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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Your Meat On Drugs


We can't taste antibiotics or hormones, but most meat-eaters in the US consume them every day.

Several different drugs have been found in the grain-based feeds given to animals grown in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) including
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Tranquilizers
  • Cardiac stimulant drugs
  • Anti-parasitic medications
  • Growth-promoting hormones
  • Sex hormones estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone
  • Antibiotics like penicillin and gentamicin

A report from the Office of Inspector General, part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), found that violations among meat producers are rampant (4 plants had more than 200 violations) and acknowledged that consuming residues of drugs in meat "could result in stomach, nerve, or skin problems."

Meat from CAFOs has also been found to be contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria. According to an analysis of data from the FDA by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used on cattle, pigs and poultry. The over-use of antibiotics in animals has greatly contributed to the rise of "superbugs" and antibiotic resistance in humans, which has become a major health crisis. Antibiotics fed to animals are even turning up in plant foods when crops are treated with manure from CAFOs.

Several other chemicals and contaminants have been found in grain-based animal feeds including
  • Artificial flavors
  • Heavy metals 
  • Industrial waste
  • Genetically modified organisms
  • Pesticides

Pesticides in meat have been linked to other health problems including hormone imbalances, weight gain, imbalances in intestinal flora, problems with digestion, and in children, cognitive and behavioral problems.

And according to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, "several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholersterol synthesis, insulin regulartion, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen, and gastrointestinal system."

When we consume meat, milk, or eggs from grain-fed animals, the chemicals in their bodies become chemicals in our bodies. Bacteria may be neutralized by cooking but the other chemicals aren’t and even the USDA warns that these “residues may produce toxic or allergic reactions.”

Avoid grain-fed animal products and choose grass-fed and pasture-raised meats instead. Animals raised on pasture aren't routinely given drugs or grain-based feeds contaminated with chemicals. Because they eat their natural diet, they're naturally healthy and they don't need drugs.

Healthier animals produce healthier products. Compared to grain-fed animal products, those from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals have been found to contain more carotenoids (precursors to vitamin A), vitamin E, antioxidants like glutathione, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a polyunsaturated fat found to protect against cancer.

They also have a more natural fatty acid profile similar to what we see in wild animals including more anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and fewer pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats.

Find grass-fed and pasture-raised meats, eggs, and dairy products at your local farmers' market and grocery stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. 

References:

Andersson A.M. and Skakkebaek N.E. 1999. Exposure to exogenous estrogens in food: possible impact on human development and health. European Journal of Endocrinology 140(6):477-85.

Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2012. Antibiotic Resistance in Foodborne Pathogens: Evidence of the Need for a Risk Management Strategy. Available at: http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/abrupdate.pdf.

Cimitile M. 2009. Crops Absorb Livestock Antibiotics, Science Shows. Environmental Health News. Available at: http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/antibiotics-in-crops/ (accessed 6 July 2012).

Consumer Reports. 2012. Meat on Drugs. Available at http://www.consumerreports.org/content/dam/cro/news_articles/health/Consumer%20Reports%20Meat%20On%20Drugs%20Report%2006-12.pdf (accessed 6 September 2012).

Daley C.A. et al. 2010. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal 9:10.

Elliott CT et al. 1993. Effective laboratory monitoring for the abuse of the beta-agonist clenbuterol in cattle. The Analyst 118(4):447-8.

Epstein S.S. 1990. The chemical jungle: today's beef industry. International Journal of Health Services 20(2):277-80.

Gilbert N. 2012. Cost of human-animal disease greatest for world's poor. Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2012.10953.

Li Y et al. 2005. A survey of selected heavy metal concentrations in Wisconsin dairy feeds. Journal of Dairy Science 88(8):2911-22.

United States Department of Agriculture. 2010. Food Safety and Inspection Service National Residue Program for Cattle. Available at: http://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/24601-08-KC.pdf

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Healthiest Chocolate


Cacao beans are one of the richest natural sources of antioxidants. Traditionally they are roasted, fermented and crushed to make chocolate liquor, which is separated into cocoa butter and cocoa mass, which is crushed into cocoa powder. These components, in varying amounts, are used to make chocolate.

Compounds like polyphenols, flavonols, proanthocyanidins, and catechins in cocoa powder have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and cancer, so the healthiest chocolates have the highest cocoa content.

When you're selecting chocolate, it's essential to read labels and scrutinize ingredients. Here are some things to look for:
  • Pick chocolate that is 72% to 85% dark. The darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of cocoa powder (and the more bitter the flavor).
  • The only fat should come from cocoa butter. Avoid chocolates with added oils and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated ingredients of any kind.
  • Choose chocolates that list cocoa powder, cocoa mass, chocolate liquor, and/or cocoa butter before sugar.
  • Avoid products that contain corn syrup, agave, or artificial sweeteners.
  • Avoid chocolate that conatins additives like emulsifiers, stabilizers, and preservatives.
  • Avoid chocolate that contains Dutch-process or alkalinized cocoa powder. 
Dutch-process or alkalinized cocoa powder is made from cacao beans that have been treated with an alkalizing agent to neutralize natural acidity. Some manufacturers favor Dutch-process or alkalinized cocoa powder because it is more soluble, milder in flavor, and darker in color. But because alkalizing agents destroy healthy antioxidants, always opt for chocolate made with natural unprocessed and unsweetened cocoa powder instead.

Enjoy dark chocolate by itself, pair it with red wine, or use it to make Dark Chocolate Cranberry Clusters.

References:

Lewis J et al. 2010. Habitual chocolate intake and vascular disease: A prospective study of clinical outcomes in older women. Archives of Internal Medicine 170:1857.

Grassi D., Lippi C., Necozione S., Desideri G., and Ferri C. 2005. Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 81(3):611-4.

Grassi D., Necozione S., Lippi C., Croce G., Valeri L., Pasqualetti P., et al. 2005. Cocoa reduces blood pressure and insulin resistance and improves endothelium-dependent vasodilation in hypertensives. Hypertension 46(2):398-405.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Preventing Holiday Weight Gain

Many believe that gaining weight is inevitable during the holidays but I disagree. In case you missed my blog on vitamin D and weight loss, here are my top five tips for preventing weight gain during the holidays.

# 1  Get daily sun exposure but not enough to cause sunburn, preferably in the early morning hours, and take 800 to 1200 IU of vitamin D3 daily. Higher doses can carry side effects and so far research studies don't show bigger benefits.

# 2  Exercise regularly, even when you're busy. If you'll be traveling, take your athletic shoes along so you can exercise anywhere, even if you only have time for a brisk 30-minute walk.

# 3  Eat protein, healthy fat, and fiber at every meal.

# 4  Minimize your intake of sweets, starches, caffeine, and alcohol.

# 5  Get plenty of sleep and keep a regular schedule as much as you can.

Once the holidays are over, schedule an appointment with your naturopathic doctor to address the environmental aspects of weight gain.

More than 400 chemicals from the environment have been found in human blood and fat tissue and many of them have been linked to weight gain and obesity, as well as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, infertility, depression, Alzheimer's disease, and even cancer.

Let your naturopathic doctor tailor a detox program to meet your individual needs and help you achieve your weight loss goals.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0615228380/ref=as_li_tf_til?tag=adifkinofdoc-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=0615228380&adid=1KJQGRFQTXYNY9GGJZNX&

In their book, Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, Dr. Catherine Shanahan and Luke Shanahan delve into one of the most fascinating scientific developments to happen during my lifetime: Epigenetics. How the environment changes genetic expression. The idea that the human genome is dynamic and constantly adapting. The implication that we can control the health of our genes.

One way that we can control the health of our genes is through food. Shanahans explain that "food is like a language, an unbroken information stream that connects every cell in your body to an aspect of the natural world. The better the source and the more undamaged the message when it arrives to your cells, the better your health will be."

In this book you'll learn why organ meats were the "original vitamin supplements" (page 72), why children are best spaced four years apart (page 94), how sugar can cause birth defects (page 207), and why "every bite you eat changes your genes a little bit" (page 21).

It's a fascinating read and makes a good gift.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Vitamin D and Weight Loss


Vitamin D has several functions in the body. It helps keep our bones strong and plays important roles in immunity and neuromuscular function. It's also a key regulator of fat and metabolism.

Our skin makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Levels are naturally highest in the summer when days are long and the sun's rays are most intense. Vitamin D deficiency is most common in winter, when days are short and the sun's rays are least intense.

Observational studies show that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D gain more weight, on average, than people with the highest levels. This doesn't mean that low vitamin D levels cause weight gain, but it does show that low levels of vitamin D may predispose people to gain weight more easily.

Evidence is emerging that tests for measuring vitamin D in the body are unreliable and may be influenced by factors like inflammation, which has been shown to decrease levels of vitamin D. Even if testing would produce accurate results, it only tracks a couple of vitamin D metabolites, but more than 50 exist in the body.

Vitamin D supplements don't have the same effect as sun exposure. Sunlight stimulates several different biochemical pathways, and vitamin D production is only one of the beneficial effects. Sunlight also helps regulate our circadian rhythm, which can act as a master control switch for fat metabolism.

To maintain a healthy weight during the holidays, follow these five tips:

# 1  Get daily sun exposure, preferably in the early morning hours, and take 800 to 1200 IU of vitamin D3 daily. Higher doses can carry side effects and so far research studies don't show bigger benefits. Avoid intense sun exposure.

# 2  Exercise regularly, even when you're busy. Prioritize it and make it happen. When you travel, take your athletic shoes along so you can exercise anywhere, even if you only have time for a brisk 30-minute walk.

# 3  Eat protein, healthy fat, and fiber at every meal. 

# 4  Minimize your intake of sweets, starches, caffeine, and alcohol.

# 5  Get plenty of sleep and keep a regular schedule as much as you can.

Once the holidays are over, schedule an appointment with your naturopathic doctor to address the environmental aspects of weight gain.

More than 400 chemicals from the environment have been found in human blood and fat tissue and many of them have been linked to weight gain and obesity (as well as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, infertility, depression, Alzheimer's disease, and even cancer).

Let your naturopathic doctor tailor a detox program to meet your individual needs and help you achieve your weight loss goals.

References:

Janesick A. and Blumberg B. 2012. Obesogens, stem cells and the developmental programming of obesity. International Journal of Andrology 35(3):437-48.

Leblanc E.S. et al. 2012. Associations between 25-hydroxyvitamin d and weight gain in elderly women. Journal of Women's Health 21(10):1066-73.

Thayer K.A. et al. 2012. Role of Environmental Chemicals in Diabetes and Obesity: A National Toxicology Program Workshop Review. Environmental Health Perspectives 120(6): 779–789.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Travel Healthy


Vacations are good for us. Taking time to rest and relax can revitalize our bodies as well as our minds. Unfortunately, getting sick while traveling isn’t uncommon and it can ruin any holiday.

People often blame unfamiliar and unfriendly microbes found in new environments, and they may certainly play a part, but so does our susceptibility to sickness. The stress, lack of sleep, and changes in daily routines that come with travel all take a toll on our immune systems, making us more vulnerable to illness and infection.

Follow these tips to strengthen your immunity and reduce your risk of getting sick when you travel.

Manage Stress

Stress suppresses our immune systems. When we’re physically or emotionally stressed, our adrenal glands secrete stress hormones like cortisol as part of an inherent survival instinct. Cortisol prepares the body for "fight or flight" action by raising alertness, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, boosting levels of blood sugar and insulin, and suppressing bodily functions that aren’t immediately necessary, like immune surveillance, the search and destroy mission of our white blood cells that protect the body from bacteria and viruses that make us sick.

We can’t avoid stress completely but we can minimize its effects on our immune systems by learning to manage it effectively with activities like yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation. When you travel, plan ahead as much as possible to make your time of transit worry-free.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep is like a master control switch in the body. It regulates our immune systems and makes our white blood cells more active against viruses and bacteria. Adults should sleep eight hours or more each night in the summer, when nights are naturally shorter, and nine hours or more each night in the winter, when nights are naturally longer.

If you’ll be traveling during the hours you’re usually snoozing, bring along whatever you need to help you sleep (neck pillow, eye mask, ear plugs).

Maintain A Regular Routine

Our bodies are sensitive to our daily routines. Sleeping a different number of hours or even the same number of hours at different times can disrupt our circadian rhythm and the hormones that control immunity and metabolism.

When you travel to new time zones, help your body adjust by sleeping only at night and in complete darkness, waking up as close to sunrise as possible, and exposing your skin to some early morning sunshine. As much as you can, keep regular hours for sleeping, waking, eating, and exercising.

Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise can improve immunity as long as you don’t overdo it. Exercise at moderate intensity and limit workouts to an hour at a time. Too much exercise or exercise that’s too intense can raise cortisol levels and suppress the immune system.

Always bring along your athletic shoes when you travel. They allow you to exercise anywhere, even if it’s just a brisk half hour walk. Resistance bands and jump ropes are also easy to pack and they can be used anywhere too.

Eat Well

Eating a healthy diet is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system. Avoid sweet and starchy foods, and include healthy fat and protein with each meal. Make vegetables at least half of every meal, especially those high in beta carotene like carrots and green leafy vegetables.

Because leafy greens are on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen Plus list of foods most contaminated with pesticides, buy them organic or stick to cabbage, which is on their Clean Fifteen list.

Avoid Afternoon Caffeine

Caffeine elevates cortisol levels, which keeps us awake and alert, so it’s best consumed in the morning. Drinking too much coffee and consuming caffeine in the afternoon or evening can suppress your immune system, cause problems sleeping, and make it more difficult for your body to adapt to changes in time zones.

If you drink caffeinated coffee or tea, limit yourself to one cup before noon. People who experience negative side effects from caffeine like anxiety, restlessness or insomnia should avoid it completely.

Avoid Anti-Bacterial Products

Anti-bacterial products are popular for travel but they promote the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (which increases the incidence of life-threatening infections) and some contain toxic chemicals like triclosan, a dioxin linked to weakened immunity.

Instead of using anti-bacterial products, take other precautions. Avoid contaminated and shared surfaces when you travel and don’t touch your mouth, nose, or eyes unless you’ve washed your hands thoroughly in hot, soapy water.

Pack Smart

Put together a wellness kit to help you stay healthy when you travel:
  • Pure lavender essential oil can be used as aromatherapy to promote relaxation and sleep. Its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties also make it good for first aid (topical use only). 
  • Probiotics can boost immunity and reduce the risk of infection. Find a temperature-resistant probiotic for travel but keep it in the fridge whenever you can. 
  • Ginger can soothe digestive disturbances and prevent motion sickness. It also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activities in the body. 
  • Elderberry can help prevent upper respiratory infections like colds and flu, which are commonly contracted in crowded and confined areas like airplanes. A 2009 study even found it effective against the H1N1 virus and compared its anti-viral activity to pharmaceutical flu medicines like Tamiflu. 
  • Melatonin can help your body adjust to changes in time zones and sleep schedules, which minimizes jet lag and enhances immunity. Always take it in the evening and before 11:00 p.m.
  • A multi-vitamin-mineral supplement can help compensate for less nutritious meals away from home and make sure that your immune system is getting the nutrients it needs for infection prevention.

References:

Cohen S et al. 2009. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Archives of Internal Medicine 169(1):62-7.

Roschek B. Jr. et al. 2009. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry 70(10):1255-61.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Green Housekeeping

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1416544550/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1416544550&linkCode=as2&tag=adifkinofdoc-20%22%3EGreen%20Housekeeping%3C/a%3E%3Cimg%20src=%22http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=adifkinofdoc-20&l=as2&o=1&a=1416544550%22%20width=%221%22%20height=%221%22%20border=%220%22%20alt=%22%22%20style=%22border:none%20%21important;%20margin:0px%20%21important;Ellen Sandbeck is an expert on non-toxic cleaning and environmentally-friendly home maintenance and every home should have a copy of her book, Green Housekeeping.

Inside she takes you on a tour of your home, points out sources of possible pollution, suggests smart solutions, and explains timesaving techniques to keep every room in your home in good order.

Sandbeck covers chemical-free cleaning and basic home upkeep, from unclogging drains and removing soap scum to purchasing paint and cleaning up computer spills.

She explains how to remove water rings from wooden surfaces with just vinegar and olive oil, how to clean fine handmade rugs using only snow, and how to have a sparkling clean bathroom with only ten minutes of effort per week.

Sandbeck can sum up her strategy in a few simple sentences:

"Evaluate the situations; work with what you have; don't make extra work for yourself; and as much as possible, avoid the use of toxic chemicals."

I completely agree!


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Treating Mild Hyprtension


Hypertension is the medical term for blood pressure that remains elevated over time. According to the National Institutes of Health, it affects most people in the United States at some point in their lives.

Normal blood pressure is 120 over 80 millimeters of mercury. Hypertension is considered mild or stage one when systolic pressure (the first or top number) is between 140 and 159 and diastolic pressure (the second or bottom number) is between 90 and 99.

Guidelines from the Seventh Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure advocate early treatment with anti-hypertensive medications for people with mild hypertension and millions of Americans take them.

The well-respected Cochrane Collaboration, an international, independent, not-for-profit research organization, recently published a meta-anaylsis, a study of studies, that calls this practice into question.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia analyzed data from 4 randomized placebo-controlled trials (the gold standard). The studies lasted 4 to 5 years and followed nearly 9,000 people with mild hypertension taking diuretics, beta blockers, reserpine, or placebo. Some people were taking two or more medications.

The researchers concluded that drug therapy did not reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes, or death.

Not only were the drugs ineffective, but their negative side effects caused 9 percent of participants to withdraw from the studies.

The most effective treatments for mild hypertension are natural ones that correct underlying imbalances in the body:
  • A healthy diet low in easily digestible carbohydrates like sweets and starches including bread and other bakery items, cereal, milk, pasta, rice, and starchy root vegetables like potatoes
  • Daily consumption of dark green leafy vegetables which are rich in magnesium and other important nutrients
  • Regular consumption of healthy omega-3 fats found only in fish and seafood 
  • Daily exercise
  • Restful sleep: eight or more hours in the summer and nine or more hours in the winter
  • Optimal blood levels of vitamin D
  • Weight loss if you are overweight
  • Testing for heavy metal toxicity and detoxification if tests are positive
People who need more support should talk to their naturopathic doctor for individualized recommendations. Natural supplements can be helpful but they aren't right for everyone, so always seek advice before adding anything new to your routine.

Reference:
Diao D. et al. 2012. Pharmacotherapy for mild hypertension. Cochrane Database Systemic Reviews 8:CD006742.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hot Springs Help Musculoskeletal Pain

Termas de Papallacta, Ecuador

Balneotherapy is the practice of bathing in mineral water from natural underground springs for therapeutic purposes. It may also involve the topical application of natural mineral-rich clays. Balneotherapy dates back to ancient times but now modern medicine is recognizing it as a valuable intervention for musculoskeletal pain.

A French study analyzed its efficacy in treating rheumatologic diseases like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, ankylosing spondylitis, and chronic low back pain. Researchers reviewed results from randomized controlled clinical trials in Israel, Turkey, Hungary, France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Austria, and the Netherlands. The trials involved more than 1700 people and measured pain, morning stiffness, tender points (in patients with fibromyalgia), and the use of pain medications.

Researchers found that balneotherapy was safe and effective in reducing musculoskeletal pain, although the duration of relief varied from two weeks to one year. Different results may be due to differences in the composition of cations and anions contained in the water, which vary by geographical location, or the treatment itself, as some baths were paired with other modalities such as physical therapy.

Balneotherapy is available in areas with natural underground hot springs. On a recent trip to Ecuador I enjoyed soaking in the springs at Termas de Papallacta, tucked high in the Andes mountains. Fortunately, you don't need to go to South America to find them. Hot springs are scattered across the United States and most common in areas of recent volcanic activity like Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.

In upstate New York, treatments are available in Saratoga Springs at the Roosevelt Baths inside Saratoga Springs Spa State Park and at a limited number of spas around town. If you visit the park, bring a cup to taste the water from various underground springs, piped through spigots and fountains. Each one has a unique flavor due to its unique mineral composition. 

Saratoga Springs State Park, New York

Reference:

Françon A. and Forestier R. 2009. Spa therapy in rheumatology. Indications based on the clinical guidelines of the French National Authority for health and the European League Against Rheumatism, and the results of 19 randomized clinical trials. Bulletin de l'Académie Nationale de Médecine 193(6):1345-56.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sleep and the Common Cold

Getting plenty of sleep is one of the best ways to stay healthy during cold and flu season.

In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers in Pittsburgh studied the effects of sleep on immunity. For  two weeks, 153 healthy women and men between the ages of 22 and 55 reported their sleep duration (how many hours they slept each night), their sleep efficiency (the percentage of time they spent in bed asleep), and whether they felt rested the following morning. After the two weeks, they were exposed to a common cold virus.

Researchers found that more sleep the people had before they were exposed to the cold virus, the higher their resistance to infection. Adults who slept less than 7 hours were almost 3 times as likely to develop a cold, compared to those who slept 8 hours or more.

Sleep efficiency was also a factor. Participants who reported less than 92 percent efficiency were five and a half times as likely to come down with a cold compared to those whose efficiency was reported to be 98 percent or above.

How does sleep make our immune systems stronger?

Sleep can actually turn our genes on and off. It doesn't change our genetic code, but studies show that it does change how our genes are expressed, which determines how our bodies, including our immune systems, work. Other research has found that lack of sleep can suppress the immune system by inhibiting activity of "natural killer" white blood cells on patrol for viruses and bacteria (and cancer cells).

Getting more sleep during cold and flu season can reduce your risk of infection, but the benefits don't end there. Studies show that adequate sleep can also improve learning and memory, reduce inflammation, and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hormone imbalances, autism, and Alzheimer's disease.

References:

Cohen S et al. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Archives of internal medicine, 169(1):62-7, January 2009.

Fondell E. et al. 2011. Short natural sleep is associated with higher T cell and lower NK cell activities. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 25(7):1367-75.

Mullington J.M. et al. 2009. Cardiovascular, inflammatory, and metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases 51(4):294-302.

Van Cauter E. et al. 2007. Impact of sleep and sleep loss on neuroendocrine and metabolic function. Hormone Research 67 Suppl 1:2-9.

Wang G. et al. 2011. Synaptic plasticity in sleep: learning, homeostasis and disease. Trends in Neuroscience 34(9):452-63.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Reduce Your Exposure to Arsenic



Arsenic is a naturally-occurring but poisonous metal that can cause serious health problems like cancer and even death in high doses. No official limit has been set for foods but the Environmental Protection Agency limits arsenic to 10 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water.

According to the Environmental Working Group, "the National Academy of Sciences estimated that people drinking arsenic-contaminated water at 10 parts per billion would have a 1-in-300 risk of developing cancer over their lifetimes."

Arsenic is a real concern and water isn't the only place it's found. It's showing up in more and more foods.

Consumer Reports magazine recently tested 223 samples of rice and rice products: rice cakes, rice crackers, rice pasta, rice flour, rice milk, rice syrup, and rice vinegar. They found arsenic in every single sample. Rice vinegar had arsenic levels below 10 parts per billion (4.6 to 7.3) but every other product exceeded the limit and most had levels in the hundreds. The highest was 963 ppb, in Arrowhead Mills Organic Sweetened Rice Flakes, a ready-to-eat cereal.

A previous investigation by Consumer Reports found that 10 percent of juice samples from five brands contained arsenic levels exceeding the standards for drinking water standards.

And other reports have confirmed that arsenic is added to chicken feed, as an antiseptic agent, and it can show up in the meat we eat.

Arsenic occurs naturally in rocks, soil, and water, but it's also been added to the environment in the form of pesticides which continue to contaminate our soil and the food crops that absorb them. Arsenic is also used to harden other metals like copper and lead and make glass, lumber preservatives, and semiconductors.

We can't taste arsenic but we can still reduce our exposure. Here are four steps to get started: 

#1  Avoid rice and processed foods like cereal, crackers, pasta, and added sweeteners.

It's good to avoid sweetened and processed foods whether they contain rice or not. If you eat whole grains, experiment with other varieties like quinoa, millet, and steel cut oats.

#2  If you must eat rice, boil it like pasta and drain it before eating. 

Boiling rice causes some of the arsenic in the outer layer to leech out into the water. 

#3  Go grain-free.

People who are overweight, have high blood sugar, or have an increased risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, or cancer should consider going grain-free. Eating fewer starches like grains and sweeteners is the best way to lower high levels of blood sugar and insulin, to reduce the storage of fat, and to prevent chronic illness.

Get your carbohydrates from vegetables instead. If you eat starchy fruits and vegetables like bananas, potatoes, carrots, and beets, make sure to get plenty of leafy greens as well. Make green vegetables half of your meal and starches a quarter at the most (or none at all). 

#4  Filter your water.

Activated carbon filters remove chlorine, lead, mercury, copper, pesticides, solvents, radon, parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium, some volatile organic compounds, and unpleasant tastes and odors from tap water, but they don't remove arsenic. Fortunately, reverse osmosis filters do.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Influenza Vaccine Ineffective For Elderly

Experts estimate that adults over the age of 70 account for approximately 75 percent of all flu deaths. Many elderly people are strongly encouraged to get the flu vaccine to prevent the illness and its complications: pneumonia, hospitalization and death. But influenza immunization has not been effective at reducing risk, nor has it been thoroughly tested in placebo-controlled clinical trials.

In one study, published in The Lancet, researchers in Seattle reviewed medical charts of more than 3500 seniors over three influenza seasons. Participants were between the ages of 65 and 94 years. Researchers found that factors unrelated to the flu, such as history of smoking, frailty, and pre-existing conditions like heart and lung disease, skewed results of previous studies and overestimated the benefits of immunization.

Another study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, reported that while the number of adults aged 65 years and older who received the flu vaccine increased from 15 to 20 percent before 1980 to 65 percent in 2001, there was no reduction in the number of flu-related deaths. In fact, there were more. The vaccine was not protective.

Instead of influenza immunization, older adults should reduce their risk of catching the flu by washing their hands frequently, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding people with upper respiratory infections. Eating a nutritious diet, optimizing digestion, and engaging in regular physical activity are also essential for maintaining a healthy immune system.

References

Jackson ML et al. Influenza vaccination and risk of community-acquired pneumonia in immunocompetent elderly people: a population-based, nested case-control study. The Lancet, 372(9636):398-405, August 2008.

Simonsen L et al. Impact of influenza vaccination on seasonal morbidity in the US elderly population. Archives of Internal Medicine, 165:265-272, February 2005.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Is Organic Food Healthier?


The Annals of Internal Medicine recently published a review from Stanford University comparing organic foods to conventional foods. Media coverage of this study has been stunningly misleading with reports that organic foods are not healthier than conventional foods.

This isn't what the study says at all.

It's true that the amounts of vitamins and minerals weren't significantly different between the organic and conventional foods, but nutrients have nothing to do with whether foods are organic or not. Nutritional content has to do with the environment plants grow in.

Foods grown in soil that is rich in nutrients will be naturally rich in nutrients, whether or not they're sprayed with pesticides. Foods grown in nutrient-poor soil will be poor sources of nutrients, whether they're sprayed with pesticides or not.

So organic foods may not always be more nutritious than conventional foods but that doesn't mean they aren't healthier.

They are healthier. Even the Stanford researchers concluded that "Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Cancer Institute, pesticides approved by the Environmental Protection Agency have been linked to several kinds of cancer including "brain/central nervous system, breast, colon, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers, as well as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma" (connective tissue cancer).

Eating organic food reduces our exposure to cancer-causing pesticides and superbugs, and it decreases our risk of developing cancer and life-threatening infections.

Organic foods have other advantages too:
  • They don't contain genetically modified organisms
  • They don't contain growth hormones or sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and/or testosterone
  • They don't come from animals treated with antibiotics or other medications commonly given to livestock including anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-parasitic medications, cardiac stimulant drugs, and tranquilizers
  • Organic farming techniques conserve water and topsoil, improve soil quality, and strengthen biodiversity without polluting the environment 

So keep buying organic, especially when it matters most. Prioritize animal products because they are near the top of the food chain. This includes meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products.

Also avoid the Dirty Dozen Plus most contaminated fruits and vegetables if they're not organic: apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, potatoes, green beans, and leafy greens including kale and collard greens.

References:

Leffall LD, Kripke ML et al. Reducing environmental cancer risk: what we can do now. 2008–2009 Annual Report, President’s Cancer Panel. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. April 2010, p. 45.

Smith-Spangler C. et al. 2012. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Annals of Internal Medicine 157(5):348-66.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Campfire Cooking


School may have started but summer isn't over yet.
(The autumnal equinox is on September 22nd this year.)

Late summer and early fall are some of the best times to enjoy the great outdoors. There are fewer mosquitoes, the sun is less intense, and the weather is mild. Day are still warm but no longer hot and humid, and nights are cooler and more comfortable, sometimes even a bit chilly. Conditions are perfect for a campfire.

Cooking over a campfire isn't as convenient as cooking at home, but it can be just as fun if you get organized and plan meals ahead.

My friend Keely, who I call the Campfire Gourmet, prepares the most impressive meals in the middle of nature. It's always such a pleasure to camp with her. Left to my own devices, I usually keep things simple.

My camping staples include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, a jar of home-made vinaigrette, and foods that don't have to be kept cold or require cooking before eating like hard boiled eggs (with a little sea salt), tinned fish, and Lara bars.

Lunch in the Redwoods

I do like a fresh, hot meal at night when I'm camping. I usually pack proteins like wild salmon and pasture-raised sausage frozen inside a cooler. They won't thaw in time for the first dinner, so I also pack some food pouches prepared ahead of time that I can cook with very little effort. It's especially welcome after a long journey.

Recently I camped in the California Redwoods with my friend Juliah and we made Aromatic Salmon Pouches for dinner and Dark Chocolate Bananas for dessert. It's easy to do: Assemble them before you leave home, then nestle them in some red hot campfire coals about 10 minutes before you're ready to eat them.

See recipe: Aromatic Salmon Pouches


See recipe: Dark Chocolate Bananas



Sunday, September 9, 2012

Whole Foods and Strong Bones

The Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones offers
a holistic approach to strengthening bones and rebuilding bone mass. Author Annemarie Colbin explains why bones need more than calcium and how diet can help (leafy greens top the list on
page 113).

She also offers recipes using the foods she recommends, including tofu, tempeh, seaweeds, fish with edible bones, and home-made soup stocks. Colbin even includes a section of Recipes Featuring Healthy Fats and explains how to make your own ghee.

I'm looking forward to making the Five Hour Fish Stew (with ginger and miso) on page 223.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Airplane and Office Stretches


Being sedentary for extended periods of time increases the risk of blood clots. Whether you're working in an office, riding on a train, or flying off into the sunset, increase circulation throughout your body, relieve muscle tension, and help prevent blood clots by taking time to do these simple stretches every hour.

Most of these activities can be done in a seated position but I've included some standing stretches as well. Perform each activity slowly and gradually, and do not bounce while you stretch. Hold each position for 15 seconds.

Neck Stretches
  • Gently rotate your head from side, looking over your right shoulder, then over your left shoulder. 
  • While looking at your right shoulder, move your left ear closer to your chest.
  • While looking at your left shoulder, move your right ear closer to your chest. 
  • Flex and extend your neck, looking up, then down.

Shoulder Rolls
  • Gently roll your shoulders backward, making circles in the air.
  • Gently roll your shoulders forward.

Shoulder Stretch
  • Clasp your hands behind your head and gently extend your elbows back as far as they will go.

Arm Rotations
  • Rotate your wrists in a clockwise direction, drawing circles in the air with your finger tips, then in a counter-clockwise direction. 
  • Rotate your elbows in a clockwise direction, drawing circles in the air with your hands, then in a counter-clockwise direction. 
  • Rotate your arms at the shoulders in a clockwise direction, drawing larger circles in the air with your hands (or with your elbows if you don't have room to extend your arms). Repeat in the counter-clockwise direction.

Arm Stretches
  • Raise your right arm above your head. Bend your elbow, bringing your right hand toward your right shoulder. Place your left hand on your right elbow and gently pull it toward your head. Repeat with the left arm.
  • Clasp your hands together and turn them inside out in front of you with your palms facing outward. Extend your arms in front of you as far as possible, pushing your shoulders forward, rounding your back, and pulling your belly button in toward your spine. 

Torso Rotations
  • In a standing position, place your hands on your hips. Keep your shoulders and feet stationary while you and rotate your hips clockwise, bending at the waist and drawing circles in the air with your hips. 
  • Repeat in the counter-clockwise direction.

Torso Stretches
  • Clasp your hands, palms facing outward, and extend your arms above your head. Reach as high as possible, lifting your shoulders up and lengthening your spine. Then gently lean back, extending your arms back as far back as comfortably possible and arching your back until feel the stretch in your abdomen.
  • In a seated position, cross your right knee over your left leg. Place your left hand on your right knee. Gently rotate your shoulders to the right and your hips to the left. Repeat on the other side.

Lower Back Stretch
  • In a seated position with your knees shoulder-width apart, bend forward and stretch your arms out in front of you and toward the floor, reaching as far out as possible. 
  • In a standing position, bend at the waist and reach for the ground, stretching your arms out as far as possible. 
  • Remain in the same position while you reach to the right, extending your arms out as far as possible until you feel the stretch in your left hip. Then reach to the left, extending your arms out as far as possible until you feel the stretch in your right hip.

Leg Rotations
  • In a seated position, lift your right leg off the floor and rotate your foot, drawing circles with your big toe in the air in a clockwise direction. Repeat in the counter-clockwise direction. 
  • Keep your thigh as still as possible and rotate your right knee, drawing circles with your heel in a clockwise direction. Repeat in the counter-clockwise direction. 
  • In a standing position, keep your leg straight and draw circles with your foot in a clockwise direction. Repeat in the counter-clockwise direction. 
  • Repeat on the left side.

Leg Stretches
  • In a standing position, lean forward slightly and hang on to a solid surface with both hands. Extend your right foot back, straighten your leg, and lean forward until you feel the stretch in the back of your leg. 
  • Bend your knee until you feel the stretch in the lower part of your calf muscle. 
  • Return to an upright position and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your right leg straight and lean to the left, bending your left knee, until you feel the stretch inside your right thigh. 
  • Grasp your right foot with your right hand behind your back and gently pull until you feel the stretch in the front of your right thigh. 
  • Repeat with the left leg.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Finding Affordable Fish and Seafood

Wild salmon jumping in Ketchikan, Alaska

Wild Alaskan salmon is one of the healthiest fish to eat because it's a rich source of healthy omega-3 fats and it's low in toxic contaminants from the environment like mercury and PCBs.

(Avoid farm-raised salmon and wild salmon from Washington, Oregon, and California because they contain toxic levels of environmental toxins.)

Fresh wild salmon is a luxury because it’s expensive and only in season for a few months each year (species include chinook, chum, coho, pink, and sockeye). Eat it whenever you can, but also be aware of less expensive ways to incorporate non-toxic seafood into your diet:

  • Buy canned wild Alaskan salmon. It’s even less expensive than frozen salmon and also available year-round. Use it to make fish cakes and fish stews or chowders. Stir in into scrambled eggs and add it to salads.
  • If you live in an area where you have access to a fish and seafood market, make friends with your local fishmonger and learn how to identify freshness. Seafood shouldn't have an odor, the eyes should be clear, and the flesh should be firm. 
  • Lots of small and inexpensive fish are available year-round. Look for herring, Atlantic mackerel, and sardines. Learn to cook and eat the whole fish. You can ask your fishmonger clean it for you.
  • Eat more clams, oysters, mussels, and squid. These inexpensive options are low in environmental toxins and easy to prepare.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Unplug For Better Sleep


We’re swimming in a sea of electropollution, from computers and cell phones to music players, televisions, and wi-fi hot spots. These modern conveniences may make our lives easier, but research studies show that light and electromagnetic radiation can alter production of hormones like melatonin and cortisol, which disrupts our sleep and circadian rhythm. We can’t completely escape electronic devices, and few would want to, but understanding how to minimize their effects is the key to better sleep.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It’s secreted into the bloodstream in accordance with our circadian or daily rhythm and levels are regulated by light and dark cycles. During darkness, melatonin levels are naturally high, helping us to fall asleep and stay asleep. They peak between two and four o’clock in the morning and gradually taper off as night turns into day, helping us to wake up.

Melatonin isn’t only important for sleep; it’s essential for good health. Melatonin has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions in the body and it can increase the effectiveness of natural killer cells, our body’s best defense against disease-causing microbes and cell mutations. Melatonin plays an important role in protecting us against cancer, improving our immunity, maintaining a healthy digestive tract, controlling other hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and regulating blood pressure, blood sugar, and body weight.
   
Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands (a pair of organs that sit on top of the kidneys) and it too is secreted into the blood stream in accordance with our circadian rhythm. Cortisol production is stimulated by light and levels are naturally highest during the day. Cortisol levels are lowest at night, so we can sleep, and they gradually rise during the early morning hours as our bodies prepare to wake up.

Cortisol is also secreted in response to stress. It's a survival mechanism that prepares the body for "fight or flight" action by raising alertness, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, and boosting levels of blood sugar and insulin. In order to divert energy where we need it most, cortisol shuts down processes that aren't immediately essential like digesting food, building bones, and putting immune cells on alert for bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells.

When we're continuously exposed to stress, cortisol levels can remain elevated for long periods of time. Chronic high levels of cortisol don’t only interfere with sleep; they promote a state of chronic inflammation in the body and increase the risk of illnesses like cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, digestive problems, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer.

Light at Night

Our bodies contain proteins called cryptochromes that can detect light's blue spectrum. They are highly active in our eyes but they also exist in our skin. When any part of our skin is exposed to light (even the back of the knee, in one study) melatonin production is suppressed. Our brain gets the message that it’s time to be awake, so cortisol levels remain elevated. Too much cortisol and not enough melatonin can cause problems falling asleep and staying asleep.

Electromagnetic Radiation

Like light, electromagnetic radiation (EMR) can interfere with sleep by shutting down the production of melatonin and altering cortisol secretion. Studies show that exposure to even "commonly occurring low frequency electromagnetic fields" can significantly reduce the production of melatonin. Some studies link EMR exposure to high cortisol levels and symptoms like insomnia, while other studies link EMR exposure to low levels of cortisol and symptoms like fatigue and daytime sleepiness.

Better Sleep

A healthy balance of melatonin and cortisol are essential for a healthy circadian rhythm. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, follow these seven tips to reduce your nighttime exposure to hormone-disrupting light and radiation.

#1  After dark, keep your lights as dim as possible and choose your light bulbs carefully.

Studies show that exposure to dim light before bed has much less impact on melatonin levels than regular room light, which can shorten melatonin secretion by 90 minutes in 99 percent of people. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which use mercury vapor to produce invisible ultraviolet (UV) radiation, emit EMR in the form of radio frequency radiation (RFR). LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs are a good alternative because they do not contain mercury and do not emit RFR.

#2  Avoid watching TV and using other electronics after 9 or 10 p.m.

If you must use electronic devices late at night, keep them as far away from your head as possible and wear glasses with amber, rose, or orange lenses to block blue light. Research has shown that wearing amber-colored glasses before bed can normalize melatonin levels and one study found that it also reduced the risk of cancer, particularly cancers of the breast, ovaries, and prostate.

#3  If you have a wireless router in your home, keep it as far away from your bedroom as possible.

Place wireless routers in an area where you spend the least amount of time, far from pregnant women, babies and children, and ideally at least 600 feet away from areas where you sleep and pass extended periods of time.

#4  Remove as many electronic devices from your bedroom as you can.

This includes televisions, cable boxes, video games, DVD players, DVRs and other recording devices, stereos, radios, sound systems, personal music players and docking stations, remote controls, computers, monitors, laptops, tablets, e-book readers, printers, fax machines, cordless phones, cell phones, chargers, digital photo frames, baby monitors, digital and analog clocks, etc. Also avoid lights with dimmer switches because they use electronic transformers that generate EMR.

Ideally, you'll only need lamps with dim light and a battery-powered alarm clock that doesn't glow in the dark. If you must use a clock that emits light, pick one that glows red instead of blue. If you can't live without a phone in your bedroom, use a corded land line instead of a cellular or cordless phone.

#5  Sleep in complete darkness.

Wearing an eye mask isn't enough. Get black-out curtains if any artificial light shines through your windows at night.  

#6  If you have to get up in the middle of the night, try to avoid turning on the light.

If need be, consider using night lights that block blue light.

#7  Eat foods high in caffeic acid, a compound shown to protect against the effects of electromagnetic radiation.

The best sources of caffeic acid are cruciferous vegetables, citrus fruits, apples, and pears. Caffeic acid is also found in coffee, but in people who are sensitive, any amount of caffeine can disrupt sleep so it should be strictly avoided.

References:

Alpert M. et al. 2009. Nighttime use of special spectacles or light bulbs that block blue light may reduce the risk of cancer. Medical Hypotheses 73(3):324-5.

Akerstedt T. et al. 1999. A 50-Hz electromagnetic field impairs sleep. Journal of Sleep Research 8(1):77-81.

Barrenetxe J. et al. 2004. Physiological and metabolic functions of melatonin. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry 60(1):61-72.

Burch J.B. et al. 1998. Nocturnal excretion of a urinary melatonin metabolite among electric utility workers. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, and Health 24(3):183-9.

Gooley J.J. 2011. Exposure to room light before bedtime suppresses melatonin onset and shortens melatonin duration in humans. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 96(3):E463-72.

Havas M. 2008. Health Concerns associated with Energy Efficient Lighting and their Electromagnetic Emissions. Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR), Request for an opinion on “Light Sensitivity.” Available at http://www.electricalpollution.com/documents/08_Havas_CFL_SCENIHR.pdf (accessed 9 June 2012).

Mortazavi S.M. et al. 2012. Occupational exposure of dentists to electromagnetic fields produced by magnetostrictive cavitrons alters the serum cortisol level. Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine 3(1):60-4.

Oktem F. et al. 2005. Oxidative damage in the kidney induced by 900-MHz-emitted mobile phone: protection by melatonin. Archives of Medical Research 36(4):350-5.

Omura Y. et al. 1993. Non-invasive evaluation of the effects of opening & closing of eyes, and of exposure to a minute light beam, as well as to electrical or magnetic field on the melatonin, serotonin, & other neuro-transmitters of human pineal gland representation areas & the heart. Acupuncture and Electrotherapeutics Research 18(2):125-51.

Ozguner F. et al. 2005. Mobile phone-induced myocardial oxidative stress: protection by a novel antioxidant agent caffeic acid phenethyl ester. Toxicology and Industrial Health 21(9):223-30.

Rosales-Corral S.A. et al. 2012. Alzheimer's disease: pathological mechanisms and the beneficial role of melatonin. Journal of Pineal Research 52(2):167-202. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-079X.2011.00937.x.

Sasseville A. et al. 2006. Blue blocker glasses impede the capacity of bright light to suppress melatonin production. Journal of Pineal Research 41(1):73-8.

Vangelova K.K. and Israel M.S. 2005. Variations of melatonin and stress hormones under extended shifts and radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation. Reviews on Environmental Health 20(2):151-61.

Volkow N.D. et al. 2011. Effects of cell phone radiofrequency signal exposure on brain glucose metabolism. Journal of the American Medical Association 305(8):808-13.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Food As Sunscreen


Diet can help determine the effects that the sun has on our skin.

Studies show that certain compounds found in fruits, vegetables, green tea, and herbs can protect skin against damage from the sun's ultraviolet radiation without interfering with vitamin D production.

These compounds have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and they modulate the immune system, helping to prevent cancerous changes. They also turn on genes that repair mutations in DNA.

Sun-protective compounds include vitamin C, vitamin E, flavonoids, ellagic acid, and carotenoids like beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein. Find them in:
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc. 
  • Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, collard greens, beet greens, and kale
  • Tomatoes
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Cranberries
  • Pomegranate
  • Carrots
  • Black tea (hot or iced)

Making these foods a regular part of your diet will give you some natural defense against the sun, but it won't protect you completely. It's still important to stay out of the sun, especially mid-day when the rays are most intense, and use sunscreen liberally (apply 2 or 3 tablespoons of SPF 30 or higher every 2 hours).

If you do end up with a sun burn, foods can also be used to sooth and hydrate inflamed skin. Apply organic whole milk yogurt to affected areas or soak in an oatmeal bath. (Add a cup or more of dry oats to a sock and run your bathwater through it.)


References:

Aiyer H.S. et al. 2008. Dietary berries and ellagic acid prevent oxidative DNA damage and modulate expression of DNA repair genes. International Journal of Molecular Sciences 9(3):327-41.

Dinkova-Kostova AT. 2008. Phytochemicals as protectors against ultraviolet radiation: versatility of effects and mechanisms. Planta Medica 74(13):1548-59.

Evans J.A. and Johnson E.J. 2010. The role of phytonutrients in skin health. Nutrients 2(8):903-28.

Offord E.A. et al. 2002. Photoprotective potential of lycopene, beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C and carnosic acid in UVA-irradiated human skin fibroblasts. Free Radical Biology and Medicine 32(12):1293-303.

Rizwan M. et al. 2011. Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photodamage in humans in vivo: a randomized controlled trial. British Journal of Dermatology 164(1):154-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2010.10057.x.

Stahl W. et al. 2006. Lycopene-rich products and dietary photoprotection. Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences 5(2):238-42.

Stahl W. and Sies H. 2012. Photoprotection by dietary carotenoids: concept, mechanisms, evidence and future development. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 56(2):287-95. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201100232.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Finding a Good Fish Oil


Fish and seafood are critical for good health because they contain two essential omega-3s that we don’t get anywhere else in our diet: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These two irreplaceable fats are only found in substantial amounts in fish and marine animals.

Technically, they’re also found in algae – which is why the fish that eat them are such good sources themselves – but the edible varieties don’t contain enough DHA and EPA to meet human needs. Nori and hijiki contain such miniscule amounts that their nutrition labels report zero grams of fat.

It’s also true that the liver can convert other omega-3s (like ALA) to DHA and EPA but some people don’t make the enzyme necessary for the reaction (delta-6-desaturase) and according to research studies, the process is “unreliable” and “severely restricted.”

So we have to get these essential fats from fish or fish oil. People who don't eat non-toxic fish and seafood daily often benefit from supplementation. But fish oil supplements aren't all created equal.

Because so many species of fish and seafood are now contaminated with toxic environmental chemicals, the quality of fish oil is extremely important. While there are no standards for fish oil quality in the United States, international standards do exist. The Norwegian Medicinal Standard (NMS) and the European Pharmacopoeia Standard (EPS) both set maximum allowances for heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs, and peroxides.

It's also important to consider the source of fish oil. Over- harvesting and other harmful fishing practices threaten the environment as well as the future of fish and seafood. Use your power as a consumer to support companies that only use sustainably harvest fish to make their products.

When you're shopping for fish oil, look for products that meet these criteria:
  • The fish oil is  processed without chemicals or excess heat (to maintain the integrity of the fatty acids)
  • The fatty acids exist in the natural triglyceride form 
  • The manufacturer meets NMS and EPS standards
  • The manufacturer controls fish oil for freshness (measured by markers called peroxide and anisidine)
  • Manufacturers only use sustainably-harvested fish to make their products

In my practice I often recommend Nordic Naturals products because they meet and even exceed these criteria (their fish oil is tested by independent laboratories for more than 200 environmental toxins). Their products have also been chosen for clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health, Stanford, and UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles).

Fish oil can be taken as a liquid or soft gels (capsules). Liquids are usually less expensive because you’re not paying for encapsulation. And because there's no capsule, they're usually easier to swallow and digest. Depending on the concentration of the oil, you may have to take 8 capsules to get the same amount of DHA and EPA in a teaspoon and a half of liquid fish oil.

Whether you choose liquid or capsules, ALWAYS keep fish oil in the fridge. The fragile unsaturated fatty acids in fish oil easily oxidize in the presence of light and warmer (room) temperatures. Capsules can even be kept in the freezer and swallowed frozen.

Some of my patients report a fishy after-taste, but this problem is usually solved by taking frozen fish oil capsules at the very beginning of meals. Long term use of fish oil can deplete vitamin E, so small amounts of vitamin E are often added to fish oils. Individuals who are allergic to fish or seafood should avoid fish oil. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

If You Eat Cilantro














 Fresh cilantro is one of my favorite flavors of summer.

But if it's not organic, it may be dangerously contaminated with pesticides, according to the most recent report from the US Department of Agriculture.

The USDA routinely tests produce for pesticides and their latest analysis included cilantro for the first time. Researchers tested 184 samples, both domestic (81%) and foreign, for 43 different pesticides. The results were shocking:

  • 94% of samples were contaminated with one or more pesticides
  • One pesticide in particular (chlorpyrifros) was found to exceed the limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by up to 300% and it was detected on 37% of samples
  • Researchers found 34 unapproved pesticides on the cilantro samples
  • 44% of samples contained at least one unapproved pesticide and washing did not remove them

Even though cilantro isn't on the Dirty Dozen Plus list, you should still avoid it if it's not organic.

If you can’t find organic cilantro at your farmer’s market or in stores, plant some in your garden or grow it in a pot on a sunny windowsill.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fish Oil Doesn't Cause Bleeding











Fish oil helps prevent blood from getting too sticky and forming clots (coagulating), but it doesn’t cause excessive bleeding and studies show that it doesn’t interfere with anti-coagulant medications.

In a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial (the gold standard), researchers studied the effects of different doses of fish oil in patients taking warfarin, a drug that prevents blood from clotting. In addition to anti-coagulant medication, participants also received either six grams of fish oil, three grams of fish oil, or a placebo every day for four weeks. Researchers monitored clotting time using a test called the International Normalized Ratio or INR and found no difference between any of the groups. The highest dose (six grams per day) had the same effect on blood clotting as no fish oil at all.

Another randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study followed patients who took fish oil or a placebo (soybean oil) for five days after major abdominal surgery. Researchers found no difference in bleeding risk between the two groups but there was a difference in the length of hospitalization. People taking fish oil had shorter hospital stays and checked out, on average, almost five days sooner than those taking the placebo.

Fish oil may not cause bleeding but it can prolong bleeding by inhibiting the clotting process. It’s safe to take just after surgery, but you should avoid taking it just before surgery. Stop taking fish oil at least 48 hours before any medical procedure that carries an increased risk of bleeding. If the procedure goes well, you can resume it as soon as your doctor allows.

References:

Bender N.K. et al. 1998. Effects of Marine Fish Oils on the Anticoagulation Status of Patients Receiving Chronic Warfarin Therapy. Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis 5(3):257-261.

Gerster H. 1998. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)? International Journal of Vitamin and Nutrition Research 68(3):159-73.

Harris W.S. Expert opinion: omega-3 fatty acids and bleeding-cause for concern? American Journal of Cardiology 99(6A):44C-46C.

Wichmann M.W. et al. 2007. Evaluation of clinical safety and beneficial effects of a fish oil containing lipid emulsion (Lipoplus, MLF541): data from a prospective, randomized, multicenter trial. Critical Care Medicine 35(3):700-6.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Non-Toxic Weed Killer


Most commercial herbicides used to kill weeds are toxic, even the ones designed for home use. Fortunately, it's easy to make your own non-toxic version at home using ingredients that you probably already have on hand:

1 quart white vinegar
1/4 cup salt
3 drops dish soap

Mix all of the ingredients together until the salt has dissolved. Transfer the mixture to a spray bottle.

Spray the mixture on weeds daily until they die. Two or more applications may be necessary. Take care to NOT spray nearby plants that you do not want to kill.