Yarrow oil is extracted from Achillea millefolium, a member of the Compositae plant family. This perennial herb is known throughout Europe, but also grows in Asia and North America. Yarrow can grow up to 3 feet (1 meter) high, and is distinguishable by its feathery and aromatic fern-like leaves and pink-white, dense flower heads.
Yarrow has many nicknames, such as milfoil, nosebleed, common yarrow and thousand leaf. It's also called carpenter's weed, because it's useful for helping treat wounds that you can get from a saw or a blade, and may help stop the bleeding.1
The yarrow plant can also be added to food. The young and tender fresh leaves can be finely chopped and added to soups, salads, meat dishes and stir-fried beans. The Haida people of the Queen Charlotte Islands are also known for drying butter clams on yarrow stalks, which impart a pleasant taste to the shellfish.2
Yarrow oil is extracted from the dried plant via steam distillation. When diffused, it has a sweet, herbaceous and penetrating smell. It also develops a vivid blue color when distilled, which occurs when the chemical chamazulene is released from the plant material during the heating process.
Uses of Yarrow Oil
Almost all the parts of the yarrow can be used therapeutically, either separately or together. The plant works fresh or dried and can be used in teas, poultices, steamed vapor, tinctures, oils and vinegars. However, in aromatherapy today, yarrow is most commonly used as a yarrow oil. You can use it for:
o Skin conditions such as helping to heal inflamed wounds, rashes and burns. It can also promote hair growth.
o Circulatory disorders. It also helps with cystitis, infections and menopausal problems and regulating menstruation in women.
o Digestive problems like cramps, indigestion, constipation, colic and flatulence can be relieved by yarrow oil.
Composition of Yarrow Oil
Yarrow oil's main chemical components are a-pinene, b-pinene, tricyclene, camphene, sabinene, y-terpinene, borneol acetate, limonene, 1,8-cineole, isoartemisia ketone, camphor, borneol and chamazulene.3
Benefits of Yarrow Oil
Yarrow oil has numerous healing effects, which are attributed to its anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, astringent, antispasmodic, astringent, cicatrisant, carminative, digestive, expectorant, hypotensive and tonic properties. Some of its health benefits include:4
o Promotes blood circulation, which can improve circulatory disorders such as varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
o Helps reduce inflammation in the body -- It can help eliminate inflammation of any type, including those in your nasal or respiratory tract, brought on by the common cold, the digestive system (such as when you overeat spicy food) and circulatory system, which may be caused by any toxin getting into your bloodstream.
o Provides relief among those with arthritis and rheumatism -- It helps prevent uric acid from accumulating in the joints and muscles.
o Helps eliminate toxins from the body through perspiration -- It also helps remove excess salt and water from the body, which provides a cooling effect. It may also help with weight management, as urine is approximately 4 percent fat.
How to Make Infused Yarrow Oil
You can purchase yarrow oil online, but a homemade infusion oil is a great alternative at a lower price. Please note that infused oils are different from essential oils. Essential oils are used for fragrances and aromatherapy, and are made directly from the plant by steaming, expression or extraction of the oils.
Infused, or "fixed," oils involve the use of an oil to extract the herbs from the plant, and are used for application to the skin. Here's a simple method for making infused yarrow oil from Essential Survival:5
What You Will Need
3 to 4 ounces. dried cut/powdered yarrow leaves and flowers, or 4 to 5 ounces. fresh yarrow (you can add 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried calendula if desired)
1 to 2 cups organic, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
2 clean pint jars with tightly fitting lid (Make sure it's dry to prevent mold growth)
Natural wax paper and rubber band or double boiler
Cheesecloth and fine mesh sieve
An opaque airtight jar for storage
1. Fill at least 1/2 to 3/4 of your jar with the yarrow, and then cover with the olive oil to 1/2 inch from the top of the jar.
2. Using a clean knife or chopstick, release all the little air bubbles in the oil and to make sure all the yarrow is submerged. Remember, mold can grow in any air spaces within the jar.
3. Infuse the oil. You can:
o Put the jar in a double boiler and bring it to a low simmer for an hour (make sure to check that the oil isn't getting too hot)
o Put it in a sunny place. Make sure to cover the top of the jar with a natural wax paper, then put the lid on tightly. The wax paper will shield the oil from any harmful chemicals that may be on the inside of the lid. Leave it for two weeks, shaking the bottle occasionally.
4. Strain the oil through a sieve covered in cheesecloth and into a clean, dry jar. Squeeze out the oil from the cheesecloth. If you used fresh yarrow, cover the jar tightly after straining and let stand for a few days. Check if any water has settled in the bottom of the jar. If so, pour off the oil and discard the water, and leave it for another day.
If more water appears in the bottom, continue pouring it back and forth, discarding the water, until no more remains. If there is any water or plant material left in the oil, it will be susceptible to spoiling.
5. Store the oil in an opaque airtight jar and put in a cool dark place. It will keep for many months.
How Does Yarrow Oil Work?
Yarrow oil works best when used in vapor therapy. Simply add a few drops to a diffuser or vaporizer, or add a few drops to your handkerchief, and inhale its fragrance. Yarrow oil can also be added to your bathwater or added to a massage oil. You can also use yarrow oil for chest rubs, and combines well with hyssop, eucalyptus, rosemary and peppermint oils.6
Is Yarrow Oil Safe?
Yarrow oil may have neurotoxic effects,7 so I do not advise using it for extended periods of time. If applying it topically, make sure to dilute it with a safe carrier oil. I also recommend doing a skin patch test to ensure that you do not have any allergies to this oil. Pregnant women, epileptics, and very young children should also refrain from using yarrow oil. I also recommend consulting your health care practitioner before taking this oil orally.
Side Effects of Yarrow Oil
If used in high dosages for extended periods of time, yarrow oil may result in headaches and skin irritation. Use this oil in moderation, and if you notice any adverse reactions, stop using it immediately.
Fidget spinners are the latest go-to gadget for schoolkids, but as their popularity has soared, so too has the controversy surrounding them. The hand-held, ball-bearing devices spin satisfyingly when manipulated by the users' thumb and fingers, providing what would seem to be a novel form of fidgeting. The devices' popularity is evidenced by Google searches for "fidget spinner," which were nonexistent a year ago, and then suddenly peaked in popularity in May 2017.1
Part of the rise is due to the way they're being marketed -- not just as trendy "toys," but as tools to relieve stress and increase focus, particularly in people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and anxiety. While first making headlines for posing a potential choking hazard if any pieces break off, they've continued to be in the news because experts are split over whether fidget spinners are useful or only further distracting for kids.
The Act of Fidgeting May Be Beneficial
While fidget spinners are a recent fad, the act of fidgeting is an age-old human habit that does appear to offer some benefits. Chair-based fidgeting has been shown to increase energy expenditure by 20 percent to 30 percent,2 offering a potential way to offset some (but certainly not all) of the adverse effects of prolonged sitting. In fact, fidgeting was found to reduce the risk of premature death that's associated with excessive sitting time.3
There's also the suggestion that fidgeting may occupy part of your brain, providing a needed distraction from racing or negative thoughts or serve as a type of ritual that may help with calm and focus, similar to doodling.4 Occupational therapists have long used various therapy toys, such as sensory putty, for children with ADHD, autism, anxiety and sensory issues,5 and some believe fidget spinners provide another similar option.
Miriam Gwynne, a parent to a child with autism, wrote on AutismAwareness.com that fidget spinners and similar devices help her daughter to relieve stress, noting, "For her, the fidget spinner is not a must-have craze to be like her friends, but more a stress release from the demands placed upon her during her school day -- much the same as she uses a stress ball or her twist-and-lock blocks."6
Cleveland-based pediatric occupational therapist Claire Heffron also voiced support for the devices to The Washington Post, stating, "These little gadgets should be called fidget tools, not toys, and they can be part of a successful strategy for managing fidgety behavior if they are introduced as a normal part of the classroom culture."7
Science Is Lacking to Back Up Fidget Spinners for ADHD, Autism
While some believe fidget spinners may help, and being a low-cost intervention probably can't hurt, others disagree. As the tools have grown in popularity, they've become a distraction in classrooms -- to the extent that some schools are now enacting fidget-spinner bans. Julie Schweitzer, director of the Attention, Impulsivity, Regulation Program at the University of California Davis MIND Institute, told The Sacramento Bee:8
"I know people who have used some of these fidget gadgets, and some of them have said they've been helpful ... but until we test it, we don't know. From what I've seen, (the fidget spinner) is becoming so ubiquitous that it's overtaking the classroom and becoming a huge distraction ... To me, it's common sense. If you give somebody a toy or they could be doing classwork, what's going to be more interesting?"
In the journal Current Opinion in Pediatrics, meanwhile, researchers wrote that "fidget spinners and other self-regulatory occupational therapy toys have yet to be subjected to rigorous scientific research. Thus, their alleged benefits remain scientifically unfounded." They added that pediatricians should be aware that the devices present a potential choking hazard and should "inform parents that peer-reviewed studies do not support the beneficial claims."9
If your child is struggling with focus and attention, and even in cases of ADHD, be aware that the use of a fidget spinner, particularly in the classroom, may be counterproductive, as it could draw your child's attention away from the task at hand. It could also end up posing a distraction for others. There may be times when fidgeting -- and tools like fidget spinners -- serve a valuable purpose, but, overall, physical games or sports are a better option than playing with fidget spinners.
Exercise Is Proven to Benefit ADHD
While the science behind fidget spinners for ADHD is virtually non-existent, there is solid evidence backing the use of exercise to relieve ADHD symptoms. In 2014, researchers found that among 7- to 9-year-olds moderate to vigorous exercise enhanced cognitive performance and brain function during tasks requiring greater executive control.10
The benefits were found with as little as 30 minutes of exercise a day, and applied to children with varying types of ADHD (including those with greater symptoms of hyperactivity or inattentiveness), those at risk for ADHD and even the control group of children without ADHD.11
Study author Betsy Hoza, professor of psychology at the University of Vermont, told the Child Mind Institute, "The most important message is that physical activity is important for children's development regardless of whether you have ADHD or not ... There's other research that suggests it has cognitive benefits for all children and we all know the physical benefits ... Unless a child has a physical challenge that would be exacerbated by activity, exercise is a do-no-harm intervention."12
In 2010, meanwhile, research published in the Journal of Attention Disorders revealed that children with ADHD who participated in a 10-week physical activity program had improvements in muscular capacities, motor skills, behavior and level of information processing.13
As for why exercise is so useful for ADHD, Dr. John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, explained in ADDitude, a magazine for families and adults living with ADHD, that elevations in dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin which play a role in attention, plays a role.
Exercise has been compared to medication for ADHD, as it leads to improvement in executive control, which is the ability to maintain focus, working memory and cognitive flexibility (or switching between tasks).14 Executive functioning is often impaired in children with ADHD. Ratey noted:15
"Exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions -- sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention ... On a practical level, it causes kids to be less impulsive, which makes them more primed to learn."
What Type of Exercise and Sports Are Best for Kids With ADHD?
The type of activity can make a difference in how it affects your child's mood, attention and behavior. For starters, competitive sports may not be the best choice, according to Hoza. "In today's world there are so many children's sports that are very competitive, and those wouldn't be the best choice for kids with ADHD who have a hard time following directions or might not be as coordinated as their peers," she said.16
Sports that allow children to be part of a team, yet focus on developing their own individual goals, like swimming, track, cross-country or even tennis, may be a good choice, particularly if the coach is sensitive to the needs of a child with ADHD (such as not punishing a momentary lapse in attention). Some children with ADHD, especially those with extra energy, may enjoy wrestling as well -- and it may be beneficial for your child to take part in multiple activities.
In fact, research shows that children with ADHD who participated in three or more sports had significantly fewer anxiety or depression symptoms compared to those who participated in fewer than three.17 The chosen activity (or activities) should, of course, be something your child enjoys, which will encourage him or her to keep doing it.
Ratey also recommends activities that require close attention to body movements, which in turn "tax the attention system" -- "A very good thing for kids and adolescents with ADHD," he says. Examples include martial arts, gymnastics and ballet.18 In the case of martial arts, an added benefit is that it promotes rituals that children can also apply to other areas of life.19 Other good options, which promote teamwork, concentration, self-confidence and/or self-esteem, include soccer, horseback riding, fencing and archery.
If your child enjoys a sport like baseball, which can have a lot of downtime, ADDitude recommends talking with the coach about slight modifications that can help keep your child engaged, such as frequently changing field positions or giving your child an assistant job while waiting to bat.20
If a Fidget Spinner Is Too Distracting, Try Essential Oils
If your child seems to benefit from using a fidget spinner, there's little harm in its occasional use (assuming it's not distracting fellow classmates). However, if this intervention seems like more of a hindrance than a help, consider the use of essential oils to increase focus, attention and calm. Vetiver oil (vetiver is a type of Indian grass) appears to be particularly useful. In one study, when children inhaled the oil three times a day for 30 days they had improved brain wave patterns and behavior and did better in school.21
Eighty percent of the children also improved when using cedarwood essential oil similarly.22 Improvements in brain activity were revealed via electro-encephalograph (EEG), which measures electrical impulses moving through the brain.
This allowed researchers to determine whether the children's brains were functioning primarily in a beta (i.e., alert) state or a theta state (i.e., lack of focus). Improvements in beta-theta ratios were noted following the use of vetiver essential oil, while parents also noted improvements in symptoms.
Another study, published in the Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology, also showed vetiver essential oil to have particular promise for ADHD. The animal study revealed changes in brain activity suggestive of increased alertness,23 while research on human subjects revealed faster reaction times and stimulation of sympathetic nerve activity following inhalation.24
A Comprehensive, Lifestyle-Based Plan Can Improve Focus, Attention and Behavior
If your child is struggling with ADHD or ADHD-like symptoms, I recommend consulting with a holistic physician who is experienced in treating ADHD using natural methods, including not only exercise but also behavioral therapy and more. In a study that analyzed the effects of drug versus behavioral treatment on homework performance in children with ADHD, the drug treatment led to no significant improvements in homework completion or accuracy compared to placebo.
The behavioral therapy, however, led to children finishing up to 13 percent more homework problems and increased accuracy by 8 percent.25 Dietary strategies can also be very effective, including limiting sugar and avoiding gluten. The evidence suggesting that gluten sensitivity may be at the root of a number of neurological and psychiatric conditions, including ADHD, is quite compelling. One study went so far as to suggest celiac disease should be added to the ADHD symptom checklist.26
Kids low in omega-3 fats may also be significantly more likely to be hyperactive, struggle with learning disorders and display behavioral problems. A clinical study published in 2007 also examined the effects of krill oil on adults diagnosed with ADHD.27 In that study, patients improved their ability to concentrate by an average of over 60 percent after taking a daily 500-milligram (mg) dose of krill oil for six months. They also reported a 50 percent improvement in planning skills and a close to 49 percent improvement in social skills.
Addressing nutrient deficiencies (such as vitamin B6, zinc and magnesium) and avoiding toxic exposures, including to food additives, glyphosate and other pesticides and radiofrequency microwave radiation, cell and portable phones and electropollution is also important. Ultimately, a fidget spinner may provide fleeting moments of distraction or calm, depending on the user, but to remedy ADHD, anxiety and other mental health challenges, a comprehensive, holistic approach will typically be required.
Nearly 20 percent of Americans, or 48 million people, report having some degree of hearing loss.1 After age 65 that percentage continues to rise as age is the strongest predictor of hearing loss.2 Almost 15 percent of school-age children also have some degree of hearing loss. While hearing loss affects millions, it is an invisible condition, often creating a barrier between the sufferer and society.
In adults, the most common cause of hearing loss is noise pollution and aging. As you get older changes occur in the inner ear that may trigger a slow and steady loss of hearing. Noise-induced hearing loss may happen suddenly or more slowly over time, while hearing loss that results from an infection more often occurs suddenly.
It may be easy to take your hearing for granted as it happens without effort on your part. However, it is a complex process that begins with sound occurring in your environment and ends in your brain. Unlike other senses that involve a chemical process, such as smell, taste or sight, hearing involves strictly physical movement.
Loss of hearing may increase your risk of other health conditions and of becoming socially isolated. In an effort to reduce this risk, many turn to hearing aids to amplify the sounds in their environment. However, the cost of these little pieces of equipment may be outside your budget, and they are not covered by traditional Medicare or private insurance companies.
Recent research has found alternatives for mild or moderate hearing loss that are more cost effective. By understanding how your hearing works, and how the equipment interacts with hearing function, you may be better equipped to choose the right device for your individual needs.
How You Hear
Sound is created by causing vibrations through the air, which your ears capture. The structure of your outer ear helps you decipher the direction from which the sound originates. Once past the outer ear, the sound waves enter the ear canal and vibrate your eardrum, a thin piece of skin that sits between the outer and middle ear. However, your eardrum is far from passive. When exposed to loud noises for a prolonged period, it becomes more rigid, essentially dampening the noise level.
Once in the middle ear, the sound waves move a group of tiny bones called the malleus, the incus and the stapes. Collectively called the ossicles, these are the smallest bones in your body. They are used to amplify the force of the sound from your eardrum as it passes through the middle ear to the inner ear and the cochlea. Fluid in the cochlea conducts the sound where it is translated into nerve impulses your brain can recognize.
Finally, as sound waves reach fibers with a resonant frequency, a burst of energy is released that moves tiny hair cells in the organ of corti, a structure stretching across the length of the cochlea. The movement of these hair cells generates an electrical impulse through the cochlear nerve that transmits information to your cerebral cortex in your brain for interpretation.
The concept of how hearing works is fairly straightforward, but the specifics of how these small structures produce recognizable patterns of sound in your brain is complex. Scientists are still learning how your brain interprets these electrical signals, especially as it relates to prevention and treatment of hearing loss.
Over-the-Counter Amplifiers May Help Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss
A hearing aid is a small electronic device that makes some sounds louder.3 The device contains a microphone that accepts the sound, an amplifier that makes the sound louder and a speaker that delivers the sound into your ear.
They are primarily used to help improve both speech and hearing in people who suffer hearing loss. However, only 20 percent of people with a hearing loss actually use hearing aids, as the cost often averages $4,700 for a pair.4 Traditional Medicare plans and many private insurance companies don't pay for hearing aids.
Recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association5 found over-the-counter amplifiers sold at a fraction of the cost of hearing aids can potentially improve your hearing almost as well as hearing aids. A comparison was made between five different personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) and conventional hearing aids, which require a physician's prescription and adjustment by an audiologist.6
Forty-two adults whose average age was 72 and who suffered mild to moderate hearing loss participated in the comparison study. In a sound booth, the participants listened to sentences with "speech babble noise" in the background and were asked to identify what was said without assistance, equipped with a hearing aid and then with the PSAPs.7
Without a hearing aid, the participants understood 77 percent of what was said. With a hearing aid, they understood 88 percent, and with four of the PSAPs, accuracy was between 81 percent and 87 percent, depending upon the model. The fifth $30 model resulted in a 65 percent accuracy, less than what the participants experienced without assistance, as the amplifier was poor quality and distorted the sound.
Hearing aids are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but PSAPs are not. The PSAPs are available online and at stores. According to the FDA, PSAPs are designed to be used by people who do not have hearing loss, to help them distinguish distant sounds. Study author Nicholas Reed, an audiologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, commented on the use of PSAPs and hearing aids:8
"Hearing aids are regulated medical devices and should all be able to aid someone with hearing loss. While not all hearing aids are the same, they should all be able to meet this minimum requirement of making sound louder at appropriate frequencies and with minimal distortion. The results suggest that the [PSAP] devices are technologically and objectively capable of improving speech understanding in persons with hearing loss."
What Are Your Options?
With advances in technology, some of the PSAP devices are performing as well as many prescribed hearing aids. By law, manufacturers of PSAPs are not allowed to advertise or label their products as intended to help with hearing loss.9 Without regulation, PSAPs do not have design control requirements or performance standards, meaning consumers must do their due diligence before purchasing a product that may lead to results worse than not using any product.
However, without regulation, the industry is advancing the technology more quickly. Companies such as Samsung and Panasonic say they are working on options for consumers that include Bluetooth capability that connect wirelessly to smartphones, tablets and digital assistants such as Apple's Siri.10 It's anticipated these products will be sold over-the-counter. Customers will test their own hearing using apps on their smartphones or online programs.
In an effort to reduce barriers to purchase of products that help you communicate, both the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine came out in favor of making low-cost, over-the-counter devices available to consumers. Both organizations point to a significant body of research that links hearing loss to further health risks, creating a financial and emotional burden on families and communities.
Options for PSAPs and hearing aids are changing as technology advances. Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently announced they intend to introduce legislation that endorses the manufacturing and sale of over-the-counter hearing aids without requirement of a medical prescription or audiologist evaluation.
Their goal is to lower cost and increase access, as six companies currently control 98 percent of the market, contributing to the high price of the products. The four amplification devices Reed used in his study that resulted in an 81 percent to 87 percent accuracy rate in hearing were:
o Sound World Solutions CS50+
o Etymotic Bean
o Tweak Focus
The fifth was a low cost MSA 30X Sound Amplifier, which yielded accuracy results that were worse than not using anything. Dr. Frank Lin, otolaryngologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a member of the National Academies committee, commented on the use of PSAPs: "Some PSAP companies are very good, founded by former hearing aid executives and engineers. The devices you see in Walmart for $40 ... are terrible."
Health Risks and Costs Associated With Hearing Loss
The cost of mild to moderate hearing loss, which may be addressed by making amplifiers available over-the-counter cheaper than hearing aids, may make a significant financial impact on your community and your family. Loss of hearing isn't just frustrating; it may also be linked with other health risks that are both emotionally and financially costly.
In a study at Johns Hopkins, researchers tracked over 600 adults for 12 years, and found even mild hearing loss doubled the risk of developing dementia, while moderate hearing loss tripled the risk.11 Hearing loss may contribute to an increase in brain atrophy and social isolation that may contribute to the development of dementia.
In another study from Johns Hopkins, researchers found those with moderate to severe hearing loss over age 70 had a 54 percent higher risk of death.12 Yet another study found middle-aged adults who had untreated hearing loss experienced 33 percent higher medical bills compared to people who didn't have a hearing loss.13
Psychologist Mark Hammel damaged his hearing in his 20s while serving in the Army. It wasn't until he was 57 that he got his first pair of hearing aids. He said:14"People with hearing loss often don't realize what they're missing. So much of what makes us human is social contact, interaction with other human beings. When that's cut off it comes with a very high cost."
Those suffering from hearing loss that is left untreated are also more likely to experience anger, depression, cognitive impairments and paranoia. A survey of over 2,000 hearing impaired individuals also uncovered the frustrations of family members who were saddened by misunderstandings and difficulty communicating with their loved one.15
People who have hearing loss also find they experience greater fatigue, stress and headaches as a result of trying to hear and understand during the day.16 They also report greater problems with eating, sleeping and sex. People who have a hearing impairment are likely to earn less, or be unemployed. Hearing loss may also impact your ability to pick up on auditory signals such as alarms, bells or shouts of warning, raising your risk of being injured in an accident.
Use Nutrition to Support Your Hearing
Your body has an amazing system to protect your hearing that you can support using good nutrition. In fact, nutritional imbalances may contribute to some hearing loss.17 Age-related hearing loss results from how your brain processes information By filtering out unwanted sound, your brain gives you proper feedback on what you hear. This begins to decline in your 40s and 50s, making it more difficult for you to sort out what you're hearing. Nutrients that appear to be the most beneficial to protect and improve your hearing are:18,19,20,21
o Carotenoids, especially astaxanthin and vitamin A
These nutrients support your hearing in a number of ways, including:
o Protecting against oxidative stress in the cochlea
o Preventing free radical damage
o Improving blood flow, thereby reducing cochlear damage related to a compromised vascular system
o Improving homocysteine metabolism
The support for vitamin A is mixed. In one large study that included data from more than 65,500 women, no correlation was found between vitamin A intake and risk for hearing loss.22 However, a number of other studies have found a positive correlation. Researchers have found zinc may help to improve idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL). This sudden and unexplained loss of hearing has been typically treated with high-dose steroids, even though the evidence to support the effectiveness of treatment is limited.
In one study, intravenous (IV) magnesium was found effective against SSNHL;23 48 percent of patients achieved recovery using a combination of IV magnesium and carbogen inhalation (17) (a mixture of carbon dioxide and oxygen gasses). Researchers discovered that by increasing the production of a protein, neurotrophin-3 (NT3), they could reverse hearing loss in mice that had been partially deafened by loud noise. This NT3 plays a key role in communication between your ears and your brain in the synapses that link hair cells in your inner ear to nerve cells in your brain. These cells are damaged with loud noises, resulting in hearing loss. Astaxanthin raises your body's expression of NT3, thereby helping your body to heal.
Protect Your Hearing
Noise-induced hearing loss may happen suddenly or slowly over time. Reducing your everyday exposure to loud noise, such as music, noisy work environment or even using a lawn mower may help to reduce your potential for experiencing hearing loss over the years.24
Throughout the world, nearly 360 million people suffer from moderate to severe hearing loss and it's estimated that nearly half may have been avoidable.25 Protecting yourself from loud noises is a foundational principle to preventing hearing loss. The following recommendations may also help protect your hearing and avoid hearing loss:
? Turn down the volume on personal audio devices
? Try a decibel meter app for your smartphone, which will flash a warning if the volume is turned up to a potentially damaging level
? Wear earplugs when you visit noisy venues, and if you work in a noisy environment, be sure to wear ear protection at all times
? Use carefully fitted noise-canceling earphones/headphones, which may allow you to listen comfortably at a lower volume
? Limit the amount of time you spend engaged in noisy activities
? Take regular listening breaks when using personal audio devices
? Restrict the daily use of personal audio devices to less than one hour
? If you live in a very noisy area, you may want to consider moving.
If that's not an option, consider adding acoustical tile to your ceiling and walls to buffer the noise.
Double-paneled windows, insulation, heavy curtains and rugs can also help.
Use sound-blocking headphones to eliminate occasional sound disturbances such as that from traffic or lawnmowers
? Wear ear protection when using your lawnmower or leaf blower
If you suffer from frequent heartburn, chances are you've been prescribed a proton pump inhibitor (PPIs) such as Prilosec, Prevacid or Nexium to inhibit acid production. This, despite the fact they were never intended to treat heartburn in the first place.
PPI drugs were originally designed to treat a very limited range of severe problems,1 including bleeding ulcers, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (a rare condition in which tumors in the pancreas cause your stomach to produce excess acid) and severe acid reflux concomitant with esophageal damage. But that hasn't stopped them from becoming the go-to solution for everyday indigestion.
Research clearly shows PPIs are outrageously overprescribed and misused, and do far more harm than good.2,3,4,5,6,7 There are many alternative treatment strategies that can help ease this painful problem without the serious side effects associated with PPIs, which include kidney disease, pneumonia, osteoporosis, hip fractures, dementia and an increased risk for heart disease,8heart attacks9 and premature death.10
The long-term answer to heartburn and acid indigestion is to restore your natural gastric balance and function. The most important step is to eat real food, as processed foods and sugars are a surefire way to exacerbate acid reflux. Reseeding your gut with beneficial bacteria, either from traditionally fermented foods or a high quality probiotic supplement, is also important. Aside from that, there are a number of natural substances that can help address the root of the problem.
What Causes Heartburn?
Digestion of food begins in your mouth as the food is broken into smaller pieces and mixed with saliva before traveling down your esophagus and into your stomach. Once in your stomach the food mixes with hydrochloric acid, which is required to break the food down into even smaller pieces from which your small intestines can extract nutrients.11
Heartburn, also referred to as acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or peptic ulcer disease, is characterized by a burning sensation originating behind your breastbone, sometimes traveling up into your throat. In some cases, this burning pain can be severe enough to be mistaken for a heart attack.
When food passes through your esophagus into your stomach, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) closes, preventing food or acid from moving back up. The painful effect associated with heartburn occurs when the LES relaxes inappropriately, allowing acid from your stomach to reflux backward into your esophagus and burn tissue that cannot withstand the low pH of the acid.
While the conventional rationale states that this reflux is caused by excessive amounts of acid in your stomach, that's actually an extremely rare situation, typically occurring only if you have the rare disease known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome. Instead, the vast majority of acid reflux cases are related to one or more of the following:
o Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) imbalance. One of the explanations for why suppressing stomach acid is so ineffective -- and there are over 16,000 articles in the medical literature attesting to this -- is that when you decrease the amount of acid in your stomach, you suppress your body's ability to kill the helicobacter bacteria.
While H. pylori can be part of your normal healthy microbiome, it can cause problems, including symptoms of acid reflux, if there's an overgrowth of it. This typically occurs as a result of a poor diet. Taking a betaine hydrochloric supplement (available in health food stores without prescription) will not only improve digestion, but will also help kill the helicobacter, thereby normalizing your symptoms.
o Hiatal hernia.13 If you have a hiatal hernia, physical therapy on the area may work, and many chiropractors are skilled in this adjustment.
o Food allergies can also be a contributing factor to acid reflux, so eliminate common culprits such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
Is It Acid Reflux or Gallbladder Disease?
Acid reflux can also imitate symptoms of gallbladder disease.14 Your gallbladder is located beneath your liver on the right side of your abdomen. Pain stemming from your gallbladder is typically felt just under your lower ribs on the right side, and/or in the pit of your stomach. Depending on the severity of your problem, the pain can radiate into your upper back on the right side, your chest or even your shoulder.
While heartburn will typically occur right after a meal and tends to get worse if you lie down, gallbladder pain usually sets in several hours after eating and gets worse on the in-breath. For proper diagnosis, your doctor may need to do an ultrasound on your gallbladder or other tests.
Important Considerations if You've Had Your Gallbladder Removed
Over 700,000 people have their gallbladder removed every year in the United States. If you happen to be one of them, it is important to realize that your gallbladder stores bile, which helps you digest and emulsify the fat you eat. If you've had your gallbladder removed, it's really important to take ox bile, lipase or pancreatin -- digestive enzymes that digest fat -- anytime you eat a meal containing fats.15,16
Your gallbladder holds and excretes bile produced in your liver, and this bile contains the necessary enzymes to digest fats. Common signs and symptoms that your body is not digesting fats well include diarrhea, loose stools, light-colored or pale stools, bloating, nausea and indigestion after a meal.
Certain fatty foods (such as steaks or salmon) tend to be more problematic than others, but for proper digestion and absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, you really need to take a lipase or ox bile supplement with each meal. To learn more, see "Five Important Tips if You've Had Your Gallbladder Removed."
Simple Test to Evaluate Your Stomach Acid Level
A simple test can be used to determine if your stomach acid level is low, and this knowledge will help you develop a plan to reduce your chronic pain. This simple test is a rough indicator of how much acid your stomach produces:
1. Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 8 ounces of cold water and drink it first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything. The combination of baking soda and hydrochloric acid in your stomach creates carbon dioxide gas, causing you to belch.17
2. Time yourself for up to five minutes for how long it takes you to form enough gas in your stomach to belch. Belching in two to three minutes is normal; earlier and repeated belching indicates an excess of acid. If you don't belch after five minutes, you likely don't produce enough acid.
More accurate testing involves taking a stool sample to determine whether you might have an enzyme and/or hydrochloric acid deficiency.18 It could also identify bacterial or fungal imbalances that might contribute to your condition. If you aren't making enough stomach acid you can take a betaine HCL with pepsin supplement. Start with one or two tablets and work your way up to around five or seven with each large meal, but make sure you don't have any burning in your stomach. If you do, you're taking too much.
The Problem With PPIs
PPIs inhibit the proton pump that produces hydrochloric acid. However, excess stomach acid is rarely the primary trigger of heartburn and indigestion. On the contrary, heartburn is typically indicative of insufficient amounts of hydrochloric acid. If your acid levels are low, PPIs will exacerbate the problem by decreasing acid further.
And, since hydrochloric acid (and pepsin) are necessary to break down protein in your intestinal tract, reducing acid can alter your body's ability to absorb nutrients. Without adequate protein breakdown, you also increase your risk of dysbiosis,19 an imbalance in gut microbiome between harmful and friendly bacteria.
As these undigested protein molecules ferment in your intestines, they become food for pathogens such as H. pylori, C. difficile and Candida. An overgrowth of these bacteria may also lead to leaky gut and associated health problems. A recent study20 confirmed this risk. Compared to those not taking PPIs, participants who did had a 1.7 to 3.7 times increased risk of developing C. difficile or Campylobacter infection.
Although both of these bacteria trigger abdominal pain and diarrhea, C. difficile tends to be the more serious of the two. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 29,000 Americans die from C. difficile infection each year.21 A meta-analysis22 looking at studies published between 1990 and 2010 also found a significant link between C. difficile infection and PPI use.
PPIs Associated With Increased Risk of Dementia
Research has linked PPIs to a number of other devastating health effects as well, including dementia. Disturbingly, cognitive changes can occur even with short-term use. In one study,23 PPIs were found to cause statistically and clinically significant impairments in the participants' executive functions, visual memory and planning function after just one week of use.
According to research24,25,26 published in JAMA Neurology, seniors over the age of 75 who use PPIs on a regular basis had a 44 percent increased risk of dementia compared with nonusers. Men were at greater risk, raising their dementia risk on average by 52 percent, compared to 42 percent for women.
One characteristic of dementia is the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain that provoke inflammation and ultimately kill brain cells. There is now strong scientific evidence that PPIs not only increase production of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, but slow your body's ability to eliminate them as well.27,28,29 Two other studies concluded those taking PPIs were at greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.30,31
PPIs Raise Your Risk of Heart Attack and Premature Death
Research has also linked long-term PPI use to an increased risk for heart disease32 and heart attacks -- even if you have no prior history of cardiovascular disease.33,34 In one study,35 patients with GERD who took PPIs had a 16 percent increased risk of heart attack, and a twofold increased risk of cardiovascular mortality.
The reason for this effect is thought to be due to the drug reducing nitric oxide (NO) in your blood vessel walls. NO relaxes your blood vessels, so by reducing the amount of NO, PPIs may raise your risk of a heart attack. Recent research also found PPI users were nearly 20 percent more likely to die from any cause compared to nonusers over the course of six years, and the longer the use, the greater the risk.36,37,38,39 As reported by Reuters:40
"The most likely explanation for the increased mortality risk is the side effects associated with PPIs ... In terms of the mechanisms that could be involved ... laboratory experiments have shown that lysosomes -- tiny organs within cells that act like garbage disposals to get rid of waste -- don't function well in people taking PPIs. Other research has shown that PPIs may shorten the protective chromosome ends known as telomeres, in effect speeding up cell aging."
Other Health Hazards Associated With PPI Use
Studies have also linked PPIs to the development of chronic kidney disease,41 increased risk of bone fractures42,43 and vitamin B-12 deficiency, which in turn may lead to anemia, nerve damage, psychiatric problems and dementia. Researchers at Houston Methodist Hospital think they've discovered one of the reasons why PPIs can have such devastating effects on your brain, kidneys and other systems.
When different cells were grown in culture and exposed to PPIs, cells that line blood vessels demonstrated significant change.44 PPIs are taken orally and affect the proton pump in more than just your stomach walls. Blood vessels also produce small amounts of acid to break down and eliminate damaged protein molecules. When acid levels drop, microscopic debris begins to build up on the arterial walls, resulting in problems where many blood vessels are found, such as your brain, heart and kidneys.
Lead author Dr. John Cooke, chair of cardiovascular disease research at Houston Methodist Research Institute, noted:45 "I'm perplexed that the pharmaceutical industry didn't run across this first. This is something that should have been apparent a long time ago and should have been investigated."
How to Properly Wean Yourself Off PPIs
If you're currently taking a PPI, do NOT quit cold turkey. Doing so can result in severe rebound effects known as rebound acid hypersecretion. It's important to spend time detoxifying and eliminating the drug from your system. To do that, you need to gradually wean yourself off the drug.
Once you're down to the lowest dose, start substituting with an over-the-counter H2 blocker, like Cimetidine, Zantac, Ranitidine or Tagamet. Once you've been taking the H2 blocker for a couple of weeks, you may start weaning yourself off these drugs as well, while introducing the alternative options to reduce your heartburn outlined below.
How To Heal GERD and Avoid Heartburn
One simple strategy to address a hydrochloric acid deficiency is to swap out processed table salt for an unprocessed version like Himalayan salt. By consuming enough of the raw material, you will encourage your body to make sufficient amounts of stomach acid naturally. Research46 has also shown that sauerkraut or cabbage juice is among the strongest stimulants for your body to produce stomach acid.
It will also provide you with valuable bacteria to help balance and nourish your gut. Having a few teaspoons of fermented cabbage juice from sauerkraut before your meal will do wonders to improve your digestion. Fresh, raw cabbage juice can also be very useful to heal resistant ulcers. To restore your natural gastric balance and function, also be sure to eat lots of vegetables and other high-quality, ideally organic, unprocessed foods.
Reseeding your gut with beneficial bacteria, either from traditionally fermented foods or a high quality probiotic supplement is also important, as this will not only help balance your bowel flora, but can also help eliminate helicobacter bacteria naturally. Probiotics and fermented foods, especially fermented vegetables, also aid in proper digestion and assimilation of your food.
Also, beware of lectin-rich foods such as grains and legumes, as lectins are potent enzyme inhibitors.47,48 By inhibiting digestive enzymes, your digestive system will not function properly and foods will not be broken down, thereby producing or exacerbating heartburn.
Among the most problematic lectin-containing foods are wheat and other seeds of the grass family, any dairy that has A1 casein protein, beans, soy and other legumes, peanuts and members of the nightshade family such as eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. Grains and legumes such as black beans, soybeans, lima beans, kidney beans and lentils contain the highest amounts of lectin.
It is also crucial to avoid eating processed foods as much as possible. Be sure to concentrate on eating real foods as that is one of the most powerful strategies you have to activate biological homeostasis in your gut.
Effective Alternatives to Treat Heartburn, GERD and Indigestion
Other helpful strategies to get your heartburn under control include the following suggestions, drawn from a variety of sources.49,50,51,52,53
? Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
Acid reflux typically results from having too little acid in your stomach. You can easily improve the acid content of your stomach by taking 1 tablespoon of raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar in a large glass of water.
? Betaine hydrochloric acid with pepsin
Another option is to take a betaine hydrochloric supplement with pepsin.54,55 Typically, you only need a betaine supplement with meals containing protein.
You'll want to take as many as you need to get the slightest burning sensation and then decrease by one capsule. This will improve digestion and help kill the H. pylori bacteria. As a general dosing guideline, an effective adult dose is typically five to seven capsules containing 650 milligrams (mg) of betaine with pepsin.
The only time a pepsin-free betaine supplement is recommended is if you're sensitive to pepsin. That's rare, however, and without pepsin the betaine will not work well, because if your stomach does not produce enough hydrochloric acid, it also will not make sufficient amounts of pepsin (the enzyme that breaks down proteins).
According to Dr. Jonathan Wright, betaine is contraindicated if you're taking any kind of anti-inflammatory medication, such as corticosteroids, aspirin, Indocin, ibuprofen or other NSAIDs.56
The reason for this is because these drugs can damage your gastrointestinal lining. Taking a hydrochloric acid supplement can aggravate the area, raising your risk of gastric bleeding or an ulcer.57 Digestive bitters may be a safer choice in this case.
? Papaya fruit or papain supplement
Papaya fruit contains papain, an enzyme that helps break down both protein and carbohydrates. It even helps break down gluten, making it particularly valuable for those struggling with gluten sensitivity.58
? Pineapple or bromelain supplement
Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme found in pineapple, and like papain, it also helps digest proteins. It also has anti-inflammatory activity and helps maintain more regular bowel movements.59
? Baking soda
One-half to 1 full teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in an 8-ounce glass of water may ease the burn of acid reflux as it helps neutralize stomach acid. I would not recommend this is a regular solution, but it can sure help in an emergency when you are in excruciating pain.
? Aloe juice
The juice of the aloe plant naturally helps reduce inflammation, which may ease symptoms of acid reflux. Drink about one-half cup of aloe vera juice before meals. If you want to avoid its laxative effect, look for a brand that has removed the laxative component.
? Ginger root
Ginger has been found to have a gastroprotective effect by suppressing Helicobacter pylori.60 It also tightens your LES, thereby preventing the reflux of stomach acid61 and reduces inflammation.62 According to a 2007 study,63 it's also far superior to lansoprazole for preventing the formation of ulcers, exhibiting up to eightfold greater potency over the drug.
Add two or three slices of fresh ginger root to 2 cups of hot water. Let steep for about a half-hour. Drink about 20 minutes or so before your meal.
? Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for addressing any infectious component. Once your vitamin D levels are optimized, you're also going to optimize your production of about 200 antimicrobial peptides that will help your body eradicate any infection that shouldn't be there.
This exceptionally potent antioxidant was found to reduce symptoms of acid reflux in patients when compared to a placebo, particularly in those with pronounced helicobacter pylori infection.64 Best results were obtained at a daily dose of 40 mg.
? Slippery elm
Slippery elm coats and soothes your mouth, throat, stomach and intestines, and contains antioxidants that can help address inflammatory bowel conditions. It also stimulates nerve endings in your gastrointestinal tract. This helps increase mucus secretion, which protects your gastrointestinal tract against ulcers and excess acidity. The University of Maryland Medical Center65 makes the following adult dosing recommendations:
o Tea: Pour 2 cups boiling water over 4 grams (roughly 2 tablespoons) of powdered bark, then steep for three to five minutes. Drink three times per day
o Tincture: 5 milliliters (mL) three times per day
o Capsules: 400 to 500 mg three to four times daily for four to eight weeks. Take with a full glass of water
o Lozenges: follow dosing instructions on label
? Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) may also be helpful, as it helps block inflammatory prostaglandins.66 As noted by Livestrong,67 "Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been ... used to treat a variety of maladies ... Its ancient reputation as a folk remedy for gastric problems does have a scientific basis. This is especially true for functional dyspepsia, a condition that frequently overlaps with acid reflux.
Like acid reflux, it presents symptoms of pain in the upper abdomen, discomfort, burning and belching. Iberogast, or STW 5, and GutGard, two products whose primary ingredient is an extract of DGL licorice, have been shown to relieve symptoms of both dyspepsia and acid reflux; however, these products have many other ingredients ...
Licorice must be approached cautiously because it contains the active metabolite glycyrrhiza. In large quantities glycyrrhiza can cause a syndrome called hyperaldosteronism, which affects the adrenal glands and can cause numbness, high blood pressure and muscle weakness."
DGL supplements contain licorice from which a substantial amount of the glycyrrhiza has been removed, making it safer for use.68 Dr. Andrew Weil recommends chewing two DGL tablets or taking half a teaspoon of DGL powder before or between meals and at bedtime. Once your symptoms are under control, taper down your dose.69
Licorice is contraindicated if you're on diuretics or stimulant laxatives. Also, beware that licorice may reduce your potassium level, and has estrogenic activity, so women on hormone therapy or who have estrogen-dependent cancers or other reproductive conditions such as endometriosis should avoid it.70
Research71 published in 2009 found that gastrointestinal damage caused by H. pylori can be addressed with the amino acid glutamine, found in many foods, including beef, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products and some fruits and vegetables. L-glutamine, the biologically active isomer of glutamine, is also widely available as a supplement.
? Folate or folic acid (vitamin B-9) and other B vitamins
Research72 suggests B vitamins can reduce your risk for acid reflux. Higher folic acid intake was found to reduce acid reflux by approximately 40 percent. Low vitamin B-2 and B-6 levels were also linked to an increased risk for acid reflux. The best way to raise your folate levels is by eating folate-rich whole foods, such as liver, asparagus, spinach, okra and beans.
A dietary supplement containing melatonin, l-tryptophan, vitamin B-6, folic acid, vitamin B-12, methionine and betaine was found to be superior to the drug omeprazole in the treatment of GERD.73 Part of the success is thought to be due to melatonin's inhibitory activity on NO biosynthesis, which plays an important role in transient LES relaxation, which, as I mentioned earlier, is part of the real underlying problem of heartburn.
Impressively, 100 percent of patients receiving this supplement reported a complete regression of symptoms after 40 days of treatment, compared to just under 66 percent of those taking omeprazole. The authors concluded that "this formulation promotes regression of GERD symptoms with no significant side effects."
Allergies are your body's reaction to a protein (allergen) and are a sign your immune system is working overtime. According to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America,1 nasal allergies affect nearly 50 million people in the U.S., and that number is growing. As many as 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children suffer from allergic diseases, including asthma.
These conditions are the fifth leading chronic disease in the U.S. and the third chronic disease in children under 18. In 2010, Americans with allergic rhinitis spent nearly $17.5 billion on health care related to the condition, lost more than 6 million work and school days and had nearly 16 million doctor visits.2
During the second encounter with an allergen, your body is ready to react, sending a powerful cocktail of histamine, leukotrienes and prostaglandins to protect your body. They trigger a cascade of symptoms associated with allergies, such as sneezing, sore throat, runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. Histamine may also cause your airways to constrict, triggering an asthma response or hives.
Pollen is one common allergen that triggers this reaction, but other protein molecules may as well, including mold spores, dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches, and cleaning and personal care products. The activation of this allergic response may be related to your dietary intake and your gut microbiome. Recent research has identified a higher risk of allergies and asthma in children born to mothers who ate high amounts of sugar during their pregnancy.3
Sugar During Pregnancy Increases Your Child's Risk of Allergies
Researchers at Queen Mary University of London evaluated survey data from nearly 9,000 mother-child pairs in the ongoing Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, tracking the health of families with children born between April 1, 1991, and December 31, 1992.4 Lead author Annabelle Bedard, Ph.D., commented on what triggered the researchers to evaluate the association between sugar and allergies:5
"The dramatic 'epidemic' of asthma and allergies in the West in the last 50 years is still largely unexplained -- one potential culprit is a change in diet. Intake of free sugar and high fructose corn syrup has increased substantially over this period. We know that the prenatal period may be crucial for determining risk of asthma and allergies in childhood and recent trials have confirmed that maternal diet in pregnancy is important."
Using self-reported estimates of sugar intake from questionnaires, the researchers calculated the amount of sugar the mothers ate during their pregnancy and compared this against the number of children diagnosed with allergies or asthma by age 7. Sixty-two percent of the children did not have allergic reactions, 22 percent had common allergies and 12 percent had asthma.
As a comparison, 10 percent of children in the U.S. were diagnosed with asthma in 2010, six years prior to this analysis.6 When the children were grouped into those with the lowest sugar intake during pregnancy (less than 34 grams or 7 teaspoons) and those with the greatest (over 82 grams or 16 teaspoons) the researchers discovered that children whose mothers ate the highest amounts had a 38 percent increased risk of allergies and a 73 percent higher risk of becoming allergic to two or more allergens.7
Women who ate high amounts of sugar were also twice as likely to have children who developed allergic asthma.8 Co-author Seif Shaheen, Ph.D., said:9
"We cannot say on the basis of these observations that high intake of sugar by mothers in pregnancy is definitely causing allergy and allergic asthma in their offspring. However, given the extremely high consumption of sugar in the West, we will certainly be investigating this hypothesis further with some urgency."
Impact of Asthma on Your Community
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames the lining of your lung tissue and narrows the airways. The inflammation in your lung tissue is sensitive to environmental stimuli, also called triggers, which differ from person to person.10 Allergy triggers include dust mites, cockroaches, mold, pet dander and pollen.11
However, you may develop an asthma exacerbation from triggers other than allergic proteins. For instance, strong irritants, such as chemical sprays, perfumes and tobacco smoke or scented products may irritate your lung tissue and narrow your airways. Other triggers include cold weather, exercise, upper respiratory infections, food sensitivities and stress.
In the featured study, researchers found children whose mothers ate high amounts of sugar while pregnant developed asthma triggered by allergens and not by fragrances, cold weather, exercise, infections or food sensitivities. In the past 30 years, the incidence of asthma has increased worldwide. While the condition is generally accepted as costly, some countries do not consider it a health care priority.12
The total cost of treatment and lost work and school to society is difficult to estimate, due in part to different definitions and characterizations of the conditions and different assessments of the socioeconomic impact on society. Although variable from country to country, an average cost per patient in Europe is $1,900, while in the U.S. the cost hovers near $3,100.13
Vitamin D During Pregnancy Helps Reduce Asthma Risk
Low vitamin D levels in children who have asthma may increase the number of severe exacerbations they suffer, including the need for a trip to the hospital.14 A previous study, which followed over 1,000 children for nearly four years, found vitamin D insufficiency was linked to a 50 percent increased risk of a severe asthmatic attack necessitating a visit to the emergency room or hospitalization.
A more recent study15 published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology also links low vitamin D levels in pregnant women to a higher risk of asthma in their children.16 This study supports similar findings from Harvard Medical School,17 in which vitamin D intake in over 1,100 mothers from the Northeastern U.S. was assessed. Children from mothers whose intake was higher during pregnancy had a decreased risk of recurrent wheezing by age 3, whether the vitamin D was from diet or a supplement.
The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology study evaluated the effect of using an oral supplement of vitamin D-3 during the second and third trimester of pregnancy at nearly 4,000 IUs higher than the recommended daily intake of 400 IUs.18 After birth, researchers took a sample of the cord blood, testing the newborn's innate immune system response known to provide the baby with long-term protection against environmental pathogens.
The samples from babies whose mothers had taken the higher supplemental dose of 4,400 IUs of vitamin D-3 responded with a healthier innate cytokine response and greater IL-17A production after T lymphocyte stimulation. The researchers believe this would likely lead to improved respiratory health as the child grows, since past research has linked a strong immune response with a reduction in asthma.
The lead researcher, Catherine Hawrylowicz, Ph.D., professor of immune regulation in allergic disease at King's College London, commented on the importance of the results as it relates to both the health of future children and the importance of investigating further links between vitamin D and immunity:19
"The majority of all asthma cases are diagnosed in early childhood implying that the origin of the disease stems in fetal and early life. Studies to date that have investigated links between vitamin D and immunity in the baby have been observational.
For the first time, we have shown that higher vitamin D levels in pregnancy can effectively alter the immune response of the newborn baby, which could help to protect the child from developing asthma. Future studies should look at the long-term impact on the immunity of the infant."
Impact of Sugar on Your Body
Sugar is 50 times more potent than total calories in explaining the rising rates of diabetes worldwide, explains Dr. Robert Lustig in this short video. While both glucose and fructose are sweet, they are two different molecules.
Research demonstrates not only the detrimental effect sugar has on your developing baby and their future health, but also on your own health. Despite the American Heart Association's seal of approval on products that meet or exceed their own recommended daily limit on sugar, there is no nutritional reason to eat foods with added sugar.
In fact, the opposite is true. Diets high in net carbohydrates and added sweeteners may do far more than spike your blood glucose and insulin levels. Sugar will overload and damage your liver. High levels of sugar in your body will also trigger metabolic syndrome, a combination of weight gain, abdominal obesity, rising cholesterol levels and elevated triglycerides.
Eating a diet rich in net carbohydrates and excess sugars has also been linked to hypertension. As your insulin and leptin levels rise in response to sugars, your blood pressure also rises. Your body uses magnesium to fully relax your blood vessels, but your body is unable to store magnesium as you become resistant to insulin from a diet rich in sugar. When your body doesn't have enough magnesium to relax your blood vessels, your blood pressure also rises.
Eating high amounts of sugar is also linked to brain-related health issues, such as depression, learning disorders, memory problems and food addiction. Sugars trigger the reward center in your brain, leading to cravings that may rival cocaine addiction in some individuals.20 However, not all sugars have identical effects. For instance, fructose may activate your brain to increase your interest in food, while glucose triggers your brain's satiation signal.
Your Gut Microbiome and Allergies
High sugar intake also affects the growth of bacteria in your gut. In an evaluation of data from market research firm Euromonitor, researchers found people in the U.S. ate more sugar per person than any other country evaluated.21 The average person in the U.S. consumes more than 126 grams of sugar each day, nearly twice the amount consumed by 54 monitored countries and twice the amount recommended by the World Health Organization.
Researchers have demonstrated that diets rich in sugar will alter your gut microbiome,22,23 likely since your beneficial bacteria thrive on fiber and pathogenic bacteria thrive on sugar. Increasing the amount of sugar to the diet of mice transplanted with human fecal material demonstrated the gut microbiome would change dramatically within 24 hours of adding sugar to their diet.24
Scientists have found infants who go on to develop allergies start with early-life abnormalities in their gut microbiome and microbial function.25 While research continues to find links between healthy gut microbiota and a reduction in allergic response in adults and children, the evidence to date suggests that your gut microbiome is a significant target in the prevention and management of allergic asthma.26
In a recent scientific review, scientists found an association between immune-regulated epigenetic imprinting from mother to child during pregnancy that may support the immune system of the growing child after birth.27
However, if your gut microbiome is altered from high intake of sugar and net carbohydrates, this may alter your body's ability to support the growing immune system of your child. In yet another study, doctors were able to associate altered intestinal microbiota with the development of asthma and allergies in children, suggesting the mother's immune system may also play a role.28
Break Free From Sugar
Research supports making a break from processed foods and added sugars in your diet to optimize your health and the health of your children. While sugar is an additive that can be challenging to reduce or eliminate from your diet, the benefits to your overall health, energy level and brain function may become rapidly evident, helping to motivate your efforts.
If you currently eat a lot of sugar, there's a good chance you're struggling with sugar addiction. If so, I highly recommend trying an energy psychology technique called Turbo Tapping. It has helped many "soda addicts" kick their sweet habit, and it should work for any type of sweet craving you may have.
As you begin eliminating sugar from your diet, be sure to avoid most processed foods, as added sugar can be found in nearly 74 percent of processed foods under more than 60 different names.29 If you're already fighting diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or are overweight, you would be wise to limit your total fructose and sugar intake to 15 grams per day until your condition has normalized.
For all others, I recommend limiting your total fructose to 25 grams or less per day. As you move toward limiting your sugar intake, here are several tips to help reduce cravings and help you on your journey to good health:
o Exercise: Anyone who exercises intensely on a regular basis will know a significant amount of cardiovascular exercise is one of the best "cures" for food cravings. It always amazes me how my appetite, especially for sweets, dramatically decreases after a good workout. I believe the mechanism is related to the dramatic reduction in insulin levels that occurs after exercise.
o Organic, black coffee: Coffee is a potent opioid receptor antagonist, and contains compounds such as cafestol -- found plentifully in both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee -- which can bind to your opioid receptors, occupy them and essentially block your addiction to other opioid-releasing food.30,31 This may profoundly reduce the addictive power of other substances, such as sugar.
o Sour taste: Simply tasting something sour, such as cultured vegetables, helps reduce sweet cravings, too. This is doubly beneficial, as fermented vegetables also promote gut health. You can also try adding lemon or lime juice to your water.
U.S. prices of wholesale organic milk have dropped significantly -- in some cases by more than 30 percent -- in the last year. While this might seem like welcome news for consumers looking for a price break on this premium milk, it comes at a cost to small farmers -- some of whom are selling organic grass fed milk at non-organic prices or, worse, being forced to dump it.1
Small farmers risk being forced out of business in this market, even as the organic dairy industry has grown in size. The problem is that as larger industrialized farms have entered the organic market, it's increasingly pushed the small players by the wayside. The Washington Post reported a glaring reason why: The number of organic cows rose by 13 percent from 2008 to 2015, but the amount of organic milk products produced rose by 35 percent.2
The Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) attributed some of the increase to "better practices," but others, including an investigation by The Washington Post, suggest skimping on organic practices may be a better description.3 Even NODPA noted the reason behind the large jump is "the increase in those mostly larger herds where the cows are fed in the barn instead of going out to pasture as the organic regulations require."4
Large Organic Dairies Skimping on Grazing Time
Cows produce more milk, faster, when they're fed grain in the barn, as opposed to grazing on grass on pasture. Industrialized organic dairies are capitalizing on this by skimping on grazing time, raising thousands of cows in veritable CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), yet still gaining the USDA organic label that suggests otherwise.
When the Post visited Aurora Organic Dairy in Colorado, the company that provides organic store brands to corporations like Wal-Mart, Target and Costco, a few problems were evident right off the bat. For starters, the farm is massive, housing 15,000 cows, "making it more than 100 times the size of a typical organic herd," the Post noted. Further, organic standards require that cows have free access to certified organic pasture for the entire grazing season, but there are large loopholes in the requirement.
The Post investigation revealed that Aurora Organic Dairy appears to be stretching the limits of the rule, noting that "signs of grazing were sparse, at best" and "at no point was any more than 10 percent of the herd out."5
The Post even had samples of Aurora's organic milk tested for "a key indicator of grass-feeding" (its fatty acid profile), which revealed the milk matched conventional, not organic milk. When raised correctly, organic milk contains about 25 percent less omega-6 fats and 62 percent more omega-3 fats than conventional milk, along with more vitamin E, beta-carotene and beneficial conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).6
Organic Violators Allowed to Keep Operating
Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not doing nearly enough to protect the integrity of its organic label. Farmers hire their own inspection agencies to comply with USDA rules, and even when violations are found, they typically amount to only a slap on the wrist in terms of punishment.
In 2007, for instance, while the USDA sanctioned Aurora Organic Dairy for willfully violating organic standards, the farm was allowed to continue operating after a settlement was reached. Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute told the Post:7
"The USDA has shown a remarkable lack of interest in whether these big organic dairies are really organic ... Most times, they don't even investigate. And when they find a problem, there's very little punishment, if any. It's a gross betrayal of the spirit of the organic law."
The latest Post investigation did prompt some of Aurora's wholesale customers to look into their practices but so far none, including Wal-Mart and Costco, have decided to change suppliers. Meanwhile, small farmers who allow their herds to graze the right way are unable to compete with the industrialized organic farms that are cutting corners, yet both get rewarded with the same USDA organic label.
Organic Amish farmer James Swantz told the Post, "We know with that high concentration of cows that it's impossible to meet the grazing rule ... They're not organic. No way."8
The Cornucopia Institute has engaged with two law firms that are investigating Aurora's role in creating a glut of organic milk that has driven prices down and pushed many small farmers out of the business. Kastel told Sustainable Food News the law firms are investigating "the gross amount of milk [Aurora Organic Dairy] creates and ... the marketplace pressure their customers place on the balance of participants in the industry." He continued:9
"We are in the exploratory stage right now ... It appears that there is a good legal basis to pursue this and we are attempting to develop a plaintiff pool. We just need to have solid and creditable plaintiffs with standing. We have already had a number of farmers who have expressed a willingness to pursue this legal action prior to our outreach ..."
Dairy Industry Forced to Make 'Grass Fed' & 'Free-Range' Claims as Organic Label Damaged
With the organic dairy label under increased scrutiny, the U.K.'s Arla Foods has changed the name of its Arla Organic Farm Milk to Arla Organic Free Range Milk. Studies have shown that many people in the U.K. are unaware that organic milk comes from cows with free access to pasture (or at least is supposed to), which is why Arla is highlighting the fact on its label.
The company claims that its cows are outside for an average of 200 days per year.10 Likewise, in the U.S., Organic Valley also offers a separate Grassmilk brand promoting 100 percent grass fed milk and cows fed no grain. According to the company:11
"Since grazing is a bedrock principle of our organic farming practices, all Organic Valley farmer-owners nationwide do their utmost to maximize fresh and dried forages to maintain the health and well-being of their animals, and because they know that milk produced from grazing cows contains increased levels of beneficial omega-3 and (CLA) fatty acids."
As for why some Organic Valley milk is 100 percent grass fed and some is not, they explained that not all farms have the land base available to produce enough forage for cows when grains are removed from their diet. In addition, they noted some farms' soils "are not ready for full conversion to pasture" while "cows must be transitioned slowly from a grain diet, to less grain, to no grain."12
Similarly, Organic Pastures calls their milk "grass-grazed" as opposed to "grass fed," the latter of which they point out could mean virtually anything, like "grazed at some point," leading to milk with questionable nutritional value.13 Unfortunately, even with a claim of grass fed, it's still a buyer beware market when it comes to choosing dairy. As it stands, dairy can be sold as "grass fed" whether the cows ate solely grass or received silage, hay or even grains during certain times.
Fortunately, the American Grassfed Association (AGA) recently introduced much-needed grass fed standards and certification for American-grown grass fed dairy,14 which will allow for greater transparency and conformity.15 I would strongly advise you to ensure your dairy is AGA certified as grass fed. As reported by Organic Authority:16
"The new regulations are the product of a year's worth of collaboration amongst dairy producers like Organic Valley as well as certifiers like Pennsylvania Certified Organic and a team of scientists.
'We came up with a standard that's good for the animals, that satisfies what consumers want and expect when they see grass fed on the label, and that is economically feasible for farmers,' says AGA's communications director Marilyn Noble of the new regulations."
Non-Organic Ben & Jerry's Continues to Stall on Cleaning Up Dairy
A recent commentary written by Will Allen and Michael Colby, co-founders of the organic advocacy group Regeneration Vermont, for Vermont Digger reveals that ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's, which is owned by Unilever, is still not living up to their natural and socially responsible reputation. Ben & Jerry's does some things right, like supporting GMO labeling, and their environmentally friendly image has propelled the ice-cream maker to a $600 million-a-year enterprise -- slated to be a billion-dollar-a-year corporation by 2020.17
However, Ben & Jerry's is a non-organic dairy, and they source their milk largely from CAFOs. In Vermont, more than 200 dairy farms have transitioned to organic and returned their cows to a grass-based diet. Regeneration Vermont is dedicated to bringing sustainable, regenerative agriculture back to Vermont and that includes bringing Ben & Jerry's into the discussion.
Regeneration Vermont has urged the ice cream maker to source milk from organic/regenerative farmers, which would signal to desperate dairy farmers that there's another, viable option to the destructive GMO, CAFO method that's currently considered the norm. Allen's and Colby's commentary explains:18
"We shared all of our research on labor abuse, animal abuse, farm bankruptcy, water pollution and damaged rural communities with Ben & Jerry's. We also introduced them to consultants and resources in an effort to convince them that going organic would not only be good for them -- practicing what they preach and all -- but it would also be an essential lifeline for farmers in the state who wanted to convert to organic but had no market.
Instead of greenwashing, we argued that they could finally advertise their decision to completely clean up their supply chain. They said they would get back to us."
As of July 2017, however, they have not, and they continue to profit immensely off cheap, inhumanely produced and environmentally destructive milk while passing themselves off as a natural, environmentally responsible company. Allen and Colby continue:
"Stalling has been refined to an art form with Ben & Jerry's social mission and dairy teams. In April 2016, they felt that they would have a decision on changing their dairy sourcing by September/October 2016. When October came, they felt that they would have a decision by December. In December, we were told that February or March would be when they made their sourcing decision ...
Finally, April or May was to be the target date for making sourcing decisions. It is now July -- still no decision, still no meeting with the CEO. Still stalling ... It's time to stop pretending that Ben & Jerry's is a socially or environmentally conscious corporation. They know how damaging their milk supply chain is. They know that labor is being abused. They know that cows are burning out before they are  years old.
They know that antibiotics were being misused. They know that the dairies that supply their milk are polluting our drinking water and most of the rivers and lakes in Vermont. They can't pretend that they didn't know how damaging their supply chain is, because we shared all this data with them. Yet they refuse to act."
Cornucopia's Organic Dairy Scorecard Helps Level the Playing Field
How can you tell if your organic milk comes from grass fed cows being raised humanely on a small family farm -- or from a pseudo-organic CAFO? Getting your raw milk from a local organic grass fed farm or co-op is best, but if you're considering milk from another source, check out Cornucopia's Organic Dairy Scorecard.19 The Cornucopia Institute is an organic industry watchdog whose core constituencies are family farmers across the U.S. and consumers concerned about the availability and quality of organic foods.
Their goal is to empower you to make informed purchasing decisions. You might be surprised to see many big-name organic brands ranking near the bottom of the list, even receiving a "zero" rating. In this case, it's not worth your money to pay for an "organic" product that's likely no better than conventional. You'd be better served by supporting the ethical farms that received a "4- or 5-cow" rating instead (meaning their farming practices are either excellent or outstanding).
While you'll certainly notice the difference in flavor when purchasing truly grass fed, organic dairy, you can even see the difference. Grass fed organic milk tends to be yellowish, not pure white. The coloration comes from the natural antioxidant carotenoids found in the grass, which is a precursor to vitamin A. When cows are raised on dried grass or hay, as opposed to fresh-growing grass, you end up with a whiter product, which is an indication of reduced carotenoid and antioxidant content.
The increased coverage about certain big-name organic brands putting out a sub-par product is important news for consumers, but please don't let it deter you from supporting the organic farmers raising truly grass fed cows. For more information about finding high-quality farm-fresh foods near you, see the links below:
The goal of the American Grassfed Association is to promote the grass fed industry through government relations, research, concept marketing and public education.
Their website also allows you to search for AGA approved producers certified according to strict standards that include being raised on a diet of 100 percent forage; raised on pasture and never confined to a feedlot; never treated with antibiotics or hormones; and born and raised on American family farms.
EatWild.com provides lists of farmers known to produce raw dairy products as well as grass fed beef and other farm-fresh produce (although not all are certified organic). Here you can also find information about local farmers markets, as well as local stores and restaurants that sell grass fed products.
Weston A. Price has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter.
The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs and markets near you.
The Cornucopia Institute maintains web-based tools rating all certified organic brands of eggs, dairy products and other commodities, based on their ethical sourcing and authentic farming practices separating CAFO "organic" production from authentic organic practices.
If you're still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws. California residents can also find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.
The immense waste that comes along with one-time-use plastic products is clearly evident, yet despite the growing amount of plastic waste filling up our oceans, coastlines and landfills, their usage continues. The number of plastic bottles alone is staggering, with data obtained by The Guardian suggesting 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute worldwide. Worse still, this is expected to increase by 20 percent by 2021 and reach more than half a trillion sold every year by 2020.1
Most of this waste comes from the seemingly insatiable thirst for bottled water, which exists even in areas where access to filtered tap water, which can be brought with you on-the-go via refillable bottles, exists. The Guardian also highlighted increasingly urbanized regions in China and the Asia Pacific regions as adding to the problem, continuing:2
"More than 480bn plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 across the world, up from about 300bn a decade ago. If placed end to end, they would extend more than halfway to the sun. By 2021 this will increase to 583.3bn, according to the most up-to-date estimates from Euromonitor International's global packaging trends report."
Most Plastic Bottles End Up in Landfills or the Ocean
While most plastic water and soda bottles are made from highly recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET), most such bottles end up littering oceans and landfills. The Guardian reported that fewer than half of the plastic bottles purchased in 2016 were recycled, and only 7 percent were made into new bottles.3 In the U.S., one of the top waste-generating countries, littering is a major issue, especially in the form of single-use plastics, like soda bottles, drinking straws and potato chip bags.
According to environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy, some plastic products persist for so long, even in salty ocean water, that they'll still be recognizable after 400 years.4 "The amount of unmanaged plastic waste entering the ocean -- known as plastic-waste leakage -- has reached crisis levels and has caused significant economic and environmental damage," they state.5
More than 80 percent of the plastic debris in the ocean starts off on land. Once in the ocean, it's known that nearly 700 species (and probably many more) are negatively impacted by such debris. Sadly, at least 17 percent of impacted species are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as near threatened or worse, and at least 10 percent of the species had ingested microplastics.6
A study published in Marine Policy revealed that ingestion and entanglement from litter poses the biggest threat to marine life, more so than chemical contamination.7 Plastic bags, balloons and utensils were particularly problematic, as seabirds, turtles and marine mammals commonly mistook them for food. That being said, microplastics, which are less than 5 millimeters (mm) in diameter, are also consumed by marine life, with unknown consequences.
If you eat seafood that has been ingesting microbeads, you're at risk of a potentially high dose of environmental toxins as well. One 2014 study even suggested that the average European who eats shellfish may consume 11,000 pieces of microplastic per year.8 Quite literally, the ocean and its inhabitants are teeming with plastic. In the U.K., for instance, one-third of the fish caught were found to contain plastic.9
A Campaign to Eliminate Plastic Straws
Plastic bottles have received a lot of negative press, which in turn has spawned an industry of alternatives, including stainless steel and glass water bottles to take with you on the go. The movement to eliminate plastic straws has received less attention, but it's steadily growing as the consequences of their use become apparent.
According to the Be Straw Free campaign, Americans use 500 million straws daily, which doesn't even account for all of the straws that come attached to juice and milk cartons (including those handed out in school cafeterias).10
Straws are also commonly found littering coastlines and beaches (along with plastic bags and bottles), which isn't surprising when you think about how often and widely they're handed out. While some zoos and theme parks (such as Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom) have banned their use to protect animals, straws are available for free at virtually every U.S. restaurant, movie theater and coffee shop.
Sadly, marine mammals are often found with straws lodged in their stomachs and sea turtles have been found with straws wedged in their nose. Slowly, cities around the U.S. have taken notice, with California's Manhattan Beach enacting a citywide disposable plastic ban. Others, including Berkeley, California; Miami, Florida; and New York City, as well as 1,800 restaurants, are considering bans on straws or at least have pledged to only hand them out if customers request them.11
This latter strategy alone could cut down on significant amounts of waste, as many people use straws as an afterthought, simply because they're there.
Catherine Greener, vice president of sustainability for Xanterra Parks & Resorts, a concessions company that partners with the National Park Service, told The Washington Post, "Humans didn't really evolve around straws. It's not like we have to consume fluids with this appendage. What really, what is this?"12 For those rare times when a straw really is necessary (or if you just like using one), reusable straws made from stainless steel, bamboo and even glass are widely available.
Plastic Utensils: Billions May Be Tossed Annually
No one's keeping track of how many plastic forks, knives and spoons are tossed out every year, but Mother Jones reported that close to 2 billion takeout orders were placed in the U.S. in 2015. "If at least half those meals involved single-use utensils, that would mean we're tossing out billions of utensils each year," the news outlet reported.13 It's another eye-opening statistic with sobering implications for the Earth.
Plastic utensils and other food and beverage packaging were recently found to make up 67 percent of the litter found in the San Francisco Bay area.14 Like straws, oftentimes plastic utensils are added to carry-out orders even if customers don't request them. "Even just asking customers if they need napkins, straws, and utensils before loading up their takeout bags could make a difference. Many of the straws found on the street by Clean Water Action were still in their wrappers," Fast Company reported.15
Alternatives to plastic utensils are also widely available, with washable metal utensils representing the most obvious choice. It's simple to pack a fork and knife with your lunch, and there are even pocket-sized sets with carrying cases available. Meanwhile, in India one company is making edible cutlery out of rice, wheat and sorghum flour, which it states degrade in the environment within 10 days if they're not eaten first.16
Similarly, in California a company is making compostable forks out of potato starch. Even these seemingly innocuous alternatives come with a downside, however, highlighting the need to simply cut down on waste and use of single-use convenience items. As Mother Jones put it:17
"... [S]uch alternatives, which cost about twice as much as plastic, still require a lot of energy and water to produce, according to Samantha Sommer, who runs a waste-prevention project for Clean Water Action. What's more, not all major cities compost.
And even if biodegradable or compostable utensils make it to a facility, there's a chance they'll end up in a landfill, says Robert Reed, a spokesman for the West Coast recycling and compost plant Recology. Depending on what they're made of, he says, biodegradable utensils might not degrade completely; if they don't, they could be plucked out of the pile and thrown away.
Perhaps diners should take a page from China, where environmental protesters publicized how the roughly 80 billion pairs of disposable wooden chopsticks produced each year eat up 20 million trees in the process.
Greenpeace China launched a BYOC (Bring Your Own Chopsticks) campaign and worked with pop stars to promote reusable chopsticks as a trendy fashion accessory. As a result, disposable chopsticks were banned from use at many venues hosting events at Beijing's 2008 Olympics."
There's No Reason for Bottled Water
There are some creative alternatives to plastic in the works, like the Ooho!, which is a bubble-like sphere made from seaweed extract that's being touted as a completely edible water bottle.18 Reusable glass or stainless steel bottles are another option, of course, which you can fill up with filtered water yourself.
Having access to clean water whenever you're thirsty is a luxury many Americans are reluctant to give up, but there's no need to use plastic water bottles for this purpose.
Simply carry a reusable water bottle with you instead and fill it up as necessary, then wash and reuse. In the U.S., water bottle filling stations are becoming the new drinking fountains, and you can find these "hydration stations" at certain airports, schools and in other public areas. If you're purchasing bottled water for home use, a better option is to place a water filter on your tap.
Another option, which is less problematic pollution-wise than single-use bottles, are the large, 5-gallon water coolers that are often found in offices or delivered for home use. The most dangerous plastic chemicals are those used to make plastic flexible, so those rigid, reusable 5-gallon bottles not only present less waste but also less of a risk in terms of plastics chemicals leaching into your water.
Choose Reusable Over Single-Use Products
Ocean Conservancy has called for a collective global response to curb plastics pollution, starting with a plan to reduce plastic-waste leakage in the top five plastic-polluting countries (China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines). They believe their plan, which includes increasing waste-collection rates, closing leakage points and more, could reduce leakage by 65 percent in those five countries and reduce total global leakage by approximately 45 percent by 2025.19
In the U.S., it's also crucial that we rethink our throwaway culture and become more sustainably creative. Ideally, seek to purchase products that are not made from or packaged in plastic. Another important point is to choose reusable over single-use, which is possible in most instances. For instance, opting for the following will help you to inch closer to a minimal-waste lifestyle while keeping your share of plastics pollution out of the oceans:
? Use reusable shopping bags for groceries
? Take your own leftovers container to restaurants
? Bring your own mug for coffee, and bring drinking water from home in glass water bottles instead of buying bottled water
? Request no plastic wrap on your newspaper and dry cleaning
? Store foods in glass containers or mason jars rather than plastic containers and plastic freezer bags
? Avoid disposable utensils and straws and buy foods in bulk when you can
? Opt for non-disposable razors, washable feminine hygiene products for women, cloth diapers, handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues, rags in lieu of paper towels, and infant toys made of wood rather than plastic
? Avoid processed foods (which are stored in plastic bags with chemicals). Buy fresh produce instead, and forgo the plastic bags
Your diet is an important, if not crucial, factor for the maintenance of a healthy heart well into old age. Healthy dietary fats top the list of heart-healthy foods, of course, but aside from that, a nitrate-rich diet can go a long way toward protecting your heart.
Nitrates should not be confused with nitrites, found in bacon, hot dogs, ham and other less-than-healthy cured meats. Nitrites can convert into potentially dangerous nitrosamines, especially if heated, which is why processed meats are best avoided. In fact, after examining over 7,000 clinical studies, the World Cancer Research Fund concluded there's no safe lower limit for processed meats.1 They should be avoided altogether.
On the other hand, many vegetables contain naturally occurring nitrates. When consumed, the bacteria in your mouth convert these nitrates to nitrites, but since vegetables are also rich in antioxidants, these nitrites do not pose a health hazard. More importantly, your body transforms the nitrates in vegetables into nitric oxide (NO),2 a soluble gas continually produced from the amino acid L-arginine inside your cells.
Nitrate-Rich Foods Boost Nitric Oxide Production
NO is a gas and free radical that is an important biological signaling molecule that supports normal endothelial function and protects the little powerhouses inside your cells, your mitochondria. Acting as a potent vasodilator, NO also helps relax and widen the diameter of your blood vessels, allowing a greater volume of blood to flow through.
Healthy blood flow helps your body function at its best, as your blood carries oxygen and nutrients to your heart, brain and other organs. It nourishes and oxygenizes your immune system and muscles, and helps keep your heart beating. It also carries away waste material and carbon dioxide.
As noted in research3 presented by Dr. Michael Greger above, a diet high in nitrate is a natural strategy recommended for the treatment of prehypertension and hypertension (high blood pressure), "and to protect individuals at risk of adverse vascular events," i.e., heart attacks. Indeed, raw beets -- which are high in nitrates -- have been shown to lower blood pressureby an average of four to five points within a matter of hours.4
Some studies have shown a glass of beet juice can lower systolic blood pressure by more than eight points5 -- far more than most blood pressure medications. In conventional medicine, nitrates are used to treat angina and congestive heart failure, and research shows a glass of beetroot juice has the same effect as prescription nitrates.6
NO Promotes Healthy Heart and Brain Function
In one recent study,7,8,9,10 patients diagnosed with high blood pressure who drank beet juice an hour before exercise, three times a week for six weeks, experienced increased tissue oxygenation and blood flow. It also improved brain neuroplasticity by improving oxygenation of the somatomotor cortex (a brain area that is often affected in the early stages of dementia).
As noted by study co-author W. Jack Rejeski, a health and exercise science professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, NO is a vital biomolecule that "goes to the areas of the body which are hypoxic, or needing oxygen, and the brain is a heavy feeder of oxygen in your body."11,12 Your heart, too, requires NO and oxygen for optimal function. As noted by cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra:13
"Adequate NO production is the first step in a chain reaction that promotes healthy cardiovascular function, while insufficient NO triggers a cascade of destruction that eventually results in heart disease... NO promotes healthy dilation of the veins and arteries so blood can move throughout your body. Plus, it prevents red blood cells from sticking together to create dangerous clots and blockages."
Which Foods Contain the Most Nitrates?
As noted by Greger in the featured video, leafy greens top the list of nitrate-rich foods. Beets, which are a root vegetable, are well-known for their high nitrate content, but leafy greens contain even more nitrates per serving. In fact, beets barely made it onto the top 10 list, which is as follows:
Arugula, in the No. 1 spot, contains more nitrates than any other vegetable, and by a wide margin too -- 480 mg per 100 grams. The second-highest source, rhubarb, contains about 280 mg per 100 grams, which is about the same amount found in a 100-gram serving of beet root juice, whereas 100 grams of whole red beets provide a mere 110 mg of nitrates.
Other foods high in nitrates include the following.14,15,16 (While garlic is low in nitrates, it helps boost NO production by increasing NOS, which converts L-arginine to NO in the presence of cofactors such as vitamins B-2 and B-3.17)
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams
Source: Bok choy
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: 70 to 95 mg
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: 92 to 195 mg
Source: Mustard greens
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: 70 to 95 mg
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: 24 to 387 mg
Source: Chinese cabbage
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: 43 to 161 mg
Source: Winter melon
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: 16 to 136 mg
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: 25 to 42 mg
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: 100 to 250 mg
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: 100 to 250 mg
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: 50 to 100 mg
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: 20 to 50 mg
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: 20 to 50 mg
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: Less than 20 mg
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: Less than 20 mg
Mg of nitrates per 100 grams: Less than 20 mg
Nitrate-Rich Foods Protect Against Heart Disease
Previous research has shown that the more vegetables and fresh fruits you eat, the lower your risk of heart disease, with leafy greens being the most protective. As noted by Greger, the reason for this is likely their NO-boosting nitrates. This was confirmed in a May 2017 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.18
In this study, nearly 1,230 Australian seniors without atherosclerotic vascular disease (ASVD) or diabetes were followed for 15 years. A food-frequency questionnaire was used to evaluate food intake, while nitrate intake was calculated using a comprehensive food database. As expected, the higher an individual's vegetable nitrate intake, the lower their risk for both ASVD and all-cause mortality. According to the authors:
"Nitrate intake from vegetables was inversely associated with ASVD mortality independent of lifestyle and cardiovascular disease risk factors in this population of older adult women without prevalent ASVD or diabetes. These results support the concept that nitrate-rich vegetables may reduce the risk of age-related ASVD mortality."
Leafy Greens and Sports Performance
Most competitive athletes understand the value of NO, and the wise ones take advantage of Mother Nature's bounty. While research19,20 has shown nitrate supplements can boost sports performance and enhance fast-twitch muscle fibers, you can get the same results using whole foods. For example, research shows raw beets can increase exercise stamina by as much as 16 percent,21 an effect attributed to increased NO.
In another study,22 nine patients diagnosed with heart failure who experienced loss of muscle strength and reduced ability to exercise were found to benefit from beet juice. The patients were given 140 milliliters (mL) -- about two-thirds of a cup -- of concentrated beet juice, followed by testing, which found an almost instantaneous increase in their muscle capacity by an average of 13 percent.
There's one important caveat though: Avoid using mouthwashes or chewing gum, as this actually prevents the NO conversion from occurring.23 The reason for this is because the nitrate is converted into nitrite in your saliva by friendly bacteria. That nitrite is then converted into NO in other places in your body.
More Information About NO
NO24 -- not to be confused with nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, a chemical compound with the formula N2O25 -- serves as a signaling or messenger molecule in every cell of your body. Hence, it's involved in a wide variety of physiological and pathological processes. As mentioned, it causes arteries and bronchioles to expand, but it's also needed for communication between brain cells, and causes immune cells to kill bacteria and cancer cells.
Now, your body loses about 10 percent of its ability to make NO for every decade of life, which is why eating a nitrate-rich diet is so important. NO is further synthesized by nitric oxide synthase (NOS). There are three isoforms of the NOS enzyme:
Endothelial (eNOS): a calcium-dependent signaling molecule that produces low levels of gas as a cell signaling molecule
Neuronal (nNOS): a calcium-dependent signaling molecule that produces low levels of gas as a cell signaling molecule
Inducible (immune system) (iNOS): calcium independent; produces large amounts of gas, which can be cytotoxic
Problematically, when fluoride is present (such as when you're drinking fluoridated water), the fluoride converts NO into the toxic and destructive nitric acid. As noted in "Pharmacology for Anesthetists 3,"26 "[NO] will react with fluorine, chlorine and bromine to form the XNO species, known as the nitrosyl halides, such as nitrosyl chloride." Hence, avoiding fluoridated water and other halide sources, such as brominated flour, is important to optimize your health and avoid damaging interactions.
Exercise Also Boosts NO Production
Aside from eating a nitrate-rich diet, one efficient way to increase NO production is a series of callisthenic exercises. I'm using a modified version of a routine originally developed by Dr. Zach Bush. You'll find a quick demonstration of my "Nitric Oxide Dump" routine in the video above. This routine takes about three to four minutes and is ideally done three times a day, at least two hours apart.
Looking like a spud on steroids, taro is a commonly eaten commodity in areas such as Hawaii, India, Southeast Asia and other warm areas of the world, the reason it's dubbed "potato of the tropics." Colocasia esculenta (also called poi in its mashed form) thrives in warm, tropical climates due to the abundance of humidity and heat. The fact that taro is one of the few crops that thrive in flooded areas is significant to its wide use in many different areas, as its petioles, or stalks, can transfer even while under water.
More than 11.3 million metric tons of taro plants/roots are cultivated around the world each year.1 A perennial herb as well as a bulbo-tuber or corm, taro has gigantic heart-shaped leaves and can grow as tall as 6 feet. Its skin is fibrous and sometimes hairy, with concentric rings around the outside. As the featured video above notes, large taro tubers have more starch, which is often best for cooking.
They should be cut so the flat surface can be used as a base for easier peeling. Taro can be cubed, steamed until tender and mashed with a fork to make a Thai dessert called Bua Loy (which translates to "floating lotus) and involves chewy rice balls, sweet coconut soup and mashed taro.
With a nutty flavor comparable to water chestnuts, the color inside is similar to a potato, or has purple flecks and streaks, which you may know if you've ever eaten vegetable chips, typically containing other root veggies such as batata, sweet potato and parsnip.
You can buy taro to use much as you would a potato. Frozen products and taro flour are also available in ethnic stores. A popular way to prepare is to slice them thin using a mandolin or the slicer gizmo in your food processor to make taro chips. Place them on a baking sheet, lightly brush the slices with coconut oil and bake at 350 degrees F until they're crisp -- about 15 minutes, according to Martha Stewart.2
Place them on a paper towel to cool and give them a sprinkle of sea salt. They can be served with a dip like hummus. It should be noted that while the leaves are also edible, both taro leaves and the root itself must be cooked, as the raw form is toxic.3 Further, "Taro contains oxalic acid, the acridity of the leaves and corms is known to cause irritation of the skin and mouth; high levels or prolonged consumption of oxalic acid can produce physical side effects."4 Properly cooking taro removes this concern, however.
Taro: Good for Gut Health and Much More
Far from a being simply a cheap food source, taro is a bona fide superfood, containing high amounts of potassium, known to be a heart-healthy nutrient as it makes fluid transfers between your body's membranes and tissues easier. There's also significant fiber, calcium and iron, plus vitamins A, B-6, C and E. The leaves provide fiber, too, along with protein, vitamins A, C and B-6, thiamin, copper, calcium and folate.
Besides helping to keep you regular to promote digestive health, fiber helps regulate your insulin and glucose levels to normalize your blood sugar. One serving contains 27 percent of the Daily Reference Intake (DRI). Further, one study shows that fermented taro, a poi dish, contains even more gut-friendly bacteria than yogurt.5 Cryptoxanthin is the taro ingredient that's responsible for lowering your risk of developing lung and oral cancers, but powerful antioxidants certainly help in this regard.
Upon eating taro, your vision may also benefit due to antioxidant beta-carotenes, and your skin gets a boost of health from the presence of vitamin E and vitamin A. Additionally, wounds and blemishes heal more rapidly and wrinkles are less visible. Lesser but still significant amounts of copper and iron help prevent anemia and aid in healthy blood circulation, while at the same time helping to produce red blood cells for oxygen transit.
All these nutrients combine to "up" your immune system. Vitamin C creates more white blood cells, which act as a defense against disease-causing bacteria, and helps to detoxify your body.6 Amino acids and omega-3 fats contained in taro are also very beneficial to your overall health, but particularly your heart. Altogether, the myriad of health benefits from all the vitamins and minerals make taro an uncommonly nutritious food.
Another nutritionally beneficial aspect of taro is that when its granules are broken down they're only one-tenth of the size of white potato granules, so it's easily digestible. As a review, taro consumption, according to Organic Facts, is recognized for its ability to:
Another benefit of taro is its antibacterial potential, especially in regard to its development as a food preservative. A U.S. Army-based study from 2000 to 2001 was designed to revitalize Hawaii's economy. Congress allocated funds for the development of Hawaiian industries and products, and included poi, "a purplish to grayish paste made of ground taro." According to the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command Soldier Systems Center:
"In an attempt to understand the natural fermentation of taro to poi, bacteria have been isolated from freeze-dried poi produced in Hawaii. Bacteria believed to be involved in the fermentation have been isolated and identified. It was determined that taro can support the growth of bacteriocin-producing bacteria.
Bacteriocins are small peptides that are naturally produced by food-safe organisms that can inhibit food spoilage/pathogenic bacteria. A relatively dilute solution of taro is needed to support the growth of the bacteria and the production of the bacteriocin."8
In 2005, Research Gate noted that burrito sandwiches using taro were field tested as an intermediate moisture (IM) product for military use and tested for bacteria after periods of seven and 14 days, ending with a 56-day period, after which the abstract noted that by all appearances, fermented taro can be a good preservation ingredient, although further studies were recommended.9
The Decline of Taro in Hawaii
One of the oldest crops on the planet, one study described archeologists' discovery of stone mortars and pestles in the Solomon Islands with evidence of taro being used around 28,000 years ago. The first European navigators found it being cultivated in both Japan and New Zealand, and accounts from Captain James Cook's travels note taro cultivation in Maori plantations in 1769.10 But in Hawaii, taro and poi were both sacred.
Since Western culture moved into the Hawaiian Islands beginning in 1778, taro, once a major crop grown for centuries and covering as much as 35,000 acres, has declined so sharply that it's now estimated to cover just 350 acres, attributed to the influx of wheat and rice brought in from Asia and the U.S., as well as the invasion of new diseases. In the late 1940s, a large sugar company diverted the water source needed for taro fields, effectively shutting down production.
The last sugar plantation closed recently, however, so water rights can again be attained for taro farmers' use. It's interesting to note, however, that "once taro is cultivated the plant does not naturally produce viable seeds, and is predominantly vegetatively propagated," one study11 noted.
However, there's a new interest in this staple crop, called kalo, as local farmers produce about 75 percent of what is consumed on the island, which amounts to about 6.5 million pounds every year. Ironically, much of that -- about 2 million pounds -- is imported from Fiji. As a crop, taro is returning, but it's a slow process, Civil Eats12 reports.
Traditional Culture in Regard to Food
Traditional Hawaiian culture has admired a more full-figured physique, and it's had a detrimental impact on the entire region. The World Health Organization (WHO) described the Pacific Islands as the most obese nations in the world, as the average population for obesity ranges from 35 percent to 50 percent; in the Cook Islands, it's just over 50 percent, and Hawaii is right next door.
About 1 in every 5 children is obese, and the rate of early-onset diabetes is high. Even though overall health has been improving, the above statistics are a microcosm of the region's overall health. Native Hawaiians' life expectancy is six years lower than the state average, a direct result of the high incidences of metabolic disorders, i.e., obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and higher rates of stroke and cancer.
In the late 1980s, a study by Dr. Terry Shintani and nutritionist Claire Hughes that simulated what Hawaiians ate before "civilization" showed up. Study subjects ate as much taro, poi, sweet potatoes, breadfruit and fruit as they wanted, as well as small amounts of fish and chicken. In just 21 days, participants had lost an average of 17 pounds and had lower levels of blood pressure and blood sugar and improved cholesterol.
Shintani wrote "The Hawaii Diet" to help steer the islanders' diets in a better direction, both naturally and with local foods, and leads community programs and health workshops through his nonprofit Hawaii Health Foundation.
CNN quoted Temo Waqanivalu, program officer with WHO's Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases Department, a Fijian native who's battled the issue for over a decade. He calls obesity and related illnesses a "deadly epidemic" and said he's "seen the epidemic evolve firsthand, aided by the cultural acceptance of bigger bodies as beautiful."13
"Up to 95 percent of the adult population are overweight or obese in some countries. In Polynesia the perception of 'big is beautiful' does exist, (but) big is beautiful, fat is not. That needs to get through."14
The 'Western Diet' Now Part of the Pacific Island Legacy
One of the problems with these populations, says Dr. Jonathan Shaw, associate director of Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Australia, is its collective genetic predisposition, "and when exposed to Western lifestyles results in high rates of diabetes, (it's) undoubtedly caused by high rates of obesity."
Worldwide, Waqanivalu observed, poor quality and highly energy-dense food is the cheapest, and processed food is both easy to prepare and cheap. Fishermen sell the fish they catch to buy canned tuna, and a bottle of soda is often cheaper than a bottle of water. Half a century ago, people worked their land, but urbanization and "sedentary office cultures" have exacerbated the problem. According to CNN:
"The epidemic began through the tropical region turning its back on traditional diets of fresh fish and vegetables and replacing them with highly processed and energy-dense food such as white rice, flour, canned foods, processed meats and soft drinks imported from other countries. One of the root causes of the change is the price tag."15
A New Focus and Renewed Hope
While the decline of taro production definitely coincides with the decline of the average Native Hawaiian's health, there's been a renewed focus on taro production, as well as on healthy eating. Several former taro production ponds have been resurrected, so to speak; Maui local H?k?ao Pellegrino is one farmer who's using ancestral land to grow 45 varieties of organic taro, Civil Eats reports:
"While pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Hawai?i at Hilo, Pellegrino, his father, and his mentor, Kana?e Keawe, a professor of ethnobotany and master craftsman, began to clear and restore his family's taro pond.
In 2004, after being chosen by 'Onipa?a N? Hui Kalo, a statewide organization of kalo farmers, for their annual restoration project, Noho'ana Farm was reborn. Pellegrino recalls, 'We had 125 people come and help open our very first lo?i. Kalo farmers from the Big Island to Kaua?i and everywhere in between; family members, cousins, neighbors -- it was huge.'"16
Besides gearing the farm so processes can become a teaching tool for next-generation Hawaiians, several native "value-added products," such as poi, taro paste (pa?i?ai) and a popular taro and coconut dessert called kulolo, are sold at the lowest price possible. "I want people to eat healthy food at reasonable prices," he said. "Poi should be available to everybody, and at a cost that they can afford."17
Meanwhile, Pellegrino's farm is an example of how innovative kalo-based farm-to-table innovation can change the landscape. Over recent years, Maui is a new beacon on the map as a food-driven destination; Noho'ana Farm is a supplier for Maui-born chef de cuisine Isaac Bancaco, who gained a following for using local produce like taro and other "canoe foods" and sustainable seafood, and winning Maui N? Ka ?Oi Magazine's 2014 Chef of the Year.18
Over the last few decades, schools and corporations have been working with governmental entities throughout the islands to bring about a change in the mindset of native populations, combat and change obesity and diabetes percentages, control the market, improve trade and adopt school policies that enhance health. The nutritional aspects of taro are being looked at as a viable commodity for "fixing" the Hawaiian diet, and they may add valuable nutrition to diets worldwide as well.
It's something I've been encouraging for several years now -- making sure you're getting adequate levels of vitamin D, not only because it's a crucial nutrient, but because so many people are deficient and don't realize it. But a new study has emerged dispelling the idea many scientists and health care providers have had for many years, the upshot being that there is a vast difference between vitamin D2, which is plant-based (notably from mushrooms), and vitamin D3, which is derived from animal products.
The two do not, as some have believed, have a similar nutritional value. Health authorities are calling for official recommendations for vitamin D intake to be changed in accordance with the "new" information, which is not actually new, as we've related this important distinction for some time. The "groundbreaking" study from the University of Surrey was conducted to determine, between vitamins D2 and D3, which was more effective in raising levels in the body.
The trial was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) -- "the largest U.K. public funder of nonmedical bioscience" -- and the Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC). Susan Lanham-New, principal investigator of the trial, called the results a "very exciting discovery which will revolutionize how the health and retail sector views vitamin D," EurekAlert! reported.1
She added, "Vitamin D deficiency is a serious matter, but this will help people make a more informed choice about what they can eat or drink to raise their levels through their diet." Serious is right: one study shows that more than 40 percent of the American population is deficient in vitamin D,2 and some experts say the problem is serious enough to call it a pandemic.3
Vitamin D2 and D3: Not Interchangeable
Vitamin D is produced by your body after exposure to the sun, and because winter is the period during which sunshine is least available, vitamin D levels are typically at their lowest during this time.
The 335 South Asian and white European women who participated in the study over two winters were divided into five groups and given either juice containing vitamin D2 or D3, a biscuit with the same or a placebo. At the conclusion of the study, researchers found vitamin D3 to be twice as effective in raising levels in the body in comparison to D2. EurekAlert reported:
"Vitamin D levels in women who received vitamin D3 via juice or a biscuit increased by 75 percent and 74 percent respectively compared to those who were given D2 through the same methods. Those given D2 saw an increase of 33 percent and 34 percent over the course of the 12-week intervention.
The research also found that nutrient levels of both vitamin D2 and D3 rose as a result of both food and acidic beverages such as juice, which were found to be equally as effective. Those who received the placebo experienced a 25 percent reduction in the vitamin over the same period."4
What's interesting, as mentioned, is that the information from this latest study is not new news. A similar study back in 2011 is one of several instances where vitamin D3 has been shown to have a much greater significance for your health compared to D2. One study5 shows D3 to:
o Convert to its active form 500 percent faster
o Be 87 percent better at raising and maintaining vitamin D levels
o Produce two to three times greater storage of the vitamin than D2
Recommendations for Vitamin D Outdated and Unsafe
Here's where it gets problematic: Several governments around the world, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health, assert there's no difference between vitamins D2 and D3 and that interchanging the two makes no difference whatsoever in your body's levels. However, the latest information from Public Health England reveals that more than 1 in 5 people in the U.K. have low levels of vitamin D, so the intake they now recommend is 10 micrograms per day, all year long, for everyone beginning at age 4.
EurekAlert! notes that daily intake of vitamin D3 -- but not vitamin D2 -- will allow the population to avoid such health problems as rickets, osteoporosis and a higher risk of developing heart disease, all associated with individuals with insufficient levels of vitamin D in their bodies.
What the scientists found influences public health but also retail markets in that many have added vitamin D2 to their products because they were led to believe it was just as viable in the body to increase people's "D" levels as taking D3. Lead study author and dietitian Laura Tripkovic explained:
"The importance of vitamin D in our bodies is not to be underestimated, but living in the U.K. it is very difficult to get sufficient levels of it from its natural source, the sun, so we know it has to be supplemented through our diet. However, our findings show that vitamin D3 is twice as effective as D2 in raising vitamin D levels in the body, which turns current thinking about the two types of vitamin D on its head."6
Tripkovic explained that people who eat vitamin D3-rich foods or take supplements are two times more likely to raise their vitamin D profile than when consuming the equivalent in vitamin D2 foods such as mushrooms, D2-fortified bread or taking D2 supplements.
Downsides of Low Vitamin D Versus Benefits of Optimal Levels
Vitamin D is involved in the biology of all cells in your body, including your immune cells. A large number of studies have shown raising your vitamin D level can significantly reduce your risk of cancer and many other chronic diseases.So what happens when someone isn't getting the amount of vitamin D that they should? Daily Mail7 notes that lack of vitamin D:
o Can cause your bones to become thin, brittle or misshapen
o Is linked to a growing prevalence for children to develop rickets, shown in many cases to cause malformed and/or broken bones
o Appears to play a role in insulin resistance, high blood pressure and immune function, related to heart disease and cancer
People who are obese, older than age 65 and/or housebound may have lower levels of vitamin D due to their diets, little sun exposure and other factors, and among dark-skinned individuals in the U.S, only 3 percent among thousands have enough vitamin D, which is a 9 percent drop from 20 years ago.8 Beyond cancer prevention, a Swiss study9 from 2013 lists several of the more dramatic benefits of getting the right amount of vitamin D:
o The development, function and maintenance of healthy bones and regulation of calcium homeostasis throughout life
o The basis for the prevention and management of osteoporosis, a disease producing brittle bones that are prone to fractures
o The regulation of neuromuscular function, reducing the risk of falls, a major cause of bone fractures
o Possibly a central component of musculoskeletal health through vitamin D's beneficial effects on muscle function and bone stability
o May show favorable effects in many organs and play a significant role in the maintenance of general health
Vitamin D and Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Two Crucial Nutrients for Health
According to Pharmacy Times, studies indicate that around 50 percent of adults worldwide have a vitamin D deficiency. Interestingly, in reviewing "potential mechanisms by which vitamin D might influence development of cardiovascular disease (CVD)" -- and there's evidence that there is a link -- there's also a possibility that CVD may cause low vitamin D levels rather than the other way around.10
In 2018, the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriAL (VITAL) will conclude the first part of its review to provide evidence to indicate whether 2,000 IUs per day of vitamin D supplementation, with or without omega-3 fatty acids, has any specific CVD effects. Specifically: "The large study has enrolled about 25,000 healthy, middle-aged American adults. It has also been structured to gauge long-term effects. VITAL is expected to augment the wealth of information that we possess concerning vitamin D supplementation for bone health."11
You may already be aware that vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids are two of the most important nutrients your body needs, but most people have no idea if they're deficient in either of them. A test kit is available, however, to quickly and safely analyze your blood levels while at the same time helping to augment consumer-sponsored scientific research.
The testing is performed by an independent research organization comparing these nutrients, and reveals your own vitamin D and omega-3 index (a measure of the omega-3s in your red blood cells) to let you know whether corrective action is needed. For more information about the nonprofit GrassRoots Health initiative and to learn how to get your own test kit, click here.
The Significance of Getting Adequate Sunlight
Another reason vitamin D levels are so important is that hepatic mitochondria and their associated microsomal enzymes metabolize vitamin D, whatever the source, Pharmacy Times noted, adding:
"When patients consume too much vitamin D2 or vitamin D3, this process is completely unregulated and patients' vitamin D levels will rise proportionally to their intake. On the other hand, cutaneous synthesis from sun exposure allows patients levels to reach a preset point, and after that, additional sun exposure will not increase vitamin D levels."12
This means the best way to make sure you're getting enough vitamin D is to get regular sensible exposure to direct sunlight on your body each day. Depending on your locale, in the winter when the sun hides behind clouds and temperatures are often so chilly you're forced to wear long sleeves and galoshes, this may be difficult if not impossible, however.
Alternatively, adding vitamin D3 supplements to your regimen can help you achieve optimal vitamin D levels. The foods you eat can also make a difference in helping to make or break your health (if not your bones). The best foods for increasing your vitamin D intake via your diet are animal-based and quite limited:
o Wild-caught Alaskan salmon and other healthy fish such as mackerel and sardines, preferably from cold waters, and not farmed
Get Your Vitamin D Levels Tested
If you decide your vitamin D3 should be taken in supplement form, it's your serum level, or how much D3 your blood contains, that determines how much you should take until your levels are optimized to between 50 and 70 nanograms per milliliter, or ng/ml.
Studies done by Grassroots Health13 recommend about 8,000 IUs (the International Unit by which fat-soluble vitamins are measured) daily of vitamin D3 to raise your serum levels above 40 ng/ml. Children may need about 35 IUs per pound of body weight; however, getting your blood tested is the only way to know for sure whether your vitamin D levels are within the optimal range and, consequently, how much oral vitamin D3 you may need. Also be sure the vitamin D you take is correctly balanced with vitamin K-2.
An Atlanta-based Emory University School of Medicine study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology outlined vitamin D's association with cardiovascular disease prevention.
The upshot is that levels below 20 ng/ml are simply not enough to maintain bone health, let alone provide the other disease-prevention benefits that vitamin D has to offer. As mentioned, optimal levels of vitamin D are between 50 and 70 ng/ml. Medical News Today pinpointed why the latest study and subsequent calls for government entities to increase recommendations are so important:
"Vitamin D deficiency appears to be widespread, and, as more research is conducted, it becomes increasingly clearer that this nutritional deficit is having a significant impact on the health of the country overall. Studies such as this may play a role in improving awareness, and, eventually, reversing the trend."14
Ice pops and frozen puddings and ice creams on a stick are a
snack that's well-loved around the world. Kids love them, especially on a hot summer
day. However, the problem with this type of food is that it's usually processed
and is high in sugar and very low in nutrition, which isn't ideal for you and
your growing kids.[i]
Instead, I recommend you try this scrumptious frozen fudge pop
recipe. It uses avocado as the base ingredient, along with cocoa powder to give
it an appealing flavor for people of all ages. This is one summer treat your
children will definitely look forward to all the time.
1.In a blender, puree all the ingredients until
2.Pour or spoon the mixture into ice pop molds to
3.Tap the molds on the countertop several times
once they are full to try to remove air bubbles.
4.Insert ice-pop sticks and freeze until pops are
solid (four to six hours or preferably overnight).
Note: This recipe
makes six full-size frozen fudge pops or 12 mini pops.
Avocado: The Superfood You Should Be Eating Regularly
This green fruit may not look like much, but it's actually
one of the healthiest foods you can add to your diet. Avocado can be eaten by
itself or used in various ways, such as in this recipe. But what makes avocado
a superfood anyway? Just take a look at what it may be able to do for you:[ii]
The healthy fats in avocado are primarily composed of oleic acid, which has
been suggested to help reduce C-reactive protein, a biological marker for
·Rich in fiber:
Seventy-five percent of the fiber in avocado is insoluble, while the remaining
is soluble. The combination of the two may help contribute to weight management
by helping you feel full longer, reduce blood sugar spikes and feed the healthy
bacteria in your gut.
with cholesterol management: Several studies have found that consuming
avocado may help lower harmful cholesterol levels and increase good cholesterol
nutrients: Avocados are rich in essential nutrients such as vitamins K, C,
B-5, B-6, E, potassium and folate, which are all necessary for optimal health.
Real Chocolate Is Not Just Tasty -- It's Healthy as Well
Chocolate is often used as a flavor for countless drinks,
foods and snacks. However, the problem is that most chocolate sold nowadays
contain a lot of sugar, which can contribute to insulin resistance and a host
of other health problems.
Chocolate may be able to help fight inflammation in your system thanks to its
function: According to a study published in the British Journal of Clinical
Pharmacology, chocolate has neuroprotective benefits and may preserve cognitive
health: Chocolate may help lower bad cholesterol levels, as well as
maintain blood pressure in a healthy range.[ix]
·Build up stamina:
Research suggests that flavonols in chocolate may help improve your capacity
for physical endurance, which can be beneficial to athletes.[x]
Greek Yogurt Turns Frozen Fudge Pops Into a Protein Powerhouse
Greek yogurt is a modified form of regular yogurt. To make
it, the yogurt is strained to remove the liquid whey. This results in a thicker
consistency and a tangier flavor, as well as these other characteristics:[xi],[xii]
protein: With the whey removed, a 100-gram serving of Greek yogurt has
three times more protein compared to the same amount of regular yogurt.
carbohydrates: Greek yogurt has a lower amount of carbohydrates, which can
be helpful if you're cutting back on your carb consumption and implementing a
sugar: The sugar content in Greek yogurt is lower compared to regular
yogurt. This can benefit your health in many ways, as excess sugar consumption
has been linked to various health problems.
Aside from the benefits mentioned above, Greek yogurt typically
has the same benefits as regular yogurt, such as a source of healthy gut
bacteria, calcium and vitamins A and B-12.[xiii]
However, I advise limiting your consumption of this type of yogurt (and the
recipe) because of its high protein amount. Excess protein can stimulate your
mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which may increase your risk of
Go Ahead and Enjoy This Summer Treat, but in Moderation
With summer just around the corner, it's important that you nourish
yourself and your family with healthy refreshments to keep everyone's nutrition
and energy levels up. This chocolate avocado frozen fudge pops recipe is the
perfect way to achieve these goals, but remember to consume it in moderation
due to the high protein amount.
The HBO documentary "Warning: This Drug May Kill You," details the devastating effect America's pharma-driven opioid crisis is having on families and the victims themselves. The film, made by Perri Peltz and Sascha Weiss, features the perspectives of four families whose lives have been ripped apart as a result of opioid and heroin addiction.
Opioid and heroin addiction -- which public health officials have described1 as being the worst drug crisis in American history -- affects about 2.5 million Americans, nearly half a million of whom are addicted to heroin,2 a dangerous street drug that prescription pill addicts can quickly turn to because the cost is significantly less than that of prescription painkillers.
The term "opioid" is used to describe a class of drugs that includes the illegal drug heroin, as well as the legal prescription painkillers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others. Ironically, the silent but deadly opioid epidemic often starts with some of society's most trusted professionals: doctors.
As noted in the film, a significant number of opioid addictions begin with a trip to the doctor's office or a hospital as a result of an injury or medical problem for which addictive painkillers are carelessly prescribed. It seems no medical problem is too minor for powerful prescription painkillers to be prescribed.
This is depicted in the film, which details the story of a young woman from Beach Park, Illinois, who became addicted to OxyContin after being prescribed the medication for kidney stones. Not only are opioid pain medications (also called narcotic prescription painkillers) wildly overprescribed, but they are also often given without warning of the potential risks for addiction and/or resources to help deal with the possible risk of addiction.
Nearly 260 Million Opioid Prescriptions Are Written in the US Each Year
The number of opioid prescriptions has increased substantially over the last few decades. "In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills," according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.3
The result? Drug overdose is now our nation's leading cause of accidental death. In 2015, accidental drug overdoses accounted for 52,404 deaths, with 20,101 of those deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 linked to heroin. However, 80 percent of heroin users start out on prescription opioids.4
Despite the fact that Americans are dying at unprecedented rates due to Big Pharma's prescription painkillers, the pharmaceutical industry is rarely named by the establishment media for its deadly role in the growing opioid epidemic.
Kidney Stone Pain Morphs Into Deadly Opioid Addiction for Unsuspecting Teen
Stephany Gay should have been getting her license and learning how to drive when she first became addicted to prescription painkillers. It all began when, at the tender age of 16, she started suffering from kidney stones and was prescribed OxyContin and Vicodin. It didn't take long before Stephany, who had never done illegal drugs, developed a full-blown dependency on opioids.
The teen confided in her mom after realizing she had developed an addiction. Her mother urged her to see a doctor, but when she did she came home with another prescription: This time it was for Percocet. Stephany also got her younger sister, Ashley, addicted to opioids after offering her the medication for headaches and a better night's sleep. Stephany's doctor eventually stopped prescribing her opioids, causing the sisters to turn to heroin to get their fix. Stephany says:
"It made me feel like I could do anything. I felt like superwoman. I didn't have anxiety. I didn't feel depressed. I felt happy. I felt warm. I felt like it loved me and I loved it back. I felt like I had a relationship with heroin."
The sisters snorted heroin for a year before experimenting with a needle. Soon after Stephany started injecting, she lost the three-bedroom home she owned and custody of her young daughter. Ashley, who once told her mother she was "too pretty to die," overdosed on heroin and died alone in a hotel room.
Eighty Percent of Heroin Users Start With Prescription Opioids
Part two of the documentary, "Addicted to Pills," details the heartbreaking story of a wife and mother of five children who became addicted to opioids after being prescribed the medication for a Cesarean section. Wynne Doyle, from Mill Valley, California, stopped getting out of bed just one and a half months after giving birth to her third child.
She became addicted fast, says Britt Doyle Sr., who later divorced his wife following years of addiction. Like many opioid addicts, Wynne went in and out of rehab multiple times, only to relapse again. The second rehab she entered was three times as costly as the first, says Britt Sr. But 28 days later his wife returned home with a "whole bunch of pills," and her addiction started all over again, he says.
Wynne's addiction grew so intense that she would purposely injure herself in order to get more pills. "I watched her slam her hand in the car door one time, just so she could go to the emergency room," said Britt Sr., adding that the doctors would always give his wife more pain medication. At one point, Wynne had shattered both of her wrists, but as soon as they healed she would hurt herself again just to get more pills. My wife became a "totally different person," says Britt Sr. "It was like Jekyll and Hyde."
Seven years into her addiction and on his wife's 11th stint in rehab, Britt Sr. had finally had enough. He moved the children out of the house and filed for divorce. Sometime later, Wynne, suffering from kidney stones, was prescribed more painkillers. She had eight bottles filled to the top sitting on her nightstand when her children found their mother lifeless in her bed.
"When I saw the pills on her bedside table when she had passed, that was probably the most anger I could feel, ever, because she's been to that hospital easily like 50 times," said Britt Doyle Jr., Wynne's daughter. "They've seen her there unconscious and had to like [sic] pump her stomach so many times. And yet she comes in there and they leave her with more?" she asks angrily.
Adolescents Are 33 Percent More Likely to Misuse Opioids as Young Adults
Part three of the documentary tells the story of Brendan Cole from Allendale, New Jersey. The teen was prescribed opioid painkillers after having a cyst surgically removed. Four years later he died of a heroin overdose. Before his death, Cole overdosed on heroin but was revived with Narcan after his dad woke in the middle of the night to find his son lying in an unnatural position on his bed.
His lips were turning blue and "we heard the air come out of his lungs when we moved him," said his parents tearfully. Narcan, or naloxone, is an overdose-reversal drug. It's made by Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, which began what appears to be a clear case of price gouging, raising the cost of Narcan by as much as 100 percent.
Cole recovered from the overdose, but the hospital failed to warn his family that patients revived with Narcan may experience intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms. As a result, no plan was put in place to help Cole overcome the cravings that would soon follow. The very next day, Cole overdosed again, and this time he could not be revived.
5In people with little drug experience, scientists theorize that "the initial experience of pain relief is pleasurable, and a safe initial experience with opioids may reduce perceived risk."
Synthetic Opioids Sold Via 'Dark Web' Implicated in Growing Number of Overdose Deaths
In addition to prescription opioids, another threat looms: synthetic (and illegal) opioids sold through the dark web -- the secret underbelly of the internet, initially created by American intelligence agencies for encrypted communication purposes. A recent piece by The New York Times6 sheds light on an emerging illicit drug trade involving dangerous synthetic opioids that are being shipped into the U.S. via small packages in the mail.
The report reveals "that most of the illicit supply of synthetic opioids is produced in labs in Asia and especially China, where many of the precursor chemicals are either legal or easier to procure." The synthetic opioids are said to be so potent that they "have become the fastest-growing cause of the overdose epidemic, overtaking heroin in some areas," reports the Times.
Synthetic opioids being shipped overseas include fentanyl, the infamous drug responsible for pop icon Prince's death. Fentanyl is so potent that two milligrams is enough to kill and, unlike prescription pills, "enough fentanyl to get nearly 50,000 people high can fit in a standard first-class envelope," the report warns.
Synthetic opioids obtained through the internet are responsible for the deaths of two teenagers from Park City, Utah. Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth, both 13 years old, died after taking a synthetic opioid known as U-47700, or Pinky. The boys reportedly obtained the drug from another teen who purchased them on the dark web using bitcoin. While synthetic opioids account for a small portion of overall trafficked drugs, law enforcement says "that dark web markets have quickly assumed a more prominent and frightening role."
Opioids Actually Alter Your Brain Structure
Studies also suggest that drugs for physical and emotional pain may change your brain. In a study by researchers at the University of Alabama, people with chronic low back pain received either morphine or a placebo daily for one month. Both groups experienced similar reductions in pain, but there was a major difference among those taking morphine -- changes in the brain.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans showed the patients taking morphine had a 3 percent reduction in gray matter volume over the course of the study. The reductions occurred in regions of the brain that regulate emotions, cravings and pain response.7
Further, the morphine group had increases in gray matter volume in areas related to learning, memory and executive function. Lead study author Joanne Lin told Reuters,8 "Because we are seeing that opioids rapidly change the brain, our take-home message is that opioids should be reserved for cases when most other treatment options have failed."
Millions of Taxpayer Dollars Used for Opioid Prescriptions
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services. CMS runs the Medicare program and monitors Medicaid programs run by the states. According to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), spending on opioids in the Medicare system, which is funded by U.S. tax dollars through Medicare trust funds, grew at a faster rate than spending for all drugs.
Data from the OIG shows that between 2006 and 2014, the number of Medicare recipients on opioids grew by 92 percent, compared to 68 percent for all drugs. Medicare recipients are also receiving multiple prescriptions for opioids for reasons other than cancer pain or terminal illness, the traditional uses for these strong medications.
Medicaid programs, supported by taxpayers but administered by states, also reveal excessive opioid use and probable fraud.9 In 2010, 359,368 Medicaid enrollees received an opioid prescription amounting to over 2 million prescriptions, and again suggesting many prescriptions per patient.10
While Medicaid programs likely provide generic combinations of the active ingredient in OxyContin, hydrocodone, to patients, which costs about $28 for a 120-day supply (compared with $632 for the brand name OxyContin),11 taxpayers are still paying at least $56 million for Medicaid opioid prescriptions. The cost of the opioid prescriptions does not take into consideration state-run drug treatment programs and services that are required if and when enrollees become addicted.
OxyContin Manufacturer Pays One of the Largest Pharma Settlements in US History
In December 2015, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the maker of OxyContin, settled an ongoing lawsuit brought by the state of Kentucky for $24 million over presenting OxyContin as "nonaddictive."12 Purdue contended that the pill slowly releases the drug over 12 hours when swallowed, omitting the fact that, when crushed, OxyContin lost its time release protections and created an instant high.
"State officials said that led to a wave of addiction and increased medical costs across the state, particularly in eastern Kentucky where many injured coal miners were prescribed the drug," reported The Associated Press.
The 2015 settlement is similar to one Purdue agreed to in 2007 with the state of West Virginia, when it agreed to pay out $634 million because "fraudulent conduct caused a greater amount of OxyContin to be available for illegal use than otherwise would have been available."13 Despite the lawsuits, OxyContin remains on the market.
FDA Orders Drugmaker to Stop Selling Opioid Painkiller
Opioid manufacturer Endo Pharmaceuticals hasn't been so lucky, however. In an unprecedented move by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), health officials have ordered Endo to remove the opioid painkiller Opana ER from the market due to the conclusion that "the drug's risks outweigh its benefits," reported CBS News.14
"It's the first time the FDA has asked a drugmaker to remove an opioid painkiller from the market," CBS said. "The agency said it has seen a 'significant shift' from people crushing and snorting Opana ER to get high to injecting it." If the drugmaker refuses to comply with the FDA's request to pull the opioid from the market, the agency can begin a "formal process for rescinding its approval."
Drug Companies Try to Cash in on Opioid Epidemic
While an increasing number of Americans suffer the devastating effects of opioid addiction, pharmaceutical companies are battling it out to become the top seller of addiction medications. As was highlighted in a recent NPR report,15 rather than working to make various effective treatments for opioid addiction more readily available to those who need it, the pharmaceutical industry is actively trying to stomp out its competitors by restricting access to important addiction medications.
One example of this includes the global biopharmaceutical company Alkermes and its non-opioid addiction medication, Vivitrol, a monthly injection that costs around $1,000. Alkermes, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, is working vigorously to promote its drug at the legislative level as a solution to our nation's growing opioid epidemic -- and while doing so (in some cases) is restricting access to other opioid addiction medications through policy that makes it harder for doctors to prescribe alternatives to Vivitrol.
"An investigation by NPR and Side Effects Public Media has found that in statehouses across the country, and in Congress, Alkermes is pushing Vivitrol while contributing to misconceptions and stigma about other medications used to treat opioid addiction," NPR reports.
Experts disagree about which opioid addiction medications are most effective. Some argue opioid maintenance drugs like methadone and buprenorphine -- both of which contain opioids -- are fueling the opioid crisis due to their street value and the idea that offering them to addicts means replacing one opioid for another. Others argue that opioid maintenance medications relieve painful withdrawal symptoms and reduce or eliminate intense cravings.
Federal health agencies and the American Society of Addiction Medicine agree that "opioid abstinence can be dangerous," says NPR. While there are no studies comparing Vivitrol to methadone or buprenorphine, Alkermes touts Vivitrol as the more effective, opioid-free solution.
Alkermes has significantly increased its spending on federal lobbying, spending $4.4 million in 2016 compared to less than $200,000 in 2010. "Last year, Vivitrol's sales reached $209 million -- up from just $30 million in 2011," NPR reports, adding that Alkermes projects sales could reach $1 billion by 2021.
Treating Your Pain Without Drugs
While opioid painkillers may relieve pain temporarily, the addiction risks can quickly send you spiraling out of control down a dark and dangerous path. As shown in the film, many families touched by opioid addiction end up suffering for years before finally losing a loved one to addiction.
The good news is there are many natural alternatives to treating pain. It's particularly important to avoid opioids when trying to address long-term chronic pain, as your body will create a tolerance to the drug. Over time, you may require greater doses at more frequent intervals to achieve the same pain relief. This is a recipe for disaster and could have lethal consequences. Following is information about non-drug remedies, dietary changes and bodywork interventions that can help you manage your pain.
? Medical cannabis
Medical marijuana has a long history as a natural analgesic and is now legal in 28 states. You can learn more about the laws in your state on medicalmarijuana.procon.org.16
Kratom (Mitragyna speciose) is a plant remedy that has become a popular opioid substitute.17 In August 2016, the DEA issued a notice saying it was planning to ban kratom, listing it as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. However, following massive outrage from kratom users who say opioids are their only alternative, the agency reversed its decision.18
Kratom is safer than an opioid for someone in serious and chronic pain. However, it's important to recognize that it is a psychoactive substance and should be used carefully. There's very little research showing how to use it safely and effectively, and it may have a very different effect from one person to the next. The other issue to address is that there are a number of different strains available with different effects.
Also, while it may be useful for weaning people off opioids, kratom is in itself addictive. So, while it appears to be a far safer alternative to opioids, it's still a powerful and potentially addictive substance. So please, do your own research before trying it.
Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist, originally developed in the early 1960s for the treatment of opioid addiction. When taken at very low doses LDN, available only by prescription, triggers endorphin production, which can boost your immune function and ease pain.
A primary therapeutic compound identified in the spice turmeric, curcumin has been shown in more than 50 clinical studies to have potent anti-inflammatory activity. Curcumin is hard to absorb, so best results are achieved with preparations designed to improve absorption. It is very safe and you can take two to three every hour if you need to.
One of the most effective oil-soluble antioxidants known, astaxanthin has very potent anti-inflammatory properties. Higher doses are typically required for pain relief, and you may need 8 milligrams or more per day to achieve results.
Also known as boswellin or "Indian frankincense," this herb contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which have been prized for thousands of years. This is one of my personal favorites, as it worked well for many of my former rheumatoid arthritis patients.
This protein-digesting enzyme, found in pineapples, is a natural anti-inflammatory. It can be taken in supplement form, but eating fresh pineapple may also be helpful. Keep in mind most of the bromelain is found within the core of the pineapple, so consider eating some of the pulpy core when you consume the fruit.
? Cayenne cream
Also called capsaicin cream, this spice comes from dried hot peppers. It alleviates pain by depleting your body's supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that transmit pain signals to your brain.
? Cetyl myristoleate (CMO)
This oil, found in dairy butter and fish, acts as a joint lubricant and anti-inflammatory. I have used a topical preparation of CMO to relieve ganglion cysts and a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome.
? Evening primrose, black currant and borage oils
These oils contain the fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid, which is useful for treating arthritic pain.
This herb is anti-inflammatory and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea, or incorporated into fresh vegetable juice.
Dietary Changes to Fight Inflammation and Manage Your Pain
Unfortunately, physicians often fall short when attempting to effectively treat chronic pain, resorting to the only treatment they know: prescription drugs. While these drugs may bring some temporary relief, they will do nothing to resolve the underlying causes of your pain. If you suffer from chronic pain, making the following changes to your diet may bring you some relief.
? Consume more animal-based omega-3 fats. Similar to the effects of anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical drugs, omega-3 fats from fish and fish oils work to directly or indirectly modulate a number of cellular activities associated with inflammation. While drugs have a powerful ability to inhibit your body's pain signals, omega-3s cause a gentle shift in cell signaling to bring about a lessened reactivity to pain.
Eating healthy seafood like anchovies or sardines, which are low in environmental toxins, or taking a high-quality supplement such as krill oil are your best options for obtaining omega-3s. DHA and EPA, the omega-3 oils contained in krill oil, have been found in many animal and clinical studies to have anti-inflammatory properties, which are beneficial for pain relief.
? Radically reduce your intake of processed foods. Processed foods not only contain chemical additives and excessive amounts of sugar, but also are loaded with damaging omega-6 fats. By eating these foods, especially fried foods, you upset your body's ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty-acids, which triggers inflammation. Inflammation is a key factor in most pain.
? Eliminate or radically reduce your consumption of grains and sugars. Avoiding grains and sugars, especially fructose, will lower your insulin and leptin levels. Elevated insulin and leptin levels are some of the most profound stimulators of inflammatory prostaglandin production, which contributes to pain.
While healthy individuals are advised to keep their daily fructose consumption below 25 grams from all sources, you'll want to limit your intake to 15 grams per day until your pain is reduced. Eating sugar increases your uric acid levels, which leads to chronic, low-level inflammation.
? Optimize your production of vitamin D. As much as possible, regulate your vitamin D levels by regularly exposing large amounts of your skin to sunshine. If you cannot get sufficient sun exposure, taking an oral vitamin D3 supplement, along with vitamin K2 and magnesium, is highly advisable.
Research by GrassrootsHealth suggests adults need about 8,000 IUs per day to achieve a serum level of 40 ng/ml, but you may need even more. It's best to get your blood level tested to be sure you're safely within the therapeutic range.
Bodywork Methods That Reduce Pain
Due to the inherent risks of addiction and the other unpleasant side effects of prescription painkillers, I recommend you pursue one or more of the following bodywork methods before taking a narcotic for pain. Each one has been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for lasting pain relief and management.
o Acupuncture: According to The New York Times,19 an estimated 3 million American adults receive acupuncture annually, most often for the treatment of chronic pain. A study20 published in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded acupuncture has a definite effect in reducing four types of chronic pain, including back and neck pain, chronic headache, osteoarthritis and shoulder pain -- more so than standard pain treatment.
o Chiropractic adjustments: While previously used most often to treat back pain, chiropractic treatment addresses many other problems -- including asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, headaches, migraines, musculoskeletal pain, neck pain and whiplash. According to a study21 published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, patients with neck pain who used a chiropractor and/or exercise were more than twice as likely to be pain-free in 12 weeks compared to those who took medication.
o Massage: Massage releases endorphins, which help induce relaxation, relieve pain and reduce levels of stress chemicals such as cortisol and noradrenaline. A systematic review and meta-analysis22 published in the journal Pain Medicine, included 60 high-quality and seven low-quality studies that looked into the use of massage for various types of pain, including bone and muscle, fibromyalgia, headache and spinal-cord pain.
The study revealed massage therapy relieves pain better than getting no treatment at all. When compared to other pain treatments like acupuncture and physical therapy, massage therapy still proved beneficial and had few side effects. In addition to relieving pain, massage therapy also improved anxiety and health-related quality of life.
o Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT):EFT continues to be one of the easiest and most effective ways to deal with acute and chronic pain. The technique is simple and can be applied in mere minutes, helping you to overcome all kinds of bodily aches and pains. A study23 published in Energy Psychology examined the levels of pain in a group of 50 people attending a three-day EFT workshop, and found their pain dropped by 43 percent during the workshop.
Six weeks later, their pain levels were reported to be 42 percent lower than before the workshop. As a result of applying EFT, participants felt they had an improved sense of control and ability to cope with their chronic pain. In the video featured below, EFT expert Julie Schiffman, teaches you how to use EFT to address chronic pain.
Brushing your teeth twice a day is an indispensable health habit that affects more than just your teeth. The state of your oral health most definitely plays a role in optimizing your overall health and well-being. Regardless of your age or the number of years you've been using a toothbrush, it's a good idea to make sure you are addressing the important aspects of dental hygiene.
Bad breath, plaque, yellow teeth, tooth decay and other health problems are easily avoidable when you adopt an effective oral-care routine. I hope you will take a few minutes to learn what happens when you don't brush your teeth, or don't brush them properly.
What Can You Do About Bad Breath?
If you've ever overlooked brushing your teeth before leaving the house for the day, you have probably already experienced the most common side effect of ignoring your oral health: bad breath, also known as halitosis. Without brushing, food odors will linger in your mouth, causing foul odors to emit as you breathe and speak. Some food odors may be mildly tolerable, like coffee, while others are downright obnoxious, like garlic or fish.
To prevent bad breath, not only is it important to brush your teeth twice a day, but also your tongue. Since it is actively involved in the chewing and swallowing process, food particles and odors can easily remain on your tongue after you brush your teeth. You can brush your tongue using either your regular toothbrush or an instrument designed specifically for tongue brushing. If you are prone to foul breath and have not seen improvement through changes in your oral hygiene routine, you also may want to address:
o Alcohol consumption or smoking: The scent of alcohol and cigarettes is strong and often lingers on your breath. If you're looking for ways to curb your smoking habit, check out my advice on how to quit smoking
o Medications: Some pharmaceutical drugs cause dry mouth. Because saliva rinses odor-producing germs from your mouth, the absence of saliva may result in bad breath. If you suspect the root of your foul breath is drug-induced, see your doctor about changing or adjusting your medications
o Mouth breathing and snoring: Both of these conditions can lead to dry mouth and/or bad breath and are worthy of your time and attention to address
o Your gut health:Optimizing your gut flora will help fight bad breath because it strengthens your immune system and balances the bacteria in your gut; eating fermented foods is a great way to improve your gut and oral health
Yellow Teeth: A Sign of Poor Habits or Staining Foods and Beverages
If you have ever fallen into a pattern of brushing less frequently, you may have noticed your teeth will generally turn yellow. Your teeth take on this dingy hue due to the buildup of bacteria, food debris and plaque, which conspire to diminish the natural whiteness of your teeth. Yellow teeth or teeth stains are almost always a noticeable result of smoking. If you consume certain beverages and foods very often, they may also be contributing to the darkening of your teeth.
According to WebMD,1 tea has the potential to stain your teeth worse than coffee. Tea boasts a higher stain potential because it contains acid, as well as tannins, plant-based compounds that make it easier for stains to stick to your teeth. "Tea causes teeth to stain much worse than coffee," says Dr. Mark Wolff, professor at New York University college of dentistry. "Iced tea or brewed tea -- it doesn't matter."2
Acidic foods can also lead to teeth yellowing or staining due to their ability to wear down your tooth enamel. Certain types of foods may cause staining due to their intrinsic properties, such as berries and curry, for example.
I have often mentioned oil pulling with coconut oil as a superb way to cleanse and flush harmful bacteria from your mouth. This is an oral hygiene habit I invest in every day. Because of its high concentration of antibacterial medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), coconut oil is ideal for oil pulling. If you have yellow teeth, you'll be happy to know that one of the positive side effects of oil pulling is that coconut oil naturally whitens your teeth. Try it for a few weeks and see what a difference it makes!
Plaque Buildup Sets the Stage for Tooth Decay and Gum Disease
Plaque is the sticky film that forms when the bacteria in your mouth build up on your teeth. If plaque remains on your teeth for too long, it begins to eat away at them, making them weak. Untreated plaque sets the stage for tooth decay and gum disease. While plaque is mostly colorless and may be hard to see, you know it's there because of how it feels. Dr. Margaret Culotta-Norton, former president of the Washington D.C. Dental Society, says:3
"Plaque makes the teeth feel rough and slimy. It feels like the teeth have 'sweaters' on them ... Plaque will never go away completely, but it can be controlled with good oral hygiene and visits to the dentist."
Tooth Decay: How to Keep It in Check
You may have already suffered from one of the most common effects that result from not brushing your teeth properly: tooth decay. Tooth decay often results in the presence of cavities. A few years ago, I did an interview with Dr. Tim Rainey, a pioneer in biological dentistry, who presented the many advantages of minimally invasive dentistry.
Rainey suggests tooth decay is primarily driven by the symbiotic relationship between bacteria and acidity, which creates a pathogenic bioflora in your mouth. If you're continually lowering the pH in your mouth, you start losing calcium, which is necessary for strong, healthy teeth. A calcium deficiency results in more porous teeth, which allows plaque that has turned pathogenic to attack a weak tooth.
Once certain types of bacteria are able to penetrate your tooth enamel, they release enzymes that begin to break down the collagen in the inner structure of the tooth. Besides ensuring you brush and floss regularly, you can keep tooth decay in check by:
o Avoiding processed foods and sugar, which will help reduce the bacteria that cause tooth decay
o Eating a diet rich in fresh, whole foods, grass fed meats and fermented vegetables, all of which will ensure you get plenty of minerals for strong bones and teeth
o Balancing your consumption of acid and alkaline foods
o Brushing with baking soda at night to alkalize the pH of your mouth
o Using a water-flossing system to remove smaller food particles that may not be removed with conventional dental floss alone
If you have young children, be sure they consume any chewable vitamins prior to brushing their teeth. Chewable vitamins can be acidic, and leaving the acid on the teeth for long periods of time will very often result in tooth decay.
Periodontal Disease Can Lead to Tooth Loss
According to the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP),4 there are several types of periodontal disease. Gingivitis, evidenced by red, swollen or bleeding gums, is the mildest form. It's possible to reverse gingivitis with professional treatment and improved oral home care. Untreated gingivitis usually advances to periodontitis, a process the AAP explains as follows:5
"With time, plaque can spread and grow below the gum line. Toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque irritate the gums. The toxins stimulate a chronic inflammatory response ... and the tissues and bone that support the teeth are broken down and destroyed.
Gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets ... that become infected. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. ... Eventually, teeth can become loose and may have to be removed."
If you suffer the misfortune of losing a tooth because of periodontal disease, be sure to review my past advice prior to getting a root canal or dental implant. In addition to regular brushing and flossing, you can best fight periodontal disease by:
o Using a water-flossing system to remove smaller food particles that may not be removed with conventional dental floss alone
o Adopting the practice of oil pulling, which was mentioned above
After oil pulling, you may reduce bacterial growth in your mouth even further by increasing your oral pH. To do so, mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 6 ounces of water and gargle. This will alkalize the pH of your mouth. Because bacteria thrive in an acidic environment, the increased pH will discourage bacterial growth.
How the Health of Your Mouth Affects Other Areas of Your Body
Brushing your teeth regularly is important because when bacteria in your mouth isn't removed, it taxes your immune system. When your immune system is burdened, you are at potential risk for health problems in other areas of your body.
Dr. Matthew Messina, a nationally-recognized spokesperson for dentistry and member of the American Dental Association, notes you should be particularly concerned if you have bacteria under the gum line with access to your circulatory system, which can be dangerous. According to USA Today:6
"A dirty mouth has been linked to respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, heart attacks and even MRSA -- in the case of dentures. MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a bacteria resistant to a variety of medications that can infect the bloodstream and lining of the heart."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates MRSA indeed can cause problems ranging from skin infections to sepsis and pneumonia to bloodstream infections.7 The fact MRSA is resistant to many of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics is also a cause for concern. Previously, I've discussed how your oral health affects the rest of your body.
Final Thoughts About Caring for Your Teeth
By now, you probably realize the importance of brushing your teeth. However, you may still be making one or more of these common mistakes when caring for your teeth:8,9
? Brushing less than two minutes
? Keeping your toothbrush longer than three months (about 200 uses)
? Using a brush that is too hard, when a soft or extra soft brush will do
? Brushing up and down instead of using a circular motion at a 45-degree angle
? Locking into the same routine day after day, which may lull you into complacency
? Brushing more than twice a day and/or applying too much pressure, which may be hard on your gums and tooth enamel
I would add that brushing with toothpaste containing fluoride is another common mistake. To avoid exposure to fluoride and other dangerous toothpaste toxins, I recommend you use toothpaste containing natural ingredients, such as coconut oil, baking soda and essential oils. For more tips on how to brush your teeth correctly, check out the Life Hacks video featured below.
Myrtle's leaves and fruits have been widely used as folk medicine for the treatment of digestive, pulmonary and skin problems in many parts of the world.1 Its essential oil, which possesses much of the healthful properties of the plant, is also popular among aromatherapy practitioners. Discover what you can gain from having a bottle of myrtle oil stocked in your home by reading the information below.
What Is Myrtle Oil?
The myrtle plant was first mentioned in history in ancient Greece.2 It was associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and was offered to certain men and women as a symbol of honor. The Greeks also valued the plant because of its healing qualities.
Myrtle is an evergreen shrub that originated from Africa but has become a native plant in the Mediterranean region. Its small, dark green leaves, purple-black colored berries, and fragrant white flowers are all sources of myrtle oil. However, it's the leaves that produce the oil used in traditional medicine. The oil derived from berries is often used as a flavoring agent for beverages and alcoholic drinks.
Myrtle belongs to the same plant family as tea tree and eucalyptus, giving all three similar characteristics. In fact, myrtle's scent is reminiscent of eucalyptus oil.3 Myrtle is sometimes compared to frankincense oil because they possess a similar composition and scent.4
You may also see lemon myrtle essential oil on the market. While both myrtle oils have a number of related properties, they are two different plant oils. Common myrtle oil comes from Myrtus communis, while lemon myrtle oil comes from the Backhousia citriodora plant.
Uses of Myrtle Oil
Myrtle oil gained its popularity because of its antimicrobial, astringent, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, decongestant and stimulant properties. It also functions as an effective deodorizer.
Its medicinal functions have been noted as early as 600 B.C. According to the Bible, it was used in purification ceremonies. In other cultures, the essential oil of myrtle was used to help ease urinary infections, digestive issues and respiratory illnesses.
Greek physicians used the plant oil for lung and bladder infections, while in Italy, the oil was an ingredient in children's cough syrup. The oil found in myrtle leaves was also used in skincare and as a remedy to regulate menstrual cycle.5
In Ayurvedic medicine, practitioners used myrtle oil to help treat cerebral infections, specifically epilepsy.6 Today, myrtle oil is commonly used by aromatherapists for skin health and respiratory ailments.
Like eucalyptus, myrtle can be used to ward off mosquitoes and other insects and can be an air freshener.7
Composition of Myrtle Oil
Studies8,9 have noted that the main chemical components of myrtle oil are pinene, cineole 1,8 and linalool. Pinene is found in many plants and is used as a liniment for rheumatism in aromatherapy and as a tonic for the respiratory system.10 Cineole, also called eucalyptol, is prevalent in Eucalyptus oil, but is also found in many plants.
Due to its expectorant properties, cineole is often used in lozenges. Linalool possesses sedative properties and can be used as an anesthetic. Myrtle oil is also high in tannins, which are water-soluble polyphenols that appear in many plants.
Benefits of Myrtle Oil
Myrtle oil has been extensively researched for its potential benefits on hormone imbalances, specifically of the thyroid and ovaries.11 Myrtle possesses adaptogen properties, which may help regulate an underactive or overactive gland. This is why it is recommended for people suffering from hypothyroidism.12
In skincare, myrtle essential oil is valued for its astringent properties. It can help address oily skin, open pores, sagging skin, and acne. It is also used as a base to help treat hemorrhoids because of its high tannin content.
People dealing with respiratory problems, including asthma, cough, and bronchitis, may benefit from myrtle oil because of its expectorant properties. This means that it can help remove excess mucus from your respiratory tract. The oil is gentle enough and is particularly helpful for the elderly and children suffering from nighttime coughs.
Myrtle oil may also help inhibit infections due to its antimicrobial properties. In one study,13 it was shown that the oil could prevent the growth and development of five types of bacteria, including Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Salmonella species, and Listeria species. Myrtle also functions as an antiseptic and can be applied on wounds.
Myrtle oil may also work for mental and emotional health, as it can help relieve nervousness and stress. As a sedative, it may provide relief from depression, tension, and distress, as well as inflammation and allergic reactions.
How to Make Myrtle Oil
Like many plant essential oils, myrtle oil is obtained by steam distilling the flowers, leaves and stem. However, you can make infused myrtle oil at home using myrtle leaves. Follow this guide from eHow.com.14
What You'll Need
o Measuring cup
o 3 to 4 cups of fresh or 1 cup of dried myrtle leaf
o Extra-virgin olive oil or cold-pressed grape seed oil
o Large saucepan with ovenproof handles
o Coffee filters
o Dark bottle or jar (preferably glass jar)
Measure 3 cups of fresh myrtle leaves. With a knife, chop the leaves into small pieces, about the size of a dime. Transfer the chopped leaves into a jar.
Pour extra virgin oil into the jar until it sits approximately 1 inch above the chopped leaves. Place the contents of the jar into the large saucepan with ovenproof handles.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F, place the uncovered saucepan into the oven, and observe the mixture. When the oil starts to boil, lower the heat slightly until the oil sits at a temperature where it slowly boils.
Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture. Do this every 20 minutes. Simmer the oil until the leaves become crisp and "worn-out." This means that the leaves will be devoid of oil for infusion.
Place a coffee filter into a strainer and place over the dark-colored jar. Pour the myrtle extract through the filter until no more oil comes out.
Close the jar tightly and store it in a cool, dark, and dry area.
Hot Oil Infusion
Measure 3 cups of fresh myrtle leaves. With a knife, chop the leaves into small pieces, about the size of a dime. Transfer the chopped leaves into a jar.
Pour extra virgin oil into the jar until it sits approximately 1 inch above the chopped leaves. Place the contents of the jar into the large saucepan with ovenproof handles.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F, place the uncovered saucepan into the oven and observe the mixture. When the oil starts to boil, lower the heat slightly until the oil sits at a temperature where it slowly boils.
Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture. Do this every 20 minutes. Simmer the oil until the leaves become crisp and "worn-out." This means that the leaves will be devoid of oil for infusion.
Place a coffee filter into a strainer and place over the dark-colored jar. Pour the myrtle extract through the filter until no more oil comes out.
Close the jar tightly and store it in a cool, dark and dry area.
Cold Oil Infusion
Measure 1 cup of dried myrtle leaves. Chop the leaves using a knife.
Place the chopped leaves into a jar and fill it with cold-pressed grape seed oil until the oil sits approximately an inch above the chopped leaves. Seal the jar afterward.
Place the jar in a warm place, with access to direct sunlight. Let the jar sit for two weeks and shake the jar vigorously at least twice a day.
Put a coffee filter into the strainer, with a dark glass jar underneath it. Pour the oil through and old the strainer over until no oil comes out.
Seal the jar and store in a cool, dry and dark place.
Note: Myrtle infusion oil is best used when fresh, but it can remain stable up to a year. Use within six months for best results.
How Does Myrtle Oil Work?
Myrtle oil can be used in a number of ways. It can be inhaled, applied directly, or added to your food. If you're interested, here are some ways to use myrtle oil:
? Hemorrhoids -- Add 6 drops of myrtle oil to 30 grams (1 ounce) of cold cream and mix well. Apply several times a day until the swelling or pain subsides.
? Acne -- Bad cases of boils or white heads can be treated by using 10 ml (2 teaspoon.) of grape seed oil, 1 drop of wheat germ oil, and 7 drops of myrtle oil.
? Remedy for any respiratory ailment -- Diffuse the oil. You may also add 4 to 5 drops to your bath salts and mix with warm bathwater, or apply a diluted blend to your chest or back.
? Deodorant -- Apart from being an effective skincare agent, myrtle can also ward off bad odor. Add diluted myrtle oil solution to water and use as spray.
? Insomnia -- You may diffuse, mix with bathwater, or apply a drop to the back of the neck and pulse points.
? Calming agent -- If you're experiencing stress or anxiety, you may use myrtle oil for its calming and relaxing properties.
If you're thinking about blending myrtle oil with other essential oils, effective ones include lavender, lime, bergamot, lemon, hyssop, rosemary and clary sage. Myrtle oil also blends well with spices.
Is Myrtle Oil Safe?
Myrtle oil is generally considered non toxic. Its mild nature makes it suitable for use on children and the elderly who have respiratory issues. However, you should not use it without diluting it with other carrier oils, such as olive oil or coconut oil. To check for any adverse effects, you may use a skin patch test or simply apply a drop of the diluted oil on a small portion of your skin.
Myrtle essential oil is also approved as a food additive and flavoring agent by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While it's gentle for use on kids suffering from cold, coughs and similar problems, children age 6 and below should not ingest this essential oil as a dietary supplement.
Do not use myrtle oil on pets, especially cats, as it is toxic to them. Always consult your veterinarian prior to use. Pregnant and nursing women should also consult their doctors before using myrtle or any type of herbal oil.
Myrtle Oil Side Effects
No side effects have been noted for myrtle essential oil when used in normal dosages.15 Application of undiluted essential oil may cause allergic reactions, such as skin irritations and reddening, in people with sensitive skin. Before using myrtle or any oil, consult your doctor or seek advice from an experienced aromatherapist.
Spending time outdoors can significantly lift your mood, so it's no surprise that outdoors activities such as gardening and nature hikes1 have been found to be good therapy. In one survey,2 80 percent of gardeners reported being "happy" and satisfied with their lives, compared to 67 percent of non-gardeners, and the more time spent in the garden, the greater their life satisfaction.
Among volunteers at an outdoor conservation project, a whopping 100 percent said participation improved their mental health and boosted their confidence and self-esteem.3 This general well-being among gardeners is typically attributed to the "recharging" you get from sticking your hands into soil and spending time in nature.
According to Craig Chalquist,4 a depth psychologist and chair of the East-West Psychology Department at California Institute of Integral Studies, who also happens to be certified in permaculture design: "If you hold moist soil for 20 minutes, the soil bacteria begin elevating your mood. You have all the antidepressant you need in the ground."5
In Japan, the practice known as "forest bathing" (Shinrin-yoku) has been part of the national health program since 1982, and its benefits are now starting to become more widely recognized in the U.S. As explained by The Atlantic:6
"The aim was to briefly reconnect people with nature in the simplest way possible. Go to the woods, breathe deeply, be at peace. Forest bathing was Japan's medically sanctioned method of unplugging before there were smartphones to unplug from. Since Shinrin-yoku's inception, researchers have spent millions of dollars testing its efficacy; the documented benefits to one's health thus far include lowered blood pressure, blood glucose levels and stress hormones."
The Importance of Slowing Down
Being in nature has the effect of winding you down because nature's pace is so much slower than our man-made environment. There's a pulse and rhythm in nature, and when you start to observe it and take it in, you find that everything takes time. Change is not immediate. It's a process. With "lightning speed" internet and 24/7 connectivity, we tend to forget this. We get so used to instant results and immediate gratification. You could say observing nature leads to greater tolerance for slowness, otherwise known as patience.
This feeling of well-being can have more far-reaching implications for your physical health too. According to research from Johns Hopkins,7 having a cheerful temperament can significantly reduce your odds of suffering a heart attack or sudden cardiac death. As noted by lead author Lisa R. Yanek:8
"If you are by nature a cheerful person and look on the bright side of things, you are more likely to be protected from cardiac events. A happier temperament has an actual effect on disease and you may be healthier as a result."
Nature Deficit Disorder -- A Rampant Malady
A recent article in The Atlantic9 highlights the growing field of ecotherapy, referring to "methods of cultivating the health benefits of being in nature."10 As noted by Florence Williams, author of "The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative," "Intuitively, many of us believe ... we feel better in nature. But it's only recently that we've been able to see biomarkers of this change."11
In the video above, The Atlantic senior editor Dr. James Hamblin investigates these benefits and interviews mental health therapists using ecotherapy in their practice. Other terms12,13 used for this kind of therapy include green therapy, nature therapy and earth-centered therapy.
Ecotherapy as an umbrella term also covers horticultural therapy, animal-assisted therapy, wilderness therapy, farm therapy, time stress management and "ecoanxiety"14 management -- stress, depression, anxiety, grief and despair attributed specifically to trauma related to climate disruptions. An example would be depression or grief following the loss of a loved one in a hurricane or flash flood.
Estimates suggest the average American spends anywhere between 80 and 99 percent of their life indoors -- a lifestyle trend that has led to what some now refer to as "nature deficit disorder."15 This is not an actual psychological diagnosis, but rather a term used to describe a lifestyle deficit that contributes to poor psychological and physical health. Ecotherapy, which basically involves a prescription to go out and spend time in a natural setting, has been shown to:16
Seven years ago, I interviewed medical journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee Robert Whitaker about his extensive research and knowledge of psychiatric drugs and alternative treatments for depression. He mentioned an interesting study conducted at Duke University in the late 1990s, which divided depressed patients into three treatment groups: exercise only, exercise plus antidepressant, and antidepressant drug only.
After six weeks, the drug-only group was doing slightly better than the other two groups. However, after 10 months of follow-up, it was the exercise-only group that had the highest remission and stay-well rate. According to Whitaker, some countries are taking these types of research findings very seriously, and are starting to base their treatments on the evidence at hand.
In the U.K., for example, doctors can write out a prescription to see an exercise counselor instead under the "exercise on prescription program."17 Part of the exercise can be tending to an outdoor garden, taking nature walks, or repairing trails or clearing park areas, as discussed in the BBC video above.
Within the first few years of the introduction of this ecotherapy18 program in 2007, the rate of British doctors prescribing exercise for depression increased from about 4 percent to about 25 percent. According to a 2009 report on ecotherapy by U.K.-based Depression Alliance:19
"... [Ninety-four] percent of people taking part in a MIND survey commented that green exercise activities had benefited their mental health ... Furthermore, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence asserts that for 'patients with depression ... structured and supervised exercise can be an effective intervention that has a clinically significant impact on depressive symptoms.'"
Nature as a Healing Agent
People are increasingly starting to recognize that nature deficits play a significant role in health and well-being, and this recognition can even be seen in literature. As noted by The Telegraph,20 "nature writing" is a relatively novel literary genre, in which memoir is comingled with "the author's experience of nature." In other words, books describing the healing influence of nature.
"In 'H is for Hawk,' Helen Macdonald tells of the unexpected loss of her father in her late s. To distract herself from her grief, she attempts to tame a hawk ... Similarly, Amy Liptrot, in her book 'The Outrun: [A Memoir],' describes her return to the isle of Orkney, where she took long walks and rebuilt a stone wall as a way of recovering from alcohol addiction and the breakup of a relationship. These are but two of many recent examples," The Telegraph writes.
The Three-Day Effect
While many artists will tell you that nature can have a tremendous influence on the creative process, it can also have a profound effect on an intellectual's capacity to reason and think clearly and deeply. In "This Is Your Brain on Nature,"21 National Geographic delves into the healing powers of nature from a psychologist's point of view:
"... David Strayer ... [a] cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah who specializes in attention ... knows our brains are prone to mistakes, especially when we're multitasking and dodging distractions ... Strayer is in a unique position to understand what modern life does to us. An avid backpacker, he thinks he knows the antidote: Nature.
On the third day of a camping trip in the wild canyons near Bluff, Utah, Strayer is ... explaining what he calls the 'three-day effect' to 22 psychology students. Our brains, he says, aren't tireless -pound machines; they're easily fatigued. When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too ...
Strayer has demonstrated as much with a group of Outward Bound participants, who performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking.
The three-day effect, he says, is a kind of cleaning of the mental windshield that occurs when we've been immersed in nature long enough ... 'If you can have the experience of being in the moment for two or three days, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking.'"
Nature Walks Decrease Negative Thoughts
Indeed, recent research22 shows spending time in nature helps reduce depression and anxiety specifically by reducing rumination, i.e., obsessive negative thoughts that just go round and round without ever getting to any kind of resolution. Ruminating thoughts light up a region in your brain called the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area that regulates negative emotions.
When rumination continues for extended periods of time, depression can result. To assess the effect of nature walks on rumination, 38 psychologically healthy city dwellers were divided into two groups. One group took a 90-minute walk through a scenic area while the other strolled along El Camino Real, a busy four-lane road in Palo Alto.
As expected, those walking along the traffic-logged street had no decrease in rumination, while the nature walkers experienced a significant decrease in subgenual prefrontal cortex activity.
City Living Linked to Anxiety and Mood Disorders
Researchers looking at stress have found city dwellers are more likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders in general, compared to those living in more rural environments -- an effect thought to be due to chronically increased stress levels.23
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute at McGill University in Canada showed that the environment in which you live can alter your neural processes, thereby raising or lowering your risk of psychological problems.
Thirty-two healthy adults were asked to complete a difficult, timed math problem while simultaneously hearing negative verbal responses. Those who lived in urban environments had increased activity in the amygdala area of the brain, which is involved in emotions such as fear and responses to threats. Those who lived in cities during the first 15 years of their life also had increased activity in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, which helps to regulate the amygdala.
In short, those who grew up in an urban environment had a greater sensitivity to stress. In an accompanying editorial,24 Daniel Kennedy, Ph.D., and Ralph Adolphs, Ph.D., both of the California Institute of Technology, explained that your level of autonomy may play a role in how stressful city living is for you:
"There are wide variations in individuals' preferences for, and ability to cope with, city life: Some thrive in New York City; others would happily swap it for a desert island.
Psychologists have found that a substantial factor accounting for this variability is the perceived degree of control that people have over their daily lives. Social threat, lack of control and subordination are all likely candidates for mediating the stressful effects of city life, and probably account for much of the individual differences seen."
Nature Sounds Help You Relax
Other recent research shows that the mere sounds of nature have a distinct effect on your brain, lowering fight-or-flight instincts and activating your rest-and-digest autonomic nervous system.25,26,27 Here, participants listened to two different types of sound -- nature sounds and sounds from a man-made artificial environment -- while lying in an fMRI scanner. During each five-minute soundscape, they also performed tasks designed to measure attention and reaction time.
Nature sounds produced brain activity associated with outward-directed focus, whereas artificial sounds created brain activity associated with inward-directed focus. The latter, which can express itself as worry and rumination about things related to your own self, is a trait associated with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Nature sounds also produced higher rest-digest nervous system activity, which occurs when your body is in a relaxed state. External attentional monitoring tasks and mental concentration also improved. Overall, nature sounds had the greatest effect on those who were the most stressed. Previous research has also demonstrated that listening to nature sounds help you recover faster after a stressful event. Lead author Cassandra Gould van Praag, Ph.D., said:
"We are all familiar with the feeling of relaxation and 'switching-off' which comes from a walk in the countryside, and now we have evidence from the brain and the body which helps us understand this effect.
This has been an exciting collaboration between artists and scientists, and it has produced results which may have a real-world impact, particularly for people who are experiencing high levels of stress ...28 I would definitely recommend a walk in natural surroundings to anyone, whether they're currently feeling frazzled or not. Even a few minutes of escape could be beneficial."29
Taking Advantage of Nature's Remedy
The take-home message here is that spending time in nature can have profound benefits for your physical and psychological health. In fact, nature deficits may even be at the heart of many people's anxiety and general malcontent -- they just don't know it. Indoor living has become such a norm, many give no thought to the fact they haven't been more than a few feet away from concrete in weeks, months or even years.
The key is to be proactive. You have to actually plan your escapes -- schedule nature time into your calendar as you would any other important activity. If your free time is limited, you may need to get creative. My situation requires me to read many books and studies to stay on top of the latest health advancements. In years past, I would spend hours reading indoors every day. I solved my need for reading and walking outdoors by reading on my Kindle during my beach walks, nailing two birds with one stone, so to speak.
Keeping a garden is another simple way of getting closer to nature without having to go far. In addition to increasing your sense of well-being, keeping a garden can also reduce your grocery bill and improve your health by providing you with fresh, uncontaminated food (provided you grow them organically).
On days when you cannot get out, consider using an environmental sound machine or a CD with nature sounds. Another alternative that doesn't cost anything is to bookmark a few YouTube videos of nature sounds. Many are several hours long. Should you happen to need professional help, consider seeking out an ecotherapist. Most practicing ecotherapists are trained and licensed in some form of conventional counseling or psychotherapy, and use nature therapy as an adjunct in their practice.
If you're in the U.K., check out Mind's ecotherapy page (mind.org)30 for various program resources. In the U.S., finding a nature-based therapist is a bit trickier, as the field is still fairly new. One way to locate an ecotherapist might be to contact schools that teach ecotherapy, and ask them for recommendations of people who have passed the course.