot be considered part of an IPM approach.

Douglas and Tooker warned, 'This pattern of use may have unintended consequences, namely resistance in target pests, outbreaks of nontarget pests, and pollution with detrimental effects cascading to wildlife… some of these effects have already emerged.'"

Neonicotinoids have been detected in milkweeds, for instance, which are critical to the survival of Monarch butterflies because they're the only food source for Monarch larvae.13 Milkweed is also very susceptible to being killed by glyphosate, and experts estimate the North American Monarch population has plummeted by 91 percent over the last two decades.

Monarch's Recovery Pledge Nothing More Than Greenwashing

In March 2015, Monsanto announced it would spend $4 million to help the monarch butterfly, including helping to support restoration of the insect's habitat and increase milkweed seed production. This is outrageous not only for the paltry sum they've donated but also because one of the best ways to save the monarchs is to reduce the use of Monsanto's Roundup and Roundup Ready crops. The Center for Food Safety criticized Monsanto's announcement, with executive director Andrew Kimbrell noting:14

"Monsanto brought in $15.85 billion in sales last year. This pledge for monarchs equates to only 2 hours' worth of their sales – hardly a substantial commitment. Regardless of amount, the only way to save monarchs is a major reduction in Monsanto's Roundup Ready crop systems, which are the leading cause of Monarchs' threatened extinction… Throwing a pittance of money at the problem is not a real path to survival; this maneuver is an attempt to greenwash Monsanto's image, nothing more."

Milkweeds that used to abundantly line the Monarch's flight path have been largely eradicated by modern agriculture.15 Not only are chemicals killing the milkweeds, but prairies are being replaced by cornfields, and roadsides are being mowed where milkweeds previously grew wild.

Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety advocates restricting the spraying of glyphosate late in the growing season, when milkweed is flowering and more likely to be killed.16 Freese also supports measures to restore some milkweed plants to farmland, noting that farmers and weed scientists have not found milkweed to be much of a problem.

Of course, representatives of Dow Chemical and Monsanto disagree. Monsanto spokesperson Charla Lord is quoted as saying, "To a farmer, milkweed is a weed that competes with crops in the field for water, soil, and nutrients."17 As Monsanto is pledging their support to save monarchs, they are actively engaged in their demise. According to a press release from eNews Park Forest:18

"The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwestern corn and soybean fields. In the past 20 years it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.

At the same time as Monsanto greenwashes its role in monarch declines, the company plans to introduce additional GE crops that will further threaten monarchs. On deck for Monsanto are their GE dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton varieties, which will be sprayed with both dicamba and glyphosate. These 'next-generation' GE crops will further degrade monarch breeding habitat and kill off other nearby flowing plants used by adult monarchs as nectar sources."

Argentine Farmers Accuse Monsanto of Imposing 'Private Duties'

Argentina's four farm lobbies claim that Monsanto is "abusing its dominant market position" to impose "private duties" via exporters to make producers pay for alleged transgenic seeds property rights."19 The farmers allege that Monsanto has signed confidential accords to charge farmers an extra fee per ton of soybeans grown with Monsanto's GM seeds. The farm lobbies said in a statement:20

"We, the producers, acknowledge that seeds' genetic technology and improvements must get a fair retribution but Monsanto's attempt to charge for royalties is unacceptable and could set a precedent for other technology companies to adopt similar methods to get paid, using third parties not involved in the production process."

More than 18 million hectares in Argentina are covered by genetically engineered soy, on which more than 300 million liters of pesticides are sprayed. Studies strongly suggest that the glyphosate these crops are doused with can cause cancer and birth deformities; both of which are occurring at increasing rates in areas where spraying is done. Sterility and miscarriages are also increasing in the area. Experts warn that in 10 to 15 years, rates of cancer, infertility, and endocrine dysfunction could reach catastrophic levels in Argentina.

Do You Want to Avoid Pesticides in Your Food?

Your best bet for minimizing health risks from pesticide exposure (even those the government claim are "safe") is to avoid them in the first place by eating organic as much as possible and investing in a good water filtration system for your home or apartment. If you know you have been exposed to pesticides, the lactic acid bacteria formed during the fermentation of kimchi may also help your body break down pesticides. So including fermented foods like kimchi in your diet may also be a wise strategy to help detox the pesticides that do enter your body.

One of the benefits of eating organic is that the foods will be free of GM ingredients – and this is key to avoiding exposure to toxic glyphosate. The following are some great resources to obtain wholesome organic food. Eating locally produced organic food will not only support your family's health, it will also protect the environment from harmful chemical pollutants and the inadvertent spread of genetically engineered seeds and chemical-resistant weeds and pests.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to voice your opinion about Monsanto's herbicides, or get involved with saving Monarchs and other pollinators, there are specific action steps you take below.

  1. Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
  2. Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
  3. Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
  4. Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
  5. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
  6. FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.
Action Step #1: Petition for Classifying the Monarch as 'Threatened'

A 2014 White House memorandum calling for a federal strategy to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators, by way of a multiagency Pollinator Health Task Force, has been introduced.21 The petition also urges the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USDA, and President Obama to protect the Monarchs' breeding habitat by halting the approval of Monsanto Roundup Ready™ and other glyphosate-resistant and pesticide-promoting GE crops. As noted by the Los Angeles Times:22

"Since federal glyphosate rules were last updated a decade ago, its use has spiked tenfold to 182 million pounds a year, largely due to the introduction and popularity of corn and soybeans genetically modified to resist the herbicide... 'The tenfold increase in the amount of glyphosate being used corresponds with huge losses of milkweed and the staggering decline of the Monarch,' said Sylvia Fallon, an NRDC senior scientist. 'We are seeking new safeguards desperately needed to allow enough milkweed to grow... The good news is that butterflies are resilient and can rebound quickly... All they need is milkweed on which to lay their eggs.'"

Action Step #2: Ask Retailers to Stop Selling Pesticide-Treated Plants

If you live in the US, I would also encourage you to contact your local garden centers, either by phone or in person, and ask them to stop selling bee-killing pesticides and neonicotinoid-treated plants. Neonicotinoid pesticides are a newer class of chemicals that are applied to seeds and taken up through the plant's vascular system as it grows, where it's expressed in the pollen and nectar that pollinators consume.

Due to pressure from consumers and environmental groups, retail giant Lowe's recently announced they would eliminate neonicotinoid pesticides from its stores by the spring of 2019, which is a major victory.23

Action Step #3: You Can Support Bee and Butterfly Populations from Home

To avoid harming bees and other helpful pollinators that visit your garden, swap out toxic pesticide and lawn chemicals for organic weed and pest control alternatives. Even some organic formulations can be harmful to beneficial insects, so be sure to vet your products carefully.

Better yet, get rid of your lawn altogether and plant an edible organic garden. Both flower and vegetable gardens provide good honeybee habitats. It's also recommended to keep a small basin of fresh water in your garden or backyard, as bees actually do get thirsty.

In order to support the Monarch butterflies, consider planting a locally appropriate species of milkweed in your garden, on your farm, or wherever you manage habitat.

You can use the Milkweed Seed Finder to locate seeds in your area. Whatever you choose to grow, please avoid purchasing pesticide-treated plants. Cut flower growers are among the heaviest users of toxic agricultural chemicals, including pesticides, so if you must buy cut flowers, make sure you select only organically grown and/or fair-trade bouquets.

Ideally, you'll want to grow your own pollinator-friendly plants from organic, untreated seed, but if you opt to purchase starter plants, make sure to ask whether or not they've been pre-treated with pesticides. Plant a pollinator-friendly garden by choosing a variety of plants that will continue flowering from spring through fall; check out the Bee Smart Pollinator App for a database of nearly 1,000 pollinator-friendly plants.

Be sure to choose plants native to your region and stick with old-fashioned varieties, which have the best blooms, fragrance and nectar/pollen for attracting and feeding pollinators.

Keep in mind that you also help protect the welfare of all pollinators every time you shop organic and grass-fed, as you are actually "voting" for less pesticides and herbicides with every organic and pastured food and consumer product you buy. You can take bee preservation a step further by trying your hand at amateur beekeeping. Maintaining a hive in your garden requires only about an hour of your time each week, benefits your local ecosystem—and you get to enjoy your own homegrown honey!

Tips for Surviving Spring Allergy Season

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

An estimated 25 million Americans suffer from spring allergies associated with tree, grass, and weed pollen. Airborne pollen is the most common cause of seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis.

Worldwide, hay fever affects between 10-30 percent of the population,1 making springtime a season of discomfort rather than joy for many.

Most people turn to antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, and allergy shots to address their symptoms. Unfortunately, many of these drugs can cause significant side effects, and relief tends to be short-lived. Moreover, they don’t address the underlying cause of your allergies.

The good news is that you do have options—drugs are not your only viable alternative. Also, taking a few preventive steps to avoid known triggers may help keep your allergy symptoms as minimal as possible.

As noted by Dr. James Sublett, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI):2

"Because there can be millions of pollen particles in the air, finding allergy relief can seem nearly impossible for some. But by knowing what triggers your allergy symptoms and how to avoid these allergens, you can be on your way to a sneeze-free season."

Pollen is an extremely common allergen, but other agents can trigger allergenic processes as well. Mold spores, dust, airborne contaminants, dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches, environmental chemicals, cleaning products, personal care products, and foods can all cause allergic reactions.

Every person is different in what he or she reacts to. And, just because you haven't reacted to something in the past doesn't mean you won't react to it in the future—you can become sensitized at any point in time.

How and Why Spring Allergies Develop

Allergies are your body's reaction to particles that it considers foreign (aka allergens). The first time your body encounters an allergen, your plasma cells release immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody specific to that allergen.

IgE attaches to the surface of your mast cells, which are found in great numbers in your surface tissues, such as your skin and nasal mucous membranes, where they help mediate inflammatory responses. Mast cells release a number of important chemical mediators, one of which is histamine.

So, the second time your body encounters a particular allergen, within a few minutes your mast cells become activated and release a powerful cocktail of histamine, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins, which trigger the entire cascade of symptoms you associate with allergies, such as sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, hacky cough, itchy eyes, etc.

Tips to Reduce Your Exposure to Pollen

To minimize your allergy symptoms, the ACAAI suggests reducing your exposure to pollen by:

  • Avoiding clothing made of synthetic fabrics, as they can produce an electric charge when rubbed that attracts and makes pollen stick to you. Better options include natural fibers like cotton.
  • Exercising outdoors either before dawn, in the late afternoon, and/or early evening, as pollen counts are at the lowest at these times. Intense exercise may be best done indoors, as your increased breathing rate could make you inhale more pollen.
  • Wearing gloves and a mask when gardening. To filter pollen, wear a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-rated 95 filter mask. Also avoid touching your eyes, and when done, be sure to take a shower and wash your clothes.
  • Reducing your exposure to indoor allergens may also help reduce spring allergy symptoms.
  • To improve your indoor air quality, regularly vacuum your home, including furniture, ideally using a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner; leave shoes by the door to avoid trekking dirt through the house; and use a dehumidifier and/or a HEPA filter air purifier.

Allergies Need to Be Addressed Using a Multi-Prong Approach

Avoiding triggers can certainly be helpful, but to really address your allergies you need a multi-faceted approach that includes optimizing your diet, intestinal health, and vitamin D levels.

An estimated 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, so supporting your digestive health is essential to also supporting your immune system, which is your primary defense system against all disease.

Allergies are a sign that your immune system is in overdrive, and diet, gut health, and vitamin D are all important components that will help optimize your overall immune function.

One common reason for an overactive immune system is “leaky gut” syndrome. If gaps develop between the cells (enterocytes) that make up the membrane lining your intestinal wall, it allows substances to pass through that really should be confined to your digestive tract.

This includes undigested proteins, which can cause allergic reactions. Besides being associated with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease, leaky gut can also be a contributing factor to allergies.

Once the integrity of your intestinal lining is compromised, and there is a flow of toxic substances "leaking out" into your bloodstream, your body also experiences significant increases in inflammation, which places an increased workload on your immune system.

Eating Right and Optimizing Your Vitamin D Levels Is Part of the Long-Term Solution

So what causes leaky gut? The foods you eat play a paramount role, for obvious reasons.

Grains can damage your gut in a number of ways, for example. Not only do they contain anti-nutrients that may damage your gut, many are also highly contaminated with glyphosate, which has been shown to wreak havoc on your intestinal health.

Glyphosate has been shown to severely damage your gut flora and cause chronic diseases rooted in gut dysfunction, and the use of glyphosate on wheat crops has risen in tandem with the rise in celiac disease.

Genetically engineered foods, which are pervasive in the American diet, also tend to be far more allergenic than conventional ones, by virtue of producing foreign proteins that have never existed in the human diet before. Research has found that junk food increases a child’s risk of asthma and allergies, so certainly, avoiding processed foods in general can, at the very least, reduce your risk.

“Healing and sealing” your gut has been shown to help alleviate allergy symptoms, and the key to this is eliminating inflammatory foods like grains and processed foods, and introduce healthier ones that will support a proper balance of bacteria in your gut. Traditionally fermented foods is one essential component of a gut-healthy diet, but trading out processed foods for whole, fresh (ideally organic) foods is also important.

Additionally, as it pertains to your diet, about one-third of seasonal allergy sufferers have something called "oral allergy syndrome,3" in which your immune system is triggered by proteins in some foods that are molecularly similar to pollen. Your immune system looks at the protein molecule and says, "Close enough!" and attacks it. If you are allergic to ragweed, for example, you may have cross-sensitivity to melons, bananas, tomatoes, zucchini, sunflower seeds, dandelions, chamomile, and Echinacea. If you have a grass allergy, you may also react to peaches, celery, tomatoes, melons, and oranges. If this applies to you, you’ll want to avoid such foods.

Why Vitamin D Is So Important for Allergy Sufferers

If you have asthma and/or allergies, optimizing your vitamin D levels is absolutely crucial. In fact, research suggests that vitamin D deficiency may be a primary underlying cause of asthma. This means that many are needlessly suffering with a potentially life threatening ailment, since vitamin D deficiency is easily remedied. Vitamin D will also help to upregulate your immune system.

Ideally, you'll want to get your vitamin D from appropriate sun exposure. Beware that using sunscreen when outdoors effectively shields your skin from making any vitamin D. Another alternative is using a tanning bed, or if neither of those options are available, an oral vitamin D3 supplement. If you opt for a vitamin D supplement you also need to boost your vitamin K2. For more information on this, please see this previous article. Whichever way you go, make sure to check your vitamin D levels at regular intervals to make sure you’re within the therapeutic levels of 50-70 ng/ml.

Provocation Neutralization Allergy Treatment

Aside from addressing health basics like diet and vitamin D, Provocation Neutralization (PN) allergy testing and treatment offers many allergy sufferers permanent relief without adverse side effects. The success rate for this approach is about 80 to 90 percent, and you can receive the treatment at home. The provocation refers to "provoking a change" and neutralization refers to "neutralizing the reaction caused by provocation."

During provocation-neutralization, a small amount of allergen is injected under your skin to produce a small bump called a "wheal" on the top layers of your skin, and then it is monitored for a reaction. If you have a positive reaction, such as fatigue, headache, or a growth in the size of the wheal, then the allergen is neutralized with diluted injections or with drops that go in your mouth of the same allergen. If you are interested in pursuing PN, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine4 (AAEM) has a list of physicians and offices that are trained in this highly effective and recommended technique.

Another Effective Option: Sublingual Immunotherapy

Sublingual immunotherapy5 is a similar technique, but rather than injecting the allergen under your skin, you place it under your tongue. One meta-analysis6 of 63 randomized controlled trials found strong evidence that sublingual immunotherapy improved allergy symptoms caused by grass, tree pollen, dust mites, ragweed, and other substances.

The treatment produced a greater than 40 percent improvement in symptoms compared to a placebo, and while local reactions were common, no life-threatening side effects, such as anaphylaxis, were reported. According to Dr. Daniel Moore,7 the allergy drops used for sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) are administered daily, or several times per week, over a period of years.

“The immune system of the gastrointestinal tract tends to ‘tolerate’ foreign substances, meaning that it does not respond in an over-active way to swallowed material,” he explains. ‘...When SLIT is administered into the gastrointestinal tract [via your mouth], the immune system tolerates the allergen, instead of the over-reactivity of the immune system, as with allergic disease.

This results in less allergy symptoms when the body is exposed to the allergy source, such as airborne pollen or pet dander... SLIT appears to be effective in the treatment of allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis and, to a lesser degree, allergic asthma.’”

Other Helpful Allergy Treatments

Other drug-free allergy treatment alternatives worth trying include flushing your nasal cavity with a neti pot, acupuncture, and eating locally produced honey. Irrigating your nasal passages to flush out pollen and other irritants is a widely recommended strategy, and is also supported by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Acupuncture may also be helpful for relieving allergy symptoms.8 One randomized trial9,10 published in 2013 found that participants who received 12 acupuncture treatments over the course of two months reported greater improvements in their symptoms compared to those who received sham acupuncture.

They also used less antihistamines. As for using local honey, results tend to be mixed, but it could be worth trying—especially if you know what kind of pollen you’re allergic to, so you can match it to the type of honey you buy. In one 2011 study, patients diagnosed with birch pollen allergy experienced significant relief when consuming birch pollen honey daily from November to March. During birch pollen season, compared to the control group, the patients using honey experienced a 60 percent reduction in symptoms; twice as many asymptomatic days; 70 percent fewer days with severe symptoms, and 50 percent decrease in usage of antihistamines.

While I believe there's truth to the anecdotal claims that local honey can help reduce allergy symptoms, it's important to be aware that honey itself can also trigger in some cases severe allergic reactions, including anaphylactic shock. So clearly you should not attempt to use honey if you've ever experienced an adverse reaction to honey in the past. Also be careful and use it sparingly in the beginning until you've confirmed that you can tolerate it. Another important point to remember is that honey is high in fructose. Typically, about 70-80 percent of honey is fructose, which in excessive amounts can exacerbate pre-existing insulin resistance and provoke metabolic dysfunction.

Helpful Herbs and Supplements

A number of herbs and supplements can also be helpful against allergy symptoms, including the following:

  • Hot peppers: Hot chili peppers, horseradish, and hot mustards work as natural decongestants. In fact, a nasal spray containing capsaicin (derived from hot peppers) significantly reduced nasal allergy symptoms in a 2009 study.
  • Quercetin: Quercetin is an antioxidant that belongs to a class of water-soluble plant substances called flavonoids. Although research results have been mixed, many believe quercetin-rich foods (such as apples, berries, red grapes, red onions, capers, and black tea) prevent histamine release—so they are “natural antihistamines.” Quercetin is also available in supplement form—a typical dose for hay fever is between 200 and 400 mg per day.
  • Butterbur (Petasites hybridus): Another natural antihistamine, this herb has been used since ancient times to treat a variety of conditions. As far back as the 17th century, butterbur was used to treat coughs, asthma, and skin wounds. Researchers have since identified the compounds in butterbur that help reduce symptoms in asthma by inhibiting leukotrienes and histamines, which are responsible for symptom aggravation in asthma.11 In a German study,12 40 percent of patients taking butterbur root extract were able to reduce their intake of traditional asthma medications. A British study found butterbur as effective as the drug Zyrtec.
  • A word of caution is needed, however. Butterbur is a member of the ragweed family, so if you are allergic to ragweed, marigold, daisy, or chrysanthemum, you should not use butterbur. Also, the RAW herb should not be used because it contains substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be toxic to the liver and kidneys and may cause cancer. Commercial butterbur products have had a lot of these alkaloids removed.

  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis): Laboratory studies suggest that berberine, the active ingredient in goldenseal, has antibacterial and immune-enhancing properties that may be helpful for seasonal allergies.
  • Eucalyptus oil: This pure essential oil can be healing to mucus membranes. You can apply a drop on a cotton ball and sniff it several times a day, add a few drops to water (or to a nebulizer, if you own one) for a steam treatment, or use a few drops in your bathwater.
Is Your Home Too Sterile?

One last thing I think is worth mentioning is the hygiene hypothesis, which can also play a role in allergy development. Swedish researchers recently published a study13,14,15 in which dishwashers were identified as a potentially aggravating factor for allergies. Because dishwashers use very hot water (water typically too hot for human touch), they kill far more germs than ordinary hand washing. While most would count that as a significant benefit, it may actually increase your risk of developing allergies.

The study, which included more than 1,000 Swedish children, those with increased microbial exposure were less likely to develop allergies… and this included potential exposure through hand-washed dishes. In households where dishes were always washed by hand, rates of allergies in the children were half those from households that used dishwashers. The children using hand-washed dishes were less likely to develop eczema, asthma, and hay fever. According to the researchers: “We speculate that a less-efficient dishwashing method may induce tolerance via increased microbial exposure.”

Being Proactive Can Help You Rein in Your Allergy Symptoms

If you’re one of the tens of millions of allergy sufferers in the US, know there is plenty you can do besides reaching for an antihistamine pill. Eating a diet based on unprocessed, ideally organic, and/or locally grown foods, including traditionally fermented foods, along with optimizing your vitamin D levels forms the foundation upon which your immune system can function optimally.

For short-term relief of symptoms, you could give acupuncture a try, and irrigate your sinuses with a neti pot. There are also a number of herbs and supplements that can help alleviate symptoms, as discussed above. For more long-term relief, consider provocation neutralization treatment, or sublingual allergy drops, which work just as well as inhalers.

Four Important Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Dietary fats are an important nutritional component not only because your body needs them for building healthy cells and producing hormones—fat is also required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

This includes vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which perform a variety of important functions in your body. Vitamins A, D, and K cooperate synergistically, not only with each other but also with essential minerals like magnesium, calcium, and zinc.

This level of synergy is a reminder that your best bet is to cooperate with the wisdom of nature by eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods, and in the case of vitamin D, by getting appropriate sun exposure.
 
Optimizing your vitamin D levels could cut your risk for cancer in half. One study shows it may also slash your risk of heart attacks by 50% - and sunshine is free.

It can be rather tricky to fine-tune all the ratios of individual vitamins, minerals, and fats if you primarily rely on dietary supplements. That said, in some cases supplementation may be a wise choice, and I’ll review some of the basics to consider if you think you need more than your diet can provide you.

The Synergy Between Vitamins A, D, and K

Both vitamins A and D contribute to immune function by binding to their respective receptors, thereby directing cellular processes that promote healthy immune responses.

However, studies in isolated cells suggest that vitamin D may only be able to activate its receptor with the direct cooperation of vitamin A,1,2 and other studies have raised questions about vitamin A’s ability to negate vitamin D’s benefits if the ratio between them favors vitamin A too much...

One of the simplest ways to ensure an appropriate and beneficial ratio between these two vitamins is to make sure you’re getting your vitamin D from sensible sun exposure, and your vitamin A or beta-carotene from your diet, in the form of colorful vegetables.

The reason this works is it’s the retinoic acid (retinol) form of vitamin A that is problematic. Not beta carotene. Beta carotene is not a concern because it is PRE-vitamin A. Your body will simply not over-convert beta carotene to excessive levels of vitamin A.

Taking beta carotene supplements also will not interfere with your vitamin D, so that’s another option if for some reason you cannot get enough veggies in your diet. Chlorella is also loaded with natural beta carotene and can be very useful for optimizing your vitamin A levels. Vitamins A and D also cooperate to regulate the production of certain vitamin K-dependent proteins.

Once vitamin K2 activates these proteins, they help mineralize bones and teeth, protect arteries and other soft tissues from abnormal calcification, and protect against cell death. Magnesium, calcium, vitamin D3, or vitamin K2 also work in tandem, so if you’re considering taking one, you need to take all the others into consideration as well.

Study Predicts Vitamin A Supplements for Kids Could Save 600,000 Lives a Year

While vitamin D has received plenty of attention over the past decade, other vitamins, such as A, have receded into the background. But that doesn’t make them any less important.

Vitamin A3 is important for healthy vision, immune function, and proper cell growth, and according to previous research, preventing vitamin A deficiency in children could save an estimated 600,000 lives each year. As reported by Science Daily:4

“[A] team of researchers... analyzed the results of 43 trials of vitamin A supplementation involving over 200,000 children aged 6 months to 5 years...

They found vitamin A supplements reduced child mortality by 24 percent in low and middle income countries. It may also reduce mortality and disability by preventing measles, diarrhea and vision problems, including night blindness.

The authors say that, if the risk of death for 190 million vitamin A deficient children were reduced by 24 percent, over 600,000 lives would be saved each year and 20 million disability-adjusted life years (a measure of quantity and quality of life) would be gained.”

Vitamin D—One of the Simplest Solutions to Wide-Ranging Health Problems

Researchers have now realized that vitamin D is involved in the biochemical cellular machinery of all the cells and tissues in your body. When you are deficient, your entire body will end up struggling to operate optimally.

Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is still rampant around the world, even in sun-drenched areas, as many shun the sun for fear of skin cancer, or simply spend most of their daylight hours working indoors.

Research suggests that increasing levels of vitamin D3 among the general population could potentially prevent chronic diseases that claim nearly one million lives throughout the world each year. Incidence of several types of cancer and heart disease could also be slashed in half.

Vitamin D also helps fight infections of all kinds, including colds and the flu, as it regulates the expression of genes that influence your immune system to attack and destroy bacteria and viruses.

Optimizing your vitamin D levels should be at the top of the list for virtually everyone, regardless of your age, sex, color, or health status, as vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an astonishingly diverse array of common chronic diseases, including:

CancerHypertensionHeart disease Autism Obesity Rheumatoid arthritis Diabetes 1 and 2Multiple SclerosisCrohn's disease Cold & Flu Inflammatory Bowel Disease Tuberculosis Septicemia Signs of aging Dementia Eczema & Psoriasis Insomnia Hearing loss Muscle pain CavitiesPeriodontal disease Osteoporosis Macular degeneration Reduced C-section risk Pre eclampsia Seizures Infertility AsthmaCystic fibrosis Migraines DepressionAlzheimer's disease Schizophrenia General Vitamin D Guidelines

To maximally benefit from vitamin D, you need a vitamin D level of at least 40 ng/ml, and to get there, you may need around 5,000-6,000 IUs of vitamin D3 per day or more, from all sources, and that includes appropriate sun exposure, food, and/or a vitamin D3 supplement. Research suggests the ideal range for optimal health is between 50-70 ng/ml, and if you have cancer or heart disease, the ideal may be even higher.

Ideally, test your vitamin D level at least twice a year to ensure you maintain a clinically relevant level year-round. Keep in mind that if you take a vitamin D supplement, you also increase your body’s need for vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 deficiency is actually what produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries.


Sources Both Vitamin D and A Need Magnesium and Zinc to Work Properly

Vitamins A and D carry out most of their functions by regulating gene expression, but to do this, they also need magnesium, both directly and indirectly. For starters, your cells can only produce vitamin A and D receptors with the assistance of magnesium. Even fully activated vitamin D (calcitriol) is useless in the absence of magnesium. Magnesium also helps digest the fat needed for their absorption.

As noted by Christopher Masterjohn in a previous article on my site, magnesium contributes to more than 300 chemical reactions, including every reaction that depends on ATP, the universal energy currency of your cells. It also activates the enzyme that makes copies of DNA, as well as the enzyme that makes RNA, which is responsible for translating the codes contained within your genes into the production of every protein within your body. This process of translating the DNA code in order to produce proteins is called “gene expression.”

Unfortunately, industrial agriculture has massively depleted most soils of beneficial minerals like magnesium, so many are not getting sufficient amounts from their diet. An exception might be if you eat organic foods (grown in soil treated with mineral fertilizers), in which case you may still be able to get a lot of your magnesium from your food.  

Seaweed and green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard are excellent sources of magnesium, as are some beans, nuts and seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds. Avocados also contain magnesium. Juicing your vegetables is a great way to ensure you're getting enough of them in your diet.

Zinc is another mineral that plays an important role in the function of fat-soluble vitamins. There are well-documented interactions between vitamin A and zinc. Vitamin A supports the intestinal absorption of zinc, and zinc, in turn, supports the formation of vesicles involved in transporting vitamin A and the other the fat-soluble vitamins across your intestinal wall. If you have low zinc, supplementing will support vitamin A’s role in eye health. Zinc also interacts with vitamin D, and it appears they promote each other’s intestinal absorption.5

Vitamin E Is Important for Vision and Cancer Prevention

Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and immune-system booster that—like vitamin D—has been shown to have a number of cancer-fighting properties.6,7,8 It may also be helpful in the treatment of obesity-related fatty liver disease and Alzheimer’s.9 Vitamin E is also important for eye health, and can help lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD),10 a leading cause of vision loss in the elderly.

"Vitamin E" actually refers to a family of at least eight fat-soluble antioxidant compounds and, ideally, vitamin E should be consumed in the broader family of mixed natural tocopherols and tocotrienols, (also referred to as full-spectrum vitamin E) to get the maximum benefits. Avoid synthetic vitamin E (tocopheryl), as it will not provide your body with the benefits that natural full-spectrum vitamin E will. According to Dr. Evan Shute,11 a physician who has worked with vitamin E for over three decades, healthy women need around 400 IUs of vitamin E per day, while men need around 600 IUs daily.

The best way to ensure you’re getting the full spectrum of vitamin E in a form your body can use is to make smart dietary choices. Tocopherol and its subgroups are found in certain nuts and green leafy vegetables, for instance. Sources of tocotrienols include palm oil, rice bran, and barley oils.

However, since there are relatively few healthy dietary sources of vitamin E, a natural supplement may be necessary for some. If you're interested in increasing your dietary sources of vitamin E, try eating more raw organic nuts, such as hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, and pecans, legumes, and green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli.

Vitamin K2 for Optimal Heart and Bone Health

Vitamin K1 is most well-known for the role it plays in blood clotting. In fact the “K” in “vitamin K” stands for “koagulation,” the German word for blood clotting. From its discovery in the 1930s through the late 1970s, we knew of no other roles for vitamin K. Since researchers throughout the twentieth century saw the two forms of the vitamin as interchangeable, they ignored vitamin K2 as though its scarcity made it irrelevant.

The realization that vitamin K is not just for blood clotting, however, led us to discover that vitamins K1 and K2 are not interchangeable after all: vitamin K1 more effectively supports blood clotting, while vitamin K2 is also essential for building strong bones, preventing heart disease, and it plays a crucial part in other bodily processes as well. In fact, vitamin K2 is sometimes referred to as "the forgotten vitamin" because its major benefits are often overlooked.

Like vitamin A, vitamin K2 is an important adjunct to vitamin D, and if you are deficient in one, neither will work optimally. According to one of the worlds top vitamin K researchers, Dr. Cees Vermeer, most people are deficient in vitamin K. Most of you get enough K from your diet to maintain adequate blood clotting, but NOT enough to protect you from a variety of other health problems, such as:

Arterial calcification, cardiovascular disease, and varicose veins Dementia. Recent research12,13 suggests adding vitamin K-rich foods such as spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens to your diet can slow cognitive decline. Seniors who ate one to two servings of leafy greens per day were found to have the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who consumed none OsteoporosisTooth decay Prostate cancer,14 lung cancer,15 liver cancer,16 and leukemiaInfectious diseases such as pneumonia

There are three types of vitamin K:

  • Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone), found naturally in plants, especially green vegetables; K1 goes directly to your liver and helps you maintain healthy blood clotting
  • Vitamin K2 (menaquinone), made by the bacteria that line your gastrointestinal tract; K2 goes straight to your blood vessel walls, bones, and tissues other than your liver. The biological role of vitamin K2 is to help move calcium into the proper areas in your body, such as your bones and teeth. It also helps remove calcium from areas where it shouldn’t be, such as in your arteries and soft tissues
  • Vitamin K3 (menadione) is a synthetic form I do not recommend; it's important to note that toxicity has occurred in infants injected with synthetic vitamin K3

Vitamin K2, which is made in your body and also produced by bacteria in fermented foods, and is a superior form of vitamin K2. It’s the one I recommend for supplementation, as it’s natural and non-toxic, even at 500 times the recommended daily allowance (RDA). Increasing your K2 by consuming more fermented foods is the most desirable way to increase your levels. The food highest in natural K2 is natto, which is a form of fermented soybeans.

You can obtain all of the vitamin K2 you need (about 200 micrograms) by eating 15 grams of natto daily, which is half an ounce. By using a specially formulated starter culture you can also dramatically boost the vitamin K2 content of your homemade fermented vegetables.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins Need Healthy Fats to Work

Obviously, in order for your body to actually absorb all of these fat-soluble vitamins (and other fat-soluble nutrients) you need to eat them with some fat. Dietary fats are also needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption, and for a host of other biological processes. A simple way to boost absorption of these vitamins is to drizzle some olive oil over your salad, or eat your veggies with some raw organic butter.

Coconut oil is another excellent choice, and has been found to improve absorption of antioxidants and other nutrients better than other fats. Coconut oil earns even more "points" because it's rich in lauric acid, which converts in your body to monolaurin – a compound also found in breast milk that strengthens immunity. When choosing a coconut oil, make sure you choose an organic coconut oil that is unrefined, unbleached, made without heat processing or chemicals, and does not contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Avoid processed vegetable oils such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, and canola. Corn and soy is typically genetically engineered and tend to be contaminated with glyphosate, which has recently been classified as a probable carcinogen. They also have a skewed ratio of omega fatty acids, being high in damaged omega-6s and low in healthy omega-3s.

In addition to that, vegetable oils in general are unstable, and when heated, they degrade into highly inflammatory oxidation products. More than 100 dangerous oxidation products have been found in a single piece of chicken fried in vegetable oils.

The following tips can help ensure you're eating the right fats for your health:

  • Use organic butter (preferably made from raw milk) instead of margarines and vegetable oil spreads. Butter is a healthy whole food that has received an unwarranted bad rap.
  • Use coconut oil for cooking. It is far superior to any other cooking oil and is loaded with health benefits. (Remember that olive oil should be used COLD, drizzled over salad or fish, for example, not to cook with.)
  • Following my nutrition plan will automatically reduce your modified fat intake, as it will teach you to focus on healthy whole foods instead of processed junk food.
  • To round out your healthy fat intake, be sure to eat raw fats, such as those from avocados, raw dairy products, and olive oil, and also take a high-quality source of animal-based omega-3 fat, such as krill oil.

11 Vegetables Anyone Can Grow on Their Own

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

One in three US households are now growing food, according to a special report from the National Gardening Association (NGA).1 This equates to about 42 million households with a food garden in 2013, a 17 percent increase from 2008.

Keeping a garden can improve your health by providing you with fresher, uncontaminated food, and cutting your grocery bill. NGA estimates that while the average US family spends $70 per year to plant a vegetable garden, they grow about $600 worth of produce – that’s a $530 return on your investment.2

The promise of garden-fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, and carrots is what initially draws many new gardeners in… but what keeps many involved is the intrinsically rewarding feeling of growing your own food.

11 Foods That Are Easy to Grow at Home

You might be surprised at how much food you can grow from just a few packets of seeds. Even if you’re new to gardening, many of the foods that follow are relatively foolproof options that will deliver a robust harvest, sometimes in as little as a few weeks from planting.3

Keep in mind that even if you don’t have space in your backyard for a garden, you can grow vegetables in containers on your patio, balcony, or rooftop. Community gardens are also growing in popularity where you can rent a plot of soil to grow food for your family.

If this is your first garden, you might want to start out with just a few options from this list. You’ll probably need to experiment with different methods of planting, watering, building soil health, and controlling pests naturally, but as you gain confidence, and harvest the fruits of your labor, your garden (and your passion for gardening) will likely continue to grow.

If you’re not sure of which seeds to choose, check out my Heirloom Seed Kits for wonderful selections of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers that are non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated, and non-patented, in selections for both Northern and Southern climates.

1. Sprouts

Growing your own sprouts is quite easy, and you don't need a whole lot of space either; they can even be grown indoors. Sprouts may be small, but they are packed with nutrition, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes that help protect against free radical damage.

Two of my personal favorites are sunflower seed and pea shoots—both of which are typically about 30 times more nutritious than organic vegetables. They're also among the highest in protein. In addition, sunflower seeds contain healthy fats, essential fatty acids, and fiber—all of which are important for optimal health.  

I used Ball jars when I first started sprouting seeds about 25 years ago, but I've since switched over to growing them in potting soil. With Ball jars you need to rinse them several times a day to prevent mold growth and it is a hassle to have them draining in the sink, taking up space.

Moreover, you need dozens of jars to produce the same amount of sprouts as just one flat tray. I didn't have the time or patience for that, and you may not either. The choice is yours though. You can easily grow sprouts and shoots with or without soil.

My Sprout Doctor Starter Kit comes with what I consider to be three of the best sprouts to grow – sunflower shoots, broccoli sprouts, and pea shoots. When grown in soil, you can harvest your sprouts in about a week, and a pound of seeds will probably produce over 10 pounds of sprouts.

Sunflower shoots will give you the most volume for your effort and, in my opinion, have the best taste. In one 10x10 tray, you can harvest between one and two pounds of sunflower sprouts, which will last you about three days. You can store them in the fridge for about a week. Broccoli sprouts look and taste similar to alfalfa sprouts, which most people like.

They're perfect for adding to salads, either in addition to or in lieu of salad greens, and sandwiches and are especially tasty in combination with fresh avocado. You can also add them to your vegetable juice or smoothies.

I've partnered with a company in a small town in Vermont that develops, breeds, and grows their own seeds, and is an industry leader in seed safety for sprouts and shoots.

All of my seeds are non-GMO, certified organic, and packed with nutrition. My starter kit makes it easy to grow your own sprouts in the comfort of your home, whenever you want. It provides everything you need, so all you have to do is grow and enjoy your sprouts.

2. Spinach and Loose-Leaf Lettuce

Early spring is a good time to plant spinach and other loose-leaf greens. The harvest is ready in just three to five weeks; simply cut off leaves here and there with scissors (don’t worry, they’ll grow back). Up to half of the nutrients in lettuce may be lost within two days of harvest, so growing your owns leads to a much more nutritious salad.

3. Kale

One cup of kale contains just around 30 calories but will provide you with seven times the daily recommended amount of vitamin K1, twice the amount of vitamin A and a day's worth of vitamin C, plus antioxidants, minerals, and much more.

This leafy green also has anti-inflammatory properties that may help prevent arthritis, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases – plant-based omega-3 fats for building cell membranes, cancer-fighting sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol, and an impressive number of beneficial flavonoids.

Kale grows all season long, but its flavor gets sweeter after a frost. Impressively, kale can survive temperatures as low as 10° Fahrenheit, so be sure to keep it growing into the fall and winter. Kale is ready to harvest about a month after planting.

4. Rainbow Chard

Chard belongs to the chenopod food family, along with beets and spinach. It’s an excellent source of vitamins C, E, and A (in the form of beta-carotene) along with the minerals manganese and zinc. It’s a hearty plant that grows easily, and it makes a striking addition to your garden with its bright red stems.

Plus, chard degrades quickly during shipping, making it ideal to grow at home. Plant chard in early spring, and you’ll be able to harvest it all season long.

5. Bok Choy

Bok choy, which is also referred to as Chinese white cabbage, contains vitamins C and K, plus a higher concentration of beta-carotene and vitamin A than any other variety of cabbage. It also contains important nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and manganese, all wrapped up in an extremely low-calorie package

Bok choy can be planted early spring through midsummer. Its leaves can be harvested when they’re about three inches tall, or you can wait until a head forms and harvest the whole plant at once.

6. Herbs

Fresh herbs can make your meals pop, but they’re expensive to purchase in the store. Fortunately, it takes very little space or skill to grow your own. You can even grow them on a windowsill. Some basic herbs to start with include basil, chives, cilantro, parsley, thyme, and dill.

7. Cherry Tomatoes

While regular tomatoes are relatively easy to grow, they can be sensitive to different temperatures. Cherry tomatoes are even easier, and you’ll be rewarded with pint after pint of the fruits that taste far superior to store-bought versions (plus they’ll be free of pesticides and fertilizers).

Cherry tomatoes like a sunny spot to grow, and you’ll need to tie them to a supportive stick or tomato cage as they grow.

8. Cucumbers

Cucumbers grow quickly and easily, and once you taste your homegrown version, you won’t want to go back to store-bought. These vines like to climb, so plant them near a trellis or fence, and put the seeds in only after the soil is warm.

9. Peas

Snap peas are another “vertical” grower, making them ideal when space is tight. Plant peas in early spring and plan to tie them to a small trellis for support when they start to get tall.

10. Carrots

Don’t let carrots intimidate you just because they grow below ground – they’re quite hearty and easy to grow for beginners. The seeds may take a few weeks to sprout and the carrots are usually ready to harvest in 46 to 65 days. As Matthew Benson, author of Growing Beautiful Food and farmer of Stonegate Farm in New York, told TIME:4

“‘We know less about what’s going on under our feet than we do what goes on up in the cosmos,’ says Benson. ‘It’s so mysterious, all of these interesting relationships between roots and rhizomes and microbes and all these cellular chatter that goes on in the dirt.’ Pulling veggies from the soil can be very satisfying for a first time farmer.”

11. Edible Flowers

Edible flowers like nasturtium add color to your garden and can add intense flavor to your meals. Plus, nasturtium is known to naturally repel pests like whiteflies, squash bugs, and striped pumpkin beetles. It takes about one to two weeks from planting for flowers to develop (simply snip the petals off for eating). These can even be grown indoors in pots.

How to Create Healthy Soil

Download Interview Transcript

The key to growing nutrient-dense food is to have soil that is abundant with microbial life and nutrients. Sadly, very few of us have access to this type of soil, but the good news is that it is relatively easy to create it. Paul Gautschi has been a personal inspiration to me in this area, and his garden is a testament to the fact that growing large amounts of healthy food can be very simple, and doesn’t require a lot of time.

The documentary Back to Eden was my first exposure to his work. I struggled for years seeking to unlock the puzzle of growing nutrient-dense food before I came across his recommendations—the simplicity and low cost of which really appealed to me. After studying his technique more carefully, I realized that using wood chips is probably the single best way to optimize soil microbiology with very little effort.

You can actually use virtually any organic material for mulch but wood chips seem to be one of the best, as they are concentrated sources of carbon that serve to feed the complex soil ecology. Typically, carbon is one of the nutrients that is far too low in the soil.

Additionally, by covering the soil around your plants and/or trees with mulch, you mimic what nature does naturally, and in so doing, you effortlessly maximize the health of the soil. Actually, the effortlessness comes after you do the hard work of moving the chips to where you need them to be. But once there, over time they work their magic and virtually eliminate the most concerning garden tasks, which is weeding, watering, and fertilizing.

Biochar is another great tool to help building your soil, the surface area of biochar is what gives it such great qualities when used in farming or gardening. The chips and leaves gradually break down and are digested and redigested by a wide variety of bacteria, fungi, and nematodes in the soil. Once the carbon can’t be digested anymore, it forms humates that last in the soil and provide a host of benefits that I will describe below.

Drastically Cut Down on Weeding and Watering

Other gardeners till the wood chips into the ground, which is by far your worst option. It’s actually important to avoid tilling the earth as it tends to destroy soil microbes, especially the complex and delicate mycorrhizal fungi. When you use wood chips as ground cover, tilling becomes completely unnecessary.

A few short months after putting down a deep layer of wood chips, you will end up with lush fertile soil beneath the chips that will happily support whatever you choose to grow. It is important to never plant in the actual chips, you need to move the chips back and plant in the soil and then cover the plant to below the first leaves.

One major reason why most people don’t want to garden is they abhor weeding. Wood chips will radically reduce your weeding, probably by over 90 percent, and the weeds that do grow are easily pulled out by their roots so it becomes relatively effortless to keep the area clean.

Many parts of the country are also challenged with droughts and may not get more than 10-20 inches of water a year. Wood chips are the ideal solution, as they will eliminate water evaporation from the soil. Better yet, at night they will grab moisture from the air and release it into the soil in the day when the soil needs it.

The Benefits of Gardening Go Far Beyond the Food

Gardening can provide you with a variety of fruits and vegetables to feed your family, but it also gets you outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine, helping your body produce much-needed vitamin D. It gets you moving, providing important exercise, and allows you to connect socially with other gardeners. It’s also good for your mental health.

A systematic review examined the impact of gardens and outdoor spaces on the mental and physical well-being of people with dementia. The research suggested that garden use, whether it be watering plants, walking through a garden, or sitting in one, lead to decreased levels of agitation or anxiety among the patients.5

Researchers in the Netherlands have also found that gardening is one of the most potent stress-relieving activities there is.6 In their trial, two groups of people were asked to complete a stressful task; one group was then instructed to garden for half an hour while the other group was asked to read indoors for the same length of time.

Afterward, the gardening group reported a greater improvement in mood. Tests also revealed they had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared to those who tried to relax by quiet reading.

According to a survey by Gardeners’ World magazine, 80 percent of gardeners reported being “happy” and satisfied with their lives, compared to 67 percent of non-gardeners.7 Perhaps it’s no coincidence that gardeners are happier…

Mycobacterium vaccae is a type of bacteria commonly found in soil. Remarkably, this microbe has been found to “mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide.”8 It helps to stimulate serotonin production, helping to make you feel happier and more relaxed. No wonder so many people describe their garden as their “happy place.”

Roasted Asparagus and Fennel Recipe

Sun, 04/19/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Dubbed as a "feel-good" vegetable because of its potential to support your mood, asparagus is a superfood that I highly recommend as a mainstay in your shopping list. It can be steamed, grilled, stir-fried, or can be used to make the famous comfort food, creamy asparagus soup. But if you're looking for a unique way to cook this nutritionally packed, odd-looking vegetable, I highly recommend serving it with an equally healthy ingredient like fennel.

Try this delicious Roasted Asparagus and Fennel recipe: 

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
  • 2 medium oranges, sliced thinly
  • 1 medium organic fennel bulb
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds,* toasted and crushed in mortar and pestle or spice grinder
  • ½ teaspoon honey (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 tablespoon pistachio nuts, chopped

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 450° Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss asparagus with the 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and a pinch of salt. Line an oven safe dish with parchment paper and spread the asparagus out in a single layer. Roast until tender, about 8-10 minutes.
  3. Peel and section oranges over a bowl, to reserve juice.
  4. Trim brown ends from the fennel bulb and cut vertically into very thin slices.
  5. To make dressing, bring 1 cup of orange juice to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until juice is reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool. When cool, slowly add coconut oil, whisking constantly. When blended, add vinegar, fennel seeds, honey, salt, and pepper. Whisk to blend.
  6. Place oranges and fennel in a large bowl and toss with dressing.
  7. Serve and garnish with pistachio nuts.

This recipe makes 6 servings.

*Can be found in the spice aisle of the grocery store, health food store, or Indian market.

From Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type

Roasted Asparagus and Fennel Cooking Tips

I've always warned you about the potential dangers lurking in conventional, supermarket-bought fruits and vegetables, particularly their risk of having a high pesticide load. But this typically isn't an issue with asparagus, as it is one of the vegetables with the lowest levels of pesticide residue, making it safe to purchase conventional. In fact, it's included in the "Clean Fifteen" list in the Environmental Working Group's "2015 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™" report.1

Regardless of whether you're buying conventional or organic asparagus, make sure that you choose plump and straight "spears" that do not have dry, split, or excessively woody stems – a sign that the asparagus is already old. Thin asparagus spears are tender and sweet, while fatter ones are meatier and have a stronger flavor.

To clean and dry asparagus, TheKitchn.com recommends this method:

"Rinse the spears under cool water to remove any grit. Snap off the bottom inch or so using your fingers; the stems will naturally break where the tough woody part ends and the tender stem begins. Dry the spears by rolling them between two kitchen towels."2

Aside from roasting, like in the recipe above, steaming and poaching asparagus in salted boiling water are also good ways to cook this healthy vegetable. However you choose to prepare it, make sure that it's not undercooked (as it can be tough to chew) or overcooked (leading a mushy outcome). Asparagus is best when tender, but still has a slight bite to it. To check if the asparagus is cooked enough, pierce it with a fork or skewer.

Meanwhile, fennel, a mainstay in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine but still quite unfamiliar to many Americans, is a delicious and fragrant vegetable that adds a sweet musky flavor to dishes. It tastes great with beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes, but also works well with meat and fish, and even when added raw to salads.

Another boon of this vegetable: it's versatile. Every part of fennel, such as the bulb root, leaves, and the seeds, can be used. 

When buying fennel, take note that larger bulbs are more tender than the slender, elongated ones. Keep an eye out for glossy bulbs with no signs of bruising, cracking, or browning, and if the stalks are attached, they should be a vibrant, crisp green.3

Roasted Asparagus and Fennel Nutrition Facts Calories 217 Total Fat 16 g Carbohydrates 18 g Protein 4 g Why Is Roasted Asparagus and Fennel Good for You?

Asparagus is a nutritionally balanced vegetable that's low in fat, sodium, and cholesterol, but loaded with vitamins A, E, and K, zinc, magnesium, selenium, fiber, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, iron, copper, potassium, and manganese. Another benefit of this vegetable is it's naturally rich in folate or vitamin B9, which is essential in preventing neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, in infants. The folate in asparagus also helps your body produce dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.      

Asparagus is also high in glutathione and contains rutin, which helps prevent small blood vessels from rupturing and protects against radiation.

Not to be outdone, fennel is a treasure trove of nutrients, and is loaded with vitamin C (17 percent of the daily value), potassium, calcium, dietary fiber, and folate. Its long, graceful fronds contain niacin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, and pantothenic acid, while the seeds and bulbs have quercetin, rutin, and kaempferol, antioxidant flavonoids that help resist infection, aging, and degenerative neurological diseases.

A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine also demonstrated fennel's health promoting properties.4 Researchers found that eating fennel seeds can have a beneficial effect on the loss of bone mineral density, as well as bone mineral content. They also indicated that fennel seeds show potential in preventing bone loss in postmenopausal osteoporosis.

Other health-promoting ingredients in this recipe include:

Orange

Oranges are chockfull of vitamin C, with 165 percent of the recommended daily value in one cup. It also has calcium, potassium, B vitamins, phytochemicals, and flavonoids like zeaxanthin, lutein, beta-carotenes, anthocyanins, and hydroxycinnamic acids.

While this recipe calls for orange juice, I advise you to use freshly squeezed orange juice only, and not the highly processed supermarket varieties that are pre-packed in cartons or bottles. Remember, many popular brands use a chemical process to make juice taste and smell like oranges.

Vinegar

Vinegar that's traditionally made through a long fermentation process is loaded with bioactive components like gallic acid, acetic acid, epicatechin, catechin, and caffeic acid that give it its antimicrobial, antioxidant, and other beneficial properties.

While distilled white vinegar, which is perfectly clear, is excellent for laundry and cleaning, I advise avoiding this and opting for either organic, unfiltered, and unprocessed vinegar (which has a murky appearance) or apple cider vinegar, which is used in this recipe.  

Pistachio Nuts

Some people believe that nuts are high in fat, and feel guilty indulging in this versatile snack. However, I highly recommend snacking on raw nuts, as they are loaded with healthy fats, plant sterols, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.

Pistachios are one of the healthiest varieties you can try, as they actually have many health-boosting properties. They have higher levels of lutein, beta-carotene, and gamma-tocopherol (vitamin E) than other nuts, and eating one or two servings per day has been shown to help increase antioxidant blood levels and lower oxidized LDL cholesterol in people with elevated levels.

GMO Awareness Campaign Continues

Sun, 04/19/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Ronnie Cummins, founder of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), is a long-time leader in promoting labeling for genetically engineered (GE) foods. About four years ago, we joined forces to develop the Health Liberty alliance, with the aim to push this agenda forward.

Many may know of my involvement with GMO labelling but not realize that it was Ronnie who suggested we make use of state ballot initiatives—an option that was not widely known or utilized—to get genetically modified organisms (GMOs) labeled in the US.

I donated a significant sum to the first ballot initiative in California in 2012, which inspired others to donate to the campaign as well. We technically “lost” the vote, not only in California, but also in subsequent ballot initiatives in Washington (2013) and Oregon (2014).

But we are winning the war, as these labeling initiatives have raised a considerable amount of public awareness among people who didn’t even realize there were genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their food.

With each ballot initiative we also got closer and closer to winning. We lost by a mere 800 votes or so in Oregon last year. In the final analysis, the only reason we lost was because industry spent well over 100 million dollars against those initiatives, and succeeded in confusing enough voters to where they narrowly won.

90 Percent of Americans Now Want GMO Labeling

Through the publicity generated from those ballot initiatives, millions of Americans were alerted to the fact that there’s something in their food they don’t know anything about, and according to the latest poll, over 90 percent of the public definitely do want to know what’s in their food.

“The problem is that the federal government, and certainly corporate agribusiness and Big Food companies, still don’t want us to know, because they know that once we are informed about what’s in our food, they’re going to have to change,” Ronnie says.

“Lately, big food companies like McDonalds have backed down saying, ‘I guess we won’t use genetically engineered potatoes after all for our French fries.’ We’ve seen Tyson say, ‘Well, I guess we will get these antibiotics out.’

I think we’re right on the cusp of a new era where consumers are starting to understand that we have a right to know what’s in our food. We better know what’s in our food! We better pay attention to that because it’s impacting our health in a very serious way.

Right now we have an epidemic of chronic disease across the country. It’s getting worse and worse and it’s directly related to toxins in the environment, our food, and our water.”

We May Be Losing Battles, But We’re Winning the War

Ever since GE foods and crops came on the market a little over two decades ago, GE crops have spread all over the country, and GE soybeans, corn, cottonseed oil, canola, and sugar beets are now in most of the non-organic processed foods you find in supermarkets or grocery stores.

This despite the fact that, from the very beginning, there were suspicions they might not be safe. Today, such misgivings have grown even stronger, as the pesticides used on them have been found to be far more hazardous than previously thought.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), recently reclassified glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup—as a "probable carcinogen" (Class 2A).

Recent research1 has also found that Roundup (the actual formulation of Roundup, not just glyphosate in isolation) alters disease-causing bacteria's response to commonly used antibiotics, including tetracycline and ciprofloxacin, thereby raising resistance to drugs used in medicine.

 “But we could never get the government to pay attention, because the government is obviously more interested in what the chemical industry and the big agricultural companies have to say than what their constituents have to say,” Ronnie notes.

“Four years ago, we decided to utilize this hundred-year-old tactic, the state ballot initiative process, to go around the federal government. Basically, put it to a vote of the citizens...

Because we knew... that once these genetically engineered foods and food ingredients are labeled, consumers don’t want to buy them, grocery stores won’t sell them, restaurants won’t serve them, and farmers won’t grow them. If we can’t get the government to act, we’ll have to act as our own government.

This battle for the right to know and the right to choose is not just about genetic engineering; it’s about our entire food supply and really our entire environment.

Things like bisphenol A (BPA) in plastic bottles and flame retardants in furniture, these are all part of the same sad situation, which is that corporations with the connivance of federal regulators and politicians have cut corners with safety and with environmental sustainability in order to make more money.

It’s our job as consumers to stand up for our rights. If the federal government has become completely beholden to the special interest, we’re going to have to use whatever tool we can.

Whether it’s a local county ban on a practice like a factory farm or growing genetically engineered crops, or whether it’s a state law as Vermont passed last May 2014 to require labeling of genetically engineered foods.”

To help you avoid GE foods and the pesticides their sprayed with, I’ve partnered with Naturally Savvy to create a fantastic Non-GMO Challenge that can help you identify GMOs on a product label and remove them from your diet.

GMO Labeling Up for Vote in Over a Dozen States This Year

Ronnie believes the next big battle will be over our meat and animal products. Do they come from these bucolic settings that you see on the milk cartons or in the ads on TV? Or do they come from hellacious factory farms where the animals are cramped together, drugged up, and fed GE grain?

But before then, we are looking at over a dozen states with GMO labeling initiatives on their agenda this year. Right now, Ronnie is primarily focused on Maine, where a GMO labeling bill was recently introduced. The bill has “tremendous support,” Ronnie says, from both Republicans and Democrats, as well as independents.

“We just did a poll: over 90 percent of Mainers support our mandatory GMO labeling bill,” he says.

There’s also a lot of activity to the south of Maine, in Massachusetts, where 150 of the state legislators have come out as co-sponsors of the bill. That’s three quarters of the entire legislator. Granted, the industry is hardly going to sit back and do nothing. They’re pushing the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” colloquially known as the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” (DARK) Act, which is nothing if not tyrannical in its deference to industry preferences. Ronnie says:

“The Pompeo DARK bill, which at first people didn’t take too seriously last year because it’s so outrageous, says states will no longer have the right to pass laws about food labels or food safety. Even though states have enjoyed this right under our constitutional system of balance of powers for 150 years, they’re going to take away the right of states to legislate around genetically engineered food labels.

They’re saying, ‘Well, it would harm sales of the big food companies if they can’t call foods that have genetically engineered ingredients ‘natural...’ So let’s let them call genetically engineered foods and ingredients ‘natural’ on the labels even though we know they’re not.’”

International Trade Agreements Threaten Your Right to Know

On the international level, the industry is also trying to seal the deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These international trade agreements, which have been negotiated in secret by corporate lawyers and trade officials, give companies the right to sue a state or county in the United States if these labeling laws or food safety laws impact their bottom line, which, of course, they would.

As discussed in a recent interview with Ben Lilliston, vice president of Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, it’s really important to stop the President from getting what’s called the Fast Track authority, which allows him to negotiate and finalize a trade agreement without any input from Congress or the American people. So please, if you live in the US, contact your member of Congress and tell them to oppose Fast Track. Europeans also have many of the same concerns.

“The Europeans are up in arms about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership pact because it would weaken the mandatory labeling laws that they have on the books, and it would possibly take the recently granted right for European countries to ban genetically engineered foods and regulate toxic chemicals and pesticides if these agreements are signed,” Ronnie says.

It’s not going to be easy but... people are starting to realize that what we eat impacts our health... I think we’re right on the edge of a new awakening, and it’s not a minute too late. Because the impacts of our unhealthy food and farming system are more than just public health; they’re impacting everything, from the climate to the shortages of water we’re seeing in places like California. And we’re literally not going to be able to feed ourselves if we don’t change our system of food, farming, and how we consume food, and think about our natural health.”

Update on Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law

On April 16, 2014, the Vermont Senate passed the first no-strings-attached GMO labeling bill (H.112) by an overwhelming margin—28-2. The bill sailed through a House/Senate conference committee and was approved by the House of Representatives on April 23.

This was a very important victory, as you really only need one state to require GMO labeling in order to create a ripple effect across the entire country. A company simply isn’t going to create a special label for one state, while keeping another for goods to be sold in other states. The negative PR alone, should they try such a stunt, would be enormous.

This is precisely why the industry is fighting tooth and nail to prevent state ballot initiatives from passing labeling bills. Their desperation was also evident in the Vermont case:

“Coca Cola and some of the other big companies rhetorically threatened Vermont at first saying, ‘If you pass this law, we’re not going to sell our products in your state,’” Ronnie says. I can’t think of a better way to aid public health in a state, but clearly, it’s not an implementable threat.

“This balance of power between the federal government and the states was embedded in our constitution for a reason: to have some checks and balances on the potential tyranny of the federal government were it to fall into the hands of special interest [groups]... And now corporate America has started to understand that consumer activists and natural health activists are learning how to use our system of democracy to obtain the beneficial hands we’re working for.

They’re going to panic. Of course, what do they do? They threatened Vermont also by saying, ‘We’re going to take you to federal court if you pass this law. We’re going to tie you up in an expensive federal lawsuit. If we win, you’re going to have to pay millions of dollars in damages.’

That’s why, over the years, many of us in this right to know, right to choose campaign worked with some very skillful constitutional lawyers to make sure that we drafted these right to know labeling bills in such a way that they did not violate the constitution—clauses like interfering with state commerce or unfairly treating one business over another.”       

Vermont is now fighting for the right to keep its GMO labeling law after being sued by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), and the Snack Food Association (SFA). Ronnie is confident Vermont will win in federal court. The industry might suspect it too, and this is likely why they so desperately need their last trump cards—the DARK bill, and the international trade agreements, to take away our right to know more permanently.

On Teaching Traditional Farming Methods in Mexico

Aside from being a front-running consumer’s advocate, Ronnie is also a farmer, and runs a large teaching farm in Mexico. Most people don’t realize that there are still three billion small farmers and rural villagers left in the world today. That’s about half the world’s population, and these small farmers, on one quarter of the world’s cultivated land, grow 75 percent of the world’s food. These small farmers have done this for thousands of years without genetically engineered seeds or toxic pesticides.

“What we decided to do in Mexico was to demonstrate that these traditional ways of farming and raising animals, which are actually organic, are still viable today, and that we could put these traditional methods together with some of the fantastic techniques that organic farmers have pioneered over the last 60 or 70 years in places like the US, India, or Great Britain.

Put these two together into a combination and show people that you can grow the healthiest food there is with very little water in a tough changing climate, and that you can serve up delicious food at a reasonable price.

What we have at the Via Organica – we call it the organic way – is a teaching and research school and a conference center, where we’re bringing small farmers, agronomy students, and educators from all over the country together for conferences and workshops.

We show them that the traditional ways, in combination with modern organic bio-dynamic farming, are the way of the future: that we must learn how to grow healthy food without using inordinate amounts of water, that we can’t be using fossil fuel-based pesticides and fertilizers, that we can’t just grow one thing over and over again; that we’ve got to mimic the way that animals used to graze on vast communal pasture lands, and so on...

I think this regenerative organic revolution, as we like to put it, is part of this process. We’re going to roll over the GMOs. We’re going to roll over the factory farms. People are going to do like my grandparents did... cook from scratch. You want to cook with love. You want to cook with natural organic ingredients. Organic is not some modern invention.

Farmers, for 8,000 years, basically farmed organically until the World War II when chemical companies had the bright idea of, ‘Hey, these chemicals we developed to make bombs and nerve gas, let’s use some of them to kill bugs and to artificially force plants to grow faster. Let’s put thousands of animals in a pen instead of them being outside. Let’s drug them up with antibiotics and growth hormones. Let’s produce the world’s cheapest food even if it makes you sick because our buddies in the industrial medical complex can then make even more trillions of dollars off how sick people are.’”

Let’s put an end to this. GMOs are important because they are the cornerstone of this broken, unsustainable industrial food system. It’s important to realize that you’re not only getting GMO’s via processed, non-organic food products. You’re also getting them from your meat and animal food products like eggs and milk.

This is because a majority of the GE corn and soy go into feed for animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs)—factory farm settings where animals are kept in the most horrid of conditions and fed this completely unnatural diet (cows, for example, typically only eat grass). They’re also routinely fed various drugs and hormones to make them grow bigger, faster, and survive the whole ordeal. And, as Ronnie says, “you cannot eat drugged up animals and think it’s not going to have an impact on your health.”

To all of you who have participated in previous ballot initiatives to label GMOs, I want to extend a great big Thank You. You are making a difference, and I urge you to not lose hope, and to continue participating more vigorously than ever. Even though we lost the races in 2012-2014, we’re winning the war because we’re increasing the awareness of these issues around the country. At present, 90 percent of people want their food labeled and that, eventually, cannot be overlooked or overwritten.

Can This Reveal the Quality of Your Eyesight?

Sat, 04/18/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a hybrid image titled "Marilyn Einstein" to help you determine if you have good vision. The picture combines a low spatial frequency (i.e. blurry) image of Marilyn Monroe with a high spatial frequency (i.e. clear) image of Albert Einstein.

If your eyesight is working as it should, you should be able to see a detailed picture of Einstein when viewing the picture close up. As the image gets further away and/or smaller (or if you squint your eyes), the image of Monroe will appear.

Although the Marilyn Einstein image has recently become popular online, it was created by Dr. Aude Oliva for a March 2007 issue of New Scientist magazine.1 When the image was first created, MIT researchers experimented with showing it to people for different periods of time, which gave insight into how our brains process visual information.

Hybrid 'Marilyn Einstein' Image Gives Clues About Vision Problems and Brain Processing

People who saw the hybrid image for just 30 milliseconds could only pick up the blurry features of Monroe while those who saw the image for 150 milliseconds were able to pick out the finer details of Einstein's face.

This makes sense since if you only see an image for a very brief period your brain will only pick up its overall shape, as your brain processes low spatial resolution information first.2

When given more time, however, your brain will begin to process the finer details. If you're unable to see Einstein's face even when viewing them image at your leisure, and close up, it could be a sign of vision problems. As reported by The Christian Science Monitor:3

"The optical illusion can highlight vision problems – people who might need glasses are often unable to pick out the fine details of Mr. Einstein's face, and are left seeing an image of Ms. Monroe."

Changing Your Mindset Might Help Change Your Vision

It's interesting to note that your perceptions of how well you'll see Einstein may impact the way you actually see it. According to research by Harvard University Psychologist Ellen Langer and colleagues, when people were primed to believe they had excellent eyesight, their vision improved.4

Likewise, when participants were told their eyesight would improve with practice, it did. The same occurred when people adopted a "try and you will succeed" mindset -- they tried, and their vision successfully improved.

The scenario also worked when a typical eye chart was reversed, so instead of starting out large and getting smaller, the smaller letters were on the top. The researchers wrote:5

"Because letters get progressively smaller on successive lines, people expect that they will be able to read the first few lines only. When participants viewed a reversed chart and a shifted chart, they were able to see letters they could not see before. Thus, mind-set manipulation can counteract physiological limits imposed on vision."

This could be an example of a placebo effect, but it could also be a manifestation of what happens when people relax and, as the researchers noted, adopt a mindset that vision will improve. This is actually the foundation of the Bates Method, which teaches you how to retrain your eyes to relax, thereby allowing you to see more clearly.

How Relaxation and Faith Can Help You See Better

Download Interview Transcript

The Bates Method isn't really an exercise; it's more of a mental approach. Your vision is not compromised because of weak eye muscles. They're strong enough. They're just too tensed to work properly, so you have to relax them.

Another part of the process is "faith"—faith that your eyes "know what they're doing" and can see well. The problem is that once you start wearing corrective lenses, you're actually worsening your vision. This progressive worsening of your vision can lead to a defeatist mentality if you don't realize that what you're doing is creating the problem. Greg Marsh, a certified natural vision coach, explains:

"Dr. Bates' keyword is 'strain.' If you strain your eyes, strain your thoughts, and strain your vision, these muscles are going to start getting tight. The strain is the essence of everything.

Imagine you're on a tightrope, you're walking, and you're feeling your way forward. That's how the eyes want to work. If you get tense on a tightrope, you're dead, right? Instead of thinking of it as exercises, you have to go into it in a really subtle way; it's more like a meditation."

Be certain that you try the experiment Greg discusses in the video above by creating a pinhole with your hand and surprising yourself with how clear your vision becomes without any corrective lenses. Just bend your finger to create a small pinhole between the skin folds.

Now hold the pinhole in front of your eye and notice how much more in focus everything is that you're looking at. As they say, seeing is believing and this will go a long way to convince you that you can actually see well without corrective lenses.

Going Without Glasses Might Help Improve Your Vision

By wearing glasses, you're essentially retraining your eyes to strain in order to see all day long. Ideally, you'll want to remove your glasses whenever you can safely do so. Also, make sure you have appropriate lighting, especially when reading.

"The amount of light is huge," Greg notes. "While somebody is making the transition from needing glasses to not needing glasses, things like using more light really help, like if you're reading a book."

The two most common eyesight conditions requiring glasses are myopia (nearsightedness, which usually appears in childhood or during teenage years) and presbyopia (a type of farsightedness that leads to reading glasses at middle age). They both are very responsive to the Bates Method, and in fact the approach is nearly identical. If you have a mild prescription, you can simply go more and more frequently without glasses as you improve your eyesight. Of course, you should always wear glasses if they are required for driving, until you pass your vision test without them.

One of the most famous Bates Method techniques is palming. Look around and notice the level of clarity of your vision at present. Then, simply place the center of your palms over your eyes. Relax your shoulders. You may want to lean forward onto a table or a stack of pillows, to facilitate relaxation.

Relax like this for at least two minutes. Then remove your hands, open your eyes, and notice whether anything looks clearer. Usually, it will. Also remember that your mindset is important. With faith in yourself and your body's self-regenerative ability, the toughest hurdle is learning to relax, so your eyes can function in accord with their natural design.

Your Eyes Benefit from Outdoor Light

Spending time outdoors offers exposure to multiple types of light, including ultraviolet B rays (UVB, which leads to the production of vitamin D) and visible bright light. Research shows that people with nearsightedness have lower blood levels of vitamin D,6 which supports the function of muscle tissue around the lens in your eye. When exposed to outdoor light, for instance, cells in your retina trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that slows down growth of the eye and perhaps stops the elongation of the eye during development. Nature reported:5

"Retinal dopamine is normally produced on a diurnal cycle — ramping up during the day — and it tells the eye to switch from rod-based, nighttime vision to cone-based, daytime vision. Researchers now suspect that under dim (typically indoor) lighting, the cycle is disrupted, with consequences for eye growth.

'If our system does not get a strong enough diurnal rhythm, things go out of control,' says [researcher Regan] Ashby, who is now at the University of Canberra. 'The system starts to get a bit noisy and noisy means that it just grows in its own irregular fashion.'"

A study by researcher Ian Morgan of the Australian National University suggests three hours per day with light levels of at least 10,000 lux may protect children from nearsightedness.8 This is the amount of light you would be exposed to on a bright summer day. An indoor classroom, by comparison, would only provide about 500 lux. It seems clear that the more time children spend outdoors, the lower their risk of nearsightedness becomes.

Powerhouse Nutrients for Vision Health

Another part of the eye-health equation is decidedly your diet. For starters, high insulin levels from excess carbohydrates can disturb the delicate choreography that normally coordinates eyeball lengthening and lens growth. And if the eyeball grows too long, the lens can no longer flatten itself enough to focus a sharp image on the retina. This theory is also consistent with observations that you're more likely to develop myopia if you are overweight or have adult-onset diabetes, both of which involve elevated insulin levels.

Following my nutrition plan will automatically reduce, or eliminate, excess sugar and grain intake from your diet while helping you optimize your insulin levels. Certain nutrients and foods, however, are also especially important for vision health. These include:

Dark Leafy Greens

The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are primarily found in green leafy vegetables, with kale and spinach topping the list of lutein-rich foods. Lutein and zeaxanthin are both important nutrients for eye health,9 as both of them are found in high concentrations in your macula—the small central part of your retina responsible for detailed central vision.

Orange Pepper

According to one 1998 study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology orange pepper had the highest amount of zeaxanthin of the 33 fruits and vegetables tested.10 Zeaxanthin cannot be made by your body, so you must get it from your diet.

Organic Pastured Egg Yolks

Egg yolk is a source of both lutein and zeaxanthin along with healthy fat and protein, and while the total amount of carotenoids is lower than many vegetables, they're in a highly absorbable, nearly ideal form. According to recent research,11 adding a couple of eggs to your salad can also increase the carotenoid absorption from the whole meal as much as ninefold. Keep in mind that once you heat egg yolks (or spinach) the lutein and zeaxanthin become damaged, and will not perform as well in protecting your vision; so cook your eggs as little as possible, such as poached, soft-boiled or raw.

Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon

Rich in omega-3s, the omega-3 fat DHA is concentrated in your eye's retina. It provides structural support to cell membranes that boost eye health and protect retinal function, and research suggests eating more foods rich in these fats may slow macular degeneration. In fact, those with the highest intake of animal-based omega-3 fats have a 60 percent lower risk of advanced macular degeneration compared to those who consume the least.12

A 2009 study also found that those with the highest consumption of omega-3 fats were 30 percent less likely to progress to the advanced form of the disease over a 12-year period,13 and a second study published in 2009 also found that those with diets high in omega-3 fats along with vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein, and zeaxanthin had a lower risk of macular degeneration.14

Astaxanthin

Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is a good source of astaxanthin, but you may not be able to eat enough of it to reap optimal clinical results. Astaxanthin is produced only by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis when its water supply dries up, forcing it to protect itself from ultraviolet radiation.

Compelling evidence suggests this potent antioxidant may be among the most important nutrients for the prevention of blindness. It's a much more powerful antioxidant than both lutein and zeaxanthin and has been found to have protective benefits against a number of eye-related problems, including:

Cataracts Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) Cystoid macular edema Diabetic retinopathy Glaucoma Inflammatory eye diseases (i.e., retinitis, iritis, keratitis, and scleritis) Retinal arterial occlusion Venous occlusion

Dr. Mark Tso,15 now of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University, but who was my boss when I worked at the University of Illinois Eyebank in the1970s, has demonstrated that astaxanthin easily crosses into the tissues of your eye and exerts its effects safely and with more potency than any of the other carotenoids, without adverse reactions.

Depending on your individual situation, you may want to take an astaxanthin supplement. I recommend starting with 4 milligrams (mg) per day. Krill oil also contains high quality animal-based omega-3 fat in combination with naturally occurring astaxanthin, albeit at lower levels than what you'll get from an astaxanthin supplement.

A diet rich in whole foods will be best for your vision health, while avoiding processed foods will help you avoid many risks to your eyesight. For instance, a diet high in trans fat appears to contribute to macular degeneration by interfering with omega-3 fats in your body.

Even though its health risks are well known, trans fat is still found in many processed foods and baked goods, including margarine, shortening, fried foods like French fries, fried chicken, doughnuts, cookies, pastries, and crackers. You'll also want to avoid artificial sweeteners, as vision problems are one of the many potential acute symptoms of aspartame poisoning.

EFT: Tapping for Weight Loss, Documentary Film

Sat, 04/18/2015 - 02:00

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By Dr. Mercola

Losing weight has become an obsession largely because there are so many overweight individuals. Estimates are that nearly 50 million Americans are dieting at any one time,1 yet nearly two-thirds remain overweight or obese.

If you’re one of those 50 million, then you may want to consider adding EFT to your toolbox. EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique, is a powerful energy psychology tool for weight loss because it addresses the emotional blocks that underlie most weight-related issues, such as overeating tendencies and poor body image.

The film “Tapping for Weight Loss” features EFT Master Carol Look2 and Jon Gabriel, author of The Gabriel Method, as they assist a group of adults in clearing out the emotional barriers that impede their weight loss success.

Why Diets Don’t Work

Diets rarely work because they don’t address the stress and emotional underpinnings that drive you to overeat, or to eat the wrong foods. “Willpower” and self-discipline only gets you so far and is typically unsustainable over the long run.

Even if a diet helps you drop a few pounds, keeping them off is another challenge altogether—and typically even a greater one. Statistics show that nearly 65 percent of dieters return to their pre-dieting weight within three years.3

Those on “crash diets” fare even worse—only five percent keep it off. If you want to shed your excess pounds and keep them off, fad diets are not the solution. Permanent lifestyle changes are needed... ones that address emotional as well as physical factors.

Junk Food Manufacturers Work Hard to Make Their Products Irresistible

Not only do emotions play a key role in unhealthy eating patterns, but processed food manufacturers want you to crave their foods. In fact, they’ve gone to great lengths to make their products addictive with carefully calculated flavors, textures, and chemical additives.

For the most part, their efforts have been successful. In 2005 alone, Americans spent a staggering $60 billion on snack foods.4 Junk food manufacturers have taken flavor science to extraordinary levels, and the artificial ingredients used to produce that sought after "bliss point" can seriously confuse your body's metabolism.

Americans' reliance on processed foods and sugar is undoubtedly one of the primary factors driving our staggering obesity rates. But rest assured: even these addictive pseudo-foods are no match for EFT!

EFT for Cravings—Far Better Than Willpower

When trying to achieve your optimal weight, EFT can be used in two ways. The first is as a means of managing food cravings when they arise. The second is to get at deeper emotional issues that are actually driving your undesirable eating behaviors.

Before getting into the deeper emotions, let’s look at how EFT can help with a sudden attack of “the munchies.” While food cravings certainly feel physical, they’re often rooted in unconscious emotions. Food works to temporarily suppress unpleasant feelings—those feelings we don’t want to feel. Cravings are an effective distraction!

By tapping on the craving itself—the cookies or chips you’re dying to eat and how badly you want them—you can reduce your stress and release some of the emotions behind the cravings. Once you do that, the craving diminishes.

In an Australian study5 involving 96 overweight and obese adults, EFT significantly reduced food cravings and increased the participants’ ability to show restraint—even after six months.

A basic approach to tapping for food cravings is outlined below. Be sure to also watch the demonstration video above, which shows how tapping can be used to manage cravings. Here is the basic approach:

  • Identify a food you crave by visualizing it or imagining you’re eating it
  • Tap on your activated thoughts (for example, “I want this,” “I have to have it,” etc.)
  • Tap on each of the specific sensations or thoughts you have about the food (sweetness, saltiness, creaminess, crunchiness, how it feels in your mouth, how it smells, etc.)
  • Scan your body for any tension, and tap on that too

When your craving settles down, try even harder to activate it. You can place the actual food in front of you in order to intensify your craving. If you indulge in the food, then tap on your thoughts and feelings about your indulgence.

Tapping may reduce the craving in the moment, but this alone doesn’t typically produce long-term behavior change. For lasting change, you have to delve deeper into the emotional underpinnings of your eating behaviors.

Diving Deeper into the Well

In order for permanent lifestyle changes to occur (e.g. diet, exercise, smoking, drugs, and alcohol, etc.) you typically need to address your underlying emotional issues—which is highly effective with a tool like EFT as stress is typically a major factor.

Chronic stress has a pronounced impact on food cravings and appetite, digestion, nutrient absorption, and metabolism, as well as being directly linked to abdominal obesity. Studies show the leading cause of stress for Americans is money.

If you have chronically elevated stress, then chances are your cortisol is not at optimal levels and rhythms, as chronic stress tends to activate the fight or flight part of your nervous system, which stimulates a number of stress hormones such as cortisol.

Among other things, cortisol cannot only deplete your muscle mass and cause your body to manufacture belly fat, it may also pave the way to diabetes, heart disease, and immune dysfunction. Elevated cortisol levels also impair the functioning of your prefrontal cortex—the part of your brain that helps you make rational decisions.

If your brain is swimming in stress hormones, then your reasoning may be impaired, which makes it even harder to make good lifestyle choices.

The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Obesity

Weight issues often stem from unresolved childhood traumas and long-standing anxiety or depression. According to EFT expert Steve Wells, anxiety is by far the most common emotion associated with weight-related issues.6

One of the largest scientific studies ever conducted about the relationship between childhood trauma and health, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), found a strong relationship between the number and severity of childhood traumas and the incidence of disease later in life, including heart disease, cancer, and obesity.

However, just because these emotional injuries occurred does not mean you are permanently impaired. EFT has been scientifically shown to reduce cortisol levels and anxiety. In 2012, a triple blind study7 found that EFT reduced cortisol levels and symptoms of psychological distress by 24 percent—more than any other intervention tested.

Old Emotional Wounds Can Sabotage Your Success

Emotions such as fear, anger, resentment, and guilt can hijack your best intentions and impact you on a deep biological level, making it difficult to shift unhealthy lifestyle patterns. Learning the basic mechanics of EFT is relatively easy, but identifying and resolving core issues that are largely unconscious can sometimes pose a bit of a challenge. If you have serious issues, especially those related to trauma or abuse, then I advise against self-treatment and recommend consulting a professional EFT practitioner.8 When tackling your weight with EFT, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Look at safety issues first. Very often, people gain unwanted weight when they don’t feel safe around someone or something. Ask yourself what was going on in your life when you began gaining weight, or in the months prior. Does it feel safe for you to lose the weight? Is it safe for others? Do you have issues around trust that may be coming into play?
  2. Issues of self-hate, unworthiness, or not being “good enough.”  What’s your self-talk around your weight and your body image? Do you believe you deserve a healthy body? What is the “critical voice” in the back of your head saying to you?
  3. Rebellion against deprivation. Do you feel deprived? Are you rebelling against feeling restricted in the past? Whom or what might you be rebelling against?
  4. If the cravings weren’t there, what else might come up? Cravings are not the real issue, but instead a distraction. What emotion might you be trying to avoid... anger, loneliness, helplessness, fear? What is your truth?
  5. Your tapping target is an emotion. What’s the feeling behind your thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors? If you’re troubled by a past event or experience, what’s the feeling associated with it? The more specific you can be, the better.
Additional EFT Resources

In addition to managing food cravings and eating appropriately, EFT can be used to learn love and acceptance of your body, as it isextra pounds and all. Shame, fear of failure, limiting beliefs, anxiety about change, and self-sabotaging behaviors can all be addressed with EFT. Hating yourself is definitely counterproductive to your goals, and one of the great benefits of EFT is identifying and releasing the thoughts and feelings that may be sabotaging your success.

The nice thing is, once you’ve learned the tapping basics, it’s always there at your fingertips—whenever and wherever you need it. The following are a few more resources to help you with your learning:

Basic Lifestyle Reminders

EFT should be an adjunct to—not a replacement for—a healthy diet and exercise program. If you’re struggling to shed those extra pounds, make sure you’re addressing all of the basic lifestyle areas. For more help with weight, please also visit our weight management section.

  • Diet: Make sure you’re eating a diet of whole foods, not processed foods, ideally organic, low in refined sugar and processed fructose, high in fiber, and free of refined grains and carbohydrates. Make sure you’re consuming enough healthy fat.
  • Half of the population suffers with insulin resistance and would also benefit from intermittent fasting, which is one of the most effective ways to resolve insulin resistance and shed excess weight. Eating naturally fermented foods will help build your gut flora, which also helps you achieve a healthy weight.

  • Exercise: Ideally, your exercise routine would include high-intensity exercise, interval training, strength training, balance and flexibility, and intermittent non-exercise movement throughout the day. Variety is key! I recommend walking 7,000-10,000 steps per day, in addition to your workout regimen. Also, seek to sit less than three hours a day.
  • Sleep: Make sure you’re getting seven to nine hours of deep, restorative sleep per night.
  • Sunlight: Spend some time outdoors in natural sunlight to help optimize your vitamin D levels, as well as giving you sunlight’s other health benefits. Daytime sunlight exposure can also help you sleep better at night.

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Flame Retardants Cause Chemical-Induced Insulin Resistance, Studies Find

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Flame-retardant chemicals have been linked to serious health risks, including infertility, birth defects, neurodevelopmental delays,1 reduced IQ and behavioral problems in children,2 hormone disruptions,3 and various forms of cancer.

In fact, flame retardants like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) were recently identified as one of 17 "high priority" chemical groups that should be avoided to reduce your breast cancer risk.4

Still, the idea that fire retardant chemicals might save your life, or the life ofsomeone you love, is a powerful one. And chemical companies are cashing in on this idea, even though it does not hold up to scrutiny.

In the video above, you can see a comparison of two burning chairs; one treated with flame-retardant chemicals and one without. Within less than one minute, the differences in visible flames between the two chairs are minimal.

In short, flame retardants don’t work. Adding insult to injury, you’re actually more likely to die from toxic smoke inhalation when flame retardant furniture burns. Fire fighters are also at heightened risk for cancer from the repeated exposure to these toxic fumes, and many firefighters have started to speak out against the use of flame retardant chemicals.5

Flame Retardants Cause Chemical-Induced Insulin Resistance

Previous studies have shown that an estimated 90 percent of Americans have flame-retardant chemicals in their bodies. Worse yet, recent tests6 have revealed that many Americans have no less than six different types of toxic flame retardants in their system.

Researchers7 have also noted that American mothers have levels of flame retardants in their breast milk that are about two orders of magnitude greater than in European countries where these chemicals are not permitted. Children, in turn, have been found to have levels of flame retardants that are as much as five times higher than their mother’s...8

Such bioaccumulation can have serious health consequences over the course of a lifetime, although health problems may not be readily attributable to day-to-day chemical exposure. For example, according to researchers at the University of Hampshire,9 flame retardants cause liver and metabolic problems that can result in insulin resistance and associated health problems.

It’s rather unlikely that anyone would tie their insulin resistance, obesity, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol ratios to exposure to flame retardants, considering that this health problem is typically thought to hinge on excess sugar consumption. As explained in the University’s news release:

“[R]ats exposed to polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, experienced a disruption in their metabolism that resulted in the development of metabolic obesity and enlarged livers.

‘Despite the plethora of resources devoted to understanding the roles of diet and exercise in the obesity epidemic, this epidemic continues to escalate, suggesting that other environmental factors may be involved.

At the biochemical level there is a growing body of experimental evidence suggesting certain environmental chemicals, or ‘obesogens’, could disrupt the body's metabolism and contribute to the obesity epidemic,’ [lead researcher Gale Carey, professor of nutrition] said...

The cause of the flame retardant-induced insulin resistance is unknown but one possibility is the suppression of a key metabolic enzyme  phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase, or PEPCK in the liver.

Carey and her students found that the activity of PEPCK, which is responsible for sugar and fat metabolism, dropped by nearly 50 percent in livers of rats exposed to flame retardants for just one month, compared to controls.” [Emphasis mine]

Are Your Electronics Messing with Your Metabolism?

Another study10 evaluating the effects of the flame retardants tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) and tetrachlorobisphenol A (TCBPA)—both of which are commonly used in electronic devices—came to similar findings.

In this study, zebra fish that were exposed to relatively low levels of the flame retardant chemicals grew longer and heavier than their unexposed siblings in the control group.

In electronics, such as computers, cellphones, televisions, tablets, video game consoles, etc, flame retardant chemicals are used to prevent fire due to overheating.

But the chemicals do not necessarily “stay put.” They migrate out and collect in dust, which is one reason why young children who spend more time on the floor tend to have higher levels of the chemicals in their system.

Toxic ‘Whack-a-Mole’ Game Played with Flame Retardants

As reported by the Huffington Post,11 scientists are starting to take a stronger stance against flame retardants as a group, noting that addressing chemicals one-by-one just prolongs the endangerment of public health indefinitely:

"‘We're playing toxic whack-a-mole,’ said Arlene Blum, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and executive director of the nonprofit Green Science Policy Institute.

‘When after a great deal of research and testing, a chemical is found to be harmful, then the tendency is to replace it with as similar a chemical as possible. That's the easiest thing to do.’ History has shown, however, that the substitutes may prove equally harmful.”

To stop this cycle, a coalition of medical, consumer, and worker safety groups have created a petition12,13 asking the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban all organohalogens, the most commonly used flame retardants found in children's goods, furniture, mattresses, and electronics’ casings. This class of chemicals includes:

  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), banned in 1977 due to health concerns
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), phased out in 2005 once it was discovered that it was just as hazardous as the PCBs it replaced
  • Tris phosphate (TDCIPP), listed as a human carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65,14 has also been linked to heart disease, obesity and cancer15
  • Triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), associated with altered hormone levels, reduced sperm concentrations, and endocrine disruption16
  • Firemaster 550, which replaced PBDEs that were removed from the market,17 has since been linked to heart disease, obesity and cancer18

Addressing organohalogens as a class, Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine says:19 "The evidence is quite convincing that exposure in the womb to these flame retardants causes brain damage, lower IQs and persistent behavior problems in children.” Exposure during early childhood can also be significant. In one test, flame retardant chemicals were detected in 80 percent of children's products tested,20 including nursing pillows, baby carriers, and sleeping wedges.

Chemical Industry Accused of Writing Its Own Laws

One thing is clear: we cannot trust the chemical industry to just do what is right for public health. The industry has a long history of covering up hazards and lobbying to keep dangerous substances on the market, for no other reason than the fact that it’s highly profitable. Questions have also been raised about The Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, as this bill appears to have originated in the offices of the American Chemistry Council, the leading trade organization for the chemical industry.

As reported by San Francisco Gate:21

“It’s a high-stakes bill: If it becomes law, it would be the first update in 39 years of federal regulation of toxic substances.... The draft bill, obtained by Hearst Newspapers, is in the form of a Microsoft Word document. Rudimentary digital forensics — going to ‘advanced properties’ in Word — shows the ‘company’ of origin to be the American Chemistry Council. The ACC, as the council is known, is the leading trade organization and lobbyist for the chemical industry. And opponents of the Vitter-Udall bill have pounced on the document’s digital fingerprints to make the point that they believe the bill favors industry far too much... In its current form, the bill is opposed by many environmental, health and labor organizations and several states, because it would gut state chemical regulations....

“‘We’re apparently at the point in the minds of some people in the Congress that laws intended to regulate polluters are now written by the polluters themselves,’ said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group...‘Call me old-fashioned, but a bill to protect the public from harmful chemicals should not be written by chemical industry lobbyists. The voices of our families must not be drowned out by the very industry whose documented harmful impacts must be addressed, or the whole exercise is a sham,’ Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said...”

Senator Boxer has introduced a competing bill—The Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act—that will “guarantee action from the Environmental Protection Agency on hundreds of dangerous chemicals and explicitly direct the agency to address asbestos,” according to a report by The Hill.22 Her bill is co-sponsored by Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

Chairman of Mismanaged Chemical Safety Board Resigns

Another agency that has fallen short of its commitment to safety is the US Chemical Safety Board, which is supposed to issue safety recommendations to regulators following industrial accidents. In 2013, the Center for Public Integrity published an article23 criticizing the board for failing to complete more than a dozen important investigations in a timely manner. Now, the chairman of the Chemical Safety Board, Rafael Moure-Eraso, has resigned; a move that was long overdue, according to many. Vanessa Allen Sutherland, chief counsel for the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has been nominated to take over the position as board chairman of the Chemical Safety Board.

“In recent weeks, members of Congress had stepped up cries for the chairman’s ouster... [T]he chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said the board was “in desperate need of new leadership... Dr. Moure-Eraso’s mismanagement of the CSB, abuse of power, employee retaliation, and lack of honesty in his communications with Congress are among the many reasons why his resignation is the right step for this federal agency,” Center for Public Integrity writes.24

Are You Sleeping on a Toxic Mattress?

While flame retardants can be found in a wide variety of household goods, electronics, and furnishings, their presence in your bedroom may be of particular concern, considering how much time you spend in bed. A related issue is the potential for your bed, including your pillows, comforter, and linens to worsen the air quality in your bedroom. A study25 published in the journal Indoor Air last year reveals that dust particles—including allergens, fungal spores, bacteria, and semi-volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—are readily kicked up from your bed during sleep.

According to the author, you can improve your bedroom’s air quality by improving ventilation, washing your sheets more regularly, and vacuuming your mattress on a weekly basis. The author states:

“Human movements in bed, such as rolling from the prone to supine position, were found to resuspend settled particles, leading to elevations in airborne particle concentration... Resuspension increased with the intensity of a movement... Intake fractions increased as the particle size and ventilation rate decreased... demonstrating that a significant fraction of released particles can be inhaled by sleeping occupants.”

100% Wool—Flame Retardant Benefits Without the Risks of Chemicals

But while poor air quality certainly has its hazards, I think most would agree that toxic off-gassing is a more significant concern. Considering the fact that you spend about one-third of your life in bed, making sure your mattress and bedding is organic and non-toxic is a worthwhile investment. Start with an organic cotton or wool pillow, followed by mattress pad, sheets and comforter. Then, spring for an organic cotton or wool mattress when you can afford it. It is the mattress I personally sleep on.

How can you determine whether your bedding might be a problem? Pay attention to “wrinkle-free” claims, as this usually means they’ve been treated with risky perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Chemicals added to bedding to increase softness and/or help prevent shrinkage may also emit formaldehyde gas. My personal preference for bedding and mattress is 100% wool, as wool is both naturally flame resistant, and discourages mold, mildew, and dust mites. It also has superior breathability and helps regulate body temperature; is hypoallergenic; and is a sustainable, eco-friendly resource.

Does Your Couch Contain Flame Retardants? Get It Tested for FREE

If you’re wondering whether a piece of furniture or other foam item might contain flame retardants, scientists at Duke University’s Superfund Research Center will test them free of charge. Only polyurethane foam can be tested, but this is commonly used in upholstered furniture, padded chairs, car seats, and more. All you need to remove is a sample the size of a marble, and Duke will accept up to five individual samples per household. Each will be tested for the presence of seven common flame retardants. Here’s how it works:

  1. Complete an electronic sample request to generate your Sample ID Number
  2. Prepare your sample
    • Cut a piece of foam, 1 cubic centimeter in size (a little bigger than the size of a marble).
    • Wrap the foam in aluminum foil.
    • Place each foam sample in its own re-sealable sandwich bag; be sure to completely seal the bag.
    • Attach or write the Sample ID Number on the re-sealable sandwich bag.
  3. Mail it in. Enclose the following in a box or envelope:
    • Foam sample with Sample ID Number written on bag (Step 2)
    • Copy of confirmation email (Step 1)

    Mail to: Gretchen Kroeger, Box 90328 – LSRC, Duke University
    Durham, NC 27708

How to Reduce Your Exposure to Toxic Flame Retardants

There are tens of thousands of potentially toxic chemicals lurking in your home, so the most comprehensive recommendation I can give you is to opt for organic or “green” alternatives no matter what product is under consideration—be it a piece of furniture, clothing, kids toys, cleaning product, or personal care item. This is by far the easiest route, as manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals they use to make their products comply with safety regulations, such as fire safety regulations. Your mattress, for example, may be soaked in toxic flame retardants, but you will not find the chemicals listed on any of the mattress labels.

You can certainly ask what type of fire retardants the product contains, but you may not always get an answer. And, while you likely won't find PBDEs in newer foam products, there are a number of other fire-retardant chemicals that can be just as detrimental to your health, including antimony, formaldehyde, boric acid, and other brominated chemicals. Below are some general guidelines to consider that can help reduce your exposure to flame retardants in your home:

  • Be careful with polyurethane foam products manufactured prior to 2005, such as upholstered furniture, mattresses and pillows, as these are most likely to contain PBDEs. If you have any of these in your home, inspect them carefully and replace ripped covers and/or any foam that appears to be breaking down. Also avoid reupholstering furniture by yourself as the reupholstering process increases your risk of exposure.
  • If in doubt, you can have a sample of your polyurethane foam cushions tested for free to be sure. This is particularly useful for items you already have around your home, as it will help you determine which harmful products need replacing

  • Older carpet padding is another major source of PBDEs, so take precautions when removing old carpet. You'll want to isolate your work area from the rest of your house to avoid spreading it around, and use a HEPA filter vacuum to clean up.
  • You probably also have older sources of the PBDEs known as Deca in your home as well, and these are so toxic they are banned in several states. Deca PBDEs can be found in electronics like TVs, cell phones, kitchen appliances, fans, toner cartridges and more. It's a good idea to wash your hands after handling such items, especially before eating, and at the very least be sure you don't let infants mouth any of these items (like your TV remote control or cell phone).
  • As you replace PBDE-containing items around your home, select those that contain naturally less flammable materials, such as leather, wool and cotton.
  • Look for organic and "green" building materials, carpeting, baby items and upholstery, which will be free from these toxic chemicals. Furniture products filled with cotton, wool or polyester tend to be safer than chemical-treated foam; some products also state that they are "flame-retardant free."
  • PBDEs are often found in household dust, so clean up with a HEPA-filter vacuum and/or a wet mop often.
  • Look for a mattress made of either 100% organic wool, which is naturally flame-resistant; 100% organic cotton or flannel; or Kevlar fibers, the material they make bulletproof vests out of, which is sufficient to pass the fire safety standards. Stearns and Foster is one brand that sells this type of mattress.

The Limits of Tylenol for Pain Relief

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Low back and neck pain (spinal pain), along with osteoarthritis of the hip and knee, are leading causes of disability worldwide. It's estimated that more than 9 percent of the global population suffers from spinal pain while another 4 percent have osteoarthritis.1

Doctors often recommend drugs as the go-to treatment for such pain, with acetaminophen (Tylenol) being the first-line pain reliever typically recommended. Such advice is not without controversy, however.

There can be responsible and appropriate use of painkillers to treat debilitating pain, but there are also significant dangers when these drugs are overprescribed and overused.

Research has shown, for instance, that acetaminophen may only be mildly effective compared to placebo, while regular doses of up to 4,000 milligrams a day of the drug, which might be needed for optimal therapeutic benefits, could pose a risk of serious side effects.2

Now the use of Tylenol for pain relief is being called into question again after a systematic review of randomized trials found it works no better than a placebo.3

Tylenol Ineffective for Treating Back Pain, Quadruples the Risk of Liver Damage

A new review of 13 studies found that widespread recommendations for treating back-pain and osteoarthritis patients with acetaminophen need to be reconsidered. The study found "high-quality evidence" that acetaminophen is ineffective for treating low back pain and had only a small effect in patients with osteoarthritis.

That small effect was "not likely to be meaningful for clinicians or patients," the researchers wrote. In addition, acetaminophen use increases the risk of having an abnormal result on liver function tests by nearly fourfold.4 According to researchers:

"We found that paracetamol [acetaminophen] is ineffective on both pain and disability outcomes for low back pain in the immediate and short term and is not clinically superior to placebo on both pain and disability outcomes for osteoarthritis.

…Our results therefore provide an argument to reconsider the endorsement of paracetamol in clinical practice guidelines for low back pain and hip or knee osteoarthritis."

Acetaminophen Can be Deadly

Given the fact that acetaminophen is one of the most widely used drugs in the world, you might be surprised to learn that taking just a bit too much on a regular basis, or taking it in combination with alcohol, can have rather significant health risks.

Acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause for calls to Poison Control Centers across the US—more than 100,000 instances per year—and acetaminophen poisoning is responsible for nearly half of all acute liver failure cases in the US.5

Acetaminophen overdoses are also responsible for more than 150 deaths each year in the US.6 A major problem is that while acetaminophen is considered safe when taken as recommended, the margin between a safe dose and a potentially lethal one is very small.

Taking just 25 percent more than the daily recommended dose—the equivalent of just two extra strength pills per day—can cause liver damage after just a couple of weeks of daily use.7

When taken all at once, just under four times the maximum daily dose can be lethal. Previous research has also shown that taking just a little more than the recommended dose over the course of several days or weeks (referred to as "staggered overdosing") can be more risky than taking one large overdose.8

In 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally added a warning to acetaminophen-containing drugs alerting consumers to its potential for causing liver damage—a move recommended by an expert panel all the way back in 1977!

Then, in 2013, the agency warned that acetaminophen may cause three serious skin reactions, two of which typically require hospitalization and can be fatal. Last year, the FDA issued a statement urging doctors and other health professionals to stop prescribing and dispensing prescription combination drug products that contain more than 325 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen per tablet, capsule, or other dosage unit.9

One of the problems with relying on medications to treat pain, especially chronic pain, is that the side effects can sometimes be worse than the condition you're trying to treat. This is even sometimes the case with seemingly "safe" medications like acetaminophen. Your risk of severe liver injury and/or death related to acetaminophen increases if you:

  • Take more than one regular strength (325 mg) acetaminophen when combined with a narcotic analgesic like codeine or hydrocodone
  • Take more than the prescribed dose of an acetaminophen-containing product in a 24-hour period
  • Take more than one acetaminophen-containing product at the same time. Make sure to read the list of ingredients on any other over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription drug you take in combination.
  • Drink alcohol while taking an acetaminophen product. Research suggests that acetaminophen significantly increases your risk of kidney dysfunction if taken with alcohol—even if the amount of alcohol is small.10 Combining alcohol with acetaminophen was found to raise the risk of kidney damage by 123 percent, compared to taking either of them individually. Besides alcoholics, young adults are particularly at risk as they're more likely to consume both.11
Past Research Also Found Acetaminophen Doesn't Work for Back Pain

Research published in 2014 also found that taking acetaminophen for back pain is no more effective than taking a placebo.12 As reported by Fortune Magazine:13

"Conducted at hundreds of clinics in Sydney, Australia, the study tracked 1,652 individuals with lower back pain for four weeks. They were given either paracetamol (what acetaminophen is known as overseas), or a placebo.

In the end, researchers found there was almost no difference in the number of days required to recover between the two groups; the median time to recovery was 17 days in the regular paracetamol group, 17 days in the as-needed paracetamol group, and 16 days in the placebo group."

According to lead author Dr. Christopher Williams, "The results suggest we need to reconsider the universal recommendation to provide paracetamol [acetaminophen] as a first-line treatment for low-back pain..."

Unfortunately, back pain is also one of the leading causes for opioid addiction, which now claims the lives of 17,000 Americans each year. Prescription opioids have also become the latest "gateway drugs" to illicit drug use. It's important to realize that prescription medications like hydrocodone and oxycodone are opioid derivatives—just like heroin.

One in Four Chronic Pain Patients Misusing Opioids, One in 10 Addicted

In an accompanying editorial to the featured acetaminophen study, Christian Mallen and Elaine Hay of Keele University in England wrote that removing acetaminophen from existing treatment guidelines for back pain and arthritis might lead to an increase in the use of other powerful drugs, particularly addictive narcotics.14

Yet, misuse and addiction to such drugs has already reached epidemic levels. A new study published in the journal PAIN, for instance, found that one in four chronic pain patients may be misusing narcotic painkillers, and one in 10 may have formed an addiction.15 Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the chief medical officer at Phoenix House, a drug treatment provider, told Forbes:16

"Some people who become addicted develop the disease from misuse, but people can just as easily become addicted taking pills exactly prescribed … Once addicted, misuse (i.e. taking more pills than prescribed or crushing and snorting pills) becomes more common, but again, keep in mind that patients can still be addicted without misuse."

Opioids Often Cause More Harm Than Good for Chronic Pain

In 2014, the American Academy of Neurology updated their position statement on opioids, highlighting the problems of overuse. Over 100,000 people have died, directly or indirectly, from prescribed opioids in the US since the late 1990s. In the highest-risk group (those between the ages of 35 and 54), deaths from opioids exceed deaths from both firearms and motor vehicle accidents.

Pain is one of the most common health complaints in the US, but record numbers of Americans are, sadly, becoming drug addicts in an attempt to live pain-free. According to 2010 data, there were enough narcotic painkillers being prescribed in the US to medicate every single adult, around the clock, for a month.17 By 2012, a whopping 259 million prescriptions for opioids and other narcotic painkillers were written in the US, which equates to 82.5 prescriptions for every 100 Americans.18

The Academy of Neurology report notes that while such drugs may offer short-term relief for non-cancer chronic pain such as back pain, headaches, migraines and fibromyalgia, they cause more harm than good over time:19

"Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction."

Research has shown, for instance, that more than half of people who use opioids for three months will still be using them five years later.20 Meanwhile, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that long-term use of opioids actually does little to relieve chronic pain.21 In some cases, they may even make chronic pain worse. As TIME reported:22

"…the opioids can backfire in excessive doses; in the same way that neurons become over-sensitized to pain and hyper-reactive, high doses of opioids could prime some nerves to respond more intensely to pain signals, rather than helping them to modulate their reaction."

The American Academy of Neurology is now calling for clear limits to be set on opioid use, especially for non-cancer pain. Certain states already have warnings in place that require physicians to seek other opinions if a person takes daily opioid doses of 80-120 mg without getting relief. Still, the pills shouldn't be viewed as a go-to treatment for chronic pain in the first place, as lifestyle changes, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other strategies are often more effective and far safer.

Medical Marijuana Offers Pain Relief While Driving Down Opioid Overdose Deaths

In states where medical marijuana is legal, overdose deaths from opioids like morphine, oxycodone and heroin decreased by an average of 20 percent after one year, 25 percent after two years and up to 33 percent by years five and six.23 As the researchers explained:24

"Opioid analgesic overdose mortality continues to rise in the United States, driven by increases in prescribing for chronic pain. Because chronic pain is a major indication for medical cannabis, laws that establish access to medical cannabis may change overdose mortality related to opioid analgesics in states that have enacted them… Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates."

There is a wealth of research linking marijuana with pain relief. In one study, just three puffs of marijuana a day for five days helped those with chronic nerve pain to relieve pain and sleep better.25 If you're in pain, especially if it's severe, I realize that you may be desperate for relief. Prescription and over-the-counter painkillers do have their place in medicine, especially for short-term relief of severe pain (such as after surgery or serious injury). In certain cases, such drugs can be a great benefit when used cautiously and correctly with appropriate medical supervision.

However, it's also quite clear that these drugs are being overprescribed, and can easily lead you into addiction and other, more illicit, drug use, as well as cause other serious side effects. The overreliance on them as a first line of defense for pain is a major part of this problem. So if you are dealing with severe or chronic pain, my first suggestion would be to see a pain specialist who is familiar with alternative treatments and the underlying causes of pain. Ideally, it is best to find a knowledgeable practitioner who can help you attack the pain from multiple angles, giving you both relief and healing.

As mentioned, cannabidiol (CBD) in marijuana is an excellent painkiller and has been used successfully to treat a variety of pain disorders. If your pain is severe enough, it might even be worth moving to one of the many states where medical cannabis is legal, as it can be a real life changer. In states where medicinal marijuana is legal, such as California, you can join a collective, which is a legal entity consisting of a group of patients that can grow and share cannabis medicines with each other.

By signing up as a member, you gain the right to grow and share your medicine. I do, however, still recommend working with a health care practitioner who can guide you on the most effective dosage and form of use. While critics of medical marijuana (which, by the way, are in the minority, as 85-95 percent of Americans are in favor of medical cannabis, and 58-59 percent are in favor of legalizing marijuana) point out its risks, they pale in comparison to those of opioids. While some do become addicted, or at least dependent, on marijuana, it is far less addictive than prescription opioids.

19 Non-Drug Solutions for Pain Relief

I strongly recommend exhausting other options before you resort to an opioid pain reliever or even acetaminophen. The health risks associated with these drugs are great, and addiction to opioids is a very real concern. For instance, exercises, such as strengthening exercises, have been found to decrease pain more than short-term use of acetaminophen for hip or knee osteoarthritis.26 And as Dr. Houman Danesh, director of integrative pain management at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, told WebMD:27

"This [featured] study does suggest that other methods -- such as acupuncture, smoking cessation, weight loss, physical activity and proper ergonomics at our work stations -- may have an equal role to [acetaminophen] in treating back pain."

Below I list 19 non-drug alternatives for the treatment of pain. These options provide excellent pain relief without any of the health hazards that prescription (and even over-the-counter) painkillers carry. This list is in no way meant to represent the only approaches you can use. They are, rather, some of the best strategies that I know of. I do understand there are times when pain is so severe that a prescription drug may be necessary. Even in those instances, the options that follow may be used in addition to such drugs, and may allow you to at least reduce your dosage. If you are in pain that is bearable, please try these first, before resorting to prescription painkillers of any kind.

  1. Eliminate or radically reduce most grains and sugars from your diet. Avoiding grains and sugars will lower your insulin and leptin levels and decrease insulin and leptin resistance, which is one of the most important reasons why inflammatory prostaglandins are produced. That is why stopping sugar and sweets is so important to controlling your pain and other types of chronic illnesses.
  2. Take a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat. My personal favorite is krill oil. Omega-3 fats are precursors to mediators of inflammation called prostaglandins. (In fact, that is how anti-inflammatory painkillers work, they manipulate prostaglandins.)
  3. Optimize your production of vitamin D by getting regular, appropriate sun exposure, which will work through a variety of different mechanisms to reduce your pain.
  4. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a drug-free approach for pain management of all kinds. EFT borrows from the principles of acupuncture, in that it helps you balance out your subtle energy system. It helps resolve underlying, often subconscious, negative emotions that may be exacerbating your physical pain. By stimulating (tapping) well-established acupuncture points with your fingertips, you rebalance your energy system, which tends to dissipate pain.
  5. K-Laser Class 4 Laser Therapy. If you suffer pain from an injury, arthritis, or other inflammation-based pain, I'd strongly encourage you to try out K-Laser therapy. It can be an excellent choice for many painful conditions, including acute injuries. By addressing the underlying cause of the pain, you will no longer need to rely on painkillers. K-Laser is a class 4 infrared laser therapy treatment that helps reduce pain, reduce inflammation, and enhance tissue healing—both in hard and soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, or even bones.
  6. The infrared wavelengths used in the K-Laser allow for targeting specific areas of your body, and can penetrate deeply into the body to reach areas such as your spine and hip. For more information about this groundbreaking technology, and how it can help heal chronic pain, please listen to my previous interview with Dr. Harrington.

  7. Chiropractic. Many studies have confirmed that chiropractic management is much safer and less expensive than allopathic medical treatments, especially when used for pain, such as low-back pain. Qualified chiropractic, osteopathic, and naturopathic physicians are reliable, as they have received extensive training in the management of musculoskeletal disorders during their course of graduate healthcare training, which lasts between four to six years. These health experts have comprehensive training in musculoskeletal management.
  8. Acupuncture can also effectively treat many kinds of pain. Research has discovered a "clear and robust" effect of acupuncture in the treatment of: back, neck, and shoulder pain, osteoarthritis, and headaches.
  9. Physical and massage therapy has been shown to be as good as surgery for painful conditions such as torn cartilage and arthritis.
  10. Astaxanthin is one of the most effective fat-soluble antioxidants known. It has very potent anti-inflammatory properties and in many cases works far more effectively than anti-inflammatory drugs. Higher doses are typically required and you may need 8 mg or more per day to achieve this benefit.
  11. Ginger: This herb has potent anti-inflammatory activity and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea or grated into vegetable juice.
  12. Curcumin: In a study of osteoarthritis patients, those who added 200 mg of curcumin a day to their treatment plan had reduced pain and increased mobility. A past study also found that a turmeric extract composed of curcuminoids blocked inflammatory pathways, effectively preventing the overproduction of a protein that triggers swelling and pain.28
  13. Boswellia: Also known as boswellin or "Indian frankincense," this herb contains specific active anti-inflammatory ingredients. This is one of my personal favorites as I have seen it work well with many rheumatoid arthritis patients.
  14. Bromelain: This enzyme, found in pineapples, is a natural anti-inflammatory. It can be taken in supplement form but eating fresh pineapple, including some of the bromelain-rich stem, may also be helpful.
  15. Cetyl Myristoleate (CMO): This oil, found in fish and dairy butter, acts as a "joint lubricant" and an anti-inflammatory. I have used this for myself to relieve ganglion cysts and a mild annoying carpal tunnel syndrome that pops up when I type too much on non-ergonomic keyboards. I used a topical preparation for this.
  16. Evening Primrose, Black Currant and Borage Oils: These contain the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is useful for treating arthritic pain.
  17. Cayenne Cream: Also called capsaicin cream, this spice comes from dried hot peppers. It alleviates pain by depleting the body's supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that transmits pain signals to your brain.
  18. Medical cannabis has a long history as a natural analgesic, as mentioned.29 At present, more than 20 US states have legalized cannabis for medical purposes. Its medicinal qualities are due to high amounts (about 10-20 percent) of cannabidiol (CBD), medicinal terpenes, and flavanoids. As discussed in this previous post, varieties of cannabis exist that are very low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the psychoactive component of marijuana that makes you feel "stoned"—and high in medicinal CBD. The Journal of Pain,30 a publication by the American Pain Society, has a long list of studies on the pain-relieving effects of cannabis.
  19. Methods such as yoga, Foundation Training, acupuncture, meditation, hot and cold packs, and other mind-body techniques can also result in astonishing pain relief without any drugs.
  20. Grounding, or walking barefoot on the earth, may also provide a certain measure of pain relief by combating inflammation.

Eliminating Sweet Drinks and Processed Foods Is a Powerful Strategy for Improving Your Health

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

If you want to be optimally healthy, the two most effective strategies I know of are to eliminate all processed foods and replace sodas and juices with pure water.

I believe the reason so many suffer with excess weight, insulin resistance, and associated metabolic health related problems is because most of the foods they buy are heavily processed.

While it may seem more convenient than cooking from scratch using whole ingredients, processed foods contain an array of added ingredients that do absolutely nothing good for your health.

Added sugars, especially processed high fructose corn syrup, and toxic GMO herbicides like glyphosate, recognized as a probable carcinogen, are found in most processed foods.

The First Step Toward Improved Health: Ditching Soda and Sweet Drinks

If eliminating processed foods seems too daunting, starting out first by removing soda and other sweetened beverages (including fruit juices), can go a long way toward reducing the sugar load that is driving the disease process.

CNN1 recently highlighted the sugar content of various beverages, and it can be rather sobering to realize just how much sugar you're consuming each day from drinks alone.

Ideally, if you're healthy, you'll want to keep your fructose consumption below 25 grams per day. If you have signs of insulin resistance, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease, you'd be wise to limit your total fructose to 15 grams per day until your condition has resolved.

One 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola or Pepsi contains 65 grams and 69 grams of sugar respectively. A 15.2 ounce bottle of Minute Maid's 100% apple juice contains 49 grams of sugar, and 16 ounces of SunnyD has 28 grams...

It's really important to realize that if you drink sweetened beverages, you're virtually guaranteed to exceed the daily recommended allowance for sugar—and by a rather significant margin, too. Unfortunately, getting this message out has been difficult.

As noted in a recent study2 from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at University of Connecticut, parents have been grossly misled by marketing and labeling, and have failed to get the message that sweetened drinks are just as hazardous to their children's health as soda.

While soda sales have slowly dwindled over the past 10 years,3,4 many are simply switching to energy drinks, sports drinks, and juices instead, not realizing that these too are just as detrimental because it is just sugar in a different format and flavor.

Don't Fall for the 'Diet' Lie

As you're turning your back on sweetened drinks, avoid the mistake of replacing it with artificially sweetened no- or low-calorie varieties.

An ever-growing list of studies have firmly refuted the soda industry's "diet" claims, showing that artificial sweeteners actually promote weight gain,5 and lead to the exact same health problems as added sugars, including a heightened risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

In one of the most recent studies,6,7,8,9,10,11 researchers found a "striking dose-response relationship" between diet soda consumption and waist circumference among seniors, which is associated with an increased risk for diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, just to name a few.

People who never drank diet soda increased their waist circumference by an average of 0.8 inches during the nine-year observation period. Occasional diet soda drinkers added an average of 1.83 inches to their waist line.

Daily diet soda drinkers gained an average of nearly 3.2 inches—quadruple that of those who abstained from diet soda altogether. What's worse, abdominal fat gain was most pronounced in those who were overweight to begin with. According to senior author Dr. Helen Hazuda:12

"People who are already at cardiometabolic risk because they have higher BMIs are really in double or triple jeopardy. When they think they're doing something good by drinking artificially sweetened beverages, it's actually totally counterproductive." [Emphasis mine]

In an earlier study, diet soda drinkers had a 70 percent greater increase in waist size compared to non-diet soda drinkers over a 10-year period. Those who drank two or more diet sodas a day had a 500 percent greater increase in waist size.

The Word 'Diet' Doesn't Really Mean It'll Help You Shed Weight...

It's worth noting that the only reason many foods and beverages are permitted to be called "diet" is because of a legal exemption in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 21.13 Section 101.13 (q)(2) states that:

"A soft drink that used the term diet as part of its brand name before October 25, 1989, and whose use of that term was in compliance with § 105.66 of this chapter as that regulation appeared in the Code of Federal Regulations on that date, may continue to use that term as part of its brand name, provided that its use of the term is not false or misleading under section 403(a) of the act..."

The word "diet" on the label provides no assurance that it will help you lose weight, and I have previously argued that diet soda manufacturers are engaging in false advertising, considering the voluminous scientific data showing that artificially sweetened drinks actually make weight gain more likely, not less.

Can You Trust Many Nutrition Groups?

Based on the evidence, I would say the answer to that question is no, as a general rule you cannot. Nutrition groups are heavily influenced by the junk food and soda industry, and many of these partnerships are flat out embarrassing. There clearly are some trustworthy ones, but they are the exception, not the rule.

Case in point: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has been working with Kraft Foods, and was going to allow Kraft to use the academy's "Kids Eat Right" logo on packages of Kraft Singles cheese—which is about as processed a cheese as you can get. 

According to the New York Times,14 the academy is now backpedaling and has decided to end the deal after facing "a mutiny among some of the 75,000 registered dietitians and other food professionals who are its members," adding:

"[T]he organization said the program was already so advanced that it could not be changed immediately... We are working with Kraft to limit the time it remains on shelves," the academy said...

Andy Bellatti, a founder of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, a group started by dietitians who questioned the academy's strong ties to the food industry, said he was pleased that it was working to change its deal with Kraft. 'Hopefully, this is the beginning of much-needed and much-overdue dialogue on the academy's corporate sponsorships,' Mr. Bellatti said. 'Dietitians need to continue advocating for an organization that represents us with integrity and that we can be proud of, rather than continually have to apologize for.'"

Another case in point: The American Federation of Teachers recently signed a partnership agreement with the Coca-Cola Company15—an agreement that, according to consumer group US Right to Know,16 "will undermine the authority of teachers nationwide." The agreement revolves around the mitigation of child labor in the sugar cane harvest. But as noted by the US Right to Know, Coca-Cola is hardly an appropriate partner for the American Federation of Teachers, considering the fact that Coca-Cola is aggressively targeting youngsters in their advertising, and its products are a major driver of epidemic obesity and type 2 diabetes among American children.

It's also worth noting that the American Federation of Teachers initiated a boycott against Coca-Cola in October 2014, "based upon a litany of violations of workers' rights and child labor laws on the part of the company." This new partnership agreement ends that boycott.17 But does it really mean that Coca-Cola is now firmly committed to human rights, and more importantly, human health? I leave that for you to ponder.

Distrust of 'Big Food' Is Growing

The processed food industry is collapsing, albeit slowly. As noted by Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison, consumers no longer trust big food makers, and changing preferences are being felt among many of the processed food giants. Time Magazine18 recently reported that: "Campbell is by no means the only food maker struggling to adapt to new consumer behavior. Last week, cereal maker Kellogg cut its long-term annual revenue growth estimate to a range of 1% to 3%, excluding some items, from an earlier forecast of 3% to 4%, citing poor cereal and snacks sales."

This is clear evidence that voting with your pocketbook works. The industry knows their flagships are sinking and you can rest assured that they'll fight tooth and nail to maintain their market shares as best they can. But as people get increasingly savvy about what's really healthy and what's not, smart ads may not be enough, as more people are starting to realize that ads are not public service announcements—they're typically misleading, and sometimes flat out false when considered from a perspective of nutritional science.

Make a Pledge to Quit Processed Foods

Research coming out of some of America's most respected institutions confirms that added sugars (primarily refined sugar and processed fructose) are a primary dietary factor driving chronic disease development. So far, scientific studies have linked excessive fructose consumption to about 78 different diseases and health problems,19 including heart disease and cancer. And it doesn't matter whether that sugar comes from food staples like soup and sauces, or cookies and candy. Your body treats it all the same.

Ever since the saturated fat myth was born, processed food makers have removed the healthy fat and replaced it with sugar, and reading food labels can be an eye-opening experience. You think you're making a healthy dinner, but in reality you could be serving your family dozens of teaspoons of sugar once all the sources are added together... If you struggle with weight and/or health issues, replacing processed foods and beverages with unadulterated, whole, and ideally organic foods, along with pure water for drinking, you would be well on your way toward improving your health.

Consider Intermittent Fasting

Fasting also has a number of health benefits that most people seek: from improved cardiovascular health and reduced cancer risk, to gene repair and longevity. It's also one of the most effective ways to shed unwanted weight and resolve insulin resistance. The version of intermittent fasting I recommend and personally use involves restricting your daily eating to a specific window of time, such as an eight hour window. Compliance is always a critical factor in any of these approaches and it seems this is one of the easiest intermittent fasting schedules to implement. It's actually quite easy to comply with once your body has shifted over from burning sugar to burning fat as its primary fuel.

I recommend maintaining this eating schedule until your insulin/leptin resistance improves (weight, blood pressure, cholesterol ratios, or diabetes normalizes). After that, go back to it as often as you need to maintain your healthy state. Intermittent fasting is appropriate for most people, but if you're hypoglycemic or diabetic, you need to be cautious. People that would be best served to avoid fasting include those living with chronic stress (adrenal fatigue), and those with cortisol dysregulation. Pregnant or nursing mothers should also avoid fasting. Your baby needs plenty of nutrients, during and after birth, and there's no research supporting fasting during this important time.

My recommendation would be to really focus on improving your nutrition instead. A diet with plenty of raw organic foods and foods high in healthy fats, coupled with high-quality proteins, will give your baby a head start on good health. You'll also want to be sure to include plenty of cultured and fermented foods to optimize your—and consequently your baby's—gut flora. For more information, please see this previous article that includes specific dietary recommendations for a healthy pregnancy, as well as my interview with Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.

Wholesome Food Sources

As a general rule, a diet that promotes health is high in healthy fats and very, very low in sugar and non-vegetable carbohydrates, along with a moderate amount of high-quality protein. For more specifics, please review my free optimized nutrition plan, which also includes exercise recommendations, starting at the beginner's level and going all the way up to advanced. Organic foods are generally preferable, as this also cuts down on your pesticide and GMO exposure. Keep in mind that if you're doing intermittent fasting, the quality of your food becomes even more important, not less so. If you're unsure of where to find wholesome local food, the following organizations can help:

  • Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
  • Eat Wild: With more than 1,400 pasture-based farms, Eatwild's Directory of Farms is one of the most comprehensive sources for grass-fed meat and dairy products in the United States and Canada.
  • Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
  • Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
  • FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA's, and markets near you.

Constipation Emergencies on the Rise

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Constipation is one of the most common bowel problems, impacting up to 19 percent of the US population (no pun intended).1 It's defined as passing hard, dry stools that you have to strain to move, as well as having fewer than three bowel movements a week.

Constipation is uncomfortable, causing bloating, cramps, and a feeling of incomplete elimination. However, despite its ability to make you feel miserable, constipation is generally regarded as more of a nuisance than a real health threat.

This is a mistake, as chronic constipation left untreated can lead to fecal impaction,2 which is when hardened stool gets stuck in your intestines. Constipation has also been shown to increase your risk of colon cancer and has been implicated in diverticulosis and appendicitis.

Straining to have a bowel movement, which is common with constipation, is also not something to be taken lightly. This can lead to hemorrhoids, anal fissure (torn skin in your anus), and even rectal prolapse, in which a part of your intestine protrudes from your anus.

It can also be quite painful, leading to severe abdominal pain, which is likely one reason why emergency room (ER) visits for constipation have been on the rise.

ER Visits for Constipation Are on the Rise

From 2006 to 2011, there was a 42 percent increase in ER visits for constipation in the US – a significant rise that's far greater than the 22 percent increase in overall ER visits during the same period.3 The study's senior author, Dr. Anthony Lembo from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told Reuters:4

"Constipation is often thought of as not a serious disease – particularly among doctors. Patients complain about it but it's often not thought of as being medically that relevant."

The costs involved would suggest otherwise, however. From 2006 to 2011, costs of ER visits for constipation rose about 56 percent per patient, from $1,500 at the start of the study to $2,300 in 2011, after accounting for inflation. In all, about $1.6 billion was spent on ER care for constipation in 2011.5

This is an extremely high number, especially since constipation can usually be easily remedied with lifestyle changes. Ironically, one of the biggest hindrances to your success may be not realizing you're constipated in the first place.

Conventional medicine typically defines constipation as fewer than two or three bowel movements a week. But you should really be having one bowel movement a day, and preferably two or three. So if you are having anything less than one bowel movement a day, you should consider taking some constipation remedies.

What Causes Constipation?

Regular bowel movements are extremely important for your health because, without them, toxins accumulate and are recirculated in your bloodstream. If elimination is not regular and complete, the wastes will dry and become cemented to the walls of your colon.

Some of the common causes of constipation include laxative abuse, hypothyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and ignoring the urge to go. If you consistently ignore the urge to have a bowel movement – for instance, to avoid using a public toilet – eventually you may stop feeling the urge.

Certain medications, like antidepressants, antacids (like calcium), blood pressure medications, and iron supplements may also contribute to constipation, as can dehydration if you're not drinking enough pure water each day.

However, one of the primary causes of constipation has to do with your diet, particularly if you're eating one high in processed foods and low in fiber. One of the signs that a food is a natural source of fiber is that you must chew it a good number of times before swallowing. Processed foods, which basically melt in your mouth, are not going to give you the fiber your body needs.

Unless you regularly eat whole fruits and vegetables (along with nuts and seeds), you may be missing out on the healthiest forms of fiber available – and that could be a problem. It is actually because your body can't digest fiber that it plays such an important part in digestion. Soluble fiber, like that found in cucumbers and blueberries, dissolves into a gel-like texture, helping to slow down your digestion.

This helps you to feel full longer and is one reason why fiber may help with weight control. Insoluble fiber, found in foods like dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, celery, and carrots, does not dissolve at all and helps add bulk to your stool.

This helps food to move through your digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination. Many whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, naturally contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which help to keep you regular, naturally.

Fiber Feeds Beneficial Gut Bacteria and Helps with Weight Loss

Fiber supplements have been shown to enhance weight loss among obese people,6 likely because fiber increases feelings of fullness. However, there's more to it. When microbes in your gut digest fiber, a short-chain fatty acid called acetate is released. The acetate then travels from your gut to your hypothalamus, where it helps signal you to stop eating.

In addition, fiber can shift the makeup of microbes in your gut in a very favorable direction. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, for instance, showed that people taking fiber supplements had more bacteroidetes than firmicutes.7

Bacteroidetes tend to be higher in lean people. Separate research found that obese individuals had about 20 percent more firmicutes and almost 90 percent less bacteroidetes than lean people.8 Firmicutes help your body to extract calories from complex sugars and deposit those calories in fat.

While it's becoming more widely known that supplementing with probiotics (or eating fermented foods) can favorably alter the makeup of your gut microflora, this new research is important because it shows how dietary fiber also plays a role. Hannah Holscher, a University of Illinois postdoctoral researcher, told Rodale News:9

"We're hoping this study helps people realize that diet—what you eat every day—does affect the bacteria in your gut. We saw these dramatic shifts in bacterial populations with fiber supplementation, but then those shifts went away when people stopped using the supplements."

Fermented Foods Are Important to Make Your Fiber Work with You, Not Against You

The human digestive system is not designed to break down fiber. Instead, it ends up undigested in your bowel, where the majority of your gut flora resides. If your gut flora is healthy, i.e. dominated by beneficial probiotic species, then these microbes will feed on the fiber and proliferate.

However, if your gut is filled with pathogenic bacteria and/or yeast and fungi, fiber may actually make your symptoms worse, as it is a non-specific growth factor for intestinal bacteria and does not discriminate between pathogenic and beneficial bacteria.

So, if your bowel is predominantly dominated by pathogenic microbes, they will feed on fiber and proliferate, making whatever health problems you have worse. Increasing fiber from vegetables is incredibly important if you're constipated, as I'll explain below, but so, too, is making sure you're introducing that fiber to a healthy gut environment.

The key to doing this is to reduce your intake of excess sugar while adding naturally fermented foods into your diet, such as fermented vegetables and raw grass-fed kefir (if you tolerate dairy).

You can also add a probiotic supplement if you suspect you're not getting enough beneficial bacteria from your diet alone. Probiotics have even been shown to help relieve constipation among one particularly constipation-prone population – pregnant women.10

Vegetables Are One of the Best Sources for Your 32 Grams of Fiber a Day

Assuming your gut is generally healthy, I believe most people need upwards of 32 grams of fiber a day. Most Americans get nowhere near this amount, which could easily contribute to chronic constipation. As the New York Times reported:11

"...the current average fiber intake in the United States is about 13 grams a day for women and 17 for men. Increasing these amounts by seven grams a day would bring them close to the recommended levels of 21 to 25 grams for women and 30 to 38 for men.

'Seven grams a day increase is an achievable goal…' 'You're talking about... increasing vegetable and fruit by two portions a day.'"

If your diet could use more fiber, resist the urge to fortify it with whole grains. Grains actually contain anti-nutrients that may damage your health, as well as sticky proteins like gluten (literally, Latin for "glue") in the prolamine class, which are highly constipating to some individuals. If you're constipated, try removing all sources of glutinous, prolamine-containing grains from your diet (the most common sources are wheat, barley, rye, and spelt). Instead, focus on eating more vegetables, nuts, and seeds. The following whole foods, for example, contain high levels of soluble and insoluble fiber.

Chia seeds Berries Vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts Root vegetables and tubers, including onions and sweet potatoesAlmondsPsyllium seed husk, flax, and chia seeds Green beansCauliflowerBeans Peas   

Organic whole husk psyllium is another simple, cost-effective way to add more fiber to your diet. Taking it three times a day could add as much as 18 grams of dietary fiber (soluble and insoluble) to your diet, which brings you quite close to the recommended minimum of 20 grams a day. Ideally, you'll want to get around 30-32 grams per day for optimal health, so you'll want to use psyllium in addition to a healthy, veggie-rich diet. Please keep in mind that psyllium is a heavily sprayed crop, which means many sources are contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.

For this reason, be sure to ONLY use organic psyllium husk, and make sure it's 100% pure. Many supplement brands use synthetic or semi-synthetic active ingredients that do not contain psyllium, such as methylcellulose and calcium polycarbophil. Some brands even add sweeteners and other additives, which you're better off avoiding. As an added bonus, soluble fibers such as psyllium are prebiotics that help nourish beneficial bacteria. These beneficial bacteria in turn assist with digestion and absorption of your food, and play a significant role in your immune function.

Policosanols on Vegetables Are Important for Regularity

Aside from fiber, another reason why vegetables, and green leafy vegetables, in particular are so good for regularity has to do with waxy alcohols called policosanols, which coat the leaves. Policosanols act as a natural waterproofing agent for plants and when you eat them they help speed the passage of food through your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

As mentioned, green leafy vegetables are an excellent source of policosanols, but if you're eating mostly processed varieties, you're probably not getting them. Processing often destroys the natural policosanols from the food you eat. These healthy substances are also found in foods such as peanuts, pomegranate seeds, grapeseed oil, and perilla seeds and oil, as well as in supplement form if you're not getting enough from dietary sources.

Are You Exercising? It Can Help You 'Go'

We've covered the importance of nourishing a healthy gut environment with beneficial bacteria, fermented foods, and sugar avoidance, while eating plenty of fiber-rich vegetables. This is a large part of the picture, but it's not the whole thing. Exercise is also important for regularity, in part because your abdominal and intestinal muscles work together to help move your bowels. If these muscles are weak, you'll have a harder time with bowel movements. In addition, movement helps stimulate circulation and intestinal function, causing your bowels to move properly.

Squatting Can Help if You're Constipated

The last thing most people think about when using the bathroom is position, but this can significantly impact the ease with which you eliminate and even increase your risk of bowel and pelvic problems, including constipation, hemorrhoids, and more. Most of you reading this probably sit to evacuate your bowel, but this requires you to apply additional force (straining), which has some unwanted biological effects, including a temporary disruption in cardiac flow.

Sitting on a modern toilet is designed to place your knees at a 90-degree angle to your abdomen. However, the time-honored natural squat position (which is still used by the majority of the world's population) places your knees much closer to your torso, and this position actually changes the spatial relationships of your intestinal organs and musculature, optimizing the forces involved in defecation.

Squatting straightens your rectum, relaxes your puborectalis muscle, and allows for complete emptying of your cecum and appendix without straining, which prevents fecal stagnation and the accumulation of toxins in your intestinal tract. It is instructive that non-westernized societies, in which people squat, do not have the high prevalence of bowel disease seen in developed nations; in some cultures with traditional lifestyles, these diseases are uncommon or almost unknown.

If you have trouble with bowel movements, especially constipation, I urge you to give the squat position a try. Squatting does involve strength and flexibility that adults tend to lose over time (but children have naturally). Special toilets and stools that get your body into a more "squatty" position can help you get closer to the ideal even if you've been sitting for decades.

Use Extreme Caution When Considering Laxatives

If you're constipated, it may be tempting to turn to an over-the-counter laxative for relief. However, they must be used with extreme caution. Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a warning following 13 deaths (12 adults and one child) that occurred after use of OTC saline laxatives (including brand name Fleet and others).12 The products contain the active ingredient sodium phosphate, which draws water into your bowel to help soften your stool, allowing it to pass easier.

However, if too much is taken, the laxatives can lead to dehydration and abnormal levels of electrolytes in your blood, which can cause kidney damage, heart problems, and death. Another crucial reason why laxatives are NOT a good option is that your body may become dependent on them. This is especially true with stimulant laxatives (such as brand name Exlax), which work by increasing the contraction of muscles in your intestines. This risk also applies to senna or cassia laxatives, which are frequently marketed as "natural."

These laxatives may decrease your colon's ability to contract and over time may damage your large intestine's nerves, muscles, and other tissues. The cumulative lifetime use of commercial laxatives has even been associated with increased risk of colon cancer.13 For these reasons, and because constipation is usually easy to remedy naturally, laxatives should be avoided at all cost and used only as a last resort. If you absolutely must use a laxative, make sure it is used for only a very short period of time.

You could also try a magnesium supplement as a short-term alternative, as one of the ways to determine proper dosing is the "bowel test." You know you have too much magnesium when your stools become loose, which is often a pleasant "side effect" for those with constipation. Magnesium deficiency may also manifest as constipation, so you might be treating the underlying cause as well. Do not, however, use an excess of magnesium for regularity purposes long-term, as this can upset your calcium/magnesium ratio and cause other problems.

High Blood Pressure Related Deaths Are Way Up: CDC

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

The number of deaths due to hypertension, or high blood pressure, increased nearly 62 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1

Currently, about 70 million US adults struggle with the condition, which amounts to one in every three adults. Only 52 percent of those who have been diagnosed have their blood pressure levels under control, and another one in three US adults has pre-hypertension, which means blood pressure is elevated and at risk of progressing to full-blown hypertension.2

If your blood pressure is elevated, it means the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries is too high, which can cause damage over time. Many are familiar with the related heart risks this can cause. For instance, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease, heart failure and stroke.

Less well-known, but equally important, is the fact that high blood pressure can contribute to kidney failure, by weakening and narrowing blood vessels in your kidneys, and problems with memory and understanding.

High blood pressure has even been linked to an increased risk of developing, and dying from, cancer,3 and is known to trigger and worsen complications of diabetes, including diabetic eye disease and kidney disease.

Even Slight Weight Gain Increases Your Blood Pressure Levels

If you're overweight or obese, you have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure. However, research presented last year at the American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, California found that even a slight increase in weight may drive your levels up.

In a small study of 16 people, participants were asked to eat an extra 400 to 1,000 calories a day for eight weeks, in order to add about 5 percent to their body weight (about 10 excess pounds for a 200-pound person).4

At the end of the study, those who put on weight had their systolic blood pressure rise by an average of 4 mm Hg, from 114 to 118 mm Hg. This is still considered to be in the healthy range if the lower number (diastolic measure) is also healthy.

However, greater increases in blood pressure were seen in those who put on weight in their abdomen. This makes sense since research suggests your waist size may be an effective measure for assessing obesity-related hypertension risk.5

If you have a high waist-to-hip ratio, i.e. you carry more fat around your waist than on your hips, you may be at an increased risk for obesity-related hypertension.

To calculate your waist-to-hip ratio, measure the circumference of your hips at the widest part, across your buttocks, and your waist at the smallest circumference of your natural waist, just above your belly button.

Then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to get the ratio. (The University of Maryland offers an online waist-to-hip ratio calculator you can use.6) The Mayo Clinic uses the following waist-to-hip ratio designations to evaluate your health risk:

Dietary Sugar Raises Your Blood Pressure

One of the primary underlying causes of high blood pressure is related to your body producing too much insulin and leptin in response to a high-carbohydrate (i.e. high sugar) and processed food diet.

You've probably heard of the DASH diet, which is claimed to be among the most effective for controlling hypertension. It consists largely of fresh vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and very low sodium content.

But it's ALSO low in sugar/fructose. So, while people on DASH diets do tend to show reduced hypertension, the reason for this may not be solely the reduction in salt, but the reduction in sugar. The same holds true for reducing your intake of processed foods, which are top sources of both heavily processed salt and sugar/fructose.

Research shows that dietary sugars influence blood pressure and serum lipids independent of the effects of sugars on body weight.7 In a review in the journal Open Heart, the authors also argue that the high consumption of added sugars in the US diet may be more strongly and directly associated with high blood pressure than the consumption of sodium.8 They write:9

"Evidence from epidemiological studies and experimental trials in animals and humans suggests that added sugars, particularly fructose, may increase blood pressure and blood pressure variability, increase heart rate and myocardial oxygen demand, and contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance and broader metabolic dysfunction.

Thus, while there is no argument that recommendations to reduce consumption of processed foods are highly appropriate and advisable, the arguments in this review are that the benefits of such recommendations might have less to do with sodium—minimally related to blood pressure and perhaps even inversely related to cardiovascular risk—and more to do with highly-refined carbohydrates."

How Does Sugar Affect Your Blood Pressure?

One 2010 study showed that consuming a high-fructose diet lead to an increase in blood pressure of about 7mmHg/5mmHg, which is greater than what is typically seen with sodium (4mmHg/2mmHg).10

Research also shows that drinking a single 24-ounce fructose-sweetened beverage leads to greater increases in blood pressure over 24 hours than drinking a sucrose-sweetened beverage,11 which again points to the detrimental effects of fructose on your health. Why is it so bad for your blood pressure levels?

In order to effectively treat and recover from high blood pressure, it's important to understand its underlying cause, which is often related to your body producing too much insulin and leptin in response to a high-carbohydrate and processed food diet. As your insulin and leptin levels rise, it causes your blood pressure to increase. Eventually, you may become insulin or leptin resistant.

As explained by Dr. Rosedale, insulin stores magnesium, but if your insulin receptors are blunted and your cells grow resistant to insulin, you can't store magnesium so it passes out of your body through urination. Magnesium stored in your cells relaxes muscles.

If your magnesium level is too low, your blood vessels will be unable to fully relax, and this constriction raises your blood pressure. Fructose also elevates uric acid, which drives up your blood pressure by inhibiting the nitric oxide in your blood vessels. (Uric acid is a byproduct of fructose metabolism. In fact, fructose typically generates uric acid within minutes of ingestion.)

Nitric oxide helps your vessels maintain their elasticity, so nitric oxide suppression leads to increases in blood pressure. So any program adapted to address high blood pressure needs to help normalize both your insulin/leptin sensitivity and uric acid level.

Eliminating Excess Sugar Knocks Out Three Issues at Once

As it turns out, by eliminating excess sugar/fructose from your diet, you can address all three issues (insulin, leptin, and uric acid) in one fell swoop. As a standard recommendation, I recommend keeping your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day.

If you're insulin resistant (about 80 percent of Americans are), have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic disease, you'd be wise to limit your fructose to 15 grams or less per day, until your condition has normalized.

In his book The Sugar Fix, Dr. Richard Johnson includes detailed tables showing the content of fructose in different foods. Keep in mind that for most Americans, in order to lower your fructose/sugar consumption you'll also need to eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods.

Staying Fit Can Keep Your Blood Pressure Healthier, Longer

It's not only your diet that matters for healthy blood pressure… a comprehensive fitness program is another strategy that can improve your blood pressure and heart health on multiple levels (such as improving your insulin sensitivity). For example, research shows that men who are fit can stave off increases in blood pressure that tend to occur with age. In men with strong heart fitness, blood pressure levels didn't start increasing until their mid-50s. However, in sedentary men, signs of high blood pressure appeared in their mid-40s.12

Study co-author Dr. Xuemei Sui, an assistant professor in the department of exercise science at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health, told Medicine Net:13 "A higher level of fitness can significantly delay this natural increase of blood pressure with age… For those with a high level of fitness, it will take almost [an additional] decade" to develop early signs of high blood pressure."

To reap the greatest rewards, I strongly suggest including high-intensity interval exercises in your routine. You'll also want to include weight training. When you work individual muscle groups you increase blood flow to those muscles, and good blood flow will increase your insulin sensitivity. If you want to kill several birds with one stone, exercise barefoot outdoors on sunny days. Not only will you get much-needed sunshine to promote production of heart-healthy vitamin D, but bright daylight sun exposure will also help maintain a healthy circadian clock, which will help you sleep better.

Poor sleep is yet another oft-ignored factor that can cause resistant hypertension. Going barefoot, meanwhile, will help you ground to the earth. Experiments show that walking barefoot outside—also referred to as Earthing or grounding—improves blood viscosity and blood flow, which help regulate blood pressure. Keep in mind that, in most cases, high blood pressure is a condition that can be managed and oftentimes reversed with natural lifestyle changes.

Grape Seed Extract and Bilberry Extract for Heart Health

Grape seed and bilberry extract are two more natural tools that may help support healthy blood pressure levels. Rich in antioxidants including flavonoids, linoleic acid and phenolic procyanidins, grape seed extract has previously been shown to help dilate blood vessels and was shown to lower blood pressure in people with metabolic syndrome (most of whom also had prehypertension). After taking grape seed extract for four weeks, systolic blood pressure (the top number) dropped 12 points on average while diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) dropped an average of 8 points.14

The European blueberry, bilberry, which is also rich in antioxidants, is most well known for prevent and even reversing eye conditions like macular degeneration. However, research shows it also has cardioprotective effects. Bilberries are a good source of flavonoids, especially anthocyanins, which have powerful antioxidant activity. Research found that it offers numerous cardioprotective effects, including anti-ischemic and anti-arrhythmic activity.15

Be Aware of White Coat Hypertension

"White coat hypertension" is a term used for when a high blood pressure reading is caused by the stress or fear associated with a doctor or hospital visit. This can be a transient yet serious concern, and it's estimated that up to 20 percent of people diagnosed with hypertension actually only have white coat hypertension, which means their blood pressure was only elevated because they were nervous.16 If this applies to you, try testing your blood pressure levels at home instead. Stress reduction is also key. Below, I will address stress reduction, and provide a technique that can help you control stress that may be contributing to high blood pressure.

Also, to decrease your risk of being falsely diagnosed with hypertension in this situation, take a moment to calm down (be sure to arrive for your appointment ahead of time so you can unwind), then breathe deeply and relax when you're getting your blood pressure taken. Some doctors may actually recommend antidepressants as a solution to help their patients "relax," but be aware that this will likely cause far more harm than good.

My Top-Recommended Strategies to Prevent Hypertension

If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, dietary strategies will be crucial to controlling your levels. Avoiding processed foods (due to their being high in sugar/fructose, grains, trans fat and other damaged fats and processed salt) is my number one recommendation if you have high blood pressure. Instead, make whole, ideally organic, foods the focus of your diet. As you reduce processed foods, and other sources of non-vegetable carbs, from your diet, you'll want to replace them with healthy fat. Sources of healthy fats to add to your diet include:

Avocados Butter made from raw, grass-fed organic milk Raw dairy Organic pastured egg yolks Coconuts and coconut oil (coconut oil actually shows promise as an effective Alzheimer's treatment in and of itself) Unheated organic nut oils Raw nuts, such as pecans and macadamia, which are low in protein and high in healthy fats Grass-fed meats or pasture raised poultry

I encourage you to read through my full list of strategies to prevent hypertension, however, below you'll find some additional highlights.

  1. Skip breakfast: Research shows that intermittent fasting helps fight obesity and type 2 diabetes, both of which are risk factors for high blood pressure. Your body is most sensitive to insulin and leptin after a period of fasting. While there are many types of fasting regimens, one of the easiest to comply with is an eating schedule where you limit your eating to a specific, narrow window of time each day. I typically recommend starting out by skipping breakfast, and making lunch your first meal of the day.
  2. Optimize your vitamin D levels: Arterial stiffness (atherosclerosis) is a driving factor for high blood pressure. As your blood travels from your heart, cells in the wall of your aorta, called baroreceptors, sense the pressure load, and signal your nervous system to either raise or lower the pressure. However, the stiffer your arteries are, the more insensitive your baroreceptors become, and the less efficient they become at sending the appropriate signals. Vitamin D deficiency is, in turn, linked to stiff arteries, which is why optimizing your levels is so important.
  3. Address your stress: The link between stress and hypertension is well documented. Suppressed negative emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness can severely limit your ability to cope with the unavoidable every day stresses of life. It's not the stressful events themselves that are harmful, but your lack of ability to cope. I recommend the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to transform your suppressed, negative emotions and relieve stress.
  4. Normalize your omega 6:3 ratio: Most Americans get too much omega-6 in their diet and far too little omega-3. Consuming omega-3 fats will help re-sensitize your insulin receptors if you suffer from insulin resistance. Omega-6 fats are found in corn, soy, canola, safflower, and sunflower oil. If you're consuming a lot of these oils, you'll want to avoid or limit them.
  5. Optimize your gut flora: Compared to a placebo, people with high blood pressure who consumed probiotics lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 3.56 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by 2.38 mm Hg.17 The best way to optimize your gut flora is by including naturally fermented foods in your diet, which may contain about 100 times the amount of bacteria in a bottle of high-potency probiotics.
  6. Maintain an optimal sodium-potassium ratio: An imbalanced ratio may lead to hypertension. To ensure yours is optimal, ditch all processed foods, which are very high in processed salt and low in potassium and other essential nutrients. Instead, eat a diet of whole, unprocessed foods, ideally organically and locally-grown to ensure optimal nutrient content. This type of diet will naturally provide much larger amounts of potassium in relation to sodium.
  7. Eliminate caffeine: The connection between coffee consumption and high blood pressure is not well understood, but there is ample evidence to indicate that if you have hypertension, coffee and other caffeinated drinks and foods may ex­acerbate your condition.
  8. Vitamins C and E: Studies indicate that vitamins C and E may be helpful in lowering blood pressure. If you're eating a whole food diet, you should be getting sufficient amounts of these nutrients through your diet alone. If you decide you need a supplement, make sure to take a natural (not synthetic) form of vitamin E. You can tell what you're buying by care­fully reading the label. Natural vitamin E is always listed as the "d-" form (d-alpha-tocopherol, d-beta-tocopherol, etc.) Synthetic vitamin E is listed as "dl-" forms.
  9. Olive leaf extract: In one 2008 study, supplementing with 1,000 mg of olive leaf extract daily over eight weeks caused a significant dip in both blood pressure and LDL ("bad") cholesterol in people with borderline hypertension. If you want to incorporate olive leaves as a natural adjunct to a nutrition­ally sound diet, look for fresh leaf liquid extracts for maximum synergistic potency. You can also prepare your own olive leaf tea by placing a large teaspoon of dried olive leaves in a tea ball or herb sack. Place it in about two quarts of boiling water and let it steep for three to 10 minutes. The tea should be a medium amber color when done.
  10. Quick tricks: Increasing nitric oxide in your blood can open con­stricted blood vessels and lower your blood pressure. Methods for in­creasing the compound include taking a warm bath, breathing in and out through one nostril (close off the other nostril and your mouth), and eating bitter melon, rich in amino acids and vitamin C.

Researchers Keep Finding More Ways Our Flawed Agriculture Model Breeds Antibiotic Resistance

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

American farmers routinely use antibiotics to make their livestock grow bigger and faster (in addition to preventing disease caused by cramped, filthy quarters, and an unnatural diet). As a result of decades of this practice, antibiotic-resistance in humans has dramatically risen.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1 (CDC), two million American adults and children become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die as a direct result.

A recent report commissioned by UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, estimates that by 2050 antibiotic resistance will have killed 300 million people; the annual global death toll reaching 10 million. Experts are now warning that we may soon be at a point where ALL antibiotics fail, and once that happens, it will be the end of modern medicine as we know it.

Common illnesses such as bronchitis or strep throat can then turn deadly, and even routine, low-risk surgeries become risky. More high-stakes surgeries like organ transplants may no longer be survivable.

Flawed Agriculture Model Has Bred Out-of-Control Drug Resistance

The routine use of antibiotics in agriculture is at the very heart of this urgent public health threat. First of all, agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the US, so it’s really a primary source of antibiotic exposure.

Second, it is the continuous use of low dose antibiotics that really allows the bacteria to survive and become increasingly hardy and drug resistant. But while confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) tend to get blamed the most, other aspects of agriculture contribute to the scourge of antibiotic resistance as well, and in some surprising ways.

In the first study2,3,4 of its kind, researchers found that commonly used herbicides actually promote antibiotic resistance by priming pathogens to more readily become resistant to antibiotics. This includes Roundup, which was shown to increase the antibiotic-resistance of E. coli and Salmonella.

As reported by Rodale News:5

The way Roundup causes this effect is likely by causing the bacteria to turn on a set of genes that are normally off, [study author] Heinemann says. ‘These genes are for 'pumps' or 'porins,' proteins that pump out toxic compounds or reduce the rate at which they get inside of the bacteria...’

Once these genes are turned on by the herbicide, then the bacteria can also resist antibiotics. If bacteria were to encounter only the antibiotic, they would instead have been killed.

In a sense, the herbicide is 'immunizing' the bacteria to the antibiotic...This change occurs at levels commonly used on farm field crops, lawns, gardens, and parks.” [Emphasis mine]

Other herbicides scrutinized in the study include dicamba and 2,4-D, which is particularly relevant in light of the recent approval of a new generation of GE crops resistant not only to glyphosate, but also to dicamba and/or  2,4-D. 

Glyphosate Contamination May Be a Significant Yet Largely Ignored Health Risk

German researchers6 have noted that:

“Glyphosate residues cannot be removed by washing and they are not broken down by cooking. Glyphosate residues can remain stable in foods for a year or more, even if the foods are frozen, dried, or processed.” [Emphasis mine]

This then means that if you’re frequently eating foods contaminated with glyphosate, you’re continually exposing your gut bacteria to a chemical that threatens your health by:

  1. Acting as an antibiotic (glyphosate is in fact patented as an antibiotic); preferentially affecting beneficial bacteria, allowing pathogens to overgrow
  2. Inhibiting enzymes that catalyze the oxidation of organic substances and detoxify chemical compounds.
  3. This appears to be one of the previously hidden mechanisms of harm, because by limiting the ability of these enzymes to detoxify chemicals, glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of chemicals and environmental toxins you may be exposed to

  4. Readily promoting antibiotic resistance by activating certain genes in the bacteria, as demonstrated in the study above
  5. Glyphosate also decimates your microflora and its ability to produce essential amino acids like tryptophan that converts to serotonin, an important neurotransmitter, 90 percent of which is produced in your gut
How Toxic Agriculture Is Swirling Its Way into Your Home

Another surprise finding: researchers recently discovered that DNA from antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in American cattle yards are also airborne.7,8,9,10 They’re literally blowing in the wind, and this is yet another route of exposure for animals and humans alike.

As reported by Time Magazine:11

“Researchers gathered airborne particulate matter (PM) from around 10 commercial cattle yards within a 200-mile radius of Lubbock, Texas over a period of six months.

They found the air downwind of the yards contained antibiotics, bacteria, and a ‘significantly greater’ number of microbial communities containing antibiotic-resistant genes...

The genes that have gone airborne are contained in dried fecal matter that has become dust and gets picked up by winds... Co-author Phil Smith told the Texas Tribune that the bacteria could be active for a long time and ‘could be traveling for long distances.’”

The study estimates that the amount of potentially contaminated dust particles released by cattle yards in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas exceeds 46,000 pounds (21,000 kg) per day. You can be exposed to DNA from antibiotic-resistant bacteria via water and contaminated meat, and depending on where you live, simply breathing could be a route of exposure... According to the authors:12

“‘This is the first test to open our eyes to the fact that we could be breathing these things...’ The 'aha' moment came when we saw how much more prevalent resistant sequences were downwind than upwind,’ said Mayer, a molecular biologist at Texas Tech. ‘It was not just higher in some of them – it was 4,000 percent more. It made me not want to breathe.’”

Other Factors Contributing to Rising Antibiotic Resistance...

Researchers have also identified antibiotic-resistant genes in hog farms in China.13 Interestingly, this study also discovered that metals added to feed as growth promoters contribute to antibiotic resistance as well, noting that:

“[A]bundance of antibiotic-resistant genes (ARGs) correlated directly with antibiotic and metal concentrations, indicating their importance in selection of resistance genes. Diverse, abundant, and potentially mobile ARGs in farm samples suggest that unmonitored use of antibiotics and metals is causing the emergence and release of ARGs to the environment.”

And, as if all of this wasn’t enough, there’s the issue of drug companies dumping antibiotics directly into waste water as well, which is routinely done by some manufacturing facilities in India and China. Aside from direct ingestion, this contaminated wastewater also finds its way onto crop fields via irrigation and sludge (biosolids) used as fertilizer. Chlorine, which is used in waste water treatment, may also exacerbate the situation. As recently reported by Forbes:14

“[I]n the lab, chlorine can combine with antibiotics, changing its antibacterial activity and making new compounds.15 [Olya Keen, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina] used doxycycline for her tests. It is not yet known how other antibiotics might be affected by prolonged exposure to chlorine, but Keen is concerned that this might be another mechanism promoting antibiotic resistance. Keen recommends collecting and incinerating antibiotics, rather than dumping them into wastewater.”

What’s Being Done to Address This Growing Health Threat?

It would be nice if politicians and health officials were as aggressive in tackling antibiotic-resistance as they are toward a typically non-lethal childhood disease like measles... After all, antibiotic-resistant disease kills an estimated 23,000 Americans per year, or more; while no deaths have been reported from acute measles since 2003.

According to Reuters,16 the US government is planning to begin collecting data on antibiotic use on farms as of next year, in order to set targets for reduced use in livestock. The problem with this is that it’s going to take time to collect and analyze such data, and it’s time we don’t necessarily have. The problem is growing exponentially, and tens of thousands of people are dying with each passing year. Agricultural use of antibiotics needs to be curbed as much as possible, as quickly as possible, period. And other countries have already shown that it’s quite possible to run a profitable livestock business without routine use of antibiotics.

Hospitals Combating Superbugs

As for combating antibiotic-resistant superbugs in hospitals, a group of four long-term acute care hospitals in Chicago, IL, have developed a treatment plan that has cut their rates of carbapenem (a potent IV beta lactam antibiotic)-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) infections in half. As reported by Reuters:17

“The program involved testing all patients for CRE infections at the time of admission and again two weeks later. Patients who developed CRE were isolated in a private room or in a ward with other CRE-infected patients. Healthcare workers wore protective gowns while tending to them, using some of the procedures used when caring for patients with Ebola. All infected patients were bathed in chlorhexidine gluconate, an antiseptic commonly used in hospitals.”

The White House has called on the CDC to come up with a comprehensive plan to cut CRE infections by 60 percent by the end of this decade, and to slash clostridium difficile- and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections in half. To do that, the CDC intends to take a stronger stance against the practice of prescribing unnecessary antibiotics. Part of the CDC’s 2016 budget includes money to develop prescription surveillance programs in each state, as many states currently do not even collect data on antimicrobial resistance. As noted in the article:

“More than half of all hospitalized patients will get an antibiotic at some point during their stay, but studies have shown that 30 to 50 percent of antibiotics prescribed in hospitals are unnecessary or incorrect, contributing to antibiotic resistance. Recognizing that much of the misuse of antibiotics occurs outside of hospitals, the White House plan gives doctors who take part in Medicare or Medicaid three years to start reporting their antibiotics prescriptions, with financial incentives and penalties attached.”

1,000-Year Old Remedy Kills MRSA

As more and more antibiotics fail, we’re in dire need of new alternatives, and many of the immediately-available life savers are not drugs. For example, one of the most effective treatments against clostridium difficile infections is a fecal transplant, and Canada recently decided to allow this procedure to be used outside of clinical trials.18

Another interesting intervention that took researchers completely by surprise is a 1,000-year old remedy against eye infections. As reported by BBC News,19 the recipe calls for garlic, leeks, wine, and cow bile, and when scientists recreated this ancient remedy, “they were 'astonished' to find it almost completely wiped out methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus.” The findings will be presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for General Microbiology in Birmingham.

The recipe, found in the Anglo-Saxon manuscript Bald's Leechbook is as follows:

  • Equal amounts of garlic and another allium (onion or leek), finely chopped and crushed in a mortar for two minutes.
  • Add 25ml (0.87 fl oz) of English wine - taken from a historic vineyard near Glastonbury.
  • Dissolve bovine salts in distilled water, add and then keep chilled for nine days at 4°C.
There Are Solutions, But We Cannot Let Industry Write the Rules

There are solutions. But in order to really curb this runaway train that is antibiotic-resistance, we need to implement a multi-prong approach. The medical industry needs to do its part, farmers need to do theirs, and you need to participate too. The quickest changes are usually driven by consumer choice. So please remember, you can vote with your pocketbook by supporting the chemical-based system that is driving drug-resistance, or supporting a system that can regenerate and revitalize our agricultural system so that we can all have healthier, less contaminated food, water, and air.

This is in part why GMO labeling is so crucial, as GE crops further aggravate the many ills caused by chemical agriculture and CAFOs. Also, remember that eating a healthy diet of whole, ideally organic food is a cornerstone that will allow you to optimize your immune function so that you can naturally fight off any potential infection. Avoiding unnecessary antibiotics is also important, as they decimate your gut flora, thereby leaving you more vulnerable to health problems. The same goes for antibacterial cleansers. All you really need is mild soap and warm water to effectively de-germ your hands. Antibacterial products containing triclosan only promote antibiotic-resistance.

Non-Drug Immune Boosters

There are many non-drug alternatives you can try, should you come down with an infection. There are also effective preventive strategies beyond a healthy diet. For example, studies have shown that inadequate vitamin D can increase your risk for MRSA and other infections, which can likely be extended to other superbugs. So monitor your vitamin D levels to confirm they’re in the therapeutic range, 50-70 ng/ml. If you can’t get sufficient sun exposure, consider taking an oral vitamin D supplement. Other agents that have natural antibacterial action include (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C’s role in preventing and treating infectious disease is well established. Intravenous vitamin C is an option, but if you don’t have access to a practitioner who can administer it, liposomal vitamin C is the most potent oral form. For more information on vitamin C, listen to my interview with Dr. Ronald Hunninghake, an internationally recognized vitamin C expert. If you choose to supplement with vitamin C, liposomal C seems to be the best oral form to use and may be as effective as intravenous forms.
  • Garlic. Garlic is a powerful antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. It can stimulate your immune system, help wounds heal, and kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria (including MRSA and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis), plus it has shown more than 100 other health promoting properties. For highest potency, the garlic should be eaten fresh and raw (chopped or smashed).
  • Colloidal Silver. Colloidal silver has been regarded as an effective natural antibiotic for centuries, and research20,21,22 shows it can even be helpful against some antibiotic-resistant pathogens. If you are interested in this treatment, make sure you read the latest guidelines for safe usage of colloidal silver as there are risks with using it improperly.
  • Olive leaf extract. In vitro studies show olive leaf extract is effective against Klebsiella, a gram-negative bacteria, inhibiting its replication, in addition to being toxic to other pathogenic microbes.
  • Manuka honey. Manuka honey, made from the flowers and pollen of the Manuka bush, has been shown to be more effective than antibiotics in the treatment of serious, hard-to-heal skin infections. Clinical trials have found Manuka honey can effectively eradicate more than 250 clinical strains of bacteria, including resistant varieties such as MRSA.
  • Tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic proven to kill many bacterial strains (including MRSA).

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