You’ve probably seen cooking shows or read cookbooks that recommended removing the bay leaves you added to your spaghetti sauce or other savory dish. But why put them in if you’re just going to take them out? One enterprising chef said if you really want an answer to that question, throw a couple into a pot of water to simmer for a while, then taste it, and it will emit a fairly heady essence of camphor. Serious Eats continues:
“Taste it after five minutes and you'll probably get a good hit of menthol and eucalyptus (think: Vick's VapoRub). That's the chemical eugenol you're smelling, and it's the biggest constituent in the bay leaf's flavor arsenal of more than 50 compounds.”1
But after an hour or so of “steeping” a bay leaf or two in your recipe, the mucus-loosening menthol notes dissipate into something softer and more complex. The suggestion of depth may not be identified at first tasting, but bay leaves lend subtle warmth and piquancy that would leave a dish flat without it.
Not to give away some of the mystery of this ancient Mediterranean plant or shrub, but like many of the culinary herbal additions used for thousands of years, antibacterial bay leaves have unique and potent gastrointestinal, respiratory, anti-inflammatory, heart and stress benefits, with anticancer and diabetes preventive qualities thrown in, and more.
So why take them out before serving them? In short, if you’ve ever taken a bite of bay leaf, you know its removal becomes necessary immediately, which isn’t always pretty. The texture feels like a dropout from a silk bouquet or a stiff piece of vellum. In short, not pleasant.
Bay leaves are kept whole for the simple reason that crumbling them will take that much longer to fish those bits out of your pot of soup than plucking out whole leaves. They’re removed to avoid anyone experiencing the aforementioned unpleasantness, and because of the fact that swallowing the pointy leaves might not feel so good going down.
So What Are Some Of the ‘50 Compounds’ In Bay Leaves?
Bay leaves are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and vitamin C, the minerals iron, manganese, copper and calcium, all antioxidants with free-radical scavenging abilities, positively impacting your eyesight, bones and blood.
While you certainly wouldn’t use 100 grams of bay leaves in one day, showing the nutrients 100 grams contain gives you a pretty good idea of the high concentration a few leaves might have. Here are the most important nutrients and the percentage 100 grams provides, from Nutrition and You:2
Iron -- 537 percent -- helps fight anemia
Manganese -- 355 percent -- helps support thyroid function
Vitamin C -- 77 percent -- “probably the most potent antibacterial and antiviral agent ever discovered”3
Calcium -- 83 percent -- supports strong bones and teeth
There’s also an impressive 133 percent of pyroxidine, or vitamin B6, important for being able to make use of the energy the foods you eat provide, for red blood cell production, and proper nerve function. Additionally, high zinc content offers immune support.
As you may have surmised, they’re also rich in essential oils. Nature Word lists several of the most prominent, like eugenol, which has analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties, particularly lethal to several types of colon cancer cells. There are quite a few of these essential oils:
? Cineol, the main bay leaf component, found to slow leukemia cell growth4
? Geranyl acetate
? Myrcene -- anti-inflammatory and analgesic; has mild sedative effects for stress relief
? Alpha-pinene, opens upper respiratory airways,5 and may reduce tumor size as an anticancer agent6
? Linalool, also found in hemp, has mild sedative effects for stress relief
? Methyl chavicol
? Limonine works against brain cancer cells
? Beta-pinene: inhibits growth of potentially infectious endocartis7
Clinical Studies on How Bay Leaves May Help Your Body
Lauroside is another compound that, when extracted from bay leaves, has been shown to inhibit the proliferation of skin cancer cells by bringing on programmed cell death, or apoptosis.8 The study succinctly states: “Induction of apoptosis by (lauroside) in human aggressive melanoma cell lines has a potential high biological value.”
You’ve no doubt heard how lethal or at least intensely uncomfortable Escherichia coli (E. coli) can be, as well as Salmonella infection. A study at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University examined both the antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of several essential oils for their effectiveness.
The oils tested included white wormwood, rose-scented geranium and bay laurel, which was applied to fresh produce against Salmonella and E. coli. While all three essential oils showed antioxidant properties, the most potent activity took place with the bay laurel essential oil.9
One study showed that consuming 1 to 3 grams of bay leaves per day for 30 days “decreases risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases and suggests that bay leaves may be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes,” with a positive effect on lowering blood sugar levels and improving insulin function.
The study involved 40 people with type 2 diabetes; half given bay leaf and the other half a placebo for 30 days. At the end of the study, the placebo group had no improvement, while the herb group showed both decreased heart and diabetes risk factors.10 Another review notes the antifungal properties in bay leaves, published in the Archives of Oral Biology, which demonstrate its effectiveness against Candida:
“In the study, the bay laurel disrupted adhesion of Candida to cell walls, therefore reducing its ability to penetrate the membrane, making it a great addition to a Candida diet in order to combat this condition.”11
More Benefits of Bay Leaves
Even traditional medicine recommends using bay leaves for digestive issues such as ulcer pain, heartburn, gas and colic, as well as pain from arthritis and other muscle relief. Not just consuming essence of bay leaf is advised, but a poultice or liniment containing the essential oils is said to provide a double whammy of relief.
Heart benefits from bay leaves stem from organic compounds caffeic acid, which helps get rid of “bad” cholesterol, and rutin, which strengthens the walls of capillaries in the heart and throughout your body. Regarding digestive health, properties in bay leaves are good for inducing vomiting in case someone has eaten something they need to get rid of. They can also promote urination, which is another way to release toxins. Organic Facts notes:
“Organic compounds found in bay leaves are very effective for settling upset stomachs, soothing irritable bowel syndrome, or even lessening the symptoms of Celiac’s disease. Some of the more complex proteins in our modern diet can be difficult to digest, but the unique enzymes found in bay leaves help to facilitate efficient digestion and nutrient intake.”12
They also contain enzymes that can soothe an upset stomach and even irritable bowel syndrome, according to wellness physician Dr. Josh Axe, as well as helping to optimize nutrient absorption.13 Nutrition and You relates another benefit that comes from folate in bay leaves:
“Fresh leaves and herb parts are superb in folic acid; contain about 180 mg or 45 percent of daily-recommended values per 100 g. Folates are important in DNA synthesis, and when given during the peri-conception period, they can help prevent neural tube defects in the newborn baby.”14
How to Use Bay Leaves, and Other Notes
It’s important to know that when you buy bay leaves with the scientific term Laurus nobilis, you want it to be the genuine article and not some knock-off from an ornamental plant. They must be from the laurel tree, so shop for quality. While some herbs, when dried, become powdery and tasteless, bay leaves can be dried with very little change in the aromatic components. In fact, Nature Word notes that:
“Fresh bay leaves have a mild, leafy fragrance and a bitter taste. Dried ones are significantly more fragrant (the essential oils having had time to set), but slightly sweeter in taste.”15
Dried leaves of bay can be steeped in a tea to gain some of the aforementioned benefits. It’s also a classic ingredient in several savory sauces, usually with a tomato base, and delicious on seafood, meats and numerous vegetable dishes. One FYI: Due to the presence of a high concentration of eugenol, bay leaf oil (or bay oil) may be a skin and mucus membrane irritant. It also should be avoided during pregnancy. If you want your bay leaves to last and last, store them in the freezer, which is helpful if you want to buy them in bulk.
If someone asked you who invented yogurt and how long it's been on the foodie landscape, you may not know the answer, so I'll tell you. Yogurt was probably one of the first-ever "processed" foods, as it was created as a happy accident somewhere in Central Asia as early as the Neolithic Age, 4,500 years before the Common Era, aka the Christian Era.
If you've ever wondered how humans survived those prehistoric epochs, yogurt consumption may help explain it. As a cultured milk product, we've known for some time it helps balance your intestinal bacteria for digestive health, but new research reveals it also has advantages for your bones.
In fact, the research showed a yogurt-inclusive diet increased bone density and lowered osteoporosis risk. Yogurt, you may remember, is actually fermented milk. You could even call it edible bacteria, which is surprisingly easy to make if you have a few key ingredients and the right conditions.
It may help your gut develop a healthy microbiome and eliminate toxins. Take two beneficial bacteria, lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus, add them to high-quality raw, grass fed milk, and when it's a certain temperature, it will ferment. While that may not sound all that appetizing, the end product will be a smooth, delicious-tasting yogurt.
Early Yogurt Production and Consumption
The (potential) health benefits of milk products were recorded in Ayurvedic medicine as early as 6,000 B.C. Today, Indian cuisine serves up hundreds of types of yogurt, and its name, "yogurt," is universal. Hurriyet Daily News reports how it came about:
"The first findings pertaining to the domestication of cows go back to Libya around 9000 B.C., but it is a known fact that the Central Asian Turks consumed horse milk long before cow milk was utilized ... Although there is no definite scientific verification of the consumption of yogurt at that specific time in history, it is not difficult to make an assumption about it, given the living conditions of the day.
It is highly probable that the Central Asians observed their main staple food, milk, turn into something else due to the living organisms present in the animal intestines in which it was stored while traveling the steppes."1
When America learned the secret of bacteria-fermented milk, it set about "diversifying" the product, mixing it with fruit, honey or sugar to make it more palatable, which you'll learn a little later actually served to make yogurt less a healthy, go-to snack and more of a health liability.
Today, proponents in Turkey and Eastern Mediterranean regions create products such as a drink (ayran), cucumber mix (cac?k in Turkish), soup paste (tarhana) and yogurt cheese (çökelek in Turkish) prepared as it's been for centuries in cultures that continue to thrive.
Why is this significant? Because what was discovered by researchers based at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, in early 2017 was that besides improved overall physical fitness, eating yogurt daily was linked with a 31 percent lower risk of osteopenia and a 39 percent lower risk of osteoporosis, as well as a 52 percent lower risk in men compared with non-yogurt eaters.2 Bel Marra Health reported:
"In order to identify the reasoning behind this association and the risk factors for being diagnosed as osteoporotic, an analysis of several factors such as BMI, kidney function, physical activity, servings of milk or cheese, and calcium or vitamin D supplementation as well as traditional risk factors for bone health -- like smoking and alcohol intake -- were taken into account."3
Eating High-Quality Yogurt May Protect Your Bones
The New York Times said the scientists tracked more than 4,300 adults, taking several factors into consideration, and found that to people who didn't eat it at all, those who ate yogurt daily had a 3 percent to 4 percent increase in bone density.4
Bone loss is the cause of osteoporosis, or literally "porous bones," a malady suffered by 40 million people in the U.S., most of whom are women, according to Medical News Today.5 Incredibly, medications many doctors give their patients for this condition may cause fractures due to increased bone loss and are linked with a higher cancer risk.
The researchers also found that the participants' bone loss biomarkers were 9.5 percent lower for those who ate more yogurt compared to those who consumed the least, indicating that there was less bone breakdown. Eamon Laird, lead study author and postdoctoral research fellow at Trinity College Dublin, noted:
"Yogurt is a rich source of different bone promoting nutrients and thus our findings in some ways are not surprising. The data suggest that improving yogurt intakes could be a strategy for maintaining bone health but it needs verification through future research as it is observational.
The results demonstrate a significant association of bone health and frailty with a relatively simple and cheap food product. What is now needed is verification of these observations from randomized controlled trials as we still don't understand the exact mechanisms which could be due to the benefits of microbiota or the macro and micronutrient composition of the yogurt."6
However, Laird added that because the study was observational in nature, it didn't necessarily prove cause and effect. He said that one thing it does prove, however, is that yogurt is a good source of micronutrients, vitamin D, B vitamins and calcium, not to mention protein and probiotics.
But while other dairy products don't have the same beneficial effects that yogurt has, yogurt often is loaded down with so many additives and sugar, any advantages go by the wayside. Such additives turn yogurt into a health detriment rather than being a positive, nutritionally. Laird cautioned, "We have to be careful about that."
Problems to Look for When Buying Yogurt
Reading labels on the yogurt you buy at the store is important. Some brands may offer a few "clean" options, but most of them are loaded with harmful additives. The Cornucopia Institute offers a "scorecard" for commercial yogurts, by brand as opposed to individual products, for consumers to get a better idea of what they're buying, and:
"To hold manufacturers and marketers accountable for turning yogurt -- an ancient, wholesome food -- into a convenience/ junk food loaded with sweeteners, preservatives, thickeners, milk replacements and artificial flavors and colors. Organic food dramatically reduces exposure to toxic agrochemicals.
In addition, peer-reviewed, published research indicates that organic milk is nutritionally superior to conventional milk, which often comes from dairy cows confined in feedlots and fed a diet of GMO grain ... (and) nutrition in addition to lower levels of chemical residues."7
There are yogurt brands out there with 22 or more grams of sugar per serving -- as much or more than what you'd find in a Twinkie! The negative effects from sugar far outweigh the minimal probiotic benefits you may receive from store-bought yogurt. Some of the problems to look for when buying yogurt include:
? Thickeners and stabilizers such as carrageenan, guar gum and pectin. Carrageenan, the Institute says, is known as "a potent intestinal inflammatory agent causing myriad negative health outcomes, including potential cancer"
? Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose (which may have neurotoxic effects, raise your insulin levels and cause cancer), aspartame and saccharin -- which confuse your metabolism -- are all created in a lab
Probiotics play an incredibly beneficial role in your gut health. The type and quantity of microorganisms in your gut interact with your body in ways that can either prevent or encourage the development of many diseases.
Yogurt is a great source of natural, healthy bacteria as long as it's not pasteurized, is made from grass fed cows' milk and does not contain added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Food Babe says the only yogurt she recommends is plain organic yogurt, either Greek or regular (I would add to make it grass fed as well), and asserts:
"The food industry has a reputation of taking incredibly healthy items and turning them into processed junk food and this is exactly what has happened to most yogurts available on the market.
Conventional yogurt usually comes from milk produced by cows that are confined and unable to graze in open pasture. They're usually fed GMO grains, not grass. As the yogurt ferments, chemical defoamers are sometimes added ... These practices alarm me, since yogurt has been such a healthy, longevity-promoting food for ages."9
What you may not realize when you pick yogurt up from a grocery store dairy case is that yogurt is only as good as the milk that was used to make it. To ensure your yogurt contains all the good and none of the bad ingredients for optimal health, it's not difficult to make your own, using 100 percent organic, raw, grass fed milk.
Most people know that yogurt provides calcium, a mineral the National Osteoporosis Foundation10 says is necessary for life, as it builds bones, helps your blood to clot and allows your muscles to contract and your nerves to send messages. Further, when you don't get enough calcium (and it's best derived from food), it's leached from your bones.
Besides the all-important vitamin D, B vitamins are another reason to eat grass fed yogurt. Then there's phosphorus, potassium and riboflavin, as well as high-quality protein, beneficial probiotics and cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, a very important fatty acid, of which one of the only other sources is grass fed beef.
Do you believe high amounts of salt provoke thirst and contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease? If so, you're likely wrong. Studies have consistently failed to support either of these notions, showing the converse is actually true. Here's a summary of findings that may surprise you:
o Eating large amounts of salt will not make you thirsty or cause greater urine output (which could lead to dehydration). A study1 involving Russian cosmonauts reveal eating more salt actually lowered their thirst -- yet increased hunger.2,3 Recent animal research4 support these results, showing a high-salt diet resulted in increased metabolism, forcing the animals to eat 25 percent more calories just to maintain weight. This suggests salt may have a surprising influence on your weight
o Evidence shows having the correct potassium to sodium balance influences your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease to a far greater extent than high sodium alone, and processed foods are typically low in potassium and high in sodium
o Studies suggest a low-salt diet can actually worsen cardiovascular disease and raise rather than lower the risk for early death among patients at high risk of heart disease5
o The vast majority, approximately 71 percent, of your salt intake comes from processed food.6 Hence, if you avoid processed foods, you have virtually no risk of consuming too much salt.7 Eating a whole food diet will also ensure a more appropriate sodium-to-potassium ratio
o When lowering salt in processed foods, many manufacturers started adding monosodium glutamate (MSG) instead -- a flavor enhancer associated with obesity, headaches, eye damage,8 fatigue and depression. Due to its ability to overexcite neurons, MSG may even raise your risk for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's disease
Counterintuitive Results Show How Poor Our Understanding of Salt Is
It's pretty bizarre that our understanding about salt is this poor, yet that's what can happen when you assume the science is settled and you've got it all figured out. As reported by The New York Times:9
"If you eat a lot of salt -- sodium chloride -- you will become thirsty and drink water, diluting your blood enough to maintain the proper concentration of sodium. Ultimately you will excrete much of the excess salt and water in urine. The theory is intuitive and simple. And it may be completely wrong ... [Recent research] contradicts much of the conventional wisdom about how the body handles salt and suggests that high levels may play a role in weight loss."
The research is the culmination of a quest by Dr. Jens Titze, a kidney specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who in 1991 became puzzled by the discovery that astronauts' urine output followed a seven-day cycle. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason for why their urine output would increase and decrease in this cyclical manner.
Your Body Maintains a Constant Sodium Balance Regardless of Salt Intake
Then, in 1994, Titze studied the urine output patterns of a crew on the Mir station, discovering a 28-day rhythm in sodium retention -- and that the amount of sodium in the astronauts' bodies was completely unrelated to their urine output. This was a truly puzzling finding. As noted in the featured article:10
"The sodium levels should have been rising and falling with the volume of urine. Although the study wasn't perfect -- the crew members' sodium intake was not precisely calibrated -- Dr. Titze was convinced something other than fluid intake was influencing sodium stores in the crew's bodies. The conclusion, he realized, 'was heresy' ...
When the crew ate more salt, they excreted more salt; the amount of sodium in their blood remained constant, and their urine volume increased. 'But then we had a look at fluid intake, and were more than surprised,' he said.
Instead of drinking more, the crew were drinking less ... when getting more salt. So where was the excreted water coming from? 'There was only one way to explain this phenomenon,' Dr. Titze said. 'The body most likely had generated or produced water when salt intake was high.'"
Salt Has Surprising Metabolic Effects
The other puzzling finding was that the astronauts complained of being constantly hungry when given higher amounts of salt. Interestingly, urine tests revealed they were producing higher amounts of glucocorticoid hormones, which affect both your metabolism and immune function.
Follow-up animal testing confirmed the results, showing the more salt the mice were given, the less water they drank and the more food they required to avoid weight loss. The reason why then became apparent. As the salt intake increased, the animals produced higher amounts of glucocorticoid hormones, causing increased fat and muscle breakdown.
These broken-down muscle proteins are then converted into urea, which is known to help your body excrete waste via urine. Through some still-unknown mechanism, this urea also helps your body retain water. In other words, a side effect of higher salt consumption is that it frees up water for your body to use.
However, this process is energy-intensive, which is why the animals required more food when on a high-salt diet and why the astronauts complained of hunger. Titze believes the increase in glucocorticoid hormones are also somehow responsible for the bizarre cyclical fluctuations in urine output.
"Scientists knew that a starving body will burn its own fat and muscle for sustenance. But the realization that something similar happens on a salty diet has come as a revelation," The New York Times reports.11
"People do what camels do, noted Dr. Mark Zeidel, a nephrologist at Harvard Medical School who wrote an editorial accompanying Dr. Titze's studies. A camel traveling through the desert that has no water to drink gets water instead by breaking down the fat in its hump.
One of the many implications of this finding is that salt may be involved in weight loss. Generally, scientists have assumed that a high-salt diet encourages a greater intake of fluids, which increases weight. But if balancing a higher salt intake requires the body to break down tissue, it may also increase energy expenditure."
As noted by Dr. Melanie Hoenig, nephrologist and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, "The work suggests that we really do not understand the effect of sodium chloride on the body."12
Sodium/Potassium Ratio Is Key to Normalize Your Blood Pressure
While salt has gotten a bad rap, suspected of increasing your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, research shows the real key to relaxing your arteries and reducing your blood pressure is actually the ratio of sodium to potassium you have -- not your sodium intake alone.13
Potassium is a naturally occurring mineral your body uses as an electrolyte (substance in solution that conducts electricity), and it is vital for optimal health and normal functioning. Most of your potassium resides inside your cells, unlike sodium, which resides outside your cells.
Potassium works in your body to relax the walls of your arteries, keep your muscles from cramping and lower your blood pressure.14 The reduction in blood pressure with added potassium has also been associated in studies with a reduced risk of stroke.15
Recent research16 found that women without high blood pressure who consumed the most potassium (nearly 3,200 milligrams per day) had a 21 percent reduced risk of stroke. Women who consumed the most potassium were also 12 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who consumed the least.
A meta-analysis published in 1997, which analyzed 29 trials, also found that low levels of potassium resulted in higher systolic blood pressure readings.17 Subsequent studies have found similar results.18,19
How's Your Sodium/Potassium Balance?
It's generally recommended that you consume five times more potassium than sodium, but most Americans eat twice as much sodium as potassium. If you're eating mostly processed foods and few fresh vegetables, your sodium-to-potassium balance is virtually guaranteed to be inversed. Imbalance in this ratio not only can lead to high blood pressure but also contribute to a number of other health problems, including:
One simple way to check your ratio is to use my customized version of the free nutrient tracker, cronometer.com/mercola, which will calculate your sodium-to-potassium ratio automatically based on the foods you enter.
A great deal of good could come from revising public health recommendations to focus on a high-quality diet rich in potassium rather than sodium reduction, as potassium helps offset the hypertensive effects of sodium. Potassium also has other important health benefits.
Other Health Benefits of Potassium
Adequate amounts of potassium are associated with quicker recovery from exercise and improved muscle strength.20,21 As an electrolyte, potassium helps to regulate the fluid balance in your cells and throughout your body.22 This fluid balance is essential to maintaining life, preventing dehydration at the cellular level and maintaining brain function.23
For example, potassium is important in the transmission of nerve impulses in your brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system.24 Nerve impulses transmitting information from one nerve to the next happens as the result of electrical activity. This activity is what an electrocardiogram measures as it tracks heart activity.
Low levels of potassium have also been linked with high levels of insulin and glucose, which are aassociated with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.25 These results have been found in several studies,26 leading researchers to recommend dietary choices that boost potassium levels.
Your KEY Strategy -- Eat Real Food
Getting nutrients from your food instead of supplements is preferable as your food contains more than a single nutrient and in different forms. For instance, potassium found in fruits and vegetables is potassium citrate or potassium malate, while supplements are often potassium chloride.
Green vegetable juicing is an excellent way to ensure you're getting enough nutrients for optimal health, including potassium. Particularly potassium-rich foods include:
? Swiss chard, 1 cup = 1 gram potassium
? Lima beans, 1 cup = 1 gram
? Avocado, 1/2 Florida variety = 0.8 gram
? Dried apricots, 1/2 cup = 0.9 gram
? Baked potato, 1 large = 0.9 gram
? Winter squash, 1 cup = 0.9 gram
? Cooked spinach, 1 cup = 0.8 gram
? Beets, 1 cup = 0.4 gram
The citrate and malate forms help produce alkali, which may promote bone health27 and preserve lean muscle mass as you age.28 Bone loss may lead to brittle bones or even osteoporosis. While potassium in fruits and vegetables may help build bone health, potassium chloride may not. As researcher Dr. Bess Dawson-Hughes from Tufts University explains:29
"If you don't have adequate alkali to balance the acid load from the grains and protein in a typical American diet, you lose calcium in the urine and you have bone loss ... When the body has more acid than it is easily able to excrete, bone cells get a signal that the body needs to neutralize the acid with alkali ... And bone is a big alkali reservoir, so the body breaks down some bone to add alkali to the system."
Research by Dawson-Hughes found that people who were in the neutral range for net acid excretion, meaning they had a fairly healthy balance for bone and muscle health, were eating just over eight servings of fruits and vegetables per day along with 5.5 servings of grains. When they rounded this out, it came to about half as many grains as fruits and vegetables.
For many Americans, a simple recommendation to increase your alkali (and potassium) while reducing acid is to eat more vegetables and fewer grains and processed foods in general.30 When cooking from scratch, you have complete control over how much salt you add.
Healthy Versus Unhealthy Salt
When you do use salt, make sure its unrefined and minimally processed. My personal favorite is Himalayan pink salt, rich in naturally-occurring trace minerals needed for healthy bones, fluid balance and overall health. The same cannot be said for modern table salt.
Salt is a nutritional goldmine provided you consume the right kind. Salt provides two elements -- sodium and chloride -- that are essential for life. Your body cannot make these elements on its own, so you must get them from your diet. Some of the many biological processes for which natural salt is crucial include:
? Being a major component of your blood plasma, lymphatic fluid, extracellular fluid and even amniotic fluid
? Carrying nutrients into and out of your cells and helping maintain your acid-base balance
? Increasing the glial cells in your brain, responsible for creative thinking and long-term planning.
Both sodium and chloride are also necessary for the firing of neurons
? Maintaining and regulating blood pressure
? Helping your brain communicate with your muscles so that you can move on demand via sodium-potassium ion exchange
? Supporting the function of your adrenal glands, which produce dozens of vital hormones
Natural salt typically contains 84 percent sodium chloride and 16 percent naturally-occurring trace minerals, including silicon, phosphorous and vanadium. Processed (table) salt, on the other hand, contains over 97 percent sodium chloride; the rest is man-made chemicals such as moisture absorbents and flow agents. A small amount of iodine may also be added.
Some European countries, where water fluoridation is not practiced, also add fluoride to their salt.31 In France for example, 35 percent of table salt sold contains either sodium fluoride or potassium fluoride, and use of fluoridated salt is widespread in South America.
Besides these basic differences in nutritional content, the processing also radically alters the chemical structure of the salt. So, while you definitely need salt for optimal health, not just any salt will do. What your body needs is natural, unprocessed salt, without added chemicals.
Milham is a physician and an epidemiologist, and has spent decades (he's now 85 years old) doing pioneering research in this field. In his book, he details the extensive journey he took to uncover the link between dirty electricity and human disease. In a nutshell, dirty electricity, or more accurately stated, EMI, impacts your biology, specifically your mitochondrial function, which we've now come to appreciate is at the heart of virtually all chronic disease.
What Is Dirty Electricity?
Sunlight is a natural or native form of electromagnetic frequency (EMF). There are also four basic non-native or artificial EMF exposures: magnetic, artificial light, electrical and microwave (which includes not only your microwave oven but also cellphones, routers and portable phones).
Dirty electricity refers to the electrical component of this EMF spectrum. A more precise term is electromagnetic interference or EMI. "Dirty" is more of a descriptive layman's term. But what exactly is EMI and how is it generated? Milham explains:
"The electric grid began with Edison in 1892 at the Pearl Street Generating Station. It turns out that from the very second he started generating electricity, he was making dirty electricity. The way I know that is because if you read his publications, he had a big problem with his original generators ... They had brush arcing. The way they made electricity was by spinning magnets that had brushes to pick up their contact points.
All electric motors have brushes. Generators have them. They're made out of graphite ... Arcing and sparking makes dirty electricity, which are really high-frequency electric transients. They come and go. They're spikey. They have very short latency times.
From the outset of the grid, we've been exposed to this. It's not the 60-cycle stuff. We're talking about frequencies up in the kilohertz and higher; thousands of cycles per second."
EMI Microwaves Travel Far and Wide
There are also microwaves, and this is not just your microwave oven, but your portable phone, cellphone and cellphone towers.
"All transmitters, AM, frequency modulation (FM) and especially cell towers [produce microwaves]. Your cellphone works because there's a transmitter out there that transmits to you. They all run on DC.
Every cell tower in the world has a huge inverter in it to make the DC to run the transmitter, and also to charge the backup batteries. They make dirty electricity by the ton. Lots of schools have cell towers on campus. What they're doing is they're bathing the kids [with EMI].
It gets back into the wires; the ground (lot)wires and power wires that service it. The grid becomes an antenna for all this dirty electricity. It extends miles downstream ... [A Brazilian study] looked at deaths from cancer [and] distance of residence from the base of the cell tower.
They got effects out to 500 meters. That's 1,500 feet. I'll tell you, the cell tower can't talk that far. It's the dirty electricity -- the EMI in the grid, in the wires running into your house, through the ground and through your power cords -- that's doing it."
Dirty Electricity Is Biologically Active
A classic example of EMI is AM radio wave transmission interruption, as demonstrated in Milham's video above. But why exactly should we be concerned about EMI in our homes?
"Over the 50 years I've been doing this, it's become super clear that EMI or dirty electricity is very biologically active. I wrote the book to warn the population because nobody seemed to pay attention to it. This is the major cause of all the so-called diseases of civilization,"1Milham says.
I myself am becoming quite passionate about this issue. I've known about dirty electricity or EMI for nearly two decades, but I never fully appreciated the impact it has until I read Milham's book. Then, the connections suddenly became apparent to me.
For the last year, I've been diving deep into the scientific literature of mitochondrial function, and it appears this is how EMI affects your health. In other words, it likely increases mitochondrial free radical damage and contributes to mitochondrial dysfunction. Certainly, other variables contribute to disease as well, such as the processing of food, unbalanced nutrient ratios, pesticide contamination and so on. Still, the impact of EMI may be foolhardy to overlook.
All Solar Panels Generate Dirty Electricity
On a side note, many who use solar panels (photovoltaic panels) are completely unaware of the fact that they are a source of dirty electricity. I've had 15 kilowatt solar panels on my home for the last five years. Photovoltaic panels generate direct current (DC), which is essentially unusable in most homes.
In order to use the DC current the solar panels generate, you need to use an inverter that converts it to alternating current (AC). The problem is, the inverter used to generate AC is a phenomenal source of dirty electricity. I remediated mine and radically decreased the EMI generated when the inverters are on during the day.
Large, commercial solar arrays have a similar problem. They use inverters -- sometimes thousands of them if they're really big arrays -- and they all generate EMI or dirty electricity.
"If your utility has an appreciable wind or solar component, it is, by definition, giving you dirty electricity," Milham notes. "[W]hen I first discovered this business, I went online; I studied commercial sources of photovoltaic inverters ... I found this statement ... [which] said that all photovoltaic inverters create amplitude modulation (AM) radio interference. What does that tell you? It says it's all dirty."
This EMI connects or affects your biology when it's on a circuit or in the earth. For example, if you have a solar panel in your house, not all circuits in your house will be hooked up to it. The only circuits affected by EMI will be the ones hooked up to the solar panel inverter. The EMI gets into the ground and can also affect your neighbors.
Chronic EMI Exposure Raises Your Cancer Risk
Once EMI is generated, how far away must you be from the wire in question in order to avoid biological interference? According to Milham, the distance can be quite significant. In many cases, entire areas of ground can be a source of EMI, raising the current in your body.
"About three years ago, [the late professor] Martin H. Graham ... and Dave Stetzer, who pioneered and studied this field and trained me ... sent me an off-the-shelf fluke multimeter, which measures volts, amps and ohms. He showed me how to use it to measure current in my body.
That's been a mindblower ... I put an electrocardiogram (EKG) patch on my chest for one lead ... and the other [fluke multimeter lead] goes to an electrical outlet ground ... It then measures the current in my body ...
The meter comes with everything you need. All you've got to do is take a 12-gauge wire and put a three-prong plug on it, where you only contact the round plug. That's attached to your black electrode. That's for the ground. The red one goes to your EKG patch on your chest (or to your mouth).
I find that just walking on the pavement in an area, I could get very, very high, probably carcinogenic fields of current in my body. We're talking millivolts [and] microamps ...
The National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) studied this years ago. They concluded that 18 microamps is sufficient to put enough voltage in your body to give you cancer with chronic exposure. You want to keep [your body current] under 18 microamps. The higher it is, the worse it is ...
I find 200 to 300 microamps in lots of places, just standing on the floor ... One of my favorite places is a local farmers market here. Last year, I was horrified to find out that just walking or standing in that place, I was putting 200 microamps of current into my body2 ...
I was sitting at a Hewlett-Packard laptop and was measuring myself. I just touched the case of the laptop and found it was putting 80 microamps into my body. I finally got rid of it by putting a USB to an outlet ground. That fixes it."
Beware of Fluorescent and LED Lights
Milham also discovered that almost all non-incandescent lighting puts high current into your body, directly from the light. This includes fluorescents, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LED) light bulbs. Dr. Alexander Wunsch, a world class expert on photobiology, details many of the health hazards associated with LED lights, but the dirty electricity component is yet another reason to avoid these types of light bulbs in your home and office space. As noted by Milham:
"This explains a lot. I started doing occupational mortality [investigations] 30 years ago ... I was puzzled as to why the highest cancer rates [occur in] teachers, professors and office workers. Why is melanoma more common in people who work indoors than outdoors?
Why is it more common in teachers and professors than in lifeguards or farmers? Why do you get it on parts of your body that never see the sun? It's due to [nonnative artificial] EMF, as I've been measuring in schools and colleges. There's just no place to hide."
In the 1950s, photobiologist John Ott studied children in a Florida school who had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He believed these kinds of behavioral problems were associated with the fluorescent lighting, and was able to improve the children's condition by placing an EMF-blocking wire mesh screen in front of the lights that was then grounded. This and other findings are discussed in Ott's book, "Health and Light: The Effects of Natural and Artificial Light on Man and Other Living Things."
Male Breast Cancer -- A Sentinel for EMI Exposure
Interestingly, Milham's work suggests cancers are frequency-specific,3 meaning certain frequencies cause specific cancers. He also notes that male breast cancer is a sentinel for EMI exposure,4 just like mesothelioma is a sentinel for asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, few are willing to take the issue seriously.
"In the second edition of my book I comment (willfully) that there's an epidemic of male breast cancer in Camp Lejeune in the Marine Corps. I wrote to them and said, 'Look at these 15 studies that link EMF to [male breast cancer].' They were saying it was due to the drinking water contamination. There's no way. It's due to EMF for sure. They just ignored me."
Milham was also involved in an investigation5 at La Quinta Middle School in Palm Springs. Teachers were convinced an environmental problem was at fault for an epidemic of cancer among the staff. In all, 18 teachers at the school had developed cancer. Other schools in the system had at most two or three cases.
The superintendent of the school hired an expert from the local tumor registry (cancer institute), who informed the teachers that their cancers were due to sun exposure. Milham initially spent months trying to contact the school, to no avail. The superintendent told him they were satisfied with the answers they'd received.
Eventually, at the request of the teachers, he was allowed into the school for two nights to investigate, yet shortly thereafter, he was accused of criminal trespass by the school district. They simply did not want him to get involved. The state teacher's association stonewalled him as well.
"I tried to do another school that had a cell tower on campus and an epidemic of mostly breast cancer in the staff. Once again, they hired a University of California professor to come to a school board meeting and try to shoot down my [research]. They wouldn't cooperate, so what are you going to do? You can lead these people to water but you can't make them drink."
Historical Data Reveal Public Health Impact of Electrification
Clearly, there's a strong negative incentive against this type of information. What intrigued me is that when Milham did his initial analysis and historical review,6 he found a strong correlation between electrification and mortality from cancer, including female breast cancer and childhood leukemia7 -- and this data dates back to 1900!
By the turn of the century, most big cities in the world had electricity, while rural areas didn't catch up until the mid-'50s. So, for half a century there were two large United States populations covered by a good vital record system of deaths and births. One population group was exposed to electricity and the other wasn't. When you compare these two groups, you discover some truly amazing differences in vital statistics.
"At the turn of the century, if you lived in New York City or most of the other cities in the country, your average life expectancy was low-50s. If you were Amish and didn't use electricity or if you lived in rural Mississippi or rural New York State, your longevity was in the 70s.
Fast forward to the 1930s ... the urban cancer [mortality] was 50 to 80 percent higher than the rural cancer mortality. That's enough to blow your mind. It's internally consistent."
Today, the risks are greater than ever before, thanks to ground currents. The electric grid in the U.S. is called a grounded Wye grid, designed for protection against lighting. The neutral center taps of their transformers are connected to the earth by a wire. In the U.S. about 80 percent of the current delivered to loads like motors and lights returns to the substation via the earth.
Dairy farmers were among the first to sound the alarm that something was wrong. In the 1970s, they noticed cows were dying, weren't producing milk and had trouble reproducing. "This big old BACI (before-after control-impact) is a wonderful canary in the coal mine for EMF," Milham notes.
Stetzer, Graham and others did a study in which they identified the parts of the EMF spectrum that impact milk production in cows. Interestingly, their findings reveal milk production is affected by certain harmonics at multiples of 60 Hz. At these intervals, frequencies have a harmful effect on the cows. Chances are, the same applies to human beings.
Biological Mechanisms of EMI
As mentioned, dirty electricity or EMI are high-frequency electric transients and harmonics that come and go. These aberrant peaks in frequency are emitted quite a distance, typically greater than 10 feet. This means that if you're within range, these frequencies can resonate with your body, causing some biological effect.
One suggested mechanism of harm is related to the production of a reactive nitrogen species (RNS) called perioxynitrate. Evidence also suggests it can affect mitochondrial function, which I believe is a major mechanism of harm. More generally speaking, EMI acts as a biological stressor. In one of Milham's studies, he showed that by cleaning up the electrical environment, they were able to reduce the production of stress hormones.
He's also shown that by filtering dirty electricity from a library, the levels of neurotransmitters in people spending time in the library were beneficially altered. Milham also cites a study by two German researchers, who were able to demonstrate that the installation of a cellphone tower in a previously pristine valley produced long-term changes in a wide variety of measurable hormones, including stress hormones.
From my perspective, there's no doubt dirty electricity is triggering and/or exacerbating chronic disease, and if you care about your health and longevity, I urge you to face this information head on, disturbing and discouraging as it may be. While it may be impossible to avoid all EMI exposure, there are ways to limit and minimize your exposure inside your home and, potentially, at work. Doing so may go a long way toward protecting your and your family's health over the long term.
Most people think of coleslaw as an all-American dish, but did you know that it actually has Dutch roots? Coleslaw comes from the Dutch word "koolsla," meaning "cabbage salad." The recipe was brought to the U.S. by Dutch immigrants who settled in New York during the late 17th and 18th centuries.
Coleslaw is still a favorite today because of its unique flavor and texture. However, since it's usually enjoyed raw, I recommend using only organically grown vegetables that are not sprayed with pesticides and other toxic chemicals.
This Fresh and Crunchy Coleslaw Recipe uses only wholesome ingredients that blend so well together, and is sure to please everyone -- even picky eaters.
In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, garlic powder, celery seed and salt. Whisk together until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
Add the shredded cabbage, celery, carrots and finely chopped green onion. Mix very well to coat evenly.
Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.
This Fresh and Crunchy Coleslaw Recipe Is Chock-Full of Nutrients
Apart from the organically grown vegetables that are naturally tasty, the flavor combinations of homemade mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, garlic powder and celery seeds make this coleslaw extraordinary.
This recipe doesn't need cooking and can be prepared ahead of time. You can make either an individual serving or a big batch to share with your family or friends. You can also serve it at your next dinner party as a wonderfully refreshing appetizer.
Why Cabbage Is a Top Choice in Improving Health
Cabbage is a mainstay of coleslaw and other salads, and it's easy to see why. This vegetable contains fat-soluble vitamin K1 that plays a role in blood clotting and bone metabolism, and assists in limiting neuron damage to the brain, potentially preventing Alzheimer's disease.
Since most people today are deficient in vitamin K1, consuming more cabbage can be a good way to increase your body's supply.
Vitamins B1, B5, B6 and B9 are also found in cabbage. These B vitamins assist in delivering energy and potentially slowing down shrinkage in brain regions that may be significantly targeted by Alzheimer's disease. Cabbage is also home to manganese, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and potassium.
Plus, cabbage was shown to assist in reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels in the blood. High LDL levels can be dangerous, since it may build up in the arteries and trigger heart disease. Furthermore, the George Mateljan Foundation notes that cabbage can protect the body from oxidative stress and has the potential to prevent cancers. This benefit can likely be traced to:
Antioxidants like vitamins A and C, phytonutrients like thiocyanates, lutein, zeaxanthin, sulforaphane and isothiocyanates: These all stimulate enzyme detoxification and can shield the body against breast, colon and prostate cancers.
Anti-inflammatory properties: Anthocyanins are anti-inflammatory polyphenols that are abundant in red cabbage. These can regulate inflammation and reduce the risk of inflammation-related damage to your body.
Glucosinolates: These phytochemicals break down into indoles, sulforaphane and other cancer-preventive substances. In particular, indole-3-cabinol stops the cell cycle in breast cancer cells without killing the cells. This compound intervenes with the cancer cell's development cycle by turning off a gene for an important enzyme.
Because cabbages contain different glucosinolate patterns, it would be wise to consume different cabbages, such as red, green and Savoy.
Celery Packs a Crunch and Some Health Benefits, Too
Adding celery to this recipe not only boosts its flavor profile, but also positively impacts your body. For starters, celery is a low-calorie option that's ideal for those who want to lose weight. It has only 16 calories per serving.
Celery is a rich source of flavonoids like lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. Studies highlighted that these nutrients were helpful in lowering body inflammation and heart disease risk, boosting your immune system and preventing growth of abnormal cancer-causing cells. Celery is also abundant in vitamins and minerals such as:
Vitamin A, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, C and K3
Potassium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium
Celery is fiber-rich, too, allowing the food to move more quickly through your digestive tract and help in lowering colon cancer risk. There are also antioxidants present in celery, namely natural phenolic dihydrostilbenoids such as lunularin, flavonols such as quercetin and kaempferol and furanocoumarins such as bergapten and psoralen.
Moreover, a plant compound in celery called luteolin plays a role in enhancing brain health by easing brain inflammation, a known primary cause of neurodegeneration.
Don't discard the celery leaves and seeds -- they're rich in nutrients, too. The leaves contain the most amounts of vitamin C, calcium and potassium, while seeds have volatile oils like terpenes that consist mostly of limonene and sesquiterpenes (beta-silenene and hunulene). A compound in the seeds called 3-n-butylphthalide could also help lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels by relaxing blood vessels, while coumarins help with blood thinning.
Carrots Remain a Top Choice for Optimal Well-Being
Because of its antioxidants, namely vitamin A, lycopene and beta-carotene, you can get various health benefits from carrots. These antioxidants have been linked to:
Helping prevent illnesses like heart disease, stroke and cancer
Cleansing the colon and flushing out toxins
Preventing infection in cuts and scrapes when used as poultice
Improving brain, heart and oral health
Helping lower incidence of metabolic syndrome
Boosting skin's appearance
Protecting the liver
Possessing anti-aging effects and anti-inflammatory capabilities
Other vitamins in carrots include B1, B6, B9, C and K. Plus, minerals like calcium, phosphorus and magnesium won't just help in building strong bones and a healthy nervous system, but also promote:
Development of healthy heart muscles (calcium)
Softer skin and stronger hair, teeth and bones (phosphorus)
Better mental health, fat digestion and nutrient absorption (magnesium)
Apple Cider Vinegar Provides Acidity and More
A little spritz of apple cider vinegar (ACV) will not only do this coleslaw good, but improve your health, too. Initially, ACV was shown to balance pH levels, increase amounts of good gut bacteria in the body and assist with weight control.
However, more studies showed that apple cider vinegar can reduce blood glucose levels. A study published in Diabetes Care involved three groups: adults with pre-diabetes, adults with type 2 diabetes and healthy adults.
After taking an ounce of ACV, participants had lower blood glucose levels when they ate a high-carbohydrate meal (a white bagel with butter and a glass of orange juice), as compared to when they took a placebo. The pre-diabetes group also improved their blood glucose levels by almost half, while the type 2 diabetes group reduced their blood glucose levels by 25 percent.
Another study in The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry involved feeding mice with a high-fat diet and acetic acid (ACV's active ingredient). The experimental mice ended up with 10 percent lower body weight compared to the control subjects. Researchers pointed out that the acetic acid can switch on trigger genes that depend on the enzymes' ability to break down fat, preventing weight gain and making you feel fuller.
ACV may also help detoxify the lymphatic system that assists with optimizing homeostatic function in the body. The antioxidants in the vinegar have the ability to decrease free radical-caused oxidative damage and improve the health of your blood and organs.
When consuming ACV, remember to do so in moderation because it can damage your teeth and lead to dental erosion. The best way to prevent this is by diluting ACV with water.
You've probably heard that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can significantly cut the time needed in the gym, but just how little can you get away with? Could you actually get fit in as little as six minutes per week? The featured ABC Catalyst program investigates this claim.
A significant piece of the puzzle relates to how HIIT affects your mitochondria, tiny organelles found in most of your cells, responsible for production of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Your mitochondria have a series of proteins in the electron transport chain, in which they pass electrons from the reduced form of a metabolized portion of the food you eat to combine it with oxygen from the air you breathe and ultimately form water. As noted in the featured program, the more mitochondria you have and the healthier they are, the more energy your body can generate and the lower your risk of chronic disease.
Disturbingly, research suggests half of people under the age of 40 have early onset mitochondrial dysfunction, which is one of the primary contributors to virtually all chronic degenerative disease, like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's. The good news is, studies also show HIIT is very effective for boosting mitochondria and improving their function -- and that results can be gained incredibly fast.
Fit in Six Minutes a Week
Your over 1 quadrillion mitochondria comprise an estimated 10 percent of your total body mass, so they make up a significant portion of your body and produce your body weight in ATP every day. In addition to generating ATP, your mitochondria are responsible for apoptosis (programmed cell death), and also serve as important signaling molecules that help regulate the expression of your genes. This is a function that even most doctors are unaware of.
Aerobic fitness is determined by measuring the amount of oxygen your mitochondria can consume when you push yourself to the limit, a measurement called VO2 max. The lower your VO2 max, the higher your risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's and more, and the higher your VO2 max, the greater your level of fitness and general health.
Top athletes typically register in the 60 to 70 milliliters per kilo (2.2 pounds) per minute (mL/kg/min) range. The ABC reporter tested her VO2 max at the outset of her 15-week program, scoring a measurement of 36 mL/kg/min, which is a high average.
The conventional recommendation is to get 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. The problem is most people simply do not have that kind of spare time, and thus end up not exercising at all. But in recent years, scientists have demonstrated you can make great fitness gains in a fraction of that time.
Three Minutes of HIIT Is as Effective as 150 Minutes of Moderate Exercise
A 2016 study1 involving three groups of exercising men -- a control group, a group doing sprint interval training and a group doing moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) -- underscored the value of HIIT.
After 12 weeks of workouts, the researchers concluded that three minutes of interval sprints per week (totaling 30 minutes in the gym) was as effective as 150 minutes of MICT, improving insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness and the mitochondrial content in skeletal muscle to the same extent.
HIIT also triggers mitochondrial biogenesis,2 which is important for longevity. By reversing age-associated declines in mitochondrial mass, you effectively slow down the aging process. As you'll see later, this even includes some of the more visible signs of aging. As explained in my new book, "Fat for Fuel," because mitochondrial dysfunction seems to be at the core of most chronic disease, activities like HIIT that support mitochondrial biogenesis will strengthen your body and help it fight the ravages of time.
Just be sure to allow ample recovery time between workout sessions because as intensity increases, frequency needs to diminish. Doing HIIT more than three times a week can be counterproductive.
Intensity Is the Key
The key that opens the proverbial door to all of HIIT's health benefits is to make sure the intensity is high enough. McMaster University exercise physiologist Martin Gibala, who has led many HIIT studies, describe the intensity required as "sprinting from danger-kind of intensity."
In other words, you need to give it all you've got, but only for about 30 seconds, repeated four to six times with a minute or so recovery time in between sprints. Your actual exertion time ends up totaling just two to three minutes per workout session.
In one HIIT study, participants increased their endurance capacity by 50 percent on this kind of program. Typically, your VO2 max will improve by 10 to 15 percent in as little as a few weeks. Blood pressure and body composition also typically improves in that short amount of time.
The improvement in VO2 max is largely dependent on the adaptation of your mitochondria. They're what allows your body to process greater amounts of oxygen, resulting in greater energy production and thus power, strength and endurance.
Not only does HIIT boost the number of mitochondria in your cells, it also improves their function and replaces old, worn-out mitochondria with new, better-functioning ones. Tests reveal subjects were able to increase mitochondrial function by 30 percent in as little as one month of HIIT.
While the above information represents the current conventional view on the value of intense exercise, I have learned that it needs a radical revision to optimize long-term health.
A far wiser approach would be less intense exercise more regularly. I describe my current view on intense exercise in the last section, and have a video to expand on it. Rather than going all-out two to three times a week, it is far more rational to do it two to three times every day for three minutes. I am convinced that spreading the exercise out over time is more beneficial.
Exercise Can Slow or Even Turn Back Your Biological Clock
Researchers are also honing in on the mitochondria's influence on the aging process itself. It stands to reason that the two are linked. Indeed, one of the reasons your skin sags and wrinkles with age is because of the loss of mitochondria in your skin. Interestingly, HIIT may even reverse these superficial signs of aging. Mice genetically bred with a faulty mitochondrial system have only half the life span of regular mice; have thin, weak muscles, and develop gray hair and wrinkled skin very early on in life.
When these mice exercised at a brisk pace three times a week, all of these symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction were eliminated, including the premature graying and skin wrinkling. Human tests have produced similar results.
In one test, skin biopsies were taken from sedentary seniors before and after three months of endurance training. After three months, their skin samples were indistinguishable from much younger skin under the microscope. The exercise basically turned back the clock by as much as 30 years.
As noted in the program, this does not mean all of their wrinkles vanished, but the dead skin layer thinned, and the layer of collagen fibers thickened. It's conceivably possible to dramatically reduce the number of wrinkles you end up with in old age by maintaining an exercise program throughout your life, thereby preventing the breakdown of mitochondria in your skin in the first place.
Exercise physiologist Stephen Boutcher, featured on the show, is also using a modified HIIT program to address menopause and the visceral fat accumulation that tends to go hand in hand with the loss of estrogen.
The women taking part in his program do eight-second sprints at very light resistance, with 12 seconds of light pedaling in between sprints. After 20 minutes, they have sprinted for a total of eight minutes. All of the participants report feeling better. Some have completely eliminated their hot flashes and night sweats, for example.
What Fitness Gains Can You Get From Four Months of HIIT?
The ABC reporter in the program did four 30-second sprints, three times a week for four months, equating to just six minutes of all-out exercise per week. What fitness gains did she reap? Here's what her follow-up tests revealed:
Body fat went from 26.6 percent to 25.1 percent
In all, she lost 3.5 pounds (1.5 kilos) of body fat (mostly from her lower trunk and upper legs) and nearly 2 inches (5 centimeters) from her waist
VO2 max increased by 10 percent, from 36 mL/kg/min to 40 mL/kg/min, moving her into the "fit" category
Her endurance dramatically improved, from barely being able to complete a 3-kilometer (1.86-mile) jog to comfortably running 9 kilometers (5.59 miles)
HIIT Works Best for Aging Muscles
While many still believe intense exercise is a recipe for a heart attack, research negates such worries. In fact, HIIT is suitable even for the elderly. In a study by Mayo Clinic researchers, three types of exercise were pitted against each other and a non-exercising control group, to determine which type of exercise works best to protect aging muscles.3 HIIT was a clear winner.
The study involved 72 sedentary people aged either 30 or younger or 64 and over. They engaged in 12 weeks of HIIT on stationary bikes, vigorous resistance training or a combination of exercises (moderate pace stationary bike combined with light weightlifting). All of the exercisers experienced improvements in lean body mass and insulin sensitivity, and those who engaged in resistance training had boosts in muscle mass and strength.
Among the HIIT group, improvements in endurance were particularly noted. However, additional notable differences were revealed when the participants' muscle cells were biopsied, revealing genetic changes. Among the younger exercisers, the HIIT group had changes in 274 genes, compared to 170 genes for the moderate combination exercisers and 74 among the resistance group.
The changes among the older exercisers were even more striking. In the elderly, nearly 400 genes were upregulated, compared to 33 for the resistance group and only 19 for those doing moderate exercise, and many of the genes affected specifically influence mitochondria's ability to produce energy for muscle cells.
Boost Your Health With the Nitric Oxide Dump
I now believe one of the best high-intensity exercises is the Nitric Oxide dump that I demonstrate in the video above, which is a modified version of one developed by Dr. Zach Bush. If you have previously watched this video, please review it again as it has been edited to show you how to perform this exercise properly. I do this exercise two to three times virtually every day, unless my schedule is massively overbooked.
I use 8-pound weights in the video but it's best to forgo the weights when you first start out. The whole routine takes about three to four minutes and is typically done two to three times a day every day, with at least two hours between sessions.
I am now convinced that this gentler strategy, which has not been evaluated or compared to the HIIT protocols discussed above, is a far healthier strategy to obtain the benefits of HIIT without the downside. I only wish I had known about this more effective approach earlier.
As noted in the featured program, mitochondrial decline with age is closely linked to reduced cardiorespiratory fitness, and decreased resting mitochondrial ATP production may be involved in the development of insulin resistance with aging.4
Exercise promotes mitochondrial health by forcing your mitochondria to work harder. One of the side effects of mitochondria working harder is that they're making reactive oxygen species, or free radicals, which act as signaling molecules. One of the functions they signal is to make more mitochondria. So, when you exercise, your body responds by creating more mitochondria to keep up with the heightened energy requirement.
Aging is inevitable, but your biological age can be quite different from your chronological age, and your mitochondria have a lot to do with your biological aging. As noted in this program, HIIT appears to be an excellent way to boost the number of mitochondria in your body and improve their function.
The end result is improved body composition and cardiometabolic health, and research shows it's really never too late to start. Some of the studies discussed in the program involved people in their 70s, and even at that advanced age they were able to achieve significant health improvements.
While drinking pure water as your primary beverage is undoubtedly one of the most important cornerstones of health, there's a misconception that you need to be chugging down water all day to stay well. In fact, a report from The National Academy of Sciences concluded that most Americans are not walking around dehydrated on a regular basis. They noted, "The vast majority of healthy people adequately meet their daily hydration needs by letting thirst be their guide."1
The report added that while 80 percent of Americans' total water intake comes from water and other beverages (including caffeinated beverages like coffee, which do "count" in your total fluid intake, contrary to popular belief), 20 percent comes from the food you eat.
Is There Scientific Basis for 8x8?
The recommendation to drink eight 8-ounce glasses (known as 8x8 for short) of water a day is often stated as scientific fact. But is it actually based on science? In a review published in the American Journal of Physiology, Dr. Heinz Valtin of Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, New Hampshire, set to answer this question.
He was unable to find any published literature notating the origin of the rule, but potentially traced it back to an apparently offhand comment made by the late influential nutritionist Fredrick J. Stare, who was said to be an early champion of drinking at least six glasses of water a day. A book by Stare contains this (unreferenced) passage:2
"How much water each day? This is usually well regulated by various physiological mechanisms, but for the average adult, somewhere around [six] to [eight] glasses per 24 hours and this can be in the form of coffee, tea, milk, soft drinks, beer, etc. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of water."
The New York Times suggested, meanwhile, that the source of the 8x8 myth may have been a Food and Nutrition Board recommendation made in 1945, which suggested people should drink 2.5 liters of water a day, which amounts to more than 84 fluid ounces. But, the Times continued, "They ignored the sentence that followed closely behind. It read, 'Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.'"3
Many Myths Regarding Water Consumption Prevail
After a thorough review of the literature as well as discussions with experts, including nutritionists and colleagues, Valtin still could find no further basis for the water recommendation that's become a 21st century mainstay. He wrote:4
"Thus I have found no scientific proof that we must 'drink at least eight glasses of water a day,' nor proof, it must be admitted, that drinking less does absolutely no harm. However, the published data available to date strongly suggest that, with the exception of some diseases and special circumstances, such as strenuous physical activity, long airplane flights and climate, we probably are currently drinking enough and possibly even more than enough."
Interestingly enough, Valtin also put to rest some myths regarding water consumption, such as that waiting to drink until you're thirsty is too late, because by then you're already dehydrated. In reality, your body's physiologic thirst mechanism is triggered before you're dehydrated.
As Valtin said, this makes perfect sense: "[T]hirst is so sensitive, quick and accurate that it is hard to imagine that evolutionary development left us with a chronic water deficit that has to be compensated by forcing fluid intake."5 Valtin even suggests the idea that dark urine means dehydration is a myth, noting that the depth of color in urine is inversely linked to urinary volume, which varies significantly from person to person.
While I believe checking your urine's color is a simple way to ensure you're drinking enough water (looking for a pale yellow color), Valtin notes that moderately yellow urine may be fine and should not necessarily be interpreted as "dark," although some people might take it that way. "Therefore," he states, "the warning that dark urine reflects dehydration is alarmist and false in most instances."6
Are We Becoming 'Waterlogged?'
Dr. Timothy Noakes is a professor of exercise science and sports medicine at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, who is perhaps best known for the book, "Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports" -- the best resource I know of for this topic.
It suggests that overhydrating will actually worsen athletic performance, not improve it. According to Noakes, the first drinking guidelines put out by The American College of Sports Medicine said that runners should "drink regularly during exercise," which is fair advice. But then an individual working for the U.S. military published a paper saying that U.S. soldiers should drink 64 ounces of water per hour in order to improve performance.
Though the paper was not based on concrete evidence, it was widely embraced by the military, and then filtered through to the American College of Sports Medicine's guidelines for runners. Today ACSM still recommends drinking "ahead of thirst," a move that Noakes says impairs exercise performance.
He uses the example of African hunters who were able to chase down an antelope for four to six hours in midday heat, without a source of fluids until after the hunt ended (when they would drink the animal's blood and intestinal water). While most runners drink only when thirsty, some (over 36 percent) instead drink more than their thirst dictates, often to a set schedule.7
This, in turn, not only may reduce their athletic performance, but also put them at risk of exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH). In hyponatremia, your cells, including those in your brain, swell with too much water, which can be fatal. There are also reports of asymptomatic hyponatremia, which can have consequences of its own. According to Valtin:8
"[Dilution of the plasma as reflected in mild, largely asymptomatic hyponatremia is said to be common in general practice. Moreover, nonfatal hyponatremia has been reported in a variety of circumstances. In the majority of patients, hyponatremia reflects an excess of water in the body rather than a decrease in sodium.
Therefore, urging a high fluid intake on absolutely every person may well run the danger of inducing water intoxication and potentially serious sequelae, not only in the elderly but also in healthy young persons."
The Benefits of Drinking Enough Water
There are clearly disadvantages to not drinking enough water, as your body is made mostly of water. In fact, your body consists of about 42 liters (11 gallons) of water, which accounts for between 50 percent and 70 percent of your body weight. Your blood is 85 percent water, your muscles 80 percent water, your brain 75 percent water and even your bones are 25 percent water,9 which signals the importance this fluid plays in your health.
What happens if you don't drink enough? The No. 1 risk factor for kidney stones is not drinking enough water, for starters. There is also some research showing that high fluid intake is linked to a lower risk of certain types of cancer, such as bladder cancer and colorectal cancer.10
Even the risk of fatal coronary heart disease has been linked to water intake, with women who drank five or more glasses of water per day reducing their risk by 41 percent compared to women who drank less. Men, meanwhile, reduced their risk by 54 percent.11 Your body also needs water for blood circulation, metabolism, regulation of body temperature and waste removal.
If you are dehydrated, even mildly, your mood and cognitive function may suffer. In fact, according to a study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, dehydrated drivers made twice the amount of errors during a two-hour drive compared to hydrated drivers.12 So the issue isn't that water isn't important for optimal functioning; it's that you may not need to chug water and carry a bottle with you wherever you go in order to stay adequately hydrated.
It's unclear how many Americans are truly dehydrated, but it's more common among the elderly and children. One study even suggested more than half of American children are dehydrated, while about one-quarter do not drink water on a daily basis.13 However, some have suggested that the value of the study used to denote dehydration may have been overly conservative -- 800 mOsm (mean urine osmality)/kg or higher when 1,200 mOsm/kg may still be within the normal range.14
So How Much Water Do You Need?
Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of pure water a day may not be likely to cause you harm; it's just that the evidence is lacking on whether that is the magic number for everyone, and most likely it appears that it is not. The reality is that some people may be dehydrated and would benefit from drinking more water each day, and from making water their primary source of fluids.
However, as the Times put it, "[A]s people in this country live longer than ever before, and have arguably freer access to beverages than at almost any time in human history, it's just not true that we're all dehydrated."15 Your water requirements vary depending on your age, activity level, climate and more. But you needn't get bogged down with trying to figure out the exact amount your body needs or tracking how many glasses you've consumed in a day.
There's no need for that because your body will let you know. Simply using thirst as a guide to how much water you need to drink is a simple way to help ensure your individual needs are met, day by day. As mentioned, you can also use color of your urine as a guide. If it is a deep, dark yellow then you are likely not drinking enough water.
If your urine is scant or if you haven't urinated in many hours, that too is an indication that you're not drinking enough. (Based on the results from a few different studies, a healthy person urinates on average about seven or eight times a day.) Ultimately, however, listening to your body and letting your thirst be your guide is your best solution for getting the water your body needs each day.
Kale1 -- a well-recognized "superfood" -- is rich in healthy fiber and antioxidants, and is one of the best sources of vitamin A, which promotes eye and skin health and may help strengthen your immune system, and vitamin K.
A 1-cup serving has almost as much vitamin C as an orange and as much calcium as a cup of milk. It's also an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin (which help protect against macular degeneration), indole-3-carbinol (thought to protect against colon cancer by aiding DNA repair), iron and chlorophyll.
One serving of kale also contains 2 grams of protein, 121 milligrams (mg) of plant-based omega-3 fats, 92 mg of omega-6, and -- like meat -- all nine essential amino acids needed to form proteins in your body, plus nine nonessential ones for a total of 18. Studies suggest kale can help lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while raising HDLs, lowering your risk for heart disease. Kale has also been shown to provide "comprehensive support" for detoxification by regulating the process at the genetic level.2
Kale Is Simple to Grow and Provides Ornamental Beauty
Unfortunately, conventionally-grown kale is frequently contaminated with high amounts of pesticides,3 making it important to buy organic. Better yet, grow your own!
As little as three or four plants can supply enough greens each week for a family of four, and the plants grow well in containers if you don't have a backyard. Many gardeners appreciate kale for their ornamental value as well. Growing your own will also give you better control over soil conditions.
Are Concerns About Thallium Toxicity Valid?
Like many other greens, kale tends to concentrate toxins present in the soil, and thallium toxicity has been reported even in organically-grown kale. Media warnings about "kale poisoning" erupted two years ago after private experiments by molecular biologist Ernie Hubbard suggested people were being exposed to dangerous levels of heavy metals from plants like kale.
The story broke in the magazine Craftmanship Quarterly.4 Huffington Post was one of the few news sources trying to clarify the media miscommunication that followed, noting the errors in journalism.5 Anna Almendrala wrote, in part:
"Hubbard, an unaffiliated scientist from Marin, California, who works at an alternative health clinic, has been testing local kale and soil and has arrived at the conclusion that the cruciferous vegetable's ability to 'hyperaccumulate' the heavy metal thallium is posing a health risk to his community.
Hubbard tested levels of thallium in vegetable samples and in the urine of people from Marin ... who have complained of things like fatigue, brain fogginess and nausea. The symptoms are signs, he said, that they may be experiencing low-level heavy metal poisoning.
These signs, however, are correlative, which means Hubbard doesn't know for sure if crucifers have caused the symptoms or if something else may be at play. But this hasn't stopped other outlets from recommending that their readers cut back on certain vegetables ...
[T]here's no reliable evidence to suggest you should kick your kale to the curb, confirmed Shreela Sharma, a registered dietitian and associate professor in the department of epidemiology, human genetics and environmental sciences at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Hubbard acknowledged the limitations of his research to HuffPost, and wrote in an email that he never intended for his preliminary results to stand on their own, without corroboration, as a prescription for the general public."
It's important to realize that nutrient and contaminant uptake go hand in hand, and if there's a thallium problem, it's really a soil quality issue, not a kale plant issue per se. If you grow your vegetables in clean, healthy soil, you will not have heavy metals in your food, by virtue of there not being any in the soil for the plant to take up.
Kale Breeding Program Promises Greater Variety
There are many different varieties of kale, providing different colors, textures and tastes. Cornell University is also working on a program to identify and breed consumer favorites, based on shape, color, flavor and texture. As reported by Science Daily:6
"Griffiths and Swegarden are focusing efforts on developing new kale cultivars, including the evaluation of hybrid combinations. New cultivars in Griffiths' breeding pipeline will push consumer expectations for kale, blurring the current color boundaries of greens and purples and introducing a range of new leaf and plant shapes ...
As part of the program, Swegarden has been gathering feedback from seed producers, growers, supermarket managers and consumers ... She is partnering with Cornell's Sensory Evaluation Center to perform consumer trials to develop a consumer kale lexicon and establish a trait hierarchy that can be used to guide the breeding program.
This data will determine which hybrids and breeding lines to select in the field. Swegarden predicts that in the next few years consumers will see an even richer diversity of leafy greens available to them."
Popular Kale Varieties
The oldest variety of kale is curly kale, which has ruffled leaves, a deep-green color and a bitter, pungent flavor. More recent varieties are ornamental kale, Russian and dinosaur kale, the latter of which has blue-green leaves and a more delicate taste than curly kale.
Ornamental kale, sometimes called salad savoy, was originally used as a decorative garden plant (it comes in green, white and purple colors), although it can also be eaten and has a mellow flavor and tender texture. As a general rule, kale with smaller leaves tends to be more tender and milder than larger-leaved varieties. While there are many options, some of the more popular varieties of kale include:7,8,9
Red Russian, a frost-hardy, slug-resistant variety that is sweeter than most other kinds of kale
Dinosaur kale (aka Tuscan kale or Lacinato), another sweet-tasting variety with large, puckered blue-green leaves
Hanover Salad, a fast grower that produces an early harvest
Redbor, a magenta-colored, curly-edged variety with mild flavor and crisp texture
Vates, a dwarf kale with curly, blue-green leaves that can tolerate both heat and cold
Kale Is an Ideal Cold Temperature Crop
As a general rule, kale tastes best when grown in cooler temperatures. Warm weather (or summer crops) produces more woody and bitter-tasting greens. Optimal soil temperature is in the 60- to 65-degree F range, but you can direct-seed into your garden as long as the soil temperature is at least 45 F.
To harvest before the worst summer heat has a chance to take its toll, start seeds indoors approximately six weeks before your last frost date.10 Transplanting seedlings into your garden can speed up the maturation process from an average of 55 to 75 days to as little as 30 or 40.
For a fall crop, plant seeds about eight weeks before your first frost date. Kale is cold tolerant, and if you live in the north, you can harvest even after a light snowfall. Most can thrive in temperatures as low as 15 degrees F, giving you the option of cultivating a winter crop.
Sow seeds at a depth of about one-half inch. Keep moist but avoid overwatering as this may cause the seeds to rot. Germination typically takes about 10 days. Thin the plants once they're 3 to 4 inches tall, leaving only the healthiest-looking ones. Once the seedlings are about 9 inches tall and four leaves have developed, they're ready to be transplanted into your garden.
General Growing Tips
o In the early spring and fall, plant your kale in full sun. If you're growing it during the summer, be sure the plants have partial shade. Use straw or mulch to preserve moisture and prevent the roots from excess heat. Just beware that kale will not generally thrive in the summer, and will be far more bitter than a fall crop grown in a cooler climate. Kale tends to become more attractive to pests during the summer as well
o Kale tends to prefer slightly acidic soil that is high in nitrogen. Make sure the soil drains well, but keep moist to avoid stunting the plant's growth. Lack of moisture will also render the leaves tough and bitter
o Dress with compost every six to eight weeks. Growth can be further boosted by adding a seaweed or fish emulsion once a month
o Give each kale plant 12 to 24 inches of space to allow sufficient airflow
As a member of the cabbage family, kale is prone to rot diseases like black rot, club rot and wirestem, and while far more disease-resistant than many other vegetables, common pests include aphids, cabbage loopers, cabbageworms, cabbage root fly, cabbage whitefly, cutworms, flea beetles and slugs.
One of the easiest ways to protect young kale from many of these pests is to use a featherweight row cover. Once you remove the row covers, check your plants often for signs of pests and disease.
Harvesting, Storage and Cooking Suggestions
Your kale is ready for harvest once the leaves are about the size of your hand. Harvest by nipping the outer leaves off from the stem. Be sure to leave the center leaves to ensure continued growth. As a general rule, you can harvest three or more leaves from each plant every five days. Remove any yellowing or wilted leaves, as leaving them on the plant will encourage pests.
Kale has a relatively short life in terms of crispness, so it's best to use within a few days of harvesting, although the leaves can be blanched and frozen for long-term storage. Kale chips are another popular alternative that will lengthen their shelf life. Here's a simple kale chip recipe:
6 cups of torn and de-stemmed curly kale
2 teaspoons coconut oil, grass fed organic butter or ghee
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt
Nutritional yeast to taste
Optional: 1 pinch sweet or smoked paprika, chili powder, garlic powder or onion powder
Wash and spin dry the chopped, de-stemmed kale. It's important that the kale is completely dry before baking
Toss together the kale and coconut oil. Massage together with your hands until every leaf is coated
Sprinkle on salt, nutritional yeast and any seasoning you will be using. Toss again to evenly distribute
On a parchment-lined baking sheet, arrange the kale evenly without crowding or overlapping
Bake in a 300-degree F oven until crisp and dark green, approximately 12 to 15 minutes
Cool completely before eating. This will allow the chips to crisp up
Kale is versatile in that it can be used either raw or cooked, and makes for a great addition to a wide variety of dishes. Cut smaller, paler green leaves into fresh garden salad; use the larger, dark greens for stir-fries or soup. For even more serving suggestions, see my previous article, "9 Healthy Kale Recipes." You can even eat kale for breakfast. Instead of eating an egg, try this quick and easy breakfast kale stir-fry:
Chop up half a bunch of kale, a quarter of an onion, and stir-fry in a tablespoon of coconut oil for a few minutes until the leaves are tender
Add pinch of sea salt or Himalayan salt, a pinch of pepper, a teaspoon of lemon or Ume Plum Vinegar and some dulse flakes
Dill is an uncommonly versatile perennial herb. If you enjoy growing dill and using it in your recipes, you already know that, but many people, upon tasting the deliciously light, savory flavor in salads, sandwiches or soups, wonder what it is and want more. Of course, many identify dill (Anethum graveolens) with the hamburger pickles of the same name. That's how famous dill is; a pickle is even named after the herb that made it famous!
When you sprinkle on a little fresh dill, "plain old" takes on a whole new level of panache. Cottage cheese and eggs, for example, adopt a warm, distinctive essence. And many people may be familiar with the classic cucumber tea sandwiches made by mixing dill weed with cream cheese. You can also whip up a dill sauce to top wild-caught fish, tender-crisp veggies or salad. Once you've tried it, you won't want it any other way.
While it's possible to purchase fragrant dill fronds or "starts" from farmers markets and grocery stores, the freshest dill will always come from your own garden. Even if you're not a garden enthusiast, this herb is so easy to grow, care for and harvest, the hardest part may be deciding which recipe to try it in first.
There are several dill varieties. Bouquet dill is smaller and has fewer blossoms and seeds. Hardy varieties like Delikat, which is dense, and Fernleaf, a dwarf type, do well even in areas with fewer than six hours of sun per day. Other popular cultivars include:
Dukat, a smaller, brighter green and more compact variety that's good for containers and flavorful in salads
Superdukat contains more essential oil than Dukat
Long Island and Mammoth can reach 5 feet in height and are excellent for pickling
Vierling takes longer to bolt than other types, which means you can harvest the herb longer
Hercules takes a long time to flower, but its leaves are coarser than others, so it's best to harvest early when the plants are young and leaves are still tender
Dill in Your Garden Starts With Seeds
One of the most popular herbs, dill lends a unique flavor to many dishes, but what you may not hear very often is how beautiful dill is growing in your garden, both when it's fresh, feathery and bountiful, like the tops of a carrot (which is a relative) and when it produces the spiny flowers that look like yellow Queen Anne's Lace.
From the outset you should know that dill doesn't necessarily like to be moved, especially when it's small. Further, seedlings emerge in about 10 days, germination takes from 21 to 25 days and harvest can usually take place within 57 to 70 days. Soil quality doesn't (necessarily) hamper how well it grows, but compost will certainly give it a boost. Gardening Know How has additional advice about how to start dill:
"The best way to grow dill is directly from seeds rather than from a transplant. Planting dill seed is easy. Dill planting is simply done by scattering the seeds in the desired location after the last frost, then lightly cover the seeds with soil. Water the area thoroughly."1
Finding a spot in the back of your garden is also a good idea as its height can conceal things you've planted around it. Another idea is to sow dill seeds close to a wall or fence because dill gets so tall, a brisk wind can break the slender stalks. It may not kill the plant, but it could prevent them from standing upright.
You can remedy this by using slender stakes to loosely anchor the plants once they've reached a few feet in height, because, as mentioned, they can grow 3 or 4 feet high and even taller. Until the tiny, feathery fronds begin emerging above the soil surface, you may want to keep the ground slightly moist, especially in dry weather. You don't need to thin dill sprouts, as they like having the mutual support of the other seedlings to keep them standing.
How to Grow Dill for Herbal Use
With dill, you get multiple benefits, as the green leaves are good for cooking, they're easy to dry to use later and the flowers produce seeds that are also useful in recipes and can be saved to expand your dill crop for the next season.
When dill weed gets tall enough to harvest, be aware that hot weather brings on bud formation, called bolting or the colloquial "going to seed." If you want to keep using the dill for culinary endeavors, you'll want to impede the growth of the seed-producing flowers. Once a dill plant begins flowering, the foliage backs off almost entirely.
If you know what to look for, you can prevent dill from flowering too early. The plant becomes "leggy," the stems begin thickening and the feathery leaves become more sparse. To prevent flowering, you need to literally nip them in the bud when they begin forming. This also ensures a bushier plant. Once it decides to bolt, though, it will.
One way to get the best of both worlds is to plant dill at intervals to ensure you have at least some of the dill weed in its earlier stage. Make sure you save some room in your garden plots for later seed sowing.
As for snipping dill weed to dry and have it at the ready in your kitchen, you can dry it to store in an airtight container for several months or even a few years, although in time it will lose its amazing pungency. To dry dill weed, spread the stems on a screen in a cool, dark place. Once dried, you can also use plastic bags to freeze the herbs, but be sure to press all the air out to retain the most flavor.
Let Dill Flower for Seed Production
If you want your dill to flower for the express purpose of harvesting the seeds, Garden Know How notes that the best thing to do, basically, is nothing:
"Allow the plant to grow without trimming until it goes into bloom. Once dill weed plants go into bloom, they'll stop growing leaves, so make sure that you don't harvest any leaves from that plant. The dill flower will fade and will develop the seed pods. When the seed pods have turned brown, cut the whole flower head off and place in a paper bag. Gently shake the bag. The seeds will fall out of the flower head and seed pods and you'll be able to separate the seeds from the waste."2
You can also snip off the flower-bearing stems before they've dried completely and hang them upside down in a warm, dry location. Once you've collected the seeds, store them in a tightly closed glass jar in a cool, dark place. Although they'll lose some of their pungency after a year or so, if you harvest plenty, you'll have plenty.
It may seem like a bit of trouble, but to quickly and easily separate the seeds from the chaff or dried bits of the plant, Heirloom Organics suggests the following:
"Spread a sheet out on the grass, set a portable fan at one edge of the sheet facing the center, and turn it to 'low.' Pour the collected seed in front of the fan's breeze, and it will blow away the light chaff, allowing the heavier seed to collect on the sheet below. Store dill seed as you would dried leaves."3
Another idea is to save your dill seeds by keeping them in pickle vinegar. When they turn brown, they're very flavorful and become more so the longer they're in the vinegar.
Companion Plants and Beneficial Insects
Companion planting is all about locating certain herbs, vegetables and other plants in close proximity to benefit all the plants at the same time. Asparagus, cucumbers, basil, onions, lettuce and crucifers like cabbage are good companions, while peppers, potatoes, cilantro, eggplant and lavender are not.
Pests -- and aphids may be the worst, often exacerbating disease -- are the thing to watch for to ensure healthy plants. Often, getting rid of aphids is the best method.
That said, there's such a thing as beneficial insects, but spraying insecticides on your garden often kills these helpful bugs. Experienced gardeners know these "good guys" can help create a symbiotic atmosphere for your entire garden. Dill can help attract some of the most common beneficial insects, such as:
Hover flies look like tiny bees that fly like drones and lay eggs near aphid colonies so the hover fly larvae can begin eating aphids as soon as they hatch, controlling the majority of an aphid population.
Parasitic wasps can't sting, but do have an ovipositor they use to pierce a wide range of unwanted pests to deposit their eggs, which, when hatched, feed on the bad insect. This cycle, repeated several times a year, is better than insecticides.
Ladybugs are a good insect to attract to your garden because they help get rid of pests like aphids, mites and scale, a small, oval bug that sucks the life out of plants and excretes mold- and fungus-causing sap. Ladybugs like pollen, which plants like dill produce.
Praying mantises are interesting, beautiful and carnivorous, eating aphids, leafhoppers, spiders, crickets and other larger pests, helping to maintain a healthy ecological balance in your garden.
Honeybees pollinate flowers, including dill, which is crucial to healthy plant growth. Pollen and nectar are important to the survival of honeybees; more honeybee pollination means a healthier garden.
Additionally, according to Heirloom Organics, black swallowtail butterfly larvae depend on dill as a food source.
Benefits of Dill Oil
Dill oil has been used since the time of the Roman gladiators, who purportedly used it to quell nervousness and stress. It was also rumored to be an effective love potion.
Dill oil comes from two varieties: European dill (Anethum graveolens), grown where its name implies and parts of the Middle East and the U.S., and Indian dill (Anethum Sowa). There are around 10 compounds that give dill its unique aroma, with numerous but separate phytochemicals from the seeds as opposed to the "weed."
Dill oil can come from the seeds as well as from the graceful-looking leaves and each has a different smell. Oil from the seeds may remind you of caraway seeds due to its high carvone content. Used in aromatherapy, it has a fresh, spicy, grassy aroma. The carvone in dill seeds is identified as antimicrobial. Mixed with lotions or creams, dill oil is used for wound healing. It's also known as an antispasmodic because of its ability to calm, ease tension and have a sedative effect.
Dill oil is noted as aiding digestive issues such as constipation and upset stomach, and helps keep gas from forming (carminative). There's evidence that it may have other diverse uses as reducing mouth and throat inflammation and treating urinary tract infections (UTIs).
One study suggests that mixing dill oil with chamomile tea may help alleviate attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and protect against head lice if it's rubbed on the scalp. Pregnant women are advised against using dill oil internally, although it has a reputation of increasing the flow of milk production and easing colic in babies. Gardenware says:
"To brew a stomach-soothing tea, use  teaspoons of mashed seeds per cup of boiling water. Steep for  minutes. Drink up to  cups a day. In a tincture, take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon up to three times a day. To treat colic or gas in children under , give small amounts of a weak tea. Many herbalists recommend combining dill and fennel to ease colic in infants."4
Growing Potted Dill Indoors
Planet Natural says that increased indoor gardening has resulted in products designed to make year-round herb growing more efficient and successful, and added:
"Truth is, growing sustained, harvestable amounts of herbs indoors require long periods of intense light. Abundant light is also required for plants to produce the oils that give herbs their flavor. Cool fluorescent grow lights are an improvement over your kitchen fluorescents if properly positioned and reflected. And the new generation of high-intensity discharge lamps give the expert grower the possibility of large harvests."5
Do It Yourself6 maintains that the best times to plant dill indoors is between October and early spring, with harvesting dill from your own kitchen windowsill in six to eight weeks a very real possibility using five easy steps:
Fill 6- to 8-inch pots with drainage holes at the bottom to just over three-quarters full of compost-rich, easily drained soil. Plant seeds about 9 inches apart.
Dill loves sunlight, so if light doesn't reach your pots for at least six hours a day, use grow lights for 12 hours a day. Fluorescent grow lights should be placed about 8 inches above the plants, while high-intensity lights like sodium lights should be several feet higher than your herbs.
Dill should be fertilized every six weeks with a natural half-strength liquid or fish fertilizer. While dill is somewhat drought-resistant, it grows better inside when watered regularly. Water until the soil is moist, then let the soil dry in between.
Dill tends to grow tall, so unless it's a dwarf variety, use a slender stake fastened loosely for future adjustment if the plant wants to begin listing sideways.
Once flower buds form, leaf production will cease, so keep harvesting your dill, even it's just to slow flower formation. If you want the herb, not the seeds, cut the plant down to a few inches and your dill should grow back in about eight weeks.
Finding time to eat meals together as a family is a simple way to improve your family bond and, beyond that, reap significant benefits to your health and quality of life. Contrary to popular belief, many American families do make the time for family meals. A Gallup Poll revealed that 53 percent of adults with children younger than 18 years say they eat dinner together at home six or seven nights a week. This averages out to 5.1 dinners together as a family per week.1
If your schedule or lifestyle currently does not allow for family meal times (remember that the benefits are gleaned by eating together at any time of day, even breakfast or lunch), tweaking your activities, work schedule and meal planning to do so will pay off in spades.
Why Eat Together as a Family?
Writing in the Archives of Iranian Medicine, researchers described family dinner as a "proxy of family connectedness," one that may influence mental health.2 In fact, children who ate dinner together five or more times a week were less likely to suffer from mental disorders as well as obesity.
"Such simple recommendations for consuming family dinner for families may be feasible, sustainable and effective for health promotion and disease prevention," they wrote. Indeed, it's not the first time such significant effects have been linked to dining together.3
In 2010, "The Importance of Family Dinners VI" report from CASAColumbia at Columbia University revealed that teens who have frequent family dinners (five to seven per week) were less likely to engage in risky behaviors than those who had less than three family dinners per week. Specifically, teens who did not eat frequent family dinners had double the likelihood of using tobacco, nearly double the risk of having used alcohol and a 1.5 greater likelihood of having used marijuana.4
Teens who did not eat with their families often were also much more likely to say they could access marijuana or prescription drugs to abuse in one hour or less, while teens who ate frequent family dinners had no such access. Teen parents may be surprised to learn that 72 percent of the teens surveyed said they think of frequent family dinners as very or fairly important.
One of the straightforward reasons why is because it allows time for parents to sit down and talk with their children and teens about what's going on in their lives, with their friends and at school. Joseph A. Califano Jr., CASA founder and chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, said:
"We have long known that the more often children have dinner with their parents the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. We can now confirm another positive effect of family dinners -- that the more often teens have dinner with their parents, the more likely they are to report talking to their parents about what's going on in their lives. ... In today's busy and overscheduled world, taking the time to come together for dinner really makes a difference in a child's life."
Barriers to Family Meal Time?
Using data from the American Time Use Survey, researchers deconstructed family meals in the U.S. to determine what some of the key influences were in the odds of getting together for a meal, measured as "eating at all with children" or "having a family dinner."
Single men were less likely to do either compared to men who were partnered or married, and married women were more likely to eat with their children or have family dinner compared to married men. Employment status also influenced the odds of having a family meal, but only for women, not men. The researchers noted:5
"Among dual-headed households, women had lower odds of eating a family dinner when both parents were employed compared [to] a dual-headed household with employed male/non-employed female ... Family structure, parental gender and employment status all influence the odds of having a family dinner."
If your work schedule precludes sitting down for a family dinner, adjust your family mealtime to earlier in the day -- even an early breakfast. This is also a useful strategy for families with multiple after-school or evening activities and is, in fact, one I recommend for all families looking to optimize their health.
Move Your Family 'Dinner' as Early in the Day as You Can
In terms of your health, the earlier you eat your dinner the better -- ideally at least three hours prior to bed. if you can, and if you can't then ideally you should eat a very light meal. In fact, for adults, eating two meals a day may be closer to ideal, and particularly eating them in a window of six to eight consecutive hours (such as breakfast and lunch OR lunch and dinner).
As mentioned, if you choose to eat dinner, it's important to avoid eating late, ideally finishing up at least three hours before going to bed, as that is your most metabolically lowered state. This will promote good mitochondrial and overall health while preventing cellular damage from occurring.
In short, since your body uses the least number of calories when sleeping, adding excess fuel at this time will generate excessive free radicals that will damage your tissues, accelerate aging and contribute to chronic disease. While children and teens will also benefit from avoiding late-night eating, they do not need to restrict their meals to two a day. They likely need three square meals a day unless they're overweight.
For kids and teens, the type of food they eat would be a primary consideration. Ideally, all of their meals would revolve around eating real food -- not processed foods, fast food and sugary snacks. Drinking plenty of pure water and avoiding sugary beverages is another key consideration. To sum up, don't eat much before bed! While the social value of eating together as a family is huge, you can get that connection by eating at any time of day.
Family Meals Are Better for Your Waistline and Emotional Well-Being
Getting back to why it's so important to eat with your family, research published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior revealed that frequent family meals may have a protective effect on the mental health of adolescents.6 Those who shared five or more family meals per week had fewer depressive symptoms and emotional difficulties along with better emotional well-being. The protective link was particularly strong for depressive symptoms in girls.
Meanwhile, frequent family dinners along with consistent dinnertime routines were associated with lower body mass index (BMI) scores in children, which suggests it may help prevent childhood obesity.7
Again, it's the eating together that counts, not the meal time. As such, research also shows that eating breakfast together has benefits. "Family breakfast frequency was associated with several markers of better diet quality ... and lower risk for overweight/obesity in adolescents," researchers concluded.8 In addition:
Research shows that children who share family meals three or more times a week are more likely to be in a healthy weight range and make better food choices. They're more likely to eat healthy foods and less likely to eat unhealthy ones, and also less likely to develop eating disorders.9
A Cornell University study found that families (both adults and children) who eat dinner in their kitchen or dining rooms have significantly lower BMIs than families who eat elsewhere. For boys, remaining at the table until everyone is finished with eating was also associated with a lower BMI.10
Researchers at the European Conference on Obesity reported that children who don't eat dinner with their parents at least twice weekly are 40 percent more likely to be overweight than those who do.11
Other research shows that with each additional family dinner, adolescents have:12,13
Higher self-esteem and life satisfaction
More trusting and helpful behaviors toward others and better relationships with their parents
Lower parent dinnertime media use is also associated with better health outcomes in children,15 which is why it's important for your family meal time to be free of cellphones, TV and other forms of media. Use the time to connect with your kids and really listen to what they have to say.
Also try involving your kids in the dinner-making process (as well as meal planning), and then asking a simple question, like what was the best thing about your child's day, or what was something that made your child feel stressed.16 In the Journal of Marriage and Family, researchers even concluded, "The effects of family dinners on children depend on the extent to which parents use the time to engage with their children and learn about their day-to-day lives."17,18
If you're at a loss of what to talk about, The Family Dinner Project has a wealth of conversation starters grouped by different ages. "A well-worded question is the quickest way to connect after a long day," they say. "We call them starters because we imagine they will spark a deeper conversation about the things that matter to you." For example:19
Ages 2 to 7: What is your favorite silly face to make? Name three things that are fun for you.
Ages 8 to 13: Make up three silly new traditions for our family. What are you most looking forward to about a new school year (or fall)?
Ages 14 to 100: What is your most unusual talent? Demonstrate it! If you could create a school dedicated to fun, what would it be like? What classes would be taught there?
Before Family Meals Comes Meal Planning
Your good intentions of sitting down to a family meal can quickly be eliminated if you realize you don't know what's for dinner. Meal planning can circumvent this by helping you to map out a week or so in advance what you'll be eating when during the week.
Not only will this help you to eat healthier (there'll be less likelihood that you'll resort to fast food), but it can cut back on food waste while lessening the stress of figuring out what to eat. And while it might seem cumbersome to take time to plan your meals, it will actually save you time in the long run. As Wellness Mama put it:20
"Another great benefit of meal planning is the time it saves. Planning ahead allows me to cook things in bulk and freeze for a future meal or make extra of a protein to use in a quick meal later in the week. In the winter, I cook a lot of slow-cooker meals and pre-make many of these to keep in the freezer so that I can just stick one in the Crock-Pot and go in the morning on busy days."
Meal planning may be as simple or complex as you like (from jotting down your basic meals on a calendar to creating spreadsheets complete with every necessary ingredient). Choose a format that works for you, then set aside a time, such as Sunday mornings or Friday nights, to figure out what your family will eat this coming week.
Be sure to figure in plenty of variety for flavor and nutrition, and choose real-food recipes, not those that require processed ingredients. You'll likely find that the more your family eats together, the more you'll want to keep doing it. An added bonus is that you can teach your children the basics of cooking and pass down traditional cooking methods as you prepare your meal. Each child can play a role, from setting the table to clearing up dishes, helping establish confidence and responsibility.
Ultimately, if you value the importance of a family meal, you must make it a priority. This might mean you pack up a healthy meal to eat picnic-style after soccer practice some nights or get up early to eat a sit-down meal before you all set off for the day. Strive to eat together as often as you can, scheduling nonessential activities around your mealtimes and not the other way around.
Regardless of your views on the pros and cons of recreational marijuana, the body of scientific evidence about its medicinal value is getting more compelling as additional research is done.
The cannabinoids in cannabis -- cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) -- interact with your body by way of naturally-occurring cannabinoid receptors embedded in cell membranes throughout your body.
In fact, scientists now believe the endocannabinoid system may represent the most widespread receptor system in your body.1 There are cannabinoid receptors in your brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, immune system and more, and both the therapeutic and psychoactive properties of marijuana occur when a cannabinoid activates a cannabinoid receptor.
Your body actually makes its own cannabinoids, similar to those found in marijuana, albeit in much smaller quantities than you get from the plant. The fact that your body is replete with cannabinoid receptors, key to so many biological functions, is why there's such enormous medical potential for cannabis.
The whole plant also contains terpenes that have medicinal properties. More often than not, medicinal marijuana is made from plants bred to have high CBD and low THC content. While THC has psychoactive activity that can make you feel "stoned," CBD has no psychoactive properties. However, recent research shows THC should not be written off completely just because it's psychoactive. It has valuable therapeutic potential in its own right.
THC May Reverse Aging Process in the Brain
According to recent animal research,2 THC has a beneficial influence on the aging brain.3,4 Rather than dulling or impairing cognition, THC appears to reverse the aging process and improve mental processes, raising the possibility it might be useful for the treatment of dementia in the elderly.5
To test the hypothesis, mice were given a small daily dose of THC over the course of one month at the age of 2 months, 12 months and again at 18 months of age. It is important to understand that mice typically live until 2 years old. The dose was small enough to avoid any psychoactive effects.
Tests assessed the animals' learning, memory, orientation and recognition skills. Interestingly, 18-month-old mice given THC demonstrated cognitive skills equal to 2-month-old controls, while the placebo group suffered cognitive deterioration associated with normal aging.
According to one of the authors, neurobiology professor Andreas Zimmer, University of Bonn, "The treatment completely reversed the loss of performance in the old animals. We repeated these experiments many times. It's a very robust and profound effect." Even more remarkable, gene activity and the molecular profile in the brain tissue was that of much younger animals. Specifically, neurons in the hippocampus grew more synaptic spines -- points of contact necessary for communication between neurons.
According to Zimmer, the THC appeared to have "turned back the molecular clock" in the THC-treated animals. (Previous research has also shown that the brain ages much faster in mice who do not have functional receptors for THC, suggesting THC may be involved in the regulation of the aging process.6) The team is now planning tests to see if the same holds true in human subjects.
Cannabinoids Maintain Homeostasis
Your endocannabinoid system has homeostatic properties, meaning it helps balance your body's response to stress. This helps explain some of the individual variations in response to cannabis.
In your brain, cannabinoids modulate neural activity. In younger people, in which endogenous cannabinoids are already plentiful, cannabis will not have the same effect as in older people, in whom activity of the endogenous cannabinoid system is much lower. The effects of THC in particular appear to vary significantly depending on age. As noted by Forbes:7
"[Y]ounger animals excelled at the tests when 'sober' but tended to struggle significantly under the influence of THC. 'Mature' and 'old' mice, on the other hand, struggled with tasks as consistent with their brain ages at first, but saw a huge increase in performance with THC infusions ...
Overall, the results seem to support researchers' belief that the benefits for older mice are a result of stimulating the brain's endocannabinoid system, a biochemical pathway in both mice and human that grows less active over time."
In other words, in young mice (and probably people as well), THC can easily have an overly stimulating effect, resulting in a decline in memory and learning (albeit temporary, while under the influence). In older mice, a small amount of THC basically restored levels to a more youthful optimum.
Similarly, one of the reasons cannabis is so effective for seizures is because of this ability to regulate neuronal activity and reestablish homeostasis. If there's too much neuronal activity, the cannabis suppresses activity, and if activity is low, it raises it.
Cannabis for Pain
Polls show older Americans are becoming increasingly converted to marijuana use.8 Between 2006 and 2013, use among 50- to 64-year-olds rose by 60 percent. Among seniors over 65, use jumped by 250 percent.9 Pain and sleep are among the most commonly cited complaints for which medicinal marijuana is taken.
Considering the high risk of lethal consequences of opioid painkillers and sleeping pills, medical marijuana is a godsend. It's really unfortunate that we've been so successfully indoctrinated to view marijuana as a dangerous gateway drug that will lead to illicit drug use.
The reality is that prescription drugs have far greater potential to turn you into a "junkie." Legal drug addiction is also taking lives in record numbers. There's absolutely no doubt that cannabis is safer than most prescription drugs -- especially opioids. As noted by Dr. Margaret Gedde, an award-winning Stanford-trained pathologist and founder of Gedde Whole Health, there's enough scientific data to compare the side effects of cannabis against the known toxicities of many drugs currently in use.
This includes liver and kidney toxicity, gastrointestinal damage, nerve damage and, of course, death. Cannabidiol has no toxicity and it's virtually impossible to die from marijuana. It's also self-limiting, as excessive doses of THC will provoke anxiety, paranoia and nausea.
Such side effects will disappear as the drug dissipates from your system without resulting in permanent harm, but it'll make you think twice about taking such a high dose again. Make the same mistake with an opioid, and chances are you'll end up in the morgue.
Cannabis Often Works Where Drugs Fail
Gedde also notes that cannabis products often work when other medications fail, so not only are they safer, they also tend to provide greater efficacy.
In 2010, the Center for Medical Cannabis Research (CMCR) released a report10 on 14 clinical studies about the use of marijuana for pain, most of which were FDA-approved, double-blind and placebo-controlled. The report revealed that marijuana not only controls pain, but in many cases, it does so better than pharmaceutical alternatives.
When cannabis is inhaled, smoked or vaporized, its effects are rapid and short-lasting. Orally, it's the most unpredictable and delayed. When ingesting it, it can take up to two hours to take effect, but if dosed appropriately, you can achieve once-a-day dosing with an edible medicine.
As for the psychoactive effects of THC, a dose of 10 milligram (mg) or more of an oral (edible) THC product is required to produce a high.11 Taking 50 to 100 mg of oral THC could result in a serious case of paranoia, with or without nausea and vomiting.
Other Common Ailments Treated With Cannabis
Aside from pain and sleep, other common ailments being treated with cannabis include:
o Degenerative neurological disorders such as dystonia
o Mood disorders, anxiety and post-traumatic distress disorder (PTSD).12,13 Marijuana suppresses dream recall, so for those having nightmares, it can be transformative. Marijuana is also reported to help individuals stay focused in the present, which is beneficial for those experiencing flashbacks.
In January 2017, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies14 began the first federally-approved study in which the subjects -- combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD -- will ingest marijuana by smoking. It's also the first whole-plant marijuana study, as opposed to an extract
o Seizure disorders such as Dravet syndrome,15 also known as Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy in Infancy, a form of intractable, life-threatening epilepsy in which a child can suffer upward of 100 seizures a day. Certain varieties of cannabis offer the only real hope for children with this type of disorder, as Dravet syndrome does not respond well to standard epilepsy drugs
Cannabis even appears to be a natural chemotherapy agent. Dozens of studies point to marijuana's effectiveness against many different types of cancer, including brain cancer, breast, prostate, lung, thyroid, colon and pituitary cancer, melanoma and leukemia.
It fights cancer via at least two mechanisms, making it difficult for a cancer to grow and spread. It's proapoptotic, meaning it triggers apoptosis (cellular suicide) of cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched, and antiangiogenic, meaning it cuts off a tumor's blood supply.
Could Cannabis Offer New Hope for Alzheimer's Patients?
Getting back to where we started, with THC rejuvenating the aging brain, this actually wasn't the first time THC has been shown to provide benefits against dementia.
In a 2014 study, researchers at the University of South Florida and Thomas Jefferson University found that low-dose THC directly impedes the buildup of beta amyloid plaque in the brain,16,17 which is associated with the development of Alzheimer's, and unlike so many pharmaceutical drugs, it produces no toxicity. THC was also found to enhance mitochondrial function in the brain. Lead author and neuroscientist Chuanhai Cao, Ph.D., wrote:
"THC is known to be a potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, but this is the first report that the compound directly affects Alzheimer's pathology by decreasing amyloid beta levels, inhibiting its aggregation and enhancing mitochondrial function."
Cannabis is also known to reduce some of the non-memory-related symptoms typically experienced by Alzheimer's sufferers, including anxiety, irritability and rage,18 so cannabis may well have multiple benefits for those with dementia and Alzheimer's.
Where to Find Reputable Information About Medical Cannabis, Its Uses and Benefits
If the idea of using medical cannabis (provided it's legal in your state) still makes you cringe, I recommend delving deeper into the research to educate yourself on the matter, especially if your alternative is an opioid pain pill or some other dangerous drug.
One reputable source where you can find research relating to the use of cannabis is cancer.gov.19,20 This is the U.S. government's site on cancer. Simply enter "cannabis" into the search bar. You can also peruse the medical literature through PubMed,21 which is a public resource (again, simply enter "cannabis" or related terms into the search bar).
The Journal of Pain,22 a publication by the American Pain Society, has a long list of studies on the pain-relieving effects of cannabis and would certainly seem worth the effort for anyone with chronic pain to utilize.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse,23 which also has information relating to the medicinal aspects of marijuana, preclinical and clinical trials are underway to test marijuana and various extracts for the treatment of a number of diseases, including autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease, inflammation, pain and mental disorders.
I also recommend listening to my previous interviews with Gedde and Dr. Allan Frankel, in which they discuss the clinical benefits of cannabis. Frankel is a board-certified internist in California who has treated patients with medical cannabis for the past decade.
Lilac (Syringa) can refer to any of about 25 species of fragrant and beautiful garden shrubs and trees from the family Oleaceae. This plant is native to Eastern Europe and the temperate regions of Asia and are known to be hardy, easy-to-grow and low maintenance plants.
The common lilac, S. vulgaris, is the most popular and grows in temperate regions all over the world.1
The lilac plant has deep green leaves, leathery capsule-like fruits and oval clusters of colorful blooms. These flowers can come in different colors, such as purple, lavender, red, pink, creamy yellow and white. The plant can grow between 5 and 15 feet tall.
Lilac oil is usually pale purple, with a refreshing floral scent. A word of caution: Some lilac oils have synthetic fragrances that imitate the fragrance of lilacs, as the flowers actually cannot be distilled to make an essential oil.
Uses of Lilac Oil
The medicinal uses of lilac oil began in the 19th century. In America, it was used as a vermifuge to help eliminate intestinal worms, as well as an anti-periodic tonic (prevents diseases from occurring again).
Today, modern herbalists still use the essential oil of lilac to treat rashes, sunburn, minor cuts and scrapes and other skin ailments. It's also well-known for its aromatherapeutic uses.2
Lilac oil is a valuable addition to beauty products like lotions, soaps, shampoos and conditioners for its fragrance and calming effects. It is also added to cleaning products, as it adds a refreshing scent throughout your home.
Composition of Lilac Oil
(E)-ocimene is the major component of lilac, but furanoid terpene aldehyde (lilac aldehyde) and the corresponding alcohol, benzyl methyl ether, 1,4-dimethoxybenzene (hydroquinone dimethyl ether) and indole are the most characteristic components. The compound benzyl methyl ether is said to influence the diffusive aura of lilacs, especially in full bloom. It has an intense fruity-etheral odor, reminiscent of the top note in ylang-ylang oil.3
Benefits of Lilac Oil
Lilac oil has been praised for its many health benefits. As an aromatherapeutic oil, it's said to ward off symptoms of depression and anxiety, as its soothing fragrance takes the mind to a relaxed state. Lilac oil may also help in:4,5
o Preventing stomach-related disorders and killing intestinal worms
o Fighting bacterial and fungal infections
o Helping reduce age lines, wrinkles and sagging skin
o Preventing and treating malaria
How to Make Lilac Oil
Lilac oil is made by steam distilling the fruits and dried leaves of the lilac tree. If you want to make your own lilac oil at home, you can make lilac infusion oil. Here's what to do:
1. Harvest a bunch of fresh lilac flowers.
2. Line a bowl with cheesecloth and place the blossoms on top.
3. Add 2 cups of water, making sure that all the lilacs are fully submerged. Cover the bowl and let it sit overnight.
4. The next day, draw the edges of the cheesecloth together and twist into a packet, with the flowers in the middle. Tie with a string.
5. Transfer the lilac water to a vessel and allow to boil. Put the sachet in the simmering water and let it boil for an hour. Let it cool.
6. Pour it into a bottle and add 5 drops of glycerin. Shake well.
How Does Lilac Oil Work?
Lilac oil's benefits can be attributed to its healing properties, namely sedative, tonic and antiseptic. You can use it in different ways, particularly:
o Diffused or inhaled. Adding a few drops in a burner will help relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
o As a topical agent. Mix it with a safe carrier oil and apply to sunburn, rashes and wrinkles or use as a mild massage oil.
o Mixed in bath or beauty products. Add it to your favorite lotion or cream.
Is Lilac Oil Safe?
Lilac oil is safe as long as it's used properly and in moderation. As much as possible, dilute it in a safe carrier oil. I also recommend consulting a health care practitioner before using this oil, especially if you're dealing with any health problem. If using this oil topically, do a skin patch test (using a diluted version) first to see if you have any allergic response to the oil.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, do not use lilac oil without your doctor's approval. Young children are also ill-advised to use this oil.
Side Effects of Lilac Oil
Lilac oil may trigger skin infections if you have hypersensitive skin. It can turn red, become very itchy or even cause hives or rashes to develop. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop using the oil and seek medical attention immediately.
The fact that toxic exposures will influence your risk for disease and early death should come as no surprise. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), toxic environments are responsible for at least 1 of every 4 deaths reported worldwide.1 Recent research2 also reveals the greater your total pollution exposure, the higher your risk for cancer. As reported by Reuters:3
"While ... previous research has linked individual pollutants to increased risks of specific types of cancer, the current study focused on how the combined effect of exposure to a variety of environmental contaminants may influence the risk of tumors ...
Compared to counties with the highest environmental quality, counties that ranked the lowest had an average of 39 more cancer cases each year for every 100,000 residents. 'We do not experience exposures in a vacuum but rather are exposed to several exposures at any one time,' said lead study author Jyotsna Jagai, [Ph.D.,] of the University of Illinois at Chicago.
'We considered a broad definition of environmental exposures, which included pollution in the air, water, and land and also (man-made) and sociodemographic environmental factors ... We found that counties with poor overall environmental quality experienced higher cancer incidence than those counties with good overall environmental quality' ... Prostate and breast tumors were strongly associated with environmental quality ..."
Four Major Sources of Toxic Pollution in Your Home
According to Dr. Lee Cowden, a board-certified interventional cardiologist who has developed an exceptional teaching program for the Academy of Comprehensive Integrative Medicine (ACIM), more people die from cancer treatment than from cancer itself.
He may well be correct, considering how toxic most conventional cancer treatments are. Without a doubt, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to cancer, and cleaning up your living space can go a long way toward lowering your toxic burden. While the sources of environmental pollution are many, four major sources of toxic exposure in your home are:
Indoor air pollution
Toxic lawn care
Flame retardant furnishings
Beware of Toxic Dust
Indoor air pollution is thought to be one of the greatest hazards. According to WHO, 92 percent of the world's population is breathing polluted air,4 and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned that poor indoor air quality is one of the top public health risks.
In fact, studies demonstrate that indoor pollution levels may be two to five times higher than outdoor levels,5 and poor air quality can cause serious damage to your lungs, heart and other organ systems. The materials found in your home are often a significant contributor to poor indoor air quality. Flame retardant chemicals, for example, commonly found in furniture and carpeting, do not remain inertly bonded within the foam or fabric. They escape in the form of dust.
One study6 found every dust sample collected from American homes contained Tris phosphate (TDCIPP) and triphenyl phosphate (TPHP); 91 percent of urine samples from the residents also contained metabolites of TDCIPP, and 83 percent had metabolites of TPHP.
Other tests have also shown that 90 percent of Americans have flame-retardant chemicals in their bodies, and many have six or more types in their system.7 Disturbingly, children have been found to have levels of flame retardants that are as much as five times higher than their mothers'.8
How to Remediate Poor Air Quality
Considering how impure the air is in most homes, you'd be well-advised to implement one or more remediation strategies. Following are a handful of basic suggestions.9 For even more tips on how to reduce indoor air pollution, as well as the different air purifier technologies available, see this previous air quality article.
? Regularly ventilate your home
This recommendation is virtually free. All you need to do is open up windows on opposite sides of your home for five to 10 minutes every day to cross ventilate. This will go a long way to help radically reduce your indoor air pollution
? Install a HEPA filter in your HVAC system and upgrade your furnace filters
Be sure to change the A/C filter every three months, or earlier if dirty, and have your furnace and air conditioning ductwork and chimney cleaned regularly
? Use a high-quality air purifier and keep it running 24/7
Avoid keeping air purifiers on the floor to avoid stirring up dust. Ionizing air purifiers generate negative ions that attract and trap dust and allergens. Just make sure your system is suitable for the size of your space. Using too-powerful a system for a small space can lead to excessive ozone buildup, which may do more harm than good.
Ozone levels up to 0.05 ppm are safe, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.10 When it comes to air purifiers, as long as they limit ozone levels in your home to between 0.02 and 0.04 ppm, they offer great health benefits, without any the negative effects
? Avoid as many household chemicals as possible
For example, ditch carpet fresheners, air fresheners and chemical cleaning supplies, and replace them with nontoxic versions. Many cleaning products can be replaced with baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, water and mild soap. For a fresh scent, use a high-quality essential oil, which can be used in a diffuser or added to your cleaning solution
? Add live plants
Studies have demonstrated that plants can improve your indoor air quality,11 removing pollutants by absorbing them through their leaves and roots. Most leafy plants are adept at removing some pollution from your indoor air, but some are better at removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs).12
Among the most beneficial houseplants, based on their ability to clean air and remove VOCs, are jade plant, spider plant, scarlet start, Caribbean tree cactus, dracaena, ferns, peace lily, English ivy, ficus, snake plant, philodendron and bamboo palm13,14
? Consider taking a vitamin B complex
Recent research suggests B vitamins can help protect against air pollution.15,16,17 At high doses, B vitamins were actually able to "completely offset" damage incurred by fine particulate matter.
In this study, participants received a daily supplement of 2.5 milligrams (mg) of folic acid (B9), 50 mg of vitamin B6 and 1 mg of B12 for four weeks. At these high levels, the vitamins reduced genetic damage by as much as 76 percent, and protected mitochondrial DNA from the harmful effects of very fine particulate matter
The list of potential water contaminants is long, ranging from agricultural chemicals like nitrates -- runoff from factory farms -- and drugs, to fluoride, arsenic,20,21 mercury, lead,22PFCs (firefighting foam is a major source) and perchlorate (an ingredient in rocket fuel).23
The chemicals used in water treatment, such as chlorine and chloramine, also create highly toxic disinfection byproducts (DBPs). Chemicals from perfume, cologne, lotions, sunscreens and medicated creams24 also add to the contamination problem, and old worn-out pipes deposit lead, copper and harmful bacteria into many people's homes.
Since most water sources are severely contaminated, filtering water prior to use is more of a necessity than a luxury these days. If you have well water, it is prudent to have it tested for contaminants. You can get local drinking water quality reports for public water supplies from the EPA.25
Ideally, your best bet is to filter the water at both the point of entry into your home and the point of use. This means installing filters where water enters your home and again at your kitchen sink and showers. A whole-house water filter will last you about three years, costing you roughly $1 per day -- a worthwhile investment, all things considered.
If your water is from a municipal source, it may even affect your indoor air quality, courtesy of evaporating chlorine from toilets, showers, baths, dishwashers and washing machines.
Evaporated chlorine forms chloroform gas and chlorine vapors that may increase your risk of asthma, airway inflammation and respiratory allergies. Open your windows for five to 10 minutes each day to help remove these gasses and improve your indoor air quality.
One of the best water filters I've found so far is the Pure & Clear Whole House Water Filtration System, which uses a three-stage filtration process -- a micron sediment pre-filter, a KDF water filter and a high-grade carbon water filter26 -- to filter out chlorine, detergent byproducts and other contaminants.
Are Your Lawn and Garden Toxic?
Seventy-eight million American households rely on commercial pesticides for their home and garden,27 and homeowners use 10 times more chemicals per acre than farmers do.28
Ninety million pounds of herbicides alone are being applied to private lawns and gardens each year. Roundup -- the toxic effects of which are now becoming more widely known -- is still one of the most widely used herbicides. However, there are several others that are just as bad, including 2,4-D, found in many "weed and feed" formulas. As reported by KCET:29
"While farm use accounts for the majority of the poundage of 2,4-D used in the U.S., it's in home lawns and gardens that the herbicide is applied most heavily ... In several studies, 2,4-D was the most common herbicide found in suburban areas, and other studies have detected the herbicide in two-thirds of interior air samples taken from households ...
On its own, 2,4-D exposure has been linked ... to ... cancers, genetic damage, hormonal and immune system dysfunctions, and the usual range of pesticide-related irritations of skin, eyes and lungs.
The National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) lists several formulations of 2,4-D as known mutagens ... [A]cute exposure to 2,4-D causes neurological problems, raising concerns that low-level, chronic exposure may do likewise."
Like glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup), 2,4-D has been classified as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of WHO, primarily due to its ability to cause genetic damage. In animals, the herbicide has been linked to low sperm count, male reproductive damage, reduced litter size and cancer.
Rather than struggling to maintain a pristine lawn and placing the health of your family and pets at risk with toxic garden chemicals, consider transitioning over to edible landscaping and organic gardening.
If you're planting trees for shade, there are many fruit and nut trees30 that can do the job, serving double duty by producing food as well. For suggestions, see Help Yourself! website at commongreen.weebly.com.31 While you're at it, you can be an environmental steward by creating an oasis for pollinators. The Honeybee Conservancy has helpful guidance on creating a bee-friendly garden.32
Weed Out the Flame Retardants
The fourth major household source of toxic exposures are flame retardants, which can be found in all sorts of household goods and furnishings. The most comprehensive recommendation is to opt for organic or "green" alternatives no matter what product is under consideration, be it carpeting, furniture, drapes or mattresses.
Since most mattresses are treated with flame retardant chemicals and you spend one-third of your life sleeping, your bedroom can be a significant source of toxic exposure.
I recommend looking for a mattress made of either 100 percent organic wool, which is naturally flame-resistant, 100 percent organic cotton or flannel or Kevlar fibers (Stearns and Foster is one brand that sells this type of mattress). There are a number of good options on the market.
I've also put together an assortment of wool and silk bedding, including organic cotton and wool mattresses you can choose from when it comes time to replace your mattress, pillows and comforters with toxin-free versions. This is the one that I personally use to sleep on in my own home.
Other pieces of furniture filled with cotton, wool or polyester will also be safer than chemical-treated foam; some products also state that they are "flame-retardant free."
Be particularly cautious with polyurethane foam products manufactured prior to 2005, as they're likely to contain now-banned polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE). Carefully inspect such items and replace ripped covers and/or any foam that appears to be breaking down. Also, avoid reupholstering furniture by yourself as the reupholstering process increases your risk of exposure.
Older carpet padding is another major source of PBDEs, so take precautions when removing old carpet. You'll want to isolate your work area from the rest of your house to avoid spreading it around, and use a HEPA filter vacuum to clean up.
If in doubt, you can have a sample of your polyurethane foam cushions tested for free by scientists at Duke University's Superfund Research Center.33 This is particularly useful for items you already have around your home, as it will help you determine which harmful products need replacing.
Lowering Your Toxic Burden Begins at Home
Most of us are exposed to toxic chemicals no matter where we live these days, and many of these environmental exposures we have no control over. Your home, however, is one exception. Here, you actually have a great deal of control -- far more so than outdoors, in public spaces and at work.
Considering about half your life or more is spent at home, addressing toxic exposures here can go a long way toward reducing your toxic burden, thereby reducing your risk of cancer and other chronic disease. Granted, I've not covered all possible sources in this short article. Entire books could be written on that. But by addressing your air quality, water quality, lawn and garden care and your furnishings, you've covered significant ground.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are prescribed extensively throughout the world. In the U.S., nearly 70 million prescriptions are written and 30 billion doses are consumed each year when over-the-counter NSAIDs are included.1
In many cases NSAIDs are prescribed to treat back pain, headaches, menstrual pain and arthritis. While most consider the medication innocuous, the truth is that by conservative estimates over 105,000 people are hospitalized each year from the side effects of NSAIDs and over 16,000 of those die.2
Side effects from long-term use of NSAIDs range from hearing loss to gastrointestinal bleeding. Unfortunately, there is no specific antidote for NSAID poisoning, which may lead to metabolic acidosis, multisystem organ failure and death.3
Research has now discovered side effects from NSAIDs may occur even with short-term use, increasing your risk of a heart attack in the first week to month if you take the medication consistently.4 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recognized the risks associated with NSAIDs since 2004.5
In order to review all studies involving NSAIDs, the FDA also recommended limiting use of over-the-counter NSAIDs. This review order came on the heels of rofecoxib's (Vioxx) withdrawal from the market due to an increase in cardiovascular risk.6 Shortly after the withdrawal of Vioxx, another NSAID, valdecoxib (Bextra), was pulled from the shelves due to increased risk of heart, stomach and skin problems that outweighed the benefits of using the drug.7
What Is a Myocardial Infarction?
Your heart requires a supply of oxygen and nutrients to enable the muscle to continue to pump. You have two large coronary arteries that branch off your aorta, the right and left coronary arteries. These arteries branch further to feed your heart the oxygen and nutrients it needs.
If one of the larger arteries or branches becomes blocked the portion of the heart that artery feeds is starved of oxygen. If the situation continues for too long that area of heart muscle will die. This is the conventional description of a myocardial infarction (MI), or literally "death of heart muscle."8
In either case, the signs of a heart attack are not always straightforward. There are several early signs that may not even seem related to your heart. Although chest pain is the most common, you may experience other symptoms and women may have a heart attack without feeling pressure in their chest.9
Even though heart disease is still the No. 1 killer in women in the U.S., women may attribute the symptoms to less serious conditions such as acid reflux, the flu or aging. Even when the symptoms are subtle, the consequences may be deadly. If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms10,11,12,13 do not wait. Call your local emergency number -- 911 in the U.S. -- to get help. Activating your emergency system early may reduce the risk of permanent heart damage and death.
? Chest pressure described as an elephant sitting on your chest
? Fullness or pain in the center of the chest that may come and go
? Pain in the arm, back, neck, jaw or stomach
? Toothache that comes and goes
? Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
? Cold sweat, lightheadedness or nausea
? Indigestion or "choking" feeling
? Extreme weakness or anxiety
? Rapid or irregular heartbeat
? Pain that spreads to the arm
? Unusual fatigue that may last days
? General malaise or a vague uneasy feeling of illness
NSAIDs May Raise Your Risk of Heart Attack in the First Week
The objective of the most recent study was to evaluate the risk of an MI associated with NSAID use in real-world situations using a statistical model (Bayesian) that turns the results of testing into a real probability the event may occur.14
The researchers used studies that pulled information from European and Canadian health care databases, gathering information from eight studies that met the criteria and over 440,000 individuals.15 The researchers evaluated the probability of an MI in the first through seven days that an individual took specific NSAIDs.
They found increasing probability an individual may experience an MI in the first seven days for celecoxib (Celebrex), ibuprofen, diclofenac (Voltaren), naproxen (Naprosyn) and rofecoxib (Vioxx). This only adds to mounting evidence linking NSAIDs to cardiovascular symptoms.
The risk of heart attack increased 24 percent with celecoxib (Celebrex), 48 percent with ibuprofen, 50 percent with diclofenac (Voltaren), 53 percent for naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) and 58 percent for rofecoxib (Vioxx), which was removed from the market due to increased cardiovascular risks.16
The researchers determined there was a higher risk associated with higher doses. Over-the-counter doses are commonly lower than prescription doses of NSAIDs. Mounting evidence of cardiovascular risks with all NSAIDs triggered the FDA to strengthen their warning in 2015.17 The warning was based on the FDA review of the literature since the order in 2004, and included information such as:18
NSAIDs increased the risk of heart attack and stroke, especially at higher doses
NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart attack in individuals with or without a history of heart attack or risk of heart disease
Patients treated in the first year after a heart attack with NSAIDs were more likely to die than those who were not treated with NSAIDs
There is an increased risk of heart failure in those using NSAIDs
Myocardial Risk Differences Between NSAIDs
In this video, Dr. Partha Nandi, creator and host of the medical lifestyle television show, "Ask Dr. Nandi," describes the results of another study evaluating the use of NSAIDs during an upper respiratory infection. The results were similar to the recent study evaluating MI and NSAIDs in the European and Canadian health care databases.
The researchers noted the recent study was observational, so drawing conclusions as to cause and effect would not be possible from their results.19 Others criticized the study, saying other factors may have been the cause of the increased MIs in the study.20 However, the researchers studied over 60,000 cases of MI before concluding current use of NSAIDs were associated with a significant increased risk of an acute MI.21 Use of NSAIDs exhibited a quick onset of MI risk in the first week that leveled by Day 30.
Celecoxib and diclofenac showed a single wave of increased risk in the first week, while ibuprofen, naproxen and rofecoxib exhibited an additional increased risk during eight to 30 days of consuming the drug. The researchers speculated the differences between NSAIDs may be related to the drugs' effect on renal function.22
The findings also suggested MI risk associated with rofecoxib was greater than those of other NSAIDs included in the study. This aligns with results from past studies that prompted the removal of rofecoxib from the market.
NSAIDs Carry Further Risks
NSAIDs also increase your risk of other health conditions, some of which may be lethal. For example, researchers have determined women who took NSAIDs in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy had a significantly higher risk of miscarriage.23 The study evaluated the health records of over 50,000 Canadian women and found those who took NSAIDs early in their pregnancy had a 2.4 times higher risk of miscarriage.
The researchers hypothesize NSAIDs' effect on hormone-like prostaglandins that support pregnancy may be the trigger. NSAID use is also associated with atrial fibrillation in patients who previously had an MI.24 While you may believe you can discount this particular risk factor, it is important to note research demonstrates up to 45 percent of heart attacks are clinically silent or without symptoms.25
Many of these silent heart attacks are discovered during a routine physical examination or electrocardiogram where the physician notes damage to the heart muscle.
NSAID use also increases your risk of upper and lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract bleeding. Upper GI bleeding is more commonly reported, and occurs with all formulations of NSAIDs.26 Up to 15 percent of upper GI bleeding reported in a single county of Denmark may be attributed to NSAID use.
Lower GI bleeding occurs with most NSAID drugs, as does increased mucosal permeability and inflammation of the lower GI tract.27 Other findings associated with lower GI bleeding include anemia, occult blood loss, protein loss and malabsorption.
Painkillers Are a Bitter Pill
Use of over-the-counter pain relievers, including ibuprofen, have been associated with hearing loss in men28 and women.29 Prescription strength or long-term use of NSAIDs and aspirin are associated with interstitial nephritis,30 a type of kidney damage that may be permanent, leading to kidney failure.31
NSAID use may also induce other renal function abnormalities, including fluid retention, electrolyte complications and deterioration of renal function.32 It's also worth remembering that even short-term consistent use of pain control medications may increase your risk of further injury as these drugs help to mask pain, enabling you to continue your activities. Further injury or pain may lead to use of stronger pain medications.
Pain and discomfort are the common triggers for opioid prescriptions, which have risen over 100 percent between 2000 and 2010,33 while treatment modalities for injuries have improved. I believe the drastic increase in these numbers play a major role in the global epidemic addiction to opioids.
After just one month on morphine, patients showed demonstrable changes in brain volume.34 The number of deaths from overdoses rose from a little over 10,000 a year in 2002 to nearly 35,000 in 2015.35 Now, some states are fighting back,36 trying to hold manufacturers accountable for the epidemic of addiction that resulted from deceptive marketing.37
Drug-Free Pain Control
Pain control without addressing the underlying physical issue may increase your risk of experiencing side effects from medications you're taking, or lead you to resort to even stronger medications that have more dangerous side effects. I strongly recommend you exhaust other options before resorting to consistent use of painkillers, even in the short term. The truth is that many drugs used to treat pain may increase your risk of heart attack, change your brain chemistry and possibly your behavior.
Sleep, for example, is one important factor in how you perceive pain. Getting eight hours of quality sleep on a nightly basis may help you cope with the discomfort you experience.38 Your pain experience is affected by several factors, of which sleep may be the most important. Sleep, pain and depression are a strongly interconnected triad where a change in one impacts the other two.
If you are using a cotton swab to clean out your ears, you're certainly not alone. But, contrary to popular belief, cleaning your ears is not only unnecessary, it is potentially damaging to your ear canal. It can be particularly dangerous for children. Inside your ears are tiny little hairs that help keep your ear canal clean of debris and wax. In fact, when left alone, wax in your ear will naturally migrate out where it can easily be wiped away.
However, sticking a foreign object in your ear, like a cotton swab, poses a potential risk to your hearing. You could potentially damage the thin skin in the canal and/or the tiny bones in your middle ear (ossicles) that transmit sound. Recent research has discovered that nearly three dozen children are seen every day in emergency rooms (ER) across the U.S. after damaging their ear canals or ear drum with a foreign object, most frequently a cotton swab.
What's Behind the Drum?
In this short video you'll see the outer ear structures, essential for the initial stage of hearing and the area where cotton swabs cause the most harm. Your ear is a complex structure designed to gather sound waves and funnel them through a delicate bony structure, sending signals to your brain that are interpreted as sound and language. Each part of your ear has a specific function that enables hearing.
The outer ear is shaped to help funnel sound waves from the environment through a small canal to the tympanic membrane. Along the walls of the ear canal are tiny hairs called cilia that help transport wax and debris out of the canal and into the outer structure.
The tympanic membrane is also called the ear drum. When sound hits this membrane, it begins to vibrate, transmitting sound waves into the middle ear.1 These waves cause three small bones in the middle ear to vibrate, transmitting the sound to a fluid-filled cochlea. Tiny hairs in the cochlea pick up the sound waves and transmit this information to your auditory nerve, which communicates the data to your brain. At the end of this process your brain interprets the information -- all of which happens in milliseconds.
Three Dozen Children a Day Visit the ER After Ear Injuries Related to Cotton Swabs
Damage to this delicate system may happen easily with a simple cotton swab. In a recent study, researchers found nearly three dozen children are seen every day by emergency room physicians after damaging their ear canals by inserting a foreign object,2 and many times the object is a cotton swab.
In the majority of the cases, children were using cotton swabs themselves to clean their ear canals.3 The remainder of the injuries happened when children were playing with the cotton swabs or fell with a swab in their ear. The researchers concluded:4
"Despite warnings against the use of CTAs [cotton tipped applicators] in the ear canal and use of CTAs by children, these injuries continued to occur. Additional injury prevention strategies through further parent/caregiver and child education are warranted."
The highest rate of injuries is to children up to age 3,5 who likely are imitating what they see their parents doing. The injuries the researchers uncovered ranged from minor to severe, but nearly all children were discharged home from the ER without requiring hospitalization.
The number of visits for this injury has changed over the past 20 years. There were nearly 10,000 ER visits in 1990. This number rose to over 17,000 in 2001, but dropped to just over 12,000 in 2010.6 Approximately 40 percent of the time children presented complaining they felt like something was stuck in their ear.
If It's Smaller Than Your Elbow, Don't Use It
When a foreign object is inserted into the ear canal, it can damage the cilia in the canal, making it more difficult for wax and debris to be removed naturally. Any foreign object that enters the ear canal will also push wax further back toward the ear drum, where it muffles sound and creates hearing problems.
Removing wax that gets packed near the tympanic membrane must be done in your doctor's office. This is a difficult and sometimes painful procedure. The situation also makes diagnosing an ear infection difficult or impossible unless the wax is removed.7 When wax is pushed far enough into the ear canal it can come to rest against the tympanic membrane, triggering discomfort or pain that is similar to an ear infection, as well as reducing your hearing.
There are several other methods of ear cleaning you may have heard about that are equally inadvisable, such as ear candling, which involves lightly inserting a lit ear candle (a hollow linen or cotton tube soaked in paraffin or wax) into your ear canal. Some believe this may draw out wax and impurities from your ear.
However, experts typically warn against this procedure and I wholeheartedly agree. Risks include eardrum perforations, burns, plugging your ear with wax and injury to your ear canal from dripping wax.8 Delay in seeking medical care using these treatments may increase the risk for long-term damage.
Irrigation with a syringe may be safe, but there is a risk of developing a painful episode of swimmer's ear, an infection of the outer ear canal, if the canal is not properly and thoroughly dried. Generally, there is no need to rinse your ears. My advice is, if it's smaller than your elbow, it's best to keep it out of your ear.
Damage May Lead to Hearing Loss
Another potential danger from using cotton swabs or other mechanical devices to remove wax from your ear is if you puncture your ear drum. This membrane exists to protect the three tiny bones in the middle ear from bacteria and debris. While the membrane will heal naturally after being punctured, the damage done during the incident, and damage to the small bones from debris entering the middle ear after the incident, can lead to significant hearing loss.
While the study indicated most children were discharged home as the injury didn't require hospitalization, follow-up hearing testing was not part of the study protocols. According to the researchers, nearly all patients were treated and released, but this did not imply some of the injuries were not serious.9
Potential risks from delayed treatment of a severe injury include perforation of the ear drum, hearing loss, dislocation of the small bones in the middle ear and fascial nerve paralysis. If a retained foreign body is removed in a timely fashion there typically are not complications.
However, if they are not removed, this type of injury has been linked to intracranial complications, including brain abscess and fatal meningitis. The ear is a sensitive area and the risk of damage is high. It's time to dispel the myth that cleaning your ears at home is necessary.10
Using Cotton Swabs Outside the Ear
If you aren't using cotton swabs to clean your ears, what can you use them for? Women can clean up makeup mistakes, such as mascara, eye shadow and cover-up, or for repairing nail polish mistakes. Cotton swabs also help you apply blemish cream more accurately, avoiding excess dryness and flakiness.
Cotton swabs can also be used to clean a new ear piercing or a small cut. Around the house they are handy to clean your computer keyboard, get dust and grime out of the small areas of your car's interior or the inside of your hair dryer.11
If you have a zipper that's stuck, put a little lip balm on the tip of a swab and rub it over the teeth of the zipper to get it unstuck easier. There is no need to pull out a paint brush to touch up a small area on your wall -- a cotton swab does the trick and it can just be thrown away when you're done.
The same is true for arts and crafts work. A cotton swab may accurately place fabric glue, paint polka-dots or be used as a paint brush for your youngest child. The cotton swab can become a part of the artwork too. Check out Pinterest for some really creative ways to use swabs that are easy on your ears.12
If you enjoy aromatherapy, you can make your own therapy-on-the-go by saturating a swab with essential oil and carrying it in a zipper-type plastic bag.13 Lavender may help you relax before flying or peppermint may help put a little zip in your step during an afternoon at work.
Safe Ways to Clean and Dry Your Ears
As you consider the options you have at home to keep your ears clean and dry, remember to refrain from putting anything into your ear canal as it can cause significant damage and increase your risk for hearing loss. If you have a buildup of wax near the eardrum you may experience pain or a feeling of fullness.
Some fluids may help to soften the wax so it may naturally migrate out of the canal. These liquids include saline solution, coconut oil, hydrogen peroxide or olive oil. Do not use solutions or irrigate your ear if you have a tube in the ear drum, have diabetes or have a weakened immune system.
Under these circumstances, it is best to see an ear, nose and throat doctor. Use a moist cotton ball to wipe out your outer ear as wax migrates out of the canal.
When getting out of the shower, you may be tempted to dry your canal out with a cotton swab, but there is better way to accomplish this without risk of damage. Use a hair dryer set on warm and low for a minute or two aimed at your ear canal. This may also help reduce your risk of developing swimmer's ear.