Empathy, the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes, so to speak, and understand their feelings and point of view, is a character trait that may benefit society and individuals in multiple ways. Empathy training has been found to reduce stress levels among medical students facing intense emotional encounters with patients, for example.1 While many parents try to instill empathetic qualities in their children, there's growing research that empathy has deep neurological roots in humans.
One of the first signs that empathy may be ingrained in all of us occurred in 1848, when a foreman named Phineas Gage working on a railroad construction project had an accident, which resulted in an iron rod going through his skull. He survived, but not without marked changes to his personality. His friends, family and physician described him as rude and inconsiderate following the accident.2
The Neurological Side of Empathy
The term empathy didn't come to be for another six decades after Gage's accident, but what the accident essentially took from the foreman was the ability to feel empathy. In 1994, researchers were able to take measurements from Gage's skull and use modern neuroimaging techniques to recreate the accident and determine its effects on his brain.
"The damage involved both left and right prefrontal cortices in a pattern that, as confirmed by Gage's modern counterparts, causes a defect in rational decision making and the processing of emotion," researchers concluded.3
Injury was found to have occurred in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC), which is one of 10 brain regions now known to be involved in empathy. In his book "Zero Degrees of Empathy," Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, describes the complex neurological underpinnings of empathy, revealing the many ways our brains help us to care about other people:4
The medial frontal cortex has been linked to social cognition, which allows people to be part of a social group and process information about others5
The inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) may be involved in recognizing emotions on faces6
More activity in the IFG when people look at emotional expressions is linked to higher scores on the empathy quotient scale7
The amygdala is also involved in emotions, including the ability to recognize fear on someone's face8
Neurons in the caudal anterior cingulate cortex (cACC) "light up" when you're in pain or when you observe someone else in pain9
Humans also have "mirror neurons," which, Psychology Today explains, "react to emotions expressed by others and then reproduce them."10 A deficit in mirror neuron receptors has been suggested as an explanation for narcissism and neurotic behaviors and thinking.11 Despite this knowledge, Medical News Today reported, British clinical psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen says, "We still know very little about individual differences in empathy ... We will need elegant experimental research to solve those puzzles."12
Why It's Beneficial to Practice Empathy
Beyond stress relief, why is it so important to be empathetic? Chad Fowler, CTO of 6Wunderkinder, the maker of Wunderlist mobile app, shared the following reasons why he believes your most important skill is empathy:13
You will be more likely to treat the people you care about the way they wish you would treat them.
You will better understand the needs of people around you.
You will more clearly understand the perception you create in others with your words and actions.
You will understand the unspoken parts of your communication with others.
You will better understand the needs of your customers at work.
You will have less trouble dealing with interpersonal conflict both at home and at work.
You will be able to more accurately predict the actions and reactions of people you interact with.
You will learn how to motivate the people around you.
You will more effectively convince others of your point of view.
You will experience the world in higher resolution as you perceive through not only your perspective but the perspectives of those around you.
You will find it easier to deal with the negativity of others if you can better understand their motivations and fears.
Yet, people tend to feel most empathetic about those they perceive to be the most vulnerable. In one study, empathetic feels were higher toward a child, a puppy and an adult dog than they were toward an adult man.14
There's good reason, however, to reframe the way you may compartmentalize empathetic feelings, as they have the potential to do good in an endless number of scenarios. Among dentists and their patients, for example, empathy improved communication and the dentistry experience for both the patient and the practitioner.15
Researchers found that empathy was positively associated with treatment adherence, patient satisfaction and reduced dental anxiety, sentiments that seem to be echoed among medical practitioners. Among adolescents, empathy may even go hand in hand with future success, according to licensed professional counselor Ugo Uche:16
"Teenagers who are empathetic tend to be more purpose driven and they intentionally succeed in their academics not because they are looking to make good grades, but in most subjects their goal is to understand the subject material and to utilize the knowledge as one of their ever-increasing tools ...
Teenagers who are more empathetic do a much better job in embracing failure, because there is little ego involved in their tasks, and setbacks while disappointing are rarely seen as failures, but rather as a learning experience about an approach that does not work for the task at hand."
Different Types of Empathy
Empathy comes in three different varieties, and we each have varying levels of each type, which combine to influence our personal and professional lives. Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., the Henry R. Kravis professor of leadership and organizational psychology and former director of the Kravis Leadership Institute at Claremont McKenna College, explained each type in brief:17
Cognitive empathy: This type allows you to understand another person's perspective and imagine what it would be like to walk in their shoes.
Personal distress: Sometimes referred to as social empathy, this allows you to literally feel another person's emotional state.
Empathic concern: This describes not only recognizing and feeling in-tune with another person's emotional state but also showing the appropriate concern or trying to help them as a result.
It's common for one person to be high in one type of empathy and lower in others, with varying effects. Riggio described a study he worked on in which hospice nurses performed better when they possessed empathic concern but worse when they experienced personal distress.
"We surmised that if hospice nurses felt their patients' pain (and family members' distress as well), it made them less able to do their job of providing comfort to the patient and family because they had their own emotions that they had to deal with," Riggio wrote.18
By tuning into your own empathic abilities, you can make mental notes of when perhaps you should show more empathic concern in lieu of personal distress and vice versa. Psychologist Daniel Goleman (who's behind the theory of emotional intelligence) has stated that possessing all three types of empathy is key for strengthening your relationships.19
You Can Learn To Be More Empathetic
Because we're all hard-wired to feel empathy, you can train yourself to be more empathetic, even when it comes to strangers. Lack of empathy is responsible for many human conflicts, particularly those that occur between people from different nationalities and cultures. A University of Zurich study showed, however, that even a few positive experiences with a stranger increase empathetic brain responses toward them.
Participants were divided into two groups (in-group members and out-group members) and received shocks to the back of their hands. Other study participants had the option of paying money so someone else could avoid the painful experience.20 When a person received help from a stranger, they had an increased brain response in empathy toward that person. According to the researchers, "[S]urprisingly few positive learning experiences are sufficient to increase empathy."21
Beyond making an effort to share positive experiences with the people around you, you can develop your empathy simply by listening intently when people speak. This includes waiting until they've finished speaking to formulate your response and respond, as well as considering the speaker's motivations behind what they're saying and then responding with follow-up questions to further your understanding of the conversation.22 Other steps you can take to become more empathetic include:
Consider an ongoing disagreement you have with a family member, friend or co-worker. Try to imagine the argument from their side and recognize whether they have valid arguments, good intentions or positive motivations you may have previously missed.
Read more fiction.Reading literary fiction was shown to enhance a skill known as theory of mind, which is the ability to understand others' mental states and show increased empathy.23
Watch and wonder. Fowler recommends an activity he calls "watch and wonder," which you can try virtually anywhere:24
"Put down your cell phone. Instead of checking Twitter or reading articles while you wait for the train or are stuck in a traffic jam, look at the people around you and imagine who they might be, what they might be thinking and feeling, and where they are trying to go right now. Are they frustrated? Happy? Singing? Looking at their phones? Do they live here or are they from out of town? Have they had a nice day? Try to actually wonder and care."
If you're unsure when to really try to tap into your empathic abilities, Guy Winch, Ph.D., suggests prime times include whenever you wish you could understand someone better, when you're having an unproductive argument with your significant other or when you want to calm your temper or better connect with the emotions of a loved one. Empathy even comes into play when you need to complain effectively.
"Empathy comes more naturally to some than it does to others," Winch says. "However, by taking time to truly paint a picture of what it is like for the other person and imagine ourselves in their place, we will gain valuable insights and forge deeper connections to those around us."25
Sweet fennel oil comes from crushed fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare). The plant, which is a part of the Apiaceae family including carrots or parsley, 1 has an herby, slightly spicy smell that resembles aniseed. It is native to Southern Europe, but is also now grown in parts of Northern Europe, Australia and North America. 2
Uses of Sweet Fennel Oil
Fennel was used in various ancient civilizations -- by the Egyptians for food and medicine and by the Chinese as a remedy for snake bites. During the Middle Ages, it was hung over doorways to drive away evil spirits.
In present times, sweet fennel oil is used mostly for medicinal purposes, such as killing parasitic worms and their spores in the intestines and excretory tracts and as a laxative with no side effects.
It is also used for cosmetic purposes, especially as an ingredient in massage oils,3 perfumes, toothpastes and soaps.4
Composition of Sweet Fennel Oil
The chemicals found in sweet fennel oil include anethole, fenchone, estragole, a-pinene and ß-pinene, a-phellandrene and ß-phellandrene, a-Terpineol, myrcene, campfer and para-Cymol.5
Benefits of Sweet Fennel Oil
Sweet fennel oil acts as a stimulant for the nervous, digestive and excretory system and the endocrine and exocrine glands. It helps relieve dizziness, fatigue and exhaustion.6 Other benefits you can get from using sweet fennel oil include:
Carminative: eases indigestion and stomach pain
Diuretic: removes excess water, sodium, uric acid, bile salts and other toxic elements
Splenic: protects the spleen from various infections
Depurative: removes toxic substances in the blood
Expectorant: provides relief from mucus and phlegm that lead to congestion of the nasal tract, pharynx, bronchi and lungs
Emmenagogue: relieves painful dysmenorrhea and helps prevent untimely or premature menopause in women
Galactagogue: increases production of breastmilk in lactating mothers
Sweet fennel oil is also used to help treat insect bites, anorexia, hiccups, rheumatism and spasms. The oil is also helpful in preventing wounds from becoming infected with tetanus.
How to Make Infused Sweet Fennel Oil
Commercially available sweet fennel oil is made through steam distillation. However, you can make your own homemade sweet fennel oil infusion at home. Root to Fruit gives a simple step-by-step instruction on how to make infused sweet fennel oil.7
How Does Sweet Fennel Oil Work?
Sweet fennel oil can be taken topically8 or via inhalation, although I strongly recommend against taking it internally. Here are other ways to use this essential oil therapeutically:
o Massages and baths: Add two to three drops into your massage oil or your bath water.
o Facials: Blend a few drops with an unscented facial cream.
o Direct inhalation: Dilute three to four drops into a vaporizer or diffuser.
o Wounds: Apply one to two drops to the affected area.
Is Sweet Fennel Oil Safe?
Despite its many health benefits, I strongly advise you to take caution when using sweet fennel oil because it may also come with health hazards. Sweet fennel oil's trans-anethole component boosts estrogen production, which can be harmful for women who are pregnant, have breast or uterine cancers and tumors or have a history of hormone-linked carcinoma or endometriosis.9
Likewise, if you have been diagnosed with epilepsy, peptic ulcer, hemophilia and other bleeding disorders or are taking diabetes or anticoagulant medication, I suggest that you avoid sweet fennel oil or any essential oil for that matter, to avoid serious complications.10
People with sensitive skin and children under the age of 5 should also stay away from this essential oil to prevent allergic reactions. Always check with your physician and/or take a skin patch test first to make sure that you can use sweet fennel oil without any problems.
Side Effects of Sweet Fennel Oil
Sweet fennel oil can have narcotic effects such as convulsions, hallucinations and mental imbalance, especially when consumed in large doses. It may also cause vomiting, seizures and pulmonary edema. Also, excessive topical use of sweet fennel oil may put you at risk to photosensitivity or dermatitis.11
Lack of sleep and poor quality of sleep have been linked not only to absentmindedness and accidents, but also to serious health risks such as Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. More than ever, Americans are sleeping less and suffering because of it. Of the many reasons you may be sleep deprived, one of the most dangerous is sleep apnea.
If you are among the 22 million Americans suffering from mild to moderate sleep apnea,1 your sleep may be punctuated by loud snoring, snorts or choking sounds that result from periodic disruptions to your breathing. Depending on the severity of your condition, these breath interruptions may occur just a few times -- or hundreds of times -- an hour. During these moments without breath, your brain and the rest of your body is literally being starved of oxygen.
Typically, normal breathing starts again as you gasp for air, resulting in the loud snorts or choking sounds often reported by your sleep partner. While most people consider snoring to be a normal occurrence, or a source of entertainment given the funny noises associated with it, sleep apnea is no laughing matter.
It is a serious health disorder that can be dangerous, and even life-threatening, when untreated. Notably, an estimated 80 percent moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea cases go undiagnosed.2 If you think you or someone you love may be suffering from sleep apnea, take action today to pursue a diagnosis and treatment. In doing so, you will be on your way to a better night's sleep and significantly improved health.
The Importance of Sleep
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,3lack of sleep is a major public health problem, and insufficient sleep has been linked to a wide range of health problems. After reviewing more than 300 studies to determine how many hours of sleep most people need to maintain their health, an expert panel concluded that most adults need around eight hours per night to function well. Children and teenagers require even more.
About 1 in 3 Americans gets less than seven hours of sleep a night, and more than 83 million adults in the U.S. are sleep-deprived.4,5 If you work long hours, have a sleep disorder or spend a lot of time in front of your computer, phone or TV, chances are you may be getting five or fewer hours of sleep per night. Such little sleep can trigger a wide range of health repercussions -- from an increased risk of accidents, weight gain and chronic diseases, to reduced sex drive and decreased sexual satisfaction.
It's important to note the time you spend in bed is rarely equal to the time you actually spend sleeping. You may want to use a tracking device to better understand the quantity and quality of your sleep. If you do you will find on good nights you will not be sleeping for 30 minutes and on bad nights it could be two to three times that or more.
Sleep also plays an important role in in memory formation, and sleep dysfunctions such as sleep apnea have been shown to accelerate memory loss. While I previously disregarded the value of sleep, rarely getting more than five or six hours each night, I now typically average more than eight hours. After changing my habits, I have come to appreciate sleep's value in supporting my overall health and longevity.
Dr. Paul Mathew, neurologist and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School (HMS), who holds clinical positions at three HMS-affiliated institutions, also believes sleep is vital to your well-being. He states:6
"Sleep is a critically important component of human existence. On average, humans spend about 25 to 35 percent of their lives sleeping. Sleep allows both the body and brain to rest and recover from the stress of daily life. As such, trouble sleeping can cause a range of health problems, and, if left untreated, dire consequences.
Even if sleep duration is good, sleep quality can be quite poor. People who wake up many times during the night can have some nights with zero hours of deep, restful sleep. Poor sleep quantity and/or quality can cause excessive daytime drowsiness ... chronic fatigue, headaches, mood issues, irritability, poor memory and cognitive dysfunction."
Three Types of Sleep Apnea and Their Effects on Your Body
The American Sleep Apnea Association classifies sleep apnea in three categories as follows:7
o Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when your tongue collapses against your soft palate, and your soft palate and uvula fall against the back of your throat, blocking your airway while you sleep. The frequent collapse of your airway during sleep makes it difficult to breathe for periods lasting as long as 10 seconds.
Breathing usually resumes with a gasp, jerk or snort, which disturbs sleep for the OSA sufferer and his or her sleep partner. OSA can also reduce the flow of oxygen to vital organs and cause irregular heart rhythms.
o Central sleep apnea (CSA) is more of a mechanical problem characterized by a blocked airway and your brain's failure to signal your muscles to breathe. Specifically, your diaphragm and chest wall do not receive the proper signals from your brain to pull air in and regulate your breathing. CSA may occur due to conditions such as heart failure and stroke, as well as sleeping at a high altitude.
o Complex sleep apnea is a combination of the earlier two conditions, resulting in your brain rousing you during each apneic event, usually only partially, to trigger you to resume breathing.
If you have a severe case of sleep apnea, your body may awaken you literally hundreds of times a night. The most intense time for this brief rousing to occur is late in your sleep cycle, during the rapid eye movement (REM) period. When your REM sleep is fragmented and of poor quality, you may suffer many ill effects. In addition, the continuous reduction of the oxygenation of your blood will put further stress on your mind and body.
How Can You Tell if You Have Sleep Apnea?
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:8
Although it is not necessarily a conclusive indicator of the disorder, snoring is often an early warning sign of sleep apnea. Snoring usually occurs when your breathing is partially obstructed in some way while sleeping. Not only is snoring a nuisance to others, but the majority of people who snore regularly have OSA.
If you or someone you know is affected by two or more of these symptoms, ask your doctor for help in determining if sleep apnea may be the root cause. Here is a simple test you can perform to check whether or not you're breathing properly:
Stand with your back against a wall
Make sure your buttocks, head, heels and shoulder blades are touching the wall
Say "Hello," swallow and then breathe
If you are able to speak, swallow and breathe easily and comfortably in this position, then your mouth and throat are clear of obstructions. If you cannot perform these three functions easily and comfortably, your breathing may be obstructed. If you are having trouble breathing while standing up, you can imagine the situation will be exacerbated when you are lying down to sleep.
How Sleep Apnea Puts Your Health at Risk
Sleep apnea promotes poor health and chronic disease by:
Reducing the amount of oxygen in your blood, which can impair the function of your internal organs and/or exacerbate other health conditions you may have
Slowing down or preventing critical detoxification of your brain tissue, as your brain's waste removal system, known as the glymphatic system, only operates during deep sleep
Disrupting your circadian rhythm, resulting in reduced melatonin production and the disruption of other bodily chemical processes
A number of studies have highlighted the health risks associated with sleep apnea. For example, sleep apnea may promote:
Alzheimer's disease and other memory-related issues9
In addition, sleep apnea can contribute to feelings of depression. Sometimes, sleep apnea is actually misdiagnosed as depression.10 The more severe your sleep apnea, the greater your likelihood of feeling depressed, mainly due to lack of quality sleep. Despite the negative bodily effects, many sufferers may be unaware of the tremendous health risks associated with sleep apnea, and therefore resist getting it checked out. Said Mathew:11
"In the case of a female patient whose husband refuses to get evaluated despite showing signs of sleep apnea ... If improvement of headaches, mood, energy, wakefulness, memory and cognition are not motivation enough, I also advise that untreated sleep apnea leads to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and dementia ... That usually gets people's attention."
Sleep Apnea and Children: What You Need to Know
While sleep apnea is most often associated with adults, children are increasingly at risk for sleep apnea and its associated health problems. This is mainly due to the decline in breast-feeding and diets laden with processed food. You may be surprised to learn that sleep apnea, in both its obstructive and central forms, is fairly common among children, including infants. It is particularly prevalent among kids between 2 and 8 years old. Left untreated, pediatric sleep apnea can lead to:12
Behavior issues such as hyperactivity and poor impulse control
Cognitive dysfunction and inattentiveness
Heart disease later in life, especially if the child is, and continues to be, obese
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association,13 studies suggest as many as 25 percent of children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could be suffering from OSA. As such, many of the behavior problems and learning difficulties attributed to ADHD might actually be consequences of chronic fragmented sleep. In addition, experts suggest bedwetting, failure to thrive, retarded growth, sleepwalking and some hormonal and metabolic problems can be linked to sleep apnea.
If your child has chronic sleep issues, is a mouth breather or snores, you most definitely want to get him or her evaluated by a medical professional to see if he or she may be suffering from sleep apnea. You might also consider Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy. A few years ago, I interviewed Joy Moeller, a leading expert in this form of therapy in the U.S., where she has been practicing for 38 years and is affiliated with the Academy of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy.
Myofunctional therapy involves the neuromuscular re-education or repatterning of your oral and facial muscles. It includes facial and tongue exercises and behavior modification techniques to promote proper tongue position, improved breathing, chewing and swallowing.
Proper head and neck postures are also addressed. I used this therapy to overcome tongue tie, and endorse it wholeheartedly as a potential solution for both children and adults who suffer from mild to moderate sleep apnea. Check out Moeller's short video below to learn more about the benefits of orofacial myofunctional therapy.
Treatments for Sleep Apnea
If you suspect you may be suffering from sleep apnea, you will want to seek the help of a qualified sleep specialist. Ask your general practitioner for a recommendation, but don't be afraid to look beyond the conventional treatments. It's worth doing your homework, as some sleep doctors offer solutions that treat only your secondary issues. You want to uncover and treat the root problem(s).
Potential treatment options include:
Buteyko Breathing Method: Named after the Russian doctor who developed it, the Buteyko technique can be used to reverse health problems caused by improper breathing, including sleep apnea
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): CPAP is a special type of sleeping mask prescribed for severe sleep apnea that mechanically restores your breathing by using air pressure to open your airway
Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy: mentioned above
Oral appliance: If your mild to moderate sleep apnea is related to jaw or tongue issues, specially trained dentists can design a custom oral appliance, similar to a mouth guard, that you can wear while sleeping to facilitate proper breathing
Weight loss: If you are obese, you can dramatically improve the effects of sleep apnea by losing weight, which will reduce pressure on your abdomen and chest, thereby allowing your breathing muscles to function more normally
You might be surprised to learn that when it comes to how you breathe, your diet may play a bigger role than you may have imagined. Processed foods, which tend to acidify your blood in an attempt to maintain normal pH, cause you to breathe more heavily and can lead to chronic overbreathing.
The reason for this is because one of the roles of carbon dioxide, which is in your blood, is to regulate your pH. Water has the least impact on your breathing, followed by raw fruits and vegetables, then cooked vegetables. Processed, high-protein and high-grain meals have the greatest adverse effects on the way you breathe.
Five Ways Poor Sleep Affects Your Body and What You Can Do About It
Even if you do not suffer from sleep apnea, you may experience less-than-optimal health due to poor quality or quantity of sleep. According to Authority Nutrition, consistently getting less sleep than your body needs can cause some or all of these effects:14
Decreases your resting metabolism
Diminishes your interest in physical activity
Hampers your ability to fight cravings by increasing your appetite
Increases your calorie intake, raising your risk for weight gain and obesity
If you identify with any of these outcomes, I encourage you to take action today to get your sleep back on track. Even small adjustments to your daily routine and sleep area can make a big difference. A few of my top recommendations are shown below.
Address mental states that may interfere with sleep: Use the Emotional Freedom Techniques to deal with emotional or physical issues that may be interfering with your sleep, including health and relationship problems
Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other drugs, including nicotine: Be aware of the effects these substances, particularly if used every day and close to bedtime, are very likely having on your sleep
Develop a relaxing pre-sleep routine: Creating a consistent sleep ritual, involving meditation, music, reading, stretching or taking a warm bath, will help cue your body to begin preparing itself for sleep
Optimize your light exposure during the day, and minimize light exposure after sunset: Get at least 30 to 60 minutes of outdoor light exposure and minimize artificial light exposure at night; sleep in complete darkness, using a sleep mask or blackout shades
Turn off the TV and other electronics at least one hour before going to bed: Electronic devices emit blue light can trick your brain into thinking it's still daytime, potentially interfering with your body's melatonin-secretion process
While many health screens and lab tests are overrated or unnecessary, there are a few that are vitally important, such as vitamin D. I recommend checking your vitamin D level at least twice a year.
Two other really important tests are serum ferritin (which measures stored iron) and gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase or sometimes called gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT; a liver enzyme correlated with iron toxicity, disease risk and all-cause mortality). By monitoring your serum ferritin and GGT levels and taking steps to lower them if they're too high, you can avoid serious health problems.
For adults, I strongly recommend getting a serum ferritin test and GGT on an annual basis. When it comes to iron overload, I believe it can be every bit as dangerous to your health as vitamin D deficiency. In this interview, Gerry Koenig,1 former chairman of the Iron Disorders Institute and the Hemochromatosis Foundation, explains the value of these two tests.
Iron Overload Is More Common Than Iron Deficiency
Iron is one of the most common nutritional supplements. Not only can you get it as an isolated supplement, but it's also added to most multivitamins. Many processed foods are also fortified with iron. While iron is necessary for biological function, when you get too much, it can do tremendous harm.
Unfortunately, the first thing people think about when they hear "iron" is anemia, or iron deficiency, not realizing that iron overload is actually a more common problem, and far more dangerous. Many doctors don't understand or appreciate the importance of checking for iron overload.
Virtually all adult men and postmenopausal women are at risk for iron overload due to inefficient iron excretion, since they do not lose blood on a regular basis. Blood loss is the primary way to lower excess iron, as the body has no active excretion mechanisms. Another common cause of excess iron is the regular consumption of alcohol, which will increase the absorption of any iron in your diet.
For instance, if you drink wine with your steak, you will likely absorb more iron than you need. There's also an inherited disease, hemochromatosis, which causes your body to accumulate excessive and dangerously damaging levels of iron.
If left untreated, high iron can contribute to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and many other health problems, including gouty arthritis. In one small study,2 100 percent of the patients achieved marked reduction in attacks or complete remission after phlebotomy was used to remove iron and maintain an iron level at near-iron deficiency -- "the lowest body iron store compatible with normal erythropoiesis and therefore absence of anemia."
Iron causes all this harm by catalyzing a reaction within the inner mitochondrial membrane. When iron reacts with hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl free radicals are formed. These are among the most damaging free radicals known, causing severe mitochondrial dysfunction, which in turn is at the heart of most chronic degenerative diseases.
GGT Is a Potent Predictor of Mortality
GGT is a liver enzyme involved in glutathione metabolism and the transport of amino acids and peptides. Not only will the GGT test tell you if you have liver damage, it can also be used as a screening marker for excess free iron and is a great indicator of your sudden cardiac death risk.
In recent years, scientists have discovered GGT is highly interactive with iron, and when both your serum ferritin and GGT are high, you are at significantly increased risk of chronic health problems, because then you have a combination of free iron, which is highly toxic, and iron storage to keep that toxicity going.3
"Recently, [GGT] was proven by the life insurance industry as the single measure that is most predictive of early mortality,"4,5 Koenig says. "In other epidemiological studies, it's linked to pretty much every cause of death,6 because it provides those free radicals and hydroxyl radicals ...
I believe that ... people born after World War II are now at greater risk because of the environmental toxicants we face ... Basically, reduction in glutathione levels -- your body's most important antioxidant -- is indicated by an increase in GGT ...
[G]lyphosate, excess iron, all of the substances in the environment -- whether you take it in as food or it's in the air -- that utilize your body's toxic waste disposal system in some way [will] reduce your antioxidants, whether it's vitamin D, cholesterol, vitamin E or vitamin A. A reduction of those makes you more vulnerable to disease, particularly chronic disease and autoimmune diseases across the board."
Ideal GGT and Iron Levels
As with many other lab tests, the "normal" ranges for GGT and serum ferritin are far from ideal.7 If you're in the "normal" range, you're virtually guaranteed to develop some sort of health problem. Based on Gerry's recommendation I had my GGT tested last month and it was 17, which is healthy especially since my ferritin level is 37. You really need both tests to confirm lack of iron toxicity as he explains in the full interview.
Ideal GGT Level, units per liter (U/L)
Average level, above which your risk for chronic disease increases significantly
According to Koenig, women with a GGT above 30 U/L have a higher risk of cancer and autoimmune disease. Interestingly, while for most other tests the range between what's healthy and what's risky tends to be quite broad, in the case of GGT, the range between health and disease is in the single digits.
"Part of it is dependent on body weight," Koenig says. "Strangely enough, the most recent indications are that people who are too thin (whatever their level of GGT is), it could be harmful if [their GGT is] relatively high.9 For instance, for a thin woman with a GGT ... in the range of the second quartile, which is going to be generally 14 to 18 today it can be dangerous if she's expecting to have children and has a very low BMI."10
When it comes to serum ferritin, a level of 200 to 300 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) falls within the normal range for women and men respectively, which is FAR too high for optimal health. An ideal level for adult men and non-menstruating women is somewhere between 30 and 60 ng/mL.
You do not want to be below 20 ng/mL or above 80 ng/mL. The most commonly used threshold for iron deficiency in clinical studies is 12 to 15 ng/mL.11 Maintaining a healthy iron level is also important during pregnancy. Having a level of 60 or 70 ng/mL is associated with greater odds of poor pregnancy outcomes.12 That said, iron deficiency during pregnancy is equally problematic, so make sure you get tested.
Last but not least, since the ferritin and GGT are interactive, low GGT tends to be protective against higher ferritin. So, if your GGT is low, you're largely protected even if your ferritin is a bit higher than ideal. Still, it would be wise to take steps to lower your ferritin to a more ideal level nonetheless. On the other hand, even if your ferritin is low, having an elevated GGT levels is cause for concern, and needs to be addressed.
When Might a Transferrin Saturation Test Be Useful?
If you are thin, with a body mass index (BMI) below 22 or 23, Koenig suggests getting a transferrin test as well, which gives you a percentage saturation level. A level of 25 to 35 percent is typically considered healthy. In the 1970s, the transferrin saturation test was used as a marker for early death. Having a transferrin saturation percentage of over 55 indicated a 60 percent increased risk for premature death.
At that time, an estimated 2.6 percent of the U.S. population had transferrin saturation percentages that high. Today, it's down to half of that, in large part because of the increase in obesity, which "dilutes" your saturation percentage, and the transferrin test is no longer used as a marker for early death. However, if you are very thin, it can still be a useful test.
"Anything between 25 and 35 is safe. If you're unusually thin, I would get that test because there you could have unsuspectingly high transferrin saturation, particularly if you're malnourished ... Anorexia nervosa has severe effects on the brain when you're that thin and your BMI is at 14 or 15," Koenig says.
Why Excess Iron Is so Dangerous
Your body creates energy by passing the electrons from carbs and fats you eat as fuel to oxygen through the electron transport chain in your mitochondria to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Ninety-five percent of the time, the oxygen is converted to water. But 0.5 to 5 percent of the time, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are created. ROS are not all bad as they are important biological signaling molecules, but excessive ROS leads to mitochondrial damage and dysfunction.
Iron can react with hydrogen peroxide in the inner mitochondrial membrane. This is a normal part of cellular aerobic respiration. But when you have excessive iron, it catalyzes the formation of excessive hydroxyl free radicals from the peroxide, which decimate your mitochondrial DNA, mitochondrial electron transport proteins and cellular membranes. This is how iron overload accelerates chronic disease.
If you eat excessive net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) the situation is further exacerbated, as burning carbs as your primary fuel can add another 30 to 40 percent more ROS on top of the hydroxyl free radicals generated by the presence of high iron.
Unfortunately, most people reading this are burning carbs as their primary fuel. If you struggle with any kind of chronic health problem and have high iron and eat a standard American diet that is high in net carbs, normalizing your iron level (explained below) and implementing a ketogenic diet as described in my book, "Fat for Fuel," can go a long way toward improving your health.
Taking extra antioxidants to suppress ROS generated by high iron alone or in combination with a high-sugar diet is inadvisable, as ROS also act as important signaling molecules. They're not all bad. They cause harm only when produced in excess.
Your best bet is to lower the production of ROS. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do that is to eat a diet high in healthy fats, adequate in protein and low in net carbs. Eating healthy fats can make a bigger difference than you might think, especially if you have high iron.
How to Lower Your Iron
The good news is it's easy to lower your iron level if it's too high. One of the easiest ways is simply to donate blood two or three times a year. If you have severe overload you may need to do more regular phlebotomies. Two years ago, my ferritin was 150 ng/mL. I implemented self-phlebotomy where I would take out anywhere from 2 to 6 ounces of blood every few weeks, which brought me below 100 ng/mL.
I stopped the phlebotomy when I started a comprehensive detoxification strategy involving near and far infrared sauna, and interestingly, despite the fact I was no longer removing blood, my ferritin continued to drop over the next nine months. Now, it's down to 37 -- far lower than I was ever able to get down to with therapeutic phlebotomies, and as I mentioned earlier I have a healthy GGT level of 17.
As it turns out, an effective detoxification program can lower iron as well. While this was a surprise to me, Koenig confirms that this has indeed been documented by Dr. F.S. Facchini in some of his research on iron. While I've long recommended donating blood as the solution to iron overload, I now believe a balanced approach using phlebotomy, detoxification and reducing dietary iron, especially meat, is the best way to go about it.
Keep in mind that trying to control high iron through your diet alone can be risky, as you will also forgo many valuable nutrients. That said, to avoid maximizing iron absorption, avoid eating iron-rich foods in combination with vitamin C-rich foods or beverages, as the vitamin C will increase iron absorption. If needed, you could also take a curcumin supplement. Curcumin acts as a potent chelator of iron and can be a useful supplement if your iron is elevated.
How to Lower Your GGT
GGT is inversely related to glutathione, a potent antioxidant produced in your body. As your GGT level rises, your glutathione goes down. This is part of the equation explaining how elevated GGT harms your health. By elevating your glutathione level, you will therefore lower your GGT. The amino acid cysteine, found in whey protein, poultry and eggs, plays an important role in your body's production of glutathione.
Red meat, which does not contain cysteine, will tend to raise GGT, as will alcohol, so both should be avoided.13 Research also suggests eating at least 10 servings of fruits and vegetables rich in in vitamin C, fiber, beta-carotene, anthocyanins and folate per week can help reduce GGT.14,15 Examples include carrots, romaine lettuce, spinach, sweet potatoes, apricots and tomatoes.
Also, be aware that certain medications can raise your GGT. If this is the case, please confer with your doctor to determine whether you might be able to stop the medication or switch to something else, and avoid over-the-counter medicines, including ibuprofen and aspirin, both of which can damage your liver.
General detoxification is another important component if your GGT is high, as your liver's job is to remove toxins from your body. The fact that your GGT is elevated means your liver is under stress.
The Protein-Iron-GGT Connection
I personally typically eat only 2 to 4 ounces of meat per week Americans tend to overeat meat in general, and most of it is dangerous CAFO meat loaded with toxins. Additionally, while the meat supplies you with more iron than you likely need, excess protein can also cause problems. Another little-known fact is that giving iron to a person who is malnourished and cannot process protein properly can be extremely dangerous. Koenig explains:
"I've been studying malnutrition for several years now, mainly kwashiorkor (also known as protein-calorie malnutrition), which is a typical malnutrition disease, along with marasmus in developing countries. There you have a situation where the children, particularly in kwashiorkor, cannot synthesize important proteins because of essential amino acid deficiencies ...
[When] giving iron too early in a recovering child with kwashiorkor, or an adult for that matter, the measure that skyrockets early on, in that particular case, happens to be GGT.
High amounts of free iron [are dangerous] because they don't have the proteins to safely contain that iron into either transferrin, which is the protein that protects the body from the iron in the bloodstream, or ceruloplasmin, which is necessary for copper transport. To get iron safely into the brain, it needs to be complexed with ceruloplasmin. Those can't be synthesized in a malnourished person. [So, giving] iron to a malnourished person is highly toxic."
African and Chinese Research Confirm GGT's Relation to Chronic Disease
Koenig recently found a few African studies showing the importance of GGT. In the 1990s, when GGT was tested broadly in the U.S. as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III (NHANES III, 1988 to 1994), results revealed that African-Americans had higher levels of both serum ferritin and GGT than Caucasians and Hispanics.
"Back then, those measurements were compared to measurements in Zimbabwe. In [Zimbabweans] who were not exposed to spraying for mosquitoes ... the [ferritin and GGT measurements] were roughly half.
They had obviously been on a native diet ... But I found, through several papers recently submitted in South Africa, that those measurements now are very high. They're catching up and probably surpassing the American Blacks' measurements, and they're suffering the [same] chronic diseases ..."
More recent studies from South Africa depict increasing GGT levels are associated with insulin resistance and cardiometabolic disease risk.16 Moreover, a recent Chinese study showed that while having a GGT level above the midpoint raised the risk of chronic kidney disease, when combined with high serum ferritin, that risk increased nearly fivefold.17 Other common diseases associated with high iron and GGT include diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Blood Donations Lead to Radical Reduction in Disease
A number of epidemiological studies have also documented a significant reduction in chronic diseases among those who donate blood two or three times a year -- findings that support the notion that iron overload is prevalent, and contributes to chronic disease. In some, heart disease and cancer were reduced by as much as 50 percent, Koenig notes.
Unfortunately, many doctors are still unaware of the importance of checking for iron overload (based on ideal levels and not what's considered normal), and may overlook the GGT test as well.
"One of the reasons it's difficult to get doctors to order GGT tests is they're discouraged because they know some prescription drugs increase [GGT]. Although the overall effect may be protective, it's not a happy situation to see a measure of disease increase just by taking a drug. There's resistance in that area of getting tested. But it's a pretty simple test. It would be recommended. And blood donation basically keeps one healthy," Koenig says.
In summary, if you're concerned about maintaining your health and preventing chronic disease, I would strongly encourage you to get a ferritin and a GGT test regularly, and if needed, implement the strategies discussed above to get them into their optimal ranges.
Serum ferritin and GGT are markers for iron toxicity, which is a major mostly unrecognized contributor to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and many other chronic diseases. High iron even increases your risk of infections. As noted by Koenig, you really don't want to check into a hospital with high iron, as your risk of contracting a hospital-acquired infection will be that much greater. The good news is, it's so easy to turn around, thereby dramatically reducing your risk.
To learn more, I recommend visiting HealtheIron.com, where you can also order your serum ferritin and GGT tests or either of their special FeGGT-LifePRO(TM) test panels. If either serum ferritin or GGT is elevated, you need to take action. The treatment couldn't be simpler. Unless you're a menstruating woman, simply donate blood two to three times a year. If you do not qualify to donate blood, ask your doctor to write you a prescription for therapeutic phlebotomy.
Every age group, from children to seniors, is at risk for being diagnosed with a condition they may not actually have, and being prescribed medications they do not need. In an increasingly litigious environment, where attorneys advertise for clients who may have had a missed diagnosis or experienced a side effect from a prescribed medication, physicians are increasingly caught between their desire to individualize care for their patients and the need to follow published standards of care to protect their licenses.
In other words, the fear of medical malpractice lawsuits is a very real issue faced by many who practice medicine. To avoid public criticism by colleagues or potential rebuke from their professional organization (and sometimes loss of their ability to practice), physicians may feel forced to follow published standards of care. These treatments often include prescribing medications designed to relieve symptoms, but do not usually address the foundational cause of the medical condition.
If you watch any television at all in the U.S., you have seen the advertisements for medications along with a long laundry list of potential side effects from the drugs. Oftentimes these side effects are more dangerous than the original condition being treated.
For instance, Vioxx, an anti-inflammatory medication used to treat musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis, was eventually pulled from the market after studies demonstrated those taking it experienced a much higher risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and death. Unfortunately, by the time Vioxx was withdrawn, an estimated 60,000 Americans had already died from the drug.
This is only one of many instances where a drug has been pulled from the market. Some patients are required to undergo monthly blood tests to monitor organ function in order to stop medication if damage is detected. In some cases, the use of medications is warranted and may help improve your situation, but they must be used cautiously and judiciously. It is far better to address the underlying physical cause of the condition to alleviate the issue than it is to mask the problem by subduing the symptoms.
Most US Physicians Believe Overtreatment Is Harmful, Wasteful and Common
A recent survey of over 2,100 physicians from a variety of specialties across the U.S. asked about their beliefs concerning overtreatment and unnecessary medical care.1 By their own admission, the participating physicians describe overtreatment of their patients as "common." The survey found 22 percent of prescription medications, 24 percent of tests and 11 percent of procedures were unnecessarily prescribed, despite years of emphasis from the health care industry to control costs and procedures.
The most common reason physicians cited for prescribing tests, medications and procedures was a fear of malpractice (nearly 85 percent), and pressure exerted from patients (nearly 60 percent).2 Senior author, Dr. Martin Makary, professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, commented on the results of the survey, saying:3
"This study is essentially the voice of physicians about the problem. We're told that there are too many operations done for narrowed blood vessels in the legs. Spine surgeons say that a quarter of all spine surgery may not be necessary. Half of stents placed may be unnecessary. These are significant opportunities to improve quality and lower costs."
The study identified some potential solutions, including better training for incoming residents on the appropriate criteria for treatment, easier access to prior health records that may reduce unnecessary testing and more practice guidelines.
Cost of Overtreatment Affects Every Individual
The cost of overtreatment is both physical and financial. As Dr. Ben Goldacre explains in this TEDMED talk, physicians are often misled about the benefits of the medications they prescribe, based on the research published in peer review journals. It's common practice to publish positive results and withhold studies with negative results from publication.
Naturally, this presents a very lopsided view. Bias also taints the results of many studies. Physicians need to be able to make informed treatment decisions, but publication bias makes this exceedingly difficult.
Overdiagnosis and overtreatment are significant contributors to health care spending that is spiraling out of control. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the annual per capita health expenditure was $9,990.4 The total national expenditure amounted to over 17 percent of the Gross National Product. Within one year that number jumped to $10,345 per person.5 This is a 4.8 percent increase per person in a population of 324 million people in the U.S. at the time of the increase.6
Health care expenditure is expected to grow 5.8 percent annually to 2025.7 Costs in the U.S. often exceed those for the same products or services in other countries. For instance, one day in the hospital in the U.S. costs an average $5,220 while one day in the hospital in Spain costs $424; bypass surgery in the U.S. is over $78,000, but $24,000 in the U.K.; and Harvoni, the drug used to treat hepatitis C, costs $10,000 more in the U.S. than in any other country.8
As Makary pointed out,9 "Unnecessary medical care is a leading driver of the higher health insurance premiums affecting every American." The primary study authors also wrote:10 "Addressing overtreatment can have a major impact on rising health care costs in the U.S. ... Using the IOM's estimate of excess costs arising from overtreatment, a 50 percent reduction in 'unnecessary services' would result in $105 billion in savings each year, or about 4 percent of total national health care spending."
In an interview with CNBC, Dr. Orly Avitzur, medical director at Consumer Reports, shared some signs you may have been overtreated:11
Leaving the doctor's office with a list of prescriptions and you don't know why you're taking them
Getting a prescription for a symptom instead of your physician sitting with you to discuss what the symptoms may mean
Receiving prescriptions without a conversation of why you're taking the medication, the side effects and a thorough discussion of what alternatives may be used
Seek and You Will Find
Improvements in digital imaging and technological testing have given physicians an edge in finding diseases earlier in development, potentially improving care and reducing risk of death and permanent disability. However, while it's a good idea in theory, it hasn't played out as well in practice.
The fundamental challenge is that the more doctors look for diseases in people who are apparently healthy, the more they find. Many of these conditions may in fact be easily managed with nutrition, exercise and quality sleep instead of potentially dangerous medications. For example, research12 suggests the number of diagnosed thyroid cancers has increased dramatically in the past two decades.
The report estimates that across 12 countries, there have been 500,000 cases of thyroid cancer diagnosed that were in fact benign small tumors. The problem is those small tumors are treated with dangerous drugs and the increase in diagnoses has not affected the number of people who die from the disease. Thyroid cancer isn't the only disease affected by a growing problem of overdiagnosis, leading to overtreatment.
The debate over whether too many children are diagnosed and treated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was underscored by a survey of over 1 million Canadian children13 finding those born in December had a 30 to 70 percent higher rate of a diagnosis than those born in January.
Researchers concluded the children were penalized for immaturity as the Canadian birth cutoff date for entry into school is December 31. Drug treatment increases the risk of heart events, sleep disorders and adverse effects in appetite and growth.
Changes in the definition of a diagnosis have also affected the number of women labeled with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Researchers from the University of Sydney found the number of women of reproductive age who were diagnosed with PCOS jumped from 5 percent using the standard in 1990 to 21 percent using the standard developed in 2003. The authors concluded unnecessary labeling may increase a woman's anxiety, saying:14
"A PCOS label might not be needed to effectively treat many symptoms of PCOS, as the label often does not change the type or intensity of the intervention. We recommend carefully weighing up the benefits and harms for each individual woman and taking a slower, stepped, or delayed approach to diagnosis to optimize benefits and reduce harm from disease labelling."
These are just a few examples of many different diagnoses and populations of people affected by overtreatment.
Overprescription of Pain Medication Feeds the Opioid Epidemic
Over prescribing opioids in America has led to a growing epidemic that is driving up health care costs and claiming thousands of lives. In 1980 a letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine noted:15 "We conclude that despite widespread use of narcotic drugs in hospitals, the development of addiction is rare in medical patients with no history of addiction."
This short paragraph has been routinely cited as reason to prescribe opioid drugs and was even used by Purdue Pharma, makers of the painkiller OxyContin, to say less than 1 percent of patients treated with opioids would become addicted.16 Retired physician Dr. Hershel Jick, author of the letter, is quick to point out this statistic is misrepresented as the paper only included patients who were carefully monitored in the hospital and not taking the drug as an outpatient.17
Statistics from 2011 showed that 75 percent of opioid prescription drugs from around the world were being consumed in the U.S., a nation that makes up only 5 percent of the world's population.18 Opioid addiction and accidental overdoses are now taking a tremendous toll.
According to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50.19 The annual financial cost of addiction alone due to illicit drugs and prescription opioids combined is $271.5 billion ($78.5 billion for opioids), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.20
Drugs prescribed as aggressive treatment for pain have fueled an epidemic that has claimed more than 50,000 lives in 2016.21 Told that OxyContin was not addictive, physicians prescribe it for everything from lower back pain to teeth extraction. However, Purdue Pharma omitted the fact that when crushed, the pill loses its time release protection, creating an instant high for the user. It was this fact that led to a $24 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the state of Kentucky.22
This settlement is similar to one agreed upon in 2007 with the state of West Virginia, when $634 million was paid for "fraudulent conduct [that] caused a greater amount of OxyContin to be available for illegal use than otherwise would have been available."23 Overuse of opioid drugs to treat pain is the result of overprescription. The National Safety Council survey results showed 99 percent of doctors who prescribe opioids do so for longer than the three-day period recommended by the CDC.24
In fact, 23 percent of physicians who prescribe opioids write prescriptions for at least a month's worth of pills and 74 percent of physicians incorrectly believe oxycodone and morphine are the best methods of treating pain. Dr. Donald Teater, medical adviser at the National Safety Council said:25
"Opioids do not kill pain; they kill people. Doctors are well-intentioned and want to help their patients, but these findings are further proof that we need more education and training if we want to treat pain most effectively."
Break Free of the Prescription Drug Trap
There is a slow-growing movement among physicians across the world to develop programs that allow them to spend greater time with their patients in order to treat health conditions and not just throw a pill at symptoms.
However, your health is in your hands. With screening programs that detect conditions that may go without treatment, and some physicians overprescribing medications and opioid drugs, it's time to take back control of your own health and break free from a trap created by pharmaceutical companies. Scotland's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Catherine Calderwood, states:26
"I think that doctors are fixers. They want to help. And I think that perhaps we have overestimated the benefits of some treatments and maybe underestimated the risks and perhaps underestimated the burden of health care. So, visits to hospital, visits to the GP [general practitioner], surgery, blood tests, monitoring ... and now we're having much more open and honest conversations."
Many continue to believe that if a medication is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration it is safe for use. You only have to look at the record of medications suddenly pulled from the market after many thousands of people lost their lives or had their health damaged to know that nothing could be further from the truth. It helps to find a physician who will think beyond prescribing a pill to treat your symptoms and instead will work with you to recommend healthy lifestyle choices.
Seek out a physician who follows principles of conservative prescribing to reduce risks associated with any prescription medication -- including what you may believe to be innocuous, common medications, such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs or blood pressure medications. Do not stop a medication you may already be taking without first discussing your plan with your physician. Physicians who are conservative in their prescribing practices will:27
Consider nondrug therapies to treat underlying causes of the symptoms and discuss preventive strategies with you
Strategically prescribe medications, such as deferring the use of non-urgent drugs and avoiding switching medications, and start treatment with only one drug at a time
Discuss side effects with you and watch for suspected drug reactions and drug withdrawal symptoms, and who will educate you about reactions and what should be done if one occurs
Exercise caution when considering new medications, waiting until the drug has had a sufficient time on the market to determine common side effects, and be skeptical about drug trial reporting
Work with you on shared goals to help you enjoy better health by avoiding restarting previous medications that were unsuccessful, listening to your concerns, discontinuing unneeded medications and respecting your reservations or concerns about prescribed medications
Consider the long-term effects of prescribing a medication and weigh the benefits against the risks of taking medications
You may be mistakenly comforted by the perceived oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over chemicals used in the manufacture of everyday products. For instance, the FDA prohibits the use of mercury, chloroform and nine other substances in your personal care products. However, once you know the European Union (EU) prohibits the use of more than 1,300 chemicals in their personal care products, you may not feel as protected -- and you would be right.
The number of chemicals restricted by the FDA is even more ridiculous when you consider there are over 84,000 different chemicals in use in your personal care products and only 1 percent of those have been evaluated for safety in humans.1
The difference between chemical use in the EU and the U.S. is that in the EU manufacturers must prove chemicals are not a health hazard before they are allowed in products, whereas in the U.S. they can be added without mandatory safety testing and only removed after enough people have suffered to get the attention of watch groups or the FDA.
Women are at greater risk than men from exposure as they routinely use nearly double the number of products per day. Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, products do not require FDA approval before being sold on the market.2 According to the FDA, the agency monitors safety reports on the products, although often the available information is limited and many consumers never report problems they experience.
If there is enough information to support a claim that the product causes harm, the FDA may ask for a court injunction, request the products are seized, initiate criminal action or request the company recall the product. However, they do not have the ability to force a recall.3 The very last thing you may expect to find in your shampoos, conditioners, facial washes or cosmetics is known carcinogens. But, if you live in the U.S., this is likely the case.
In 2009 the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of nearly 175 nonprofit groups, began pressuring Johnson & Johnson to remove two dangerous chemicals -- 1,4 dioxane and the preservative formaldehyde, both of which are probable human carcinogens -- from their merchandise, including their baby products.4 Three years later the company finally agreed to phase them out and by 2014 the chemicals were removed from their baby shampoo.5
Chemicals in Personal Care Products May Poison Water Supplies
One of every eight of the more than 84,000 ingredients in personal care products are pesticides, reproductive toxins, hormone disruptors or industrial chemicals.6 Many of these are degreasers, surfactants or plasticizers that are not biodegradable and may not be removed from wastewater prior to being released into the environment. Some of the more hazardous chemical compounds include 1,4-dioxane, parabens, phthalates and toluene.
Once used in your personal care products, whether shampoo, facial wash, lotion or cosmetics, a large percentage is washed away down the drain. 1,4-dioxane is one of those chemicals commonly used in shampoos and soaps that are highly sudsy.7 This chemical is also commonly found in paint stripper, dyes and varnishes. The chemical is not readily biodegradable, so it sticks around in your water supply.
In fact, it was just one year ago that a significant amount was detected in the water supply on Long Island, raising alarms with public health officials.8 But, this isn't just a problem along the East Coast as the chemical has been detected in drinking water across the U.S., having been found at over 31 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sites9 on their National Priorities List.10 According to the EPA, 1,4-dioxane migrates easily into groundwater and is resistant to biodegradation in water and soil.11
According to the World Health Organization, the problem exists worldwide.12 1,4-dioxane is a potent environmental poison, listed as possibly carcinogenic and having organ toxicity, especially on the respiratory system, liver and kidneys.13 It is also a skin and eye irritant and a common ingredient in shampoos.
As the FDA does not require manufacturers to list all chemicals in their ingredients, it can be difficult to tell if the product you're using contains this solvent, or any other chemical of concern. You may search your products on the EWG's Skin Deep database to see what chemicals are used.14
Another chemical commonly found in your personal care products that leaches into groundwater, poisoning your drinking supply, is parabens. These chemicals are widely used in cosmetics and other personal care products to preserve the product and prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast and mold.15 They are also endocrine disruptors as they mimic estrogen in the body and disrupt your own hormonal system.
Parabens easily react with free chlorine resulting in halogenated by-products not easily filtered from your drinking water and more persistent in the environment than the original paraben species.16 Parabens have been found in groundwater in multiple areas around the U.S. as they are commonly used and disposed of in wastewater and garbage.17
1,4 Dioxane May Be Absorbed and Consumed
1,4-Dioxane is a common ingredient in shampoos or body baths that suds well. In 2013 the EPA conducted their own risk assessment and found it was "likely to be carcinogenic to humans."18 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined you may be exposed to the chemical in the air, on your skin or consumed in the water you drink.19 The chemical is readily absorbed through your lungs and gastrointestinal tract but less noticeably through your skin.
At lower doses, such as exposure on your skin or at low concentrations through your gastrointestinal tract, your body readily absorbs the chemical. At higher doses your body excretes the excess through your lungs and kidneys and it is eliminated without accumulating.20 As far back as the 1970s the CDC measured 1,4-dioxane in municipal water supplies at levels of 1 parts per billion (ppb).
In 1988 California placed 1,4-dioxane on their official list of cancer-causing chemicals as they recognized the dangers it posed for their citizens. Every year the EPA does an evaluation of chemicals currently in use, following the mandate of the Toxic Substances Control Act law passed in 1976.
In coming months the EPA will be evaluating 10 toxic chemicals, including 1,4-dioxane.21 However, the agency has not yet made the decision to regulate the chemical under the Safe Drinking Water Act that controls levels of chemicals found in your drinking water. EWG senior scientist David Andrew commented on the planned evaluation by the EPA of 1,4-dioxane, saying:22
"For a chemical to rise to the top of this [TSCA] list really raises alarm bells about the potential environmental contamination, as well as the residual health effects,"
The EPA has currently set a limit of 0.35 parts per billion (ppb) in public water supplies to mitigate cancer risk, but this is not a legal limit. An EPA database shows that 27 states now have levels of 1,4-dioxane at levels higher than this, increasing your risk of absorption through your skin when bathing and showering -- a route your body readily accepts.
Parabens in Your Beauty Products Raise the Price Tag on Health Care
Parabens are commonly used preservatives found in deodorants, cosmetics and shampoo.23 They were introduced as a preservative in the 1930s and are odorless, tasteless and colorless,24 making them a perfect addition to a cosmetic product as they do not change the experience for the consumer. Scientists have also found parabens in nearly 90 percent of products on your grocery store shelves, making it very difficult to avoid exposure.25
Their chemical structure mimic estrogen, which means they're endocrine disruptors. The debate over whether parabens are responsible for the development of breast cancer in women has not been settled. However, in one study from England researchers found parabens in 99 percent of breast cancer biopsies taken in 160 tissue samples.26 In 60 percent of those samples all five paraben esters were detected.
The study also revealed higher concentrations of paraben esters in the upper quadrant of the breast tissue and axillary area where antiperspirants are usually applied. There is also research evidence that exposure to parabens reduces testosterone levels27 in males and may be a contributing factor to the nearly 60 percent of men who suffer from gynecomastia, or enlarged breast tissue.28
Men experience another considerable medical condition from exposure to parabens that may have a long-term effect on the population. Low testosterone levels after exposure to parabens lead to poor sperm quality and lower fertility rates.29 Researchers found concentrations of paraben esters in the participants' urine were strongly associated with an increase in the percentage of sperm presenting abnormal morphology and in sperm with DNA damage.
Samples were taken from 315 men who presented at a fertility clinic with reproductive challenges. Lead author Joanna Jurewicz, Ph.D., of the Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine in Poland, recommended:30
"We have observed an impact of parabens on semen quality. To avoid parabens is very difficult because they are widespread, but we can try to minimize the exposure by only using personal care products with label information saying that there are no parabens in the particular product."
The current study found an association between butyl paraben and an abnormal shape, size and motility of sperm and an association between ethyl paraben and an association only with atypical size and shape of sperm.
Chemicals in Cosmetics Associated With Significant Health Hazards
During the 114th U.S. Congress (2015-2016), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced bill 1014 called the Personal Care Products Safety Act31 as a means of legally addressing loopholes and regulating the structure for the release of personal care products. Many consumer groups supported the bill,32 which was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, where it remains to this day.
This bill was designed to give federal agencies more power to remove damaging chemicals from products you purchase at the store. Health dangers from chemicals found in your personal care products are not limited to your reproductive system as many are not inert substances but have biological activity. Scientists speculate that 1 in 5 cancers may develop after exposure to environmental chemicals, including those chemicals that have been deemed "safe" on their own.33
One analysis, however, found that the cumulative effect of noncarcinogenic chemicals may act in concert to produce carcinogenic activity on organ systems, cells and tissues. This essentially makes testing for carcinogenic chemicals more difficult as they are almost exclusively found in combination in products. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are associated with a number of different health conditions as your endocrine system controls nearly all of your cells. These conditions include:34
Developmental effects on the nervous system in children
Protect Your Health Using Safe Products on Your Skin
Following measurements of 1,4-dioxane in the municipal water supply on Long Island, New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand introduced Senate Bill 519 to amend the Safe Water Drinking Act to set maximum levels for a list of contaminants, including 1,4-dioxane.35 In a statement to the press, Schumer said:36
"This likely cancer-causing toxin serves no purpose in these products and is not even identified on packaging, so it's time we drain it from everyday products to make Long Island's water safer."
Other states have already set limits below 1 ppb, including California, Colorado, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.37 Consider contacting your senator to express concern over the chemicals found in your drinking water, using the U.S. Senate website.38 As the wheels of politics turn slowly, consider taking steps in your own home to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals and protect your health.
You may use the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep database to check the ingredients in your personal care products.39 There's also an app for that. When out shopping for personal care products, the app Think Dirty builds on the EWG's database and recognizes nearly 70,000 different products, giving you a rating on their "dirty meter" to help you make healthier purchasing decisions.40
Your skin is an exceedingly large and permeable organ. Almost everything you put on your skin ends up in your bloodstream and distributed through your body. This is why I'm so fond of saying "don't put anything on your body that you wouldn't eat if you had to."
Be aware that products boasting "all-natural" labels can still contain harmful chemicals, so be sure to check the full list of ingredients. Look for simple ingredients that you recognize and know to be safe. Read more about endocrine disruptors and how to reduce your exposure in my previous article, "10 Sources of Endocrine Disruptors and How to Avoid Them."
You may also simplify your routine by making your own products. A slew of lotions, potions and hair treatments can be eliminated with a jar of coconut oil and high-quality essential oil, if you like, for scent. For starters, try Tree Hugger's natural deodorant recipe41 below and for more information, check out the infographic below.
Make a double boiler by placing a half-pint glass jar in the middle of a small pot of water. Bring water to a simmer. Add coconut oil and shea butter to the jar and let melt. Turn off the heat, add baking soda and cornstarch, and stir until completely smooth. Mix in the essential oil of your choice. Let cool.
At room temperature the deodorant is hard. You can scrape out a small ball and apply it directly to your armpits, or transfer it to an old deodorant tube for easier application. In warmer months, you'll need to keep this deodorant in your refrigerator to prevent the coconut oil from liquefying.
In the last few years, freedom of information act (FOIA) requests have revealed a loophole that allows corporations to hide funds given to university-based researchers and academics, thereby also hiding their behind-the-scenes collaborations to promote corporate viewpoints while maintaining an air of independence. A recent defamation suit offers an intriguing opportunity to shed even more light on this, what appears to be, common practice.
FOIA Documents Revealed Professor's Big Ag Links
Kevin Folta -- a plant scientist and professor at the University of Florida and an outspoken advocate of genetic engineering -- became a posterchild for this kind of disclosure avoidance when, two years ago, a FOIA request by the California-based activist group US Right to Know (USRTK) produced correspondence revealing Folta had instructed Monsanto on how to avoid disclosing funding his work by depositing the money into the university's SHARE (Special Help for Agricultural Research and Education) contribution account.
As noted by Folta in his proposal to Monsanto,1 "a SHARE contribution ... is not subject to IDC and is not in a conflict-of-interest account. In other words, SHARE contributions are not publicly noted. This eliminates the potential concern of the funding organization influencing the message." Put another way, by making a SHARE contribution, the link between Folta and Monsanto would remain hidden, and his public promotion of biotech would not be tainted by obvious suspicions of conflicts of interest.
This is one of the biggest scams going. Universities have very strict conflict of interest rules in place, all of which are effectively circumvented by giving the funds as a grant to the University of Florida Foundation, which operates as a separate, non-public entity. The foundation then issues the money to individual researchers' programs. Yet, even though the money can be easily earmarked for a specific individual or program, financial contributions to the foundation do not need to be publicly disclosed.
While this loophole is news for many, evidence suggests researchers and academics have routinely used it to avoid conflicts of interest disclosure rules. Bruce Chassy was caught doing the same thing. An investigation by Chicago WBEZ news discovered Monsanto paid the now retired University of Illinois' professor more than $57,000 over two years for travel, writing and speaking expenses, yet Chassy never disclosed his financial ties to the company on state and university conflict of interest disclosure forms.2
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How Universities Incentivize Nondisclosure of Conflicts of Interest
Nondisclosure of conflicts of interest are in some ways actually incentivized at universities. Most donations to university foundations are granted a waiver for indirect costs (IDCs).
As explained by the National Science Foundation, IDCs are "costs which are not readily identifiable with a particular cost objective (e.g., direct organizational activity or project), but nevertheless are necessary for the general operation of an organization."3 Examples of such overhead costs include salaries for accountants and miscellaneous personnel, rent, utilities, computers and software, just to name a few.
This was the case for both Chassy and Folta. By being granted a waiver for IDCs, the burden of these costs is shifted to the students of the university and taxpayers by way of tuition and government funding. So, corporations are essentially piggybacking on students and taxpayers by getting waivers of IDC while simultaneously keeping their funding hidden. Papers have been written about how this system impacts taxpayer funded research (research funded by government grants).
As noted by the Sponsored Research Administration4 at Florida State University, "It is important to remember that the inclusion of these charges results in the support of research efforts across the campus. To request waivers of negotiated and allowable charges means a decreased SRAD [Sponsored Research and Development Trust Fund] pool and a corresponding reduction in the research and creative activities that the university stimulates and supports."
In their paper, "The Economics of University Indirect Cost Reimbursement in Federal Research Grants," Roger Noll and William Rogerson write:5
"The federal government has been the most important source of funds for academic research since the 1950s. Nearly a third of this support takes the form of indirect cost recovery (overhead). Long a source of conflict between universities and the government, in recent years the indirect cost controversy has escalated, with most research universities intensively investigated for alleged abuses ...
[B]oth universities and the federal government would be better off if the existing indirect cost reimbursement system were replaced by a system of fixed reimbursement rates that were not related to a university's actual indirect costs."
Paid Academics Become Part of Industry-Controlled PR Arm
Folta publicly stated he had "no formal connection to Monsanto"6 and denied ever accepting payments from Big Ag, including Monsanto.7 The FOIA request and subsequent publication of the correspondence between Folta and Monsanto created an abrupt end to Folta's status as an independent expert on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The documents clearly show Monsanto paid Folta to travel around the country to speak about the merits of GMOs. As Folta himself put it: "I'm glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like.".8
At the time, Gary Ruskin, executive director of USRTK told Nature,9 "I think it's important for professors who take money from industry to disclose it. And if they're not disclosing it, that's a problem. And if they say they aren't taking money, and they are, then that's a problem."
The documents also revealed the biotechnology PR firm Ketchum drafted answers directed to Folta on the GMO Answers website. While Folta claimed he typically ignored the prewritten answers, it shows that paid academics and researchers are part of a tightly controlled PR arm of the industry.
Once the $25,000 unrestricted grant from Monsanto (funneled through the University Foundation to avoid disclosure) became publicly known, the money was reallocated to a local food pantry. Folta claims he "talked to Monsanto about returning the money," but that the company was "totally against it" because "it looks like an admission of guilt."10 The ironic part is that by re-donating the money to a food pantry, they confirm that the money was indeed earmarked for Folta and no one else.
Folta Files Defamation Suit Against New York Times
The New York Times (NYT) was among the first to report Folta's conflicts of interest.11 Now, Folta has filed a defamation suit12 against the paper and journalist Eric Lipton, who wrote the article. In his suit, Folta claims his "academic reputation was unfairly tarnished, his health harmed and his personal safety jeopardized" by Lipton's "scandalous" article. According to the Cornell Alliance for Science: 13
"Folta ... contends that Lipton and the NYT intentionally 'misrepresented him as a covertly paid operative' of Monsanto in order to further their own 'anti-GMO agenda.' The NYT article had identified him, for example, as an 'aggressive biotech proponent with financial ties to Monsanto,' a claim Folta strongly refutes.
Folta ... told the Alliance for Science that he filed the lawsuit both to stop the 'spiral of silence' that such reporting creates among other academics and also to regain his reputation.
'When you're portrayed as trading lobbying for grant money, that's the kiss of death ... You realize that you're the walking dead in your career.' Folta said other scientists have told him they are now reluctant to speak up publicly on the controversy around GMOs because they feared the harm that could come to them from similar adverse coverage."
The NYT has vowed to "defend the lawsuit vigorously," adding that, "Our story was carefully researched and the documents underlying the story were posted online to give readers the opportunity to see for themselves the research we developed and relied upon." It is seriously unlikely that Folta can prevail against the NYT's legal team and deep pockets, especially considering some of the arguments brought forth in his suit. Take paragraph 40, for example, which reads:14
"The Defendants deliberately chose the caption "if you spend enough time with skunks, you start to smell like one" to insinuate that Dr. Folta is a "skunk." This was offensive, malicious, and reckless."
The lawsuit also addresses Folta's upset at being blocked by Lipton on Twitter. Paragraph 136 of Folta's suit reads:
"In order to cause even more mental harm to Dr. Folta, Defendant Lipton then blocked Dr. Folta from viewing Lipton's malicious tweets, so that Dr. Folta was not even able to see what defamatory and harmful words Lipton was publishing next, even though it was, in fact, Lipton who was targeting Dr. Folta, and never vice versa."
The Real Story -- University Foundations Serve to Hide Conflicts of Interest
I think it's important to realize that the real story here is the fact that money laundering is occurring through universities, and how it's occurring. In order to clamp down on undisclosed conflicts of interest, this loophole really needs to be fully exposed -- and closed. NYT lawyers have a unique opportunity to do just that here, were they to insist on calling in the administrators, internal managers and accountants of the SHARE program for deposition.
I don't think Folta realizes that by suing the NYT, he opens the door for them to blow this whole nondisclosure sham wide-open. All they have to do is ask the administrators if it's routine to accept corporate grants and earmark them for specific individuals or projects -- in other words, is the program being routinely used to hide corporate conflict of interest connections? Remember, professors are in fact incentivized to hide corporate conflicts of interest and to bypass IDC recovery, shifting those costs onto students and taxpayers instead.
Were the NYT to do so, it could turn into a truly huge story with massive ramifications. It could go a very long way toward forcing greater transparency. When corporate funding of university professors remains undisclosed, it not only deceives the public, it also undermines education.
The fact that the University of Florida Foundation deleted a number of its "honor roll donors" for 2013/201415 -- right around the same time that the NYT revealed Folta's industry connections -- only adds to suspicions that corporate funding is in fact being hidden through its SHARE program.
The following are screenshots of deleted donors, captured when the initial FOIA responses were received, in anticipation that they might be removed (a hunch over at USRTK that turned out to be correct). Deleted donors include BASF, Bayer, Syngenta, Pioneer, Monsanto and Dow Chemical. "Gold" donors, such as Monsanto and BASF, have donated more than $1 million. "Diamond" donors such as Syngenta have donated in excess of $10 million.
These screenshots are the only public evidence remaining that these donations were made; these webpages are not even available using Wayback Machine. So, just how much of these millions of dollars were in fact earmarked and funneled to specific faculty members to avoid public scrutiny?
It's also worth noting the following quote on the very last screen shot: "The Foundation ... also serves as fiduciary, taking care of the gift assets to ensure they are used in accordance with our donors' wishes" -- yet another glaring piece of evidence suggesting that donations are earmarked for certain individuals and can thus be "laundered" through the Foundation without having to be publicly disclosed.
USRTK Sues University of Florida
In a separate twist, USRTK is suing the University of Florida for failure to provide all the emails required by freedom-of-information law.16,17 In a July 11 press release, USRTK explains its lawsuit is aimed to:18
" ... [C]ompel the University of Florida to comply with public records requests about the university's relationship with agrichemical companies that produce genetically engineered seeds and pesticides. 'We are conducting an investigation of the food and agrichemical industries, their front groups and public relations operatives, their ties to universities, and the health risks of their products, said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know.
'The public has a right to know if and when taxpayer-funded universities and academics are collaborating with corporations to promote their products and viewpoints.'"
The NYT article that gave rise to Folta's defamation suit was in large part based on the records obtained by USRTK from the University of Florida. But Folta was only one of dozens of individuals for whom the USRTK sought correspondence, to assess hidden ties between the university and the agrichemical industry.
One of them is Jack M. Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at the University of Florida. USRTK specifically requested correspondence sent between Payne and employees of the University of Florida Foundation.
In mid-December 2015, the university handed over 42 pages, but refused to release any remaining documents. Considering the University Foundation deleted stellar donors from their site only makes obtaining correspondence with Foundation employees all the more pertinent.
Yet, even though emails were sent to and from a university email address, the University of Florida claims the emails did not involve official university business and therefore shouldn't be made public. Apparently, the University of Florida is none too fond of transparency in general.
According to USRTK, "Professor Payne is not an employee of the Foundation, and email communications sent or received by him in the course of official business are public records," adding that even if the court were to find some of the emails could be exempt, "the proper procedure would be to require Defendant to furnish the documents to the Court for an in camera inspection."
College Foundation Caught Misspending Funds
There are more reasons than one for wanting to avoid public scrutiny of Foundation funds. A 2015 article19 by Columbia Journalism Review revealed the case of Robert Breuder, president of DuPage College. Breuder was found to have expensed hunting excursions, expensive wines, dinners and other frivolous, personal expenses to the College of DuPage Foundation, the mission of which is to raise funds for student scholarships.
The Chicago Tribune requested documents related to Breuder's spending under the state public-records law, but was told such records were unavailable. It wasn't until the Tribune filed a lawsuit to compel disclosure that Breuder's misspending came to light. A refrain common to many college and university foundations is noted in this article:
"In its answer to the Tribune's complaint, the college ... denies that the foundation is a public body or a subsidiary of one. It denies that the foundation is contracted with a public body to perform public functions on the college's behalf. And, thus, it denies that the foundation is subject to the public-records law."
The Tribune, meanwhile, argued "the college is using its foundation, housed on campus and staffed by college employees, 'as an artifice to circumvent' the law: 'The foundation is mostly or entirely under the control of [the college, which] has been using the existence of the foundation as an excuse or a subterfuge to shield its financial records and expenditures from public view.'"
Watchdog Journalism Is a Vital Public Service
Jake Griffin, assistant managing editor for watchdog reporting at the Daily Herald said: "What good does it serve to keep the activities of the foundation free of public scrutiny and oversight, especially considering [that it's] using the auspices of the college as the means for generating funding?"
As suggested by Columbia Journalism Review, journalists play a vital role when it comes to keeping public organizations honest and the public informed. Folta may blame the NYT for the unraveling of his career and health, but the evidence shows he was collaborating with industry and denied it.
It if weren't for Lipton and other journalists, he'd still be pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. Even though Folta still maintains he had no financial ties to Monsanto, the evidence shows he did, so it would appear he's suing the NYT to intimidate journalists from exposing these undisclosed conflicts of interest.
Last year, David Cuillier, director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism said,20 "I think there are a ton of flags that need to be raised when it comes to university foundations. I think it's one of the most underreported scams in America. It's total slush fund ... What a great way to hide money for a university."
Indeed. It appears it has been a marvelous way to throw a veil over potential funding bias, educational bias and all sorts of conflicts of interest. The fact that this is now coming to light is good news for everyone except those trying to hide their wrongdoings. And, if we're lucky, NYT attorneys will depose the University of Florida Foundation's administrators and accountants, to give us all a clearer picture of the full extent of this scam.
It was a sad day in October 2015 when researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) announced they had detected plastic litter on the surface of Arctic waters.1 Greenland sharks and seabirds living in the area were already known to be eating the debris,2 but the appearance of 31 pieces of floating debris in an otherwise largely pristine environment painted a disturbing picture of pollution problems that will only get worse if the amounts of litter entering the oceans aren't reduced.
With plastics now entering the farthest reaches of the globe, what does that mean for the environments where these pollutants are known to accumulate? Mismanaged waste is particularly problematic in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, which together make up the top five countries for plastic pollution.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 However, an equally alarming problem is the plastics that do get broken down into tiny pieces. Microplastic particles, which are less than 5 millimeters long, are literally clouding the oceans in spots.
Carried along with the ocean's currents, swirling gyres of "plastic smog"5 now cover about 40 percent of the world's ocean surfaces.6 They're being eaten by fish and other marine life -- that is well-known. But only recently did researchers take the logical next step to determine that it's not only marine life ingesting plastic -- you probably are too.
94 Percent of US Tap Water Contains Plastic Fibers
Research commissioned by media outlet Orb revealed alarming data about plastic pollution in tap water, with 83 percent of samples tested worldwide coming back as contaminated. In the U.S., 94 percent of tap water samples were found to contain plastic -- the most out of all the locations tested. According to Orb:7
"Fibers in tap water ... are both a discovery and a marker -- a visceral sign of how far plastic has penetrated human life and human anatomy. We can't see the long-chain molecules of pollutants like polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, even if they do reside in more than 98 percent of the population. But when fibers are filtered in a laboratory and enlarged by a microscope, the contamination becomes real.
The first studies into the health effects of microscopic plastics on humans are only just now beginning; there's no telling if or when governments might establish a 'safe' threshold for plastic in water and food. Even farther away are studies of human exposure to nanoscale plastic particles, plastic measured in the millionths of a millimeter."
Orb found, for example, 16 fibers in tap water taken at the visitor's center in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., along with fibers in samples taken from Trump Tower in New York. Plastic fibers were also found in water taken from Indonesia, India, Ecuador, Uganda, England and Lebanon.
Where Are the Primary Sources of Microplastic?
Orb noted six primary sources of "invisible plastics,"8 one of which is synthetic microfibers from synthetic clothing like fleece, acrylic and polyester. Microfibers from clothing are released during washing, to the tune of 1 million tons a year. It's unknown what the environmental effects of microfiber pollution may be, but their irregular shape may make them harder for marine life to excrete than other microplastics (like microbeads).
According to the Mermaids (Mitigation of Microplastics Impact Caused by Textile Washing Processes) project, whose goal is to cut microfiber shedding during washing by 70 percent, the apparel industry has been slow to respond in taking steps to stop microfiber pollution.9
A Mermaids report suggested special coatings may help to stop the loss of microfibers during washing, as well as recommended laundry detergents be reformulated to minimize fiber shedding. However, as it stands Orb estimated that more than half of the microfibers released during the wash are missed by water treatment plants and end up in the environment.
Microbeads -- those tiny plastic pellets you may have seen in your face wash or hand soap -- are another primary source. Microbeads are so small they get flushed right down the bathroom drain and travel through wastewater treatment plants easily, because the filters used are too small to catch them. Research has only begun to reveal the extent of environmental pollution that microbeads have caused.
In a 2012 survey of the Great Lakes, it was found that the area has "some of the highest concentrations of microplastic found in the environment, and microbeads were prevalent."10 One-third of the fish caught in the English Channel also contain microbeads, as do 83 percent of scampi sold in the U.K. 11 Bans on microbeads have taken place in the U.S. and Canada, but not yet in the EU. Orb estimated that more than 8 trillion microbeads ended up in U.S. waterways in 2015. Other sources noted in Orb's report include:12
Tire dust, which contains styrene butadiene rubber. According to Orbit, "Cars and trucks emit more than 20 grams of tire dust for every 100 kilometers they drive."13
Paints: Microplastics are distributed in paint dust, which comes from house paint, ship paint, road markings and more.
Secondary microplastics: Single-use plastics like forks, bags, straws and takeout containers also litter the environment, with 8 million tons washing into waterways each year. Eventually, these items get broken down into microplastics.
Airborne plastic fibers: This is a new area of research, but it's thought that your limbs brushing against each other may be enough to release synthetic fibers into the air, which can be inhaled as well as float down to further contaminate the environment. In Paris, airborne microplastics have been found to fall to the ground at rates of up to 10 tons a year.14
Toxic Microplastics May Be Transferred to Farmland
Much of the research on microplastic pollution focuses on marine environments, but the toxic bits are also likely accumulating on land. According to research published in Science of the Total Environment, "Annual plastic release to land is estimated at four to 23 times that released to oceans."15 The use of sewage sludge, or biosolids, as fertilizer may be particularly problematic. It's basically made up of whatever's left over after sewage is treated and processed.
Writing in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers reported that in Europe and North America, about 50 percent of sewage sludge is used for agricultural purposes. Using data from farm areas, population and sewage sludge usage, along with microplastic emission estimates, they found that between 125 and 850 tons of microplastics per million inhabitants may be added to European agricultural soils each year.
When factoring in the range of sludge application rates, and assuming data from certain other countries with similar plastics usage are comparable, the study found a "total yearly input of 63,000 to 430,000 and 44,000 to 300,000 tons of microplastics to European and North American farmlands, respectively ...
This would be an alarmingly high input," the researchers noted. "Comprehensively, this exceeds the total accumulated burden of 93,000 to 236,000 tons MPs [microplastics] currently estimated to be present in surface water in the global oceans."16 In a related publication, the researchers called for an urgent investigation to "safeguard food production," considering the finding that large quantities of microplastics are likely being transferred to agricultural land via sewage sludge.17,18
Plastic Particles Smell Like Food to Fish
It's long been known that fish are eating plastic debris, but a disturbing study revealed this isn't occurring by happenstance. Instead, fish may be actively seeking out plastic particles in the ocean to eat, mistaking them for food because of their odor. When microplastics exist in the ocean, they form a biological covering made of algae and other materials that smell like the food the fish would normally eat.19
The study is the first to reveal not only that anchovy use odors to forage, but also that the odor of microplastic in the ocean induces foraging behaviors in schools of the fish. The Center for Biological Diversity noted that fish in the North Pacific are known to ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic every year and, in a study of fish markets in California and Indonesia, one-quarter of the fish were found to have plastics in their guts.20
Plastics and other man-made debris was also found in 33 percent of shellfish sampled.21 The Orb report even reported that plastic particles less than 50 nanometers long have been shown to collect in plankton, potentially blocking their gastrointestinal tract, as well as accumulating in the many creatures that depend on plankton as a food source. It's yet another route of plastics exposures to humans, because if the fish are eating plastic, so, too, are the creatures that end up eating the fish.
What effects this will ultimately have on human health remains unknown, but chemical contamination is a real concern. Once in the water, microplastics easily absorb endocrine-disrupting and cancer-causing chemicals like PCBs. Plastics may concentrate such toxins at levels 100,000 to 1 million times higher than the levels found in seawater.22 It's even possible that plastic particles may end up in places in your body other than your gut. Orb reported:23
"If plastic fibers are in your water, experts say they're surely in your food as well -- baby formula, pasta, soups, and sauces, whether from the kitchen or the grocery. Plastic fibers may leaven your pizza crust, and a forthcoming study says it's likely in the craft beer you'll drink to chase the pepperoni down. It gets worse.
Plastic is all but indestructible, meaning plastic waste doesn't biodegrade; rather, it only breaks down into smaller pieces of itself, even down to particles in nanometer scale -- one-one thousandth of one-one thousandth of a millimeter. Studies show particles of that size can migrate through the intestinal wall and travel to the lymph nodes and other bodily organs."
Become Part of the Solution Instead of Part of the Problem
On a global scale, a variety of endeavors are underway to try to curb plastic waste and pollution. From turning plastic waste into liquid fuel to creating synthetic fibers that don't shed (or even fashioning clothing out of spider silk), enterprising entrepreneurs are seeking ways to keep plastics out of the environment. Some manufacturers are also looking to create packaging materials that, unlike most packaging currently on the market, can easily be recycled.24
You can also take a stand on an individual level and make a conscious choice to use less plastic. Considering the extensiveness of its use and the way it persists in the environment, plastic has the potential to be the worst environmental disaster of all time. To become part of the solution instead of part of the problem, Orb recommends taking the following steps:25
Avoid plastic bags (including for snacks and food storage)
Avoid disposable straws (reusable straws made from stainless steel, bamboo and even glass are widely available)
Wash synthetic clothes less frequently and when you do use a gentle cycle to reduce the number of fibers released; consider using products that catch laundry fibers in your washing machine
Choose a nonplastic toothbrush made from bamboo, flax or even recycled dollar bills
Avoid disposable plastic bottles; bring your own reusable bottle instead
When washing out paint brushes, capture rinse water in a jar and dispose of it at your local landfill in designated spots for paint (don't let it go down the drain).
You can also make your own milk paint in lieu of plastic-based latex and acrylics -- to do so "add lemon juice to skim milk and filter out the curd, add natural pigment to what is left."26
Take a drive through the U.S. Midwest and you can't miss the seemingly endless fields of corn. Depending on the season, the corn may be tall and green or dry and brown, or already combined, leaving vast swatches of barren soil exposed. None of the scenarios would appear particularly noteworthy to the average passerby, and certainly not cause for alarm.
However, if you dig a bit deeper into the reality of not just the U.S. Corn Belt, but also the massive amounts of corn being grown around the globe, a darker picture begins to emerge. Gone are the days of small-town farmers growing just enough corn to feed locals and, perhaps, their livestock over the winter.
In the 21st century, the two major consumers of corn are industrial in nature: concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and ethanol. There's now so much corn grown in the U.S. that the Corn Belt (typically said to include corn grown across Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and parts of Nebraska and Kansas) can be seen from space, courtesy of satellite chlorophyll-sensors.1
There's a tendency to think of corn as natural and even all-American, but as its true environmental costs become clear -- growing corn is not only chemical-intensive but also requires significant amounts of water and land, leading to air pollution, water scarcity and more -- accountability is becoming more important.
Where in the Supply Chain Is Corn Causing the Most Environmental Harm?
A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tackled the monumental task of figuring out which U.S. counties produced the most corn as well as where that corn ended up downstream, right down to the various supply chains and industries.2 "Think of the new research as a computer model of the United States of Corn," Bloomberg reported, continuing:3
"The general problem that the researchers took on -- prompted by a collaboration with the nongovernmental organization the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) -- is that some 75 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions and water use of economic production is bound up in an enormous, poorly documented network of supply chains.
Given the importance of corn to both the meat and ethanol industries, and the importance of the meat and ethanol industries to American consumers, they focused on that specific network."
Kansas City, Missouri-based beef processor National Beef fared the worst in terms of irrigated water usage, coming in at 11.7 cubic meters per bushel of corn in their supply chain. Minnesota-based Cargill, for comparison, used 5.7 cubic meters to Virginia-based Smithfield's 1.3. Flint Hills Resources, the fifth largest ethanol producer in the U.S., headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, used 1.4 cubic meters of irrigated water per bushel while South Dakota-based biofuel company POET came in at 0.2.
As for greenhouse gas emitted per bushel of corn in each company's supply chain, Cargill came in at 11.6 CO2-equivalent, kg, the highest of the group, followed by POET at 10.7, National Beef at 10.4 and Smithfield Foods at 10.2.4 As Bloomberg noted, the hope is that by exposing this information it will drive (or force) companies to adopt more sustainable models:5
"With localized information about where corn comes from, and where it ends up being eaten by cattle, swine, or fowl, or cooked into auto fuel, companies can better understand where in their supply chains the most carbon is burned, the most water is used, and where the landscape is most transformed."
Industrial Agriculture Rivals Deforestation in Environmental Destruction
Carbon erosion from the land and into the water and air is creating a very unstable environment. While removal of forests that cannot only sustain but also regenerate our soils and solidify this fragile carbon balance is a major part of the problem, so too, is industrial agriculture, including the removal of grasslands to plant more corn.
Previous estimates suggest that one-third of the surplus carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stems from poor land management processes that contribute to the loss of carbon, as carbon dioxide, from farmlands.6
A recent study also revealed "hotspots of soil carbon loss, often associated with major cropping regions and degraded grazing lands" in the U.S. and suggested that such regions should be "targets for soil carbon restoration efforts."7 Specifically, while deforestation is said to have resulted in 127 billion tons of carbon lost from the soil, the study found industrial agriculture has led to losses of 121 billion tons.
Soil scientist and study author Jonathan Sanderman, with the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, "It's alarming how much carbon has been lost from the soil. Small changes to the amount of carbon in the soil can have really big consequences for how much carbon is accumulating in the atmosphere."8
Regenerative agriculture, including converting cornfields back to grasslands and saving natural grasslands that exist, is key to fixing the problem. This type of land management system promotes the reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) by sequestering it back into the soil where it can do a lot of good. Once in the earth, the CO2 can be safely stored for hundreds of years and actually adds to the soil's fertility.
Corn Ethanol Is Not Carbon Neutral
The use of biofuels like ethanol in the U.S. has expanded over the last decade under the assumption that they're better for the environment than gasoline. But plowing under grasslands to plant more corn for ethanol is one of the worst choices that could be made for the environment. Unbeknownst to many, biofuels such as corn ethanol are not carbon neutral. In fact, they're associated with a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions; they're even worse than gasoline when the water needed to grow corn is taken into account.
Research shows, instead, that ethanol-producing (i.e., corn) crops only offset 37 percent of carbon dioxide emissions produced by burning biofuels.9 Meanwhile, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), more than 8 million acres of grassland and wetlands have been converted to corn from 2008 to 2011, which released at least 80 million tons of carbon a year.10
Further, since the U.S. government began requiring ethanol in fuel in 2007, more than 1.2 million acres of grassland have been lost to corn (and soy) crops.11 Grasslands, which have vast underground root systems, play a major role in storing carbon. It's estimated that one-third of the world's carbon stocks are held via these complex root system, which is nearly as much as is stored by forests.
Every time an acre of grassland is plowed, 60 tons of carbon dioxide are released into the environment.12 On the other hand, leaving grasslands as is and adding in compost has the potential to significantly increase carbon sequestration. In short, this "green energy" program is backfiring, because there's nothing "green" about planting an absolutely unnecessary surplus of corn, especially when natural prairies are being sacrificed.
US Prairies Must Be Protected
It's now common knowledge that deforestation leading to the tragic loss of vast swatches of rainforest is devastating the environment. Lesser known is the fact that U.S. prairies are as equally diverse and important to the ecosystem as rainforests; they're also similarly threatened. Since the early 1800s, grasslands in North America have decreased by 79 percent -- and in some areas by 99.9 percent.13 A report by the U.S. Geological Survey explained, in part, why this is so tragic:14
"Grasslands rank among the most biologically productive of all communities. Their high productivity stems from high retention of nutrients, efficient biological recycling, and a structure that provides for a vast array of animal and plant life ...
Grasslands also contribute immense value to watersheds and provide forage and habitat for large numbers of domestic and wild animals. Nevertheless, current levels of erosion in North America exceed the prairie soil's capacity to tolerate sediment and nutrient loss, thus threatening a resource essential to sustain future generations."
The first taste of disaster derived from losing prairies occurred in the 1930s, when farmers rapidly plowed up the grasslands of the southern Plains and planted wheat in its place. With millions of acres of plowed fields and a chronic drought, winds picked up the soil creating thick clouds of dust called "black blizzards," which covered the region in an unprecedented yearslong "storm." It seems no lesson was ultimately learned, as grasslands are still disappearing at alarming rates.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), nearly 2 million acres of federally protected grasslands and wetlands in North Dakota were taken out of the conservation program between 2007 and 2015.15
As Undark put it, "It's easy to view North Dakota's unending flatness as boring, empty, untamed. There's a long tradition of seeing the prairie -- this vast stretch of fertile, grass-dominated land -- as negative space with no purpose other than to be transformed into something with purpose."16 But, in reality, it's the expansion of cropland at the expense of the prairies that's ultimately threatening the Earth. Undark continued:
"Perhaps paradoxically, the expansion of cropland 'may actually be undermining the very agricultural productivity it seeks to gain,' write the authors of the Environmental Review Letters study.
Compared to cropland, grasslands 'harbor significantly greater plant, microbial, and animal diversity, and generate higher levels of nearly all agriculturally vital ecosystem services, including pest suppression and pollination.' To break prairie, then, is to dismantle the very supply chain that underpins American agricultural abundance."
Support Grass Fed Farming and Regenerative Agriculture
Perhaps you can't do anything about how large-scale industrial farms continue to plow up valuable grasslands, but you can make a difference for yourself, your family and community that might have residual effects. Ideally, support farmers who are using diverse cropping methods, such as planting of cover crops, raising animals on pasture and other methods of regenerative agriculture.
Buying grass fed or pastured animal products, such as beef, bison, chicken, milk and eggs, is an excellent start. The American Grassfed Association (AGA) introduced much-needed grass fed standards and certification for American-grown grass fed dairy,17 which will allow for greater transparency and conformity.18 The standard is intended to ensure the humane treatment of animals and meet consumer expectations about grass fed dairy, while being feasible for small farmers to achieve.
An AGA logo on a product lets you know the animals were fed a lifetime diet of 100 percent forage, were raised on pasture (not in confinement) and were not treated with hormones or antibiotics.19 I strongly encourage you to seek out AGA certified dairy products as they become available. In the Midwest, the Kalona SuperNatural brand is the first dairy brand to become AGA-certified. Besides that, you can also:
Grow your own organic vegetables.
Try composting. Save those kitchen scraps, from egg shells and lemon rinds to coffee filters, and use them to feed your vegetable garden and flower beds.
You've heard it before -- what you eat has a direct impact on your health, and the quality of your health naturally affects how you feel. Your blood pressure readings aren't just one isolated aspect of health but are intrinsically tied to many other functions of your body. That said, there are foods to stay away from and foods you should begin eating more of to optimize how well your blood is pumped through your body.
Vegetables are on the short list of foods you should be eating more of to naturally lower your blood pressure. But certain fruits, in moderation, including nuts and seeds, also have a place in lowering your risk for not just high blood pressure, but many related illnesses such as kidney disease, heart disease, stroke and several forms of dementia.
DASH, Mediterranean and PAMM Diets: Do They Work to Combat Hypertension?
The DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,1 consists largely of fresh vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy and very low sodium content. It's often believed that it's the low-sodium aspect of the diet that's so important, but this diet may work for some primarily because it's low in sugar/fructose. The same holds true for reducing your intake of processed foods, which you'll do if you follow the diet, as processed foods are top sources of both heavily processed salt and sugar/fructose.
There are, however, healthier eating plans than the DASH diet, particularly since whole grains and low-fat dairy are not foods I recommend eating. As for the Mediterranean Diet, this "diet" has been around for centuries.
Because the Mediterranean region is known for their rich olives and olive oil, fresh vegetables, fruits, seafood and, infrequently, red meat, people living there are known to be some of the healthiest, longest-living people in the world. Most of the diet's health benefits are likely due to it being low in sugars, moderate in protein and high in fresh fruits and vegetables, along with healthy fats.
Dr. Stephen Sinatra's PAMM, or Pan-Asian Modified Mediterranean, diet is another slant on the Mediterranean diet, which highlights the crucial nature of eating a "high-fiber, healthy-fat, Mediterranean-type, heart-healthy diet," emphasizing healthy fats and vegetables while minimizing synthetic fats.2 One of the diet's hallmarks is eating the last meal of the day as the lightest, with seaweed included as a heart-healthy option. Sinatra advises an increase in:
Asparagus, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and spinach as "slow-burning, low-glycemic index vegetables; low lipid and insulin-spiking allicin veggies onions and garlic; and fresh herbs like thyme, basil and rosemary
Fatty fish, principally certified wild-caught Alaskan salmon, and the essential fatty acids (EFAs) from other wild-caught fish such as mackerel, herring, anchovies and sardines
Healthy oils, including avocado, sesame, olive, walnut and flax oils
Nuts and seeds like almonds, chestnuts, walnuts and flaxseed
Fruits such as blueberries, apricots, apples, peaches, plums, strawberries, cherries and pears (fruit should be eaten in moderation to avoid consuming too much sugar)
The absence of processed foods in all of these diets is key to optimizing your blood pressure and overall health. Ideally, you should focus on eating foods that are very close to the earth, without special processing methods, such as chemicals being added for longer shelf life, necessary.
Arugula: Great for Your Heart and Blood Pressure
Potassium, calcium and magnesium are the "big three" common denominators in a diet that naturally combats high blood pressure, and there are many foods you can eat that will take the stress out of how to do it right, including arugula. Arugula is an often-neglected salad green.
It's too bad, because the easy-to-grow veggie is one of the most advantageous in the entire garden and is especially good for your arteries. It's high in potassium, calcium and magnesium, and all three are helpful because they help relax your blood vessels, which reduces blood pressure levels.
According to Livestrong,3 arugula doesn't have the most potassium compared to other vegetables, but it does help your body absorb it. There's 150 milligrams (mg) in a two-cup serving, or about 3 percent of the 4,700 mg recommended for adults.4 Regarding the calcium and magnesium content, the same serving size of arugula provides 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively, of the recommended daily values based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
The same nutrients in arugula also decrease your risk of a stroke and heart attack, while folate assists in optimal amino acid metabolism, because a shortage in your system can promote unwanted homocysteine levels in your blood, which elevates your heart disease risk. As a crucifer vegetable, arugula helps protect against cancer, courtesy of its glucosinolate compound, containing sulfur, which also gives it a far-from-bland, peppery flavor. As Livestrong notes:
"When you chew arugula, its glucosinolates are broken down into indoles, isothiocyanates and other biologically active compounds ... The compounds derived from glucosinolates may help your body get rid of carcinogens before they have a chance to damage your DNA, and they may also affect hormone activity in ways that impede the development of hormone-related cancers.
Although research is ongoing, some epidemiological studies have shown that diets rich in cruciferous vegetables may specifically help reduce the risk of colorectal and lung cancers."5
An important vitamin in arugula is folate (the natural form of folic acid, which is synthetic6), aka vitamin B9, noted for its role in preventing birth defects. Eating arugula can also help you lose weight, as it's low in calories and provides good amounts of vitamins A, C, K and calcium and a number of valuable phytonutrients.
In fact, on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, or ANDI, which ranks foods by their nutrient density, arugula scores just over 600, making it one of the top 10; that's 30 percent more nutrient dense than cabbage and 50 percent more than cauliflower.7
More Excellent Foods for Your Arteries
Beets, sometimes known as beetroot, and beet juice have emerged as a trendy health phenomenon, especially by athletes, as the compounds they contain increase stamina and muscle strength. Beets and beet juice also help lower blood pressure, even comparable to blood pressure medicine, due to the presence of the nitrate NO3, which in your body is converted to bioactive nitrite (NO2) and nitric oxide (NO), which in turn dilates your blood vessels.
Researchers also found that the nitrates in beetroot juice lowered research participants' blood pressure within just 24 hours.8 Due to the high sugar content of beetroot juice, I wouldn't recommend this for a long-term solution.
Fermenting beets is another way to enjoy them, and they're extremely healthy, as the nutrients they contain become more bioavailable and provide beneficial bacteria and enzymes. Although beets have the highest sugar content of all vegetables, most people can safely eat beet roots a few times a week.
Coriander seeds come from the herb known as cilantro. Coriander has been shown in studies to reduce blood pressure,9 which is due to an interaction between calcium ions and cholinergic, a neurotransmitter in your nervous system, which is another way your blood vessels may become more relaxed. Grinding the seeds to toss into your smoothies is an excellent way to get more of their nutrients.
Eating pistachios, especially those in raw form, is another delicious way to decrease blood pressure by reducing peripheral vascular resistance, or blood vessel tightening, and your heart rate. One study10 showed that a single serving of pistachios every day helps reduce systolic blood pressure. You can incorporate pistachios into your diet by adding them to pesto sauces and salads or by eating them plain as a snack.
Olive oil (first cold-pressed and organic) contains inflammation-fighting polyphenols with numerous compounds to lower your blood pressure naturally. Olive oil is a great alternative to canola oil, bottled salad dressing and other vegetable oils, but don't cook with olive oil, because it has a low smoke point and is easily damaged by the heat.
According to the American Heart Association, flaxseed can be eaten to help lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. One study revealed that when people added 30 grams of milled flaxseed to their diet every day for six months, both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure dropped significantly. Scientists noted that lowered blood pressure levels from eating flaxseed could cut the number of strokes in half and result in 30 percent fewer heart attacks.11
Celery contains high amounts of potassium and is a rich source of such flavonoids as zeaxanthin and lutein, along with beta-carotene, which studies have shown lowers inflammation as well as your risk of heart disease. Once again, blood vessel-relaxing blood compounds, in this case 3-n-butylphthalide (which gives celery its fresh, earthy scent), have been shown to reduce blood pressure levels.
Tomatoes may help relieve hypertension, in part due to potassium but also because of lycopene.12 However, be aware that tomatoes are high in lectins, which means they should be eaten sparingly and, when you do eat them, cook them first (as an added bonus, cooking tomatoes increases the beneficial lycopene that can be absorbed by your body).
The Importance of Healthy Eating for Optimal Blood Pressure Levels
It may sound like a broken record, but eating right to help optimize your blood pressure levels, and thereby lowering your risk of kidney disease, heart disease, stroke, dementia and other serious problems, is extremely important. If you haven't been eating the best diet, don't worry, it's not too late to start. On that note, what you don't eat is just as important as what you do eat, and I recommend avoiding the following foods notorious for causing blood pressure levels to rise:13
Sugar, processed fructose and processed foods, grains
Read labels and avoid partially hydrogenated oils (synthetic trans fats), found in many processed foods, including packaged cookies, crackers, chips and other snacks
Omega-6 oils, especially those in vegetable oils such as corn, canola, soy and safflower oils
Instead, focus on eating real food. You'll want to swap nonfiber carbs for healthy fats such as avocados, butter made from raw, grass fed organic milk, organic pastured egg yolks, coconuts and coconut oil, raw nuts such as pecans and macadamia, grass fed meats and pasture raised poultry. To learn more about healthy eating, please see my optimal nutrition plan.
Again, one of the most important things to remember about maintaining your health is that what's going on in one area of your body is more than a little apt to influence other areas of your body. That's why eating foods that are good for your heart and your blood pressure go hand in hand. It's not an exaggeration to say that you are what you eat. Making heart-healthy foods a bigger part of your life on a daily basis will impact not only your blood pressure readings, but the way you feel and what you're able to do, longer.
What constitutes soluble as opposed to insoluble fiber is something not everyone is clear on, especially in regard to their importance. In discussing fiber, there are two types: soluble and insoluble. Most consider fiber a tool to aid in healthy digestion, but it does so much more. Dietary fiber, the indigestible part of plant material, is considered an essential nutrient because only through eating it is fiber made available to your body, and you need both kinds. Some foods are made up of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Any portion of a plant-based food that doesn't break down when you eat it or isn't readily absorbed into your body is referred to as indigestible. Fiber is also sometimes called roughage, a term that describes, to a degree, the function of fiber as it moves through your colon and, in the process, helps move along food particles that may tend to adhere to the sides. Food that remains stuck to your colon may cause bloating, pain and constipation, as well as other problems.
Vegetables, certain fruits, seeds and nuts are all important to include in your diet on a regular basis because, besides providing nutrients, they contain the fiber necessary to promote regular bowel movements and keep your colon free of obstruction, while providing countless other health benefits.
Aspects of Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber is easily dissolved in water and becomes gel-like when it reaches your large intestine so it's more easily broken down by liquids and gastrointestinal fluids and releases certain gases. Some of the benefits of this type of fiber are that:1
The thick gel moves into every crevice in your colon and helps to slow down your digestion. This helps you to feel full longer and is one reason why fiber may help with weight control.
It slows down the rate at which other nutrients are digested, including carbs, so they're not as likely to raise your blood glucose; it also helps stabilize your glucose levels and even prevent blood sugar spikes.
It helps lower your risks of developing heart disease and hypertension.
Some foods rich in soluble fiber help feed good bacteria in your gut.
Attributes of Insoluble Fiber and Overall Benefits of Both
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve and stays basically intact as it moves through your colon. Because insoluble fiber isn't digested, it's not a source of calories. This type of fiber:
Helps prevent constipation, as it absorbs fluid when it reaches your intestinal tract, which helps other byproducts stick to it, forming the waste you want to get rid of. In the process, it lessens the amount of time food spends in your colon and helps it to exit at the same time. Blockage and constipation are much less of a problem, and bowel movements become much more regular.
Decreases your risk of developing diverticulitis, which occurs when your colon forms pouches or folds and greatly exacerbates intestinal blockages that further lead to constipation.
What fiber does for you overall is twofold: Soluble fiber helps you feel full for longer after you eat by slowing digestion, while insoluble fiber fills up the space in your stomach and intestines, both of which help you manage portion size. Both types of fiber also serve to decrease your risk of several health-compromising conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity. In fact, one study showed a 10 percent decreased risk for all-cause mortality for every 10 grams of fiber you increase in your overall fiber intake.2
Sources of Soluble and Insoluble Fiber
Many foods are good sources of fiber. Generally speaking, foods considered "good sources" contain at least 20 percent of the recommended daily value of dietary fiber per serving, but this doesn't tell the whole story of whether a food is healthy or not. Grains, for instance, are not recommended, even though they're high in fiber.3
Healthy foods with high amounts of fiber include green peas, artichoke, baked sweet potato with the peel intact, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and many other vegetables.
Additional foods that are also excellent in providing fiber include pears, raspberries, stewed prunes, dried figs or dates (eaten in moderation due to high sugar content), pumpkin, almonds, apples with the skin intact, bananas (also eaten in moderation) and oranges. Organic psyllium seed husk (nonorganic psyllium is typically loaded with pesticides) is another excellent way to optimize your fiber intake.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says 25 grams of fiber per day is enough for women, with a 38-gram target for men. However, my recommendation for daily fiber intake is 25 to 50 grams per 1,000 calories consumed. The Academy was right about one thing, though, for anyone wanting to increase their fiber intake:
"When increasing fiber, be sure to do it gradually and with plenty of fluids. As dietary fiber travels through the digestive tract, [it] is similar to a new sponge; it needs water to plump up [and] pass smoothly. If you consume more than your usual intake of fiber but not enough fluid, you may experience nausea or constipation."4
The importance of and the differences between soluble and insoluble fibers began emerging when prebiotic soluble fibers were discovered about 15 years ago.5 Nutritionists and medical researchers found that certain soluble fibers such as inulin, FOS (fructooligosaccharide) and oligofructose, which turned out to be prebiotics, brought about remarkable changes in the bacterial makeup of the colon.
Fiber Can Prevent Leaky Gut and Lower Blood Pressure Levels
The benefits continue through the effect fiber has on preventing leaky gut, which may be reaching epidemic proportions. In fact, 80 percent of the American population is said to be wrestling with this often-misdiagnosed problem, known to cause anxiety, joint pain, chronic fatigue, brain fog, hives and depression, not to mention irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), food allergies and bloating. According to Food Integrity Now:
"The wall of the intestine is considered semi-permeable. This means it only allows certain things to enter the bloodstream and blocks other things from entering the bloodstream. For instance, specific molecules and nutrients are allowed to pass through but toxins and large undigested food particles are blocked.
When you have leaky gut, the pores in your small intestine widen and this allows undigested food particles and toxins, that would normally be blocked, to enter your bloodstream. These particles and toxins aren't recognized and the immune system goes into attack mode because they are not supposed to be in the blood. In essence, the immune system literally recognizes these undigested particles as dangerous."6
In addition, gut health and a clean colon are aspects of well-being that many don't connect with cardiovascular health, but fiber is one aspect of nutrition that fills this role in several ways. For instance, an inverse association has been found between fiber intake and heart attack, and research shows that those eating a high-fiber diet have a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease.7
Fiber and Digestive-Resistant Starch for Gut Health
Besides providing fiber, some foods go even further in terms of improving your gut health, one case in point being not-quite-ripe tropical fruits such as banana, papaya and mango. That's because they also contain digestive-resistant starch. While fiber is crucial for your diet, what makes it even healthier is its potential for fermentation. According to Today's Dietician:
"Other properties, such as viscosity and fermentability, may be more important. Naturally occurring resistant starches are a group of low-viscous fibers that are slowly fermented in the large intestine."8
In your large intestine, resistant starches feed healthy bacteria, essentially acting as prebiotics. They also bulk up your bowel movements for easier, timelier disposal without making you feel bloated or gassy. Best of all, they don't spike your blood sugar the way the completely ripened fruit would do, so they're also much more likely to improve insulin regulation.
Unripe papaya, banana and mango aren't the only foods with this ability; seeds and tapioca starch also have the same capability, but the tropical fruits also contain higher percentages in certain vitamins and minerals. In many ways, resistant starch could be considered a third type of fiber.9
How to Improve Your Microbiome and Immune System
Keeping your immune system healthy is crucial for preventing illness and disease. That said, the environment we live in makes optimal health a challenge at times, especially in choosing foods that will help, not harm, your gut health, which plays an integral role in your immune system health. In the same vein, while grains such as wheat and corn are typically placed on the "do" list as good for increasing your fiber, there are multiple reasons why they shouldn't be.
In addition to their tendency to promote insulin and leptin resistance, and the fact that they contain lectins, one of the most important is the way these and other grains are grown, both in regard to the soil and how they're chemically treated as they grow to discourage weeds and maximize yield. Processing makes such grains even worse for your health, and they're implicated in worsening disease rates in numerous ways.
How you prepare foods to maintain their fiber content includes eating the peelings of appropriate fruits and vegetables, but make sure they're organic to avoid potential pesticide overload. As for improving your microbiome, including fermented vegetables and other foods in your diet, such as cabbage, carrots, turnips, parsnips and beets, is important. Nearly any vegetable can be used, but root vegetables seem to be the hardiest, with added herbs for flavor.
Take a look at these healthy, delicious fiber-rich recipes to obtain gut health, strengthen your immune system and maintain a clean colon. To work toward getting plenty of both soluble and insoluble fiber so you can stay regular and healthy, be sure to eat a wide variety of vegetables, seeds and nuts daily.
One lifestyle factor that appears to be driving not only obesity but also many chronic disease processes is the fact that we avoid ever going without food for very long. Our ancestors didn't have access to food 24/7, and biologically your body simply isn't designed to run optimally when continuously fed. If you eat throughout the day and never skip a meal, your body adapts to burning sugar as its primary fuel, which down-regulates enzymes that utilize and burn stored fat.
If you struggle to lose weight, this may well be a significant part of the problem -- your body has simply lost the metabolic flexibility to burn fat for fuel. To correct this, you need to reduce net carbs and, ideally, the frequency of your meals. Fasting is one of the oldest dietary interventions in the world, and modern science confirms it can have a profoundly beneficial influence on your health. As noted by Fitness and Power:1
"An increasing number of researchers are saying that the intermittent fasting method is a sure-fire way for people to shred the excess fat. A study published in 2015 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that intermittent fasting gives a safe rate weight loss of 0.5 to 1.7 lbs/week, along with decreasing the overall body fat percentage."
Research has also confirmed that many important biological repair and rejuvenation processes take place in the absence of food, and this is another reason why all-day grazing triggers disease. In a nutshell, your body was designed to a) run on healthy fat as its primary fuel, and b) cycle through periods of feast and famine. Today, most people do the opposite.
Intermittent Fasting Versus Longer Fasts
Intermittent fasting is an umbrella term that covers many different meal timing schedules. As a general rule, it involves cutting calories in whole or in part, either a couple of days a week, every other day or even daily.2 The key is the cycling of feasting/feeding and famine/fasting. By mimicking the eating habits of our ancestors, who did not have access to food around the clock, you restore your body to a more natural state that allows a whole host of biochemical benefits to occur.
"Peak fasting" involves fasting anywhere from 14 to 21 hours each day and eating all of your meals within the remaining window of three to 10 hours. Obviously, to make this schedule work, you need to skip at least one main meal. One of the easiest ways to ease into it is to gradually push back the time you eat breakfast until you eliminate it completely and simply have lunch, then dinner.
Just be sure to eat your dinner at least three hours before bedtime. When you're sleeping, your body needs the least amount of energy, and if you feed it at a time when energy is not needed, your mitochondria end up creating excessive amounts of damaging free radicals. Avoiding late-night eating is a simple way to protect your mitochondrial function and prevent cellular damage from occurring.
Once you're used to intermittent fasting, you may want to consider longer fasts, where the only thing you consume is water and mineral supplements. I had previously been opposed to multiday water fasting if one was already at an ideal body weight. What I failed to realize is that longer fasts provide "metabolic magic" that really cannot occur even with intermittent daily fasting.
Multiday fasting is basically akin to "taking out the trash." It allows your body to upregulate autophagy and mitophagy to remove damaged senescent cells in your body, including premalignant cells. I believe it can be a great way to significantly reduce your risk for cancer. It's also an extremely effective way to shed excess weight and extend your life span.
Silicon Valley Embraces Multiday Fasting
More and more people are now starting to recognize the health benefits of fasting. The strategy has quickly become popular with Silicon Valley executives, who recognize it as biohacking, opposed to mere dieting.3,4 The Guardian writes:5
"Over the last eight months [Phil Libin] the former CEO of Evernote and current CEO of AI studio All Turtles has shunned food for stretches of between two and eight days, interspersed with similar periods of eating. He's lost almost 90 lbs and describes getting into fasting as 'transformative.'
'There's a mild euphoria. I'm in a much better mood, my focus is better, and there's a constant supply of energy. I just feel a lot healthier. It's helping me be a better CEO,' he said ... 'Getting into fasting is definitely one of the top two or three most important things I've done in my life.' Libin is one of a growing number of Silicon Valley types experimenting with extended periods of fasting, claiming benefits including weight loss, fewer mood swings and improved productivity."
Another staunch advocate of multiday water fasts is Geoffrey Woo, CEO of the biohacking company HVMN (pronounced "human"). He told The Guardian: "Ketones are a super-fuel for the brain. So a lot of the subjective benefits to fasting, including mental clarity, are down to the rise in ketones in the system."
Why Fasting Bolsters Brain Power: Mark Mattson
Contrary to popular belief, going without food for several days does not progressively deteriorate mental and physical functioning. As noted by Woo, whose experience I too can vouch for, right around the three-day mark your hunger significantly decreases and mental clarity increases, thanks to rising ketone levels. In the video above, Mark Mattson, chief of the laboratory of neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging and a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, explains this process.
Breaking Down Myths About Fasting
Last fall I interviewed Dr. Jason Fung, a Canadian nephrologist (kidney specialist) and author of "The Complete Guide to Fasting." Fung is a proponent of extended water fasts, especially for patients who are obese and/or Type 2 diabetic. Fung's book provides easy-to-follow basic guidelines for fasting, and reviews some of the most common myths and fears that keep many from implementing a fasting regimen.
One common myth is that multiday fasting will lead to muscle loss. The book clearly describes the process of protein catabolism, explaining how your body actually downregulates protein catabolism and upregulates growth hormones in response to fasting. As noted by Fung:
"If you follow the biochemistry, your body stores energy as glycogen in the liver, which is links or chains of sugar, and then it stores [it as] body fat. During fasting, you start by burning off all the glycogen in the liver, which is all the sugar. There's a point there where some of the excess amino acids in your body need to get burnt as well.
That's where people say, 'That's where you're burning muscle.' That's not actually what happens. The body never upregulates its protein catabolism. Never is it burning muscle; there's a normal turnover that goes on. There is a certain amount of protein that you need for a regular turnover. When you start fasting, that starts to go down and then fat oxidation goes way up. In essence, what you've done is you switched over from burning sugar to burning fat.
Once you start burning fat, there's almost an unlimited amount of calories there. You could go for days and days. What's interesting is that if you take a pound of fat, that's roughly 3,500 calories. If you eat somewhere around 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day, it takes two full days of fasting to burn a single pound of fat, which is very surprising to people.
If you're trying to lose 100 pounds, you could theoretically go 200 days of fasting just to burn all that fat ... People worry about fasting for 24 hours. I'm like, 'You could go 200 days.' Then it's like, 'OK. Maybe it's OK to go 24 hours without eating.'"
The Man Who Fasted for 382 Days
It has been my observation that most people fear fasting, thinking they will be unable to tolerate the suffering, but as Fung says, an obese individual could theoretically go without food for months without starving to death. The 1965 medical case of a 27-year-old man who fasted for 382 days is a powerful case in point.6,7 When he started, he weighed 456 pounds. At the end, he'd lost just over 275 pounds, and five years after breaking his fast, he'd gained back a mere 11 pounds.
Please understand, I am not recommending months- or yearlong fasts. This man was under strict medical surveillance, and you should be too if you're planning on fasting for an extended period of time. He took multivitamins and potassium daily, and I recommend taking a high-quality multimineral supplement any time you do a water-only fast. What's so interesting about this case is that it clearly demonstrates that extreme fasting can be safely done.
Provided you're not anorexic, old and frail, pregnant or have some other serious health issue, fasting for three to seven days is not going to kill you. This case also demonstrates that loss of muscle mass is an overrated concern. ABC Science, which reported the case, notes:8
"After two or three days of fasting, you get your energy from two different sources simultaneously. A very small part of your energy comes from breaking down your muscles -- but you can avoid this by doing some resistance training ... The majority of your energy comes from breaking down fat.
But very soon, you move into getting all your energy from the breakdown of fat. The fat molecules break down into two separate chemicals -- glycerol (which can be converted into glucose) and free fatty acids (which can be converted into other chemicals called ketones). Your body, including your brain, can run on this glucose and ketones until you finally run out of fat."
Why Fasting Improves Rather Than Depletes Energy
Another major concern is that fasting will leave you physically drained and lethargic. While you may certainly feel less than optimal during the first few days the first time you do it, fasting actually tends to have the complete converse effect on energy levels. As explained by Fung:
"[A]fter four days of fasting, the basal metabolic rate is actually 10 percent higher than when you started. The body has not shut down at all. In fact, what it's done is it switched fuel sources. It switched from burning food to burning [body] fat. Once it's burning [body] fat, it's like, 'Hey, there's plenty of this stuff.'"
In other words, if you're overweight and lethargic, fasting helps unlock energy already lodged in your body that you previously had no access to. Fasting forces your body to start accessing those stores of energy, and once that happens, your body suddenly has a near unlimited supply of energy! Insulin plays a role here as well. Insulin is the primary hormone that tells your body whether to store energy or burn it.
When you eat, you're taking calories in and insulin goes up. Higher levels of insulin signal your body to store energy. When insulin falls, it tells your body to release energy, i.e., the energy stored in your fat cells. This is why it's so difficult to lose weight when you're insulin resistant.
Fasting also helps improve other biochemical systems in your body. There's interplay of hormonal systems like the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), AMPK, leptin and IGF-1 -- all of which are optimized in the right direction when fasting. It also improves your mitochondrial function, allowing your mitochondria to regenerate.
How to Ease Into Multiday Fasting
While the idea of fasting for several days may seem daunting, there are ways to ease into it that will minimize any discomfort. The way I graduated into four-day fasting was by increasing my intermittent daily fasting from 16 hours (which I did for 18 months) to 21 hours, leaving only a three-hour window in which I ate all my food for the day. After two months of that, I did a four-day fast where my only sustenance was water and a multimineral supplement.
I don't think you need to do intermittent fasting for 18 months before trying water-only fasts, but doing it for a few months would radically decrease any negative side effects. I experienced no hunger pains whatsoever, which I find fascinating as most people who fast are really hungry by the second day. I believe getting used to 21-hour daily fasting had a lot to do with that.
So, if you want to try a multiday fast, consider extending your intermittent fasting first, then work your way into 24-, 48-, 72-hour and even longer fasts. And remember, you are in complete control and can break your fast any time you want.
In fact, one of the major benefits of extended fasting is an increased sense of self control and freedom. Once you finally understand that you can easily go for days without food, you're no longer a victim of your surroundings. If you're traveling and cannot find healthy food, you don't have to resort to junk food. You can simply go without. If you're in a disaster situation, you can rest easier knowing you can handle a temporary food shortage without losing your mind.
After four days of water fasting, I'd lost 10 pounds, primarily from cleaning out my colon and expelling water attached to glycogen, i.e., "water weight." At the end, my ketones were 5.1 and my blood sugar 45, which is double the ketone/glucose index threshold Dr. Thomas Seyfried says is necessary to treat cancer. After the fast came the feast. Upon breaking my fast, I had 130 grams of net carbs with sweet potatoes and fruits and extra protein.
Variations of Fasting
You also have a number of other options that can help ease you into an extended water-only fast. The following are some of the most common variations:
o Water plus noncaloric beverages. A slight variation on the water fast is to include other noncaloric beverages, such as herbal tea and coffee (without milk, sugar or other sweetener, including artificial non-caloric sweeteners).
o Bone broth variation. Another variation Fung often recommends for longer fasts is to allow the use of bone broth. In addition to healthy fats, bone broth also contains lots of protein, so it's not really a true fast. Still, in his clinical experience, many who take bone broth in addition to water, tea and coffee experience good results.
o Fat fasting. Here, you allow healthy fats during the fast in addition to water and/or noncaloric beverages. While you probably would not eat a stick of butter, you could have bulletproof coffee (black coffee with butter, coconut oil or MCT oil), for example. Alternatively, you could add the fat to your tea.
Dietary fat produces a very minor insulin response, and since you're keeping your insulin levels low, you're still getting most of the benefits of fasting even though you're consuming plenty of calories. Adding healthy fats such as butter, coconut oil, MCT oil and avocado can make the fasting experience a lot easier.
My personal assistant, who tried a water-only fast, complained of severe fatigue three days in. While this is a normal response in the initial stages, I made her a "fat-bomb drink" with some coconut oil, MCT C8 oil, butter and a little stevia, which perked her right back up.
The key is to avoid protein as it activates mTOR, and may actually be more metabolically damaging than excess carbs. While the level of protein at which you'll counteract the benefits of fasting varies from person to person, you'll likely see results as long as you stay below 10 or 20 grams of protein per day.
Important Contraindications and Cautionary Advice
While most people would likely benefit from water fasting, there are several absolute contraindications. If any of the following apply to you, you should NOT do extended types of fasting:
Underweight, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or less.
Malnourished (in which case you need to eat healthier, more nutritious food).
Children should not fast for longer than 24 hours, as they need nutrients for continued growth. If your child needs to lose weight, a far safer and more appropriate approach is to cut out refined sugars and grains. Fasting is risky for children as it cuts out ALL nutrients, including those they need a steady supply of.
Pregnant and/or breast-feeding women. The mother needs a steady supply of nutrients in order to assure the baby's healthy growth and development, so fasting during pregnancy or while breast-feeding is simply too risky for the child.
I would also caution you to avoid fasting if you struggle with an eating disorder such as anorexia, even if you are not clinically underweight. In addition to that, use caution if you're on medication, as some may need to be taken with food. This includes metformin, aspirin and any other drugs that might cause stomach upset or stomach ulcers. Risks are especially high if you're on diabetic medication.
If you take the same dose of medication but don't eat, you run the risk of having very low blood sugars (hypoglycemia), which can be very dangerous. So, if you're on diabetic drugs, you must adjust your medication before you fast. If your doctor is adverse toward or unfamiliar with fasting, you'd be wise to find one that has some experience in this area so that they can guide you on how to do this safely.
Multiday Fasting Is a Powerful Biohack for Health and Longevity
I will be interviewing experts on fasting in the future to go into more detail of all the benefits provided by extended water fasts, but until then, I would encourage you to increase your daily intermittent fasting toward the 18- to 21-hour range, which will enable you to transition into more extended fasts without significant struggle. If you are on medication or have a chronic health condition, work with your doctor to make sure you don't complicate your situation.
For example, you need to make sure you're taking a high-quality multimineral supplement daily. Ideally, educate yourself about the process before you get started. Fung's book, "The Complete Guide to Fasting,"9 is an excellent resource. Also, before you jump into dayslong water-only fasting, start with intermittent fasting. I believe it will significantly ease the process and raise your chances of success.
Sirloin is one of the most popular and versatile cuts of beef, although
it does come behind options such as rib eye, New York strip, beef tenderloin
and T-bone steak.
It's a relatively lean cut, without a lot of marbling, and according to The
Spruce, should be marinated or pounded to better tenderize the meat.
If you have a nice piece of sirloin at home but don't know how to
prepare it, check out this Mouthwatering Barbecued Sirloin With Mushrooms,
Horseradish and Rocket Recipe from internationally renowned chef Pete Evans. Evans
and I have recently collaborated to create a Keto cookbook, which will feature various
ketogenic recipes that can be prepared for everyday meals and special
occasions. The cookbook will be out on November 14th, so keep your
1.Preheat barbecue until it's hot. Coat the steaks
with a little of the coconut oil and season with salt and pepper.
2.Cook the steaks on one side for two to three
minutes, then flip over and cook for another two to three minutes, or until
cooked to your liking (avoid charring the meat).
3.Remove the steaks from the heat, place on a
plate and cover. Allow the steaks to rest for four to six minutes in a warm
4.Heat the remaining coconut oil, add the
mushrooms, garlic and thyme and sauté until the mushrooms are cooked through
for two to four minutes. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the parsley, then
remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
5.Toss the rocket or arugula with the olive oil, a
squeeze of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
6.Once the steaks have rested, return them to a
very hot barbecue and cook for 30 seconds on each side to make sure they are
7.Place each steak on a serving plate, and then
sprinkle with the horseradish. Serve the steaks with the salad, sautéed
mushrooms and lemon wedges.
Savor This Mouthwatering
Barbecued Sirloin With Mushrooms, Horseradish and Rocket Recipe Today
While this recipe might look like an average steak and salad
combination, there is more than meets the eye. This delicious recipe can be
served for simple gatherings or special occasions, and is sure to please even
the pickiest of eaters. Its versatility is also a plus: You can use other leafy greens or vegetables as a side
dish or add other spices
to the marinade for an extra kick.
Why I Place Grass Fed Beef in
When choosing sirloin (or any other beef for that matter), I highly
recommend only purchasing grass fed beef. Most beef sold in supermarkets or
groceries comes from concentrated
animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are health catastrophes waiting to
CAFO cows are cramped in small spaces, where they're fed a diet of artificial
feed and grains and given antibiotics and growth hormones, eventually producing
meat with little to no nutritional value. But that's not even the worst part: CAFO
cows often have a high risk for being contaminated with harmful bacteria strains,
which can eventually be passed on to people who eat the meat.
The increasing evidence on the effects of regenerative grazing methods
promoted by grass fed beef production is another reason why you should consider
this type of beef:
of healthier meats can improve human health: Because grass fed cows have
access to grassland or pasture, which provides the bulk of their diet, they
produce better-tasting and healthier meat. Unlike CAFO beef, grass fed beef
tends to have:
oHigher amounts of conjugated linoleic acids
(CLAs) and antioxidants
oLower risk of E.coli infections
oLower risk of being contaminated with
animal welfare: Grass fed cows tend to be healthier and require few, if
any, drug treatments.
protection: Regenerative grazing systems promoted by grass fed farms and
farmers may help restore grasslands, build soil and protect water supplies.
sequestering in the soil: This helps improve soil quality, offset cattle
methane emissions and aid in mitigating rising carbon dioxide levels in the
A trusted rancher is the best source for grass fed beef. Try
contacting a rancher in or near your area. Some farmers are even willing to
give you a tour of the farm and explain details regarding their operation.
If you don't have access to a grass fed beef rancher and have to buy
your meats at a supermarket or grocery, look for the American Grassfed
Association (AGA) label. What's great about the AGA is that they introduced
grass fed standards and certification for American-grown grass fed beef and dairy.
The AGA is so far the only organization that's been able to guarantee that the
meat comes from animals who were:
·Fed a 100 percent forage diet
·Never been confined in a feedlot
·Never fed antibiotics or hormones
·Born and raised on American family farms (This
is because majority of grass fed meat sold in grocery stores is imported and
lacks Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) labeling, meaning there's no way to
tell where the meat came from or what standards were followed)
Majestic Mushroom's Health Benefits
This recipe calls for two types of mushrooms: Swiss
brown mushrooms and oyster mushrooms. However, did you know that nearly 100
mushroom species are currently being studied for their possible
health-promoting benefits? Generally, while mushrooms are around 90 percent
water by weight, the remaining 10 percent is made up of various minerals,
vitamins and nutrients:
Small amounts of fat
All of the essential amino acids (good sources of lysine and leucine)
Bioactive molecules like terpenoids, steroids and phenols
B vitamins (vitamins B2, B3 and B5)
Some antioxidants are also unique to mushrooms. One example is
ergothioneine that's being recognized as a "master antioxidant" by some
scientists. Meanwhile, long-chain polysaccharides in mushrooms, particularly
alpha and beta glucan molecules, have been linked to mushrooms' beneficial
effect on the immune system. These polysaccharides in mushrooms are also known
to deliver anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, anti-tumorigenic and hypoglycemic capabilities.
When buying mushrooms, only select organically grown produce, since
their flesh tends to easily absorb air and soil contaminants. Avoid picking
mushrooms in the wild unless you are absolutely sure that you are familiar with
the different varieties and have had experience picking mushrooms before. You
can also try growing mushrooms at home. Not only is this an excellent option,
but it's a far safer alternative to picking wild mushrooms.
A Final Word on Grilling Foods
There's no denying that barbecuing or grilling delivers delectable
flavor to meats. However, you should know about health hazards that can occur
when you grill food, mainly because of the production of the following
amines (HCAs): These chemicals are said to contain mutagenic properties, or
possess the ability to cause DNA changes in lab animals, potentially increasing
their cancer risk. More than 10 different HCAs have been identified after
cooking meat and fish.
glycation end products (AGEs): These highly oxidant compounds have been
linked to increased inflammation and oxidative stress in the body,
and damage caused by AGEs was said to be associated with cases of diabetes and
cardiovascular diseases. In fact, studies showed that mice who ate AGE-rich
diets suffered from kidney disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis and
slow wound healing.,,,
aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): Lab animals exposed to PAHs in their diets developed
cancers of the skin, liver, stomach, digestive tract, lungs and blood
(leukemia).,The horrors of PAHs don't end here, since PAHs from the fire or heat
source can mingle with nitrogen from the meat being cooked and lead to
production of nitrated PAHs (NPAHs), which are more carcinogenic.
The good news is, there are techniques that can help mitigate risks
caused by grilling foods and assist with lowering production of HCAs and AGEs.
The next time you're grilling foods, try adding these ingredients to the rub:
Virgin olive oil
Organically grown apples
You can also try these strategies to help with lowering health risks
associated with grilling foods:[MJU1]
Trim the fat: Remove skin
from the chicken, trim fat from steaks and avoid grilling fatty sausages and
Fat that drips to the open flame or the grates can lead to flare-ups and
spread PAHs onto clothing and food.
Skip the charring: Char or
grill marks are an indicator of a build-up of AGEs and HCAs.
Instead, flip the meat frequently at a lower temperature, cook meat
using indirect heat and remove burned or charred meat before eating.
Choose the color of the meats
carefully: Opt for meat that's medium-cooked instead of well-done to help
reduce the amount of AGEs and HCAs in the food.
Use a meat thermometer to check the meat's temperature. Place it in
the center of the meat, away from bone fat or gristle.
Add fresh vegetables: Vegetables,
which are loaded with antioxidants and phytochemicals, can help combat the
harmful effects of grilling and assist with reducing the portion of meat that
you can eat.
Avoid using barbecue sauces:
Sauces made with tomato and/or sugars can double or triple your ingestion of
toxic chemicals after 15 minutes of cooking.
Soak the meat in beer before
cooking: Marinating meats in beer may aid in reducing PAHs in the food.
Try precooking the meat: This
can help remove some of the fat that may drip into the flame, and reduce your
cooking time on the grill.
If foods are cooked for a shorter period of time in high heat, the
number of AGEs that develop in the meat can be reduced.
Exercise caution when cleaning
grates: Instead of a cleaning grates with a wire brush, use safer options
like nylon-bristle brushes or balls of tin foil. 
Inspect both the grates before using and your food before eating to
ensure bristles aren't stuck to the food.
About the Author
Pete Evans is an internationally
renowned chef who has joined forces with Dr. Mercola to create a healthy
cookbook that's loaded with delicious, unique Keto recipes, ideal for people
who want to switch to a ketogenic diet. The "Fat for Fuel Ketogenic Cookbook"
will be released on November 14th.
Pete has had numerous noteworthy contributions to the culinary world.
He has not only cooked for the general public, but he's also cooked a royal
banquet for the Prince and Princess of Denmark, a private dinner for Martha Stewart,
and even represented his hometown at the gala G'Day USA dinner for 600 in NYC.
Pete's career has moved from the kitchen into the lounge room with many TV
appearances including Lifestyle Channel's Home show, Postcards from Home, FISH,
My Kitchen Rules and Moveable Feast.[MJU2][ECF3]
Your body runs on bioelectricity, and having a deeper understanding of how it works can be quite helpful when it comes to optimizing your health. Natural health pioneer Dr. Jerry Tennant has written an excellent book on this topic called "Healing Is Voltage: The Handbook."
The Electric Brain
Trained as an ophthalmologist, Tennant transitioned into natural health as a result of being forced to solve his own health challenges. After doing laser eye surgery on a patient with leukemia, Tennant ended up developing encephalitis. He believes the virus, which is not killed by laser, traveled from the patient's cornea, through the mask, up through his nose into his brain. He was forced to quit work in November 1995, and spent the next seven years bedridden, without hope for recovery.
"I went to the best doctors I could find in New York, Boston and so forth. They all said, 'Well, sorry. You have three viruses in your brain. We don't know what to do about it. Don't call us. We'll call you.' I had two or three hours a day in which I could understand the newspaper. Then like a light switch, it would go off and I couldn't understand it anymore. During those two or three hours that I could think, I realized I had to figure out how to get myself well, because no one else was going to do it.
I had the idea that if I could figure out how to make one cell work, I could make them all work, because although they look different, they really all have the same component parts. They just have different software. I began to read cellular biology books ... One of the things that resonated with me was that ... cells must run at a pH between 7.35 and 7.45. I didn't really know what that meant, except it was something about acid-base balance.
I began to try to understand pH. I began to realize that pH is the name given to voltage in a liquid. If you think about the voltage that runs electric lights or a computer, that's called conductive electricity. That means electrons are moving along copper wires. But in a liquid, you have a different situation. A liquid can either be an electron donor or an electron stealer.
By convention, if the liquid ... is an electron stealer, you put a plus sign in front of the voltage. If it's an electron donor, you put a minus sign in front of it. You take a sophisticated volt meter called a pH meter and put it in the liquid. It will actually read out in voltage; minus 400 millivolts of electron donor is the same thing as pH of 14. Plus 400 millivolts of electron stealer is the same as a pH of zero. Of course, if it's neutral, it's a pH of 7."
Healing Requires Double the Voltage
A pH meter can give you a reading of either pH or millivolts. It's actually easier to understand what's going on if you use millivolts. A pH of 7.35 equates to -20 millivolts of electron donor. A pH of 7.45 is -25 millivolts of electron donor. Cells are designed to run in an environment of -20 to -25 millivolts.
People get confused because if you measure across a cell membrane you get about minus 90 millivolts. But the environment is designed to be -20 to -25 millivolts.
"That was a critical piece of my understanding to begin to understand how to get myself well," Tennant says (who, by the way, turned 77 this past June and still enjoys healthy mental faculties and goes to work every day). To repair and heal, on the other hand, cells need an environment of -50 millivolts. In other words, you need double the normal voltage to repair or replace damaged cells.
"Dr. Hiroki Nakatani in Japan was the first person to use modern electronics to measure acupuncture meridians. He published his work in 1951. Dr. Reinhard Voll in Germany did similar work and published it in 1952. I was able to get Nakatani's rather rudimentary device (an ohmmeter) and found that my brain was running somewhere between 2 and 4 millivolts, instead of the 25 that it needed to run and the 50 it needed to repair.
Now, it was obvious why it didn't work," he says. "Understanding that my brain didn't have enough voltage to work correctly, that was really what started me on the journey of trying to figure out how to get things to work again."
Chronic Disease Is the Result of Failure to Make Functional Cells
First, he came across work by a Russian doctor named Alexander Karasev, who had identified a waveform that can transfer electrons to cell membranes. He was able to acquire a SCENAR device developed by Karasev and began to treat himself with it. Years later, he developed his own Biomodulator device.1
"As I began to recognize that the body had to have energy, the other big change in my paradigm was when I finally understood that the body is constantly wearing itself out and having to make new cells. You get new cones in the macula of your eye every 48 hours. The lining of the gut is replaced every three days. The skin that you and I are sitting in today is only 6 weeks old. Your liver's 8 weeks old. Your nervous system's 8 months old.
One of the things I began to realize then is that chronic disease only occurs when you lose the ability to make new cells that work. [By extension], if you say that you must have a cell that works, that cell must contain functional mitochondria. But the mitochondria are not going to work if the cell membranes don't work.
It's the total unit that you have to have working. It's sort of like having a brand-new car. If it doesn't have a transmission, even though you've got the rest of it there, it's not going to work. You have to have the whole thing ... Cells actually have four battery packs. The mitochondria are only one of those battery packs. You want them all to be functional."
In a nutshell, inadequate voltage is a characteristic of all chronic disease. Either you do not have the necessary voltage to run the cells, or the higher voltage needed to make new cells. So, to heal, you need the proper voltage. You also need all of the necessary raw materials (nutrients) required to make new cells and address any toxins that might damage cells as fast as you make them.
Body Electric -- The Human Battery System
According to Tennant, there are four major battery systems in the human body that make cells work. The largest is your muscle battery. Your muscles are piezoelectric, which means that when you engage your muscles, electrons are emitted. In a way, your muscles act like rechargeable batteries, so while they emit electrons, they also store them.
To recharge the "battery pack" in your muscles, all you need to do is move and exercise. In summary, the four battery systems found in the human body are as follows. All of these battery systems must be functional for cells to work correctly:
1. Muscle battery pack -- Your muscles are stacked one on top of the other in a specific order (much like batteries in a flashlight) to form a power pack. Each organ has its own battery pack, which is a stack of muscle batteries. According to Tennant, each stack of muscle batteries corresponds to an acupuncture meridian.
The muscle batteries are surrounded by fascia, which acts as a semiconductor -- an arranged metabolic molecule designed to move electrons at the speed of light, but only in one direction. Together, the muscle stack and the surrounding fascia serve as the wiring system for your body, carrying the voltage from the muscle battery inside, out through the fascia and to the appropriate organ.
2. Cell membrane capacitor -- Cell membranes are composed of fats called phospholipids, shaped like a circle with two "legs." The circle is an electron conductor and the legs are insulators. They're stacked together so that you have two conductors separated by an insulator, which is the definition of a capacitor.
The difference between a capacitor and a regular battery is when a capacitor discharges, it discharges all of its charge whereas a battery discharges slowly. So, each cell membrane acts like a small battery (capacitor), which is continuously fed electrons from the muscle battery packs.
3. ADP/ATP battery -- Inside each cell is yet another rechargeable battery system called adenosine diphosphate/adenosine triphosphate (ADP/ATP). When this battery is charged up, it's called ATP. When the battery's discharged, it's called ADP. Because it's a rechargeable battery system, there's a type of battery charger inside of the cell as well. We call that Krebs cycle, or the citric acid cycle.
The citric acid cycle prefers fatty acids. When sufficient oxygen is available, for every unit of fatty acid you put into the citric acid cycle, you get enough electrons to charge up 38 ATP batteries. If oxygen is unavailable, for every unit of fatty acids you put into the citric acid cycle you only get enough electrons to charge up two of those batteries.
Hence, when oxygen drops, this ADP/ATP battery system becomes very inefficient. "It's like a car that goes from 38 miles a gallon to 2 miles a gallon," Tennant says.
4. The DNA battery -- Lastly, there's DNA. The DNA molecule measures 34 by 21 angstroms per double helix cycle.2 The ratio of these numbers is very close to phi and is known as the golden section or golden mean. "Anytime you have something that's a golden mean and expose it to scalar energy ... scalar energy implodes into the center and becomes the power supply for DNA," Tennant says.
Fifth Energy System -- Structured Water
A fifth system that holds and delivers energy is structured water -- negatively charged water found in your cells and extracellular tissues. Typical tap water is H2O, but this fourth phase is actually H3O2. It's more viscous, more ordered and more alkaline than regular water, and the refractive index (optical property) of this water is about 10 percent higher than ordinary water. Its density is also about 10 percent higher and, as mentioned, it has a negative charge (negative electrical potential).
This may provide the answer as to why human cells are negatively charged. Tennant does not go into structured water here, but it's a whole additional component that also plays an important role in health and disease. In summary, the way you recharge this structured water is through sunlight. Sun exposure structures the water in your body, which provides greater energy. To learn more about this, please review "Water Supports Health in Ways You May Never Have Suspected."
What Cells Require for Proper Function
As mentioned, chronic disease is characterized by low voltage. The obvious question then becomes, why won't the battery packs hold a charge? Here, a number of factors can come into play. Among the most important are:
o Thyroid hormones -- The thyroid hormone T3 controls the voltage of cell membranes while T2 controls the voltage of the mitochondria. Hence, you need adequate T3 and T2 for things to work. "What I find is that basic to all chronic diseases is that you have to make sure you get the thyroid piece right, because if you don't, then nothing else tends to work correctly," Tennant says.
"One of the problems is doctors are trained to look at thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and sometimes T4. But TSH and T4 could be normal, but if you don't have the cofactors that it takes to convert T4 to T3, you're still hypothyroid at the cell level."
o Dental infections -- As mentioned, voltage runs from the muscle battery out through the fascia to the organs. On the way, each muscle battery pack or meridian runs through a specific tooth. There are acupuncture meridian charts showing which meridian corresponds to which tooth.
According to Tennant, teeth act like circuit breakers, so if you have an infection in a tooth, it will lower the voltage, eventually turning the voltage off in that circuit. When that happens, the organs powered by that particular circuit will begin to malfunction.
o Scars -- According to Tennant, scars can significantly inhibit or drain voltage. To treat scars, Tennant uses essential oils in combination with his proprietary device called the Biomodulator/Biotransducer. "Just put the Biotransducer over [the scar] until you feel the magnetic fields go away. That opens up the scar and now the voltage goes through it," he says. "It takes about three minutes and works great."
Emotions Create Distorted Magnetic Fields That Lower Voltage
Another really important factor that lowers your body voltage are stuck, negative emotions. Your body actually stores emotions as magnetic fields. Tennant explains:
"If you put a magnetic field in one of the body's circuits, it simply blocks the flow of electrons. So, what we found is that one of the most important things that start chronic disease is actually emotions. You can identify these emotional magnetic fields in a variety of different ways.
Work by Eileen McKusick and others have shown we're all surrounded by this magnetic field. It goes out about 5 feet ... [One of the things McKusick taught is you can take a tuning fork, strike it and you'll hear it hum.
As you move it through the field, when it hits one of these areas of emotional distortion, its pitch goes deeper. You can actually hear it. If you can put a pendulum right where you find it, you'll see the pendulum spins counter-clockwise if there's an emotional distortion there. It spins clockwise if there isn't."
To erase the aberrant magnetic fields caused by negative emotions, Tennant applies a stronger magnetic field using his Biomodulator, which not only can transfer electrons but also put out a variety of waveforms, including scalar energy.
Treating Macular Degeneration
Today, Tennant no longer practices general ophthalmology. The only eye problems he treats are macular degeneration and glaucoma, using voltage-based techniques. The macula is on the stomach meridian. "The reason people get macular degeneration is that they lose the minus 50 millivolts they need to make new cells every 48 hours," he says. "As those cells wear out, they can't get replacements."
To address it, you need to determine why there's deficient voltage in the stomach meridian. You also need to make sure you're giving your body all the materials needed to replace those macular cells. Nerve cells are 50 percent cholesterol by weight, so it's nearly impossible to reverse macular degeneration if you're on a statin drug, as you will not have enough cholesterol in your system.
Other important nutrients are animal-based omega-3 fats and fulvic acid, typically sold as "fulvic trace minerals," which provides vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
"Fulvic acid is a primary control of cell membranes because it's one of the few substances that can be either plus or minus, as it needs to be," Tennant explains. "When we take that, it provides the things we need. Of course, there's research coming out now that shows not only does it correct mineral deficiencies, but it begins to help with the way our intestinal cells interlock, and so on.
Also, fulvic acid is a great way to get rid of heavy metals because [it goes] inside the cell, grabs the metal, pulls it out, hands it off to the humic, which then takes it out of your body. In intravenous chelation, the chelating materials can only get to extracellular things, because they won't go inside the cells where almost all the metals reside."
Astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant, can also be quite beneficial. Since the macula replaces itself every 48 hours, people with dry macular degeneration may start noticing results in as little as three or four days, provided you've addressed the nutritional component as well. In many cases, Tennant has been able to restore vision to within the normal reading range.
Wet macular degeneration is more difficult, as the bleeding causes scarring and new cells cannot eliminate the scar. In these cases, the goal is to stabilize the disease and prevent further deterioration.
To treat glaucoma, you have to treat the liver/gallbladder circuit, as the optic nerve is on the liver/gallbladder meridian. "The optic nerve replaces itself every eight months if it has the 50 millivolts to do it," he says. "What you'll find in every glaucoma patient is that the polarity in the liver meridian has dropped down past zero, so it's an electron stealer instead of an electron donor."
You also need to treat the sympathetic system, which controls lymphatics, because the outflow channel of your eye is part of the lymphatic system. So, "to fix glaucoma, you look at both the sympathetic and parasympathetic and figure out why that's not balanced, and then you fix the liver/gallbladder circuit," Tennant says. Since it takes eight months to replace the optic nerve, it takes longer to notice results when treating glaucoma. Also, you're also more likely to merely stabilize the disease than reverse it.
If you've enjoyed this conversation, I would strongly encourage you to join us at the ACIM conference in Orlando, Florida, November 2 through 4. The event is being held at the Florida Conference and Hotel Center. Both Tennant and I, along with many other outstanding speakers, like Steven Sinatra, Jonathon Wright and Lee Cowden, all of whom I have previously interviewed, will be there. You can see the rest of the amazing speakers on the ACIM event page.
If you are a physician and are interested in learning about how you can use the ketogenic diet and other therapies for cancer, heart disease, Lyme and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, please be sure and come. If you are a patient, there will be a separate and less expensive track on the same date and location. However, you will need to come back to this page at a later date, as the registration page for the event is still unavailable.
To learn more about how body voltage dictates health and disease, be sure to pick up a copy of Tennant's book, "Healing Is Voltage: The Handbook." You can also learn more on his website, TennantInstitute.com. There you'll also find contact information for his Dallas-based clinic.
"Again, you have to do everything it takes to make new cells work. The voltage piece is basic. If you don't do that, then nothing works. Even if you eat a perfect diet but don't have voltage in the digestive system, you're still starving to death. You have to have the voltage. You have to have the nutrition. You have to deal with the toxins. You have to do all of those," Tennant says.
Your body lets you know every day, in a variety of ways, that it is alive and well. One such way is the familiar growl of your stomach, which, to most of us, signals hunger.
But, are all those rumbles and noises actually coming from your stomach? Are they really a sign you need to eat? The answer to both questions is a resounding "No." I'll take this opportunity to remind you about what's really going on when you feel and hear a rumble in your belly.
Is All That Noise Coming From Your Stomach?
You may not realize stomach growling actually originates as muscular activity in both your stomach and your small intestine. To better understand what causes it, let's take a closer look at how your body digests the foods and beverages you consume. As you probably know, one of the primary components of your digestive system is a long hollow tube called the esophagus, which runs from the back of your mouth all the way to your anus.
Your esophagus connects with all of your various organs along your gastrointestinal tract, such as your gallbladder, liver, pancreas and stomach, as well as your small and large intestines (also referred to as your bowels).
The walls of your esophagus are primarily composed of layers of smooth muscle, which are squeezed and contracted as a means of digesting and propelling food through your body. This process is called peristalsis. As peristalsis does its work, the food and beverages you consume are steadily being moved along from your stomach to your anus.
Along the way, they are being mixed with a variety of digestive juices. These juices help your body transform liquids and solids into a gooey mixture known as chyme. Now, this is where the growling noises factor into the process.
The funny noises and rumbling sounds you experience are not hunger pangs; they are caused by pockets of trapped air and gasses that are compressed as your body churns food particles and chyme through your digestive system. Typically, stomach growling is no cause for concern. About stomach growling, the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders says:1
"Whether audible or not, bowel sounds in the absence of other significant symptoms are normal phenomena of no medical significance. Their harm is embarrassment, a social, rather than a medical affliction."
Why Does My Body Growl Within Hours of Eating?
You may be surprised to know that growling sounds can happen at any time -- not just when you're hungry or when your digestive system is relatively empty. Sometimes the noises are less noticeable because the presence of food in your body can help somewhat to muffle their sound, as well as lessen their intensity.
Because digestion is an ongoing process, your stomach sends signals to your brain approximately two hours after you eat to start up the peristalsis contractions again. As reported by Scientific American, professor Mark Andrews, a specialist in physiology and biophysics at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, explains what happens next, noting that these contractions generally subside after you eat: 2
Receptors in the walls of your stomach sense the absence of food, triggering electrical activity in the form of a reflex generation of waves known as migrating myoelectric complexes (MMCs)
Hunger contractions result as MMCs travel from the lower region of your stomach, through your small intestine and into your colon
This process not only cleans up any bacteria, food or mucus that may have been missed earlier, but also initiates the process to make you hungry for your next meal
Those contractions, which may continue for 10 to 20 minutes and repeat every one to two hours until your next meal, produce vibrations and the rumbling noise commonly associated with stomach growling
Hyperactive Bowel Sounds Could Signal a Need for Medical Attention
If you have ever experienced diarrhea, you are already familiar with what is meant by hyperactive bowel sounds. As a refresher, hyperactive bowel sounds are characterized by the combination of:
Peristalsis of your intestines
Higher levels of fluid and gas
Amplified sounds of watery stools
Various malabsorption states can also result in exaggerated bowel sounds. Two of the main ones that receive considerable attention are:3
o Lactose intolerance: This condition is characterized by your body's lack of a sufficient level of the enzyme needed to digest lactose in your small intestine. As such, milk sugar will reach your colon intact where it will be fermented by colon bacteria. Those microbes release hydrogen and other products that attract fluids and stimulate gut contractions, which will intensify any abdominal sounds.
o Celiac disease: This illness results from your body's inability to process gluten, which is a major protein found in barley, rye and wheat. Primarily characterized by inflammation of the mucosa in your small intestines, celiac disease also causes your intestinal villi to atrophy.
Villi are the finger-like projections lining the walls of your small intestine that help your body absorb nutrients. When your villi flatten, you may suffer from serious nutritional deficiencies due to malabsorption. Diarrhea and muscle wasting are other possible side effects of celiac disease.
A Bowel Obstruction Is Not Only Noisy but Can Also Be Life-Threatening
According to Healthline,4 a very serious instance involving hyperactive bowel sounds takes place when you have an intestinal obstruction. Obstructions can be partial or total, preventing the passage of food and liquids.
They are characterized by increased contractions that attempt to force air, liquids and solids through a narrowing of your intestine. As such, obstructions produce unusually loud, often high-pitched, sounds. Those sounds are caused by the buildup of food, fluids, gas and gastric acids behind the site of the blockage.
Most obstructions are characterized by symptoms such as abdominal swelling, constipation, nausea and vomiting. Intestinal blockages are considered to be an emergency situation because your intestine could rupture under such intense pressure, causing harmful bacteria and waste products to leak into your abdominal cavity. Given that it is a life-threatening illness that cannot be prevented, immediate diagnosis and treatment of an intestinal blockage is crucial to your survival.
Should You Be Concerned if Your Intestines Are Totally Silent?
There are a few situations in which it is normal for your intestines to be quiet, including:
At certain times of the day
Following abdominal surgery
That said, a complete absence of intestinal sounds that occurs during an attack of severe abdominal pain could be an indication of a serious intra-abdominal event.5 If so, you should treat it as an emergency -- one that may require surgery -- and get to your nearest hospital immediately.
How to Tell if Your Body's Growling Noises Are Normal
Unless the sounds your stomach and small intestine are making are accompanied by diarrhea, abdominal pain or other symptoms, they are probably normal.
That said, it is also important to note stomach rumbling is different from, and unrelated to, other gassy phenomena such as belching, bloating and flatulence. While any, or all, of these may occur in the same person, they are causally unrelated. If you feel your bowel sounds are abnormally loud or if they are causing you anxiety or embarrassment, be sure to discuss your concerns with your doctor.
Optimize Your Gut Microbiome to Prevent Intestinal Problems
While there is nothing you can or need to do to curtail your body's digestive noises, you can take proactive steps to prevent a more serious intestinal issue. By far, your best defense against intestinal problems is to optimize your gut microbiome. One of the best and least expensive ways to do so is to begin by eliminating sugar and processed foods from your diet, while adding a variety of fermented foods.
The beneficial bacteria in fermented foods will aid your digestion and provide detoxification support. Consuming a variety of fermented foods and beverages is important because each food will inoculate your gut with a mix of different microorganisms. As such, your digestive tract will be stronger and more resilient against bacteria and other toxic invaders.
Fortunately, with a little time and effort, you can cultivate fermented foods at home. While there are several options, two of the easiest and most popular types are:
For step-by-step instructions on how to ferment vegetables, check out my video below. While you can purchase these items in a grocery store, you will get a higher-quality product by culturing your own. Making your fermented foods and beverages at home also gives you total control and knowledge of the ingredients contained in each one.
Probiotics Support the Growth of Your Gut's 'Good Bacteria'
If, for whatever reason, fermented foods are not an option for you, consider taking a daily probiotic supplement. Probiotics are supplements designed to increase your beneficial bacteria, the largest concentration of which is found in your gut. By supporting the health-promoting bacteria in your body, probiotics help keep harmful microbes in check.
If you recently have taken or currently are taking an antibiotic, be sure to also take a probiotic to repopulate your gut with healthy bacteria. This is necessary because most antibiotics kill not only the target organism that might be causing your infection (which is a good thing), but also your beneficial bacteria.
Keep in mind that many prescribed antibiotics are unnecessary and may inflict more harm than good. As such, I recommend you carefully weigh your options before taking them.
Given the risks of antibiotic resistance, be selective and, if possible, restrict antibiotic use to only the medical situations that mandate the use of them. Learn more about the value and use of probiotics through my interview with Greg Leyer, chief scientific officer of UAS Laboratories, a probiotic-dedicated manufacturer.
Take One Step Today to Address Your Digestive Health
For sure, your body will continue to make growling noises. Whenever you feel and hear that familiar rumble, let it remind you that you have a human form that is intricately made and wonderfully complex. Unless the growling sounds are bothersome, or accompanied by abdominal pain or other alarming symptoms, there is little cause for concern. As always, your best defense against more serious digestive issues is to act now to proactively maintain your health.