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Dr. Mercola

Do You Really Want to Eat Hot Dogs After Knowing This?

13 hours 31 min ago

By Dr. Mercola

The hot dog is one of America's most popular foods, with the average person consuming 50 of them per year. Hot dogs are one of the most nutritionally bankrupt foods.

Yet for decades, they've been given a free pass, granted one pardon after another thanks to their towering status in American culture. But when you look at what they are giving you in return, you will want to seriously reconsider their status.

The hot dog's gustatory glow took a significant hit in 2009 when the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) issued its landmark report1 about hot dogs and cancer risk, based on more than 7,000 scientific studies.

AICR determined that every 50 gram serving of processed meat you consume daily—for example, just ONE hot dog—raises your risk for colorectal cancer by 21 percent. Despite these health warnings, frankfurters have been unstoppable.

In 2013, Americans spent $2.5 billion on hot dogs in US supermarkets, which amounts to more than one billion packages of wieners. During peak hot dog season—which is from Memorial Day to Labor Day—Americans belt down seven billion dogs.

On the Fourth of July alone, Americans consume 150 million hot dogs—enough to stretch from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles more than five times! Hot dogs pose another danger for your child that you may not be aware of—they are responsible for 17 percent of all choking cases among children, killing about 80 kids per year.2

Transformation of Slaughter By-Products Into Hot Dogs

Many blame the hot dog's carcinogenic effects on nitrates and nitrites, but I would argue that this is an overly simplistic view. When you look at what goes into hot dogs and how they are made, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Between the type and grade of "meat" used and its sources, as well as the torrent of chemicals added to make the dogs safe and palatable—of which nitrates are only one—it's easy to understand how serious health problems could arise.

Most of the meat and meat by-products come from Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) where animals are tortured in crowded, unhealthy, unsanitary, and cruel conditions, as the primary goal is cheap food, not quality food.

The video at the top of the article about how hot dogs are made provides a somewhat glorified view of the process, but it does succeed in portraying just how far from natural this food really is. And when you boil it down, it's rather disgusting.

Here is the not-glorified version. They start with an animal carcass that's been stripped of all desirable cuts, boil the heck out of it, force it through a metal sieve, add water, grind it up into a slimy carcass paste ("meat emulsion" or "meat batter"), add a bunch of chemicals to make it taste good and binders to make it stick together, then extrude it into links.3, 4

'And ALL the Trimmings'

Once desirable meat cuts are removed from beef, pork, and poultry (steaks, chops, ribs, thighs, breasts, briskets, etc.), what remains is a carcass consisting mostly of gristle, fat, and offal. The meat industry refers to this as "trimmings." According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO):5

"The raw meat materials used for precooked-cooked products are lower-grade muscle trimmings, fatty tissues, head meat, animal feet, animal skin, blood, liver and other edible slaughter by-products."

The butchering process imparts a considerable amount of bacteria to these carcasses, but because hot dogs are pre-cooked, manufacturers can get away with using these pieces and parts even if they are teeming with bacteria.

Cooking helps kill them, as well as separating the remaining muscle, fat, and connective tissues from the head and feet bones. The slimy paste that results from this rendering brew is what's referred to as "mechanically-recovered" meat. The process of manufacturing hot dogs is colorfully summarized in the Daily Mail:6

"In vast metal vats, tons of pork trimmings are mixed with the pink slurry formed when chicken carcasses are squeezed through metal grates and blasted with water. The mush is mixed with powdered preservatives, flavorings, red coloring and drenched in water before being squeezed into plastic tubes to be cooked and packaged."

Where's the Beef?

Now that you know the basics of the process, let's take a closer look at the ingredients. Meat makes up a relatively small proportion of the average commercial hot dog. And it's typically low-quality meat and meat by-products—which technically are not meat at all.7

Meat Turkey, chicken, beef, pork, and othersPork must be 20 percent or less due to risk of pathogens Fillers Corn syrup, dried milk, maltodextrin, cereal grains, and modified food starchUp to 3.5 percent Salt Sodium chlorideOne hot dog can contain 670mg sodium, more than 30 percent of your daily allowance8 Preservatives Potassium lactate, sodium phosphates, sodium diacetate, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite, and sodium nitrate  Flavorings Paprika and other spices, artificial flavorings, msg, carmine (a dye from the shells of small beetles, boiled in ammonia or sodium carbonate), and any number of other additivesUSDA does not require manufacturers to list these on labels, so just about anything goes when it comes to "flavorings" Water Water thins the meat batter so that it can be extruded into the desired formNo more than 10 percent, per regulations Casings Derived from beef, pork, lamb, fibers, wood pulp, or plasticMany hot dog casings are removed prior to packaging so they don't have to be edible; others are made from plant or animal-derived cellulose, dissolved cowhides, or the intestinal tracts of farmed animals9

At least the above list of ingredients "belong" in hot dogs... what's far worse are the extras. According to reports begrudgingly released by the USDA under the Freedom of Information Act, foreign objects recently found in hot dogs include Band-Aids, glass shards, razor blades, metal fragments, maggots, rat legs, and pieces of eyeballs.10

Large hot dog factories can blast out 300,000 of these dogs per hour. It takes only 30 seconds to build a chain of hot dogs that would span a soccer field twice. When a commercial operation is THIS massive, you can get some rather revolting contaminants.

The Truth About Nitrates and Nitrites

Many are confused about nitrates and nitrites, so let me clear up the confusion.  Nitrates are present in many vegetables, such as beets, celery, lettuce, spinach, and most other leafy green vegetables. When you eat nitrates, your body converts a small percentage of them into nitrites. Nitrites and nitrates are not inherently bad for you—in fact, they are the precursor to nitric oxide (NO), which lowers your blood pressure and exerts mild anti-inflammatory effects.

Sodium nitrite is a synthetic preservative added to meats like hot dogs to help them maintain that nice pink color. The problem is, in the presence of heat—especially high heat—nitrites can combine with amines in processed meat to form nitrosamines, and it's these that are carcinogenic. Nitrosamines inflict cellular damage and have been linked to cancer, typically in your colon, bladder, stomach, or pancreas. Processed meats are far more prone to nitrosamine formation than vegetables, due to being higher in amines and intensively heat processed.11, 12, 13, 14

Vitamin C inhibits some of the nitrosamine formation, which is why 550 ppm ascorbic acid is now required added to all processed meats in the US.15 Vegetables contain more vitamin C, beta-carotene, and other antioxidants, which is another reason why the nitrates in vegetables don't cause a problem.

According to the University of Minnesota Extension, around 90 percent of the nitrite in your body comes from vegetables, while just 10 percent comes from processed meats.16 When meat or fish is cooked at high temperatures, other potent carcinogens are also created, such as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs). If your processed meat is smoked, you can add Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) to the list.

What About Nitrates in Organic Hot Dogs?

Natural or organic hot dogs may not be much lower in nitrite—and some may even be higher than conventional hot dogs. Companies that label their products natural or organic must use natural sources of the preservatives, which usually come in the form of celery powder or celery juice, as celery is naturally high in nitrate.

A 2011 study published in The Journal of Food Protection found that natural hot dogs had anywhere from one-half to 10 times the amount of nitrite of conventional hot dogs.17 A similar scenario exists for bacon. So, buying organic hot dogs is not necessarily going to reduce your nitrate exposure—although it will likely result in a higher quality food product in many other respects.

Brainwashing Kids Into Loving Junk Food

Unacceptable rates of childhood obesity and disease are evidence of the damage being done to our children by hot dogs, sodas, and other unhealthy foods. With such grave health dangers, the earlier that fast food habits can be nipped in the bud, the better. Kids are extremely vulnerable to and under constant bombardment by junk food marketing.

If you want to see evidence of how powerful this brainwashing can be, take a look at the eye-opening video of Jamie Oliver's experiment, where he attempts to educate a group of elementary schoolers about what really goes into chicken nuggets. Of course, he COULD have used hot dogs for the example and the outcome would have probably been the same. Despite his success in disgusting them with what really goes into a chicken nugget, they STILL want the nuggets! This experiment reveals the depth of children's emotional attachment to fast food—which also shows just how effective fast food marketing is to children.

An even more powerful marketing strategy has emerged for brainwashing your child, which takes advantage of smartphones and other mobile devices. The "advergame" is a game that promotes a particular brand, product or message by integrating it into play. The game IS the advertisement, engaging children to such as extent that they form strong relationships with the product or brand, so they consume more of it—and research proves it works. For example, KFC's "Snack in the Face," which mimics the massively popular game Angry Birds, is described as "the future of junk food advertising."18

The Best of the Wurst

If you are going to eat hot dogs or other processed meats once in awhile, there are a few considerations that may help you reduce your risk of adverse health affects. Again, these options are not ideal as these meats are still processed, but the following guidelines will ensure you are consuming a product that is better for you than the vast majority of processed meats on the market:

  • Look for "uncured" varieties that contain NO nitrates
  • Choose varieties that say 100 percent beef, 100 percent chicken, etc. This is the only way to know that the meat is from a single species and does not include byproducts
  • Avoid any meat that contains MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavor, or artificial color
  • Ideally, purchase sausages and other processed meats from a small, local farmer that makes those products right on the farm, whom you can ask about the ingredients
Truly Healthy Meats Are a Much Better Option

In contrast to eating products that are little more than a heat-processed slurry of reassembled slaughterhouse remains, real meat is a different story altogether. Make sure the meat you consume is grass-fed, organically and humanely raised, preferably from a local farmer you know and trust. Grass-fed beef tends to be leaner and have higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting CLA. It also has a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. Organic farms tend to provide far more sanitary conditions, so the animals are less likely to harbor dangerous pathogens.

Organic, grass-fed standards do not permit non-medical use of antibiotics, and with antibiotic-resistant infections being a major public health hazard today, this is an important consideration. To counteract some of the harmful effects of cooking, add homemade spice rubs, herb-enhanced marinades, or even fresh blueberries to your meat prior to cooking. This will not only augment its nutritional value, but also reduce the harmful substances like heterocyclic amines that are formed during the cooking process. Consume plenty of fresh vegetables along with it, which will further enhance its nutritional value.

7 Underrated Medicinal Plants

13 hours 31 min ago

By Dr. Mercola

Before there was modern-day medicine and its pharmacopeia of synthetic drugs, there were plants, and ancient civilizations knew how to use them strategically to treat common ailments and even life-threatening diseases.

The ancient Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, a scroll from 1550 BC that’s over 100 pages long, details 700 medicinal herbs and how to use them. The Greek Corpus Hippocraticum from the 16th century BC also details the use of herbal medicine.1

Later, during the 1800s and early 1900s, the knowledge of herbal medicine was passed down from one generation to the next. Typically, the woman of the house was well versed in the use of herbs for healing, and would act as the family’s physician not only to treat illnesses but also to prepare various herbal wellness tonics and other remedies.

Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80 percent of the world’s population still uses traditional remedies, including plants, as their primary health care tools.2 Meanwhile, the majority of new drugs (70 percent) introduced in the US are derived from natural products, primarily plants.3

Unfortunately, the reverence for the use of medicinal plants in everyday life has largely been lost in the US. But if you are interested in using natural remedies to support your health, you should know that there are many right at your fingertips.

7 Medicinal Plants You Can Use to Benefit Your Health

Below is an excellent starting point to learn how to harness the power of medicinal plants. This is only a small sample, of course, and once you get your feet wet, you’ll likely be inspired to explore more and more uses for these healing wonders.

1. Ginger

Ginger is one spice that I recommend keeping on hand in your kitchen at all times. Not only is it a wonderful addition to your cooking (especially paired with garlic) but it also has enough medicinal properties to fill several books.

Ginger is best known for its antinausea effects but also has broad-spectrum antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-parasitic properties, to name just several of its more than 40 scientifically confirmed pharmacological actions. It is anti-inflammatory, making it valuable for pain relief for joint pain, menstrual pain, headaches, and more.

The pain-relieving potential of ginger appears to be far-reaching. Along with help for muscle and joint pain, ginger has been found to reduce the severity of migraine headaches as well as the migraine medication Sumatriptan – with fewer side effects.4

Ginger also shows promise for fighting cancer, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, asthma, bacterial and fungal infections, and it is one of the best natural remedies available for motion sickness or nausea (from pregnancy or chemotherapy, for example).

Taking one gram of ginger daily may help reduce nausea and vomiting in pregnant women, or those with migraines and ginger has been shown to work better than a placebo in relieving morning sickness.5

Ginger is also a must-have if you struggle with indigestion, and it does more than simply relieve pain. Ginger contains powerful protein-digesting enzymes and helps to stimulate the emptying of your stomach without any negative effect, and it’s an antispasmodic agent, which may explain its beneficial effects on your intestinal tract.

Many people enjoy ginger tea on a regular basis, and this is one of the simplest ways to use it. Simply chop off a couple of inches of ginger root and let it steep in hot water for fresh ginger tea. I would advise against using it daily as it can lead to an allergy and is what happened to me about twenty years ago.

You can also peel the root using a paring knife and then slice it thinly (or grate it or mince it) to add to tea or cooked dishes. You can’t go wrong by adding ginger to stir fries or even your favorite homemade chicken soup. For serious issues, a natural health care provider can help you get the maximum therapeutic benefits of ginger.

2. Garlic

Eating a clove or two of fresh garlic a day may indeed keep the doctor away, in part because it has immune-boosting, antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal effects. Many of garlic’s therapeutic effects are derived from its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin, which are also what give it its characteristic smell. In general, garlic’s benefits fall into four main categories:

  1. Reducing inflammation (reduces the risk of osteoarthritis and other disease associated with inflammation)
  2. Boosting immune function (antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiparasitic properties)
  3. Improving cardiovascular health and circulation (protects against clotting, retards plaque, improves lipids, and reduces blood pressure)
  4. Toxic to at least 14 kinds of cancer cells (including brain, lung, breast, gastric, and pancreatic)

In addition, garlic may be effective against drug-resistant bacteria, and research has revealed that as allicin digests in your body, it produces sulfenic acid, a compound that reacts with dangerous free radicals faster than any other known compound.6 This is one of the reasons why I named garlic as one of the top seven anti-aging foods you can consume.

In order to get the health benefits, the fresh clove must be crushed or chopped in order to stimulate the release of an enzyme called alliinase, which in turn catalyzes the formation of allicin.

Allicin, in turn, rapidly breaks down to form a number of different organosulfur compounds. So to “activate” garlic’s medicinal properties, compress a fresh clove with a spoon prior to swallowing it, or put it through your juicer to add to your vegetable juice.

A single medium-size clove or two is usually sufficient and is well-tolerated by most people. The active ingredient, allicin, is destroyed within one hour of smashing the garlic, so garlic pills are virtually worthless. Black garlic, which is basically fermented garlic, and sprouted garlic may contain even more antioxidants than regular garlic.

3. Peppermint

Peppermint offers benefits to the respiratory system, including for coughs, colds, asthma, allergies, and tuberculosis. In terms of digestive health, peppermint oil capsules have been described as "the drug of first choice" in IBS patients,7 and peppermint oil is an effective alternative to drugs like Buscopan for reducing colonic spasms.8

It may also relax the muscles of your intestines, allowing gas to pass and easing abdominal pain. Try peppermint oil or leaves added to tea for gas relief. Inhaling the peppermint aroma may offer memory enhancement and stress relief, and peppermint oil acts as an expectorant and decongestant, and may help clear your respiratory tract.

Use peppermint essential oil as a cold rub on your chest or inhale it through a vaporizer to help clear nasal congestion and relieve cough and cold symptoms. Peppermint oil may also help relieve tension headache pain. For headache pain, try dabbing a few drops on your wrist or sprinkling a few drops on a cloth, then inhaling the aroma. You can also massage the oil directly onto your temples and forehead. Peppermint essential oil is ideal for muscle and chest rubs, headache pain, dental care, and aromatherapy. You can even add it to your homemade cleaning supplies for extra antimicrobial power and natural fragrance.

When selecting peppermint for your own use, the fresh leaves will impart a superior flavor to dried leaves (such as for use in tea). Look for fresh leaves that are green in color without any dark spots or yellowing. In addition to using fresh mint leaves in tea, you can add them to soups, fruit salad, or gazpacho. Additionally, it is really easy to grow peppermint yourself and the plant works as a highly effective deterrent to many insects that might invade your garden or your home.

4. Lavender

Lavender oil has a chemically complex structure with over 150 active constituents.9 This oil is rich in esters, which are aromatic molecules with antispasmodic (suppressing spasms and pain), calming, and stimulating properties. The chief botanical constituents of lavender oil are linalyl acetate, linalool (a non-toxic terpene alcohol that has natural germicidal properties), terpinen-4-ol, and camphor. Other constituents in lavender oil that are responsible for its antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties include cis-ocimene, lavandulyl acetate, 1,8-cineole, limonene, and geraniol.

Lavender oil is known for its calming and relaxing properties, and has been used aromatherapeutically for alleviating insomnia, anxiety, depression, restlessness, dental anxiety, and stress. It has also been proven effective for nearly all kinds of ailments, from pain to infections.

I am particularly fascinated by lavender oil's potential in fighting antifungal-resistant skin and nail infections. Scientists from the University of Coimbra found that lavender oil is lethal to skin-pathogenic strains known as dermatophytes, as well as various Candida species.10 Lavender oil can also be used to:

  • Relieve pain. It can ease sore or tense muscles, joint pain and rheumatism, sprains, backache, and lumbago. Simply massage a small amount of lavender oil onto the affected area. Lavender oil may also help lessen pain following needle insertion.
  • Treat various skin disorders like acne, psoriasis, eczema, and wrinkles. It also helps form scar tissues, which may be essential in healing wounds, cuts, and burns. Lavender can also help soothe insect bites and itchy skin (lavender oil can help ward off mosquitoes and moths. It is actually used as an ingredient in some mosquito repellents).
  • Keep your hair healthy. It helps kill lice, lice eggs, and nits. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCB) says that lavender is possibly effective for treating alopecia areata (hair loss), boosting hair growth by up to 44 percent after just seven months of treatment.11
  • Improve your digestion. This oil helps stimulate the mobility of your intestine and stimulates the production of bile and gastric juices, which may help treat stomach pain, indigestion, flatulence, colic, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Relieve respiratory disorders. Lavender oil can help alleviate respiratory problems like colds and flu, throat infections, cough, asthma, whooping cough, sinus congestion, bronchitis, tonsillitis, and laryngitis. It can be applied on your neck, chest, or back, or inhaled via steam inhalation or through a vaporizer.
  • Stimulate urine production, which helps restore hormonal balance, prevent cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder), and relieve cramps and other urinary disorders.
  • Improve your blood circulation. It helps lower elevated blood pressure levels and can be used for hypertension.

5. Thyme

Thyme is a fragrant herb that makes a wonderful addition to your cooking, in part because it is rich in antioxidants. Thyme contains health-boosting flavonoids including apigenin, naringenin, luteolin, and thymonin, and has been shown to protect and increase the percentage of healthy fats found in cell membranes. As reported by the George Mateljan Foundation:12 “In particular, the amount of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid) in brain, kidney, and heart cell membranes was increased after dietary supplementation with thyme.”

Thyme is also nutrient dense, containing vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, manganese, copper, and dietary fiber. When used in cooked dishes, thyme may also help inhibit glycation and the formation of dangerous advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in your food, making thyme a potential preventer of heart disease and premature aging. Due to thyme oil’s antibacterial, antispasmodic, antirheumatic, expectorant, hypertensive, and calming properties, it also has a long list of topical uses, including:

  • Home remedy – Thyme oil is used to relieve and treat problems like gout, arthritis, wounds, bites, and sores, water retention, menstrual and menopausal problems, nausea and fatigue, respiratory problems (like colds), skin conditions (oily skin and scars), athlete’s foot, hangovers, and even depression.
  • Aromatherapy oil – The oil can be used to stimulate the mind, strengthen memory and concentration, and calm the nerves.
  • Hair product – It is said that thyme oil can prevent hair loss. It is used as a treatment for the scalp and is added to shampoos and other hair products.
  • Skin product – Thyme oil can help tone aged skin and prevent acne outbreaks.
  • Mouthwashes and herbal rinses – Like peppermint, wintergreen, and eucalyptus oils, thyme oil is used to improve oral health.
  • Insecticide/insect repellent – Thyme oil can keep insects and parasites like mosquitoes, fleas, lice, and moths away.

6. Chamomile

Chamomile is most popular in tea form for use to calm upset stomach and help support restful sleep. Germany’s Commission E (a government organization) has even approved the use of chamomile for reducing swelling on your skin and fighting bacteria. Chamomile is a powerful anti-inflammatory that also has antibacterial, anti-spasmodic, anti-allergenic, muscle relaxant, and sedative properties. It is used to treat psoriasis, eczema, chickenpox, diaper rash, slow-healing wounds, abscesses, and gum inflammation,13 and according to Herb Wisdom may also be useful for the following conditions:14

“The oil serves many medicinal purposes, but one of the best-documented uses is for relaxation. The oil has a calming effect on people, and can be used to help induce sleep, ease frayed nerves, and promote a general sense of calmness and well being. It is great for those with nervousness or anxiety problems. Aside from having mental calming properties, chamomile is also good at relaxing sore muscles and tight joints.

It can ease menstrual cramps and back aches, as well as relax the digestive system to ease upset stomach or indigestion issues. When applied topically to the skin, it soothes redness and irritation. For this reason, it is a common ingredient in skincare. It also eliminates itchiness and is good for those with allergic reactions. Sometimes chamomile is used on rashes. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it can work to take down swelling caused by rashes or skin irritants.”

7. Dandelion

This flowering plant has traditionally been used as a liver tonic, useful for detoxification and improving liver function. Dandelion is known as a stimulant that is typically used for kidney and liver disorders. It is also traditionally used to reduce the side effects of prescription drugs, as well as to treat infections, gallbladder problems, water retention and swelling.15 Dandelion greens, which you can prepare simply by blanching them in boiling water for 20 seconds to help remove their bitter flavor (they can also be added to vegetable juice), contain many nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, potassium, and manganese. They are a particularly good source of vitamin A and may also have cancer-fighting properties.

Getting in Touch with Your Inner Healer: How to Use More Medicinal Plants

In the past, I have regarded herbs, in many cases, as a safer alternative to drugs, useful for treating various symptoms but not to treat the underlying cause. I have since revised my opinion on this quite significantly, and now realize that herbs can help support your health from a very basic level, just as foods do. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, you could walk into a drug store and find hundreds of herbal extracts for sale. Upwards of 90 percent of the population at that time knew how to use the medicinal plants growing in their backyards to treat common illnesses and injuries; they had too, as this was virtually the only “medicine” available.

With the rise of what is now known as conventional allopathic medicine shortly before World War I, herbalism slowly fell out of favor and became to be thought of as folk medicine. Rather than viewing nature as the source of healing, as had been done for centuries, people began to view drugs and other “modern” healing methods as superior. If you would like to start using medicinal plants more often, here are 9 tips to do so:16

  1. Learn to identify three medicinal plants you don't already know that grow in your region and learn their uses.
  2. Add at least one of these herbs to your garden or to pots on your windowsill.
  3. Make a tincture, tea, syrup, or salve. Or make one of each!
  4. Harvest and dry mint, lemon balm, calendula, nettles, or any other plant growing in your region.
  5. Find a plant to sit with quietly each morning for a week; draw the plant.
  6. Identify one healing skill you would like to have but don't, and find a way to learn it—perhaps by taking an herb or aromatherapy class.
  7. Make an herbal first aid kit.
  8. Organize local healers for emergency response in your community.
  9. With medicinal plants grown in your region, learn how to treat one condition that you and/or someone in your family struggles with.

Vegetable Oils: Beware of Common Fats That Are Even More Dangerous Than Trans Fats

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Nina Teicholz is an investigative journalist and author of The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. Nina was one the reporters who initially broke the story on the dangers of trans fats, 10 years ago, in an article for Gourmet magazine.1

It received an enormous amount of attention, which eventually led to a contract for a book on trans fats. At the same time, she was working as a restaurant review critic, and the meals she received from the chef were foods she'd never eaten before.

"Liver, creamy sauces, cheeses, red meat – and I found them to be delicious. Rich, earthy textured foods. I also found that I lost this stubborn 10 pounds I had been fighting for the most of my adult life, and my doctor said my cholesterol levels were fine."

These are the types of foods that are said to be really bad for your health, yet she had the complete opposite experience. As an investigative reporter, she felt compelled to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Along the way, she also discovered that while trans fats are now increasingly on the "outs," the vegetable oils replacing trans fats may be even more harmful...

How Trans Fats Became the Backbone of the Food Industry

Most edible oil chemists are men, Nina notes, but there was one woman in the field, Mary Enig PhD, who had been warning people about trans fats starting in the late 1970s.

No one was listening to her though, and she was widely regarded as a bit of a crackpot. An independent thinker, Dr. Enig was also a pioneer in educating people—myself included—about the health dangers of unfermented soy.

"Trans fats come about when vegetable oil is hardened," Nina explains. "Vegetable oils only entered the American food supply in the early 1900s.

Before 1900, American housewives cooked with lard and butter. Then vegetable oils, first in the form of cottonseed oils, came in. The very first hardened vegetable oil product was Crisco, introduced in 1911.

That's when trans fats, which are produced when you harden oil through hydrogenation, entered the US food supply."

Hydrogenated vegetable oils and margarine quickly became the backbone of the food industry. They ramped up from zero percent of the food supply to seven or eight percent today.

According to Nina, the increase in the amount of vegetable oils we eat is the single biggest increase in any kind of food nutrient over the course of the 20th century.

According to one calculation, we now eat more than 100,000 times more vegetable oils than we did at the beginning of the century. Vegetable oils were virtually nonexistent at the beginning of the century. Now, they make up about 7-8 percent of all calories consumed by the American public.

"Every packaged food—every cookie, cracker, microwave popcorn, frozen food—everything was made with trans fats. And our French fries were fried in them," she says.

"But it turns out that trans fats – due to the work of Mary Enig (who signaled the alarm) and another researcher whom you've interviewed, Fred Kummerow – they were found to have health problems. They interfered in the basic cellular membrane functioning."

Trans Fat Harm Was Identified in the 1930s

Indeed, Dr. Fred Kummerow—now nearly 100 years old— realized the hazards of trans fats in the 1950’s, and was the first researcher to publish a paper on it in 1957. He discovered that it's not cholesterol that causes heart disease, rather the trans fats are to blame.

Still, trans fats didn't become a major issue in the US until the early 2000s, when it was found that they slightly raise your LDL cholesterol. Since the expert community is so focused on cholesterol to the exclusion of everything else, they started banning trans fats based on that cholesterol effect.

"That was also the reason that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) used to finally decide to put trans fats on the food label. They wanted consumers to know that foods contained trans fats because by the late 2000s, they were considered really to be a dangerous kind of fat," Nina says.
  
"To me, it's definitely true that trans fats are not healthy for us. But I'm not sure that they were condemned based on the right reason."

The Cholesterol Fallacy

In the 1950s, saturated fats were condemned on the basis of them raising your cholesterol. At that time, we had only a primitive understanding of what causes heart disease. But we could measure HDL and LDL cholesterol, and the research community focused in on LDL, which became known as the "bad cholesterol."

Since then, a large number of clinical trials have shown that LDL cholesterol levels, except in extreme cases, actually are very poor predictors of heart attack risk.

And, as our understanding of biomarkers has evolved over the last 15 years, it turns out there are other biomarkers that far more accurately predict heart risks, such as your LDL particle number.

"But going back to trans fat, it was condemned on the basis of LDL. It seems like the wrong piece of evidence against trans fats. There were plenty of other things that were worrisome about trans fats that make that perhaps not a bad decision, except for one big thing—nobody really thought about what would replace trans fats," Nina says.

Heated Vegetable Oils Create Harmful Oxidation Byproducts

On a side note, there's also the issue of glyphosate contamination and genetic engineering that make vegetable oils of today even more hazardous than the earlier varieties. That said, from the very beginning, vegetable oils always had the problem that they were unstable.

When heated, especially to high temperatures, they degrade into oxidation products. More than 100 dangerous oxidation products have been found in a single piece of chicken fried in vegetable oils, Nina says.

"That's the reason that vegetable oils were hardened to be able to be used in the first place," she says. "They couldn't be used simply as oil. Once there was a technology that figured out how to use them just as oils by actually changing the fatty acid structure in oils, vegetable oils in bottles like Westin Oil and Zola Oils came to the market, in the 1940s.

But even back then, in a number of animal experiments that were done, there were tremendously worrying results. Animals would get cirrhosis of the liver or enlarged liver. And then when they were eating heated vegetable oils, they would die prematurely."

So, while trans fats are being recognized as harmful and are  in the process of being completely eliminated, we’re still faced with a huge problem, because restaurants and food service operations are reverting back to using regular vegetable oils (such as peanut, corn, and soy oil) again for frying. But these oils still have the worrisome problem of degrading into toxic oxidation products when heated!

Trans Fats Are Being Replaced with Equally Worrisome Oil Products

The latest issue of Wise Traditions, the Weston Price journal, has a great article that is an excerpt from her book, in which she discusses this topic. Most of you reading this are now well aware of the dangers of trans fats, and that the FDA is in the process of banning them completely. That's great news, but the question is, what is trans fat being replaced with? The answer is that the oils they're currently using in lieu of trans fats create toxic oxidation products, which in fact may be more toxic than trans fat.

"I stumbled on this topic because a vice president of Loders Croklaan, a big fats and oils producer, said to me, 'I just heard this terrifying talk by a man in a company who does all the cleaning for fast food restaurants.'... He said they have been having problems since restaurants started getting rid of trans fats in their fryers around 2007... The new oils were building up gunk in the drains and on the walls.

This kind of gunk would harden, and workers would scrape for days and not be able to get it off. The conventional cleaners didn't work anymore. It's turning out to be these highly volatile airborne chemicals. When the restaurants' uniforms would be cleaned, the chemicals were so volatile that they would have problems of piles of uniforms spontaneously combusting in the back of trucks. And then they would go to the dryers. The heat of the dryers, even after the restaurant uniforms were cleaned, would cause fires." [Emphasis mine]

The cleaning company ended up producing a more potent chemical cleaner to scrub off the polymers off the walls and uniforms. Unfortunately, the nutrition community is not studying these volatile vegetable oils. Others, primarily in the molecular biology and genetics fields are, but the different fields are not communicating with each other.

Even Low Levels of Aldehydes Cause Massive Inflammation

One group in Taiwan is studying this issue because women have much higher rates of lung cancer than men. They think it may be related to the fact that women, particularly in Asian countries, stir-fry in unventilated spaces using vegetable oils. In Norway, there's another research group trying to assess the effects on worker health in restaurants.

“[These volatile compounds] are very hard to study because they are very ephemeral, literally changing from one second to the next...They’re very unstable. They’re hard to isolate,” Nina explains. “One thing they did was simply to show that these products exist.  There’s a whole category called aldehydes, which are particularly worrisome.

A group doing research on animals have found that at fairly low levels of exposure, these aldehydes in animals caused tremendous inflammation, which is related to heart disease. They oxidized LDL cholesterol, which is thought to be the LDL cholesterol that becomes dangerous. There's a link to heart disease. There's also some evidence that links these aldehydes in particular to Alzheimer's. They seem to have a very severe effect on the body."

One researcher has found that aldehydes cause toxic shock in animals through gastric damage. We now know a lot more about the role your gut plays in your health, and the idea that aldehydes from heated vegetable oils can damage your gastric system is frighteningly consistent with the rise we see in immune problems and gastrointestinal-related diseases.

"When the FDA got rid of trans fats... restaurants began to use these regular liquid oils instead... they were the cheapest possible option to use… The FDA really did not consider any of this literature about these oxidation products. When you implement a law, you're supposed to look at the risks. What will happen if you implement a new regulation? In this case, the FDA did not," Nina says.

In hearing this, it appears as though cooking with vegetable oil could be a "new" occupational hazard (having occurred within the last 10 years or so) for restaurant workers. If vegetable oils volatize and gum up into polymers that are nearly impossible to clean, and that are damaging fryers, equipment, and causing uniforms to spontaneously combust, what is it doing to the workers' lungs? Larger fast food chains are aware of this issue, and have implemented a number of fixes to address it. But smaller restaurants may be unaware of this problem, thereby placing workers at potential risk. The same applies if you're regularly cooking with vegetable oils in your home.

Saturated Fats Are Stable, and Therefore Ideal for Cooking

Tallow is a hard fat that comes from cows. Lard is a hard fat that comes from pigs. They're both animal fats, and used to be the main fats used in cooking. One of their benefits is that, since they're saturated fats, they do not oxidize when heated. And saturated fats do not have double bonds that can react with oxygen; therefore they cannot form dangerous aldehydes or other toxic oxidation products.

"They're solids at room temperature. That's why they make great cooking fats and have always made great cooking fats. But we don't think about that. This whole chain of events has happened because we demonized saturated fats," Nina notes.

Fortunately, we're now seeing cracks in the prevailing dogma about saturated fats. In March of this year, a groundbreaking meta-analysis reviewed the clinical trial evidence and the epidemiological evidence, and came to the conclusion that saturated fats really cannot be said to cause heart disease. Another meta-analysis three years earlier came to the same conclusion.

Saturated Fat—It Does a Body Good...

The benefits of saturated fat are many. Some appear to be uniquely traceable to saturated fat. For example, you need saturated fats for brain and immune system health. Another argument is that animal foods in general, including meat cheese, butter, dairy, and eggs, contain high amounts of vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, and you have to have the fat that comes naturally in animal foods along with the vitamins in order to absorb those vitamins.

"If you're drinking skim milk, you don't have the fat you need to absorb the vitamins in milk. Without absorbing the vitamins, you can't absorb the minerals. These are uniquely nutrient-dense foods. Vitamin B6 and B12, you can't get in plant foods. They're really nutrient-dense foods that come packaged in the fat that you need to absorb them, along with protein. They're kind of a perfect package of nutrient-dense food," Nina says.

Nina also points out that many clinical trials over the past decade have clearly showed that a diet higher in fat and restricted in carbohydrate results in health improvements such as weight loss and a reduction in risk factors for diabetes, and heart disease. A high-fat diet typically means eating animal foods. Of course, there are very healthy saturated plant fats as well—coconut oil and palm oil, specifically. (Avocado, another healthy fat, is unsaturated.)

"[Coconut and palm oil] have been used for millennia in Asian cultures. They are making a big comeback in part because vegans who don't want to eat animal products have found that they still need a fat for cooking that doesn't oxidize when it's heated... Coconut oil fills that function. In the food industry, they've started to bring back palm oil, which has a lot of saturated fat in it and is a good way to make food that lasts long on a shelf, because again, saturated fats are more stable and long-lasting."

Healthy Eating Guidelines for the 21st Century

So, what's the general 21st century revised rule for healthy living and eating? One of the most important points is that you do not need to avoid saturated fats. Saturated fats were unfairly condemned in the 1950s based on very primitive evidence that has since been re-analyzed. The evidence now clearly shows that saturated fats do not cause heart disease. Moreover, your body needs saturated fats for proper function of your:

Cell membranes HeartBones (to assimilate calcium) LiverLungsHormones Immune systemSatiety (reducing hunger) Genetic regulation

"Another key piece of information is that a high-fat, carbohydrate-restricted diet looks healthier for losing weight, and making your heart disease biomarkers and diabetes biomarkers look better. There's a real range in how much carbohydrates people will tolerate," Nina says.

Many people need to increase the healthful fat in their diet to 50-85 percent of daily calories. This includes not only saturated fat but also monounsaturated fats (from avocados and nuts) and omega-3 fats. When it comes to cooking fats, few compare to tallow and lard in terms of health benefits and safety. These are the cooking fats that were originally used, and they're excellent frying fats. To learn more, I highly recommend reading Nina's book The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, which contains nine years' worth of research.

What Makes This Healthy Breakfast Recipe Good for You?

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

If you’re looking for a healthy breakfast, you’ll want to bypass much of the traditional fare in the US. Cereal, bagels, pancakes, waffles, muffins, and doughnuts all have one thing in common…

They’re refined carbohydrates that will quickly break down to sugar, increase your insulin levels, and cause insulin resistance, which is the number one underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease and condition known to man, including weight gain.

Highly processed carbohydrates stimulate brain regions involved in reward and cravings, promoting excess hunger, which means when you eat toast or cereal for breakfast you might be priming your body to overeat junk food for the rest of the day.

If you’re going to eat breakfast, you need to give your body the proper fuel, which means healthy fats, fiber, a moderate amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals – all of which you’ll find in the irresistible recipe that follows…

Try This Spicy Avocado Egg Recipe

Free-range, pastured organic eggs are one of the best foods you can eat. Combine them with another superfood, avocado, plus healthy spices and salsa, and you’re on to something. This recipe, from Mountain Rose Blog,1 is described as a breakfast food, but you can eat it any time of day. If you don’t like spicy foods, you can adjust the seasoning accordingly.

Rise & Shine Baked Avocado

Ingredients

  • 1 organic Hass avocado, cut in half with seed removed
  • 2 organic pastured farm eggs
  • ½ tsp. organic Mexican Seasoning or equal parts organic cumin powder, garlic powder, oregano, and chili powder
  • ¼ cup shredded organic cheddar cheese
  • Organic salsa
  • Fine sea salt and organic cracked black pepper to taste


Directions

Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees. Place the avocado halves into a baking dish and stabilize them with a little foil if needed. Crack one egg into each empty pit of your avocado halves. You can scoop a bit of avocado out if you need more room for the egg.

Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Sprinkle ¼ tsp. of Mexican Seasoning on each egg filled avocado. Top each half with shredded cheese and pop into the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, top with salsa, and enjoy! What Makes This Recipe Good for You?

It’s comprised of whole foods that will give your body a boost of energy while offering multiple synergistic benefits, courtesy of its phenomenal ingredients:

Avocado

Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fat that is easily burned for energy. They also provide close to 20 essential health-boosting nutrients, including potassium, vitamin E, B-vitamins, and folic acid.

Research has found that avocados can help optimize cholesterol levels within as little as one week, and contain compounds that appear to inhibit and destroy oral cancer cells, as well as, compounds that protect against liver damage.

Free-Range Organic Eggs

Eggs are a phenomenal source of protein, fat, and other nutrients, including choline and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. The best way to consume eggs, provided they come from a high-quality source, is to not cook them at all, which is why my advanced nutrition plan recommends eating your eggs raw.

In the beginner plan, however, eggs are still included and you can prepare them anyway you like them. While less "well-done" eggs are still preferable (such as poached, soft-boiled, or over easy with very runny yolks), a hard-boiled egg makes a fine snack or source of protein for your meal.

If you follow the recipe above, your eggs will come out close to hard-boiled. For less well-done eggs, simply shorten the cooking time. It’s very important to choose free-range or "pastured" organic eggs, as they are far superior when it comes to nutrient content. Eggs from hens raised on pasture contain more vitamin A, omega-3 fats, vitamin E, and beta carotene than commercial eggs.

Conventionally raised eggs are also far more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria such as salmonella. The key to finding truly free-range, pastured eggs is to buy your eggs locally. This is typically even preferable to organic eggs from the grocery store.

Cumin, Oregano, and Chili Powder

These spices are rich in antioxidants and other phytochemicals that may fight diseases like cancer, reduce inflammation, and even slow down the aging process. For instance, oregano has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal effects, and may kill MRSA, listeria, and other pathogens.

Cumin, meanwhile, has properties that may enhance your memory and reduce stress, while chili powder contains capsaicin, an anti-inflammatory compound linked to pain relief, weight loss, and the suppression of cancer cells.

Salsa

Salsa is a wonderful condiment to add to your meals, full of antioxidant-rich tomatoes, onions, peppers, and spices. It’s low in calories but heavy in vitamins and flavor, so you can use it generously in your diet.

Why You Might Want to Skip Breakfast

As mentioned, this recipe is ideal for morning, noon or night, and you might actually want to try it later in the day, as opposed to at breakfast time. Emerging research suggests that omitting breakfast, as part of an intermittent eating schedule, can actually have a number of phenomenal health benefits. These range from improving insulin sensitivity to shifting your body into burning more fat instead of sugar for fuel. The interesting aspect about eating first thing in the morning is that it coincides with your circadian cortisol peak, that is, the time of day when your cortisol (a stress hormone) levels rise and reach their peak.

The circadian cortisol peak impacts your insulin secretion, such that when you eat during this time it leads to a rapid and large insulin release and a corresponding rapid drop in blood sugar levels, more so than when you eat at other times of the day.

If you're healthy, your blood sugar levels won't drop to a dangerously low level (such as can occur with hypoglycemia) but they can drop low enough to make you feel hungry. So, although skipping breakfast goes against the conventional idea that you should not skip meals, omitting breakfast could actually make it easier for you to control food cravings and hunger throughout the day.

That said, there are also many other reasons to consider skipping breakfast, including its beneficial affect on your levels of human growth hormone (HGH). Personally, I revised my personal eating schedule to eliminate breakfast and restrict the time I eat to a period of about six to seven hours—typically from noon to 6 or 7 pm. I typically exercise in the morning, and most of the time I am fasting, as exercising while in a fasted state has been shown to produce many beneficial changes.

In the first few months of adopting this approach, I lost two inches from my waist size and gained three pounds, which means I lost body fat and gained muscle mass. The most amazing benefit that intermittent fasting produced is that it shifted me to fat-burning mode, which was one of the most amazing and radical health transformations I have ever experienced. Once you are truly shifted to primarily fat-burning mode your hunger dramatically decreases and your desire for unhealthy processed junk foods virtually disappears. You then don't have to have much discipline or will power to follow a healthy eating plan, as your hunger for unhealthy carbs is just not there.

However, it is important to remember that skipping breakfast is a process, not an action. You don't simply stop eating breakfast one day and reap all the benefits. It is a major commitment that may come with some discomfort, and it typically takes several weeks to successfully transition from being a primary carb burner to using fat as your primary fuel. Ultimately, it’s up to you if you want to eat breakfast or not, but if you do choose to eat it, remember that it should include fiber and healthy fats, making the avocado and egg recipe above an ideal option.

The Science of Acupuncture

Sat, 08/30/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Acupuncture is an ancient holistic health care system still widely practiced in China. It falls under the wider umbrella, known in the West as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which also includes the use of herbs and other therapies. Diagnostic systems also include tongue and pulse diagnosis.

Contrary to allopathic, symptom-based medicine, TCM and acupuncture aims to eliminate the root cause of your problem, which is said to originate in a dysfunction in your body’s energetic meridian system.

Western vs. Eastern Mindset

Meridian-based energy therapies like acupuncture are quite useful for treating a number of health problems; pain in particular. In China, acupuncture may even be used in lieu of anesthetic drugs during surgery, as demonstrated in the BBC documentary above.

As unbelievable as it seems, a young woman actually undergoes open heart surgery with acupuncture instead of general anesthesia.

There are several advantages to using acupuncture during surgical procedures, the Chinese surgeon explains. For starters, it doesn’t have the health risks of general anesthesia. Recovery is also much quicker, and the cost is about one-third.

While most westerners would balk at undergoing invasive surgery with nothing but a few needles keeping pain at bay, each year, millions of Americans do turn to acupuncture to relieve chronic pain, high blood pressure, nausea, and much more.

Acupuncture is considered an alternative to conventional forms of medicine in the West and is actually one of the oldest healing practices in the world. In China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries, acupuncture has been used for thousands of years, and its staying power isn’t merely a matter of superstition or coincidence.

In modern-day China, some hospitals offer acupuncture and allopathic medicine side-by-side, allowing patients to choose. They can also opt for a combination of both. For example, if an adverse drug effect occurs, the patient can opt for a reduced dose in combination with acupuncture.

Basic Principles of Acupuncture

TCM views the body as a cohesive one—a complex system where everything within it is inter-connected—where each part affects all other parts. They teach that lack of balance within this biological system is the precursor to all illness. The body exhibits symptoms when suffering from inner disease, and if it’s not re-balanced these symptoms may lead to acute or chronic illnesses of all kinds.

There are 14 major energy channels called meridians that flow through your body. An energy called chi circulates along the meridians to all parts of your body, including the internal organs and every cell. This chi is the vital force that literally keeps us alive. Vibrant health is a result of balanced, unimpeded flow of energy through the body.

According to TCM, illness and pain is the byproduct of energy blockages somewhere along one or more meridians. Each acupuncture point along the meridian acts like a pass-through or gate. Energy can get “bottle-necked” in these points, slowing down the flow; sometimes to the point of standstill. This is the precursor to pain and illness.

By inserting a thin needle into the congested or “clogged” area, it opens the gate and allows the energy to flow again. With the life-energy flowing smoothly, the body can now re-regulate the flow of energy, repair itself, and maintain its own optimal level of health.

Herbs and other therapies such as guacha, cupping, and moxibustion—the burning of herbs on or over the skin—can be used to support the healing.

History of Acupuncture

The science and art of acupuncture is well documented and spans across centuries, all the way back to the Stone Age. Records of its use have been found in many parts of the world, not just the Orient, as most commonly thought.

The Chinese medical compendium, the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, is the oldest written record about acupuncture. It is thought to be the oldest medical book in the world, heralding from Emperor Huang Di who reigned between 2,696—2,598 B.C.

However, signs of acupuncture being used are found all over the ancient world.  There’s evidence of its practice in ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Sri Lanka, parts of Europe, and South America. Even our North American Indians have used it.

The Eskimos, for example, are said to still use sharpened stones for treating illness. Written evidence of the use of acupuncture in Egypt and Saudi Arabia also exists. The Ebers papyrus of 1,550 B.C. describes a physical system of channels and vessels that is closely matched to the Chinese system of meridians.

Even older evidence than the examples above exist. In 1991, a 5,000-year-old mummified man was found along the Otz valley between Austria and Italy. Remarkably well preserved, a complex system of tattoos were discovered on his body, and verified to be directly on, or within six millimeters of, traditional acupuncture points and meridians.

Evidence Showing What Acupuncture ‘Does’

Some research suggests that acupuncture stimulates your central nervous system to release natural chemicals that alter bodily systems, pain, and other biological processes. In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted an extensive review and analysis of clinical trials involving acupuncture. According to this report,1 acupuncture impacts the body on multiple levels, including:

  • Stimulating the conduction of electromagnetic signals, which may release immune system cells or pain-killing chemicals
  • Activation of your body’s natural opioid system, which may help reduce pain or induce sleep
  • Stimulation of your hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which modulate numerous body systems
  • Change in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones, which may positively influence brain chemistry

In the featured video, a team of researchers, along with an acupuncturist, conduct an experiment that has never been done before. Using high tech MRI imaging, they were able to visually demonstrate that acupuncture has a very real effect on the brain.

Acupuncture, it turns out, does something completely unexpected—it deactivates certain parts of the brain, particularly in the limbic system, decreasing neuronal activity, opposed to having an activating impact. Their experiment also clearly showed that superficial sham needling did NOT have this effect. The limbic system is associated with our experience of pain, adding further evidence that something very unique happens during acupuncture—it quite literally alters your experience of pain by shutting down these deeper brain regions.

Acupuncture Proven Effective for Pain and Osteoarthritis

One of the most common uses of acupuncture is for the treatment of chronic pain. One analysis2 of the most robust studies available concluded that acupuncture has a clear effect in reducing chronic pain, more so than standard drug-based pain treatment. Study participants receiving acupuncture reported an average 50 percent reduction in pain, compared to a 28 percent pain reduction for standard pain treatment without acupuncture. Another large, well-designed study3, 4 assessing whether acupuncture might work for osteoarthritis—a debilitating condition affecting more than 20 million Americans—also produced remarkably positive results.

This landmark study is also discussed in the video above. A total of 570 patients diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee were enrolled for this 26-week long trial. It was the longest and largest randomized, controlled phase III clinical trial of acupuncture ever conducted. None of the participants had tried acupuncture before, and none had had knee surgery in the previous six months. Nor had they used steroid injections. The participants were randomly assigned to receive one of three treatments: acupuncture, sham acupuncture, or self-help strategies recommended by the Arthritis Foundation (the latter served as a control group).

Significant differences in response was seen by week eight and 14, and at the end of the trial, the group receiving real acupuncture had a 40 percent decrease in pain and a nearly 40 percent improvement in function compared to baseline assessments—a 33 percent difference in improvement over the sham group.  According to Stephen E. Straus, M.D., Director of National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH):5

"For the first time, a clinical trial with sufficient rigor, size, and duration has shown that acupuncture reduces the pain and functional impairment of osteoarthritis of the knee. These results also indicate that acupuncture can serve as an effective addition to a standard regimen of care and improve quality of life for knee osteoarthritis sufferers. NCCAM has been building a portfolio of basic and clinical research that is now revealing the power and promise of applying stringent research methods to ancient practices like acupuncture."

Other Science-Backed Uses for Acupuncture

However, chronic pain is only one of 30+ proven uses for this natural treatment. Chinese doctors assert that acupuncture can be used to treat virtually ANY illness, but for those looking for scientific validation, the World Health Organization’s analysis concluded that acupuncture is an effective treatment for the following diseases and conditions.

According to the WHO’s analysis: “Some of these studies have provided incontrovertible scientific evidence that acupuncture is more successful than placebo treatments in certain conditions.” The report again confirmed its benefits for pain, saying: “The proportion of chronic pain relieved by acupuncture is generally in the range 55–85 percent, which compares favorably with that of potent drugs (morphine helps in 70 percent of cases) and far outweighs the placebo effect (30–35 percent).”

Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever) Biliary colic Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke) Dysentery, acute bacillary Dysmenorrhoea, primary Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm) Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders) Headache Hypertension, essential Hypotension, primary Induction of labor Knee pain Leukopenia Low back pain Malposition of fetusMorning sickness Nausea and vomiting Neck pain Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction) Periarthritis of shoulder Postoperative pain Renal colic Rheumatoid arthritis Sciatica Sprain Stroke Tennis elbow More Potential Uses for Acupuncture

While further research is needed, acupuncture has also demonstrated therapeutic effects in the treatment of the following health problems, according to the WHO’s report.

Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm) Acne vulgaris Alcohol dependence and detoxification Bell’s palsy Bronchial asthma Cancer pain Cardiac neurosis Cholecystitis, chronic, with acute exacerbation Cholelithiasis Competition stress syndrome Craniocerebral injury, closed Diabetes mellitus, non-insulin-dependent Earache Epidemic haemorrhagic fever Epistaxis, simple (without generalized or local disease) Eye pain due to subconjunctival injection Female infertility Facial spasm Female urethral syndrome Fibromyalgia and fasciitis Gastrokinetic disturbance Gouty arthritis Hepatitis B virus carrier status Herpes zoster (human (alpha) herpesvirus 3) Hyperlipaemia Hypo-ovarianism Insomnia Labor pain Lactation, deficiency Male sexual dysfunction, non-organic Ménière disease Neuralgia, post-herpetic Neurodermatitis Obesity Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence Osteoarthritis Pain due to endoscopic examination Pain in thromboangiitis obliterans Polycystic ovary syndrome (Stein-Leventhal syndrome) Postextubation in children Postoperative convalescence Premenstrual syndrome Prostatitis, chronic Pruritus Radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome Raynaud syndrome, primary Recurrent lower urinary-tract infection Reflex sympathetic dystrophy Retention of urine, traumatic Schizophrenia Sialism, drug-induced Sjögren syndrome Sore throat (including tonsillitis) Spine pain, acute Stiff neck Temporomandibular joint dysfunction Tietze syndrome Tobacco dependence Tourette syndrome Ulcerative colitis, chronic Urolithiasis Vascular dementia Whooping cough (pertussis)

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream That Doesn't Melt!

Sat, 08/30/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Earlier this summer, a woman in Cincinnati noticed that her son’s Walmart-brand ice cream sandwich didn’t melt when he accidently left it outside for 12 hours, in 80-degree F weather.

Understandably surprised by the seemingly unmeltable ice cream sandwich, she tried the “experiment” again, with the same result. While other brands melted completely, the Walmart ice cream remained eerily intact. She then called a local news station, who conducted a test of its own, which you can watch in the video above.

After one hour and 15 minutes outside in sunny, 80-degree F weather, Walmart’s ice cream sandwich is still remarkably solid. Next to it, a scoop of another brand’s vanilla ice cream is turned to soup after just 30 minutes.

Why Won’t Walmart’s Ice Cream Sandwiches Melt?

A spokesperson for Walmart told Newsday that their ice-cream sandwiches’ high cream content is responsible for the slower melting time. The spokesperson said that ice cream with more cream, such as Walmart’s Great Value ice cream sandwiches, will generally melt at a slower rate.1

It’s unclear exactly how much cream these sandwiches contain in comparison to other brands, but it is suspicious that the spokesperson made no mention of the long list of “gums” and additives, like corn syrup, that might also contribute to its odd inability to melt.

These non-food ingredients are mostly used as food stabilizers designed to help food keep its shape (and you won’t find them in higher-quality ice cream brands like Haagen-Dazs).

If you look at the ingredients list below for Walmart’s “Great Value Vanilla Flavored Ice Cream Sandwiches,” you’ll see what I’m referring to:2

Ice Cream (Milk, Cream, Buttermilk, Sugar, Whey, Corn Syrup, Contains 1% Or Less of Mono-And Diglycerides, Vanilla Extract, Guar Gum, Calcium Sulfate, Carob Bean Gum, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan, Artificial Flavor, Annatto For Color)

… Wafers (Wheat Flour, Sugar, Soybean Oil, Palm Oil, Cocoa, Dextrose, Caramel Color, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Flour, Food Starch-Modified, Salt Soy Lecithin, Baking Soda, Artificial Flavor).

Also strange is the fact that Sean O’Keefe, a professor and food chemist at Virginia Tech, gave the opposite account of what happens if ice cream contains more cream; he said that ice cream with more cream will actually melt faster, which contradicts Walmart’s spokesperson.3 As reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this means ice cream that’s low- or no-fat would take longer to melt:4

“More water means the ice cream will have to absorb more energy before it can melt. Also, low-fat ice creams tend to have more air whipped into them, which allows them to keep their shape longer.”

Many Processed Foods Seem to Last ‘Forever’

There is something unsettling and (literally) unnatural about an ice cream sandwich that doesn’t melt on a hot summer day. Equally unsettling is a hamburger that doesn’t go bad when left on the counter… for over a decade.

Wellness educator and nutrition consultant Karen Hanrahan has kept a McDonald's hamburger since 1996, which is pictured on the left below.  As you can see, when this photo was taken in 2010, the more than 10-year-old burger still looks the same as the fresh one on the right next to it…

Part of the embalmed-like feature of the meat patty can be explained by the fact it contains excessive amounts of sodium (salt), which is a natural preservative that has been used throughout history. The patty, which is thin, will also lose moisture quickly, which means it may dry out rather than grow mold or bacteria.

But what about the bun? What kind of bread can lie out for years on end without developing so much as a trace of mold? The answer, I believe, is a "bread-like" concoction that bears no real resemblance to natural bread. Ingredients-wise, a McDonald’s hamburger bun contains:5

Enriched Flour (Bleached Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup and/or Sugar, Yeast, Soybean Oil and/or Canola Oil, Contains 2% or Less: Salt, Wheat Gluten, Calcium Sulfate, Calcium Carbonate, Ammonium Sulfate, Ammonium Chloride, Dough Conditioners

… (May Contain One or More of: Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Mono and Diglycerides, Ethoxylated Monoglycerides, Monocalcium Phosphate, Enzymes, Guar Gum, Calcium Peroxide), Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Calcium Propionate and/or Sodium Propionate (Preservatives), Soy Lecithin.

Real bread should only have a handful of ingredients, such as yeast, flour, eggs, butter, and milk or water. Contrast that to McDonald’s bread, which contains plaster of Paris, aka calcium sulfate, along with ammonium sulfate and ammonium chloride, which may cause gastrointestinal irritation with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Likewise with Walmart’s “ice cream”… to be labeled as ice cream, it must contain at least 10% milk fat. Beyond that, it can contain any number of additives that many would argue are not actual “food.” Real ice cream also contains just a few ingredients, like milk, sugar, cream and vanilla bean, bearing little resemblance to Walmart’s ice cream concoction. If you want to taste the best ice cream you’ve ever had, make your own at home using raw milk. It’s a relatively healthy treat when eaten in moderation (and, yes, it will melt if you leave it out in the sun).

Why Eating Heavily Processed Foods Will Probably Lead to Premature Death

Walmart is a prime example of where not to shop for food if you value your health. While it’s possible to find some healthy foods at Walmart, the vast majority of their food is heavily processed. Perhaps that’s why Walmart grocery stores are linked to obesity. An additional Walmart Supercenter per 100,000 residents increases average BMI by 0.24 units and the obesity rate by 2.3 percentage points.6

Researchers hypothesized that the substantial reductions in the prices of food at Wal-Mart Supercenters end up "reducing the opportunity cost of food consumption and increasing the opportunity cost of physical activity," thereby leading to a rise in obesity rates. Plus, ever since Walmart decided to significantly increase their organic offerings, they have been bombarded with accusations of selling substandard organic food, produced at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or imported from China, not grown on small, US organic farms like consumers are led to believe.

They've even been accused of posting signs in their stores that mislead consumers into believing that non-organic items are actually organic. Perhaps worse, however, is that Walmart’s biggest sellers are heavily processed junk foods. The unmeltable ice cream sandwiches, for instance, are one of the most popular items in the dairy case, according to the company’s spokesperson. Processed foods may contain dozens of artificial chemicals that are in no way real "food." These include:

  • Preservatives
  • Artificial colors
  • Artificial flavors (the term artificial flavor on a label may include 10 or more chemicals)
  • Texturants (chemicals that add a texture to food)

Food manufacturers typically claim that artificial food additives are safe, but research says otherwise. Preservatives, for example, have been linked to health problems such as cancer, allergic reactions, and more. Plus, processed foods often have the real nutrition processed right out, then sometimes added back in in the form of synthetic vitamins and minerals. These synthetics do not fool your body, however, and will not provide the whole, synergistic nutrition that eating whole food will. Instead, most processed foods are primarily composed of refined carbohydrates, which quickly break down to sugar in your body.

This increases your insulin and leptin levels, and contributes to insulin resistance, which is the primary underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease and condition known to man, including weight gain. Further, processing modifies or removes important components of food, like fiber, water, and nutrients, changing the way they are digested and assimilated in your body. Unlike whole foods, which contain a mix of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, fiber, and water to help you feel satisfied, processed foods stimulate dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, making you feel good even though the food lacks nutrients and fiber.  This artificial dopamine stimulation can lead to excessive food cravings and, ultimately, food addiction. These, of course, aren’t problems confined to junk food sold Walmart; they exist for all heavily processed foods.

Shopping for Healthy Food on a Budget

People have thrived on vegetables, meats, eggs, fruits, and other whole foods for centuries, while processed foods were only recently invented. Many of the top executives and scientists at leading processed food companies actually avoid their own foods for a variety of health reasons, and it’s very clear that focusing your diet on whole foods in lieu of processed foods is essential for your health.

If you’re shopping at Walmart because you’re on a tight budget, it's a common misconception that buying pre-packaged processed foods is less expensive than eating fresh and cooking from scratch. Don't fall for this notion. When you consider the nutrient value of fresh versus processed-to-death denatured foods and the subsequent health consequences of each choice, it's quite clear that you can eat well and improve your health and still not spend a fortune. Some of the healthiest foods are incredibly affordable, even under $1 a serving, such as:

  • Raw organic milk
  • Raw nuts and seeds
  • Two cage-free organic eggs
  • Avocado, berries, and broccoli
  • Fermented foods you make at home

In order to protect your health, I believe you should spend 90 percent of your food budget on whole foods, and only 10 percent on processed foods (unfortunately most Americans currently do the opposite). This requires some strategy, especially if you're working with a tight budget:

  1. Identify a person to prepare meals. Someone has to invest some time in the kitchen. It will be necessary for either you or your spouse, or perhaps someone in your family, to prepare the meals from locally grown healthy foods.
  2. Become resourceful: This is an area where your grandmother can be a wealth of information, as how to use up every morsel of food (“nose to tail cooking”) and stretch out a good meal was common knowledge to generations past. Seek to get back to the basics of cooking – using the bones from a roast chicken to make stock for a pot of soup, extending a Sunday roast to use for weekday dinners, learning how to make hearty stews from inexpensive cuts of meat, using up leftovers, and so on.
  3. Plan your meals: If you fail to plan you are planning to fail. This is essential, as you will need to be prepared for mealtimes in advance to be successful. Ideally, this will involve scouting out your local farmer's markets for in-season produce that is priced to sell, and planning your meals accordingly, but you can also use this same premise with supermarket sales.   
  4. You can generally plan a week of meals at a time, make sure you have all ingredients necessary on hand, and then do any prep work you can ahead of time so that dinner is easy to prepare if you're short on time in the evenings. It is no mystery that you will be eating lunch around noon every day so rather than rely on fast food at work, before you go to bed make a plan as to what you are going to take to work the next day. This is a marvelous simple strategy that will let you eat healthier, especially if you take healthy food from home in to work.

  5. Avoid food waste: According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, Americans waste an estimated 1,400 calories of food per person, each and every day.7 The two steps above will help you to mitigate food waste in your home. You may also have seen my article titled 14 Ways to Save Money on Groceries. Among those tips are suggestions for keeping your groceries fresher, longer, and I suggest reviewing those tips now.
  6. Buy organic animal foods. The most important foods to buy organic are animal, not vegetable, products (meat, eggs, butter, etc.), because animal foods tend to concentrate pesticides in higher amounts. If you cannot afford to buy all of your food organic, opt for organic animal foods first.
  7. Keep costs down on grass-fed beef. Pasture-finished beef is far healthier than grain-fed beef (which I don't recommend consuming). To keep cost down, look for inexpensive roasts or ground meat. You may also save money by buying an entire side of beef (or splitting one with two or three other families), if you have enough freezer space to store it.
  8. Buy in bulk when non-perishable items go on sale. If you are fortunate to live near a buyer's club or a co-op, you may also be able to take advantage of buying by the pound from bins, saving both you and the supplier the cost of expensive packaging.
  9. Frequent farmer's markets. You may be surprised to find out that by going directly to the source you can get amazingly healthy, locally grown, organic food for less than you can find at your supermarket. This gives you the best of both worlds: food that is grown near to you, cutting down on its carbon footprint and giving you optimal freshness, as well as grown without chemicals, genetically modified seeds, and other potential toxins.
  10. Just as restaurants are able to keep their costs down by getting food directly from a supplier, you, too, can take advantage of a direct farm-to-consumer relationship, either on an individual basis or by joining a food coop in your area. Many farmer's markets are now accepting food stamps as well, so this is an opportunity most everyone can join in on.

Should You Throw Away Your Pillows?

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

How long have you been sleeping on your pillow? If you can’t remember, it’s probably been too long… the average person keeps their pillow for more than three years, and more than half only replace their pillow and bedding when they notice it starts wearing out.1

But should you replace your pillow much sooner? The Sleep to Live Institute in America recommends replacing your pillow every six months, which might be a bit aggressive (and the Institute has ties to the industry).

A more reasonable approach may be to use the folding test: fold your pillow in half, and if it stays folded instead of springing back into shape, it’s time to find a new one. If you prefer to use length of time as a gauge, the Sleep Council in the UK recommends replacing pillows every two years.2

Neck Problems and Dust Mites: Risks of Keeping Your Pillow Too Long

To avoid neck pain, your pillow should, ideally, fill the gap between your head and shoulders when you lie down.3 If you keep your pillow too long, it will flatten out, leaving your head and neck without adequate support night after night, and this could lead to pain and restless nights.

The other significant issue with keeping a pillow too long is a dust-mite infestation. Dust mites are microscopic bugs that feed on dead skin cells and thrive in warm, humid environments… like your pillow. Dust mites don’t bite and they don’t spread diseases, but they are the most common allergen found in household dust.

It’s estimated that about 10 percent of Americans are allergic to dust mites (or, more specifically, to their fecal pellets and body fragments). In those allergic, dust mites can trigger allergic symptoms and high levels of exposure have been linked to the development of asthma in children.4

Down pillows and comforters are known to attract the most dust mites, and they are difficult to clean properly in order to remove them. However, any pillow can become a dust-mite reservoir and, in fact, after one year of use, 10 percent to 15 percent of your pillow’s weight may be made up of dust-mite waste…5

If you find that your allergy symptoms are worse in the morning, it could very well be due to high levels of dust mites in your pillow and bedding. Washing your pillow once a week in hot water (130-140 degrees F) will kill dust mites (and so will freezing it overnight), so it’s a good idea to use these preventive strategies if you have a dust-mite allergy.

You’ll need to wash (or freeze) the whole pillow (not just the pillow case). You can also encase your pillows in a dust-proof cover, or choose a high-quality wool pillow, which will be hypoallergenic and will repel dust mites naturally. Wool pillows are naturally fire resistant and are free from dangerous flame retardants.

Your Pillow Might Contain a Million Fungal Spores

What else might be lurking in your pillow? Fungal spores, including Aspergillus fumigatus, which can cause Aspergillosis, an infection that begins in your lungs and may spread to other parts of your body, such as your brain.

When researchers tested samples of pillows, which had been used anywhere from 1.5 to 20 years, they found several thousand spores of fungus per gram of pillow, which means any one pillow could contain more than 1 million spores.6

Up to 16 different species of fungus, from varieties found in bread to varieties common in showers, were detected in the individual samples. Pillows made from synthetic materials tended to have higher levels, which is another reason why pillows made from natural wool are preferable.

According to one of the study’s researchers, since you spend so much time in close proximity to your pillow, fungal contamination could have health implications:7

We know that pillows are inhabited by the house dust mite which eats fungi, and one theory is that the fungi are in turn using the house dust mites’ feces as a major source of nitrogen and nutrition (along with human skin scales). There could therefore be a ‘miniature ecosystem’ at work inside our pillows.

…Since patients spend a third of their life sleeping and breathing close to a potentially large and varied source of fungi, these findings certainly have important implications for patients with respiratory disease - especially asthma and sinusitis.”

Your Pillow Could Be a Key Source of Exposure to Flame-Retardant Chemicals

The risks of exposure to dust mites and fungal spores pale in comparison to those of flame-retardant chemicals that are added to some sleeping pillows. Using an x-ray analyzer that can detect bromine levels in household items, researchers were able to estimate how much of one type of flame-retardant chemical – polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – they may contain.

Sleeping pillows topped the list (followed closely by vehicle sleep cushions). PBDEs resemble the molecular structure of PCBs, which have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, and impaired fetal brain development.

Like PCBs, even though certain PBDEs have been banned in some U.S. states and the European Union, they persist in the environment and accumulate in your body – and often exist in products imported from other countries.

Higher exposures to PBDEs have been linked to decreased fertility, 8 which could be in part because the chemicals may mimic and therefore disrupt your thyroid hormones. Research has suggested PBDEs can lead to decreases in TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone),9 which is typically a sign that your thyroid is being disrupted and you are developing hyperthyroidism.

This can have significant ramifications both for you and your unborn child if you're pregnant. As for cancer, one type of PBDE (decaBDE) is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while the others remain largely untested.

A study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley also revealed that both in utero and childhood PBDE exposures were associated with neurodevelopmental delays, including decreased attention, fine motor coordination, and cognition in school-age children.10

During the pillow study, researchers found that bromine levels in sleeping pillows were significantly associated with PBDE levels in study participants’ blood.11 Certain types of pillows were worse than others, with polyurethane foam pillows topping the list of worst offenders by a large margin:12

  • Polyurethane foam pillows (3,646 parts per million)
  • Polyester fiber pillows (107 parts per million)
  • Feather pillows (6 parts per million)

Exposing yourself to flame-retardant chemicals while you sleep is a completely unnecessary risk, since natural pillows are available that contain no such chemicals. High-quality wool pillows (and bedding and mattresses) are naturally flame resistant, which is why no flame retardants like PBDEs are used.

Is Your Pillow Right for Your Sleep Position?

More than 90 percent of Americans say that having a comfortable pillow is important to getting a good night’s sleep,13 but what constitutes “comfortable”? You probably have a preference for a firm or fluffy pillow, and you might even stack up two or more. If you wake up pain-free and feeling well rested, your pillow situation is probably fine… but if, on the other hand, you’re waking up with back and neck pain, or struggling with snoring or acid reflux, adjusting your sleep position, including your pillow, may help.

It’s generally accepted that the best sleep position is on your back. When you sleep on your back your head, neck, and spine maintain a neutral position, and acid reflux symptoms are minimized (because your face is not pushed up against a pillow, back sleeping may also be best for preventing facial wrinkles).When sleeping on your back, no pillow is actually best for your spine, but a fluffy pillow that keeps your head supported while still being relatively thin will also work. If you use a thick pillow you’ll lose out on some of the benefit of back sleeping, as this will push your head and neck forward, impacting your breathing.

Side sleeping allows your spine to stay in a fairly neutral position while helping to reduce snoring issues, if present, in some people. If you sleep on your side, look for a firm pillow to fill the gap between your ear and outside shoulder. Some people also find that sleeping on their side with a pillow between their knees radically improves low back pain, as it tends to normalize the normal spinal curves. As for stomach sleeping, it’s generally regarded as the worst position of all because of the way it distorts the natural curve of your lower spine. If you choose to sleep on your stomach, look for a thin pillow (or skip the pillow entirely).

You may want to put a pillow under your stomach to help alleviate potential back pain from this sleeping in this position. Keep in mind that you needn’t have only one type of pillow. You might have a firm pillow to support your head while reading in bed and another that you prefer for sleep. The thickness and firmness of your pillow is up to your personal preference, but the material it’s made out of should be natural, not synthetic, to avoid exposure to flame-retardant chemicals.

Finally, you’ll want to be sure your pillow is washable to reduce dust mites and other organisms, like fungal spores. Natural pillows will be easily washable, but many synthetic foam pillows are not. In fact, the porous foam cells in foam pillows may hold onto water if you try to wash them, which could facilitate the growth of fungus. I personally would never sleep on anything other than a wool pillow for health reasons.

Your Health Is the Result of a Symbiotic Relationship with 100 Trillion Bacteria

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

The truth of the old adage that “you are what you eat” is becoming increasingly clear, the more we learn about the microbiome—the colonies of microbes living in your gut, and indeed all over your body.

It is well established that your gut is your second brain providing more input to your brain than the brain provides to it. This is why your gut health is largely reflected in your gut bacteria, including your mental health and emotional well-being.

Your microbiome is essentially a historical accumulative composition of where you’ve been, who your parents are, who you spend intimate time with, what you eat, how you live, whether or not you’re interacting with the earth (gardening, for example), and much more.

As noted by Pat Schloss (a microbiologist with The Human Microbiome Project) in the video above, your microbiome is much like a fingerprint—it’s unique to you. Researcher Jeroen Raes has also suggested we might belong to one of a few “microflora types,” which are similar to blood types.

Your gut microbiome activity influences your immune responses, nervous system functioning, and plays a role in the development of any number of diseases, including obesity, cancer, and multiple sclerosis, just to name a few that I’ll address in this article.

How Intestinal Bacteria Can Induce Food Cravings

The bacteria in your body outnumber your cells by 100 to 1, and different bacteria have different nutritional needs.

According to recent research,1, 2 the nutritional preferences of your gut bacteria can influence your food cravings by releasing chemical signals through the vagus nerve, which connects your gut to your brain. According to one of the study’s co-authors, Carlo Maley, PhD:3

“Bacteria within the gut are manipulative... There is a diversity of interests represented in the microbiome, some aligned with our own dietary goals, and others not...

Our diets have a huge impact on microbial populations in the gut. It’s a whole ecosystem, and it’s evolving on the time scale of minutes.”

It’s already been well-documented that obese individuals have different bacteria dominating their microbiome than leaner individuals.

Research4 also suggests that as much as 20 percent of the substantial weight loss achieved from gastric bypass, a popular weight loss surgery, is due to shifts in the balance of bacteria in your digestive tract. With regards to the featured research, Forbes5 reports:

“‘Microbes have the capacity to manipulate behavior and mood through altering the neural signals in the vagus nerve, changing taste receptors, producing toxins to make us feel bad, and releasing chemical rewards to make us feel good,’ said study co-author Athena Aktipis, PhD.

The good news, the researchers tell us, is that we can influence changes in our gut dwellers through dietary choices.

‘Because microbiota are easily manipulatable by prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics…and dietary changes, altering our microbiota offers a tractable approach to otherwise intractable problems of obesity and unhealthy eating.’”

Diet Can Rapidly Alter Gut Bacteria

Indeed, another recent study6, 7 highlights the speed with which you can alter the balance of your gut bacteria. Here, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) monitored two people over the course of one year; collecting daily stool samples and correlating the gut bacteria from day to day with diet and other lifestyle factors such as sleep, mood, and exercise.

One of the participants developed diarrhea during a two-week trip to another country, which resulted in significant changes in the balance of gut bacteria.

A case of Salmonella food poisoning struck the other participant, which resulted in a drastic change in gut bacteria. Salmonella bacteria rose from 10 percent to nearly 30 percent, and the colonies of beneficial bacteria were nearly wiped out.

Once the individual recovered, beneficial bacteria quickly rebounded to about 40 percent of the total microbiome, but most of the strains were different from the original strains. According to senior author Eric Alm:8

"On any given day, the amount of one species could change manyfold, but after a year, that species would still be at the same median level. To a large extent, the main factor we found that explained a lot of that variance was the diet.”

The most prominent changes correlated with the individuals’ fiber intake. Greater amounts of fiber affected about 15 percent of the gut bacteria, resulting in greater proliferation of them.

Gut Bacteria May Reveal Colon Cancer, and Might Play a Role in MS

Your microbiome may even reveal your risk for, or presence of, colon cancer. A total of 90 people participated in this study;9, 10 thirty were healthy; 30 had precancerous intestinal polyps; and 30 had been diagnosed with advanced colon or rectal cancer. After assessing the composition of each person’s microbiome, it became apparent that microbiome analysis (using a fecal test) might be a viable way to screen for precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer.

According to their findings, adding microbiome analysis to other known risk factors for precancerous polyps resulted in a 4.5-fold improved prediction for the condition. Adding microbiome analysis to risk factors for invasive colorectal cancer resulted in a five-fold improvement in their ability to predict cancer.

In related news, researchers have also linked certain gut microbes to the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), and/or improvement of the condition. The paper, published in the Journal of Interferon and Cytokine Research,11 describes three immunological factors associated with the gut microbiome that relates to inflammatory responses in MS patients:

  1. T helper cell polarization
  2. T regulatory cell function
  3. B cell activity

Previous research has suggested that altering the gut microbiome by adding bacteria such as Lactobacillus, and/or worm-type organisms like Schistosoma and Trichura, can be helpful in reducing MS symptoms. Apparently, these microorganisms have a beneficial effect on cytokine production throughout the body, thereby reducing systemic inflammation. Cytokines are cellular messengers that regulate inflammatory responses. According to the authors: "Whether future therapeutic approaches to MS will employ commensal-based products depends on nuanced understanding of these underlying mechanisms.”

When It Comes to Inflammation, Your Microbiome Rules

MS certainly is not the only disease caused by chronic inflammation in your body. In fact, most chronic disease has inflammation as an underlying factor. It’s important to realize that your gut is the starting point for inflammation—it’s actually the gatekeeper for your inflammatory response. As suggested above, various gut microorganisms can either trigger or subdue the production of inflammatory cytokines. Most of the signals between your gut and your brain travel along your vagus nerve—about 90 percent of them.12 (Vagus is Latin for “wandering,” aptly named as this long nerve travels from your skull down through your chest and abdomen, branching to multiple organs.13)

Cytokine messengers produced in your gut cruise up to your brain along the “vagus nerve highway.” Once in your brain, the cytokines tell your microglia (the immune cells in your brain) to perform certain functions, such as producing neurochemicals. Besides influencing your hunger and cravings for certain foods, as discussed earlier, these chemical messages can also affect your mitochondria, impacting energy production and apoptosis (cell death). They can also affect the very sensitive feedback system that controls your stress hormones, including cortisol, for better or worse.

So, an inflammatory response can begin in your gut, travel to your brain, which then builds on it and sends signals to the rest of your body in a complex feedback loop. It isn’t important that you understand all of the physiology here, but the take-away is that your gut flora significantly affects and controls the health of your entire body.

Your Gut Flora Is Perpetually Under Attack

Your microbiome—and therefore your physical and mental health—are continuously affected by your environment, and by your diet and lifestyle choices. If your gut bacteria are harmed and thrown out of balance (dysbiosis), all sorts of illnesses can result, both acute and chronic. Unfortunately, your fragile internal ecosystem is under nearly constant assault today. Some of the factors posing the gravest dangers to your microbiome are outlined in the following table.

Refined sugar, especially processed high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) Genetically engineered (GE) foods (extremely abundant in processed foods and beverages)Agricultural chemicals, such as herbicides and pesticides. Glyphosate appears to be among the worst Conventionally-raised meats and other animal products; CAFO animals are routinely fed low-dose antibiotics and GE livestock feedGlutenAntibiotics (use only if absolutely necessary, and make sure to reseed your gut with fermented foods and/or a good probiotic supplement) NSAIDS (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) damage cell membranes and disrupt energy production by mitochondriaProton pump inhibitors (drugs that block the production of acid in your stomach, typically prescribed for GERD, such as Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium) Antibacterial soap Chlorinated and/or fluoridated waterStressPollution Your Diet Is the Most Effective Way to Alter Your Microbiome

The best way to optimize your gut flora is through your diet. A good place to start is by drastically reducing grains and sugar, and avoiding genetically engineered ingredients, processed foods, pasteurized foods, and chlorinated tap water. Pasteurized foods can harm your good bacteria, and sugar promotes the growth of pathogenic yeast and other fungi. Grains containing gluten are particularly damaging to your microflora and overall health.14, 15 A gut-healthy diet is one rich in whole, unprocessed, unsweetened foods, along with traditionally fermented or cultured foods. Chlorine in your tap water not only kills pathogenic bacteria in the water but also beneficial bacteria in your gut.

Fermented foods are also a key component of the GAPS protocol, a diet designed to heal and seal your gut. Your goal should be to consume one-quarter to one-half cup of fermented veggies with each meal, but you may need to work up to it. Consider starting with just a teaspoon or two a few times a day, and increase as tolerated. If that is too much (perhaps your body is severely compromised), you can even begin by drinking a teaspoon of the brine from the fermented veggies, which is rich in the same beneficial microbes.

You may also want to consider a high-potency probiotic supplement, but realize that there is no substitute for the real food. A previous article in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology16 makes the case that properly controlled fermentation amplifies the specific nutrient and phytochemical content of foods, thereby improving brain health, both physical and mental. According to the authors:

“The consumption of fermented foods may be particularly relevant to the emerging research linking traditional dietary practices and positive mental health. The extent to which traditional dietary items may mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress may be controlled, at least to some degree, by microbiota.”

They go on to say that the microbes associated with fermented foods (for example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species) may also influence your brain health via direct and indirect pathways, which paves the way for new scientific investigations in the area of “nutritional psychiatry.”

Your Body Is a Conglomerate of Bacterial Colonies

You’re not only surrounded by bacteria in your environment; in a very real way, you are them. Your body is in fact a complex ecosystem made up of more than 100 trillion microbes that must be properly balanced and cared for if you are to be healthy. Pamela Weintraub skillfully describes the symbiotic relationship between humans and microorganisms in her June 2013 article in Experience Life magazine.17 This system of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa living on your skin and in your mouth, nose, throat, lungs, gut, and urogenital tract, is unique to you.

It varies from person to person based on factors such as diet, lifestyle, health history, geographic location, and even ancestry. Your microbiome is one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet as for every bacteria you have, there are 10 bacteriophages or viruses. So not only do you have 100 trillion bacteria, you have one quadrillion bacteriophages.

All of these organisms perform a multitude of functions in key biological systems, from supplying critical vitamins to fighting pathogens, modulating weight and metabolism, and much more, and when your microbiome falls out of balance, you can become ill. Your microbiome also helps control how your genes express themselves. So by optimizing your native flora, you are actually controlling your genes! All of this is great news, because while your microbiome may control your health, you can control which bacteria have the upper hand—health-promoting ones, or disease-causing ones—through your diet and lifestyle.

Best-Selling Toothpaste Contains Hazardous Endocrine-Disrupting Chemical

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Some of the most obvious ones include soaps and antibacterial wipes, but you can also find it in cutting boards, toys, clothing, household furnishings, pet food dispensers, and much more.

Despite the pervasive use of this chemical, troubling questions linger about its potentially harmful effects, especially for children.

Research has shown that triclosan can alter hormone regulation and may interfere with fetal development.

Animal studies have also raised concerns about its ability to affect fertility, and bacteria exposed to triclosan may also become resistant to antibiotics. Even an increased cancer risk has been suggested.

In short, while you're disinfecting your body and your home to keep your family safe from potentially harmful bacteria, you may actually be causing far more harm than good in the long run.

Triclosan Removed from Soap, But Still Found in Best-Selling Toothpaste

Three years ago, Colgate-Palmolive responded to safety concerns brought forth by consumer groups by removing triclosan from its soap products. But the company left it in its best-selling toothpaste, Colgate Total. (Colgate Total is the only triclosan-containing toothpaste sold in the US.)

But if triclosan can cause serious health problems when used topically, surely using it in your mouth is not going to be any safer, as chemicals are readily absorbed in your oral cavity.

For example, zinc-containing denture creams like Fixodent, Poligrip, Super Poligrip, and others, have been linked to zinc poisoning.1 Toxic effects include serious neurological problems, including neuropathy.

There are even class-action lawsuits underway by people who have been poisoned by their denture creams. With regards to triclosan-containing toothpaste, Bloomberg2 reports:

"Total is safe, Colgate says, citing the rigorous Food and Drug Administration process that led to the toothpaste's 1997 approval as an over-the-counter drug.

A closer look at that application process, however, reveals that some of the scientific findings Colgate put forward to establish triclosan's safety in toothpaste weren't black and white -- and weren't, until this year, available to the public."

Toxicology Studies Withheld from Public View

According to the featured Bloomberg report, 35 pages of summaries of the toxicology studies performed on triclosan were initially withheld by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

They only became available via a Freedom of Information Act request from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The toxicology summaries are now available on the FDA's website.3

A crucial point that has been noted before is that the FDA relies on company-backed science to "prove" that a drug or product is safe and effective. This despite the fact that industry-funded research is almost never impartial, thanks to obvious and massive conflicts of interest.

Many people still do not take this into consideration. They believe that "FDA approved" means that the FDA has performed some sort of independent scientific study. It hasn't.

At best, the FDA carefully reviews the research submitted, but there's plenty of room for cherry-picking and other strategies that can skew the safety profile. According to the featured report:

"The recently released pages, taken alongside new research on triclosan, raise questions about whether the agency did appropriate due diligence in approving Total 17 years ago, and whether its approval should stand in light of new research, said three scientists who reviewed the pages at Bloomberg News's request."

Triclosan Is One of the Most Prevalent Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals on the Market

For example, some animal studies showed that triclosan caused fetal bone malformations in mice and rats. Colgate claimed the findings were irrelevant. But bone deformations may hint at hormonal effects, affecting the endocrine system. There were also apparent weaknesses in Colgate's cancer studies.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are a serious concern, as they can promote a wide variety of health problems, including: breast, ovarian, prostate, and testicular cancer, preterm and low birth weight babies, precocious puberty in girls, and undescended testicles in boys.

According to Thomas Zoeller, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who specializes in how chemicals affect the endocrine system, there are an estimated 800-1,000 endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the market.

But triclosan is one of the top 10 used on a regular basis by most people. Subsequently, removing triclosan may have a much greater impact than removing other chemicals.

Other Disinfectant Chemicals That May Cause More Harm Than Good

A recent article in Scientific American4 also discusses new research showing that other common household disinfectants produce adverse health effects too. The study, published in Reproductive Toxicology,5 assessed the reproductive toxicity of alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC) and didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride (DDAC).

These two disinfectants are commonly found in commercial and residential disinfectant products. (These quaternary chemicals are commonly referred to as "quats.") Mice exposed to these chemicals took longer to get pregnant and had smaller litters. They also had more miscarriages and more distressed fetuses. Forty percent of the exposed females died from labor difficulties. According to the authors:

"The results suggest that quaternary ammonium compounds affect both the maternal ability to achieve and sustain pregnancy and the developing fetus... Long term exposure decreased fertility and fecundity and caused dam mortality in a dose dependent manner. This study highlights the importance of testing the toxicity of mixtures over individual compounds."

Safety Problems Are Often Found by Chance...

An interesting side note here is the back story of how researchers were prompted to investigate these chemicals (ADBAC and DDAC) in the first place. According to Scientific American:

"Hunt and Hrubec came upon the finding unexpectedly. Both observed breeding problems in research mice at their separate facilities after changing to disinfectant products containing the quat combination. Hunt determined that quat residues in the caging materials contributed to breeding failures and poor pregnancy outcomes.

For Hunt, the experience was a bit of déjà vu: In 1999, she discovered what was then a little-known chemical, bisphenol A, in water bottles mimicked estrogen and disrupted hormone levels in her lab mice. The finding helped spur investigation of the health risks associated with BPA Hunt said both incidents illustrate a problem with the way that new and existing chemicals are regulated in the US. Thousands of products have entered the market in the past few decades with little information on potential health impacts, she said. 'The onus is really on consumers to determine which products are safe. That's not OK.'"

When you consider this chain of events, it really raises questions about the accuracy of any number of studies into completely unrelated fields. A researcher may be using animals to study, say, the effects of a particular drug, and depending on the soap they use to clean the lab, the health outcomes of the animals may be skewed, for better or worse! In most cases, they may never put two and two together—unless they switch cleaning products in the middle of a trial and notice sudden alterations in their research results that cannot be explained...

Triclosan May Affect Thyroid Function

As noted by Professor Caren Helbing Ph.D. at the University of Victoria in Canada, the chemical structure of triclosan is similar to thyroid hormones and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). This similarity allows it to attach to hormone receptors. Helbing's research shows that tadpoles exposed to triclosan suffered stunted development and leg deformations. The metamorphic process these frogs undergo is mediated by thyroid hormones. Her findings were published in the Journal of Aquatic Toxicology6 in 2006, which concluded that: "Exposure to low levels of triclosan disrupts thyroid hormone-associated gene expression and can alter the rate of thyroid hormone-mediated postembryonic anuran development."

While Colgate cites a Cochrane Review7 as supporting evidence for Colgate Total's safety and effectiveness, the review in question focused on the toothpaste's effectiveness in fighting bleeding gums and inflammation; not its long-term safety... The review, which covered more than 30 studies published between 1990-2012, found "moderate quality evidence" that Colgate Total is more effective than other toothpastes with respect to reducing gum bleeding and inflammation, but the authors, Philip Riley and Thomas Lamont, noted that the studies did not really allow them to assess any long-term adverse effects.8

Antibacterial Chemicals Found in Pregnant Women's Urine and Newborns' Cord Blood

In one recent study,9, 10, 11 traces of triclosan, triclocarban, and butyl paraben were found in the urine of pregnant women and their newborns' cord blood. The women in the study were all residents of Brooklyn, New York. This demonstrates that everyday, real-world exposure to these chemicals is indeed pervasive. Shockingly, triclosan was detected in 100 percent of all urine samples, and 51 percent of cord blood samples. Triclocarban was detected in 87 percent of the urine samples, and 23 percent of the cord blood samples.

And, as reported by The Atlantic:12 "In another, still-unpublished study, the researchers found that all of the cord blood samples contained 'at least one paraben,' according to Dr. Rolf Halden, director of ASU's Center for Environmental Security." Paraben esters have also been found in 99 percent of breast cancer tissue samples, suggesting a strong link between the chemical and breast cancer development.

Making matters worse is that there's very little evidence that antibacterial products will actually help you avoid disease. So you're exposing yourself to these harmful chemicals for no good reason... Most recently, a randomized trial13 investigating the effectiveness of hand sanitizers in a school setting found that they "did not prevent disease of severity sufficient to cause school absence."

Other Toothpaste Chemicals to Beware of

There are also other chemicals in toothpaste that may do more harm than good. Fluoride is one obvious one that I’ve written about quite extensively. But many toothpastes also contain surfactants like sodium laurel sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) or sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES). Surfactants are chemicals responsible for the foaming action of the toothpaste.

But these chemicals can also interfere with the functioning of your taste buds.  As noted in a previous Lifehacker article,14 they suppress taste receptors responsible for tasting sweet notes. As noted in the article, they also “break up the phospholipids on our tongue. These fatty molecules inhibit our receptors for bitterness and keep bitter tastes from overwhelming us, but when they're broken down by the surfactants in toothpaste, bitter tastes get enhanced.

This is thought to be the reason why everything tastes so bad right after you’ve brushed your teeth. So, choosing a toothpaste that does not contain SLS or SLES will allow you to taste your food properly after brushing your teeth. This may also be part of why coconut oil works so well for oral hygiene, as it helps maintain a more natural balance of lipids on your tongue, while still having potent antibacterial properties.

Keeping Yourself and Your Home Clean, Safely

I strongly encourage you to ditch all of your chemical disinfectants, including your antibacterial soaps, laundry detergents, and bath and kitchen cleansers, in favor of more natural alternatives. No study has shown that a vigorous program of home disinfection leads to a reduction of illness in a family. They have, however, shown that disinfectants can cause harm. It is best to use any soap minimally on your body as it removes the sebum that your body produces, which is full of beneficial fats designed to protect your skin from infection. Using soap will remove not only dirt but also these useful fats.

For those times when you need to do a bit of cleansing, one of the best non-toxic disinfectants is a mild soap and warm water. You can use this for washing your hands, your body, and for other household cleansing. Another all-purpose cleanser that works great for kitchen counters, cutting boards, and bathrooms is 3% hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Simply put each liquid into a separate spray bottle, then spray the surface with one, followed by the other.

In tests run at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, pairing the two mists killed virtually all Salmonella, Shigella, and E. coli bacteria on heavily contaminated food and surfaces when used in this fashion, making this spray combination more effective at killing these potentially lethal bacteria than chlorine bleach or any commercially available kitchen cleaner. The best results came from using one mist right after the other -- it is 10 times more effective than using either spray by itself and more effective than mixing the vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in one sprayer.

Coconut oil also has potent disinfectant properties, and can be used to disinfect wooden cutting boards. Sunlight is another powerful disinfectant, and drying your laundry in the sun is one of the best ways to save energy and wind up with fresh, clean linens and clothing. Truly, there's no need to expose your family to dangerous chemical disinfectants. As an added bonus aside from the health benefits, using this type of natural homemade cleanser is much less expensive than commercial varieties.

Why Your Couch Is Killing You

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

A flame-retardant chemical known as chlorinated tris (TDCIPP) was removed from children's pajamas in the 1970s amid concerns that it may cause cancer, but now it’s a ubiquitous addition to couch cushions across the US.

It can easily migrate from the foam and into household dust, which children often pick up on their hands and transfer into their mouths. A new study by scientists at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Duke University revealed just how ubiquitous this chemical actually is, as they found traces (and more) of TDCIPP in every study participant tested.

Children May Have Fives Times More Flame-Retardant Chemicals Than Their Moms

Aside from finding TDCIPP in 100 percent of study participants, the researchers found the average concentration in children was close to five times that of their moms.1 High levels of flame-retardant chemicals used to make FireMaster flame-retardant products were also detected.

Children are thought to have higher exposures to many types of chemicals because they spend more time on the floor, where contaminated dust settles, and also put their hands in their mouths more often than adults.

Since these toxins are not chemically bound to the plastics, foam, fabrics, and other materials to which they're added, they easily leach out into your home where they accumulate in household dust.2 As reported by EWG:3

A study of house dust collected in California homes in 2006 and in 2011 found 41 different fire retardant chemicals in at least half of the samples. The same study reported significantly higher levels of Firemaster ® 550 compounds in 2011 compared to 2006, indicating increasing use.

The levels of TDCIPP in some house dust exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health risk guidelines.”

The Duke researchers revealed in a separate study that children who wash their hands at least five times a day have 30 percent to 50 percent lower levels of flame retardants on their hands than children who wash their hands less frequently.4

Unfortunately, even though children are among those most at risk from flame-retardant chemicals’ ability to disrupt and harm development, products intended for kids and babies are among those most likely to be doused in flame-retardant chemicals.

For instance, such chemicals were detected in 60 percent of 2011 car seats tested by The Ecology Center,5 most likely in the polyurethane foam. A separate study in Environmental Science & Technology6 also detected flame-retardant chemicals in 80 percent of the following children's products tested:

Nursing pillows Baby carriers Car seats Changing table pads High chairs Strollers Bassinets Portable cribs Walkers Baby tub inserts and bath slings Glider rockers Sleeping wedges Couch Cushions and Mattresses Are Among the Worst Offenders

In 1975, California Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117) was passed. It requires furniture sold in California to withstand a 12-second exposure to a small flame without igniting.

Because of California's economic importance, the requirement became more or less a national standard, with large amounts of flame-retardant chemicals added to household goods.

Research published in Environmental Science & Technology revealed that 85 percent of couch foam samples tested contained chemical flame retardants.7 The samples came from more than 100 couches purchased from 1985 to 2010.

As of July 1, 2007, all US mattresses are required to be highly flame retardant as well, to the extent that they won't catch on fire if exposed to a blowtorch. This means that the manufacturers are also dousing them with highly toxic flame-retardant chemicals, which do NOT have to be disclosed in any way.

If you want to avoid flame retardants in your mattress, you can have a licensed health care provider write you a prescription for a chemical-free mattress, which can then be ordered without flame retardants from certain retailers.

You can also find certain natural mattresses on the market that don’t contain them. For instance, most wool mattresses do not have flame-retardant chemicals added because wool is a natural flame retardant.

Given the blatant dangers posed by flame retardants, in late November 2013 California’s governor ordered that TB117 be rewritten to ensure fire safety without the use of these chemicals. Starting in January 2014, furniture manufacturers began producing furniture that’s not required to use flame-retardant chemicals, and full compliance is expected by January 2015.

Unfortunately, the updated law only states that the chemicals are no longer required; it doesn’t ban them outright. This means that some companies may continue to use them, and if you’re in the market for new furniture, you’ll need to ask for that made without flame-retardant chemicals.

What Are the Health Risks of Flame-Retardant Chemicals?

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

The risks may be especially dangerous to children, as research revealed that children born to women who were exposed to high levels of flame-retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) during pregnancy had, on average, a 4.5 point decrease in IQ.8 Such children are also more prone to hyperactivity disorders.

PBDEs were voluntarily withdrawn from the American market in 2004, but there are still many products on the market that were manufactured before that time – and these products can continue to release PBDEs into your environment.

Previous research has suggested PBDEs may also lead to decreases in TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone).9 When present with normal T4 levels, low TSH is typically a sign that you're developing hyperthyroidism, which can have significant ramifications both for you and your unborn child if you're pregnant.

And these chemicals aren’t only dangerous when they transfer into your household dust and indoor air. Ironically, when and if they do catch fire, these chemicals outgas toxins into your air that may kill you faster than “regular” smoke alone. When on fire, objects doused in flame retardants (yes, they can still catch fire) give off higher levels of carbon monoxide, soot, and smoke than untreated objects. These three things are more likely to kill a person in a fire than burns, which means flame-retardant chemicals may actually make fires more deadly.

Flame-retardant chemicals belong to the same class of chemicals as DDT and PCBs (organohalogens), and like the former, they too build up in the environment. These chemicals also react with other toxins as they burn to produce cancer-causing dioxins and furans. This helps explain why female firefighters aged 40 to 50 are six times more likely to develop breast cancer than the national average, likely due to California’s early use of flame-retardant chemicals. Firefighters of both genders also have higher rates of cancer, in part because of the high levels of dioxins and furans they’re exposed to when flame-retardant chemicals burn.

Flame-Retardant Furniture Probably Won’t Save Your Life in a Fire…

Flame-retardant chemicals were developed in the 1970s, when 40 percent of Americans smoked and cigarettes were a major cause of fires. The tobacco industry, under increasing pressure to make fire-safe cigarettes, resisted the push for self-extinguishing cigarettes and instead created a fake front group called the National Association of State Fire Marshals. The group pushed for federal standards for fire-retardant furniture… and their efforts paid off.

The chemical industry claims that fire-retardant furniture increases escape time in a fire by 15-fold. In reality, this claim came from a study using powerful, NASA-style flame retardants, which did give an extra 15 seconds of escape time. This is not the same type of chemical used in most furniture, and government and independent studies show that the most widely used flame-retardant chemicals provide no benefit for people while increasing the amounts of toxic chemicals in smoke. Drops in fire-related deaths in recent decades are not related to the use of flame-retardant chemicals, but instead are due to newer construction codes, sprinkler systems, fire alarms, and self-extinguishing cigarettes. For a demonstration of just how useless flame-retardant furniture is, see the featured video above.

Reduce Your Family’s Exposure to Flame Retardants

There’s a good chance flame-retardant chemicals are lurking in your home right now. Until these chemicals are removed from use entirely, tips you can use to reduce your exposure around your home include:10

  • Be especially 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.
  • 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, 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, mattresses, and upholstery, which will be free from these toxic chemicals and help reduce your overall exposure. 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.
Another Way Your Couch Can Kill You That Has Nothing to Do with Chemicals…

Flame-retardant chemicals are only one major health risk linked to sitting on your couch. The other? Sitting in and of itself, assuming it’s done excessively (and most people sit excessively). One 2012 analysis that looked at the findings from 18 studies found that those who sat for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease compared to those who sat the least.11 Sitting for extended periods of time also increases your risk for premature death, and separate research found that women who sat for more than seven hours a day had a 47 percent higher risk of depression than women who sat for four hours or less per day.12

Even temporary vigorous exercise can't completely compensate for the damage incurred by prolonged daily sitting. In fact, it's becoming increasingly clear that staying active—and by that I mean engaging in virtually any physical movement—as much as possible, throughout the day, is critical for health and longevity. So keep in mind that your couch can kill in one of two ways… via chemical exposures and by seducing you into too much sitting.

Of course, you may also be doing a lot of sitting elsewhere, like at your office desk or in your car. The following videos, featuring Jill Rodriguez, offer a series of helpful intermittent movement beginner and advanced exercises you can do right at your desk (or virtually anywhere). For a demonstration of each technique, please see the corresponding video in the two tables below. I suggest taking a break to do one set of three exercises anywhere from once every 15 minutes to once per hour throughout your day. For even more suggestions, please refer to my previous article on intermittent movement.

Technique #1: Standing Neck-Stretch: Hold for 20 seconds on each side.

Technique #2: Shoulder Blade Squeeze: Round your shoulders, then pull them back and pull down. Repeat for 20-30 seconds.

Technique #3: Standing Hip Stretch: Holding on to your desk, cross your left leg over your right thigh and "sit down" by bending your right leg. Repeat on the other side.

Technique #4: The Windmill: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, then pivot your feet to the right. Push your hip out to the left. Raising your left arm skyward, and your right arm toward the floor, lower your body toward the floor while looking up, and then raise your torso back to standing position. Repeat on the other side.

Technique #5: Side Lunge: Starting with your feet together, take a medium step sideways, and bend down as if you're about to sit. Use your arms for balance by reaching out in front of you. Return to starting position, and repeat 10-20 times. Repeat on the other side.

Technique #6: Desk Push-Up: Place hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart on your desk. Come up on your toes to make it easier to tip forward. Do 10 repetitions.

Technique #7: Squat to Chair: With your feet shoulder-width apart, sit down, reaching forward with your hands, and stand back up in quick succession. Do 15-20 repetitions.

Technique #8: Single Leg Dead Lift: Place your right hand on your desk, and place your weight on your right leg. Fold your torso forward, while simultaneously lifting your left leg backward. Do 10 repetitions on each side.

Technique #9: Mountain Climber: Get into a push-up position on the floor. Pull your right knee forward to touch your right wrist or arm, then return to push-up position. Repeat on the other side. Try to pick up the pace, and do 20 quick repetitions.

Standing Neck Stretch

Shoulder Blade Squeezes

Standing/Seated Hip Stretch

Windmill

Side Lunge

Push up

Squat to Chair

Single Leg Dead Lift

Mountain Climber

Back-to-School Vaccines: Know the Risks and Failures

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 02:00

By Barbara Loe Fisher

As summer comes to an end, the drumbeat promoting back-to-school vaccinations grows louder and louder in America. Unlike children in Canada and the European Union,1, 2 our children must get dozens of doses of vaccines or they can't get a public school education.3

No Shots, No School, No Exceptions

Over the past century, denial of a public school education has been used like a club by public health and medical trade officials demanding that state legislators enact "No Shots, No School, No Exceptions" vaccine laws.4, 5, 6 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

In 1914, children had to get one dose of smallpox vaccine to go to school.13 In 2014, children entering kindergarten must get a minimum of 29 doses of 9 vaccines.14 Babies enrolled in daycare get even more vaccines.15

Medical Exemptions Rarely Granted

Parents in 48 states can file a religious or personal belief vaccine exemption, but some states make those exemptions very hard to get.16 A medical exemption is allowed in all states, but doctors rarely grant them to children anymore because almost all medical reasons for delaying or withholding a vaccine have been eliminated.17, 18, 19

Government and medical trade officials have narrowed medical contraindications to vaccination after Congress shielded doctors and vaccine manufacturers from vaccine injury lawsuits.20 Today, even children with severely compromised immune systems are given most vaccines.21

Doctors Practicing Authoritarian Medicine

Now that everybody is a candidate for vaccination all the time, liability-free doctors have been given a green light to practice authoritarian medicine.22, 23, 24 Distraught parents are contacting NVIC and telling us that pediatricians are dismissing their child's vaccine reactions as unimportant and refusing to make a report to the federal vaccine adverse events reporting system.

Mothers describe how pediatricians are screaming at them if they decline a vaccination or simply ask for fewer shots to be given to their child on the same day.25

Recently, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics26 proclaimed publicly that he is justified in getting angry at and discriminating against parents disobeying his orders to give their children every federally recommended vaccine on schedule27 which, by the way, means 49 doses of 14 vaccines between day of birth and age 6 with 20 more doses of vaccines by age 18.28

Calling those parents "a public health menace" and comparing them to "substance abusers," he refuses to treat their children. He said, "That person is a danger, not only to themselves but is a danger to society, a danger to other children in my practice, a danger to old people, a danger to everyone."29

Pediatricians Exempt from Vaccine Injury Lawsuits

It is sad and frightening when doctors demonize and threaten parents making thoughtful medical risk decisions for their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics knows that vaccines carry serious risks for some children because AAP leaders successfully lobbied Congress to be exempt from vaccine injury lawsuits.30, 31

Some People More Susceptible to Vaccine Reactions

But even if $3 billion in federal vaccine injury compensation had not already been awarded to vaccine victims in America,32 and even if the Institute of Medicine had not published a series of reports confirming that vaccines can cause injury and death,33, 34, 35, 36, 37 everybody knows that people do not all respond the same way to pharmaceutical products38 like vaccines.

Each one of us is born with unique genes and a unique microbiome39 influenced by epigenetics,40 which affects how we respond to the different environments we live in. Some of us are more susceptible to vaccine complications.41, 42 Public health officials have known this for a long, long time.43, 44

Late-Breaking News Addition to This Commentary: Girl Dies Hours After HPV Vaccination

Individual susceptibility to vaccine reactions may have been in play when 12-year-old Meredith Prohaska died within hours an HPV vaccination on July 30, 2014. According to the NY Daily News, Meredith's mother took her daughter to the doctor for a sore throat and, while Meredith was at the doctor's office, she was given an HPV shot. Within 30 minutes of the shot,

Meredith, who was a healthy athlete entering seventh grade, became very sleepy and slept all afternoon. When her mom came back from a short trip to get food, she found Meredith face down on the floor with purple lips and no pulse. Her mom is an EMT for the National Guard and performed CPR, but could not save her.

The initial autopsy report was "inconclusive" and further tests are being done. However, Meredith's death is not the first to occur after HPV vaccine. By June 14, 2014, there had been 171 deaths following HPV vaccinations (Gardasil or Cervarix) reported to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS).

One week before Meredith's HPV-vaccine related death, another Wisconsin teenager collapsed in her home shortly after receiving HPV and meningococcal vaccinations. Her mom reported that when her 17-year-old daughter got home after getting vaccinated, she could barely walk and collapsed, complaining of chest pain and that she was having trouble breathing. Her mom immediately took her to an Urgent Care facility and the doctors there called 911 and rushed her to the hospital ER, where she was treated and recovered.

Fox News recently discussed the Wisconsin HPV vaccine reaction cases and pointed out how difficult it is to get compensated for a vaccine injury or death. Even if parents do have enough information to understand their child has suffered a vaccine reaction and meet deadlines for filing a federal compensation claim within two years of a vaccine death or three years of a vaccine injury and an award is made (two out of three claimants are denied awards), compensation is capped at $250,000 for pain and suffering and $250,000 for death. There is no cap for those who require life-long care.

Learn How to Identify Vaccine Reactions

With so many pediatricians denying vaccine risks and failures, it is even more important for parents to do their own research. If your child is getting back-to-school shots, you should know how to identify symptoms of a vaccine reaction. Once your child has had a vaccine reaction, revaccination may cause a more serious reaction.45 Plus, you only have two years to file a claim in the federal vaccine injury compensation program after a vaccine-related death or three years after a vaccine injury.46, 47 A few of the more serious vaccine reaction symptoms are:

  • Convulsion or seizure symptoms include eyes fluttering and rolling back in the head; twitching, trembling, jerking, shaking or sudden rigidity of one or more parts of the body.48, 49, 50, 51
  • High fever between 103 and 105 degrees F. or more.52, 53
  • High-pitched screaming, also known as the encephalitic cry, is described as a shrill scream, shriek, or wail that goes on for hours. Mothers often say they have never heard this type of crying before. Sometimes babies arch their backs while screaming, which can be a sign of brain inflammation.54
  • Collapse/shock. The child may be pale, have bluish lips, and suddenly go limp and appear to be unconscious.55, 56
  • Excessive sleepiness is when the child sleeps deeply without moving for hours after vaccination and does not respond to noise, touch, or light and cannot be easily awakened to eat.57, 58, 59
  • Brain inflammation, also called encephalitis or acute encephalopathy, has been recognized as a very serious complication of vaccination since the first vaccine for smallpox. Symptoms can include convulsions, high-pitched screaming, collapse, and hours of unconsciousness.60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66
  • Encephalopathy or chronic brain dysfunction can include physical and mental regression, dramatic personality and behavior changes, loss of muscle control, speech, and other abilities, or the child may be unable to continue to meet developmental milestones.67, 68, 69, 70, 71
Vaccine Reactions May Take A Week or Longer to Appear

This is not a full list of vaccine reaction symptoms and there are other types of reactions affecting immune and brain function involving the skin,72, 73, 74 joints,75, 76 blood 77, 78 and other parts of the body that can be warning signs a child may be sensitive to one or more vaccines. Some reactions develop within hours of vaccination while others, like convulsions following MMR vaccination, can take a week or more to appear.79

Review Vaccine Manufacturer Information and Vaccine Ingredients

Before vaccination, read the vaccine manufacturer's product inserts so you are aware of the types of serious health problems reported in pre-licensure clinical trials and during post-marketing surveillance.80 Take a look at vaccine ingredients as well, because some children are allergic to antibiotics, gelatin, MSG, thimerosal, yeast, egg protein, and other vaccine ingredients.81, 82

Vaccine Immunity Not Permanent: Pertussis Vaccine Failures

Parents also need to know that vaccine-acquired immunity is not permanent and fully vaccinated children can still get and transmit infectious diseases.83 Vaccine failures and waning immunity is a real problem for vaccines like B. pertussis,84, 85 also known as whooping cough. The FDA reported last year that vaccinated persons still can be infected with and transmit pertussis, sometimes without even showing any symptoms.86 The majority of children in many pertussis outbreaks have been vaccinated.87, 88

Learn Symptoms of Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Signs of B. pertussis whooping cough range from a low fever, loss of appetite, and a mild cough to violent paroxysmal coughing, with choking and vomiting of large amounts of sticky mucus for many weeks.89 Small infants can suffer brain damage or die from pertussis if they cannot clear mucus clogging their airways.90 Understanding vaccine risks and failures is a vital part of conscious parenting today.

Ask Eight Questions Before Vaccination

At NVIC.org:

  • You can find well-referenced information about vaccines and diseases, including vaccine manufacturer product inserts, and a brochure that lists 8 questions you should ask yourself before your child is vaccinated.
  • You can review vaccine reaction reports made to the federal vaccine adverse events reporting system.
  • You can read testimonials on the Cry for Vaccine Freedom Wall by Americans describing how they are being persecuted when they try to make informed, voluntary decisions about vaccination for themselves and their children.
  • You can sign up for the free online NVIC Advocacy Portal and work to secure informed consent protections in your state's vaccine laws.

Unlocking France's Secrets to Raw Cheese

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Raw cheese made from the milk of pastured animals is an exceptional nutrient-dense food, and far superior to processed, pasteurized cheeses in terms of nutrition and taste.

In countries like France, the traditional cheese-making process has been crafted over centuries in many cases, and is truly an art form, with each cheese carefully aged and ripened to develop a complex taste and texture that mass-produced cheeses cannot replicate.

This is in large part due to their raw milk content and, in turn, their populations of beneficial bacteria. Not only do these live organisms impart different flavors, from butter to grassy and more, but they also play an integral part in safety.

Unlike in the US, where cheese is mostly pasteurized in order to kill off any and all bacteria, in France, traditional cheese makers strive to understand the microbial communities in raw milk, and thereby in their cheese.

This is done in order to harness the natural power of beneficial microbes to keep the bad ones in check. As London cheese buyer Bronwen Percival told NPR: "Instead of having a war of annihilation on microbes, we should be working with them."1

'Holy Grail' of Raw Milk Cheese to Be Translated to English

Percival has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise about $20,000 to have a technical French government manual on cheese microbiology translated into English.

This isn't any ordinary manual… it's referred to as the "Holy Grail" of cheese making because it teaches its users how to harness natural microbes to make cheese safe and exceptionally delicious.

Written by a group of French scientists, "the authors show how protecting the natural diversity of carefully produced raw milk is not only crucial for maintaining the identity and flavor of cheese, but also promotes a barrier effect that can help to protect against the growth of pathogens."2

There is no such text available in English, which is why the translation could "unlock" France's secrets to traditional cheese making and help US artisan cheese makers take their cheese to the next level of taste and safety. Cheese microbiology is an incredibly complex field, and as Percival said is "not the kind of thing you can just look up on the Internet."

Harvard researcher Rachel Dutton published a paper recently that found 24 reproducible types of bacteria and fungi on 137 cheeses made from traditional methods in 10 countries, noting "extensive species interactions among community members."3

US Regulators Wage War Against Raw Milk Products

Raw milk is used to make some of the world's finest cheeses, from the Italian Parmigiano Reggiano to the famous French-made Camembert. It's quite ironic that the same raw-milk cheese that is revered for its taste and complexity in Europe is illegal to transport across state lines in the US, unless it has first been aged for 60 days.

Raw milk cheese is so common in Europe that you can even find it in vending machines, while in the US federal regulators have been threatening to ban raw milk products, including raw cheese, due to what they claim are increased safety risks – safety risks that have been greatly overblown.

According to Grist, between 1973 and 1999, there's not a single report of illness from either raw or pasteurized cheeses.4 However, since the year 2000, illnesses have begun to appear from raw and pasteurized cheese alike. Most outbreaks have been found to result from post-production contamination and laxity in quality control, not lack of pasteurization.

The truth is that raw cheese is not inherently dangerous, provided high-quality assurance standards are followed in the production of the raw milk and in the cheese-making process. The quality of both will depend on the source, of course, which is why it's so important to find farmers that hold themselves to high standards.

You will not find high safety standards at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are run under a business model that promotes disease in its animals and contamination in their milk and meat.

Many raw-milk dairies, on the other hand, have exceptional standards. California, specifically, has its own special set of standards for raw milk for human consumption, in which farmers must meet or exceed pasteurized milk standards, without pasteurizing. You can learn more about how to identify high-quality sources of raw milk here.

The key is to personally visit the farm and ask the farmer questions. Dale Tuck, for instance, who recently opened a raw-milk dairy in the Ahwatukee Foothills area of Arizona, said that the quality of his raw milk is maintained by "meticulous cleanliness."5

Raw-Milk Cheese from High-Quality Sources Is Safe

As far as cheese is concerned, hard cheeses like cheddar dry out as they age, making them relatively inhospitable to invading bacteria. And, when produced according to traditional practices, the microbial community in the cheese can help to reduce contamination risks naturally.

The FDA's attack on raw cheese is not based on facts, but simply is an extension of their long-standing hostility toward raw milk in general. The fact of the matter is that no food is entirely safe, but raw milk, and raw-milk cheese, is no more dangerous than cantaloupes, tomatoes, lettuce, and any other commonly consumed food.

In fact, it may actually be less dangerous than pasteurized milk and cheese. The vast majority of foodborne illnesses in the US is linked to CAFO and highly processed foods, not raw foods.

For example, late last year Chobani Greek yogurt was recalled following reports of gastrointestinal illness.6 The yogurt, which is pasteurized and not raw, was found to be contaminated with a fungus called Murcor circinelloides. Earlier this year, there was also a listeria outbreak that was traced back to soft and semi-soft Hispanic-style pasteurized cheese. All recent listeria outbreaks have involved produce or pasteurized milk products, not raw milk!

Mark McAfee, CEO of Organic Pastures Dairy and an internationally recognized expert in raw milk production and safety, has on many occasions tried to set the record straight with US authorities, to no avail. In a 2012 letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), he wrote:7

"As a grade A producer of retailed-approved raw milk in California, I find your raw milk page filled with highly erroneous and very misleading information... In California, we have legal retail-approved raw milk in 400 stores consumed by 75,000 consumers each week.

This retail legal raw milk is tested and state inspected and far exceeds pasteurized milk product standards without any heat or processing. It is clean raw milk from a single source dairy. There have been no deaths from raw milk in California in 37 years.

Two years ago, I submitted a FOIA request to the CDC to request data on the two deaths that the CDC database claims were from raw milk. The data I received back from the CDC showed that in fact there had been no death from raw milk at all. The two deaths had been from illegal Mexican bath tub cheese and not raw milk from any place in America. Why does the CDC persist in publishing this erroneous information? ...The last people to die from milk died from pasteurized milk at Whittier farms in 2007, not from raw milk."

High-Quality Cheese Is Excellent for Your Health

Natural cheese is a simple fermented dairy product, made with nothing more than a few basic ingredients — milk, starter culture, salt, and an enzyme called rennet. Processed cheese or "cheese food" is a different story. These products are typically pasteurized and otherwise adulterated with a variety of additives that detract from their nutritional value. When prepared traditionally, as most raw-milk cheeses are, cheese offers a wealth of good nutrition, including:

  • High-quality protein and amino acids
  • High-quality saturated fats and omega-3 fats
  • Vitamins and minerals, including calcium, zinc, phosphorus, vitamins A, D, B2 (riboflavin), and B12
  • Vitamin K2
  • CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a powerful cancer-fighter and metabolism booster

Ideally, the cheese you consume should be made from the milk of pastured animals, which will impart even more health benefits. Raw cheese made from pastured milk has flavors that derive from the pastureland that nourished the animals producing the milk, much like wine is said to draw its unique flavors from individual vineyards. Grass-fed dairy products not only taste better, they are also nutritionally superior:

  • Cheese made from the milk of grass-fed cows has the ideal omega-6 to omega-3 fat ratio of 2:1. By contrast, the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of grain-fed milk is heavily weighted on the side of omega-6 fats (25:1), which are already excessive in the standard American diet. Grass-fed dairy combats inflammation in your body, whereas grain-fed dairy contributes to it.
  • Grass-fed cheese contains about five times the CLA of grain-fed cheese.
  • Because raw cheese is not pasteurized, natural enzymes in the milk are preserved, increasing its nutritional punch.
  • Grass-fed cheese is considerably higher in calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, D, and E.
  • Organic grass-fed cheese is free of antibiotics and growth hormones.

My top picks are Gouda, Brie, and Edam cheese, as these are good sources of vitamin K2, but you also can't go wrong with high-quality cheddar, Swiss, Colby, Gruyere, and goat cheese. Cheese is unique in that it offers a synergistic blend of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids, including the magic trio of vitamin D3, vitamin K2, and calcium. This nutrient triad is vitally important for reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, so don't be afraid to include high-quality cheese in your regular diet. Also, don't be afraid of raw cheese (as long as it comes from a reputable cheese maker), which beats ordinary cheese in both taste and nutrition.

Remember, Food Safety Depends on Its Source

Health officials have been waging a war against raw milk and raw-milk cheese, but, as mentioned, these are not inherently "risky" foods. It's important to keep in mind that the potential for foodborne illness applies to ANY food, and where it comes from is probably the greatest indicator of whether it's likely to be safe or contaminated. Ultimately, the key to making sure that any food you eat is safe is to get it from a high-quality source. I can't stress the importance of this enough. When you get your produce from small farmers that raise their food in natural settings using clean water, as opposed to massive agribusiness conglomerations that use sewage sludge as fertilizer, there is very little risk in eating these foods raw.

The same goes for meat, eggs, and raw dairy products, as well. I suggest browsing through my Sustainable Agriculture resource page to find farmer's markets, family farms, and other sources of safe, high-quality food. Not only are these sources likely to raise food in more sanitary conditions than a conventional agribusiness farm, but there's a better chance that it will also be locally grown and, in the case of cheese, made using traditional methods. The closer you are to the source of your food, the fewer hands it has to pass through and the less time it will sit in storage -- so the better, and likely safer, it will be for you and your family.

Pistachios May Boost Vascular Health in Diabetics

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Pistachios have been enjoyed in the Middle East, where they originated, for thousands of years. Once considered a delicacy, they became a popular snack in the US during the 1880s, when imported pistachios were available from vending machines in bars, restaurants, and train stations. At that time, you could get “a dozen pistachios for a nickel.”1

Pistachios didn’t become widely cultivated in the US until relatively recently; the first commercial crop in the US was harvested in 1976. Today, pistachios are grown in California, Arizona, and New Mexico, bringing in sales of more than $1.1 billion a year.2

Many people feel guilty indulging in nuts, believing them to be too high in fat. But pistachios, like most nuts, are high in fats that are beneficial to your health, and contain many other health-boosting properties as well.

Nutritionally, over half the fat in pistachios is from oleic acid, the same fat that is in olive oil. One cup would have 56 grams of fat, 26 grams of protein, and only 13 grams of carbs. Contrast this to macadamia nuts where one cup has nearly twice the fat and half the protein and 19 grams of carbs.

Pistachios Support Heart Health, Especially in People with Diabetes

Nuts are well established in the medical literature to help reduce your risk of heart disease, and this is especially important in people with type 2 diabetes, who have a heightened risk of heart problems.

A recent study found eating two servings of pistachios a day lowered vascular constriction during stress, which means the load on your heart is reduced since your arteries are more dilated.3

Those eating pistachios also had significantly lower blood pressure, specifically systolic blood pressure during sleep. This was reduced by about four points, which researchers said would be “expected to lower workload on the heart.”4

Past research has also shown that diets containing pistachios reduce systolic blood pressure and vascular responses to stress in adults with high cholesterol.5 If you’re interested in protecting your heart health, snacking on nuts is a far better option than snacking on whole grains, which are often touted as a heart-healthy choice.

A study in the journal Circulation found people with abnormally high levels of lipids, such as cholesterol, in their blood were able to significantly reduce their risk factors for coronary heart disease by snacking on nuts while those who snacked on whole-wheat muffins got no such benefit.6

One reason why nuts are so beneficial is that many, including pistachios, contain the amino acid l-arginine, and is a precursor of nitric oxide, which offers multiple vascular benefits to people with heart disease, or those who have increased risk for heart disease due to multiple cardiac risk factors. 

Pistachios Are Rich in Antioxidants

Pistachios are high in lutein, beta-carotene, and gamma-tocopherol (vitamin E) compared to other nuts. Eating one or two servings of pistachios a day has been shown, in fact, to increase blood levels of antioxidants and, in turn, lower oxidized LDL cholesterol in people with elevated levels.7

While most people think of fruits and vegetables when it comes to increasing antioxidant intake, the research suggests that eating pistachios is another simple strategy to consume more of these beneficial phytochemicals. A study in Nutrition Reviews reported:8

“The pistachio is a nutrient-dense nut with a heart-healthy fatty-acid profile as well as protein, dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, γ-tocopherol, and a number of phytochemicals. The pistachio's unique green and purple kernel color is a result of its lutein and anthocyanin content.

Among nuts, pistachios contain the highest levels of potassium, gamma tocopherol, vitamin K, phytosterols, and xanthophyll carotenoids. Five published randomized cardiovascular trials have shown that pistachios promote heart-healthy blood lipid profiles.

Exploratory clinical studies suggest that pistachios help maintain healthy antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, glycemic control, and endothelial function.”

Pistachios Target Belly Fat, Help You Maintain a Healthy Weight

If weight loss is on your agenda, snacking on nuts makes sense. Rich in satiety-inducing protein, fat, and fiber, research shows that eating nuts two or more times per week is associated with a reduced risk of weight gain.9

People who ate pistachios, in particular, for 24 weeks lost an average of 0.7 inches from their waists, reduced cholesterol by 15 points, improved their blood sugar, and lowered inflammation.10 When people eat nuts, it seems, they often use them to replace processed foods, which is one reason why they’re associated with weight loss.

Further, they’re an excellent source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which tend to “preferentially target belly fat,” according to the study’s lead researcher.11 And according to Nutrition Reviews:12

“When consumed in moderation, pistachios may help control body weight because of their satiety and satiation effects and their reduced net metabolizable energy content.

One study with subjects in a weight-loss program demonstrated lower body mass index and triglyceride levels in individuals who consumed pistachios compared with those who consumed an isocaloric pretzel snack.”

Yet another study, this one published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, also found that those who ate nuts gained numerous benefits compared to non-nut eaters, including:13

  • Decreased body mass index and waist circumference
  • Lower systolic blood pressure
  • Lower weight
  • Less likelihood of having two risk factors for metabolic syndrome: high blood pressure and low HDL (good) cholesterol (for nut consumers)
  • Less likelihood of having four risk factors for metabolic syndrome: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high fasting glucose, and a lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome (for tree nut consumers)

There’s even something known as the “pistachio principle,” which suggests eating in-shell pistachios can help you to eat fewer calories without even trying to restrict them. Dr. James Painter of Eastern Illinois University, found that people who consume in-shell pistachios consume 41 percent fewer calories than those who consume them without shells.

A second study found that leaving empty pistachio shells on your desk after consumption reduces calorie intake by 18 percent compared to discarding the shells immediately.14 The shells, it seems, help to serve as a visual reminder of how much you’ve eaten, helping you become more mindful of your food intake.

Avoid White or Bleached Pistachios

Pistachios are an extremely perishable, fragile crop. Once harvested, they must be processed within 24 hours or else tannins released from the nut’s hull can lead to staining on the shell. Stained pistachios can no longer be sold in shell, and must be removed and sold as nutmeats (generally for a lower profit).

You may have seen red or green dyed pistachios on the market, and this is often done to hide such staining. Naturally, pistachio shells are light beige in color, but in some areas, especially China, an even lighter, virtually white shell is thought to indicate cleanliness and freshness. To get this white shell, 90 percent of the pistachios sold in the Chinese market have been bleached, even though it is against China’s Food Safety Laws.15

Aside from the potential for bleach residues to remain on the nuts, bleaching has been shown to destroy important phytochemicals in pistachio skins, with researchers noting that the “destruction of bioactive phenolics in pistachio skins [from bleaching] may negatively impact the potential health benefits arising from pistachio consumption.”16

California pistachio shells are not bleached, however, once hulled they may be soaked in a “bath” of water and antimicrobial chemicals. The most commonly used antimicrobial is hypochlorous acid (bleach).17 The nuts are then moved to conveyer belts to be dried, but are first washed with a water spray to remove any additional organic matter.

At this point, they may be sprayed again with an antimicrobial, although the California Pistachio Research Boards says that this is “not currently practiced.”18 The Codex Recommended International Code of Hygienic Practice for Tree Nuts also notes that fumigation with methyl bromide or phosphine can be used to control insects in stored nuts, stating that “it may be necessary to repeat fumigation periodically depending on the conditions and duration of storage.”19 To avoid nuts that have been treated with antimicrobials and pesticides, choose organic pistachios.

Pistachios Are a High Risk for Aflatoxin

Pistachios, like peanuts, are at high risk of being contaminated with a carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin. Aflatoxin is said to be the most carcinogenic naturally occurring substance known, and it is known to cause liver cancer and immune suppression in humans. Levels of aflatoxin in US-grown pistachios are generally low. However, pistachios from Iran and Morocco have been found to contain dangerously high levels.20

To minimize this risk, be sure the pistachios you eat come from a reliable supplier, which dries the nuts immediately after harvest to minimize decay. Some California pistachio farmers are also using spores of a beneficial fungus to displace the fungi that produce aflatoxin. This strategy has been found to reduce aflatoxin by up to 45 percent, without the use of chemicals.21 You can further reduce your risk by:

  • Choosing in-shell pistachios (shelled pistachios are much more likely to be contaminated with aflatoxin)
  • Avoiding dyed pistachios, which may cover up staining
  • Avoiding eating pistachios that have a sour taste or signs of mold, excessive moisture, or insect damage
Roasting Pistachios May Damage Nutrients

To increase the positive impacts on your health, look for nuts that are organic and raw, not roasted. Roasting has been found to damage nutrients in nuts, including decreasing the availability of beneficial fatty acids and amino acids.22 A better option would be nuts that are hot-air dried at temperatures of 180 degrees (F) or less, which should help to minimize any potential heat-related damage. An even better option is to consume pistachios raw, and soak them first for eight to 12 hours. Phytic acid, which is found in the coatings of nuts, is an "anti-nutrient" responsible for leaching vital nutrients from your body. Soaking nuts will help to get rid of the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, which can interfere with the function of your own digestive and metabolic enzymes, in the nuts.  

To make them more palatable you can use a dehydrator to improve the texture. Enzyme inhibitors in nuts (and seeds) help protect the nut as it grows, helping to decrease enzyme activity and prevent premature sprouting. When nuts are soaked, the germination process begins, allowing the enzyme inhibitors to be deactivated and increasing the nutrition of the nut significantly, as well as making them much easier to digest. One exception is with macadamia nuts (and other white nuts), which have only negligible amounts of enzyme inhibitors, so soaking is not as necessary.

What Are the Healthiest Nuts?

Pistachios, provided they are organic, not bleached and not contaminated with aflatoxin or fumigants, provide a beneficial source of antioxidants and other nutrients. My favorite nuts, however, are macadamia and pecans, as they provide the highest amount of healthy fat while being on the lower end in terms of carbs and protein. Most nuts' nutritional makeup closely resemble what I consider to be an ideal ratio of the basic building blocks—fat making up the greatest amount of your daily calories, followed by a moderate amount of high-quality protein, and a low amount of non-vegetable carbs.

The main fatty acid in macadamia nuts is the monounsaturated fat oleic acid (about 60 percent). This is about the level found in olives, which are well known for their health benefits. Generally speaking, each type of nut will offer a slightly different mix of nutrients for your health, so it's a good idea to include a variety of nuts rather than sticking to one at the exclusion of all others. In addition to pistachios, you may want to consider adding the following beneficial nuts to your diet as well:

  • Raw macadamia nuts are a powerhouse of a nut, containing a wide variety of critical nutrients including high amounts of vitamin B1, magnesium, manganese, and healthful monounsaturated fat, just to name a few. They have the highest fat and lowest protein and carb content of any nut. This is particularly helpful if you are seeking to implement intermittent fasting and treating insulin resistance.
  • Pecans: Pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals, and research has shown they may help lower LDL cholesterol and promote healthy arteries. One of my favorite treats is candied pecans in a salad at a restaurant. I know they have sugar, but a few grams or less a day is not going to cause a major problem provided you're eating a healthy whole food diet as opposed to processed foods (which are loaded with hidden fructose). Pecans are a close second to macadamia nuts on the fat and protein scale.
  • Walnuts: Walnuts are good sources of plant-based omega-3 fats, natural phytosterols, and antioxidants that are so powerful at free radical scavenging that researchers have called them "remarkable."23 Plus, walnuts may help reduce not only the risk of prostate cancer, but breast cancer as well. They've also been shown to reverse brain aging in rats and boost heart health in people with diabetes.
  • Almonds: One of the healthiest aspects of almonds appears to be their skins, as they are rich in antioxidants including phenols, flavonoids, and phenolic acids, which are typically associated with vegetables and fruits. A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry even revealed that a one-ounce serving of almonds has a similar amount of total polyphenols as a cup of steamed broccoli or green tea.24
  • Brazil Nuts: Brazil nuts are an excellent source of organic selenium, a powerful antioxidant-boosting mineral that may be beneficial for the prevention of cancer.

To Protect Your Heart, Your Sodium to Potassium Ratio Is More Important Than Your Overall Salt Intake

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

The vilification of salt is similar to that of fat. Just as there are healthy fats that are necessary for optimal health and unhealthy fats that cause health problems, there are healthy and unhealthy types of salt. The devil’s in the details, as they say, and this is definitely true when it comes to salt and fat.

Salt provides two elements – sodium and chloride – both of which are essential for life. Your body cannot make these elements on its own, so you must get them from your diet. However, not all salts are created equal.

  • Natural unprocessed salt, such as sea salt and Himalayan salt, contains about 84 percent sodium chloride (just under 37 percent of which is pure sodium1, 2). The remaining 16 percent are naturally-occurring trace minerals, including silicon, phosphorus, and vanadium 
  • Processed (table) salt contains 97.5 percent sodium chloride (just over 39 percent of which is sodium3, 4). The rest is man-made chemicals, such as moisture absorbents and flow agents, such as ferrocyanide and aluminosilicate.
  • Besides the basic differences in nutritional content, the processing—which involves drying the salt above 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit—also radically and detrimentally alters the chemical structure of the salt

Appropriate vs. Inappropriate Salt Restriction

In the United States and many other developed countries, salt has been vilified as a primary cause of high blood pressure and heart disease. According to research presented at last year’s American Heart Association meeting,5 excessive salt consumption contributed to 2.3 million heart-related deaths worldwide in 2010.

However, it’s important to realize that most Americans and other Westerners get the majority of their sodium from commercially available table salt and processed foods—not from natural unprocessed salt.

This is likely to have a significant bearing on the health value of salt, just as dangerous trans fats in processed foods turned out to be responsible for the adverse health effects previously (and wrongfully) blamed on healthy saturated fats.

Current dietary guidelines in the US recommend limiting your salt intake to anywhere from 1.5 to 2.4 grams of sodium per day, depending on which organization you ask. The American Heart Association suggests a 1.5 gram limit.

For a frame of reference, one teaspoon of regular table salt contains about 2.3 grams of sodium.6 According to some estimates, Americans get roughly four grams of sodium per day, which has long been thought to be too much for heart health.

But recent research, which has been widely publicized,7, 8, 9, 10, 11 suggests that too little salt in your diet may be just as hazardous as too much.  Moreover, the balance between sodium and potassium may be a deciding factor in whether your salt consumption will ultimately be harmful or helpful.

Too Little Salt Raises Heart Risks Too, Researchers Find

One four-year long observational study (the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study), which included more than 100,000 people in 17 countries, found that while higher sodium levels correlate with an increased risk for high blood pressure, potassium helps offset sodium’s adverse effects.

The results were published in two articles: "Association of Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion with Blood Pressure"12 and "Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion, Mortality, and Cardiovascular Events."13

I’ve discussed the importance of getting these two nutrients—sodium and potassium—in the appropriate ratios before, and I’ll review it again in just a moment.

In this study, those with the lowest risk for heart problems or death from any cause were consuming three to six grams of sodium a day—far more than US daily recommended limits.

Not only did more than six grams of sodium a day raise the risk for heart disease, so did levels lower than three grams per day. In short, while there is a relationship between sodium and blood pressure, it’s not a linear relationship.14 As noted by the Associated Press:15

"‘These are now the best data available,’ Dr. Brian Strom said of the new study. Strom, the chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, led an Institute of Medicine panel last year that found little evidence to support very low sodium levels.

"‘Too-high sodium is bad. Too low also may be bad, and sodium isn't the whole story,’ Strom said. ‘People should go for moderation.’

The authors propose an alternative approach; instead of recommending aggressive sodium reduction across the board, it might be wiser to recommend high-quality diets rich in potassium instead. This, they surmise, might achieve greater public health benefits, including blood-pressure reduction.

As noted by one of the researchers, Dr. Martin O'Donnell16 of McMaster University, “Potatoes, bananas, avocados, leafy greens, nuts, apricots, salmon, and mushrooms are high in potassium, and it's easier for people to add things to their diet than to take away something like salt.”

Meta-Analysis Supports Lower Sodium Recommendations

Another study,17 published in the same journal, assessed how sodium contributes to heart-related deaths by evaluating 107 randomized trials across 66 countries. The researchers first calculated the impact of sodium on high blood pressure, and then calculated the relationship between high blood pressure and cardiovascular deaths. According to the authors:

“In 2010, the estimated mean level of global sodium consumption was 3.95 grams per day, and regional mean levels ranged from 2.18 to 5.51 grams per day. Globally, 1.65 million annual deaths from cardiovascular causes... were attributed to sodium intake above the reference level [2.0 grams of sodium per day]. These deaths accounted for nearly 1 of every 10 deaths from cardiovascular causes. Four of every 5 deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries, and 2 of every 5 deaths were premature (before 70 years of age).”

This appears to support current sodium recommendations in the US, and according to Dr. Elliott Antman, president of the Heart Association,18 “The totality of the evidence strongly supports limiting sodium.” However, as noted by Dr. Suzanne Oparil, M.D.:19  “[G]iven the numerous assumptions necessitated by the lack of high-quality data, caution should be taken in interpreting the findings of the study. Taken together, these three articles highlight the need to collect high-quality evidence on both the risks and benefits of low-sodium diets.”

Earlier Evidence

A long list of studies has in fact failed to prove that there are any benefits to a low-salt diet, and in fact many tend to show the opposite. In addition to the ones already mentioned above, the following studies also came up with negative results. For an even more comprehensive list of research, please see this previous salt article.

  • A 2004 meta-analysis by the Cochrane Collaboration20 reviewed 11 salt-reduction trials and found that, in otherwise healthy people, over the long-term, low-salt diets decreased systolic blood pressure by 1.1 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and diastolic blood pressure by 0.6 mmHg. That equates to reducing your blood pressure from 120/80 to 119/79. In conclusion, the authors stated that:
  • "Intensive interventions, unsuited to primary care or population prevention programs, provide only minimal reductions in blood pressure during long-term trials."

  • A 2006 study in the American Journal of Medicine21 compared the reported daily sodium intakes of 78 million Americans to their risk of dying from heart disease over the course of 14 years. The study concluded that lower sodium diets led to HIGHER mortality rates among those with cardiovascular disease, which "raised questions regarding the likelihood of a survival advantage accompanying a lower sodium diet."
  • In 2011, the Cochrane Collaboration22, 23 conducted yet another review of the available data, concluding that when you reduce your salt intake, you actually increase several other risk factors that could theoretically eliminate the reduced risk for cardiovascular disease predicted from lowering your blood pressure!
  • Of particular note is the authors statement that: “sodium reduction resulted in a significant increase in plasma cholesterol (2.5 percent) and plasma triglyceride (7 percent), which expressed in percentage, was numerically larger than the decrease in BP [blood pressure]... The present meta-analysis indicates that the adverse effect on lipids, especially triglyceride, is not just an acute effect as previously assumed, but may be persistent also in longer-term studies.”

You Need Salt, But Make Sure It’s the Right Kind

From my perspective, the answer is clear: avoid processed salt and use natural salt in moderation. I believe it is hard for a healthy person to overdo it if using a natural salt, as salt is actually a nutritional goldmine—again provided you mind your sodium-potassium ratio. Some of the many biological processes for which natural salt is crucial include:

Being a major component of your blood plasma, lymphatic fluid, extracellular fluid, and even amniotic fluid Carrying nutrients into and out of your cells, and helping maintain your acid-base balanceIncreasing the glial cells in your brain, which are responsible for creative thinking and long-term planning. Both sodium and chloride are also necessary for the firing of neurons Maintain and regulate blood pressureHelping your brain communicate with your muscles, so that you can move on demand via sodium-potassium ion exchangeSupporting the function of you adrenal glands, which produce dozens of vital hormones

The beauty with Himalayan salt is that in addition to being naturally lower in sodium, it’s much higher in potassium compared to other salt—including other natural salt like sea salt or Celtic salt. Himalayan salt contains 0.28 percent potassium, compared to 0.16 percent in Celtic salt, and 0.09 percent in regular table salt. While this may seem like tiny amounts, Himalayan salt still has a better salt-potassium ratio than other salt, especially table salt. Again, remember that besides the basic differences in nutritional content, it’s the processing that makes table salt (and the salt used in processed foods) so detrimental to your health. What your body needs is natural, unprocessed salt, without added chemicals.

The Importance of Maintaining Optimal Sodium-Potassium Ratio

I agree with the PURE study’s authors when they say that a better strategy to promote public health would be to forgo the strict sodium reduction element, and focus recommendations instead on a high-quality diet rich in potassium, as this nutrient helps offset the hypertensive effects of sodium. Imbalance in this ratio can not only lead to hypertension (high blood pressure) but also contribute to a number of other diseases, including:

Heart disease and stroke Memory declineOsteoporosisUlcers and stomach cancer Kidney stonesCataractsErectile dysfunction Rheumatoid arthritis

The easiest way to throw your sodium-potassium ratio off kilter is by consuming a diet of processed foods, which are notoriously low in potassium while high in sodium. (Processed foods are also loaded with fructose, which is clearly associated with increased heart disease risk, as well as virtually all chronic diseases.) Your body needs potassium to maintain proper pH levels in your body fluids, and it also plays an integral role in regulating your blood pressure. As indicated in the PURE study, potassium deficiency may be more responsible for hypertension than excess sodium. Potassium deficiency leads to electrolyte imbalance, and can result in a condition called hypokalemia. Symptoms include:

  • Water retention
  • Raised blood pressure and hypertension
  • Heart irregularities/arrhythmias
  • Muscular weakness and muscle cramps
  • Continual thirst and constipation

According to a 1985 article in The New England Journal of Medicine, titled "Paleolithic Nutrition,24” our ancient ancestors got about 11,000 milligram (mg) of potassium a day, and about 700 mg of sodium. This equates to nearly 16 times more potassium than sodium. Compare that to the Standard American Diet where daily potassium consumption averages about 2,500 mg (the RDA is 4,700 mg/day), along with 3,600 mg of sodium. This may also explain why high-sodium diets appear to affect some people but not others.

According to a 2011 federal study into sodium and potassium intake, those at greatest risk of cardiovascular disease were those who got a combination of too much sodium along with too little potassium. The research, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine,25 was one of the first and largest American studies to evaluate the relationship of salt, potassium, and heart disease deaths. Tellingly, those who ate a lot of salt and very little potassium were more than twice as likely to die from a heart attack as those who ate about equal amounts of both nutrients.

How to Optimize Your Sodium-to-Potassium Ratio

To easily determine your sodium to potassium ratio every day, you can use a free app like My Fitness Pal for your desktop, smartphone, or tablet that will easily allow you to enter the foods you eat and painlessly make this calculation for you. No calculating or looking up in multiple tables required like we had to do in the old days. So, how do you ensure you get these two important nutrients in more appropriate ratios?

  • First, ditch all processed foods, which are very high in processed salt and low in potassium and other essential nutrients
  • 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
  • When using added salt, use a natural salt. I believe Himalayan salt may be the most ideal, as it contains lower sodium and higher potassium levels compared to other salts

I do not recommend taking potassium supplements to correct a sodium-potassium imbalance. Instead, it is best to simply alter your diet and incorporate more potassium-rich whole foods. Green vegetable juicing is an excellent way to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients for optimal health, including about 300-400 mg of potassium per cup. By removing the fiber you can consume even larger volumes of important naturally occurring potassium. Some additional rich sources in potassium are:

  • Lima beans (955 mg/cup)
  • Winter squash (896 mg/cup)
  • Cooked spinach (839 mg/cup)
  • Avocado  (500 mg per medium)

Other potassium-rich fruits and vegetables include:

  • Fruits: papayas, prunes, cantaloupe, and bananas. (But be careful of bananas as they are high in sugar and have half the potassium that an equivalent of amount of green vegetables. It is an old wives’ tale that you are getting loads of potassium from bananas; the potassium is twice as high in green vegetables)
  • Vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, avocados, asparagus, and pumpkin
How Much Salt Does Your Body Need?

Normally, the homeostasis of your body fluids is corrected primarily by your kidneys, and proper renal handling of sodium is necessary for normal cardiovascular function. Given that your survival and normal physical development are dependent on adequate sodium intake and retention, the question is – how much salt do you really need?

A strictly vegetarian diet contains about 0.75 grams of salt per day, and it’s been estimated that the Paleolithic diet contained about 1 to 1.5 grams, which was clearly sufficient for survival, even though it falls far below the currently recommended amount.

I believe it’s clear that most Americans consume FAR too much processed salt that is devoid of most any health benefit. But if you want to find out whether you’re eating the right amount of salt for your body, a fasting chemistry profile that shows your serum sodium level can give you the answer, so that you can modify your diet accordingly. As a general rule, your ideal sodium level is 139, with an optimal range of 136 to 142. If it is much lower, you probably need to eat more salt (natural and unprocessed varieties, of course); if it is higher, you’ll likely want to restrict your salt intake. Keep in mind that if you have weak adrenals, you will lose sodium and need to eat more natural salt to compensate.

Connecting the Dots Between Pollution, Global Hunger, and Water Scarcity

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Global hunger, pollution, and water scarcity – how are these interrelated? Courtney White, a former archaeologist and a Sierra Club activist, connects the dots for us in his book Grass,Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country.

Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, he first became concerned about some of the environmental issues going on in the 1990s, at which time he joined the Sierra Club.

"I met a rancher at a Sierra Club meeting in 1996. His name was Jim Winder... This was back in the mid-'90s when ranchers and environmentalists were going after each other in court, in public opinions, in newspapers, and all kinds of things.

Jim said, 'Let's find some common ground between ranchers and environmentalists.' He said, 'I ranch differently. I move my cows around the ranch in a certain way trying to mimic natural grazing behavior of wild animals – bison, for example.'

I said, 'That's interesting.' I went to his ranch and saw what he was doing. He's growing grass. He had water, wildlife, and all these things."

The Quivira Coalition

In 1997, the activist and the rancher formed a non-profit organization called The Quivira Coalition, along with conservationist Barbara Johnson. Together, they advocated land management practices that help restore land back to health.

One of the keys to land restoration is carbon sequestration. Carbon is the most abundant element on Earth after oxygen. Dark, rich soils contain high amounts of carbon. This element is the tie that binds grazing management, land health, food, water, and rising carbon dioxide pollution levels together.

"I read a publication in 2009 that said that we can pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," Courtney says. "We have too much of it right now.

Through plants, through photosynthesis, and into the soils through the roots, where it's stored, we can actually pull down carbon dioxide and store the carbon in the soils. I didn't know that. We had been involved in land management practices for about 10 years up to that point.

All the practices these ranchers, gardeners, restorationists, and farmers were doing all have a positive impact potentially on the climate. They also could produce more food and more water."

The Carbon Cycle

There are four large "carbon sinks," which refers to the carbon cycle—how carbon moves around the earth in different forms:

  1. When fossil fuels (hydrocarbon) are burned, the carbon enters the atmosphere
  2. Carbon is also absorbed by the earth's oceans
  3. Next are trees and green vegetation, primarily tropical forests, which absorb carbon through photosynthesis. Oxygen (which we need to breathe) is then released back into the atmosphere
  4. Soils can hold some of the greatest amounts of carbon, and it can sequester it for long periods of time—hundreds of years according to some estimates. In the soil, carbon contributes to improved soil and plant health
Wood Chips, Compost, and Biochar Are Valuable in Home Gardening

One of my new passions is integrating wood chips into the growing process. Traditionally, landscapers typically have to pay to dump this typical "waste product" at a landfill, so home gardeners can usually get truck loads of wood chips for next to nothing, or free.

Once in a landfill, these wood chips get converted into methane, which is a far worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. On the other hand, when you add them to your garden, as cover mulch, not as compost, they can dramatically improve the health of the soil by nourishing soil microbes and mycorrhizal fungal filaments. Adding biochar and compost also promotes soil health.

The wood chips are a magnificent source of carbon, which is the lifeblood of the soil microbes. They crave it. This is one of the most important elements of the soil and is typically measured as total organic content of the soil.

"Anything that covers the soil over time – wood chips, plants, or anything green or brown that keeps the microbial life covered and not respiring CO up in the atmosphere – it's a good thing," Courtney notes. 

One of the things they found scientifically is that when you increase the carbon content of the soils – and wood chips are a form of carbon – the capacity of the soil to hold water goes way up. When it rains, it goes in and soaks rather than runs off... Anything that can help hold water in soils makes microbes happy and can sequester carbon, too."

Environmental and Economic Challenges That Prevent the Implementation of Widespread Carbon Sequestration

As explained by Courtney, there are a number of challenges, not the least of which is making it all work economically. First and foremost, though, we need to figure out the proper practices. Here, there's plenty of hope.

"Over the last 30 years or so, through a lot of hard work by a lot of smart people, the toolbox of how to sequester carbon in soils has been well-developed," Courtney says. "Of course, at the beginning, no one was thinking about carbon; they were just trying to be more productive...

Now, we've been involved [in] a lot in creek restoration. When we do that, plants grow, they put down deeper roots, and more carbon gets sequestered. Beavers are part of the answer. Beavers are great carbon engineers—the dams they build. If you go back 25 years ago, the toolbox was largely undeveloped. We didn't know how to fix creeks very well. We didn't know how to do local food systems – grass-fed and all that kind of stuff. We do now. We've got some good science to go with it."

Another hurdle is making it work for large-scale operations. It needs to be economically feasible. Challenges include policy challenges and corporate challenges, as there are big companies that profit from practices that don't improve land health. What's needed is a business model in which landowners can actually profit from increasing soil carbon.

Well-Managed Livestock Are Part of the Solution

While confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are a part of our environmental problem, well-managed grazing livestock are part of the solution.

"There's an old saying in organic agriculture that nature never farms without animals, meaning that nature always has some kind of animal involved in the ecosystem," Courtney says. "There's a relationship among grass, things that eat it, and the roots [and soil]. The practices that we advocate are the ones that promote grass growth and roots, which also means they got to have animals in there.

They're part of the mix, but in a productive way...These are models of herbivory that have been around for a long time. They work and they create healthy grass. Allan Savory is an important part of this – his ideas of how animals group together and move... But there are other ways of growing green things. I mentioned the creek work, for example, growing riparian vegetation, and that kind of stuff. But nature never farms without animals."

While it's easy to think of food production and land restoration as something restricted to farmers and environmental activists, everyone is included in this web of life, no matter where you life or what your profession. Everyone eats food. But where does it come from? Being selective about your food sources plays an important part in the food system we have today, and what it can be tomorrow. Particularly if you eat meat, is it coming from a ranch that is carbon-friendly? Are the vegetables that you eat from a farm that's trying to sequester carbon?

"I got an email yesterday from somebody who said, 'Is there labeling yet?' Is there a climate-friendly label they can put on food that the public could look at and say, 'Hey, this is a carbon-friendly ranch?' Now, I thought that was an interesting idea. I don't know anybody doing it yet, but that might be coming soon."

Six Eco-Friendly Strategies
  1. Build soil carbon. Any practice that builds soil carbon, including in your garden or yard, will benefit the soil, plants, your health, and the health of the planet
  2. Climate-friendly livestock management. That means managing animals in the way that nature would, which helps improve soil health and plant growth
  3. Repair damaged ecosystems
  4. No-till farming. Many assume that it's critical to till your soil and that you can't farm without a plow. However, it turns out that plowing is terrible for life underground. Tilling, which turns the soil over, actually kills the microbes and fungi needed for healthy soils and plant growth. It does this by exposing them to air, heat, sun, and wind. The mycorrhizal fungal filaments are particularly vulnerable. This is the fungi that sits on the roots of plants, transferring water, carbon, and minerals back and forth
  5. Grassland restoration
  6. Local food systems. Eating foods grown locally contribute to the overall positive carbon effect of these operations. Getting involved in the organic local food systems either as a grower or as an eater is part of the solution
Carbon Sequestration in Soil Improves Food Quality

When carbon is sequestered in the ground, it becomes part of a very beneficial cycle. Unfortunately, decades of soil mismanagement has led to demineralization and reduced nutritional content in food. It's important to understand that all the trace minerals found in food, the copper, phosphorus, zinc, and much more, all come from the soil, and are dependent on the presence of beneficial soil microbes and fungi. By increasing the amount of carbon in the soil, you support soil microbes that allow minerals to be pulled up into the plant.

"It's called the mineral cycle. Minerals get pulled up from deeper in the soil profile. They're available to healthy plant roots. The minerals then get pulled into the plant. If you're a vegetarian, you eat the plant. If you're a meat-eater, you eat the animal that eats the plant. There's an old saying that if it's the feed, it's in the food. If the minerals are in the feed, whether it's the plant or the animal, then it's in you."

This mineral cycle has been largely decimated by our industrial food system. That's why chemical fertilizers are used. But you actually don't need chemicals to grow food. All you really need to do is restore the soil's health, which is done through organic processes, of which carbon sequestration is an integral part.

The Importance of Buying Pasture-Raised Beef, Chicken, and Eggs

I've often said that the differences between organic, pastured beef and chicken and that from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is so great that you're really talking about two completely different animals.

The same applies to other animal meats, and animal products such as dairy and eggs.

In the grand scheme of all that is wrong with modern agriculture, the unnatural transition that turned cattle, which naturally eat only grass, into grain-eating ruminants is definitely toward the top of the list.

By mimicking the natural behavior of migratory herds of wild grazing animals—meaning allowing livestock to graze freely, and moving the herd around in specific patterns—farmers can support nature's efforts to regenerate and thrive. This kind of land management system promotes the reduction of atmospheric CO2 by sequestering it back into the soil where it can do a lot of good. Once in the earth, the CO2 can be safely stored for hundreds of years, and adds to the soil's fertility.

When shopping for food, be informed regarding where that food was produced. A guide to help you can be found by clicking here. If you take advantage of the farm-fresh sustainability that's becoming more prevalent as people take control of what they're consuming, you'll realize many benefits. First, you'll know where the foods you and your family eat come from, ensure optimal nutrition, and protect the health of future generations.

Wool is a sustainable, ecologically-friendly resource. Sheep live long, healthy lives after shearing and can freely roam on pastures.


More Information

One of my next books is going to be how to garden with minimal effort. I believe that once you know what to do, it becomes effortless. Just as there are basic guidelines for optimal health—and these are very simple things like eating whole, organic foods—maintaining good health becomes effortless. The crux is that these foundational keys are often at odds with conventional ideas, which are tainted by bias that helps maintain the status quo of the food and medical industry. As Courtney says, "nature has been at it for a long time," and manages itself flawlessly when left alone. It would behoove us to take notice and pay attention to its cues.

"Photosynthesis has been around for a couple of billion years. We, as humans, tend to think, 'Oh we can make it better than that.' A lot of this is going to back to kind of natural principles. Effortless Gardening would be like that, using natural principles. I see a lot of farmers and ranchers going back to the natural models of land management – animals, cover-cropping, and all those kinds of things," Courtney says.

To learn more about how permaculture can address many of our most pressing environmental issues, I highly recommend picking up Courtney White's book, Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country. It contains plenty of resources for gardeners and farmers alike. Even more resources can be found on the publisher's website.1

Study Finds Girls Now Enter Puberty Even Earlier Than Previously Thought

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

A new longitudinal1 study found that girls are developing breasts at an increasingly younger age, which is part of a disturbing trend in the sexual development of our children. American girls (and boys) are hitting puberty earlier than ever before, and upward trends in childhood obesity seem to be playing a major role.

You may be shocked by the latest childhood obesity statistics. As reported by Huffington Post:2

  • 17 percent of children and adolescents are now obese
  • Childhood obesity has nearly tripled since 1980
  • Obesity among kids ages two to five has doubled over the past 30 years, and one in five kids is now overweight by age six
  • More than half of obese children were overweight by their second birthday
  • The food industry spends more than $1.8 billion marketing to kids each year3—and what they're selling is primarily processed food and junk food

Data for the puberty study, published in the November 2013 issue of Pediatrics,4 came from a cohort of more than 1,200 girls in and around San Francisco, Cincinnati, and New York City between the ages of six and eight.

Researchers found some cultural variability, but overall, concluded that girls are entering puberty earlier than in the past. Early sexual maturation is not a recent development, nor is it a phenomenon limited to United States. It is a global phenomenon, especially in developed nations.5

Obesity May Be More Significant for Early Puberty Than Previously Thought

Maturing at a younger age brings many long-term risks, both in terms of physical and mental health.6 The pace of sexual development has generally been attributed to three primary factors, according to the website for Theo Colborn's Our Stolen Future:7

  1. Obesity
  2. Social factors (such as family environment, stress, overt sexuality in the media, etc.)
  3. Toxic contamination (environmental chemicals and pollutants, hormones and hormone-mimics, pesticides, chemicals in plastics, etc.)

According to the featured study, obesity appears to be the most significant factor driving early puberty—or perhaps it's just the easiest to quantify. Overweight and obese girls in this study developed breasts about a year earlier than normal-weight girls (age eight versus age nine, respectively).

Obesity exposes girls to higher estrogen levels because estrogen is both produced and stored in fat tissue. Girls carrying excess body fat have more estrogen and leptin, which can lead to insulin resistance and the development of more fat tissue, which produces even more estrogen, a vicious cycle that can eventually result in premature puberty, among other problems.

Boys are not immune to the effects of estrogenic chemicals—males of all species are becoming more female, including human boys. Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic in developed countries and raises your child's risk for the following serious health concerns, often persisting into adulthood. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.8

  • Impaired insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease, asthma, and other respiratory problems
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Joint and musculoskeletal problems, and lower extremity fractures9
  • Gallstones and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
Obesity and Toxic Environmental Chemicals: Two Sides of Same Coin?

There is mounting scientific evidence that environmental contaminants have hormone-mimicking properties that may play a role in premature sexual development. However, it is difficult to measure these effects, as strong as their theoretical basis may be. In terms of research, it's much easier to correlate a child's age of onset of puberty with her body mass index (BMI) than with her level of exposure to plastics or pesticides.

However, the obesity and contamination factors are likely two sides of the same coin, having been linked in multiple scientific studies.

The same chemicals that contribute to precocious puberty are in fact also significant players in obesity, such as phthalates.10, 11, 12, 13 Even low levels of toxic chemicals (dioxins, PCBs, BPA, and phthalates) have been shown to cause metabolic changes in mice.

Perhaps the relationship between endocrine-disrupting chemicals and precocious puberty will be clearer in the near future, as the researchers in this latest longitudinal study plan to tackle the chemical exposure issue next.14 For a list of the top 10 chemicals that can potentially cause early puberty in your child, please refer to my previous article on this topic.

The Age of Onset of Puberty Has Dropped Four Years Since 1920

The age of puberty onset for both girls and boys has been steadily dropping throughout recorded history. According to German researchers,15 the onset of puberty for girls has shown the following disturbing trend over the past 150 years:

Age of Onset of Puberty for Girls Year Average Age (Years) 1860 16.6 1920 14.6 1950 13.1 1980 12.5 2010 10.5

As you can see, the average age for girls has fallen by four years since 1920 and six years over the last century. The statistics for boys parallel those for girls, with a delay of about one year. According to another study in the journal Pediatrics,16 boys are now beginning sexual development anywhere from six months to two years earlier than the medically accepted standard. While some may shrug off the significance of this trend, it actually has quite profound implications as it can adversely affect your child's physical and emotional development in a number of ways. Premature puberty has both physical and psychosocial implications that may potentially affect your child well into adulthood—in fact, for the rest of his or her life.

The Physical Consequences of Precocious Puberty

Early onset puberty has been found to have a number of problematic effects. In terms of the physical, your child may have increased risk for the following:

  • Hormone-related cancers later in life for girls reaching puberty early, such as breast cancer, due to the early rise in estrogen
  • Some have suggested early puberty may be linked to thyroid abnormalities, brain tumors, and testicular cancer in boys, although these effects have not been proven17, 18
  • Short stature as adults—once puberty completes, growth generally stops
Far-Reaching Psychological Effects

Perhaps even more concerning are the psychosocial effects of premature puberty. An article containing an extensive review of the literature about the psychosocial effects of precocious puberty reveals just how potentially damaging early sexual development is to your child. When your child's physical body matures too early, there is not enough time for her mind to adjust to those changes, often producing feelings of fear, confusion, and social isolation.19 The authors explain:

"Early maturation ignites a series of negative environmental responses that influence the course of future development. For example, precocious maturation may cause peers to behave differently towards early maturing girls, which results in social difficulties and feelings of isolation. Early developing girls may seek out friends who are similarly mature or find themselves attracted to older boys, both of which might result in weakening peer relationships."

As a result of this increased stress, children experiencing early puberty have been shown to have an increased risk for a variety of social, emotional, and behavioral problems, as outlined in the following table. You will see that the effects are truly far reaching and can forever change the course of your child's life. This is not intended to scare you or bring doom and gloom, but to raise your awareness in the event your child is an early maturer, so that you can provide her the emotional support needed to deal with it. If she reaches puberty ahead of schedule, you will need to be especially aware of and sensitive to her unique developmental needs and challenges.

Depression and Anxiety: There is a link between early menarche and anxiety, especially panic attacks. Panic attacks have been found to occur more frequently among sixth and seventh grade girls who display early sexual development. Early maturers are also more likely to report psychosomatic symptoms, such as headaches, upset stomachs, and sleep disturbances. Eating Disorders: Early maturing girls are more likely to report body dissatisfaction and poor self-esteem during adolescence and to engage in excessive dieting and disordered eating. Poor body image seems to persist among early maturers even after same-age peers have achieved puberty. Girls may internalize their changing physical appearance as a way that they are "different" from peers, which may manifest as self-consciousness or attempts to "reduce" their changing bodies. Body dissatisfaction seems to be amplified by concurrent life stressors. Substance Abuse: Early pubertal development is associated with increased (and earlier onset) smoking, drinking, and illegal drug experimentation with increased likelihood of life-long substance abuse. Conversely, late pubertal maturation predicts abstinence well beyond the end of puberty. Premature Sexual Activity: Girls who experience earlier menarche begin to date before their peers and tend to be sexually active earlier. By the age of18, girls who have experienced early menarche are more than twice as likely to have given birth or terminated a pregnancy than their peers. Delinquency: Early menarche has been associated with shoplifting, vandalism, fighting, and weapon possession. Early maturation significantly predicts engagement in violent delinquent behavior (such as burglary, fighting, gang membership, and shooting or stabbing another person), according to one study. Girls who develop early can be targeted by other girls for bullying, and by older boys for unwanted sexual attention.20 Reduced Academic Performance: Early maturing girls are more likely to exhibit poor academic performance in high school than on-time or later maturing peers. Conversely, later maturation has been associated with higher grades. Early maturers are more likely to report getting in trouble at school, absenteeism, and truancy. They report less interest in academic subjects and are less likely to pursue college education and tend to have lower-paying jobs. This effect is magnified in girls experiencing extremely early puberty. Tips for Preventing Obesity and Reducing Exposure to Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals

As you can see, precocious puberty is much more than an incidental trend. You can minimize problems by taking steps to optimize your child's physical and emotional health, beginning the day she is born—or failing that, beginning today! In addition to avoiding excess sugar, junk food, and toxic products, make sure your children get adequate exercise, which is crucial in preventing them from becoming overweight or obese. Physical activity is important for both physical and mental health.

You can cut back on your family's exposure to dangerous chemicals by implementing the following 16 guidelines. Pregnant women and women who may become pregnant should pay particular attention to reducing their exposure as much as possible, in order to protect the health of their unborn babies.

  1. Eat fresh, whole, non-GMO, preferably organic produce and free-range, organic meats to reduce your exposure to added hormones, pesticides, and fertilizers. Also, avoid milk and other dairy products that contain the genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST). Processed, prepackaged foods are a major source of soy and chemicals such as BPA and phthalates.
  2. Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury (which also has hormone-disrupting effects), supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is about the only fish I eat for these reasons.
  3. Filter your tap water—both for drinking and bathing. In fact, if you can only afford to do one, filtering your bath water may be more important, as your skin absorbs contaminants. To remove the endocrine disrupting herbicide Atrazine, make sure the filter is certified to remove it.
  4. Avoid non-fermented soy, especially if you're pregnant. Also, never use soy-based infant formula.
  5. Optimize your (and your child's) vitamin D levels. A 2011 study found that girls who are vitamin D deficient may be more than twice as susceptible to premature puberty as girls with optimal vitamin D levels.
  6. Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic containers, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA-containing liners).
  7. Use glass baby bottles and BPA-free Sippy cups for your little ones, and never, ever, ever microwave your child's food in plastic containers. (It's best to avoid microwaving food altogether.)
  8. Make sure your baby's toys are BPA-free, such as pacifiers, teething rings, and anything your child may put in her mouth.
  9. Use only natural cleaning products in your home to avoid phthalates and other toxic ingredients.
  10. Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, and cosmetics. Avoid all fluoride-containing products and fluoridated water. The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database21 is a great resource for finding personal care products that are free of phthalates, parabens, and other potentially dangerous chemicals.
  11. Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, and synthetic fragrances.
  12. Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
  13. When remodeling your home, look for "green," toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
  14. Replace your vinyl shower curtain with a fabric one.
  15. When buying new products such as furniture, mattresses, and infant cribs, or carpet padding, ask what type of fire retardant it contains. Be mindful of and/or avoid items containing PBDEs, antimony, formaldehyde, boric acid, and other brominated chemicals—all of which can have an adverse effect on your hormones. As you replace these toxic items around your home, select those that contain naturally less flammable materials, such as leather, wool, and cotton.
  16. Avoid stain- and water-resistant clothing, furniture, and carpets to avoid perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs).

What Attracts Mosquitos and How to Repel Them

Sat, 08/23/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Summertime calls most of us to spend time outdoors, but this means we must share our space with mosquitoes. Scientists say that about one in five people are especially appetizing targets for the little bloodsuckers... are you one of them?

Of the 3,000 species of mosquitoes in the world, roughly 200 can be found in the US, which all differ in their persistence, biting habits, and ability to transmit disease.

Protecting yourself from mosquito bites not only prevents that horrid itching but can also lessen your chances of contracting several mosquito-borne illnesses, such as encephalitis, yellow fever, malaria, West Nile virus, or dengue.

It is estimated that between one and two million people worldwide die each year from mosquito-borne illnesses, the most common being malaria.1

Most commercial insect repellants contain a chemical called DEET, which should be used with caution, if at all. Many studies have found DEET to have harmful effects.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tricks for keeping biting bugs at bay, and they don't involve applying toxic chemicals to your skin. There are also several natural remedies that can help take the sting out of your insect bites, should your preventative efforts fail.

Although the above video is highly informative, it is dangerously wrong at the end as it states that insect repellants with DEET are the only ones that work. That is simply untrue as there are many safer and effective alternatives, like the bug spray we have in our store.

Mosquitoes Plan Their Attack from Behind the 50-Yard-Line

Mosquitoes are attracted to a number of chemical compounds that they can detect from an impressive 50 yards away. The males are not interested in your blood, but the females are a different story, thirsting after the protein and iron in your blood to produce their eggs.

At this point in our scientific knowledge base, we know that mosquitoes are attracted to the following:

  • Bacteria: One trillion microbes live on your skin and create your body odor. Humans have only about 10 percent of these microbes in common—the rest vary between individuals. Some of us have a collection of microbes that are particularly irresistible to mosquitoes.
  • Chemical compounds: When they are sniffing us out, mosquitoes hone in on a wide variety of chemicals—277 were isolated as potential mosquito attractants from human hand odors in one 2000 study.2
  • Some of their favorites are lactic acid, ammonia, carboxylic acid, and octenol (present in human breath and sweat). Mosquitoes are especially drawn to carbon dioxide.

    The more you emit, the more attractive you are to them. Larger people naturally emit more carbon dioxide than smaller people, which is one of the reasons adults seem to be bitten more often than children.

  • Movement and heat: Mosquitoes are drawn to both movement and heat. So if you're exercising outside on a warm summer evening, you're the perfect target—especially if you're short of breath!
Mosquitoes Like OLD Sweat, Not Fresh Sweat

It was once believed that mosquitoes were attracted to human sweat, but science has disproven that the sweat itself attracts them. Instead, they are drawn by the chemical changes produced by bacteria in your sweat.3, 4

Sweat itself is odorless until bacteria act upon it. Although mosquitoes are not attracted to fresh sweat, if you offer them up some "fermented sweat," they'll be all over you.

A 1999 study5 found that human sweat was attractive to malarial mosquitoes after one to two days of incubation. During this time, bacteria in the sweat multiplied, which changed its pH from acidic to alkaline as sweat components decomposed into ammonia.

They also found that malarial mosquitoes flock to foot odor—they will even bite a pair of smelly socks if you hang them up after wearing them for a few days.

Not only do mosquitoes find some odors irresistible, but others have been found to impair their ability to find their hosts—and some of these compounds are secreted by your body. One of these compounds is 1-methylpiperzine, which blocks mosquitoes' sense of smell so effectively that they are rendered oblivious to the presence of a juicy human hand nearby.6

Insect sprays containing 1-methylpiperzine are in the works, but thus far scientists have not been able to determine how to keep the substance from evaporating off of your skin, as naturally occurs over time.

Certain people seem to secrete more of these natural substances than others, making them essentially invisible to mosquitoes, which may help explain why some folks seem to be bitten more than others.

Steer Clear of Chemical Repellants, Especially DEET

Currently, DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is used in hundreds of products, in concentrations of up to an astounding 100 percent. If a chemical melts plastic or fishing line, it's not wise to apply it to your skin—and that is exactly what DEET does. Children are particularly at risk for subtle neurological changes because their skin more readily absorbs chemicals in the environment, and chemicals exert more potent effects on their developing nervous systems. Based on 30 years of clinical studies, DEET exposure can potentially cause the following adverse health effects:7

Memory loss HeadachesMuscle weakness, muscle and joint pain Impaired brain cell function, neurotoxicity8, 9 TremorsSeizures Skin irritation, hives, blistering Nausea and vomitingHypotension Bradycardia Shortness of breathPain, irritation, and watering eyes

Another potentially harmful chemical found in many bug sprays is permethrin. This chemical is a member of the synthetic pyrethroid family, which is known to be neurotoxic. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also deemed permethrin carcinogenic—capable of causing lung tumors, liver tumors, immune system problems, and chromosomal abnormalities. Pyrethroids have recently been linked to behavior problems in children as well.

Permethrin is very toxic to the environment—especially to bees and aquatic life—and is extremely toxic to cats.10 Even a few drops can be lethal to your feline companion. It is used as an ingredient in some topical flea products, so when you see "for dogs only" on the label, it likely contains permethrin. For more information, please refer to the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) extensive 2013 review of bug repellant ingredients.11

Simple Preventative Measures to Avoid Mosquito Bites

Naturally, the best way to avoid mosquito bites is to prevent coming into contact with them in the first place. You can avoid insect bites by staying inside between dawn and dusk, which is when they are most active. Mosquitoes are also thicker in shrubby areas and near standing water. The American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) has a helpful factsheet12 of things you can do to prevent mosquito breeding on your property. Their "Three Ds" of protection are the following:

  • Drain—Mosquitoes require water in which to breed, so carefully drain any and all sources of standing water around your house and yard, including pet bowls, gutters, garbage and recycling bins, spare tires, bird baths, etc.
  • Dress—Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing—long sleeved shirts and long pants, hats, and socks
  • Defend—While the AMCA recommends using commercial repellents, I highly recommend avoiding most chemical repellents for the reasons already discussed; try some of the natural alternatives instead

Bat houses are becoming increasingly popular since bats are voracious consumers of insects, especially mosquitoes. For more on buying a bat house or constructing one yourself, visit the Organization for Bat Conservation.13 Planting marigolds around your yard also works as a bug repellent because the flowers give off a fragrance that bugs dislike. A simple house fan may also help keep mosquitoes at bay if you're having a get-together in your backyard. Dragonflies are also very useful. I have literally thousands of them flying in my backyard. They are the two-inch variety and I haven't had a problem with mosquitoes as they are nearly as effective as bats at reducing the mosquitoes.

Plants Hold the Key to Repelling Mosquitoes Safely

Fortunately, there are highly effective repellents on the market comprising natural botanical oils and extracts that are every bit as effective as DEET, but with none of the potentially harmful effects. You can also make your own repellent using:

  • Cinnamon leaf oil (one study found it was more effective at killing mosquitoes than DEET)
  • Clear liquid vanilla extract14 mixed with olive oil
  • Wash with citronella soap, and then put some 100 percent pure citronella essential oil on your skin. Java Citronella is considered the highest quality citronella on the market
  • Catnip oil (according to one study, this oil is 10 times more effective than DEET)15
  • Lemon eucalyptus was found very effective in a 2014 Australian study;16 a mixture of 32 percent lemon eucalyptus oil provided more than 95 percent protection for three hours, compared to a 40 percent DEET repellent that gave 100 percent protection for seven hours

Use a natural formula  that contains a combination of citronella, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil and vanillin to repel mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, ticks, and other biting insects,which is recommended in a June 2014 article on AlterNet.17.

Extra Thiamine May Make Mosquitoes Think You Stink

A study back in the 1960s indicated that taking vitamin B1 (thiamine) may be effective in discouraging mosquitoes from biting. However, studies since then have been inconclusive.18 The theory is, taking more vitamin B1 than your body requires causes the excess to be excreted through your urine, skin, and sweat. Vitamin B1 produces a skin odor that female mosquitoes seem to find offensive.

This vitamin is water-soluble, and there is no danger of toxicity—even at high doses—so it is a safe measure to try. Dr. Janet Starr Hull recommends taking one vitamin B1 tablet a day from April through October, and then adding 100 mg of B1 to a B100 Complex daily during the mosquito season to make you less attractive to mosquitoes. You may also want to forgo bananas during mosquito season, as something about how they are metabolized appears attract mosquitoes. Research also suggests that regularly consuming garlic or garlic capsules may help protect against both mosquito and tick bites.

Treating Bites and Stings with Herbs and Natural Agents

Once you've been bitten, the objective changes from repelling to treating the itch and inflammation caused by the bite. Fortunately, a variety of herbs and other natural agents are soothing to the skin, and many have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. So, for your occasional mosquito bites, try some of the following:

Aloe Vera: Contains more than 130 active compounds and 34 amino acids that are beneficial to your skin Calendula: An herb with soothing, moisturizing, and rejuvenating propertiesChamomile: The most soothing herb of all, whether used in a tea or applied to the skin; rich in the bioflavonoids apigenin, luteolin, and quercetin Cinnamon: In addition to possibly repelling mosquitoes, cinnamon has antibacterial and antifungal propertiesCucumbers: Helpful for reducing swellingRaw organic honey: An especially powerful variety is Manuka honey from New Zealand, made from bees that feed on flowers of the Manuka bush, also known as the "Tea Tree" Lavender: One of the most popular essential oils for its calming scent, lavender is soothing and antimicrobialNeem oil: Effective against fungal conditions, boils, eczema, and ringworm, and it would undoubtedly help an insect bite as wellTea Tree oil: Helpful for healing cuts, burns, infections, and a multitude of other skin afflictions; also a good antimicrobial and antifungal Basil: Contains camphor and thymol, two compounds that can relieve itching; crush up some fresh herb and apply directly to the bite, or buy the essential oilLemon and lime: Both have anti-itch, antibacterial, and antimicrobial actions; avoid applying citrus juices to your skin when outdoors, however, as blistering can occur when exposed to sunlightPeppermint: The cooling sensation can block other sensations, such as itching, and provide temporary relief; either crushed fresh leaves or the essential oil will do Jewelweed: A wildflower that grows throughout in the Eastern US, helpful for reducing itching from many types of skin ailments, including poison oak and ivy19, 20Tea bags: Swiping a cooled tea bag over your bites can help, as the tannins in the tea act as an astringent, to reduce swelling Apple cider vinegar: Add two to three cups to your bath and soak for 30 minutes; the acidity helps relieve itching Baking soda: Dissolve in your bath and soak for 30 minutes Witch hazel: Make a paste out of witch hazel and baking soda, and apply directly to your bite to reduce swelling Hot or Cold Therapies Can Take the Sting Out of a Bug Bite

You can also use either ice or heat to ease the discomfort from bug bites. An article in Scientific American21 recommends using a simple ice pack to treat painful insect bites in lieu of analgesics. According to an article published in the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin,22 there is little evidence supporting the efficacy of commercial preparations for insect bites, including antihistamines and topical corticosteroids. The authors conclude that the best course of action for mild local reactions is to simply clean the area and apply a cold compress.

Alternatively, applying heat directly to the bite also appears to relieve itchiness, which was confirmed by a 2011 German study.23 One simple way is to apply a heated spoon directly to the area, as demonstrated by Lifehacker.com.24 Just hold the spoon under hot tap water for about a minute to heat the metal, then press it against the bite for a couple of minutes. Naturally, make sure the spoon is not too hot. It shouldn't be scalding enough to actually hurt, so please use some common sense, and make sure to test it on your own skin before applying the heated utensil to a child.

A higher-tech version of a heated spoon is the Therapik—a handheld wand that provides targeted heat for the treatment of itchy bites. Gizmodo25 tested it and concluded that it works as advertised, giving it four out of five stars. The receptors that respond to heat are the same ones that respond to cold, so you will likely achieve the same benefits with a metal spoon taken from your freezer, or simply rubbing ice cubes on it. I have also found that simply covering your bite with tape works really well to suppress the itch.

How to Enjoy the Outdoors Without the Buzzkill

With a little planning and preparation, you should be able to enjoy the outdoors without getting eaten alive. Remember the Three Ds of protection from mosquitoes: drain, dress, and defend. Eliminating the breeding grounds for mosquitoes is the first step to limiting their numbers. Planting marigolds around your yard and maybe installing a bat box or two can also go a long way toward preventing them in the first place. When it comes to defense, I recommend avoiding harsh chemical concoctions and experimenting with some natural alternatives instead.

Some may work better than others for each individual, as mosquitoes in particular are attracted to certain biochemical components in your skin, and different types of mosquitoes have different attractions and aversions. Should your preventive measures fail, there are well over a dozen different home remedies that can help, from herbs to baking soda to ice packs or heat, whether in the form of a heated or cold spoon, compress, or electronic gadget, or maybe even just a piece of tape.

9 Health Benefits of Cucumbers

Sat, 08/23/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Cucumbers belong to the same plant family as squash, pumpkin, and watermelon (the Cucurbitaceae family). Like watermelon, cucumbers are made up of mostly (95 percent) water, which means eating them on a hot summer day can help you stay hydrated.

However, there's reason to eat cucumbers all year long. With vitamin K, B vitamins, copper, potassium, vitamin C, and manganese, cucumbers can help you to avoid nutrient deficiencies that are widespread among those eating a typical American diet.

Plus, cucumbers contain unique polyphenols and other compounds that may help reduce your risk of chronic diseases and much, much more.

9 Reasons to Eat Cucumbers

1. Protect Your Brain

Cucumbers contain an anti-inflammatory flavonol called fisetin that appears to play an important role in brain health. In addition to improving your memory and protecting your nerve cells from age-related decline,1 fisetin has been found to prevent progressive memory and learning impairments in mice with Alzheimer's disease.2

2. Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

Cucumbers contain polyphenols called lignans (pinoresinol, lariciresinol, and secoisolariciresinol), which may help to lower your risk of breast, uterine, ovarian, and prostate cancers.3 They also contain phytonutrients called cucurbitacins, which also have anti-cancer properties. According to the George Mateljan Foundation:4

"Scientists have already determined that several different signaling pathways (for example, the JAK-STAT and MAPK pathways) required for cancer cell development and survival can be blocked by activity of cucurbitacins."

3. Fight Inflammation

Cucumbers may help to "cool" the inflammatory response in your body, and animal studies suggest that cucumber extract helps reduce unwanted inflammation, in part by inhibiting the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes (including cyclo-oxygenase 2, or COX-2).5

4. Antioxidant Properties

Cucumbers contain numerous antioxidants, including the well-known vitamin C and beta-carotene. They also contain antioxidant flavonoids, such as quercetin, apigenin, luteolin, and kaempferol,6 which provide additional benefits.

For instance, quercetin is an antioxidant that many believe prevents histamine release—making quercetin-rich foods "natural antihistamines." Kaempferol, meanwhile, may help fight cancer and lower your risk of chronic diseases including heart disease.

5. Freshen Your Breath

Placing a cucumber slice on the roof of your mouth may help to rid your mouth of odor-causing bacteria. According to the principles of Ayurveda, eating cucumbers may also help to release excess heat in your stomach, which is said to be a primary cause of bad breath.7

6. Manage Stress

Cucumbers contain multiple B vitamins, including vitamin B1, vitamin B5, and vitamin B7 (biotin). B vitamins are known to help ease feelings of anxiety and buffer some of the damaging effects of stress.

7. Support Your Digestive Health

Cucumbers are rich in two of the most basic elements needed for healthy digestion: water and fiber. If you struggle with acid reflux, you should know that drinking water can help suppress acute symptoms of acid reflux by temporarily raising stomach pH; it's possible that water-rich cucumbers may have a similar effect.

Cucumber skins contain insoluble fiber, which helps add bulk to your stool. This helps food to move through your digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination.

8. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Cucumbers are very low in calories, yet they make a filling snack (one cup of sliced cucumber contains just 16 calories).8 The soluble fiber in cucumbers dissolves into a gel-like texture in your gut, helping to slow down your digestion. This helps you to feel full longer and is one reason why fiber-rich foods may help with weight control.

9. Support Heart Health

Cucumbers contain potassium, which is associated with lower blood pressure levels. A proper balance of potassium both inside and outside your cells is crucial for your body to function properly.

As an electrolyte, potassium is a positive charged ion that must maintain a certain concentration (about 30 times higher inside than outside your cells) in order to carry out its functions, which includes interacting with sodium to help control nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, and heart function.

Cucumbers Make a Great Base for Vegetable Juice

There are many ways to enjoy cucumbers, such as fermented or raw in vinegar-based salads. If you're looking for something different, cucumbers make an ideal base for your vegetable juice due to their mild flavor and high water content. In fact, a simple juice of cucumber and celery is ideal for those new to juicing.

From there you can work your way up to red leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, spinach, and escarole, along with parsley and cilantro. Juicing is actually an ideal way to consume cucumbers.

When you drink fresh-made green juice, it is almost like receiving an intravenous infusion of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes because they go straight into your system without having to be broken down. When your body has an abundance of the nutrients it needs, and your pH is optimally balanced, you will feel energized and your immune system will get a boost.

Organic Cucumbers Are Worth It

If you're wondering whether you should choose organic cucumbers over conventionally grown varieties, I'd suggest organic. Cucumbers were ranked the 12th most contaminated food and the second in cancer risk due to their pesticide content, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Further, cucumbers are often waxed after harvest to withstand the long journey to market unscarred and to protect against the many hands that touch it. While the wax is supposed to be food-grade and safe, there are different types used:9

  • Carnauba wax (from the carnauba palm tree)
  • Beeswax
  • Shellac (from the lac beetle)
  • Petroleum-based waxes

The natural waxes are far preferable to the petroleum-based waxes, which may contain solvent residues or wood rosins. Produce coated with wax is not labeled as such, but organic produce will not contain petroleum-based wax coatings (although it may contain carnauba wax or insect shellac).

The other potential issue is that wax seals in pesticide residues and debris, making them even more difficult to remove with just water. To reach the contaminants buried beneath the surface of your vegetables and fruits, you need a cleanser that also removes the wax, which is what my fruit and vegetable wash does. You could also peel the cucumber, but that is one of the most nutrient-dense parts of the cucumber (the other is the seeds), so it's better to consume it if you can.

What Else Are Cucumbers Good For?

Flavonoids and tannins in cucumbers have been found to have both free-radical scavenging and pain-relieving effects, while it has a number of traditional folk uses as well. As written in the Journal of Young Pharmacists:10 "Traditionally, this plant is used for headaches; the seeds are cooling and diuretic, the fruit juice of this plant is used as a nutritive and as a demulcent in anti-acne lotions."

As the fourth-most widely cultivated "vegetable" in the world (cucumbers are technically a fruit), cucumbers are widely available, but seek to get them from a local farmer's market if you can. Even better, cucumbers are very easy to grow, even if you only have access to a patio. They thrive in containers (provide they have somewhere to climb on) and produce ample produce from a small number of plants, so you could try your hand at growing them yourself.

Visit Our Food Facts Library for Empowering Nutrition Information

If you want to learn even more about what's in the food you're eating, visit our Food Facts library. Most people are not aware of the wealth of nutrients available in healthful foods, particularly organic fruits and vegetables. By getting to know your food, you can make informed decisions about how to eat healthier and thereby boost your brain function, lower your risk of chronic disease, lose weight, and much more.

Food Facts is a directory of the most highly recommended health foods to add to your wholesome diet. Its purpose is to provide you with valuable information about various types of foods including recipes to help you maximize these benefits. You'll learn about nutrition facts, scientific studies, and even interesting trivia about each food in the Food Facts library. Remember, knowing what's in your food is the first step to choosing and preparing nutritious meals each and every day. So visit Mercola Food Facts today to get started.

Vitamin D for Depression, Dementia, and Diabetes

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Vitamin D research has repeatedly shown that vitamin D can improve a number of brain disorders, including depression and dementia—the most devastating form of which is Alzheimer's disease.

Vitamin D receptors appear in a wide variety of brain tissue early in the fetal development, and activated vitamin D receptors increase nerve growth in your brain.

Researchers believe that optimal vitamin D levels may enhance the amount of important chemicals in your brain and protect brain cells by increasing the effectiveness of the glial cells in nursing damaged neurons back to health.

Vitamin D may also exert some of its beneficial effects on your brain through its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties.

Vitamin D Deficiency Drastically Raises Your Risk for Dementia

According to one recent study,1 , 2 seniors who have low vitamin D levels may double their risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Specifically, compared to those with vitamin D levels in the normal range:

  • Those with low levels had a 53 percent increased risk for dementia, and a 70 percent higher risk of Alzheimer's
  • Severely deficient individuals had a 125 percent higher risk for dementia and 120 percent higher risk for Alzheimer's

 As noted by the authors: "This adds to the ongoing debate about the role of vitamin D in nonskeletal conditions."

The Link Between Depression and Dementia 

Other recent research has found links between depression and dementia, and between vitamin D deficiency and depression. One eight-year-long study3 from Rush University Medical Center found that higher levels of depression translated into greater risk for dementia later on.

The severity of the depression was also linked to the speed of memory decline—the worse the depression, the faster the decline in memory. According to lead researcher Robert S. Wilson:

"These findings are exciting because they suggest depression truly is a risk factor for dementia, and if we can target and prevent or treat depression and causes of stress we may have the potential to help people maintain their thinking and memory abilities into old age."

Studies4 point to the fact that low vitamin D levels also predispose you to depression, so the links between vitamin D, dementia, and depression indeed appear to be quite real.

In essence, vitamin D deficiency raises your risk of both depression and dementia, so the fact that depressed individuals have a higher risk of dementia then becomes rather logical—but the root of the problem is likely to be a lack of vitamin D, not depression in and of itself.

Vitamin D Deficiency Predisposes You to Depression

In one previous study, seniors with the lowest levels of vitamin D were found to be 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels. More recent research was discussed in a Times Online article:5

"The Amsterdam research, which tracked over 1,200 people aged 65 to 95, showed that blood vitamin D levels were 14 percent lower in individuals with major and minor depression compared with non-depressed participants.

A study in the United States indicated that vitamin D deficiency occurred more often in certain people, including African-Americans, city dwellers, the obese, and those suffering from depression.

People with vitamin D levels below 20 ng/mL had an 85 percent increased risk of depression compared to those with vitamin D levels greater than 30 ng/mL" [Emphasis mine]

Vitamin D deficiency has long been associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder6 (SAD), and in 2007, researchers noted that vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression and fibromyalgia.7

A double-blind randomized trial8 published in 2008 also concluded that: "It appears to be a relation between serum levels of 25(OH)D and symptoms of depression. Supplementation with high doses of vitamin D seems to ameliorate these symptoms indicating a possible causal relationship."

Vitamin D May Reduce Depression and Diabetic Pain

Vitamin D supplementation has been found to reduce both depression and diabetic pain.9, 10 Here, researchers assessed how vitamin D supplementation affected women with type 2 diabetes who were also diagnosed with depression.

At the outset of the study, 61 percent of participants reported neuropathic pain (shooting or burning pain in their legs and feet); 74 percent reported numbness and tingling in their extremities. The participants were given 50,000 IUs of vitamin D2 once a week for six months. At follow-up, both depression and pain scores had improved.

According to lead researcher Todd Doyle, Ph.D., vitamin D supplementation "is a promising treatment for both pain and depression in type 2 diabetes." However, I would note that you'd probably get even better results using vitamin D3 rather than prescription D2. In fact, previous research suggests vitamin D2 might do more harm than good in the long term.

Optimizing Your Vitamin D Also Reduces Your Risk of Diabetes, New Study Suggests

Bringing the focus of this article full circle is research showing that vitamin D may also play a role in type 2 diabetes; so now we have a number of cross-links between vitamin D and dementia, depression, and diabetes. One Indian study found that vitamin D and calcium supplementation in combination with exercise can aid prediabetic individuals by preventing the progression into full blown diabetes. 

Since exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve your insulin and leptin sensitivity, this certainly makes sense, and may make it more difficult to ascertain which of the two factors—vitamin D or exercise—had the greatest impact. Either way, both are part and parcel of diabetes prevention, so the results still speak to the power of simple lifestyle modifications. As noted by Nephrology News:11

"Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to prediabetes, which is a blood glucose, or sugar, level that is too high but not high enough to be considered diabetes. It is unclear, however, if bringing low vitamin D blood levels to normal through supplementation will affect progression to diabetes.

In the new study, every unit increase in vitamin D level after supplementation of the vitamin decreased the risk of progression to diabetes by eight percent... 'Without healthy lifestyle changes, nothing works to prevent diabetes in at-risk individuals,' said the lead author, Deep Dutta, MD, DM... 'However, our results are encouraging because the addition of vitamin D and calcium supplements is easy and low in cost.'" [Emphasis mine]

Here, a vitamin D level below 30 ng/ml was considered insufficient. All participants in the study were prediabetic. The treatment group received a once-weekly dose of 60,000 IUs of vitamin D3, along with 1,250 milligrams (mg) of calcium carbonate daily, for eight weeks. A second group received only the calcium supplement. Both groups were advised to get 30 minutes of daily exercise. More than two years worth of follow-up revealed that:

  • Just under 11 percent of those receiving both vitamin D3 and calcium became diabetic, while 26.5 percent of the calcium-only group developed diabetes
  • Blood sugar levels normalized in over twice as many of those in the vitamin D/calcium group, compared to the calcium-only group (41.8 percent versus 20.4 percent respectively)
US Seniors are at Particular Risk for ALL of These Problems

As noted in a recent MedicineNet article12, 60 percent of seniors seen in emergency rooms (ER) across the US are either malnourished or at risk for malnutrition—despite 95 percent of them having primary care physicians, and 96 percent had health insurance, and being otherwise mentally competent. Those most likely to be malnourished were seniors who:

  • Suffered from depression
  • Lived in assisted-living facilities
  • Had trouble swallowing or chewing due to issues with their dentures or dental pain
  • Had difficulty shopping for groceries

Vitamin D sufficiency is important both when it comes to preventing depression and pain, but a vast majority of seniors are also vitamin D deficient. So here again we see how a vicious cycle can be set into motion by vitamin D deficiency.

How to Optimize Your Vitamin D Level

When it comes to vitamin D, you want to be in the "optimal" range, not the "normal" one. Based on the evaluation of healthy populations that get plenty of natural sun exposure, the optimal range for general health appears to be somewhere between 50 and 70 ng/ml. 


Sources

As for HOW to optimize your vitamin D levels, I firmly believe that sensible sun exposure is the best way. There's a smartphone app called DMinder (dminder.info) that will tell you how much UV radiation you're getting and how many IUs of vitamin D you're making based on your local weather conditions (reported from the weather service) and other individual parameters such as your skin tone and age. It will also tell you when to get out of the sun, to protect yourself from sunburn.

If you can't get enough sunshine, then a safe tanning bed would be your next best option. Most tanning equipment use magnetic ballasts to generate light. These magnetic ballasts are well known sources of EMF fields that can contribute to cancer. If you hear a loud buzzing noise while in a tanning bed, it has a magnetic ballast system. I strongly recommend you avoid these types of beds and restrict your use of tanning beds to those that use electronic ballasts.

If your circumstances don't allow you to access the sun or a safe tanning bed, then you really only have one option left, and that is to take a vitamin D supplement. GrassrootsHealth has a helpful chart showing the average adult dose required to reach healthy vitamin D levels based upon your measured starting point. Many experts agree that 35 IUs of vitamin D per pound of body weight could be used as an estimate for your ideal dose.

The Vitamin D Council aims to raise awareness among the general public on the growing vitamin D deficiency pandemic and the benefits of sun exposure. They are currently at the end of fund drive but there is still time to participate. Your support will allow them to increase their efforts in reducing the burden of vitamin D deficiency and begin the many exciting projects they have lined up.

If You Opt for Oral Vitamin D, Remember Vitamin K2

Keep in mind that if you opt for a vitamin D supplement, you also need to take vitamin K2. 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 K2 deficiency is actually what produces the consequences similar to vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries.

The reason for this is, when you take vitamin D, your body creates more vitamin K2-dependent proteins that move calcium around in your body. Without vitamin K2, those proteins remain inactivated, so the benefits of those proteins remain unrealized. So remember, if you take supplemental vitamin D, you're creating an increased demand for K2. Together, these two nutrients help strengthen your bones and improve your heart health.

Test Your Levels at Least Once a Year—Even if You're Healthy

I recommend testing your vitamin D level at least once a year, in the middle of the winter when your level would be at its lowest. This will give you an idea of the extent of your insufficiency. Ideally, you'd want to get your level tested several times a year, at regular intervals, to ensure you're continuously staying within the ideal range. Once you know your pattern and can comfortably predict that you will not fall below 60 ng/ml, then it would be fine to shift to annual testing.

I believe vitamin D testing should be at the top of virtually everyone's list—but especially pregnant women and cancer patients. It's important to remember that optimal vitamin D levels appear to offer powerful PREVENTION of a whole host of chronic diseases, so please, do not wait for a problem to appear before addressing your vitamin D status.

The D*Action Project by GrassrootsHealth is one cost effective solution. To participate, simply purchase the D*Action Measurement Kit and follow the registration instructions included. (Please note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the kits go to fund the research project. I do not charge a single dime as a distributor of the test kits.)

As a participant, you agree to test your vitamin D levels twice a year during a five-year study, and share your health status to demonstrate the public health impact of this nutrient. There is a $65 fee every six months for your sponsorship of this research project, which includes a test kit to be used at home, and electronic reports on your ongoing progress. You will get a follow up email every six months reminding you "it's time for your next test and health survey."

Why Your Brain Needs a Garden

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 02:00

By Dr. Mercola

Mirabel Osler, an English writer and garden designer, famously said: "There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling."

Indeed, gardening, a pastime taken up by 72 percent of US households,1 awakens a primal urge that many of us have to connect with the earth. By putting your hands in the soil, you are able to physically unite with nature on an elemental level.

At the same time, gardening 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.

When you garden, you're adding beauty to the landscape and habitat for birds, bees, frogs, worms, and so much more. Depending on what you garden, you can reap a harvest of fruits and vegetables to feed your family. You can also indirectly feed your brain for better mood and emotional health, and to satisfy your curiosity for knowledge.

In fact, learning is the fourth top reason why people say they garden -- after to grow safe, healthy food, get exercise, and add beauty to their yard.2 Perhaps it's no coincidence that people garden, in part, to stimulate their brains, as gardening has been shown to impact brain health considerably.

Spending Time in a Garden May Help Calm Dementia Patients

A new 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, led to decreased levels of agitation or anxiety among the patients.3

As for why the garden may help induce calm, Dr. Mark Stecker, chairman of neurosciences at Winthrop-University Hospital, who was not involved with the study, said:4

"When your brain is impaired, you go back to your basic instincts. Many people have always enjoyed the outdoors. They may not have an explicit memory of that, but it's an implicit memory. And they find it comforting to be outside."

This makes sense, especially considering researchers in the Netherlands have found that gardening is one of the most potent stress-relieving activities there is.5 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.

Interestingly, while spending time in a garden may help relieve some dementia symptoms, it may also help to reduce your risk of developing dementia in the first place. As reported by CNN:6

"Two separate studies that followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years found, respectively, that those who gardened regularly had a 36 percent and 47 percent lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners, even when a range of other health factors were taken into account.

These findings are hardly definitive, but they suggest that the combination of physical and mental activity involved in gardening may have a positive influence on the mind."

Gardening May Make You Happy Via Antidepressant Microbes in the Soil

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, which people may ingest or inhale when they garden.8 Remarkably, this microbe has been found to "mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide."9 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."

In one animal study, mice that ingested Mycobacterium vaccae had a demonstrated reduction in anxiety and improved learning. The researchers noted that natural exposure to microbes may be important for emotional health and behavior: 10

"Recent studies show that contact with tolerogenic microbes is important for the proper functioning of immunoregulatory circuits affecting behavior, emotionality and health…

Collectively, our results suggest a beneficial effect of naturally delivered, live M. vaccae on anxiety-related behaviors… supporting a positive role for ambient microbes in the immunomodulation of animal behavior."

A Free Way to Drastically Improve the Health of Your Soil

Nurturing the health of your soil may benefit you on multiple levels, not only by exposure to mood-boosting microbes but also because healthy soil is what allows your food, the vegetables and fruits, to grow nutrient-dense foods.

Nature is self-sustaining, and when left alone the ground will get covered with leaves and organic materials that then turn into lush compost, adding nutrients back to the soil. This top layer of organic material also shields the soil and helps retain moisture.

Imitating nature by covering your garden with wood chips will result in less watering and improved yield. The most cost-effective solution is to contact your local tree service, where you can get large amounts of wood chips (tree branches that have gone through a wood chipper) for free, rather than purchasing mulch from a garden center.

It is important to distribute all the chips within 1-2 days though, otherwise they tend to decompose and you will breathe in some nasty dust as you move them. You can see my recent article for more information on wood chips. Besides wood chips, I strongly encourage you to consider adding biochar to your garden, to optimize the health of your soil. This soil amendment can truly transform your garden, in terms of dramatically boosting yields.

One of the keys to a truly successful garden is to improve the microbiology of the soil. It is this diverse collection of bacteria, fungi, and parasites that actually transfer the nutrients from the soil into the plant. While synthetic fertilizers like Miracle Grow will supply some nutrients, these salts actually kill the soil microbes! As a result, your garden will not become "self-sustaining" and it will worsen over time.

To thrive and multiply, these soil microbes need a home to hang out in, or else they simply die shortly after application. Biochar serves this function perfectly as do wood chips as, over time, they are converted to carbon stable humates. I've applied about eight tons of biochar on my property, and I'm now noticing major improvements. Biochar is not free, but wood chips typically are. I have applied 30 tons of chips and hope to double or triple that amount soon. Nitrogen sources like human urine can be a helpful approach to balance the mixture.

Gardening Helps You Get Grounded

There's another way that gardening may help your mood and brain health, and that is grounding. As detailed in the documentary film Grounded, the surface of the earth holds subtle health-boosting energy, and all you have to do to harness it is touch it. Walking barefoot on the earth transfers free electrons from the earth's surface into your body that then spread throughout your tissues.

Grounding has been shown to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, improve sleep, and enhance your well-being. Monty Don, a TV presenter and garden writer, attributes the wellbeing of gardeners to the "recharging" you get from sticking your hands in the soil and spending time outdoors in nature.11 To maximize grounding while you're gardening, try doing so barefoot.

Are You Ready to Try Out Your Green Thumb?

Aside from increasing your sense of well-being and calm, keeping a garden can also improve your health by providing you with fresher, uncontaminated food; nutrient-dense food that is simply unavailable in your grocery store. It will also help you reduce your grocery bill. You don't need vast amounts of space either.

Even apartment dwellers can create a well-stocked edible garden. You can use virtually every square foot of your space to grow food, including your lateral space. Hanging baskets are ideal for a wide variety of crops, such as strawberries, leafy greens, runner beans, pea shoots, tomatoes, and a variety of herbs. You can also grow sprouts like sunflower seeds and reap a harvest in 7-10 days.

And instead of flowers, window boxes can hold herbs, greens, radishes, scallions, bush beans, strawberries, chard, and chilies, for example. Just start small, and as you get the hang of it, add another container of something else. To learn more, please see my previous article on creating edible gardens in small spaces. Before you know it, large portions of your meals could come straight from your own edible garden. I recommend getting your feet wet by growing sprouts, which can be grown at any time of year. And with fall nearly upon us in the US, you can even create a winter garden.

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Baron Dayne