Plastic has become an incredibly harmful convenience, now threatening environmental and human health alike, and in more ways than one. With Earth Day being tomorrow, there is no better time to analyze the impact bottled water has had on our planet. There?s the issue of bulk plastics in our landfills, where it will remain indefinitely since most plastic does not biodegrade,1 and microplastics ? microscopic pieces of degraded plastic ? which now choke waterways across the globe and contaminate drinking water and sea life.
On top of that, there are the chemicals used in the production of plastic, many of which have hormone-mimicking activity, thereby threatening animal and human health, including reproductive health. Disturbingly, recent tests reveal most bottled water contains microplastic pollution2 ? contamination thought to originate from the manufacturing process of the bottles and caps.
The featured CBC marketplace investigation of bottled water found plastic contamination, including rayon and polyethylene, in 30 of 50 water bottles tested. Plastic was even found in bottled water that was sold in a glass container.
Researchers at the State University of New York also tested 259 bottles of 11 popular bottled water brands for the presence of microscopic plastic on behalf of Orb Media, a nonprofit journalism organization. Brands included Aquafina, Nestle Pure Life, Evian, Dasani and San Pelligerino. On average, the bottled water tested contained 325 pieces of microplastic per liter; just over 10 of those pieces were at least 100 microns in size, the rest were smaller.
Most of these bits and pieces are so tiny they?re invisible to the naked eye. To reveal them, the researchers used a special dye that binds to plastic, combined with infrared laser and blue light. Using orange-colored glasses, the particles appear lit up like stars in the night sky when the water sample is viewed under a microscope.
Bottled Water Contaminated With Microscopic Plastic
Overall, only 17 of the 259 bottles were found to be free of microplastic particles, and none of the brands tested consistently free of plastic contaminants. The worst offender was Nestlé Pure Life, the most contaminated sample of which contained 10,390 particles per liter, while the least contaminated brand, San Pellegrino, contained a high-end density of 74 particles per liter. Here?s a summary breakdown of the most and least contaminated brands:3
?Humans need approximately 2 liters of fluids a day to stay hydrated and healthy ? even more in hot and arid regions. Orb?s findings suggest that a person who drinks a liter of bottled water a day might be consuming tens of thousands of microplastic particles each year ?
For microplastic debris around 100 microns in size ? bottled water samples contained nearly twice as many pieces of microplastics per liter (10.4) than the tap water samples (4.45) ... According to existing scientific research, the plastic particles you consume in food or drinks might interact with your body in a number of different ways ?
Some particles might lodge in the intestinal wall. Others might be taken up by intestinal tissue to travel through the body?s lymphatic system. Particles around 110 microns in size (0.11 millimeters) can be taken into the body?s hepatic portal vein, which carries blood from the intestines, gallbladder, pancreas and spleen to the liver.
Smaller debris, in the range of 20 microns (0.02 mm) has been shown to enter the bloodstream before it lodges in the kidneys and liver ? Ninety percent of the plastic particles we found ? were between 100 and 6.5 microns ? small enough ? for some to cross the gut into your body.?
World Health Organization Launches Health Review
In response to Orb Media?s report, the World Health Organization (WHO) has vowed to launch a safety review to assess the potential short- and long-term health risks of consuming microplastic in water. WHO?s global water and sanitation coordinator, Bruce Gordon, told BBC News: 5
?When we think about the composition of the plastic, whether there might be toxins in it, to what extent they might carry harmful constituents, what actually the particles might do in the body ? there's just not the research there to tell us.
We normally have a 'safe' limit but to have a safe limit, to define that, we need to understand if these things are dangerous, and if they occur in water at concentrations that are dangerous. The public are obviously going to be concerned about whether this is going to make them sick in the short term and the long-term.?
Plastic Debris in World?s Oceans Predicted to Triple By 2025
In related news, a report by the U.K. Government Office for Science warns plastic debris littering the world?s oceans ? 70 percent of which does not biodegrade ? is likely to triple by 2025 unless radical steps are taken to curb pollution.6
Already, an estimated 150 million tons of plastic contaminate our oceans, with about 8 million tons being added each year. Ontario alone throws away an estimated 12,000 plastic water bottles every four minutes. At the rate we?re going, estimates by the World Economic Forum suggest that by 2050, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight.7 Already, in some ocean waters plastic exceeds plankton by a factor of 6-to-1.8
?The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics? ? a 2016 joint report by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, created as part of Project MainStream, a multi-industry, global initiative launched in 2014 ? presented ?a vision of a global economy in which plastics never become waste and outlines concrete steps toward achieving the systemic shift needed.?
A key problem is the fact that we dispose of as much as $120 billion-worth of plastic each year. To rein in plastic pollution, this disposal of plastic must be eliminated. To do this, the report proposes a new ?circular economy? in which materials are reused and repurposed for as long as possible, if not indefinitely. Most plastic packaging is used only once, hence 95 percent of the value of this plastic is immediately lost after its very first use.
?The New Plastics Economy, outlined in this report, envisages a fundamental rethink for plastic packaging and plastics in general ? a new model based on creating effective after-use pathways for plastics; drastically reducing leakage of plastics into natural systems, in particular oceans; and finding alternatives to crude oil and natural gas as the raw material of plastic production,? the press release states.9
?Achieving the systemic change needed to shift the global plastic value chain will require major collaboration efforts between all stakeholders across the global plastics value chain ? consumer goods companies, plastic packaging producers and plastics manufacturers, businesses involved in collection, sorting and reprocessing, cities, policy-makers and NGOs.
The report proposes the creation of an independent coordinating vehicle to set direction, establish common standards and systems, overcome fragmentation, and foster innovation opportunities at scale. In line with the report?s recommendations, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation will establish an initiative to act as a cross-value-chain global dialogue mechanism and drive the shift toward a New Plastics Economy.?
Pacific ?Garbage Patch? Contains Far More Plastic Than Previously Thought
Yet another disturbing study10,11 suggests the Great Pacific Garbage Patch ? a 1.6 million square kilometers ? nearly 618,000 square miles ? area of ocean between Hawaii and California ? may contain anywhere from four to 16 times more plastic than estimated by earlier studies. This conclusion was reached by gathering both aerial survey and net catch data and creating a computer model to estimate the total burden.
According to these estimates, the density of plastic litter is estimated to be about 1 kilo of plastic per square kilometer around the perimeter, while exceeding 100 kilos per square kilometer at the center of the gyre. In all, this single garbage patch alone is thought to contain over 78,082 tons (79,000 metric tons) of plastic trash, and possibly as much as 142,198 tons (129,000 metric tons). More than three-quarters of all this trash is pieces larger than 5 centimeters. About 8 percent of the total mass is thought to be microplastics.
Microbeads and Microfibers Also Pose Severe Environmental Hazards
The tiny plastic pellets found in body washes, facial scrubs and toothpaste travel right through wastewater treatment plants, filling the bellies of sea animals with plastic that acts as a sponge for other toxins.
According to a 2016 National Geographic report,13 an estimated 4,360 tons of microbeads were used in personal care products sold in the European Union (EU) in 2012, all of which get flushed down the drain. One 2015 study14 estimates there may be as much as 236,000 tons of microbeads filling the water columns of our oceans.
Beginning July 2018, microbeads will also no longer be permitted in cosmetics sold in the U.S.15 As of July 2018, a ban on microbeads in personal care products also takes effect in Canada,16 while the EU has taken no action on the matter. This is a good start, but the question still remains how to remove the microplastic already in our waterways. As reported by National Geographic:
?As reiterated from the study by the French Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea, ?Oysters that consume microplastics eat more algae and absorb it more efficiently ? [their] ability to reproduce is almost halved? ? Filter feeding organisms are vital components of marine food webs, and their demise could mean severe threats to numerous trophic levels, and perhaps to the humans who rely on these species as a source of food.
Another concern ? is that the chemicals comprising microplasticsare causing reproductive complications in oysters, which is a very important point ? Chemical toxins such as DDT and BPA have been found to adhere to microplastic particles ? which then ?enter the food chain when ingested by aquatic life, accumulating in birds, fish, marine mammals and potentially humans.??
Acrylic Fibers Contribute to Environmental Pollution
With regard to microfibers released from clothing, acrylic fibers release the greatest amounts.17 Testing reveals each washing of a synthetic fleece jacket releases 1.7 grams of microfiber, and the older the jacket, the more microfibers are shed.18 Different types of machines also release different amounts of fibers and chemicals from your clothes. Top loading machines release about 530 percent more microfibers than front loading models.19
Up to 40 percent of these microfibers leave the wastewater treatment plant and end up in the surrounding lakes, rivers and oceans. To address the problem, scientists are urging appliance companies to add filters to catch the microfibers in their machines.20 Wexco is currently the exclusive distributor of the Filtrol 160 filter,21 designed to capture nonbiodegradable fibers from your washing machine discharge.
However, it doesn?t actually solve the problem in the long term, since the fibers will simply end up in landfills instead. Microfibers released during washing has been shown to raise mortality among water fleas,22 and reduce the overall food intake of crabs, worms and langoustines (Norway lobster), thereby threatening their growth and survival rates.23,24 Not surprisingly, microplastics and microfibers have also been linked to plastic contamination in fish.25
Both are easily consumed by fish and other sea creatures, and research shows these plastic particles tend to bioaccumulate, becoming increasingly concentrated in the bodies of animals higher up the food chain. And, since many of these toxins bind to fats, they allow the toxins to bioaccumulate in the body much faster, reaching ever higher amounts as you move up the food chain.
These chemicals have been shown to cause liver damage, liver tumors and signs of endocrine disruption in fish and other seafood, including lowered fertility and immune function.
How You Can Be Part of the Solution
Our cultural affection for all things disposable has left a trail of destruction. Now, how can you be part of the solution? In short, by becoming a more conscious consumer. Really give some thought to the manufacturing of the products you buy, how they may affect you during use, and what will happen to them once you dispose of them.
Few of us are capable of living a zero-waste lifestyle at this point in time, but every single one of us can take small but definitive steps toward the goal of reducing plastic trash in all of its forms. Here are a few suggestions to consider:
? Avoid bottled water. Instead, invest in a good water filtration system for your home and fill your own reusable bottles with filtered tap water. Previous testing has revealed most bottled water is nothing but tap water anyway, which may or may not have undergone additional filtration. With over 267 toxins found in public tap water, it?s worth the investment to install a high-quality filter and bring your own water wherever you go
? Reduce your use of all things plastic: Purchase products that are not made from or packaged in plastic. While the items involved are near-endless, here are a few ideas:
? Use reusable shopping bags for groceries
? Bring your own mug when indulging in a coffee drink, and skip the lid and the straw
? Store foods in glass containers or mason jars as opposed to plastic containers or bags
? Take your own leftover container to restaurants
? Request no plastic wrap on dry cleaning
? Avoid personal care items containing microbeads. Many products containing microbeads will advertise them on the label, although they may also be listed as ?polyethylene? or ?polypropylene? in the ingredients list. Once the ban takes effect this summer, you shouldn?t be able to find any personal care items with microbeads in the U.S. or Canada, but keep your eyes open for them until then, and if you live in the EU, please avoid them wherever you find them
Unless you come from parts of Asia where it?s been extensively used, it?s highly likely that you?re unfamiliar with burdock root. Popularly used as an ingredient in Japanese cuisine, burdock root is usually added to stir-fries,1 consumed raw,2 used as a broth3 or pickled in apple cider vinegar to prolong shelf life.4
However, an easy way to use burdock root and possibly obtain benefits is by steeping the roots in boiling water to make burdock root tea. Learn more about this tea?s uses, how you can make this beverage at home and what you must watch out for when drinking it.
What Is Burdock Root Tea?
Burdock root tea is concocted by steeping roots of the burdock (Arctium lappa) plant. For centuries now, burdock roots, leaves and flowers have been well-respected for their medicinal and nutritional abilities.5 The burdock plant stands between 1 and 2 meters (3.2 to 6.5 feet) when fully grown, and has large leaves that can grow up to 50 centimeters (19.6 inches), with white undersides. Between June and October, the plant bears purple flowers extending away from the plant?s bracts.
Burdock Root Tea?s Health Benefits
Burdock root tea may be helpful in addressing certain conditions, such as:6,7
Apart from targeting these diseases, burdock root tea may deliver these benefits:12
Promote antioxidant capabilities: The root contains antioxidants such as phenolic acids, quercetin and luteolin13 (all of which may be transferred to the tea) that can shield the body against cell-damaging free radicals.
In a 2011 article in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers suggested that burdock root tea?s antioxidant content may aid in slowing down tumor cell growth.14
Promote diuretic effects: One of burdock root tea?s earliest uses was for detoxifying the body. It can also help purify the blood, and is known to induce sweating and urination.
This effect may benefit your liver, kidneys and lymphatic system. Because it?s a diuretic, burdock root tea may cause the body to eliminate excess toxins, salts and water.15
Act as an expectorant and decongestant: If you have coughs, colds or flu-like symptoms, drinking burdock root tea may help alleviate them by targeting phlegm and mucus. Burdock root tea has antibacterial properties as well.16
Alleviate hair issues: You can address concerns like hair loss and dandruff,17 and boost scalp and follicle health, as burdock root tea is known to contain helpful phytosterols in burdock root tea, while the burdock root plant contains hair-helping essential oils.
Serve as an anti-inflammatory: This drink may help people combat fever, aches, pains and joint disorders.18,19
Help people with liver-related issues: For people with either cirrhosis or hepatitis, burdock root tea may assist in promoting liver cell regrowth.20
This tea may help people with blood-borne diseases or those who have a liver that?s been damaged heavily by alcohol consumption.
Enhance the immune system: Burdock root tea?s vitamin C content may improve your immune system and boost white blood cell production.
Other immune-boosting effects this tea may offer include enhancing collagen production and promoting quicker healing and recovery after illness.21
Promote better heart health:Burdock root tea has potassium that may help maintain normal blood pressure levels and serve as a vasodilator, which may lower your risk for atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes.
This mineral is also important for heart health because it aids in maintaining fluid balance in the body.22
Help lower risk for cancer: Quercetin and luteolin, both found in burdock root tea, possess antimutagenic properties.
These nutrients eliminate free radicals, help prevent cellular mutation and reduce a person?s cancer risk.23
What Nutrients Can You Find in Burdock Root Tea?
Burdock root tea is home to antioxidants such as phenolic acids, luteolin and quercetin.24 It also contains the minerals potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, calcium and iron, as well as vitamins B1, B2, B3 and fiber.25 People who are sensitive to caffeine may drink this tea without any issues. As ?The Tea Book? highlights, roasted and dried roots like burdock root may work as caffeine-free tea alternatives.26
How to Make Burdock Root Tea
Making your own burdock root tea at home is possible. Try following this recipe:27
Burdock Root Tea Recipe
? 1 burdock root
? 2 liters (a little over 2 quarts) of water
1. Cut burdock root into thirds. Using a scouring pad, scrape off the dirt on its surface under running water. Do not peel the skin since most of its nutrients are in it. Cut the root into thin slices.
2. Spread all the burdock on a bamboo sieve, cover with a nylon food cover and place under clear sun for one to two days until dry, pliable or almost crisp. If you are not comfortable drying your food in the sun or the weather is not cooperating, use a dehydrator.
3. Place dried burdock in a pan with no oil or liquid. Stir constantly over low heat for 10 minutes until golden brown, crispy and fragrant.
4. Let the burdock cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Store immediately in an airtight glass container. Seal it to prevent moisture.
5. Burdock tea can be cooked or brewed. Boil the water. Add 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of burdock tea leaves and simmer for 10 minutes.
6. If you want to make a single cup of burdock root tea, pour 185- to 212-degree Fahrenheit water onto five to eight pieces of burdock tea leaves in a cup and brew for four to five minutes. Raw honey, chrysanthemum, red dates, wolf berries or mint leaves may be added to taste.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
A single-serving of this recipe makes 100 or more grams (about 3 1/2 ounces) of tea.
You can look for burdock root in Oriental markets, natural food stores and Japanese and Taiwanese grocery stores. Pick roots that are medium-sized, firm, unbroken and have taut skin. Do not purchase burdock roots that are overly dry or sunken, since these may not have a pleasant flavor.
When cleaned properly and kept in a cool, well-ventilated place, the root can stay fresh for many months. You can also preserve burdock roots by wrapping them in a paper towel, enclosing them inside a plastic bag and placing them inside your refrigerator?s vegetable compartment, where they can be kept for months.
Should the burdock root turn limp and/or dry, soak it in water until it?s firm again.28 For processed burdock root parts and slices, ensure that they are stored in the refrigerator and used as soon as possible.29 If you aren?t able to purchase fresh burdock root, there are burdock root tea bags available online. Just make sure you?re purchasing from a highly reputable source that provides high-quality tea.
Burdock Root Tea?s Side Effects
Burdock root tea may trigger allergic reactions, including dermatitis, among people who are sensitive to daises, chrysanthemums or ragweed. Should these adverse effects develop, stop drinking burdock root tea immediately.30 Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should avoid this tea because there aren?t enough studies that confirm its safety for these groups.31
Drinking burdock root can lead to other side effects like hallucinations, dry mouth, blurred vision and urinary retention, as seen in the case of a 26-year-old woman who purchased burdock root tea from a health shop. As always, ensure that you?re purchasing high-quality tea from a reliable supplier.32,33
In the wild, burdock root can be confused with dangerous, poisonous plants like belladonna or deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) because of the similarities in their physical appearance.34 Hence, do not pick burdock in the wild. Should negative reactions develop, stop drinking the tea and discard other root strips. Furthermore, avoid burdock root tea when taking the following medicines because it can interfere with the way they work:35
? Diuretics (water pills): Dehydrated people should stay away from burdock since the roots can increase the pills? diuretic effects and exacerbate dehydration.
? Diabetes medications: Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels, may occur if you drink this tea with these medicines.
? Blood-thinning medicines: Burdock root can worsen bleeding in people diagnosed with bleeding disorders who take these medications. It can slow down blood clotting too.36
Before taking burdock root tea, talk to your physician and verify if this herbal tea is good for you. By doing so, you can get an idea of the dosage that may be needed to address your condition and be guided on what you can do to avoid side effects.
Caution Is Needed if You Want to Try Burdock Root Tea
For many years now, burdock root has been widely valued in Asia for its potential effects toward the brain, heart and immune system. Drinking burdock root tea may allow you to reap the nutrients found in the plant and help boost your well-being.
However, before drinking burdock root tea, remember that there are contraindications linked to this beverage, especially among women who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding and people taking certain medicines. If you're interested in trying burdock root tea, consult a doctor first, so you are aware of the ideal amount that would be both suitable for your condition and won't put you at risk for adverse health effects.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Burdock Root Tea
Q: What are the health benefits of burdock root tea?
A: Burdock root tea may promote the following benefits:
Deliver antioxidant, expectorant, decongestant, anti-inflammatory and diuretic effects
Assist with relieving fevers, headaches, flu, gout and constipation, to name a few
Help address hair issues
Boost health in people with liver conditions
Improve the immune system
Help improve heart health
Detoxify the blood
Q: Where can you buy burdock root tea?
A: Fresh burdock root can be purchased from Oriental markets, natural food stores, and Japanese and Taiwanese grocery stores. While burdock root tea bags can be purchased online, do thorough research first. Only buy burdock root tea bags from a trustworthy source that sells high-quality tea made from real burdock root.
Q: Can drinking burdock root tea lead to side effects?
A: Yes. Some side effects that burdock root tea may trigger include:
? Allergic reactions (including dermatitis, swelling, inflammation or skin rash) in people who are sensitive to daisies, chrysanthemums or ragweed
? Toxicity symptoms such as blurred vision, hallucinations, dry mouth and urinary retention
? Negative interactions with diuretic, diabetes and blood-thinning medicines
For many illnesses and diseases there are recognizable symptoms. In some cases those symptoms are not evident until late in the disease process, while in others they appear immediately. Recognizing symptoms and associating them with specific conditions no longer relies on the memory of a diagnostician. Using the computer, you can check your own symptoms and end up with a list of possible conditions.
In some cases a symptom is just a sign of another condition, while in others it may be the condition itself. It is important to pay attention to changes in your physical appearance and in how you feel each day. These observations are important to maintaining your health and wellness.
The appearance of your tongue is one such indicator. Being able to recognize changes will help you to make lifestyle choices, enabling you to enjoy better health. However, before discussing what changes may appear on your tongue, it?s helpful to know what your tongue should look like.
Structure and Appearance of Your Tongue
Your tongue is a strong muscle covered with pink tissue called mucosa. The muscle is anchored to your mouth and held down in the front by a small fold of tissue called the frenulum. This word comes from Latin, meaning ?little bridle.?1 In the back of the mouth the tongue is attached to the hyoid bone. Besides needing it for speech, your tongue is vital for chewing and swallowing food.
Another function is taste. When you experience some of the conditions described below, you may find your sense of taste is altered. The four common tastes are sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Although a taste map of the tongue used to describe areas most sensitive to these four tastes, the tongue actually has many nerves throughout the muscle transmitting signals to the brain. Since all parts of your tongue can detect all four of these common tastes, this taste map doesn't really exist.2
When healthy, the tongue is covered with moist pink tissue and tiny bumps called papilla. The papilla give the tongue a rough texture and are home to thousands of taste buds, which are a collection of nerve-like cells connected to your brain. Evaluating your tongue is just one way of keeping track of your health. Stick out your tongue and look in the mirror; any deviations from its normal appearance, or any pain, may indicate it's time to make some changes.
Vitamin Deficiencies May Be Evident on Your Tongue
Micronutrients are components, such as vitamins and minerals, required by your body in small amounts for development, disease prevention and well-being.3 Deficiencies in these micronutrients can have devastatingly negative health consequences in children and adults. Some of these include iron, folate, zinc and iodine.
Some changes to your tongue may be indicative of a vitamin deficiency. If your tongue is strawberry red, smooth and swollen, it may indicate a deficiency in iron, folate or vitamin B12.4 Also called glossitis, this swelling may cause the tongue to appear smooth. This means when the swelling goes down, the papilla will become more evident again. Naomi Ramer, DDS, director of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology at Mount Sinai Hospital, explains:5
?Vitamin B12 and iron are needed to mature papillae on the tongue. If you are deficient in those vitamins, you lose those papillae, which can make your tongue appear very smooth.?
A vitamin B12 deficiency may also cause sensory changes on your tongue as the vitamin is crucial for the proper neurological function of your taste buds.6 This may result in feelings of tingling, burning sensations, tenderness or numbness in the absence of any specific lesions. This condition has been found more frequently in middle-aged and elderly women who also experience altered taste sensation and dry mouth.
A vitamin A deficiency may be responsible for physical changes to your tongue called scalloped tongue glossitis.7 This is a rare condition characterized by pain, tenderness and swelling, as well as color changes and a scalloped appearance of the edges of the tongue. While vitamin A deficiency is one cause, the condition may also result from allergies to toothpaste or mouthwash, chronic dry mouth, oral infections or the chronic use of irritating substances such as snuff, alcohol or highly spiced foods.
A strawberry red, swollen tongue may also be the result of a condition called Kawasaki disease, seen most frequently in children under the age of 5 and accompanied by a high fever.8 The fever is often higher than 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and lasts more than three days. Symptoms of the disease are driven by inflammation of medium-sized arteries throughout the body. Other vitamins and nutrients play a critical role in the health of your tongue. Symptoms of the most obvious deficiencies include:9
? Vitamin B
Deficiencies can lead to a swollen and sore tongue, fissures on the surface or teeth indentations. Food sources of vitamin B12 are found naturally in animal products. Consider a supplement if you are a vegetarian.
Your body uses vitamin C to keep capillaries and tissues strong. Deficiencies in vitamin C and zinc may lead to bleeding gums and an increased risk of infection. Foods rich in vitamin C include strawberries, pineapple, mango and Brussels sprouts.11 Foods rich in zinc include organically raised and pastured meat and dairy products, nuts and seeds.12
Poor Oral Hygiene May Result in More Than Cavities
Just like the hair on your head, the papilla on your tongue continue to grow throughout your life.13 Normally, these papilla are worn down through everyday chewing and drinking.14 Sometimes, if they become overgrown, they offer a unique hiding place for fungus and bacterial growth. This may result in what is called a black hairy tongue.
The black coating is the result of overgrowth of bacteria and yeast and may occur after a course of antibiotics.15 Individuals who suffer from diabetes or who have been receiving chemotherapy may also be at higher risk for developing black hairy tongue.16 In some cases it is just the result of poor oral hygiene and may be triggered by lifestyle choices such as smoking or drinking dark coffee and teas.
While visually unappealing and may be accompanied by bad breath or taste abnormalities, this condition is not life-threatening. It is important to determine the underlying cause of the overgrowth of papilla and bacteria or yeast, as it's important to remove the offending source. It may also be a sign you should be evaluated for diabetes.
In some cases hairy tongue may be the result of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection in HIV positive individuals.17 Chronic administration of penicillin may also increase your risk of a fungal overgrowth, specifically aspergillus.
When not the result of infections concurrent with chronic administration of antibiotics or the results of an EBV infection, the condition will often resolve by removing the offending cause and practicing good oral hygiene. Brushing your tongue or using a tongue scraper twice a day prior to brushing your teeth is a good way to clean the papilla. Consider rinsing your mouth with diluted hydrogen peroxide once or twice to help remove the discoloration and include probiotics to help improve your gut function.18
Stress and Irritation May Trigger Pain and Discomfort
Canker sores are shallow ulcers forming in the mouth and tongue, which often make eating and talking uncomfortable. A simple canker sore is shown on this video and may occur when you're stressed. These are most painful for the first four to five days.19
The intensity of the pain subsides, but the sore does not completely resolve for nearly two weeks. According to Dr. Dale Amanda Tylor, general and pediatric otolaryngologist at Washington Township Medical Foundation,20 ?We don?t really know why people get canker sores, but it?s probably something viral. People who are run down or stressed are prone to these ulcers.?
In some individuals, foods that are acidic, such as citrus fruits, can trigger a canker sore.21 In other cases a sharp surface, such as a dental appliance or braces, may also trigger the formation of a canker sore on the inside of the mouth or tongue. Although they look similar, they are not the same as cold sores, also called fever blisters, which are triggered by the virus herpes simplex type 1. Unlike canker sores, which are not contagious, cold sores are caused by a virus and are extremely contagious.
Another reaction to chronic irritation to the mucous membranes of your mouth is leukoplakia. These are white or gray patches that can develop at any time during life, but is most commonly seen in seniors.22 An unusual form of leukoplakia is hairy leukoplakia, often triggered by EBV and usually only seen in people infected with HIV. Common leukoplakia white patches are the result of an excess growth of cells and usually painless.23
They are associated with smoking and have up to 17 percent chance of developing into oral cancer. The condition is triggered by irritation to the mucous membranes, so when the offending source has been eliminated, the lesion should disappear within a week or two. Dr. Ada Cooper, an American Dental Association consumer adviser, advises you see your dentist if the patches don?t disappear in two weeks, as your dentist may recommend a biopsy.
Infections May Pass From One to Another
Oral thrush is a yeast infection that can be easily passed between infant to breast during breastfeeding or from person to person with an exchange of oral fluids, such as when kissing. The infection appears as a white patch, often the consistency of cottage cheese.
The elderly, individuals with weakened immune systems, people with diabetes, individuals using inhaled steroids for asthma and those who have recently taken antibiotics are more likely to experience oral thrush.24 The yeast infection is caused by the overgrowth of candida, which may change your taste or cause discomfort.
Aging and Allergies Contribute to Symptoms on Your Tongue
Fissures, or deep grooves that form on the tongue surface, may be the result of aging, but may also be an inherited trait, occurring normally in 10 percent of the population.25 In most cases, they are not cause for concern. A fissured tongue may have cracks, grooves on the top and sides but affect only the tongue and vary in depth.
While they are not dangerous, they do allow debris to build up and increase the potential for an infection triggering bad breath and altered taste.26 These fissures often appear first during childhood, but do deepen with age and become more pronounced as you get older.27
Geographic tongue is a condition characterized by patches changing in size and location, which have a map-like appearance.28 In some cases, you may experience soreness or burning. Typically harmless, the condition affects up to 14 percent of Americans and may look like hills and valleys on your tongue.29 It can be triggered by stress, hormonal changes or allergies and once the offending source has been removed, the condition often resolves.
Higher Rates of Oral Cancer in Men Than Women
In 2017 an estimated 51,000 Americans were diagnosed with oral cancer.30 The rates of oral cancer are more than twice as high for men as they are for women and it is the eighth most common cause of cancer among men. While the number of men diagnosed with oral cancer has remained steady in recent years, the number of women has decreased slightly.
Cancer of the tongue is the second most common head and neck cancer.31 Major risk factors include tobacco and alcohol use.32 Persistent red lesions that do not resolve, or patches that don't go away, maybe a sign of lingual cancer. Tylor comments,33 ?With tongue cancer, you often think of an older, unhealthy person. But if you?re young and healthy and you have these, it doesn?t mean you?re OK. I?ve seen it in a 17-year-old girl.?
Oral cancers can also be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and many lesions don?t cause any pain or discomfort in the early stages. Other signs of oral cancer include bad breath from an infected ulcer, ear pain affecting one side of your head, unexplained weight loss, numbness in your mouth and unexplained loose teeth.34
Allergic rhinitis, or seasonal allergies, often referred to as hay fever, affect 20 million U.S. adults and more than 6 million children.1 The most common symptoms include sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, watery and itchy eyes and itching in your nose, mouth or throat, but a sizable number of allergy sufferers also experience noticeable brain fog as well.
What causes the fuzzy-headed feeling is up for debate, but many theories are out there. One of the simplest is that allergy symptoms can make it difficult to get a good night?s sleep, which in turn makes you fatigued and takes a toll on your ability to think clearly and be productive. Others, however, believe there may be more to it than that, and the inflammation triggered by allergies may be directly or indirectly affecting the brain.
How do Allergies Affect Your Brain?
Allergies are your body's reaction to particles that it considers foreign (allergens). The first time your body encounters an allergen, your plasma cells release immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody specific to that allergen. IgE attaches to the surface of your mast cells, which are found in great numbers in your surface tissues, such as your skin and nasal mucous membranes, where they help mediate inflammatory responses. Mast cells release a number of important chemical mediators, one of which is histamine.
The second time your body encounters a particular allergen, within a few minutes your mast cells become activated and release a powerful cocktail of histamine, leukotrienes and prostaglandins, which trigger the entire cascade of symptoms you associate with allergies. As part of the immune response, proteins called cytokines are also released, all of which add up to serious inflammation in your body.
This inflammation, in turn, could affect your brain in a number of ways, from interfering with sleep, as mentioned, to affecting your ears. If your middle ear is unable to drain properly due to inflammation, for instance, it could cause feelings of brain fog or dizziness.2 Yet, research also suggests that allergies have a very real effect on cognitive function:
Allergies may impede learning in school-age children, and uncontrolled allergy symptoms can diminish cognitive function and learning3
People with seasonal allergies have disturbed cognitive function in areas such as sustained attention, short- and long-term memory and speed of information processing4
In mice, exposure to a grass allergen triggered the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region linked to memory, while immune cells called microglia were reduced5
Allergic reactions to ragweed pollen have been found to cause significant fatigue and mood changes in some people, with researchers noting, ?Psychoneuroimmunology and medical genetics research suggests that allergic reactions engender biochemical changes that directly affect the central nervous system?6
Brain Fog During Allergy Season Is not All in Your Head
It?s very common for allergy patients to complain of memory problems and slowed thinking during allergy season, and it?s important to understand that these problems are very real ? not ?all in your head,? as some medical providers may claim. In research published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, for instance, cognitive testing revealed that people allergic to ragweed ?experience subtle slowed speed of cognitive processing? and, in some cases, ?difficulties in working memory? during ragweed season.7
A similar study used neuropsychological tests to demonstrate changes in cognitive function among people with seasonal allergies when they were exposed to ragweed pollen. Allergies ?adversely affected a broad range of cognitive functions,? according to the researchers, including longer response times and decreased efficiency on measures of working memory, psychomotor speed, reasoning/computation and divided attention.8
In fact, there?s even a condition known as ?allergic mood,? used to describe symptoms of depression and anxiety that seem to often occur in people with seasonal allergies. In one study, researchers found that seasonal allergy patients experienced an increase in depressive symptoms while experiencing an acute allergic inflammation episode, with findings supporting a close relationship between allergic processes, inflammatory cytokines, sleep and age at manifestation as potential mechanisms.9
Reducing Your Exposure to Allergens Is the First Step to Relief
Many allergy sufferers turn to over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants to try and tame allergy symptoms, but these Band-Aids come with side effects that can rival the allergy symptoms themselves, including dry mouth, drowsiness and dizziness. Another more natural avenue to reduce your symptoms is to reduce your exposure to allergens as much as possible. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) suggests reducing your exposure to by:10
Avoiding clothing made of synthetic fabrics, as they can produce an electric charge when rubbed that attracts and makes pollen stick to you. Better options include natural fibers like cotton.
Exercising outdoors before dawn, in the late afternoon, and/or early evening, as pollen counts are at the lowest at these times. Intense exercise may be best done indoors, as your increased breathing rate could make you inhale more pollen.
Wearing gloves and a mask when gardening. To filter pollen, wear a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-rated 95 filter mask. Also avoid touching your eyes and when done be sure to take a shower and wash your clothes.
To reduce your exposure to indoor allergens, regularly vacuum your home, including furniture, using a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, leave shoes by the door to avoid trekking dirt through the house and use a dehumidifier and/or a HEPA filter air purifier.
Using a neti pot (a small, teapot-like pot) is another simple technique to safely cleanse your sinuses of irritants, including allergens. It involves pouring water (distilled or sterilized only) into one nostril and allowing it to flow out the other. You can find detailed instructions for nasal irrigation here. You can perform this nasal irrigation up to four times a day until your symptoms improve
Lifestyle Changes Are the Next Route to Allergy Relief
Even in the case of seasonal allergies, what you eat and how you sleep may affect your symptoms and how you feel. Getting enough sleep each night is especially important in order to avoid worsening any brain fog you?re already feeling, however your gut is also intricately linked to your brain and mood, which is why what you eat is also important.
"Healing and sealing" your gut has been shown to help alleviate allergy symptoms, and the key to this is eliminating inflammatory foods like grains and processed foods and introducing healthier foods, including fermented foods, that will support a proper balance of bacteria in your gut. In fact, people with seasonal allergies who took a probiotic supplement during allergy season had decreased symptoms and improved quality of life.11
Eating a wholesome diet based on unprocessed, ideally organic and/or locally grown foods, along with optimizing your vitamin D levels and correcting your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio by increasing your intake of animal-based omega-3s and decreasing your intake of processed vegetable oil will form the foundation upon which your immune system can function in an optimal manner.
Natural Treatment Options for Seasonal Allergy Sufferers
There are a number of natural strategies that may provide some relief without the side effects common to allergy medications. Homeopathy is one such option. Homeopathic solutions contain minuscule doses of plants, minerals, animal products or other compounds that cause symptoms similar to what you are already experiencing. The remedies have been diluted many times over, and the idea is that the substance will stimulate your body?s own healing process.
In patients with allergies, those using homeopathy reported improvements in nasal airflow compared with a placebo group. With homeopathic treatment, the researchers described a ?clear, significant and clinically relevant improvement in nasal inspiratory peak flow, similar to that found with topical steroids.?12 Provocation neutralization (PN), which is taught by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), can also be very effective for allergy relief.
During provocation neutralization, a small amount of allergen is injected under your skin to produce a small bump called a "wheal" on the top layers of your skin, and then it is monitored for a reaction. If you have a positive reaction, such as fatigue, headache or a growth in the size of the wheal, then the allergen is neutralized with diluted injections or with drops of the same allergen that go in your mouth.
Sublingual (oral) immunotherapy is a similar option in which you receive small doses of allergen under your tongue to help improve tolerance and reduce symptoms. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, ?[Sublingual immunotherapy] ? is fairly safe and effective for the treatment of nasal allergies and asthma. SLIT tablets are currently available for dust mites, grass and ragweed.?13
If brain fog is your primary concern, you may also want to consider ashwagandha, an herb that?s useful for improving memory and cognitive function, along with brain fog, specifically.14 For allergies, additional natural remedies and supplements may also be useful, including the following:
Hot chili peppers, horseradish and hot mustards work as natural decongestants. In fact, a nasal spray containing capsaicin (derived from hot peppers) significantly reduced nasal allergy symptoms in a 2009 study.15
Quercetin is an antioxidant that belongs to a class of water-soluble plant substances called flavonoids. Quercetin-rich foods (such as apples, berries, red grapes, red onions, capers and black tea) prevent histamine release ? so they are "natural antihistamines."
Quercetin is also available in supplement form ? a typical dose for hay fever is between 200 and 400 milligrams (mg) per day.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)
Another natural antihistamine, butterbur was used to treat coughs and asthma as far back as the 17th century. A word of cautionis needed, however. Butterbur is a member of the ragweed family, so if you are allergic to ragweed, marigold, daisy or chrysanthemum, you should not use butterbur.
Also, the raw herb should not be used because it contains substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be toxic to your liver and kidneys and may cause cancer. Commercial butterbur products have had a lot of these alkaloids removed.
This pure essential oil can be healing to mucus membranes. You can apply a drop on a cotton ball and sniff it several times a day, add a few drops to water (or to a nebulizer, if you own one) for a steam treatment or use a few drops in your bathwater.
Vitamin C is another natural antihistamine. Naturopathic doctor Doni Wilson told the Huffington Post, ? ? you need to take 500-1000 mg three times a day to reduce symptoms.?16
If you have cedar pollen allergies, you should know about a type of slightly fermented, organic Japanese green tea called ?Benifuuki.? The tea has been shown to strongly inhibit mast cell activation and histamine release, as well as relieve symptoms of runny nose and eye itching in people with cedar pollen allergy.17
A member of the mint family, sage (Salvia officinalis) originated from the northern Mediterranean coast, where it was traditionally used for cooking. Italians are known to add flavor to veal with sage, while the French use it for sausages, stuffing and cured meats. The herb?s warm and musky essence also probably reminds you of homemade turkey dressing ? a Thanksgiving staple loved by many Americans.1
However, sage isn?t just for cooking. In medieval times, it was called ?Salvia Salvatrix,? which means ?sage, the savior.? This is because it was one of the primary ingredients of the ?Four Thieves Vinegar,? a concoction that was used by thieves to ward off the bubonic plague while plundering for treasures.2 Today, sage is known for its high antioxidant capacity and many health benefits.3 Learn about how you can use sage to take your health to new heights.
What Makes Sage Healthy?
Sage has an extensive history as a medicinal herb. It was used by the ancient Egyptians to improve fertility, and in the first century CE, Dioscorides, a Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist (now known as the father of pharmacology4), reported that sage can help stop wounds from bleeding, help disinfect sores and promote healing of ulcers. He also used sage juice to treat coughs and hoarseness.5
Since then, herbalists have used sage for treating different conditions, such as swelling, sprains, asthma and excessive menstrual bleeding.6
The health benefits of sage are attributed to flavonoids, such as apigenin, luteolin and diosmetin,7 which are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.8 Sage can also provide your body with rosmarinic acid, a polyphenolic compound with unlimited health potential. Due to the popularity of ?sage the savior? as a home remedy, it has been extensively studied and shown to offer the following benefits:9
? Helps relieve Alzheimer?s disease symptoms: A 2017 review published in the journal Drugs noted sage?s potential to ?enhance cognitive activity and protect against neurodegenerative disease,? including Alzheimer?s and dementia.10 Some studies also show that sage can help boost memory in young and healthy adults.11
? Assists in lowering cholesterol and blood glucose: A 2013 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine showed that participants given sage leaf extract had lower fasting glucose, HbA1c, total cholesterol, triglyceride and LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels, but higher HDL (good cholesterol) after three months of treatment.12
? Alleviates menopausal symptoms: In a 2011 study, researchers S. Bommer, P. Klein and A. Suter reported that taking fresh sage leaf tablets significantly decreased hot flush symptoms among menopausal women by 50 percent after just four weeks. After eight weeks, the hot flushes were reduced by 64 percent.13
You can also use sage to relieve ailments including sore throat, cough and the common cold. Simply steep a teaspoon of sage leaves in half a cup of water for 30 minutes and then use it as a gargle.14 A 2009 study even concluded that using a sage and echinacea spray is almost as effective as a chlorhexidine/lidocaine spray in relieving acute sore throat.15
Other Uses of Sage
Aside from its medicinal and healing benefits, sage is also commonly used for ?smudging,? a purification ritual of Native American and other indigenous cultures wherein dried herbs are tied into a bundle and lighted.16 Burning sage is practiced today in many parts of the world to clear stagnant or negative energy, but it is also believed to enhance healing.17,18 If you want to try smudging with sage, here?s a step-by-step guide from The Spruce:19
? Sage smudge stick (bundled up sage tied with a string)
? A fireproof container
? Bowl with sand
1. Place the smudge stick, candle and fireproof container (preferably a bowl) on a table or any appropriate surface.
2. Light the candle and then focus your energy (on your purpose) or say a prayer before lighting the tip of the sage smudge stick.
3. Gently wave the stick in the air until the tip starts to smolder.
4. Position the smudge stick over the fireproof container so no lit herbs will fall to the floor. Use your other hand to disperse the smoke from the smoldering stick. Make sure to concentrate on your breathing during the entire process.
5. Move around your house, waving the smoke in the air, in a clockwise direction, starting at your front door. Don?t forget to smudge the room corners and closets, which can accumulate stagnant energy. Open closet doors and smudge the inside as well.
6. After smudging all areas of your home, return to where you started and carefully extinguish your smudge stick in the bowl of sand. To continue purifying the energy, you can leave the candle lighted.
There are many other uses for sage, such as in gardening. The herb can be used as an insect repellent if you have a cabbage moth problem.20 For cosmetic purposes, Stylecraze says that sage (particularly its essential oil) can be used to help give your skin and hair health a boost.21 It can even be used to make a soothing aftershave lotion.22
How to Grow Sage
If you want to use sage for health or any other reasons, you can cultivate it at home using indoor containers or grow it in your backyard. Take note that the best time to plant sage is in spring. Here is a step-by-step guide from oneHowto if you want to try growing sage:23
1. Purchase sage seeds or seedlings, which are available at garden stores.
2. Find a container or area in your garden, but remember that the plant will need adequate sunshine.
3. Use rich organic soil that is well-drained since water accumulation can cause the roots to rot, killing the plant.
4. Make small holes in the soil of your container or garden and put the seeds or seedlings in.
5. While the plant is still small, make sure to keep the soil moist. Once it grows, you should only water it when the soil becomes dry.
6. Remember to collect sage before it blooms. Cut the branches then hang them upside down in a cool, well-ventilated area where they can?t be reached by sunlight. This will dry up the leaves, which you can store in a glass jar.
Sage Recipes You Can Try
You have boundless options if you want to use sage to add flavor to your dishes. As mentioned earlier, the herb has a crisp aromatic potency, similar to its cousins, basil, rosemary and thyme. The Kitchn describes sage to be sweet but a little bitter, and comes with a pine-like aroma and flavor. It?s usually described as having citrus and eucalyptus notes.24
Sage can be used fresh or dried and ground, but just like most herbs, the fresh leaves are more flavorful.
It?s usually paired with chicken and other poultry, but can also add flavor to sausages and other meats. Sage is a common ingredient in pasta sauces, and can be added to pumpkin dishes and meat stuffings as well.26 Here is a delicious recipe adapted from EatingWell if you want to try cooking with sage:27
Brussels Sprouts With Chestnuts and Sage
? 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
? 3/4 cup coarsely chopped chestnuts
? 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
? 2 tablespoons organic extra-virgin coconut oil
? 3 tablespoons homemade chicken broth
? 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt
? Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add Brussels sprouts. Cook until they turn bright green (six to eight minutes) then drain well.
2. Heat the organic extra-virgin coconut oil and chicken broth in a large ceramic skillet over medium heat and add the Brussels sprouts, chestnuts and sage. Stir often, until it is heated through (two to four minutes).
3. Season with Himalayan salt and black pepper then serve warm or at room temperature.
This recipe makes 12 servings.
You Should Also Try Sage Essential Oil and Clary Sage Oil
Sage essential oil is extracted via steam distillation of leaves from the sage plant, and is known to offer health benefits due to its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.28 A study published in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology found that among 11 essential oils tested, sage essential oil was one of the most effective against Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci and E. coli strains.29
While it?s safe to consume the herb itself during pregnancy, using sage essential oil during this delicate period is not advised, as this oil has estrogenic properties and may cause uterine contractions. Breastfeeding moms should also take caution when using sage oil and/or drinking sage tea, as these substances may reduce milk production.30
In addition, do not mistake sage essential oil for clary sage oil, which is derived from the flowering tops of the clary sage plant (Salvia sclarea).31 This essential oil offers its own set of benefits, as it has antidepressant, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. It may also promote deeper sleep, relieve anxiety, and boost skin and hair health.32
Remember, when it comes to using these essential oils either orally or topically, there are necessary precautions you should take. Test for sensitization by applying the oil on a small area of your skin, then observe for adverse reactions for at least 24 hours. I strongly advise against ingesting or applying undiluted essential oils on your skin, unless you are closely supervised by a qualified aromatherapist.
According to the American Sleep Association,1 up to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, nearly 40 percent unintentionally fall asleep during the day at least once a month and nearly 5 percent have nodded off while driving at least once. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, with 10 percent of American adults struggling with chronic insomnia and 30 percent reporting occasional or short-term insomnia.
Interestingly, insomniacs will often insist they?ve not slept a wink all night, even though they?ve actually been sleeping. Researchers have now discovered there?s a reason for this discrepancy in experience, and it has to do with consciousness. In a nutshell, even though the brain is sleeping, insomniacs remain consciously aware, and therefore believe they?ve not slept at all.
Many Insomniacs Remain Conscious Even When Asleep, Study Finds
Daniel Kay, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University in Utah who led the study,2 told Medical News Today,3 ?? [Y]ou can be consciously aware and your brain [can] be in a sleep pattern. The question is: What role does conscious awareness have in our definition of sleep?" Traditionally, it?s been believed that sleeping involves the absence of conscious awareness, but Kay?s team was able to conclude that this is not categorically true.
To investigate the role of consciousness during sleep, the team analyzed the sleep patterns and subjective experience of 32 people with insomnia and 30 who reported sleeping well.
Once the participants were deemed to be asleep, based on their brain patterns, a radioactive tracer was injected into their arms. Using brain imaging, the researchers were able to examine neurons that remained active during sleep, and their exact locations. The following morning, the participants were asked about their subjective experience of their sleep. Medical News Today explains the results:
?The study found that people with insomnia who reported that they had been awake, even when the polysomnography showed otherwise, had increased activity in brain areas associated with conscious awareness during the dreamless phase of sleep ? that is, nonrapid eye movement sleep ?
[I]t is normal during the process of falling asleep for the brain to send inhibitory neurons that make people less and less consciously aware until they've reached a state of deep sleep. However, what the findings of the new study suggest is that people with insomnia may not feel as though they're asleep until their brain experiences a greater inhibitory activity in areas that are linked to conscious awareness.?
Normal Sleepers May Not Get as Much Sleep as They Think
As noted by the authors,4 ?Brain activity in the right anterior insula, left anterior cingulate cortex, and middle/posterior cingulate cortex may be involved in the perception? of insomnia. People who reported sleeping well turned out to have increased activity in the same areas of the brain as insomniacs. The reason for this is because your brain goes through ?an inhibition process? when you fall asleep, gradually lowering your conscious awareness.
While insomniacs require a greater level of inhibition before their consciousness recedes, many good sleepers report falling asleep long before their brainwaves indicate that they?re actually sleeping. This is basically the reverse situation of insomnia: Good sleepers lose conscious awareness at a very low level of inhibition, making them believe they fell asleep much faster than they actually did, based on their brain patterns.
Mindfulness Meditation Recommended for Insomniacs
So, if you struggle with insomnia, frequently feeling you haven?t slept a wink, what can you do? Kay says, ?In patients with insomnia, processes involved in reducing conscious awareness during sleep may be impaired. One of the strategies for targeting these processes may be mindfulness meditation. It may help the patients inhibit cognitive processes that are preventing them from experiencing sleep."
Practicing "mindfulness" means you're actively paying attention to the moment you're in right now. Rather than letting your mind wander, when you're mindful, you're living in the moment and letting distracting thoughts pass through your mind without getting caught up in their emotional implications.
You can add mindfulness to virtually any aspect of your day ? even while you're eating, working or doing household chores like washing dishes ? simply by paying attention to the sensations you are experiencing in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand,is a more formal practice in which you consciously focus your attention on specific thoughts or sensations, and then observe them in a nonjudgmental manner.
This is just one type of meditation; there are many forms available. Transcendental meditation, for instance, is one of the most popular forms of meditation, practiced by millions of people around the world. It's simple to perform. Simply choose a mantra that has meaning for you, sit quietly with your eyes closed and repeat your mantra for a period of about 20 minutes, twice a day.
The idea is to reach a place of "restful" or "concentrated" alertness, which enables you to let negative thoughts and distractions pass by you without upsetting your calm and balance. Some aspects of mindfulness, mindfulness meditation, and other forms of meditation overlap.
For instance, focusing your mind on your breath is one of the most basic, and most rewarding, relaxation and meditation/mindfulness strategies there is. To learn more about meditation and the different forms of practice available, see ?Meditation Connects Your Mind and Body.?
Common Factors That Keep You Awake
Aside from the possibility that you?re simply misperceiving your inability to sleep, certain environmental factors can make it more difficult to fall asleep. This includes such things as:5
Your pillow being too hot. A cool pillow, and more importantly the room temperature overall, will decrease your core body temperature, which induces drowsiness. In one study, insomniacs equipped with a cooling cap fell asleep within 13 minutes ? three minutes faster than normal sleepers ? and remained asleep 89 percent of the night. Reader?s Digest6 suggests placing your pillow in the freezer for a few minutes before bed to cool it down.
Starting a new medication. A number of different drugs can cause insomnia, including blood pressure medications, antidepressants and steroids. Oftentimes, this side effect can be ameliorated by changing the time at which you take the drug. Beta-blockers, prescribed for high blood pressure and/or arrhythmia, for example, are typically best taken in the morning instead of at night.
Pets. As much as you love your fur-babies, if they?re hogging your bed or filling it with hair, consider keeping your pets out of your bed. According to one Mayo Clinic study,7 while some find their pets help them sleep better, approximately 20 percent of pet owners admitted the animal disrupted their sleep in one way or another.
Cold feet. While cooling your head induces sleep, cold feet can keep you tossing and turning. The solution: Wear socks to bed.
Exhaustion. While exhaustion is frequently confused with tiredness, the two are not the same. When exhausted from stress or overwork, your brain tends to be on high alert. This ?cognitive popcorn? can make it difficult to fall asleep, no matter how exhausted your body is. Rather than falling into bed right away after a long day, try winding down, allowing your mind to settle before trying to fall asleep.
When Anxiety or an Overactive Mind Keeps You Awake
One of my favorite tools for resolving anxiety that contributes to insomnia is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), which combines tapping on certain points of your body with verbal statements that help pinpoint the underlying issues. In the video above, EFT therapist Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for sleep.
EFT helps to release worries, fears and even physical symptoms that stand between you and a good night?s sleep by reprogramming your body's reactions to many of the unavoidable stressors of everyday life, making it easier to take them in stride.
When stress triggers are reduced, you will naturally sleep better. In 2012, a triple blind study8 found that EFT reduced cortisol levels and symptoms of psychological distress by 24 percent ? more than any other intervention tested. This is enormously significant, as there are few things that will destroy your health faster than stress.
Researchers at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine discovered that how you cope with stress might have an even greater impact on your sleep than the number of stressors you encounter. They also found that mindfulness therapies worked best for suppressing the "mental chatter" that inhibits the onset of sleep. Lead author Vivek Pillai, Ph.D., wrote,9 ?While a stressful event can lead to a bad night of sleep, it's what you do in response to stress that can be the difference between a few bad nights and chronic insomnia.?
Avoid Sleeping Pills for Insomnia
To learn more about the ins and outs of sleep, and lots more tips and strategies to improve your quality and quantity of your rest, please see ?Sleep ? Why You Need It and 50 Ways to Improve It.? Whatever you do, avoid sleeping pills. Not only do they have extremely limited benefits, the side effects can be quite severe. Take Belsomra, for example, a next-gen type sleeping pill that acts on a neurotransmitter called orexin ?to turn down the brain?s ?wake messages.??
The company?s own clinical trials showed the drug allowed people to fall asleep an average of six minutes sooner than those taking a placebo, and stay asleep 16 minutes longer. More than 1,000 consumer complaints against Belsomra have been filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with complaints ranging from lack of effectiveness and next-day drowsiness to sleep paralysis, heart problems and suicidal ideation. One in 5 reports claim the drug made them the opposite of sleepy.10
Other research has found sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata reduce the average time it takes to fall asleep by about 13 minutes compared to placebo, while increasing total sleep time by about 11 minutes.11 Interestingly, participants believed they had slept longer, by up to one hour, when taking the pills. This is thought to be due to anterograde amnesia, which causes trouble with forming memories.
When people wake up after taking sleeping pills, they may, in fact, simply forget they?d been unable to sleep. Sonata is also associated with addiction.12 Studies have also shown that use of sleeping pills increase your risk of death and cancer.13 To learn more about the hazards of sleeping pills, see Dr. Daniel Kripke?s e-book, ?The Dark Side of Sleeping Pills.?14
Natural Sleep Remedies
Fortunately, there are far safer options. While you work on addressing the root causes of your sleep problems, temporarily using a natural sleep aid may help you get to sleep easier. Following are a handful of alternatives:
Melatonin. In scientific studies, melatonin has been shown to increase sleepiness, help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep, decrease restlessness and reverse daytime fatigue. Melatonin is a completely natural substance, made by your body, and has many health benefits in addition to sleep. Start with as little as 0.25 milligrams (mg) and work your way up in 0.25 mg increments until you get the desired effect.
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). One of my favorite sleep aids is 5-HTP. 5-HTP is the hydroxylated form of tryptophan. It easily passes your blood brain barrier when it is converted to serotonin (thereby giving mood a boost) and then to melatonin (enhancing sleep). I believe this is a superior approach to using melatonin. In one study, an amino acid preparation containing both GABA (a calming neurotransmitter) and 5-HTP reduced time to fall asleep, increased the duration of sleep and improved sleep quality.15
Valerian root. Studies have found valerian root helps improve the speed at which you fall asleep, depth of sleep (achieving deep sleep 36 percent faster16) and overall quality of sleep.17 Start with a minimal dose and use the lowest dose needed to achieve the desired effect, as higher dosages can have an energizing effect in some people. Typical dosages used in studies range between 400 mg and 900 mg, taken anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours before bed.
Chamomile tea. This herb is typically used in the form of infusions, teas, liquid extracts or essential oils made from the plant's fresh or dried flower heads. It has sedative effects that may help with sleep, which is why chamomile tea is often sipped before bed.
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil. Another alternative is to take CBD oil. By bringing tissues back into balance, CBD oil helps reduce pain, nerve stimulation and muscle spasm. It also promotes relaxation and has been shown to improve sleep.
Google and Facebook are two of the largest and clearest monopolies in the world, and between them, the harvesting of your personal information goes far beyond what most people realize was even possible.
I have recently removed Google Search from this website and replaced with a search engine without the privacy concerns, but has similar capabilities. The search bar at the top of the website is the most used and essential feature for you to research the many thousands of pages I've published over the last 20 years.
Google catches every single thing you do online if you?re using a Google-based feature, and Facebook has a record of everything you?ve ever said or ?liked.? All of this data is being used to build very powerful personality profiles that are sold for profit and used in a variety of different ways. As previously reported by Gawker:1
?Every word of every email sent through Gmail and every click made on a Chrome browser is watched by the company. ?We don?t need you to type at all,? [Google co-founder Eric] Schmidt once said. ?We know where you are. We know where you?ve been. We can more or less know what you?re thinking about.??
Facebook Sells Your User Data, and It Can Be Used Against You
According to CNN Money,2 98 percent of Facebook?s revenue comes from advertising, totaling $39.9 billion last year alone. The company is now facing a firestorm after The New York Times and British media outlets reported Cambridge Analytica used ?improperly gleaned? data from 87 million Facebook users to influence American voters.3
This is not the first time political parties have utilized facebook data without your knowledge, and it won't be the last. Political parties will continue to fight about who used what data to manipulate voters in the least worst way. What is important to understand is that you and your network of friends are being heavily watched and this data is sold with the intent to manipulate your actions.
This manipulation is not just about politics, it's making YOU the product. The intimate details about you, your family and friends are being sold because it is valuable to entities that want to influence you.
In the video above, Cambridge Analytica data scientist Christopher Wylie, who blew the whistle on his employer, revealing the company built ?a system that could profile individual U.S. voters in order to target them with personalized political advertisements? during the presidential campaign. As noted by CNN:
?If the Cambridge Analytica scandal leads to tougher data protection regulations ? as some policymakers are demanding ? or puts people off sharing as much about themselves online, that could hurt Facebook's revenue, and that of all social media platforms.?
It?s important to realize that Google is also the world?s greatest artificial intelligence (AI) company, having purchased Deep Mind for $400 million several years ago. Deep Mind now employs over 700 AI researchers, the largest collection anywhere in the world.
They are responsible for defeating the human Go champion in 2017, which far exceeds the complexity of defeating a human chess champion. With this level of AI, it is not hard for them to sort through all your data with their deep learning algorithms to detect patterns that can be exploited for profit.
What Kind of Data Does Facebook and Google Really Have on You?
In a March 30 article for The Guardian,4 Dylan Curran takes a deep dive into the data harvesting going on between Facebook and Google, and for anyone concerned about their privacy, the results are disconcerting to say the least. Here?s a summary list of the kind of information these two corporations collect, track and store on each and every single user:
Extremely detailed location tracking
If you have a Google-enabled device on your person that has location tracking turned on, it will store the exact details of where you are at any given moment, and this data accumulates from the first day you started using Google on the device. To review the details of your own data, see this Google Maps Timeline link.5
Complete search histories on all devices
Google keeps tabs on everything you?ve ever searched for, on any device, including search histories you?ve deleted from an individual device. To check your own search data, see Google?s MyActivity page.6
Personalized advertisement profile
Based on your data profile ? location, gender, age, work and private interests, relationship status, income, health concerns, future plans and so on ? Google creates personalized advertisements that might interest you. Have you ever done a search for a particular product or service and suddenly found yourself flooded with ads for that precise thing? That?s your data profile at work. To see your personalized ad profile, see Google?s Ads Settings.7
Do you use apps and extensions? If so, Google knows which ones you?re using, how often, when, where and with whom you?re interacting when you do. To see your app usage data, check out Google?s Security Permission Settings.8
Much can be gleaned from the types of videos you?re interested in, and Google keeps tabs on every single one you?ve ever searched for, watched and commented on. To review your own data, see your Youtube Feed History page.9
Like Google, Facebook records, tracks and stores every single thing you do on Facebook: Every post, comment, ?like,? private message and file ever sent and received, contacts, friends lists, login locations, stickers and more. Even the recurrent use of certain words is noted and can become valuable currency for advertisers.
When Curran downloaded all of the information Facebook has stored on him, he ended up with a 600MG file, or roughly 400,000 word documents. For individuals who start using Facebook at a young age, the lifetime data harvest could be inconceivably large. To view and download your Facebook data, see Facebook?s Download Your Info page.10
Clandestine microphone access
Disturbingly, both Facebook and Google have the ability to access your microphone without your knowledge. If you suddenly find yourself on the receiving end of ads for products or services you just spoke about out loud, chances are one or more apps are linked into your microphone and are eavesdropping. Below is a video by Safer Tech describing how to disable the microphone on your device to prevent Facebook and Google apps from listening in.11
Clandestine webcam access
Your built-in webcam on your phone, tablet, laptop or computer can also be accessed by various apps. To learn more about app permissions, see ?How to Master Your App Permissions So You Don?t Get Hacked ? The Full Guide,? by Heimdal Security.12
As noted in this article, ?For a long time, app permissions were something the regular PC user had no idea about. When installing new software on a computer, we were never asked if application X could access our web camera, our list of contacts, etc. ? App permissions may seem like a nuisance, but the better you know how they work, the safer you can keep your data.?
By tracking your Google calendar entries, combined with your location data, Google knows what events you?ve attended, when and for how long.
Your fitness routine
If you use Google Fit, all the details about your fitness routine and workouts, down to how many steps you?ve taken on any given day, are recorded and stored.
A lifetime of photographic evidence
Twenty years ago, photos were a private matter, reminisced over in photo albums and displayed around the home. Today, people?s lives are on public display online, and Google captures it all. When combined with facial recognition software and other technological identification applications, including metadata detailing the time and place of each snap, your photos are a treasure trove of private information.
A lifetime of emails
Google also has every single email you?ve ever sent, received and deleted.
Deleted files and information
You probably delete files and information every now and then for the sake of safety, right? You might decide to delete that list of passwords from your phone, for example, in case you lose it or it gets hacked. Well, Google still has all of that information.
As noted by Curran, showing a screen shot of his downloaded Google data, ?This is my Google Drive, which includes files I explicitly deleted, including my resume, my monthly budget and all the code, files and websites I?ve ever made, and even my PGP private key, which I deleted, that I use to encrypt emails.?
If you?ve done it or researched it, Google and Facebook have a record of it
Like Facebook, Google allows you to download a copy of the data they have stored on you. Curran?s personal data cache from Google was 5.5GB big, equal to about 3 million word documents. Essentially, your Google account contains a detailed diary of everything you?ve ever done or planned to do, and where you were when you did it. To download your own Google cache, see Google?s Takeout page.13
How Is Your Personal Information Being Used?
Google has ?your bookmarks, emails, contacts, your Google Drive files ? your YouTube videos, the photos you?ve taken on your phone, the businesses you?ve bought from, the products you?ve bought through Google ? data from your calendar, your Google Hangout sessions, your location history, the music you listen to, the Google books you?ve purchased, the Google groups you?re in, the websites you?ve created, the phones you?ve owned, the pages you?ve shared, how many steps you walk in a day,? Curran writes, noting his own data cache included:14
?? every Google Ad I?ve ever viewed or clicked on, every app I?ve ever launched or used and when I did it, every website I?ve ever visited and what time I did it at, and every app I?ve ever installed or searched for.
They also have every image I?ve ever searched for and saved, every location I?ve ever searched for or clicked on, every news article I?ve ever searched for or read, and every single Google search I?ve made since 2009. And then finally, every YouTube video I?ve ever searched for or viewed, since 2008.
This information has millions of nefarious uses. You say you?re not a terrorist. Then how come you were Googling Isis? ? Manage to gain access to someone?s Google account? Perfect, you have a chronological diary of everything that person has done for the last 10 years.?
Indeed, the 2013 article, ?What Surveillance Valley Knows About You,?15 is an eye-opening read that may be well worth your time, describing just how grossly invasive this data collection and distribution is, and how dangerous it can be if you end up on certain lists. Unfortunately, many still fail to see the problem Google presents.
Its services are useful and practical, making life easier in many ways, and more fun in others. That?s the bait, and many have swallowed it hook, line and sinker, not giving any thought to the ultimate price paid for such conveniences, or simply underestimating the threat that all of this personal data collection poses. If you fall into this category, I ask you to give this issue some serious thought, because monopolies threaten our very way of life, and in more ways than one.
Employees Uneasy About Militarization of Google
Google?s data harvesting is particularly concerning in light of its military connections,16 and the fact the company has repeatedly been caught infringing on privacy rights and misrepresenting the type and amount of data it collects and shares on its users. Make no mistake about it: Capturing user data is Google?s primary business.17 The fact that it provides practical services while doing so only serves as a convenient distraction from the fact that privacy violations are taking place.
Earlier this month, more than 3,100 Google employees signed a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai, urging him not to go ahead with plans to provide AI technology to the Pentagon?s drone program, known as Project Maven. As reported by Fox News,18 ?Google?s AI contribution could ? improve the system?s ability [to] analyze video and potentially be used to identify targets and civilians.? The letter also urges Pichai to establish a corporate policy that disallows it from participating in ?warfare technology.?
Email correspondence obtained via freedom of information act requests also reveal Google has maintained an intimate relationship with the National Security Agency (NSA) for a number of years. In 2014, Al Jazeera19 published correspondence between NSA director general Keith Alexander and Google executives Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt. At the time, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had gone public about the NSA?s ability to spy on civilians.
In a 60 Minutes special, NSA cyberdefense chief Debora Plunkett claimed the agency had thwarted a plot by the Chinese to capitalize on a technical vulnerability in the basic input/output system (BIOS) of computers sold to the U.S. System BIOS refers to the firmware that initializes hardware activation when you start up your computer, and provides runtime services for the operating system and various programs. Plunkett claimed the NSA worked with computer manufacturers to fix the vulnerability.
However, according to Al Jazeera, the NSA did ?exactly what Plunkett accused a nation-state of doing during her interview,? namely inserting back doors into BIOS, thereby gaining access to the raw data of any given computer. According to a 2013 article by Spiegel Online, an internal NSA catalog reveals the agency in fact has back door access for a number of different end-user devices.20
The Making of an Orwellian State
Some experts believe the plan to combine Alphabet-Google?s data harvesting with a military 5G network is a very bad idea. ?What could possibly go wrong with a nationalized, dual-use, military-civilian, secure 5G wireless network to centralize all military and civilian U.S. transportation traffic control and management with Alphabet-Google as the only commercial wireless ISP ?financing/anchor tenant?? Way too much,? Scott Cleland, former White House deputy coordinator for international communications and information policy, writes on his blog.21
?? National Security Council Staff apparently have a network vision for a secure 5G wireless network for the U.S. military, that is ultimately capable of C3I (command, control, communications, and intelligence) of the ?total situational-awareness,? necessary for the 21st century, ?Internet of the Battlefield? of integrated, autonomous warfare of vehicles, drones and robots ?
Who could compete with a new government-sanctioned, Alphabet-Google, ?information transportation superhighway? monopoly? Who?s going to watch these watchers? And what are the incorruptible proposed checks and balances to prevent the near absolute power of a ?Google-GoverNet? from becoming a modern Orwellian Big Brother Inc.? ?
Consumer networks are the primary security vulnerability for national security networks. Alphabet-Google has well-documented hostility to cybersecurity, privacy, and accountability to government. Comingling Google?s unmatched civilian surveillance database with military C3I artificial intelligence capabilities on the same network is a recipe for abuse of power ? And Alphabet-Google warrants antitrust scrutiny and prosecution, not antitrust absolution.?
Protect Your Privacy by Avoiding Google and Facebook
Indeed, Alphabet, the rebranded parent company of Google and its many divisions, has turned into an octopus-like super entity with tentacles reaching into government, food production, health care, education, military applications and the creation of AIs that may run more or less independently. A key component of many of these enterprises is incredibly detailed personal usage data.
Ultimately, your user data and personal details can be used for everything from creating personalized advertising to AI-equipped robotic warfare applications. As noted in previous articles, Google?s involvement in education and health care also has far-reaching ramifications, and in these settings your personal data could potentially be used to influence not only your personal lifestyle decisions but also to shape society at large.
Today, being a conscious consumer includes making wise, informed decisions about technology, and two of the greatest personal data leaks in your life are Google and Facebook. Here?s a summary of action steps you can take right now, starting today, to protect your privacy. For more information, see Goopocalypse.com?s boycott Google page.
a. Stop using Google search engines. So far, one of the best alternatives I?ve found is DuckDuckGo22
a. Uninstall Google Chrome and use the Opera browser instead, available for all computers and mobile devices.23 From a security perspective, Opera is far superior to Chrome and offers a free VPN service (virtual private network) to further preserve your privacy
b. If you have a Gmail account, close it and open an account with a non-Google affiliated email service such as ProtonMail,24 and encrypted email service based in Switzerland
c. Stop using Google docs. Digital Trends has published an article suggesting a number of alternatives25
d. If you?re a high school student, do not convert the Google accounts you created as a student into personal accounts
According to the National Coffee Association1 more Americans drank coffee in 2017 than they had in the past four years. This represents a reversal as gourmet coffee brews gain popularity, especially among younger consumers. In an online survey, National Coffee Drinking Trends2 reported coffee drinking was up from 57 percent in 2016, reaching 62 percent of the general population in 2017, with the most pronounced increase in gourmet coffees.
The beverage of choice has been coffee for a number of years, far outpacing other beverages, including bottled water, soda and tea by nearly 50 percent.3 Dark roasted coffee has specific health benefits related to its high levels of antioxidants. For instance, several studies have found lower mortality rates in individuals who drink coffee compared to those who don't drink coffee at all.4,5 Another found those who drink moderate amounts were less likely to have calcium deposits in their coronary arteries.6
The likely culprit behind problems drinking a cup of joe rich in phenols and antioxidants stems from the creamers and sugar added, the pesticides sprayed on the crops, or improper roasting, the latter of which increases the risk of toxic acrylamide levels. The reasons people are hooked on coffee are not consistent, but here are some interesting coffee statistics:7
31 percent of coffee drinkers brew coffee in the morning before any other morning behavior
65 percent of coffee drinking happens with breakfast
55 percent would rather gain 10 pounds and 52 percent would rather go without a shower in the morning than give up coffee
An astounding 49 percent would give up their cellphones for a month before giving up coffee
California Judge Rules Acrylamide in Coffee Requires Cancer Warnings
Recent media attention is now focused on a judge who ruled coffee must come with a cancer warning in California.8 Despite a long list of health benefits, one ingredient found in coffee has caused Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle to rule in favor for the Council for Education and Research on Toxics.9 The group first filed a lawsuit in 2010 seeking to require coffee sellers to warn their customers about acrylamide, a potential cancer-causing chemical found in coffee.
The Council wants the coffee industry to remove acrylamide from processing coffee, in much the same way potato chip makers removed it after they were sued.10 After his ruling, Berle commented the coffee makers had not presented the proper evidence at trial in order to prevail. The lawsuit was brought against 90 coffee companies, including Starbucks, under California's Proposition 65 law passed in 1986.
Also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, the law requires labels on products containing chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.11 While there is evidence coffee has significant benefits, and the World Health Organization moved coffee off their possible carcinogen list,12 the dangers related to acrylamide are real and the chemical is found in many coffees.
Coffee companies are balking at removing it from their product as they claim it will ruin the flavor, but attorney Raphael Metzger commented,13 "I firmly believe if the potato chip industry can do it, so can the coffee industry.? In his comments prior to the ruling, he said,14 "I'm addicted to coffee, I confess, and I would like to be able to have mine without acrylamide." A third phase of the trial is now on going and will determine civil penalties against companies who do not post obvious warnings to the consumer.
A similar case was brought against potato chip makers who, in 2008, agreed to pay $3 million and remove acrylamide from their products rather than post cancer warnings on potato chip bags.15 Many coffee companies in California have already posted warnings but they may be posted in areas not easily visible to the consumer. So far, approximately 12 of the original 90 defendants have settled and agreed to post warnings. Among the latest were 7-Eleven and BP West Coast Products.
What Is Acrylamide?
Acrylamide is a chemical used in some industrial processes, such as making paper, dyes and plastics.16 It is also used in treating drinking water and wastewater, and can be found in cigarette smoke, food packaging and some adhesives. The chemical is also created when carbohydrate-rich foods are cooked at high temperatures.
This occurs whether the foods are baked, fried, roasted, grilled or toasted. Acrylamide is the byproduct of a chemical reaction occurring between sugars and the amino acid asparagine under high heat. As a general rule, it forms when plant-based foods are heated and become either fairly dry and brown, or charred.17 It is most readily found in:18
Potatoes: chips, french fries and other roasted or fried potato foods
Grains: bread crust, toast, crisp bread, roasted breakfast cereals and various processed snacks such as crackers and cookies
Coffee: roasted coffee beans and ground coffee powder. Surprisingly, coffee substitutes based on chicory actually contain two to three times more acrylamide than real coffee
Although it has become a standard component in the American diet, it's important to note the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an update advising people to reduce consumption of foods in which acrylamide is plentiful, noting this toxic byproduct is found in nearly 40 percent of calories consumed by the average American.19
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)20 classifies acrylamide as ?probable human carcinogen.? The National Toxicology Program classifies it as ?reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies it as ?likely to be carcinogenic to humans.? Despite these classifications,21 the FDA does not regulate acrylamide in food. In 2016 guidelines were issued to reduce the amount in specific foods, but these were not regulations.
On the other hand, the EPA regulates acrylamide in drinking water and sets a level of exposure they consider acceptable in spite of the knowledge 40 percent of calories consumed contain acrylamide and water does not contain calories.
This means it is highly likely your consumption of acrylamide is higher than anticipated, as the FDA?s estimate 40 percent of calories consumed by the average person contains the carcinogen does not include calorie-free water. Researchers from the department of environmental chemistry at Stockholm University related in one study:22
?The unexpected finding that humans are regularly exposed to relatively high doses of acrylamide through normal consumption of cooked food was a result of systematic research and relevant developments in methodology over decades, as well as a chain of certain coincidences.?
California Proposition 65 Aimed at Protecting California Residents
While California has taken a lead role in warning citizens about cancer-causing chemicals in their environment, some believe the state law is nothing more than a way to shake down large corporations.23 However, even the author acknowledges it is the attorneys who walk away with nearly 70 percent of the settlements, poking a rather large hole in the argument.
Currently, Proposition 65 has identified nearly 900 chemicals already in products distributed across the U.S. known to cause cancer or birth defects, and they require manufacturers to place warning labels on such products to inform consumers about the potential risks. Proposition 65 allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to collect a portion of civil penalties if companies fail to provide these warnings.
William Murray, president and CEO of the National Coffee Association, believes the lawsuit has made a mockery of Proposition 65.24 The industry claimed acrylamide is present at harmless levels and should be exempt from a law protecting citizens from carcinogenic chemicals since the chemical is produced naturally as a result of a cooking process to bring out the flavor in the coffee beans.25 Using this argument, potato chips and other foods containing acrylamide must also be exempt, but Berle did not see it this way.
Although some California residents see the Prop 65 warnings on products as little more than a nuisance, it is important knowledge to have if you strive to avoid as many toxic chemicals as possible. If the ruling stands, stiff financial penalties may be levied against manufacturers and coffee houses if warnings are not posted.
Although California has a rather large population, manufacturers will find it difficult to tailor warning labels specific to California stores. This means citizens across the U.S. may have this warning advantage as well.
Health Benefits of Dark Roast Coffee
Levels of acrylamide in coffee are influenced by the raw materials and the manufacturing process.26 Coffee beans are dried, roasted and then ground before being brewed into coffee.27 Once the coffee beans have been picked, they are processed using either a dry or wet method and then milled to remove the hulls. The beans are then bagged and prepared for shipping to manufacturers where samples are tested and analyzed for the purpose of blending different beans to create a specific roast.
At this point the coffee beans are roasted into the aromatic brown bean you purchase at your favorite store. Most roasting machines maintain a temperature over 500 degrees Fahrenheit (F) while the beans are kept moving to keep them from burning.
When the bean reaches an internal temperature of nearly 400 F they start to turn brown. After roasting, the beans are immediately cooled and packaged. Roasting generally occurs in the country where the coffee will be sold to ensure the freshest beans to reach the consumer as quickly as possible.28
It is during the roasting process that acrylamide is produced in the coffee bean.29 While it might seem reasonable to assume a light roast has lower amounts of acrylamide since the bean is roasted for a shorter amount of time, researchers have determined more of the chemical is formed at the beginning of the roasting process and declines rapidly toward the end as acrylamide is eliminated from the bean. This means dark roasted coffee contains lower amounts of acrylamide.
There are health benefits to drinking organic, dark roasted coffee. For instance, in two large studies lasting nearly 16 years and taking place in 10 European countries, researchers concluded three cups of coffee per day may lower your mortality risk. Men were 12 percent less likely to die during the follow-up and women were 7 percent less likely to die during the same period.30
The 2015 edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the first time also included coffee, recommending Americans could safely consume up to five cups a day with no detrimental effects. The recommendation was based on a meta-analysis and other studies evaluating the link between coffee and chronic diseases, including cancer, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. In fact, because Americans drink so much, coffee might be the No. 1 source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet.31
In one large study,32 data revealed those who drank three to five cups a day were less likely to have arterial calcium deposits than those who drank no coffee or those who drank more. In a study evaluating coffee drinkers over 45, researchers found a 22 percent decreased risk of all-cause mortality when those who drank four cups a day increased to six cups a day.33
Those who were at least 45 when the study began received the most benefits, with a 30 percent lower risk of death over the following 10 years for every two cups of coffee they consumed daily. Other studies have shown coffee may benefit your heart health. These include:
A meta-analysis34 of 11 studies and nearly 480,000 people found drinking two to six cups of coffee a day was associated with reduced stroke risk. The analysis also noted drinking one to four cups of coffee a day was associated with a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease in women, and coffee consumption was inversely associated with risk of Type 2 diabetes.35
Another study36 showed moderate coffee drinking reduces your chances of being hospitalized for heart rhythm problems.
Japanese researchers found drinking a cup of coffee may trigger a 30 percent increase in blood flow in your small blood vessels, which might take some strain off your heart. The effect lasts for about 75 minutes.
Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard School of Public Health found moderate coffee consumption, defined as two 8-ounce servings a day, may protect against heart failure.37
Research38 has even shown coffee consumption is inversely associated with premature death. The more coffee people drank, the lower their risk of death became, including deaths from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes and infections.
Consider Age Warnings
Caffeine is a commonly ingested psychoactive drug with an increasing number of young consumers. While most parents would never condone the use of drugs or alcohol in their children, many are buying them Frappuccinos. Today nearly 75 percent of children in the U.S. consume caffeine on any given day.39 In one study, researchers found the mean caffeine intake had not increased in children and adolescents, but the type of intake had changed from soda to a heavier emphasis on coffee and energy drinks.
However, while caffeine consumption has been common among children and adolescents for decades, researchers are finding this stimulant has a potent effect on heart, blood pressure and brain development. Cardiovascular effects of caffeine drinks appear to be higher in adolescent boys, who experienced slowed heart rate and rising blood pressure.40 The study?s lead author Jennifer Temple, an associate professor at the University of Buffalo?s School of Public Health and Health Professions, commented on the results, saying:41
?This study shows that what we would consider to be a low dose of caffeine ? what some might not think twice about giving to an 8-year-old ? is having an effect on the cardiovascular system. And right now we don?t have enough data in kids to know what the long-term effects of repeated exposure to caffeine would be.?
Caffeine consumption can cause side effects in children, including jitteriness, nervousness, upset stomach and problems sleeping and concentrating.42 In high amounts, severe symptoms may result, including nausea, vomiting, frequent urination and an irregular heartbeat. One study43 confirmed caffeine consumption in adolescence would reduce the number of sleeping hours.
The data demonstrated caffeine intake was inversely associated with sleep duration in adolescents, finding for every 10 milligram dose per day increase in caffeine, the odds for sleeping 8.5 hours or less increased. These results were confirmed in a follow-up study, which found caffeine-induced sleep loss also resulted in loss of deep sleep.44 This loss may be critical in childhood and adolescence as the brain matures fastest during this period.
In a study using rat animal model,45 pubescent rats were administered caffeine, which resulted in a delay in brain maturation. The goal of the study was to evaluate the relationship between brain maturation, sleep and the effect of caffeine consumption.
The researchers found consumption during critical development demonstrated long lasting negative effects on cognitive development in the animal model as demonstrated by changes in the rat's behavior. So, while consumption of four to six cups of organic dark roasted coffee has demonstrated significant positive health benefits for adults, it is wise to consider restricting caffeine in children and adolescents. Pregnant women should also avoid coffee.
Limiting your net carbohydrate intake is an effective way to normalize your weight and reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome, heart disease and many other chronic diseases. Net carbs are calculated by subtracting your net fiber in grams from your total carbohydrates in grams. The resulting number are your net carbohydrates. Your body needs fiber carbohydrates as a prebiotic to feed good bacteria and support a strong gut microbiome.
However, your body doesn?t need carbohydrates from grains, breads and pastas. In fact, the reaction inside your body from these foods actually feeds the development of chronic illnesses, which makes the most recent media headlines even more dangerous to the future health of Americans.
Headlines Tell Less Than Half the Story
Two studies in the past two years claim eating pasta doesn?t sabotage weight loss efforts, but instead may actually help. In both cases, the headlines only tell half the story ? possibly even less. In the first study, published in Nutrition and Diabetes in 2016,1 the authors used two large data sets to evaluate the effect eating a side dish of pasta with a Mediterranean diet would have.
Nearly 20,000 people from two different ongoing research groups were recruited for the trial. Each person filled out a food questionnaire to determine what they ate and how much, and they had their weight, height, waist and hip measurements taken. The data demonstrated no correlation between eating pasta and being overweight. Instead, those who ate pasta along with a strict Mediterranean diet were more slender.2
What the headlines failed to communicate was the people who were more slender and eating pasta were already maintaining an overall healthy, balanced diet and ate only a small side dish of pasta, rather than pasta as the main meal. Instead, headlines read:3 ?Pasta Isn't Fattening, and Can Actually Help You Lose Weight, Study Finds? Unfortunately, for those who get their news from the headlines, this is misleading as many foods eaten in very small portions are not as dangerous as portion sizes common in America.
The most recent headline asks you to believe eating pasta will help you lose weight based on a study in which participants were eating a very low glycemic diet, to which an average of 3.3 servings of pasta per week were added.4 In other words, when small portions of pasta were added to a dietary plan in which participants were already following a low carbohydrate diet, the pasta did not interfere with their ability to lose slightly more than 1 pound over 12 weeks.5 In addition, the researchers acknowledged:
The findings would only apply to eating pasta on a low glycemic index diet
Results may not hold up in other healthy diet patterns
The weight loss in the study sample was small
It was unclear if people would keep the weight off in the long term
Normal Weight Does Not Mean Healthy
Although many equate maintaining a normal weight with being healthy, your body requires more than not being overweight to function optimally. It is true obesity is linked to a significant number of chronic diseases and cancer, but maintaining a normal weight will not reduce your risk of those conditions unless you maintain your weight in a healthy fashion.
In other words, you can be slender and have metabolic syndrome, placing you at risk for diseases you normally associate with obesity, when much of your nutritional intake is derived from carbohydrates.
To maintain optimal health it is necessary to both maintain your weight and eat a diet low in net carbs to reduce your risk of becoming insulin resistant. Physical movement is a leveraging agent to help you optimize your health and fitness, but your diet is far more important than exercise to help you lose weight and keep it off.
More than 700 weight loss studies have confirmed eating a healthier diet produces greater weight loss than exercise alone.6 Studies have actually found exercise may be unrelated to weight loss.7,8 And, while sedentary behavior is not strongly associated with weight gain,9 it is strongly associated with cardiovascular disease. This means your health is not contingent only on your waistline measurement.
What Happens to Pasta In Your Body?
All calories are not created equal. They have differing metabolic effects depending upon their source, so counting calories is useless for successful weight loss. Obesity isn't conquered by simply increasing exercise as it is rooted in metabolic dysfunction, leading to abnormal energy partitioning. Eating foods high in net carbohydrates, such as pasta, contributes to metabolic dysfunction.
Metabolism of carbohydrates, including breads, grains and pastas, begins in your small intestines where monosaccharides are absorbed into the bloodstream.10 These monosaccharides (sugars) are controlled in part by insulin and glucagon. When the concentration of glucose in your blood is too high, your body secretes insulin, which stimulates the transfer of sugar into your cells. If glucose is not needed immediately, it is altered into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles until a later time.
Fats and fiber digest differently as they are not converted into glucose. Although fiber does not add calories to your diet, it is essential to maintain a healthy gut microbiome, slow digestion and improve the absorption of nutrients.11 Your body can use both carbohydrates and fat for fuel, but they are not equal in terms of value and benefit. In fact, fat is far preferable fuel for your body, improving your metabolic health and reducing your insulin resistance.
The Result of Eating Foods High In Carbohydrates
Once your body releases insulin and blood glucose reaches your cells, you suddenly find yourself hungry again, sometimes just a couple of hours after your last meal. Some reach for a high sugar carbohydrate snack in the middle of the afternoon to get through till dinner, but this only perpetuates the cycle of high blood sugar, insulin release, plummeting blood sugar and reaching for another snack.
While this vicious cycle makes eating healthy difficult and increases your risk for weight gain, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, these chronically elevated blood sugar levels have a profoundly negative influence on your brain as well.12 Researchers have found negative cognitive effects occur even in people without Type 2 diabetes, suggesting keeping your blood sugar levels lower than what is typically considered "normal" is probably best for your brain health.
This supports separate research finding insulin resistance and diabetes were associated with a 56 percent higher risk of Alzheimer's disease and 127 percent increased risk of vascular dementia and cognitive risks.13 Other studies have also suggested higher blood sugar levels are detrimental to your neurological and cognitive health even without impaired insulin response.14
Each of these factors are associated with eating simple carbohydrates, including pastas and breads, and are related to the rising rate of obesity in America. A report from the National Center for Health Statistics shows nearly 40 percent of adults in the U.S. are obese.15
Importance of Fiber and Fat to Reduce Cravings, Increase Satiety and Control Weight
Simple carbohydrates found in breads and pastas feed sugar addiction as the foods metabolize into glucose. A meal rich in carbohydrates is often followed by low blood sugar several hours later, triggering hunger and sugar cravings. Fiber and fat, on the other hand, will help reduce your cravings, increase satiety and help you to control your weight. When your body has the opportunity to burn fat for fuel, your liver creates water soluble fats called ketones.
These burn far more efficiently than carbs and create far fewer harmful reactive oxygen species and secondary free radicals, which damage your cellular and mitochondrial cell membranes, proteins and DNA. Being an efficient fat burner may also improve your odds of living longer, as the fat burning process has many similar benefits as fasting, including improved glucose metabolism and reduced inflammation.
Your body's ability to burn fat is inhibited with a high-carbohydrate diet, since when both fats and carbohydrates are available, the body uses carbs first. If your diet is high in refined fructose, this activates an enzyme causing cells to accumulate fat. Each of these processes may help explain why it's so difficult to lose weight while you're still eating carbohydrates, especially if you include them several times a day. Even getting exercise does not negate fat storage from eating carbohydrates.
The way out of this metabolically unhealthy loop is to eat more healthy fats and limit your net carbs. By incorporating intermittent fasting into the process, you will speed your liver's ability to burn fat and improve your overall metabolic profile. In order to effectively burn body fat, you may need as much as 50 to 85 percent of your daily calories from healthy fats, which include:
Olives and olive oil (make sure it's third party certified, as 80 percent of olive oils are adulterated with vegetable oils.
Seeds like black sesame, cumin, pumpkin and hemp seeds
Grass fed meats
Lard and tallow (excellent for cooking)
Ghee (clarified butter)
Raw cacao butter
Organic pastured egg yolks
White Flour Pasta Alternative
When only noodles will do, the healthiest choice are shirataki noodles. These may be the epitome of a low net carb food as they contain nearly 97 percent water and 3 percent fiber, with zero calories and no digestible carbohydrates. Sometimes called konjac noodles or miracle noodles, they are long, white and translucent and made from glucomannan fiber from the root of the konjac plant. As described by Authority Nutrition:16
"Glucomannan is a highly viscous fiber. Viscous fiber is a type of soluble fiber, and one of its main characteristics is the ability to absorb water and form a gel. In fact, glucomannan can absorb up to 50 times its weight in water, as reflected in shirataki noodles' extremely high water content.
These noodles move through the digestive system very slowly, which helps you feel full and delays nutrient absorption into the bloodstream. In addition, viscous fiber functions as a prebiotic. It nourishes the bacteria living in your colon, also known as the gut flora or microbiome."
Shirataki noodles are a high fiber food that nourish healthy gut bacteria and fill you up while reducing your net carbs. Another option you may consider is using spaghetti squash for noodles. This low carb Spaghetti Squash Carbonara recipe is published by Maya at Wholesome Yum.17
1 large spaghetti squash
1/2 cup cooked bacon bits
4 cloves minced garlic
3/4 cup green peas (raw or cooked work best)
1 large egg
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt (to taste)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Slice the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise; remove the seeds. Place on a lined baking sheet, cut side down and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes or until your fork can easily pierce the skin.
Sauté garlic and bacon bits in an oiled pan on the stove over medium to medium-high heat, until the bacon is sizzling (about two to three minutes).
Add green peas and sauté for three to five more minutes, until peas are bright green. (If adding frozen peas, you can proceed to the next step right away.)
Remove from heat.
Whisk heavy cream, almond milk, eggs and Parmesan cheese in a bowl.
When the spaghetti squash is done baking, use a fork to pull out the "noodles." While they are still hot, stir in the egg parmesan mixture, then add the bacon mixture. Season with sea salt to taste. Garnish with fresh parsley and additional Parmesan cheese if desired.
Carrageenan, a food additive extracted from red seaweed, is commonly added as a thickening agent to processed foods, particularly dairy products, certain deli meats and other prepared foods. Since it comes from seaweed, many people assume carrageenan is natural ? perhaps even healthy ? and along with conventional foods this additive is often found in ?natural? and organic products.
The problem is that carrageenan is not nutritious, nor is it natural or certified organic. It?s a processed additive extracted from seaweed using alkali, and research suggests it?s highly inflammatory, triggering an immune reaction that may cause inflammation in your gastrointestinal system and related problems.1 As such, organic watchdog groups such as The Cornucopia Institute have called for it to be removed from the U.S. list of approved organic ingredients.
In December 2016, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the U.S. Department of Agriculture?s (USDA) expert advisory board, voted to do just that. After hearing evidence on the potential health risks and the availability of alternative ingredients, NOSB voted to remove carrageenan from the organic ingredients list. Unfortunately, the vote is technically only a recommendation, and while the USDA has historically almost always sided with their expert panel, in April 2018 they did just the opposite.
USDA Overrules NOSB Advice, Keeps Carrageenan in Organics
?AMS [USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service] has reviewed NOSB's sunset review document and decided to renew all 17 substances, including carrageenan. AMS found sufficient evidence in public comments to the NOSB that carrageenan continues to be necessary for handling agricultural products because of the unavailability of wholly natural substitutes ?
Carrageenan has specific uses in an array of agricultural products, and public comments reported that potential substitutes do not adequately replicate the functions of carrageenan across the broad scope of use.?
Yet, as noted by Mark A. Kastel, senior farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute, the decision flies in the face of the very reason NOSB was created. ?This is the latest instance of the ? administration siding with powerful agribusiness interests. They are running roughshod over the will of Congress that established the NOSB as a buffer to insulate organic regulations from corrupt corporate lobbyists.?3 Also noteworthy, the USDA not only ignored NOSB?s vote but also made their decision with no opportunity for public comment.
It?s only the second time in nearly 30 years that the USDA has gone against NOSB?s advice on whether or not to remove an ingredient from the organic list. The other time, which also occurred recently, involved conventionally produced dairy whey protein concentrate. Charlotte Vallaeys, senior policy analyst with advocacy group Consumers Union, told Food Business News that the move could have serious repercussions to the organic label:4
?Today?s decision by the USDA represents a troubling precedent that undermines the integrity of the organic label ? Current law requires the USDA to base the National List of allowable ingredients for organic food on the recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board, which are developed after extensive public engagement and stakeholder input. The USDA?s decision to ignore the NOSB?s recommendation raises serious concerns about the future of the organic label.?
Carrageenan Health Risks Revealed
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies degraded carrageenan as a possible human carcinogen. Degraded carrageenan, which is processed with acid instead of alkali (as the food-grade carrageenan is) is so inflammatory that it?s used in laboratory studies to induce inflammation in animals in order to test anti-inflammatory agents. While food-grade carrageenan is a different product, there?s concern that stomach acid could essentially turn food-grade carrageenan into potentially carcinogenic degraded carrageenan once inside the body.5
Further, exposure to even undegraded (i.e., food-grade) carrageenan has been linked with an increased occurrence of intestinal ulcerations and potentially cancer growths.6 In a 2016 report by the Cornucopia Institute, the health risks of carrageenan were further revealed, with a slew of studies raising serious concerns over carrageenan?s inflammatory properties. According to the report:7
?The unique chemical structure of carrageenan triggers an innate immune response in the body, recognizing it as a dangerous invader. This immune response leads to inflammation. For individuals who consume carrageenan on a regular or daily basis, the inflammation will be prolonged and constant, a serious health concern as a precursor to more serious diseases.
In fact, the medical community has long recognized that inflammation is associated with over 100 human diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and arteriosclerosis. Inflammation is also linked to cancer.
Many individuals experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms (ranging from mild ?belly bloat,? to irritable bowel syndrome, to severe inflammatory bowel disease) have noticed that eliminating carrageenan from the diet leads to profound improvements in their gastrointestinal health.
Researchers are exploring other ways in which carrageenan is harmful. Scientists have recently found that contact with carrageenan reduces the activity of certain beneficial enzymes in human cells. And, a recent study exposing mice to carrageenan in drinking water showed impaired insulin action and profound glucose intolerance ? precursors to diabetes.?
Why Do Food Manufacturers Use Carrageenan?
Food manufacturers have a great incentive to add carrageenan to their products, as it?s an economical way to replace fat in foods. It?s also used as a stabilizing agent that helps prevent foods from separating so they can be consumed without first shaking or stirring them. Alternatives do exist, including guar gum and locust bean gum, as well as simply advising consumers to ?shake well? before consuming.
?[T]he simplest alternative to carrageenan in products such as chocolate milk is to have the consumer shake the product right before use,? Cornucopia noted.8 In response to consumer demand, some organic food companies have already removed carrageenan from their products, but many others have not.
Additionally, many conventional food products contain this additive. You may find carrageenan in the following foods, according to The Cornucopia report, so be sure to read the ingredients list carefully (when used as a processing agent, carrageenan may be present in a food but not listed on the label, so contact the manufacturer to be sure):9
Dairy products, including whipping cream, chocolate milk, ice cream, sour cream, cottage cheese and squeeazble yogurt (typically marketed to children)
Dairy alternatives, including soy milk, almond milk, hemp milk, coconut milk, soy desserts and soy pudding
Meats, including sliced turkey and prepared chicken
Nutritional protein drinks and bars
Prepared foods, such as canned soup, broth, microwaveable dinners and frozen pizza
When you see ?organic? on a label, it?s necessary to do your due diligence to ensure the product is truly produced with the highest organic standards, as a number of factors can potentially ?water down? the integrity of the label. For instance, the Organic Trade Association and the hydroponic lobby, led by the Coalition for Sustainable Organics, are seeking to rewrite organic rules to include hydroponics, which are plants grown in a liquid medium without soil.
However, USDA organic regulations require that your crop rotation plan maintains or improves soil organic matter. Since hydroponics do not involve the use of soil, they do not qualify for organic certification, yet hydroponic operators have been certified organic by USDA-accredited certification agencies, which is deceitful to the public. In November 2017, NOSB rejected the proposal to ban hydroponics and aquaponics in organic production, even though these growing methods do not involve soil.
Many organic pioneers are threatening to opt out of USDA organic certification as a result, and if stewardship of nutrient-rich soil is eliminated as a basic requirement of organics, an alternative add-on label may be developed. It?s important to be aware that hydroponics also use chemicals, which organic producers are barred from using. Worse, commercial hydroponic growers will rarely reveal the fertilizers they use.
Further, keep in mind that while growing food indoors does reduce the need for pesticides, it does not automatically mean hydroponic vegetables are pesticide-free. In addition, at least one study found hydroponically grown vegetables had lower levels of carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lutein than conventional vegetables.10
Organic dairy is another area where not all organic brands are created equal. While some are offering truly superior milk that comes from grass fed cows raised on pasture, others are passing off industrially produced milk as organic ? and pocketing the increased profits while small family farms struggle to survive. In short, cows produce more milk, faster, when they?re fed grain in the barn, as opposed to grazing on grass on pasture.
Industrialized organic dairies are capitalizing on this by skimping on grazing time, raising thousands of cows in veritable CAFOs, yet still gaining the USDA organic label that suggests a superior product. As organic standards continue to be devalued, it?s now more important than ever to seek transparency from the food companies you support and choose those adhering to true organic standards.
How to Avoid Carrageenan and Choose Real Versus ?Fake? Organics
As for meat and dairy, I encourage you to look for the American Grassfed Association (AGA) logo, as it ensures the animals were born and raised on American family farms, fed only grass and forage from weaning until harvest, and raised on pasture without confinement to feedlots.11 You can further protect your family by consulting Cornucopia's organic dairy scorecard, which separates organic high-integrity dairy brands from what they call the "factory farm imposters."
Though he still sees himself as ?just a little boy who loves frogs,? Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D., an integrative biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has spent a decade feuding with chemical giant Syngenta, manufacturer of the pesticide atrazine. Novartis, which eventually became Syngenta, asked Hayes to use his extensive knowledge of frog hormones to determine if atrazine was interfering with frogs in the environment.
It certainly wasn?t what they wanted to hear, but he found atrazine may be chemically castrating male frogs, essentially turning them into female frogs. When Hayes reported some of his troubling findings to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including male frogs with eggs bursting out of their testicles ? ?I thought they would be interested, after all it was the No. 1 selling chemical in the world at the time,? he said ? they stated it wasn?t an adverse effect that would prompt them to reevaluate the chemical.
Hayes resigned his contractor position with Syngenta after the company refused to allow him to publish the results of studies they had funded. After resigning, he obtained independent funding to repeat the research, which was subsequently published and found that atrazine causes hermaphroditism in frogs.
Syngenta attempted to discredit Hayes after the damaging research was released. However, as Hayes argues in the TED talk above, he follows Albert Einstein?s notion that ?those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.?
Atrazine Shown To Be Harmful to Animals, Humans and the Environment
Hayes? research hypothesized that atrazine turned on an enzyme (aromatase) that caused testosterone to be converted into estrogen. If you?re a male, this means that you won?t make sperm, but you will make estrogen, even though you shouldn?t.
According to Hayes and colleagues in research published in Nature in 2002, exposure to water-borne atrazine contamination led to ?gonadal abnormalities such as retarded development and hermaphroditism? in 10 percent to 92 percent of male wild leopard frogs. Hayes published another study in 2010 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which similarly found:1
Yet, if atrazine is harming wildlife via the water supply, it stands to reason that it could harm humans as well. Indeed, Hayes cites research showing that men with higher levels of atrazine in their urine (the same level he and colleagues used to ?chemically castrate? frogs ? 0.1 parts per billion (ppb)) have lower sperm counts. Other research shows that workers who apply atrazine in agricultural fields have 24,000 times the atrazine level in their urine than was used to chemically castrate frogs.
He soon became involved in environmental justice, as he learned that most of the individuals being exposed to these high levels of atrazine are Latin American or Mexican American. The evidence also suggests atrazine exposure may contribute to a number of different cancers, specifically ovarian cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, hairy-cell leukemia and thyroid cancer.
In addition, Hayes cited research showing an 8.4-fold increase in prostate cancer in males working in an atrazine factory ? in a community that?s 80 percent African-American. Again, racial or ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected.
Atrazine Contaminates Drinking Water
As far as pesticides go, atrazine is the one most commonly found in U.S. drinking water. In 2012, Syngenta AG and its U.S. subsidiary were ordered to pay $105 million to filter the chemical out of Midwestern community water treatment operations providing drinking water to 52 million Americans.2 The legal proceedings revealed that as many as 1 in 6 Americans was drinking atrazine-contaminated water. The $105 million settlement was really just a drop in the bucket when compared to the actual cost of filtering this chemical.
In 2010, the plaintiffs' attorney, Stephen Tillery, said the 16 cities included in the original lawsuit had already spent about $350 million to filter it out. Since 2012, at least 1,085 other compensation claims over atrazine contamination have been filed against Syngenta, suggesting the problem is incredibly widespread.
Also disturbing, studies show a correlation between atrazine in drinking water and breast cancer incidence in Kentucky,3 whereas previous research on rats showed exposure to atrazine increased the incidence of mammary cancer.4
As Hayes pointed out, ?This is an interesting problem, because breast cancer ? is estrogen dependent and ? aromatase ? produces the estrogen during breast cancer that stimulates those breast cancers to grow and divide and turn into tumors and spread.? He then points out that the No. 1 treatment for breast cancer is a chemical called Letrozole, which works by knocking out aromatase and decreasing the estrogen that?s fueling the cancer. Hayes explained:
?That drug, though, has to work against the 80 million pounds of atrazine that we?re using every year ? that does exactly the opposite. I got in trouble because I pointed out that Novartis Oncology, in the year 2000, offered treatments for cancer, including breast cancer, so the same company that gave us 80 million pounds of this contaminant associated with breast cancer was also selling a chemical that does the opposite to treat breast cancer.?
Glyphosate Also Linked to Reproductive Problems
Atrazine is only one pesticide that?s causing potentially devastating effects on future generations. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto?s Roundup, is another. More tons of glyphosate have been sprayed worldwide than any other herbicide before it. In addition to being declared a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), researchers from Indiana University and University of California San Francisco linked the chemical to earlier deliveries in pregnant women.5
Not only did 90 percent of the pregnant women in the study, who resided in central Indiana, test positive for glyphosate, but the levels significantly correlated with shortened pregnancy lengths.
While Monsanto downplayed the findings, stating they are not indicative of adverse health outcomes,6 the study?s lead author, Shahid Parvez, an assistant professor in the department of environmental health science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, stated, "There is growing evidence that even a slight reduction in gestational length can lead to lifelong adverse consequences."7
Glyphosate is used in large quantities on genetically engineered (GE) glyphosate-tolerant crops (i.e., Roundup Ready varieties). Its use actually increased nearly fifteenfold since such GE crops were introduced in 1996.8 Glyphosate is also a popular tool for desiccating (or accelerating the drying out) of crops like wheat and oats. Unbeknownst to many, glyphosate is sprayed onto many crops shortly before harvest, which is why residues have been found in GE and non-GE foods alike.
According to Parvez, ?The bad news is that the dietary intake of genetically modified food items and caffeinated beverages is suspected to be the main source of glyphosate intake."9 In fact women in the study with the highest glyphosate levels were those who lived in rural areas and consumed more caffeinated beverages.
Pesticides Lead to Massive Bird Decline in France
Equally unsettling are the growing reports that pesticides are devastating birds and insects worldwide. Conservation biologists in France described a ?catastrophic? situation in which dozens of species of birds have declined in the country, some with population cuts up to two-thirds. Research shows, for instance, that once-common birds like the common white throat and the Eurasian skylark have seen their populations fall by at least one-third, whereas the meadow pipit declined by close to 70 percent.10
It?s not that the birds are being directly poisoned to death that?s the problem, but rather that their food supply ? insects ? is. Vincent Bretagnolle, a National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize, told The Guardian, ?There are hardly any insects left, that?s the No. 1 problem,? adding that past studies have found 80 percent declines in flying insects in Europe in recent years, along with a loss of 400 million birds in the last three decades.11
Declines in certain insect groups like bees, butterflies and even moths have been apparent for some time, according to researchers of a 2017 study published in PLOS One.12 However, their study looked at total flying insect biomass over a period of 27 years in 63 protected areas in Germany to assess the bigger picture, revealing a 76 percent decline in flying insects over a period of 27 years in Germany.
The ramifications of disappearing insects should not be taken lightly. It?s estimated that 80 percent of wild plants depend on insects for pollination, and 60 percent of birds depend on them for food. Further, the ?ecosystem services? provided by insects as a whole is estimated at $57 billion annually in the U.S. alone, the researchers noted, so ?[c]learly, preserving insect abundance and diversity should constitute a prime conservation priority.?13
New Bayer Pesticide Harms Bees? Cognition
Neonicotinoid pesticides, which are widely used in intensive agricultural operations, have been implicated in the decline of bees, particularly in commercially bred species like honeybees and bumblebees, although wild foraging bees may be negatively affected also.14 Neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides on the planet, though their use was recently restricted by the European Union.
Bayer AG has since released a new pesticide called Sivanto, whose active ingredient, flupyradifurone, binds to the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAchR) in the honeybee brain, as do neonicotinoids. A 2018 study published in Scientific Reports has already revealed that the chemical ?can reduce taste and appetitive learning performance in honeybees foraging for pollen and nectar.?15
One of the study?s authors, Hannah Hesselbach, said in a news release, ?[A] flupyradifurone amount of 1.2 micrograms per bee results in significantly reduced perception and learning performance ? Also, we cannot say which influence flupyradifurone will have on bees in combination with other pesticides which are frequently found in honey and pollen in residual amounts.?16 As Hayes noted, we all have a ?duty to act? when it comes to protecting future generations from the harmful effects of this pesticide overload.
Keep in mind that you can help protect the welfare of humans, animals, insects and the environment alike every time you shop organic and grass fed, as you are ?voting? for less pesticides and herbicides with every organic and pastured food and consumer product you buy. In addition, take steps to make your own backyard healthier for everyone by eliminating the use of pesticides and other chemicals and planting a diverse variety of native flowers and other plants.
According to the largest review of the drug resistance problem to date, by 2050 the annual global death toll from antibiotic-resistant disease will reach 10 million.1 At present, an estimated 23,000 Americans die each year from drug-resistant infections, and the death toll will continue to rise until or unless the underlying causes are properly addressed. One significant driver of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is the routine use of antibiotics in agriculture.2
As noted by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in 2016,3 "The rapid spread of new disease strains ... is one very visible reason why the expansion of factory-style animal production is viewed as unsustainable." In the video above, the late Steve Wing, former associate professor and epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, discusses the human health impacts of factory farms.
Another major contributor to and source of drug-resistant infections is hospitals. According to statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 25 patients now contracts a hospital-acquired infection4 and many of them are resistant to drug treatment. Most disturbing of all, some infections are now exhibiting "panresistance," meaning they're resistant to every antibiotic in existence.
One particularly nasty panresistant bacterium that is gaining ground is carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which produces an enzyme that breaks down antibiotics. Hospitals are the most common source of this infection, which is lethal in about 9 percent of all cases. When the CRE infection affects the blood, the death rate jumps to 50 percent.5
CRE With Rare New Resistance-Conferring Genes Found in 27 States
Tests conducted last year on nearly 5,780 antibiotic-resistant bacterial samples collected from hospitals and nursing homes revealed 1 in 4 samples contained genes known to confer drug resistance, and 221 contained a particularly rare drug-resistance gene that confers a very high level of resistance.6,7 Principal deputy director of the CDC, Dr. Anne Schuchat, told CNN she was "surprised by the numbers found."8
The 221 samples came from 27 different states, which shows this particularly troublesome drug-resistance gene has already spread far and wide. It was also found in a number of different types of infections, including samples of pneumonia, bloodstream infections and urinary tract infections.
Disturbingly, follow-up screening showed nearly 1 in 10 asymptomatic contacts tested positive for drug-resistant bacteria carrying this rare gene, which means it can, and likely has, spread to other patients who have come into contact with an infected individual.
To get ahead of the antibiotic-resistance problem, the CDC has created a strategy to identify, track and contain the germs and, according to the CDC, it seems to be working. CRE prevalence has declined slightly in recent years, but the emergence and rapid spread of this new drug resistance gene is still deeply troubling. According to Schuchat, "these verge on untreatable infections," where supportive care is the only option.9
With intravenous (IV) fluids, you may be lucky enough to recover as long as your immune system is strong enough. Still, what in the past might have been an easily treatable condition can now become truly life-threatening.
As noted in the CDC's report,10 "Notably, 221 isolates with non-KPC [Klebsiella pneumoniae] carbapenemases were identified; these rare forms of resistance have the potential to add to the U.S. CRE burden and represent an important opportunity to prevent the spread of novel resistance at its earliest stage. Findings from these enhanced prevention efforts are being used to further refine detection and prevention strategies."
Using Lactated Ringer's Solution Rather Than Saline Can Save Lives
An important side note on the use of IV fluids is to make sure you or your loved one receives lactated Ringer's solution rather than saline. Two recent studies show IV saline can cause major kidney problems and death ? risks that could easily be lowered by using lactated Ringer's solution, a "balanced crystalloid" electrolyte replenishment11 that has been widely available for many decades, and costs about the same as saline.
While saline consists of sodium chloride dissolved in water, lactated Ringer's12 solution contains a mix of electrolytes, including sodium chloride, sodium lactate, calcium chloride and potassium chloride, which makes it more similar to blood plasma. The first study,13 which evaluated outcomes in over 15,800 intensive care unit (ICU) patients, found those receiving IV saline suffered higher rates of kidney problems and mortality within 30 days than those receiving lactated Ringer's solution:
15.4 percent of those receiving saline had a major adverse kidney event, compared to 14.3 percent of those receiving lactated Ringer's
2.9 percent of those receiving saline required kidney-replacement therapy, compared to 2.5 percent of those receiving lactated Ringer's
11.1 percent of the saline group died within 30 days, compared to 10.3 percent in the lactated Ringer's group
The second study14 involved adults with noncritical illness who were treated in the emergency room (ER) and subsequently hospitalized outside an ICU. The primary outcome of this one was hospital-free days after discharge. Secondary outcomes included kidney problems, renal-replacement therapy, persistent renal dysfunction and death from any cause within 30 days. Of the nearly 13,350 patients enrolled, 88.3 percent received lactated Ringer's exclusively in the ER.
Here, the number of hospital-free days were identical in both the saline and lactated Ringer's groups (with a median of 25 days respectively), but those receiving lactated Ringer's had a lower rate of adverse kidney events ? 4.7 percent versus 5.6 percent. Overall, these two studies suggest lactated Ringer's solution is particularly important for critically ill patients, but will also lower the odds of adverse kidney events in those who are not critically ill.
While the overall difference in adverse events and death between the two solutions is only about 1 percent, this difference still translates into anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 fewer deaths and 100,000 fewer cases of kidney failure in the U.S. alone when you consider the tens of millions receiving IV saline each year. So, whenever you're in the hospital for any significant length of time and need to receive IV fluids, it is imperative to be sure to ask for lactated Ringer's solution.
Drugs Other Than Antibiotics Are Also Changing the Human Microbiome
In related news, scientists warn that antibiotics are not the only type of drug capable of altering the human microbiome and posing a significant health threat. According to researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Germany, antidiabetic drugs, proton pump inhibitors, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and atypical antipsychotics are all capable of upsetting the composition of your microbiome.15
Of the 1,000 nonantibiotic drugs tested in vitro, one-quarter of them were found to inhibit the growth of at least one species of human gut bacteria. Forty of the drugs impacted 10 or more species. As predicted, 78 percent of antibacterial drugs tested inhibited one or more species of gut bacteria, but the fact that so many drugs designed to target human cells, not microbes, were also found to affect the microbiome took them by surprise. Senior author professor Peer Bork commented on the findings, saying:16
"The number of unrelated drugs that hit gut microbes as collateral damage was surprising. Especially since we show that the actual number is likely to be even higher. More human-targeted drugs would inhibit bacterial growth if probed at higher doses, closer to physiological concentrations. [And] analysis indicates that if more gut species were tested, the fraction of human-targeted drugs with anti-commensal activity would increase."
Another surprise: The team also found that the microbes' resistance mechanisms to human-targeted drugs had a "large degree of overlap" with those of antibiotics. What this means is that even nonantibiotic drugs may promote antibiotic resistance. As noted by the authors, "The potential risk of nonantibiotics promoting antibiotic resistance warrants further exploration.
Our results provide a resource for future research on drug?microbiome interactions, opening new paths for side effect control and drug repurposing and broadening our view of antibiotic resistance."
Both Antibiotics and Antacids Raise Risk of Allergies in Infants
A study17,18,19 that appears to support these findings was recently published in JAMA Pediatrics. Here, they found that use of either antibiotics or antacids during infancy increased the risk of childhood allergies, including asthma, to an equal degree. For this study, the Tricare health records of nearly 800,000 children born between 2001 and 2013 were reviewed. The follow-up period averaged 4.5 years, at which point more than half of the children had developed some form of allergy.
While the root cause remains uncertain, there appears to be a strong relationship between allergy development and the use of antibiotics and antacids. Babies who received antacids such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or histamine-2 receptor antagonists (H2 blockers) at some point during their first six months of life had twice the risk of developing a food allergy, especially for cow's milk, and a 50 percent higher risk of hay fever and anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction.
Babies given antibiotics during the first six months of life had more than twice the risk of asthma, a 14 percent increased risk for food allergy, as well as a 50 percent higher risk of anaphylaxis and hay fever. According to the researchers, the common link between antacids and antibiotics is their impact on intestinal bacteria.
By altering the balance of gut bacteria, it can cause the child's immune system to overreact, triggering an allergy. The scientists also noted there's evidence to suggest antacids affect the digestion of proteins, and may alter the development of a child's immune system pathways.20 Senior author and pediatric gastroenterologist at Uniformed Services University, Dr. Cade Nylund, told The New York Times:21
"Let's not prescribe these medicines for things that are very common in babies. Just because a baby spits up doesn't mean that it's a disease that requires treatment with a PPI. And we have to avoid overprescribing antibiotics for upper respiratory infections and other viral illnesses."
Strategies to Protect Yourself and Limit Spread of Drug-Resistant Bacteria
While the problem of antibiotic resistance needs to be stemmed through public policy on a nationwide level, the more people who get involved on a personal level, the better. There are strategies that will help curtail the spread of antibiotic resistance in general, and optimizing your own immune system function will help keep you safe from developing a potentially lethal infection in the first place. So, on an individual level, you can help minimize the problem by focusing on:
Infection prevention, with a focus on strengthening your immune system naturally. Avoiding sugars, processed foods and grains, stress reduction, and optimizing your sleep and vitamin D level are foundational for this. Adding in traditionally fermented and cultured foods is also important, as this will help optimize your microbiome.
The Nitric Oxide Dump exercise (below) will also help improve your immune status. Contrary to supplements that boost immune function, which should be taken only as needed, the Nitric Oxide Dump exercise is a preventive method that should ideally be done daily.
Limiting your use of antibiotics. Any time your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, ask if it's absolutely necessary, and keep in mind that antibiotics do not work for viral infections. For example, antibiotics are typically unnecessary for most ear infections, and they do not work on the common cold or flu, both of which are caused by viruses.
Avoiding antibacterial household products such as antibacterial soaps, hand sanitizers and wipes, as these promote antibiotic resistance by allowing the strongest bacteria to survive and thrive in your home.
Properly washing your hands with warm water and plain soap, to prevent the spread of bacteria. Be particularly mindful of washing your hands and kitchen surfaces after handling raw meats, as about half of all meat sold in American grocery stores is likely to be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. Avoid antibiotic soaps that typically have dangerous chemicals like triclosan.
Common-sense precautions in the kitchen: Kitchens are notorious breeding grounds for disease-causing bacteria, courtesy of contaminated meat products, including antibiotic-resistant strains of E-coli. To avoid cross-contamination between foods in your kitchen, adhere to the following recommendations:
Use a designated cutting board, preferably wood, not plastic, for raw meat and poultry, and never use this board for other food preparation, such as cutting up vegetables. Color coding your cutting boards is a simple way to distinguish between them
To sanitize your cutting board, use hot water and detergent. Simply wiping it off with a rag will not destroy the bacteria
For an inexpensive, safe and effective kitchen counter and cutting board sanitizer, use 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Keep each liquid in a separate spray bottle, and then spray the surface with one, followed by the other, and wipe off
Coconut oil can also be used to clean, treat and sanitize your wooden cutting boards. It's loaded with lauric acid that has potent antimicrobial actions. The fats will also help condition the wood
Natural Immune Boosters
For most infections, antibiotics are unnecessary. There are a number of different plants and natural remedies you can use to fight infections, and contrary to antibiotic drugs, these do not promote the development of drug resistance. Natural compounds with antimicrobial activity include:
Aside from boosting your immune function, the Nitric Oxide Dump exercise, developed by Dr. Zach Bush and demonstrated in the video above, will also improve blood flow, discourage the development of blood clots, lower your blood pressure, slow down age-related muscle decline and boost your mitochondrial health. These benefits are all effects of increasing nitric oxide, which high-intensity bursts of activity do quite effectively.
Nitric oxide is produced inside your endothelial cells from the amino acid L-arginine, and acts as an important signaling molecule throughout your body. When you exercise and your muscles ache, it's because you've run out of oxygen, which your body compensates for by releasing nitric oxide, which dilates your blood vessels, making it easier for oxygen to be delivered. When you exercise, it takes only about 90 seconds for your blood vessels to run out of stored nitric oxide and begin the process of making more.
This is one of the reasons short bursts of high-intensity activity provide such powerful health and fitness benefits.22 Ideally, perform this exercise two to three times a day, with at least two hours between sessions, as this is how long it takes for nitric oxide to synthesize for subsequent release. As mentioned earlier, this exercise is something you can do on a daily basis to keep your immune function strong, which will help your body to ward off infections of all kinds.
If you enjoy Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, you?ve likely eaten sumac, perhaps without knowing it. I?m not talking about the wild plant that causes contact dermatitis in the majority of people who touch it. No, the sumac I have in mind is a tart, edible powder used in dry rubs, marinades, salad dressings and spice blends. It gives a pop of deep red color and a lemony tang to chicken, fish, lamb and vegetable dishes.
Most notably, sumac is featured prominently in the spice mix za?atar and also is commonly found on fattoush salad and hummus.1 When ground, sumac powder can be mistaken for paprika, but its tangy punch is distinctive. If you are wondering why you should care about sumac, you may be interested to know this intriguing spice has been called out for its positive effects on your blood sugar levels, in addition to a number of other health benefits.
What Is Sumac?
Not to be confused with poison sumac, which can give you an itchy rash upon contact, the sumac varieties I?m discussing hail from the red berries produced by the sumac bush. While it is native to the Middle East, sumac has spread far and wide to other regions. When ground into a coarse powder, sumac adds a colorful, slightly sour, lemony tang to a variety of dishes.
About sumac, The Kitchn says, ?Sumac is a widely used, essential spice in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. It's used in everything from dry rubs to marinades and dressing. But its best use is sprinkled over food before serving.? Given its increasing popularity, you may be able to find it among other herbs and spices in your local grocery store.
You can easily distinguish edible and poisonous sumac by looking at the berries. The berries of poison sumac varieties are white or gray in color and droop from the branch. In contrast, the edible berries of staghorn sumacs and other nonpoisonous varieties are a deep red color and attached to upright stalks.2 Some varieties of sumac are considered to be an invasive species in parts of the U.S. and have proven difficult to eradicate.3
Sumac Is Rooted in History
American Forest shares these interesting facts about sumac:4
With about 250 species worldwide, sumac has been used throughout history as a medicinal herb, a dye, ingredient in wax and a tobacco additive
As a member of the Anacardiaceae (cashew) family of plants, varieties of sumac can be found in eastern Asia, North America, northeastern Australia and southern Africa, as well as the Middle East
Native Americans used sumac as an astringent, a gargle for coughs, a treatment for gonorrhea and hemorrhoids and an ingredient in smoking tobacco
In the fall, if you live in North America, brilliant orange and red sumac leaves will undoubtedly catch your attention in forests, parks and roadside ditches
Sumac Shown to Reduce Blood Sugar Levels for Type 2 Diabetics
A 2014 study5 published in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research sought to determine the effects of sumac on diabetes. In particular, scientists from Iran and the U.S. sought to determine if sumac would have effects on blood sugar levels, apolipoprotein (apo) B, apoA-I and total antioxidant capacity (TAC) in Type 2 diabetics.
For the three-month double-blind clinical study, 41 diabetic volunteers were randomly assigned either a 3 gram-per-day serving of sumac powder or a placebo. Blood samples were collected before and after the research. As compared to those receiving a placebo, the sumac group experienced signi?cant decreases in blood sugar levels and haemoglobin A1c, as well as apoB, a protein constituent of low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol).
With respect to the sumac group, researchers also noted a significant increase in apoA-I, a component of high-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol), and TAC, which, at higher levels, can reduce the incidence of diabetic complications. About the outcomes, the study authors said, ?[T]hese results showed the [favorable] effect of sumac consumption on serum glycemic (blood sugar) status, apoB, apoA-I and TAC levels in in Type 2 diabetic patients.?
In a 2013 study, presented in the Journal of Medicinal Plants Research,6 a team of Iranian scientists administered an herbal, sumac-containing capsule to 31 Type 2 diabetics three times a day for four weeks to evaluate its effect on blood sugar control. This herbal remedy, which traditionally has been used in the Middle East for diabetes (also known as ziabetes in the region), contains common purslane, pomegranate and Sicilian sumac.
About the research outcomes, the study authors stated, ?This study indicated the ziabetes capsule is effective in decreasing fasting and postprandial plasma glucose levels among Type 2 diabetic patients without any side effects.?
Antioxidants: Another Way Sumac Is a Health Booster
Studies performed on the berries of two edible sumac varieties suggest this plant has exceptionally high antioxidant properties.7 As you know, your body needs antioxidants because they neutralize free radicals ? unstable molecules known to promote aging and chronic disease.
A 2013 study published in the journal Food Chemistry8 validated earlier studies by finding staghorn sumac (Rhus hirta L.) to exert significant antioxidant activity. Staghorn sumac is a native tree in Eastern North America whose fruit reportedly has been used by native peoples to treat various illnesses. About staghorn?s antioxidant properties, the study authors noted:
It has higher antioxidant activity than many common fruits and vegetables
Its strong antioxidant properties are largely attributed to polyphenols, such as anthocyanins and other flavonoids
It was found to possess a unique group of anthocyanins with aglycones (anthocyanidins)
Research published in the Journal of Food Biochemistry9 in 2014 analyzed the antioxidant capacity of several spice extracts, including the water extracts of Sicilian sumac (Rhus coriaria L.). The other spices evaluated were barberry, cardamom, black pepper, fennel, laurel, nutmeg, red pepper, turmeric and white mustard. The focus of the study centered around identifying potential plant extracts that could be used by the food industry as natural preservatives. The results reflected:
Sicilian sumac showed the highest antioxidant capacity, followed by laurel and barberry
Laurel and sumac had the highest concentration of total phenolic content
Sumac and barberry had the strongest antibacterial activity against four foodborne pathogenic bacteria
Sumac Offers Antifungal and Potential Anti-Atherosclerosis Benefits
A 2011 study published in the German Journal of Biosciences10 suggests Sicilian sumac seeds may have antifungal action that is effective against Aspergillus flavus. This human pathogen causes a lung infection called aspergillosis that most often affects people with weakened immune systems, such as those suffering from AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy.
Scientists from McGill University?s experimental medicine department in Montreal, Canada, suggest sumac berries might be good for your heart because they offer potential protections against atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. Their research investigated sumac?s ability to inhibit vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) migration, a key process connected with atherosclerosis.
After extracting and purifying tannins from ground sumac, scientists treated cultured rat carotid VSMCs with different tannin concentrations for 10 days. After observing a 62-percent reduction in VSMC migration in tannin-treated cells, the team concluded tannins extracted from sumac ?possess potent antimigratory activity,? and therefore, may be useful in the treatment of atherosclerosis.11
Sumac Nutrition Facts
According to the Jordan Journal of Biological Sciences,12 sumac is:
Rich in vitamins A and C (from its fruit and seeds)
High in minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium
Sour mainly due to the presence of organic acids, such as citric, malic and tartaric acids
Somewhat astringent-tasting due to its tannin content
Making Sumac-ade: A Refreshing Use for This Prolific Shrub
According to the ?Handbook of Herbs and Spices ? Volume 2,?13 Native Americans used the fruits from smooth sumac and staghorn sumac to create a drink called ?sumac-ade.? Given the ready supply of edible sumac worldwide, you may want to try this refreshing beverage, which is also referred to as rhus juice. You can make this drink by following the instructions presented in the video above:
Rinse and place four edible sumac berry cones in a 2-quart pitcher of filtered water
Gently mash the cones to extract their essence
Allow the berry cones to soak for a few hours or overnight
Strain the berry mixture through a piece of cheesecloth or a coffee filter
Add ice and/or a natural sweetener to taste (optional)
Cautions About Sumac
Before considering adding sumac to your diet, be sure to take note of the following cautions:14
Avoid sumac if you are allergic to cashews or any member of the cashew plant family
Stay away from poison sumac, which you can easily recognize by its white or gray berries; the only safe sumac to eat presents with red berries
Even sumacs generally considered safe for consumption have the potential to cause skin irritation and other adverse reactions in some people; discontinue using sumac if you experience any unusual reactions
Be careful when harvesting sumac cones in public areas, especially along roadways, because some areas may have been sprayed with insecticides or pesticides
Research has shown that the more vegetables you eat, the lower your risk of heart disease, with different types of vegetables protecting your heart through different mechanisms. Leafy greens, for example, have high amounts of nitrates that naturally boost your nitric oxide (NO) level.1 Cruciferous veggies, on the other hand, lower your risk of stroke and heart attack by promoting more supple neck arteries and preventing the buildup of arterial plaque.
In fermented cabbage, it's the fiber content that helps lower blood pressure and improve blood sugar control, thereby lowering your risk of heart problems. Phytonutrients in sauerkraut also help promote easy blood flow and flexible blood vessels, and veggies rich in magnesium and quercetin also provide important heart benefits. Following is a summary of some of the top vegetable types for maintaining healthy heart function well into old age.
Nitrate-Rich Veggies Boost Heart Health and Lower Risk of Heart Attack
NO is an important biological signaling molecule that supports normal endothelial function and protects your mitochondria. A potent vasodilator, it also helps relax and widen your blood vessels, which improves blood flow. A recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,2 which followed nearly 1,230 seniors for 15 years, found that the higher an individual's vegetable nitrate intake, the lower their risk for atherosclerotic vascular disease (ASVD) and all-cause mortality.
According to the authors, "These results support the concept that nitrate-rich vegetables may reduce the risk of age-related ASVD mortality." Research3 has also shown a diet high in vegetable nitrates helps prevent and treat prehypertension and hypertension (high blood pressure), and protects against heart attacks, courtesy of their NO-boosting power.
Vegetable nitrates should not be confused with the nitrates found in processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, ham and other cured meats. Dietary nitrates can convert into either NO or nitrosamines, the latter of which are carcinogenic and should be avoided as much as possible.4 Vegetable nitrates turn into beneficial NO while the nitrates in processed meats are primarily converted into harmful nitrosamines.
Watermelon is a popular summer delicacy, and it will also improve NO production thanks to L-citrulline. However, it is important to understand that watermelon is high in net carbs and consuming large amounts of it on a regular basis will likely worsen insulin resistance and increase your risk of heart disease.
Watermelon also has lycopene, a carotenoid antioxidant that gives fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and watermelon their pink or red color. Its antioxidant activity has long been suggested to be more powerful than that of other carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, and research suggests it may significantly reduce your risk of stroke.
A study5 that followed men in their mid-40s to mid-50s for more than 12 years found those with the highest blood levels of lycopene were 55 percent less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest levels. Other antioxidants, including alpha carotene, beta-carotene, vitamin E and vitamin A, showed no such benefit. L-citrulline, meanwhile, is a precursor of L-arginine, the substrate for nitric oxide synthase in the production of NO. As explained in a 2006 study:6
"Supplemental administration L-arginine has been shown to be effective in improving NO production and cardiovascular function in cardiovascular diseases associated with endothelial dysfunction, such as hypertension, heart failure, atherosclerosis, diabetic vascular disease and ischemia-reperfusion injury, but the beneficial actions do not endure with chronic therapy.
Substantial intestinal and hepatic metabolism of L-arginine ? makes oral delivery very ineffective ? In contrast, L-citrulline is not metabolized in the intestine or liver ? L-citrulline entering the kidney, vascular endothelium and other tissues can be readily converted to L-arginine, thus raising plasma and tissue levels of L-arginine and enhancing NO production."
Cruciferous Veggies Improve Arterial Suppleness
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage ? which are widely recognized for their anticancer benefits ? also have a heart-healthy influence.
A recent study7 that examined the effects of vegetable intake on carotid artery measures, which are indicative of arterial health (narrow, hard arteries restrict blood flow and can lead to heart attack and stroke), found those who consumed the most cruciferous vegetables had thinner and therefore healthier carotid arteries than those who consumed the fewest.
On average, those who ate at least three daily servings of cruciferous veggies had nearly 0.05 millimeters (mm) thinner carotid arterial walls (the artery in your neck) than those who ate two servings or less. Each 0.1-mm decrease in thickness is associated with a decreased stroke and heart attack risk ranging from 10 to 18 percent, so the results were considered rather significant.
Overall, each 10-gram daily serving of cruciferous vegetables was associated with a 0.8 percent reduction in carotid artery wall thickness. This link was not found with other types of vegetables. According to study author Lauren Blekkenhorst:
"After adjusting for lifestyle, cardiovascular disease risk factors (including medication use) as well as other vegetable types and dietary factors, our results continued to show a protective association between cruciferous vegetables and carotid artery wall thickness8 ?
However, this does not discount the importance of other vegetable types, as we know increasing a variety of all vegetables is important to maintain good health. Our research suggests that recommendations to include a couple of servings of cruciferous vegetables amongst the recommended amount of vegetables may help to optimize the vascular health benefits.9"
To Boost Health Benefits, Eat Your Cruciferous Veggies With Mustard Seed
The sulforaphane in broccoli and other cruciferous veggies has potent anticancer benefits as well, and you can easily augment these perks by pairing your cruciferous vegetables with a myrosinase-containing food.10 Myrosinase is an enzyme that converts glucoraphanin to sulforaphane. Examples include mustard seed,11 daikon radishes, wasabi, arugula or coleslaw, with mustard seed being the most potent. Adding a myrosinase-rich food is particularly important if you eat the broccoli raw, or use frozen broccoli.
Ideally, broccoli should be steamed for three to four minutes to increase the available sulforaphane content. This light steaming eliminates epithiospecifier protein ? a heat-sensitive sulfur-grabbing protein that inactivates sulforaphane ? while retaining the myrosinase in the broccoli.12
The latter is important, because without myrosinase, your body cannot absorb sulforaphane. If you opt for boiling, blanch the broccoli in boiling water for no more than 20 to 30 seconds, then immerse it in cold water to stop the cooking process.
If you prefer raw food, you'd be better off eating raw broccoli sprouts instead of mature broccoli, as the sprouts contain up to 50 times the amount of anticancer compounds found in mature broccoli, including sulforaphane.13,14,15 As a result, you can eat far less of them while still maximizing your benefits.
Sauerkraut Does Your Heart Good
The fiber16 and healthy bacteria found in traditionally fermented and cultured foods also benefit your heart in a number of different ways. For example, probiotic-rich sauerkraut has been shown to reduce inflammation, promote gut health (which has system-wide implications), improve high blood pressure, reduce triglyceride levels and maintain healthy cholesterol levels,17 all of which benefit your cardiovascular and heart health.
Lactobacillus plantarum bacteria in fermented cabbages have also been shown to boost the activities of superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase ? two powerful antioxidants created in your body ? and elevate gene expression of Nrf2,18 a transcription factor that regulates cellular oxidation and reduction and aids in detoxification. Sauerkraut is easy to make at home with just a few simple ingredients. Here's a recipe for raw sauerkraut with fresh ginger from my recipe site:
Raw Sauerkraut Recipe
1 whole green cabbage
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 carrots, grated
Grate, shred or slice the cabbage thinly, except for the outer leaves (set them aside). Shred the carrots and ginger, and add to the cabbage.
Mix the starter culture in the celery juice, making sure it's completely dissolved. Add the juice to your vegetables, spreading it out evenly.
Put as much as sauerkraut in a ceramic pot or glass container as you can.
Get a masher, and mash the vegetables down. This will release more juices in your sauerkraut and eliminate any air pockets.
Place a cabbage leaf on top of your sauerkraut, and tuck it down the sides. Cover the jar with the lid loosely (Fermentation produces carbon dioxide, which will expand the jar).
Store the container in a place with a controlled temperature, like a cooler, for 5 to 7 days. On the seventh day, transfer the sauerkraut to the refrigerator.
Magnesium is profoundly important for heart health, and most people are deficient. More than 300 different enzymes rely on magnesium for proper function, and magnesium is required for a whole host of biochemical processes. This includes but is not limited to the creation of ATP (adenosine triphospate), the energy currency of your body,19,20 relaxation of blood vessels and healthy muscle and nerve function, including the action of your heart muscle.
If you're lacking in cellular magnesium, it can lead to the deterioration of your cellular metabolic function, which in turn can snowball into more serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease, sudden cardiac death and even death from all causes. The best way to maintain healthy magnesium levels is to make sure you're eating plenty of dark-green leafy vegetables.
Juicing your greens is an excellent way to increase your magnesium, along with many other important plant-based nutrients. When it comes to leafy greens, those highest in magnesium include:
Aside from vegetables, other foods that are particularly rich in magnesium include:21,22,23
Raw cacao nibs and/or unsweetened cocoa powder
One ounce (28 grams) of raw cacao nibs contain about 64 mg of magnesium, plus many other valuable antioxidants, iron and prebiotic fiber that help feed healthy bacteria in your gut.
One medium avocado contains about 58 mg of magnesium, plus healthy fats and fiber, and other vitamins. They're also a good source of potassium, which helps offset the hypertensive effects of sodium.
Seeds and nuts
Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds score among the highest, with one-quarter cup providing an estimated 48 percent, 32 percent and 28 percent of the RDA of magnesium respectively. Cashews, almonds and Brazil nuts are also good sources. One ounce (28 grams) of cashews contains 82 mg of magnesium, which equates to about 20 percent of the RDA.
Interestingly, fatty fish such as wild caught Alaskan salmon and mackerel are also high in magnesium. A half fillet (178 grams) of salmon can provide about 53 mg of magnesium, equal to about 13 percent of the RDA.
One cup of winter squash provides close to 27 grams of magnesium ? about 7 percent of your RDA.
Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices pack lots of nutrients in small packages, and this includes magnesium. Some of the most magnesium-rich varieties are coriander, chives, cumin seed, parsley, mustard seeds, fennel, basil and cloves.
Fruits and berries
Ranking high for magnesium are: papaya, raspberries, tomato, cantaloupe, strawberries and watermelon. For example, one medium-sized papaya can provide nearly 58 grams of magnesium.
The Heart-Healthy Benefits of Onions and Other Quercetin-Rich Foods
Last but not least there's onions. Packed with quercetin, onions help combat inflammation and boost immune function. As a supplement, quercetin has been used to ameliorate obesity, Type 2 diabetes24 and circulatory dysfunction. A 2016 meta-analysis25 of randomized controlled trials found quercetin effectively lowered blood pressure at a dosage of about 500 mg per day.
Other studies have shown it helps reduce your risk of atherosclerosis.26 Onions also contain:
Sulphur-containing phytochemicals that help normalize your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and have anticlotting properties that help lower your risk of stroke, coronary artery disease and peripheral vascular diseases
Polyphenols, which play an important role in preventing and reducing the progression of cardiovascular diseases
Inulin, indigestible prebiotic fiber that nourishes beneficial bacteria in your gut
As a general rule, the more pungent onions provide the greatest benefits. To learn more about the value of different types of onions and the best ways to prepare them, see my previous article, "Onion Power!" As you can see, the plant kingdom is filled with goodies that support and protect your heart health in a variety of ways.
The best way to maximize your benefits is to eat a wide variety of vegetables on a daily basis, making sure to include nitrate-rich leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, magnesium- and quercetin-rich varieties, plus onions and some homemade sauerkraut.
1 Adaptogenic herbs ? such as ashwagandha, tulsi, rhodiola and ginseng ? protect and improve your health by helping your body adapt to:
Stress, regardless of the source
Adaptogens are unique in that they help your body adapt to stress, in part by regulating hormones and improving your immune function. Learn more.
Climactic changes (changes in temperature)
Assaults by never-before-encountered microbes
Potential allergens, including seasonal allergens
2 Three recent studies ? two by the U.S. National Toxicology Program and one by the Italian Ramazzini Institute ? has linked cellphone radiation to:
Radically increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's
Cause an increase in insulin resistance and diabetes
DNA damage and an increased risk of rare heart and brain tumors
Three studies published in the first quarter of 2018 have produced evidence linking cellphone radiation to DNA damage, low body weight and rare tumors in the heart, brain and other organs. Learn more.
DNA damage and an increased risk for obesity
3 Which of the following has been shown to be a significant contributor to obesity?
Processed foods and fast food
Artificially-sweetened foods and beverages
Low-fat foods combined with highly processed carbohydrates
All of the above
Processed foods and "diet" foods, including both artificially-sweetened products and low-fat foods, have been shown to promote weight gain. One of the easiest ways to normalize your weight and optimize your health is to eat real food. Learn more.
4 Which common root vegetable was recently found to protect against Alzheimer's disease by dramatically decreasing damaging oxidation of neurons?
Research suggests beets may be a powerful ally in the fight against Alzheimer's disease, decreasing damaging oxidation of neurons by as much as 90 percent. Learn more.
5 This leafy perennial vegetable with the composition of celery is often mistaken for a fruit, most likely because it has a sweet-tart taste that can make your lips pucker:
Although often mistaken as a fruit, with a composition similar to celery, rhubarb stalks boast a sweet-tart taste that can make your lips pucker. Learn more.
6 By their senior years, the average person will have spent the equivalent of how long watching television?
10 to 15 years
By the time the average person reaches 70, they will have spent the equivalent of 10 to 15 years of their life watching television, more than four years of which was just for the ads. Learn more.
15 to 20 years
7 While a healthy diet is foundational for healthy mitochondrial function, two supplements known to provide powerful mitochondrial benefits are:
PQQ and berberine
Your diet is one of the most important tools you can use to take control of your health. But supplements can also be useful, especially when it comes to improving mitochondrial function. Two particularly powerful ones are PQQ and berberine. Learn more.