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An introduction to kidney stones

 

Kidney stones are hard1 and solid masses2 that develop due to the increased presence of calcium, oxalate and uric acid in your urine,3 and at the same time, because of reduced quantities of or a lack of water, which is needed to dilute these stone-forming substances.4

The University of Michigan highlights that some kidney stones may be as small as a grain of sand, or as big as a pearl.5 Aside from being painful, they can be trapped in your urinary tract, disrupting proper urine flow.6 If you’ve experienced excruciating pain on your side and back, this may be a sign that you have kidney stones.7

Statistics on kidney stones

According to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), kidney stones result in emergency room trips for half a million people in the U.S. annually. The organization also estimates that at least 1 in 10 people will develop a kidney stone during their lifetime.8

In the U.S. men are twice as likely to have kidney stones as women, with a 12% lifetime risk for this issue. Women may also develop kidney stones, although their lifetime risk is only 6%.9 In terms of ethnicity, a 2010 Reviews in Urology article found that Caucasian men are most prone to developing kidney stones, while Asian women had the lowest risk for this health problem.10

While men and women between 30 and 50 years old are typically affected with kidney stones,11 people as young as 20 also experience this condition.12 In some instances, kidney stones may even develop among infants, children and teenagers.13,14

Aside from excruciating pain, kidney stones are a major financial burden. A study published in the journal Translational Andrology and Urology in 2014 highlighted that annual estimates for kidney stones surpass $5 billion, with this amount covering “direct treatment costs for the stones and indirect costs linked with lost worker productivity.”15

How to combat kidney stones

Although kidney stones can be challenging to address, there are methods that can dissolve them in your body so they can then be released through your urine.16 However, it still pays to be vigilant when it comes to conventional remedies, as some can trigger complications.

These pages will help you learn more about what kidney stones are, what they are typically made of and signs to look out for. Find out how you can provide your body with ample defenses to stop kidney stones from forming in the first place.

MORE ABOUT KIDNEY STONES

Kidney Stones: Introduction

What Are Kidney Stones?

Kidney Stones Types

Kidney Stones Causes

Kidney Stones Symptoms

Kidney Stones Prevention

Kidney Stones Duration

Kidney Stones Treatment

Kidney Stones Surgery

Kidney Stones Diet

Kidney Stones FAQ

Next >

What Are Kidney Stones?

Healthy summer squash recipes

 

Summer squash is the edible fruit of Cucurbita pepo, a highly diverse plant species that belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family, along with gourds and melons. It’s harvested before full maturity and should be consumed within five to seven days. The skin, seeds and flesh of summer squash can be eaten cooked or raw. , , , Its flowers are also edible and are even considered a favorite food to many in Mexico.

Summer squash is known for its carotenoid content, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin, which can help protect your eyes against oxidative stress. It’s also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, manganese, vitamin B6, riboflavin and folate. Plus, it contains vitamin A and K, thiamin, niacin, copper and phosphorus.

Keep in mind, though, that squash also contains sugar, which can put you at risk of metabolic problems if consumed excessively. Make sure to eat summer squash in moderation.

4 basic types of summer squash

Summer squash varieties come in different shapes and sizes, with “a mild flavor that can range from sweet to nutty,” according to The Kitchn. Although their differences in flavor may be subtle, they may still be distinct enough to affect how your dish tastes when you use the wrong type of summer squash, so it’s important to be able to differentiate between types. Most summer squash available in supermarkets fall under these four basic types: , ,

  • Zucchini One of the most popular types of summer squash, zucchini has striped, speckled or solid yellow or green skin, depending on the cultivar. It has a slightly sweet flavor and a smooth texture. While most zucchinis are cylindrical, some cultivars have a spherical shape.
  • Scallop-type — Also called pattypan squash, this type of summer squash has scalloped edges and comes in various shades of yellow and green. ,
  • Yellow squash — Not to be confused with yellow zucchini, yellow squash is available in straight neck and crook neck varieties, both of which have bulbous bottoms and narrow necks. Their seeds are also larger than other types of summer squash. ,
  • Zephyr — Often recognized for its eye-catching color, zephyr squash is “a hybrid between yellow crook neck, delicata and yellow acorn squash,” according to The Kitchn. The color of its bottom portion ranges from light green to dark green, while its upper portion is pale yellow.

How to cook summer squash

Summer squash is a versatile ingredient that can be added to different dishes, including casseroles, soups, salads and even desserts. Here are some of the ways you can cook it:

  • Sautéing Sautéing summer squash is quick and easy. Here’s how:
  1. Slice the summer squash into thin pieces.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, then sauté the squash slices in coconut oil, stirring constantly, until they’re crisp-tender.
  3. Add in seasonings like salt and pepper for extra flavor.
  • Steaming — Steamed summer squash makes for a great side dish. Follow these steps:
  1. Cut the summer squash into thin slices and place them in a colander or steamer basket.
  2. Place the colander or basket over a pot of boiling water.
  3. Cover the pot and leave it to steam until you can pierce the squash with a fork, about seven to 10 minutes.
  • Grilling — If you’re bored with the usual mild flavors of summer squash, grill it to add a smoky taste. Here’s how: , ,
  1. Heat the grill to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cut the summer squash into large chunks and coat each piece with coconut oil.
  3. Once the grill is ready, spread the squash chucks in a single layer on the grill and let them cook for three to five minutes per side.
  • Roasting — Roasted summer squash can be eaten as a side dish for roasted meat or as a delicious main dish. Follow this procedure to roast summer squash properly:
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss the cubed squash pieces in a large mixing bowl with coconut oil to coat well. Add in seasonings like salt and pepper, if desired.
  3. Place the pieces of squash on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast them for 15 minutes.
  4. Turn the pieces over using a spatula and roast until you can easily pierce the squash with a fork, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Try these tasty summer squash recipes

Now that you know the different ways to cook summer squash, put your newfound cooking skills to the test by making any of these nutritious and appetizing recipes:

Summer squash salad

Ingredients:
4 cups julienned zucchini
4 cups julienned yellow squash
2 cups sliced radishes
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup organic apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon dill weed
1/2 teaspoon pepper


Procedure:

  • In a large bowl, toss the zucchini, squash and radishes together.
  • Whisk the remaining ingredients in a separate, smaller bowl, then pour the mixture on the vegetables.
  • Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.

(Recipe adapted from Taste of Home )

Keto Southern squash casserole

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons ghee
6 cups diced yellow squash
1/2 cup diced onion
3 organic free-range eggs
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Procedure:

  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • In a skillet, melt ghee over medium heat until pan is hot.
  • Add in the squash and onion, and sauté until tender.
  • Place the squash mixture evenly in a 9x13-inch glass dish.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, except the grated Parmesan cheese. Mix well.
  • Pour the mixture over the squash. Top with the grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake until the cheese is browned and the casserole is set, about 45 minutes. Time will vary depending on how hot your oven runs.
  • Let set for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Serve either warm or at room temperature.

(Recipe adapted from The Healing Spoon )

Roasted zucchini and yellow summer squash

Ingredients:
6 cups zucchini, cut into large chunks
6 cups yellow squash, cut into large chunks
2 tablespoons coconut oil, plus extra for greasing the pan
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Procedure:

  • Heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease the roasting pan with coconut oil.
  • Chop the zucchini and yellow squash and put them into a large bowl. Drizzle with coconut oil and mix with a large spoon until all slices are evenly coated.
  • Sprinkle garlic powder, salt and pepper over the squash. Mix again until they’re evenly coated.
  • Pour the squash chunks onto roasting pan and spread it out until it evenly covers the pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once, until cooked through.

This makes 12 one-cup servings.
(Recipe adapted from Epicurious )

Roasted yellow squash with basil

Ingredients:
2 yellow squashes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
10 basil leaves
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper


Procedure:

  • Prepare the yellow squash and cut lengthwise to form thin slices.
  • Grease the baking sheet with coconut oil. Neatly arrange the squash slices onto the sheet. Drizzle with some coconut oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the squash for five to seven minutes. Take the strips out from the oven and flip them.
  • Chop the basil leaves in half and put a half portion on top of each squash. Top with some shredded Parmesan cheese.
  • Place the baking sheet back in the oven and bake for another three to four minutes. Once the cheese has melted, remove it from the oven.

 (Recipe adapted from Ketovale )

How to pick and store summer squash

When buying a summer squash, choose an organically grown squash that’s small to medium in size, with a glossy and vibrantly colored skin. It should also feel firm and heavy for its size. Avoid large summer squash that are dull and tough, as they may have been left on the vine too long. Be sure to handle summer squash carefully, as it bruises easily. You can store summer squash in the fridge for up to five days. , ,

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Q: How do you freeze a summer squash?
A: Blanch a cubed summer squash in boiling water for three minutes, then immerse it in ice water. Drain  thoroughly and transfer into a tightly sealed container; be sure to leave 1/2-inch of headspace. Store in the freezer for up to three months.
Q: What does summer squash look like?
A: Most types of summer squash are cylindrical, with yellow or green rinds that are either solid-colored, spotted or striped. However, there are other types of summer squash that have a unique appearance. One example is the pattypan squash.
Q: Are summer squash and zucchini the same thing?
A: Zucchini is a type of summer squash. Other types include yellow squash, scallop-type and zephyr squash.
Q: Is zucchini healthier than yellow squash?
A: Zucchini may be healthier than yellow squash. According to a 2015 study published in the journal LWT — Food Science and Technology, zucchini cultivars have the highest carotenoid content out of 22 different types of summer squash tested. Zucchini also contains higher amounts of magnesium, potassium, vitamin C and folate than yellow squash. ,
Q: Are summer squash good for you?
A: Yes. Summer squash are good sources of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. They’re also rich in various vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, magnesium, folate, potassium, manganese and certain B vitamins.
Q: Can you eat summer squash raw?
A: The skin, seeds and flesh of summer squash can be eaten raw.

2019 update on the fight for mercury-free dentistry

 

In this interview, Charlie Brown, former state attorney general of West Virginia and executive director of Consumers for Dental Choice, provides us with an update to the global mercury-free dentistry campaign you’ve so generously helped us support through the past nine years.

We are now incredibly close to the ultimate finish line, thanks to Brown’s persistent and dedicated efforts and your unrelenting financial support. I want to extend a personal thank you to all who have contributed to this mission in the past, and are considering doing so now.

Brown has made it his life’s mission to remove mercury from dentistry across the world, which will also put an end to a large portion of mercury outflow into our environment. This week, we celebrate our annual Mercury Awareness week, during which we ask for your continued financial support to put an end to the use of this pernicious neurotoxin.

“The campaign for mercury-free dentistry has real wins, thanks to the grassroots help of Mercola.com readers,” Brown says. “We are toe-to-toe with the American Dental Association (ADA) and its million-dollar lobbyists across the country and around the world. We are advancing, and the ADA is retreating. Together, we will throw dental mercury into the hazardous waste bins of history.”

>>>>> Click Here <<<<<

Pressure on US Food and Drug Administration is paying off

Over the past year, Consumers for Dental Choice has made advancements on multiple fronts by implementing a number of landmark strategies. In the U.S., Consumers for Dental Choice has applied pressure on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the likes of which the agency reportedly has never seen before.

In all, 50 groups, including the Sierra Club, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and Greenpeace, signed the Chicago Declaration for Mercury-free Dentistry for America. “That really got FDA’s attention,” Brown says.

When the FDA invited public comment on how it’s doing on its medical devices, 80% of responses — four times that of all other devices combined — were about amalgam.

“People are sick and tired and they made it clear that the No. 1 public interest on medical device regulation is amalgam,” Brown says. “They’re sick and tired of FDA coddling up to the ADA, as it’s done this entire century.

Coming along too is the medical community … the National Medical Association (NMA) and the African-American physicians. They have gotten real interested in this. Their journal published a commentary about how amalgam is unfair to the children of color and other low-income children in this country.

Finally, the trade press is really biting at the heels of FDA. They’re really wanting to know why FDA is still not acting on amalgam. We now have information that FDA is going to move [on this issue].”

While it’s still too early for Brown to give specifics on what the FDA is planning to do, when available, I will bring him back for an update. As for the Consumers for Dental Choice petition to the FDA urging the agency to follow in Europe’s footsteps and eliminate dental mercury for pregnant women and children, more than 48,000 signatures have been received and delivered.

“The European Union, more than a year ago, ended amalgam for children under 15, and for pregnant and breastfeeding women. They required each member state — and there are 28 countries in the EU as of right now — to come up with a plan to go further.

We are saying to FDA, ‘Why are you lagging so far behind Europe? Why won’t you pay attention to the very treaty that the United States not only signed but was the first country in the world to ratify?’

As I said, the heat is building. We think we’re going to move, but they still have been way too close to the pro-mercury dentists. There’s no question. That’s the ADA. The ADA, however, doesn’t have the same clout they used to have because its own members are walking away.

Its own members are saying, ‘Why should I use amalgam just because you want me to? I don’t want to. My patients don’t want to. I don’t want to get people in my office sick.’”

Making amalgam a business loser is a winning strategy

This is undoubtedly a direct response to people following the advice given by Consumers for Dental Choice — the advice to not frequent any dentist who still uses mercury amalgam on ANY of his or her patients, even if it’s not you. By patients abandoning mercury-based dentists, more and more have recognized the folly of sticking with the ADA’s recommendation to keep using it.

“Basically, we are making amalgam into a business loser,” Brown says. We still have a way to go though, to get government-based dentists to follow suit and to get all insurance plans to cover mercury-free dentistry across the board, and not just in some instances.

Fortunately, as the dental amalgam market continues to shrink, amalgam manufacturers are also starting to follow the money and transition into making alternative filling materials instead. 

“By making amalgam a business loser for the dentist and a business loser for the manufacturers, we are pursuing a success route,” Brown says. “We want FDA to change. But if FDA doesn’t change, we have a way to win regardless.”

Battleground Maine

In the U.S., Consumers for Dental Choice is also taking on Maine’s Dental Board. After filing a complaint, the board has agreed to create legislation requiring dentists to have informed consent before they can use mercury amalgam on a patient. Brown explains:

“Maine is our battleground state now … I’m in my element. I’ve been challenging dental boards for a long time. Years ago, we got rid of the gag rule. We won factsheet laws. We won disclosures. The Maine Dental Board is ignoring its duty to enforce the law on disclosure.

We have filed our petition, our protest, to the Maine Dental Board. They, in turn, have agreed to write a regulation, which will require the pro-mercury dentists to provide proof that they told the patients amalgam has problems … If they don’t do it, there’s going to be a discipline action against the amalgam-using dentists.”

In short, dentists using amalgam in Maine will be required to present patients with a factsheet detailing in clear language the adverse health effects of amalgam, and information on available alternatives.

Once given this information, patients are unlikely to choose amalgam, given the choice. It will undoubtedly also encourage more dentists to go mercury-free, as they have to admit, with documentation, that they’re putting toxic material into your mouth. 

“When I started in this, the dental boards were prosecuting mercury-free dentists. Now we’ve turned the tables and said, ‘You’ve got to prosecute the pro-mercury dentists because they’re not following the law.’ We think with this success in Maine, we’re on the way.

They’re writing a rule. We’ve got a battle ahead this fall in 2019. It will be a prototype for other states. We’re going to prepare a kit for other states. If you want to get active in your state, you, the consumer, you, the dentist, you, the health professional, write me at Charlie@ToxicTeeth.org.

Write me, and I will work with you to get you the material so that in your state, you can parallel what we’re accomplishing in the state of Maine, our model state …

The good news is that the director of health, who wrote and approved that factsheet, her sister is now the governor of Maine. So, we think we’ve got support all the way to the top in Maine to get this thing done.”

Global progress

In addition to the success in the EU, Consumers for Dental Choice is also making great progress in the effort to eliminate dental mercury in Nigeria, Mauritius, Tanzania, Vietnam, Bangladesh and India.

“[The U.S.] Pentagon says they can’t afford the switch. They’re giving mercury fillings. The richest agency in the world — I’m sure — is not giving mercury-free dentistry to its soldiers and sailors, but Bangladesh is. India is.

India has the third biggest army in the world. Bangladesh is one of the poorer countries in the world. Yet no one in the Bangladesh Armed Forces gets amalgam. No one in their family gets it. They’ve gone completely mercury-free. Well, if Bangladesh can end using amalgam in their armed forces, so can the Pentagon,” Brown says.

Consumers for Dental Choice and its international allies were also instrumental in getting dental amalgam included in the Minamata Convention, which calls for significant reductions in mercury pollution from multiple sources.

“Things come to a head this November 2019,” Brown says. “During the last week of November, the governments from every country in the world will again convene. There are well over 140 countries to sign this Convention. Over 100 have ratified it. The United States was the first to ratify.

We will bring a team of people from the Americas, from the island states, from Africa, Asia and Europe — our dentists, engineers, lawyers, journalists and environmental leaders …

The governments, starting in Africa with the country of Gabon, and then a number of other countries, have proposed an amendment to the Minamata Convention: the amalgam amendment. It would phase out amalgam for children in two years, and phase it out for everybody else on a date that people would agree on.

That will be debated this November. We are mounting a full-fledged campaign. We’ve been asked by the African governments to lead civil society — lead the organizing from the outside while they work the inside and work the government.”

Much at stake in November

In the summer of 2019, four EU nations — Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland and Slovakia — followed in Sweden’s footsteps and phased out amalgam for all patients as of a specific date. During the November debate, Consumers for Dental Choice will fight to get all nations to agree to a complete phase-out. 

“That’s going to be what they call the Third Conference of the Parties. This again has come, Dr. Mercola, because you dug in with us way back in 2011. You helped us put together this worldwide organization. You matched funds. You’re matching them again.

You’re matching them more than you ever have: $150,000. We hope to raise $150,000 dollars, which we’ll double with your funds to $300,000. We use it effectively. We use it efficiently …

Our staff size is the same as it was in 2011, when we started. Our money goes to the field. It went to the [creation of the] Chicago Declaration. It went to the Maine team that we organized to get front and center in our model state. It goes to some of the best environmental leaders I can imagine in Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America. We have founded centers and intermediaries.

There’s the Latin-American Center for Environmental Health in Montevideo, the Asian Center for Environmental Health in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the African Center for Environmental Health in Abidjan, Ivory Coast …

The European Center for Environmental Medicine in Berlin … These are headed by talented people. They run the campaigns for us … We’re pretty darn good at organizing. If people choose to donate funds to us, I think our track record is pretty clear. We get things done …

One of the priorities this November is bringing our team to Geneva and winning at the table and getting the countries to agree, yes, it’s time to set an end date for this plague, this horrible mistake of putting mercury in the mouth. Now, here comes the world’s chance to correct that mistake.”

>>>>> Click Here <<<<<

Please consider making a donation to Consumers for Dental Choice right now, and I will match your gift dollar for dollar, up to $150,000. Mercury is difficult to get rid of once it’s in your body.

Clearly, preventing exposure is the best strategy, and dental amalgams is one of the biggest contributors to mercury toxicity. By donating to this cause, you can help prevent the poisoning of literally billions of people around the world. You’ll also help protect our global environment from mercury pollution, a significant source of which is mercury-based dentists. As noted by Brown:

“The symbol of the Minamata Convention was the fish, because we all agreed we don’t want mercury in the fish that children eat. It causes permanent brain damage to them. That mercury came from many sources. One of the major sources was amalgam.

You can’t tell where that mercury came from, but everybody agreed we’ve got to work on all major sources. That’s how we got amalgam [included] as an environmental issue. It was the right strategy to start the beginning of the end of amalgam.”

Future projections

June 3, 2020, the European Commission will decide whether to recommend the phasing out of amalgam for all. Brown believes they will. After all, several European countries have already done it. Other nations are down to between 1% and 4% use. Similarly, Zambia has expressed willingness to phase out amalgam by 2021.

“We’re seeing that in one country after another that I visit,” Brown says. “For the Minamata Convention itself, we have the phase-down requirement. We are trying to shift that to phase-out. We will make a huge effort at that. This November, we hope to succeed.

If we don’t succeed, they will meet again in two years. Our chance to get the victory is 2019. Failing that, we’ll take another turn at that in 2021. By then, I believe we will win … We are very near the finish line. Again, I urge people to stay with us, because we can put this mercury into the hazardous waste bins of history.”

If you’re watching this, I encourage you to participate in this annual donation drive, and make a donation — large or small — to this worthy cause. Remember, I will match donation dollar for dollar, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

I raised my match 20% this year, from $125,000 to $150,000. Please consider doing the same, and raising your gift, at whatever level you give, by 20% too.

As I said before, Brown runs a really lean, mean organization. He doesn’t waste a cent. Your donations — as history has proven — will be used wisely, judiciously, frugally yet effectively, to end the use of mercury through legislative capacity within the next couple of years in several nations, and the entire world within 10. It’s a great goal, and I hope you will decide to play a part in this historical effort.

Why you’re addicted to your cellphone

 

This article will focus on the social addiction issue of cellphone use and does nothing to address the electromagnetic field (EMF) exposures, which I cover carefully in my next book “EMF’d,” slated for publication in early 2020.

As a lover of technology, it pains me to see what technological advancements are doing to the psychological health of so many, especially our youth. Children today cannot even fathom a life pre-internet — a life where school work involved library visits and phone calls required you to stay in one spot (since the telephone was attached to the wall).

Children and parents alike now spend an inordinate amount of time on their smartphones, communicating with friends (and possibly strangers) via text, on Twitter and Facebook, and work to keep up their Snapstreaks on Snapchat.

Even many toddlers are proficient in navigating their way around a wireless tablet these days. Smartphones have changed the way people interact socially, especially teens, and this has significant ramifications for their psychological health.

This is a topic covered in-depth in Jean Twenge’s book “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us.”1

A majority of teens’ social life is carried out in the solitude of their bedroom via their smartphones, Twenge points out in a 2017 article2 adaptation of her book, published in The Atlantic, and this lack of face-to-face interaction has a steep psychological price: loneliness. Internet addiction — the inability to unplug — has also been shown to take a toll on cognition and focus, as it’s a constant source of distraction.

Your cellphone — A necessity or a convenience?

The featured CBC Marketplace program, “Why You’re Addicted to Your Smartphone,”3 goes behind the scenes, talking to tech insiders about how cellphone addiction is manufactured, and the effects thereof.

According to Marketplace, people use their cellphones for an average of three hours a day, and as shown in the footage, many are in the habit of perusing their cellphones while walking — completely oblivious to their surroundings.

Over their lifetime, teens will spend “nearly a decade of their life staring at a smartphone,” CBC reporter Virginia Smart writes in an accompanying article.4 If you frequently feel you don’t have enough time in the day to get more productive things done, perhaps your cellphone usage is part of the problem, siphoning off valuable time from each day.

Still, most agree their phone has become a “necessity” rather than a convenience. Forgetting their phone at home, or losing it, is frequently described as a disaster.

“My entire life is on my phone,” one man says.5 “I don’t know where I’d be [without it].” Just how did we get to this point? “It’s part of a plan you didn’t even know you signed up for,” CBC correspondent David Common says.

Variable rewards and other mind tricks

To investigate real-world usage, CBC Marketplace enlists an Ontario family of five in an experiment: An app on their phone will track each family member’s usage over a two-month period. The app, called “Moment,”6 tracks the amount of time you spend on any given app, allowing you to see just how much of your life you’re frittering away.

Tracking the usage of all users, everywhere, is also being done by Silicon Valley companies in an effort to figure out how to make us use their apps even more. One of them is Dopamine Labs, founded by Ramsay Brown, which uses “artificial intelligence and neuroscience to track your usage, loyalty and revenue.”7

As explained by Brown, they use AI and the science of the mind to “make apps more engaging and persuasive.” In other words, they use science to maximize the addictive potential of your smartphone.

The secret is rather simple. Apps that trigger pleasure become addictive. As noted by CBC Marketplace, it’s rather telling that the two leading creators of the smartphone revolution, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, both admitted limiting their children’s use of their revolutionary devices — probably because they knew something the rest of us didn’t.

We’re not really designing software anymore,” Brown says. “We’re designing minds.” Just how is this done? Some of the most commonly used habit-forming tools include:8

Pleasure hooks — This could be a notification of “Congrats!” or “Good job!” or a high-five icon after you’ve completed an action, for example. On social media platforms, getting “Likes” accomplishes the same thing. The ability to collect followers is yet another hook.

Variable rewards — As explained by Marketplace, a key method used to trick your mind into addictive behavior is known as “variable rewards.” In a nutshell, it means you’re never sure what you’re going to get. How many “Likes” will your post garner? How many followers or points can you get? How long can you maintain a streak?

As with other types of gambling, this uncertainty coupled with the prospect of a pleasure reward is what feeds the compulsion to keep going.

The infinite scroll — Another “hook” perfected by social media is that never-ending stream of content and commentary that can keep you going indefinitely.

Loss aversion — While starting out as a pleasurable activity, at a certain point, your continued usage morphs into a prison of your own making — you “can’t” stop using the app, or you’ll experience let-down and disappointment. Snapchat’s snapstreak is a perfect example of how apps cash in on loss aversion.

“Brain hacking” techniques such as these have led to 6% of the global population now struggling with internet addiction, according to a 2014 study,9 rivaling that of illicit drug use.10

The problems with overuse and abuse of cellphones lead to sleep disturbances, anxiety, stress and depression,11 as well as an increased exposure to electromagnetic field radiation, which also places your health12,13 and mental14 well-being at risk.

Internet addiction is on the rise

Marketplace interviews Lisa Pont, a social worker at the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, where people are now coming into the program because their smartphone usage has become a problem.

“Research is starting to show that technology has an impact on memory, concentration, mood, [causing] anxiety and depression; it has an impact on sleep, it has an impact on overall well-being,” Pont says.

Children, Pont stresses, are particularly vulnerable due to their innate lack of self-control, and really need parental guidance and limits on their device usage. “It’s too tempting at that age to mitigate their own use,” Pont says, pointing out that children’s brains are not fully developed, hence they lack impulse control and the ability to foresee the consequences of their behavior.

Cellphone use and depression

As noted by Twenge in her article15 “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” rates of teen depression and suicide have dramatically risen since 2011, and data suggest spending three hours or more each day on electronic devices can raise a teen’s suicide risk by as much as 35%.16

Spending 10 or more hours on social media each week is also associated with a 56% higher risk of feeling unhappy, compared to those who use social media less, and heavy social media users have a 27% higher risk of depression.17

“It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades,” Twenge writes,18 adding that “Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones …

There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives — and making them seriously unhappy.”

How much time are you spending on your phone?

After tracking Jackson, age 8, for two months, his average daily screen time came out to five hours and 32 minutes, but on some days, he spends nearly 11 hours on his tablet — basically the whole entire day. At his current pace, his projected lifetime screen time amounts to a whopping 15 years.

His mother admits being worries about her young son’s screen time, especially as she’s noticed he typically prefers spending time on his tablet over all other social interactions and activities. Meanwhile, the family’s 16-year old, Emily, trades her sleep for social media. She admits getting caught up in the infinite scroll; before she knows it, hours may have passed.

As noted by in Twenge’s Atlantic article,19 sleep deprivation among teenagers rose by 57% between 1991 and 2015. Many do not even get seven hours of sleep on a regular basis, while science reveals they need a minimum of eight and as much as 10 hours to maintain their health. Twenge writes about the habits of the teens she interviewed:

“Their phone was the last thing they saw before they went to sleep and the first thing they saw when they woke up … Some used the language of addiction.

‘I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help it,’ one said about looking at her phone while in bed. Others saw their phone as an extension of their body — or even like a lover: ‘Having my phone closer to me while I’m sleeping is a comfort.’”

Emily is no different, admitting that checking her phone is part of her morning and evening routines. It’s the first thing she does upon waking, and the last thing she does before bed. For Emily, a large part of her day revolves around Snapchat. She uses the app continuously to keep in touch with her friends — even when they’re sitting right next to her.

As mentioned, Snapchat uses a technique known as “loss aversion” to keep their users using. Emily has a Snapchat streak that has been going for nearly two years, and now she feels compelled to not break it, which is what loss aversion is all about.

On many days, Emily’s phone stays in use for nearly 7.5 hours. The Moment app clocked her picking up her phone up to 100 times a day during the monitoring period. On average, she spends 30% of her waking hours on her phone. Her parents are not far behind, each averaging about 21%.

Symptoms of internet addiction

Symptoms of internet or cellphone addiction are similar to other types of addiction, but are more socially acceptable. As noted in one study, internet addiction (IA) is:20

“[G]enerally regarded as a disorder of concern because the neural abnormalities (e.g., atrophies in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) and cognitive dysfunctions (e.g., impaired working memory) associated with IA mimic those related to substance and behavioral addiction. Moreover, IA is often comorbid with mental disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.”

According to Psycom.net, conditions that can increase your risk of internet addiction or compulsion include anxiety, depression, other addictions and social isolation or awkwardness.21 Common emotional symptoms of internet addiction include:22

Boredom with routine tasks

Dishonesty and defensiveness

Feelings of guilt, fear or anxiety; mood swings

Experiencing euphoria while online

Procrastination; inability to prioritize tasks or keep schedules

Avoidance of work

Physical symptoms of internet addiction disorder can include:23

Backache, headache, neck pain

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Dry eyes and other vision problems

Insomnia

Poor nutrition; weight gain or weight loss

Poor personal hygiene

Notifications take a significant toll on your cognition

If you’re like most, you probably have an array of notifications set on your phone. According to Marketplace, these notifications concern experts, who warn the constant pinging, beeping and buzzing actually has significant consequences for your cognition.

Marketplace correspondent Commons visits Western University, where a lot of cognition research is being conducted. He participates in a test to evaluate his ability to focus, and to see how distractions from his phone affects his attention and cognition.

First, Commons performs the attention test without his phone. For the next round of testing, his phone is left on, nearby. And, while he can’t see it, he can hear it — incoming phone calls, texts and the pinging of incoming social media notifications.

For the third part of the test, Commons has to recall numbers being texted to him. “It reflects how we normally interact with our phones,” the researcher explains. You might text details to a coworker, for example, or your spouse might ask you to buy milk on the way home.

Commons admits the distractions caused by his phone significantly interfere with his ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Even vibration without sound causes problems. Just how big of a problem? Commons’ verbal comprehension declined by nearly 20% when phone distractions were allowed.

One simple step that can eliminate many of these distractions is to simply turn off all notifications. Still, simply having your phone nearby can be enough to take your mind off what you’re doing.

A study24,25 using a group of more than 50 college students found that performance in complex tasks was worse when the participant could see a cellphone present, whether it was the study leader's phone or their own, as compared to the performance of tasks when no cellphone was visible.

As noted by Brown, smartphones are here to stay, and app developers are getting increasingly sophisticated at capturing your attention. Smartphone users therefore need to become savvier, and learn to make conscious choices about how they use their devices.

The question is, “Who do we want to be?” Brown says. Modern technology really requires you to shape yourself (or be shaped by software developers), and to use your devices in a way that helps you rather than hinders you from living your best life.

Iodine: An in-depth guide to its potential benefits

 

Maintaining optimal iodine levels has been recommended by researchers1 and health experts alike.2 But you may wonder: What makes iodine so important for your body, and why is a deficiency of it considered alarming?

What is iodine?

Iodine is a trace element mineral that can be sourced from foods, although it's also found in potassium iodide or sodium iodide supplements, or used in multivitamin, mineral or dietary supplements (like iodine-containing kelp).3 According to an Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism article, 15 to 20 milligrams of this element are found in your body, with 70% to 80% in your thyroid gland.4

There are multiple types of iodine. The American Thyroid Association (ATA) explains that when it's in the form of iodide, iodine is made into two radioactive forms: iodine-123 or I-123 (harmless to thyroid cells), and iodine-131 or I-131 (harmful to thyroid cells). Both are used in people with thyroid diseases, and given orally in pill or liquid form.5 If you want to know where your iodine levels stand, you doctor may recommend that you undergo a urine or blood test.6

Don't confuse active forms of the chemical element iodine7 with that found in table salt, even if the label says it contains iodine because iodized table salt is technically potassium iodide8 added to sodium chloride, the chemical name for table salt.9

The same principle applies if you encounter povidone iodine. This substance, commonly known by the brand name Betadine10 and used topically as an antiseptic,11 is composed of iodine and a synthetic polymer called polyvinylpyrrolidone or povidone.12

A brief history of iodine

Did you know that iodine was accidentally discovered? A French chemist named Bernard Courtois discovered iodine in 1811, while helping his father manufacture saltpeter, an ingredient used in gunpowder. After running out of wood ash, which was their source of potassium nitrate, Courtois burned seaweed instead, then washed the ash with water.

However, he added too much sulfuric acid to the washed ashes, and a cloud of violet gas appeared from the ashes. When it condensed, purple crystals appeared on a cold surface.

Suspecting it might be a new element, Courtois took the crystals to other scientists to examine. When they confirmed that, indeed, it was a new element, a French chemist named Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac named it "iode," from the Greek word ioeidēs meaning "violet-colored."13

Why iodine deficiency is alarmingly rising

Iodine deficiency is a rising problem worldwide, affecting 2.2 billion people, predominantly in countries where iodized salt is not available.14,15 According to the ATA, average urinary iodine levels (which may be utilized to measure dietary iodine intake16), have dropped by half since the 1970s.17 There are nutritional and environmental factors linked to an iodine deficiency, namely:18

Shifts in food preparation and consumption — More Americans are consuming prepackaged and ready-to-eat foods or eating in restaurants, instead of preparing home-cooked meals. This increases their exposure to high-salt foods that may not have sufficient amounts of iodine.

Thiocyanates in foods — Thiocyanates are metabolites19 found in vegetables from the Brassica family, as well as in cassava and soy. Frequent consumption of high-thiocyanate foods, according to the World's Healthiest Foods, may disrupt your thyroid gland's ability to process iodine. This may cause you to think you're dealing with an iodine deficiency, even if the problem isn't present at all.

Iodine-deficient soils — In North America overuse of alkaline fertilizer and intensive cropping contributes to iodine depletion in the soils, which then prevents food crops from getting iodine naturally from the soil.20 In the Midwest in the U.S., soils are lacking in iodine anyway, due to their distance from ocean waters.21

There are also certain groups who may be at risk for an iodine deficiency:22

Vegans and vegetarians23 Authors of an Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism article highlighted that plant-based foods have fewer iodine contents than animal-based products.24

Pregnant women — Iodine facilitates thyroid production essential for the baby, although the mineral is oftentimes released through the mother's urine.25 Some studies showed that pregnant women in countries like Brazil,26 China,27 Ethiopia28 and Ghana29 aren't getting sufficient amounts of iodine.

People living in regions with iodine-deficient soils and who eat mostly locally grown foods — Soils in these areas tend to have low iodine levels, producing crops that have few amounts of this mineral. The Himalayas, the Alps and the Andes regions and some river valleys in south and southeast Asia tend to have the most iodine-deficient soils.30

In the early 20th century, certain areas of the U.S. were once known as "goiter belts" because regional soils were so lacking in iodine that up to 70% of children had goiter, a symptom of iodine deficiency. An iodine supplement program in the affected regions — the Appalachians, Great Lakes and Northwestern areas — and the introduction of iodized salt in 1924 addressed the issue.31

People consuming fewer amounts of iodine — Increasing iodine levels should be done via your diet since the body doesn't produce it. If you don't consume enough iodine-rich foods, this could lead to an iodine deficiency.32

People who eat foods containing goitrogens — These are naturally occurring substances33 that could negatively impact your body's usage of iodine. They're present in soy and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

An iodine deficiency can also be problematic since it can lead to your body's inability to make sufficient amounts of the thyroid hormone. This can lead to negative effects like:34

  • Inhibited growth, brain development35,36 and sexual progression in babies born to an iodine-deficient mother
  • Very low IQ levels in infants and children
  • Reduced ability to work and think clearly among adults
  • Increased risk for brain damage37

Some iodine deficiency symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Swelling of the thyroid glands in the neck,38 producing a visible lump called a goiter39
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Weight gain
  • Hair loss
  • Dry skin
  • Increased tendency to feel cold
  • Slower heart rate
  • Cognitive issues like low IQ levels and trouble learning40
  • Hypothyroidism or low thyroid levels41

An iodine deficiency can also trigger a rare but life-threatening hypothyroidism complication called myxedema. Warning signs include unconsciousness, goiter, reduced energy levels, seizures, confusion and coma.42 Myxedema requires immediate medical treatment, so if you notice someone exhibiting these symptoms, seek medical attention right away.43

Iodine rich-foods to try

To help manage your iodine levels, there are various foods high in this nutrient you can add to your diet, namely:

Sea vegetables like kelp, nori, kombu and wakame44 Iodine is highly abundant in the Earth's oceans, especially among these sea vegetables.45 According to this 2014 study, out of the different seaweed varieties, kombu had the highest iodine content, followed by wakame and then nori.46

Organically grown cranberries or fresh cranberry juice — One ounce of cranberries (about one-third cup) contains 100 micrograms of iodine.47 Ideally, consume fresh and organic cranberries in moderation because they do contain 4.27 grams of fructose per cup.48 If you want cranberry juice, make your own drink at home, without added sugars, or by adding Stevia to it.

One caveat: If you're struggling with kidney stones, avoid consuming cranberry products because they contain oxalates that may trigger development of more stones.49 Mayo Clinic also advises that you avoid drinking cranberry juice if you're taking warfarin (an anticoagulant medicine), because it may enhance this drug's effects and increase your bleeding risk.50

Yogurt made from organic and grass fed milk51 Apart from being a good source of iodine,52 organic, grass fed yogurt is a good source of probiotics.

Iodine's uses and health benefits

Your body needs iodine to facilitate production of thyroid hormones that aid in maintaining optimal metabolism and other important functions. This mineral, according to the National Institute of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, is particularly important if you're pregnant or breastfeeding,53 since it can help babies grow and develop properly.54

Breast milk is a good iodine source for babies.55 However, the amount of iodine in breast milk relies on the mother's intake of this mineral. According to WebMD, iodine may also:56

  • Help inhibit iodine deficiency and complications linked to it
  • Relieve cutaneous sporotrichosis, a skin disease caused by the Sporothrix fungus57
  • Address fibrocystic breast disease
  • Alleviate diabetic ulcers
  • Deliver expectorant capabilities
  • Lower someone's risk for eye disease, diabetes, heart disease and stroke
  • Eliminate fungi, bacteria and amoebas
  • Purify water

Topical iodine applications may also aid in eliminating germs and reducing your risk for chemotherapy-caused mucositis, or soreness inside the mouth.58

Studies on iodine

One study found that iodine may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases like hypercholesterolemia. The study, published in The Journal of Nutrition in September 2015, noted that iodine supplementation may reduce hypercholesterolemia risk in overweight women with a moderate to severe iodine deficiency.59

As mentioned above, iodine is also crucial to a child's well-being, as iodine deficiency may lead to impaired neurodevelopment in children. According to a July 2017 study in The Journal of Nutrition, women whose maternal iodine intake levels fell below the Estimated Average Requirement during their pregnancy may bear children who'll develop issues like language delays, behavior problems and decreased fine motor skills once they turn 3 years old.60

Furthermore, being deficient in this mineral may increase the risk for thyroid cancer. Results from a study published in Thyroid Research in June 2015 suggested that an iodine deficiency is a possible risk factor for thyroid cancer, follicular thyroid cancer (FTC) and anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC).61

Iodine side effects to watch out for

If you're interested in taking iodine supplements, it's imperative to talk to your doctor to determine the ideal dosage for your condition. This may help lessen your risk for adverse effects like iodine overdose and acute iodine poisoning.62

Consuming high amounts of iodine can lead to hypothyroidism,63 which may block thyroid hormone production. Other side effects of taking a very large dose of iodine include:64

  • Goiter, or enlarged thyroid gland
  • Thyroid gland inflammation
  • Higher risk for thyroid cancer
  • Metallic taste
  • Soreness of teeth and gums
  • Worsening of conditions like hypothyroidism, goiter or thyroid tumor65
  • Burning sensations in your mouth, throat and stomach
  • Fever
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weak pulse
  • Coma

Some people may not tolerate iodine or products containing it, like those diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disease. If you're sensitive to iodine, the following complications could develop:66

  • Severe bleeding and bruising
  • Joint pain
  • Face and lip swelling
  • Contact dermatitis, a type of itchy rash that gradually develops
  • Urticaria or hives67

If you're struggling with a rash called dermatitis herpetiformis, be aware that iodine could exacerbate this health issue.68 Medical News Today adds that an iodine intolerance may be fatal since it might trigger anaphylaxis, which could progress into a life-threatening anaphylactic shock. This is a sudden allergic reaction characterized by hives, low blood pressure, dizziness or lightheadedness, palpitations and breathing difficulties.69

According to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, there can also be instances wherein iodine supplements may interact with medicines you're taking:70

Anti-hyperthyroidism medicines like Methimazole (Tapazole) — Taking iodine supplements alongside antithyroid medications may deplete your body's production of this important hormone.

ACE inhibitors like benazepril (Lotensin), lisinopril (Prinivil and Zestril) and fosinopril (Monopril) — ACE inhibitors are recommended for people with high blood pressure levels. If you take iodine supplements alongside ACE inhibitors, there's a risk that the potassium in your blood may rise to an unsafe level.

Potassium-sparing diuretics like spironolactone (Aldactone) and amiloride (Midamore) — Using potassium iodide supplements together with potassium-sparing diuretics can significantly raise your blood's potassium content.

Inform your doctor before using iodine supplements, especially if you have a medical condition, so they can advise whether your current medicine will interact with the supplement without causing any side effect.

Iodine is an effective mineral for your health

Iodine is crucial in maintaining ideal health and well-being, but most people take it for granted and don't monitor their daily intake of this mineral. This leads to iodine deficiency, which now affects millions of people globally.

You can avoid iodine deficiency by eating iodine-rich foods or taking high-quality supplements and multivitamins containing this mineral. However, always exercise caution about raising your iodine intake, since this mineral has been linked to side effects, some of which are life-threatening and could exacerbate your condition.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about iodine

Q: What does iodine do?

A: Your body needs iodine because this mineral can help:71

Produce vital thyroid hormones

Promote babies' development

Improve cognitive function during childhood

Lessen risk for radiation-induced thyroid cancer

Q: What is iodine used for?

A: Some of iodine's uses include:72

Acting as an expectorant

Removing fungi, bacteria and amoebas from your body

Purifying water

Alleviating fibrocystic breast disease

Helping address cutaneous sporotrichosis, which is a skin disease caused by the Sporothrix fungus73

Q: Is iodine a metal?

A: According to LiveScience, iodine is a nonmetal, although it does exhibit some metallic qualities.74

Q: Where do you get iodine?

A: You can increase your body's iodine stores by consuming foods high in iodine or taking high-quality supplements or multivitamins containing this mineral.75

Q: What foods have iodine?

A: Iodine-rich foods you can add to your diet include kelp, nori, wakame and other sea vegetables,76 organically grown cranberries or fresh cranberry juice77 and grass fed yogurt.78,79

Q: Does sea salt have iodine?

A: Yes, but in very low qualities.80 However, sea salt, which is usually minimally processed, has some amounts of calcium, magnesium and potassium.81

Q: Is iodine poisonous?

A: Iodine can be poisonous and can have dangerous side effects if you take too much of it.82,83,84 Before taking iodine supplements or significantly increasing your intake of iodine-rich foods, talk to a doctor to know about the amounts your body may need to prevent adverse effects.

Q: How much iodine do I need?

A: According to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, the amount of iodine that you need typically depends on your age. The upper limits for an adult are 1,100 micrograms.85

Experts warn about opioids post tonsillectomy

 

In the U.S., 289,000 children aged 15 years and younger receive a tonsillectomy each year, making it one of the most common surgeries.1 The procedure completely removes the tonsils and is sometimes performed along with adenoidectomy, which is surgery to remove the adenoids.

While tonsillectomy itself is associated with serious long-term risks,2 parents need to be aware that the painkillers given to children following the surgery can also be dangerous. This is especially true if children are prescribed opioids, powerful pain-relieving drugs linked to an epidemic of overdose deaths.

In a revealing study from University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children's Hospital researchers, 59.6% of children received a prescription for opioids following tonsillectomy,3 even though safer pain relief options would likely have worked just as well.

Six in 10 children prescribed opioids after tonsillectomy

Data from 15,793 children aged 1 to 18 who underwent tonsillectomy were analyzed for the study, revealing that 6 in 10 had at least one prescription for opioids filled following the procedure. Yet, there was no difference found in risk of return visits for pain or dehydration among children taking opioids or non-opioid drugs.4

Taking opioids was associated with an increased risk of constipation and opioid overdose.5 What’s more, the median prescription duration was eight days, which could mean an equivalent of 48 doses of the drugs — more than is typically needed. Past research found that an average of 52.2 doses of opioids may be prescribed to children following a tonsillectomy, with an average of 43.8 leftover doses.6

Not only does this increase the risk of adverse effects and addiction, but it poses a risk for family and friends who may take the leftover pills.7 According to the study authors:8

“Most children received less than 50% of their prescribed opioid doses because parents quickly tapered opioids, switched to nonopioids, or discontinued analgesics during the first few postprocedure days.

This left a considerable amount of unused prescribed opioids in the homes of children who were prescribed these agents for acute pain. This suggested mismatch between dispensed and used prescription opioids can inadvertently contribute to risky behavior and, therefore, begs for broad intervention.”

As for why opioids are often prescribed following tonsillectomy, the University of Michigan researchers suggested they’re often believed to provide superior pain relief and reduce the risk of return visits to the doctor, but this study suggests this isn’t the case.

They’re also sometimes offered over nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) due to concerns that NSAIDs may increase the risk of bleeding, but research suggests they can be used safely following tonsillectomy.9

“Our findings suggest that it may be possible to reduce opioid exposure among children who undergo this common surgery without increasing the risk of complications,” lead author Dr. Kao-Ping Chua said in a news release, adding:10

“To minimize the risks of opioids to children and their families, clinicians should rely on non-opioids when possible. When opioids are used, they should aim to prescribe only the amount that patients need …

However, our study suggests that many children receive opioid prescriptions after tonsillectomy and that the amount may be excessive. We need to conduct research to identify interventions that safely and effectively reduce opioid exposure for these children.”

Otolaryngologists advise against opioids after tonsillectomy

Prescription opioids are sometimes considered standard care for treating severe pain in adults following surgery or injury or due to illnesses such as cancer, although they’re now increasingly prescribed for many types of pain, including chronic back pain or pain from osteoarthritis.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO HNS), however, advises against their use after tonsillectomy, advising instead, “Clinicians should recommend ibuprofen, acetaminophen or both for pain control after tonsillectomy.”11 In their plain language summary for patients, AAO HNS further states:12

“Some medicines like antibiotics and codeine (koh-DEEN) or any medication containing codeine are not good for children younger than 12 years after tonsillectomy. There are better choices than codeine even for children 12 to 18 years old. Codeine [an opioid] can cause very slow breathing and, if too much is given, death. It can also be habit forming (addictive).”

Opioids given to children despite FDA black box warning

In 2012, the FDA announced it was reviewing the safety of codeine use after tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy after serious adverse events and deaths were reported.

They found many of the children affected had obstructive sleep apnea and “had evidence of being ultrarapid metabolizers of codeine, which is an inherited (genetic) ability that causes the liver to convert codeine into life-threatening or fatal amounts of morphine in the body.”13

“Since these children already had underlying breathing problems, they may have been particularly sensitive to the breathing difficulties that can result when codeine is converted in the body to high levels of morphine,” the FDA announced.14

“However, they continued, “this contraindication applies to all children undergoing tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy because it is not easy to determine which children might be ultrarapid metabolizers of codeine.”

The end result was a black-box warning, the FDA’s strongest warning, added to the label of codeine-containing products advising against the use of such drugs in all children following tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy. 

In 2017, Chua and colleagues published a study that found the FDA’s investigation significantly reduced codeine prescribing to children after these procedures — but did not stop it entirely. In a review of 362,992 children who underwent tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy, 5.1% had one or more prescriptions for codeine filled in December 2015.

The researchers explained, “1 in 20 children undergoing these surgeries were still prescribed codeine in December 2015 despite its well-documented safety and efficacy issues.”15

Considering the risks of prescribing codeine to children, the inability to identify which children may be especially vulnerable to its effects and the widespread availability of nonopioid pain relief options, the researchers described prescribing codeine to children after tonsillectomy an “unnecessary gamble, “particularly for children with OSA [obstructive sleep apnea], who are at a higher risk for opioid-related respiratory depression.”16

Parents mistakenly believe opioids are best for pain

Despite widespread media headlines highlighting the risks of opioid abuse and overdose deaths, many parents still believe they’re the most effective option for pain relief. In a survey commissioned by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, nearly two-thirds of parents surveyed believed opioids were better for pain management after surgery or a broken bone than alternatives.17

In reality, research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that less risky opioid-free options may work just as well.18

The study evaluated the effects of four different combinations of pain relievers — three with different opioids and one opioid-free option composed of ibuprofen (i.e., Advil) and acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol) — on people with moderate to severe pain in an extremity, due to bone fractures, shoulder dislocation and other injuries.

The patients had an average pain score of 8.7 (on a scale of zero to 10) when they arrived. Two hours later, after receiving one of the pain-relief combinations, their pain levels decreased similarly, regardless of which drug-combo they received. Specifically, pain scores fell by:19

  • 4.3 in the ibuprofen and acetaminophen group
  • 4.4 in the oxycodone and acetaminophen group
  • 3.5 in the hydrocodone and acetaminophen group
  • 3.9 in the codeine and acetaminophen group

“For patients presenting to the ED [emergency department] with acute extremity pain, there were no statistically significant or clinically important differences in pain reduction at two hours among single-dose treatment with ibuprofen and acetaminophen or with 3 different opioid and acetaminophen combination analgesics,” the researchers concluded.20

Opioid-related deaths among children nearly triple

The opioid epidemic kills 130 Americans daily,21 and sadly this sometimes includes children. While adult deaths due to opioid overdose have trended upward in recent years, so too have those among children.

From 1999 to 2016, 8,986 children and adolescents died due to opioid poisonings — an increase in mortality rate of 268.2%.22 Prescription opioids were responsible for 73% of the deaths, with the mortality rate increasing 131.3% during the study period.23

According to the study, “These findings suggest that the opioid epidemic is likely to remain a growing public health problem in the young unless legislators, public health officials, clinicians and parents take a wider view of the opioid crisis and implement protective measures that are pediatric specific and family centered.”24

The findings underscore the high risks involved when bringing opioids into your home and highlight the importance of choosing the least dangerous pain relief option available following surgeries like tonsillectomy.

If your child is scheduled to have this procedure, ask his or her doctor about pain relief options and express your desire for a nonopioid option. However, before choosing to have your child’s tonsils removed, be aware that the surgery itself is risky and may not be the best option for your child.

Risks of tonsillectomy may outweigh benefits

Tonsillectomies are often recommended for treatment of recurring, chronic or severe tonsillitis or complications resulting from enlarged tonsils, such as difficulty breathing at night.25 However, the benefits of the surgery may not outweigh the risks, according to a population-based cohort study of 1,189,061 children.26

In estimating the long-term disease risks associated with tonsillectomy in childhood, the researchers evaluated data from children who had their adenoids or tonsils removed within the first nine years of life, finding their removal to be associated with a significantly increased risk of respiratory, allergic and infectious diseases later in life.

“Increases in long-term absolute disease risks were considerably larger than changes in risk for the disorders these surgeries aim to treat,” the researchers explained.27 Far from being superfluous tissue, your tonsils and adenoids play an important role in the development and function of your immune system, helping to protect against pathogens and stimulate immune response.28

Short-term risks of tonsillectomy, meanwhile, also carry risks, including severe bleeding before or after surgery, swelling that can cause breathing problems, infection and reactions to anesthetics.29

In some cases, a tonsillotomy, or partial removal of the tonsils, may be an alternative surgical option for both children and adults; however, parents should carefully consider whether surgery is the best option to resolve the underlying medical condition.

Finally, if you, your child or someone you love has chronic pain of any kind, know that there are many safe and effective alternatives to prescription and even over-the-counter painkillers that provide excellent pain relief without any of the health hazards that pain medications like opioids often carry.

What to plant now to maximize your harvest

 

As the days grow shorter and the leaves begin to turn, you might think it's time to close up shop on your garden. Gardening provides a number of valuable health benefits, from stress relief to better brain health and1 better nutrition.2 It also inspires better exercise.3

Growing your own food allows you to harvest produce fresh from the garden, likely uncontaminated by insecticides and pesticides, while cutting your grocery bill and reducing your risk of depression.4 In a time when many people spend hours indoors behind a desk each day,5 gardening offers an invaluable way of achieving sensible sun exposure and increasing movement.

A study in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports6 concluded a “regular dose of gardening can improve public health,” and noted it was associated with reduction in depression and anxiety, while increasing satisfaction and quality of life. You don’t have to give up these benefits during the fall months when you plant a garden of vegetables that thrive in cool weather.

The Annual National Gardening Survey7 reports gardening in America is at an all-time high with 77% of Americans participating. The number participating in container gardening is also rising.

Consider using some of the strategies outlined below to increase the harvest you get from your garden, whether it’s in the ground or in containers. Planting during the fall months may increase your harvest with little additional effort when you use low-maintenance plants and cover crops to prepare your garden for spring.

Plan a bountiful low-maintenance fall harvest

There are several considerations as you plan your vegetables for fall. Cooler temperatures help make your fall vegetables tastier and some can be harvested well after the first fall frost. As you're planning, it's important to consider the frost date in your geographical area.

You need the average date of the last spring frost and the first fall frost. You can begin by first finding your hardiness zone on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service8 and comparing it to a list of average frost dates kept by the Garden Tower Project.9

This information will give you the average dates. Freeze temperatures will be classified based on their effect on plants. For instance, a light freeze occurs between 29 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and 32 degrees F. This will kill tender plants, while a severe freeze occurs at 24 degrees F and colder, which may cause heavy damage to most plants.10

The time until the first frost is the amount of time left in the growing season in your geographical area. While there are some plants that continue to thrive after a mild frost, and those you plant to establish roots in the fall but harvest in the spring, the majority of your fall harvest will happen by the first frost.11

The plants you choose to place in your fall garden will also depend upon the amount of sunlight they require. This does not mean the number of hours the sun is in the sky in your area, but rather how much direct sunlight the plants get each day. Those vegetables that are shade tolerant thrive in three to four hours of direct sunlight and include arugula, kale, spinach and Asian greens.12

Soil temperature is among the list of considerations as you choose plants for a fall harvest. The topsoil temperature will fall quickly in late summer and early fall as the air temperatures are also falling.13 Temperature is important for seeds to germinate and establish a root system. Some vegetables won’t germinate if the soil is too warm; others don’t germinate when the soil is too cold.

Your best fall garden vegetable choices

As described in this short video, you may make the most of even a small garden by taking advantage of areas after you've harvested an early summer planting. Consider grouping your fall garden into three groups as described to increase your harvest and provide plenty of produce through your first hard frost.

Group 1 vegetables will sprout in warm soil when the seeds are kept moist. Consider sowing directly into your garden before several days of wet weather or keep the ground moist by watering.

Peas — These are high in vitamin K, manganese and vitamin B1 and provide the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin known to promote vision.14

Collard greens — One cup contains 308% of the daily value of vitamin A and 58% of vitamin C with only 49.4 calories.15

Leeks — One cup of this flavor-packed vegetable delivers a combination of flavonoids and sulfur nutrients with 29% of your daily value of vitamin K.16

Beets — One cup has 58 calories with 442 grams of potassium and 148 micrograms of folate, two important nutrients to your overall health.17

Kale — This leafy green winter vegetable is high in fiber and potassium and is a tasty addition to your salad or smoothie.18

Radishes — This sometimes-spicy addition to your salad is high in fiber, vitamin C and potassium.19

Group 2 vegetables will sprout in cool soil, but in most hardiness zones, once the soil is cool enough to sprout, the growing season is too short. Consider sprouting indoors or in a shady area of the garden, transplanting to a sunny area once the plant has established one true leaf.

Chinese cabbage — This ranks No. 2 overall in the CDC’s list of powerhouse fruits and vegetables.20

Radicchio — One cup of this leafy red vegetable has 102 mcg of vitamin K, 121 mg of potassium and an estimated glycemic load of 1.21

Spinach — A 100 gm serving of spinach provides you with 28.1 mcg of vitamin C, 30 mg of calcium and 167 mg of potassium.22 

Lettuce — Popular foundation for most salads, lettuce is low in calories, carbohydrates and sugar. The vegetable is high in calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc and thought by ancient people to possess medicinal properties.23

Escarole — This leafy green vegetable is slightly bitter and may be served raw, grilled or cooked. It provides more vitamins and minerals by weight than iceberg lettuce and is high in vitamin A and C, fiber and calcium.24,25

Parsley — Often added to enhance the flavor or presentation, parsley is also rich in vitamin K and flavonoids that may help block damage by heterocyclic amines that develops in meat grilled on high heat.26

Group 3 vegetables appreciate cool soil temperatures. The taste of the vegetables will improve after the first one or two mild frosts. They may also be planted in the early spring and then replaced with a summer crop before replanting in the fall.

Arugula — Also known as salad rocket or garden rocket, this member of the brassica family of vegetables is high in fiber, rich in chlorophyll and high in vitamin K.27

Cilantro — Related to parsley, cilantro may be eaten raw or cooked. It may help prevent damage from heterocyclic amines and photoaging. It has high levels of antioxidant carotenoids.28

The turnip — This white-skinned root vegetable makes an excellent addition to soups and stews. It is rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C.29

Mizuna (Japanese mustard greens) — This mustard green has a slightly peppery flavor and is a good source of Vitamins A, C and K.30 It is also high in phenols31 associated with antiaging effects,32 anti-inflammatory properties33 and antioxidant activities.34

Succession planting expands your harvest

Succession planting or succession cropping is the term used when gardeners plant one crop immediately after the first has been harvested or when they plant the same vegetables in staggered weeks. For instance, if a farmer staggers planting over two to four weeks may extend their harvest into the late summer and early fall.35

By planting the same or a different crop in your garden once the first has been harvested you may fill in the gaps and maximize the amount of food you grow. In some cases, you may want to start your seeds indoors before harvesting the first crop to ensure a good harvest before a hard frost.

Early potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic and many salad greens may be successfully succession planted.36 Once the first crop has been harvested, add a thin layer of compost to boost the nutritional value of the soil and then either transplant seedlings or sow seeds directly into the soil.

Succession planting is also called second planting and requires quick work at the end of the summer as shorter days and cooler air temperatures may slow growth. Add compost to the beds between plantings to replenish the soil. If you have space, consider planting varieties of the same plant that matures at different times, which will also extend your harvest.37

Cover crops aren’t just for large farms

Cover crops are plants typically grown for the benefit of the soil in your garden rather than what it may provide for your table. Farmers use them to manage soil erosion, suppress weeds and build soil fertility. Cover crops also help promote soil biodiversity, which in turn improves the nutritional value of your food.38

Generally, cover crops are grasses sown during the offseason to ready the soil for your upcoming garden. Planting a cover crop in the late fall helps reduce the amount of water that drains off the field during the fall and spring rains. The roots allow water to filter into the ground and provide nutrients to the soil.39

Traditionally, when your garden is ready for planting, you may mow the cover crop and allow it to dry out.40 Tilling is not necessary as you just need to run a rake over the top and plant directly in the garden since the dying cover crop acts as a mulch layer.

Examples of some cover crops include red and sweet clover, buckwheat, rye and peas. In most regions of the U.S. it's best to plant right after you've harvested as most cover crops will need four weeks to establish their roots before a hard frost.41

The Organic Growers School42 recommends choosing your crop depending upon how long it's likely to remain in place. For long periods, it’s recommended that you combine smaller cereal grains such as oats, barley or rye with a nitrogen-fixing legume like peas or vetch. For shorter times, consider green manure crops that out-compete weeds and supply food for soil microorganisms such as buckwheat and field peas.

Planting and caring for your fall garden

As you consider the timing of your planting, check your first fall frost and count back 12 to 14 weeks. Start your seeds indoors for your fall garden to improve germination and be sure there's room in the garden when your initial crops are ready to be transplanted as seedlings. Adding organic compost43 will help give your plants a strong start, especially if you are succession planting after another crop.44,45

Organic matter in the soil holds on to nitrogen so using leafy greens may help soak up the nitrogen left behind by your spring crop.46 Fall is a great time to try out new planting, for both your table and the possibilities it holds to enrich your garden. As you are planning your fall space, remember to leave an area for garlic and onions after the soil is cooled and has been harvested in October.

Most fall plants require a bit more water than others. Even a short period of dry soil may be a setback to growth in your beets, carrots and green leafy vegetables. To keep the soil moist and the weeds down, consider adding a thick layer of organic mulch that could include fresh grass clippings, hay or even sheets of newspaper to block the light and keep the soil cool and moist.47

Using these strategies, you’ll get a greater harvest from your backyard garden or edible landscape. This helps cut your grocery bill and ensures the food you’re eating is fresh and healthy.

Meet a trendy, designer vegetable — the cucamelon

 

You may have seen large and small varieties of watermelons at your local supermarket, featuring not only deep coral-colored fruit, but varying hues of orange, yellow and white, with rinds having the typical wavy green stripes, or oddly, solid colors like light or dark green, orange, black or even gray.

Even more eye-catching, watermelons appear to come in much smaller sizes, although there's a special type that might make you wonder if it's a combination of fruit and vegetable in one, a variety known as a cucamelon, with the botanical name Melothria scabra,1 originally grown in Mexico and South America.

There are dozens of cucumber cultivars which range from burpless to seedless, with pickling or raw slicing varieties, spiny or smooth skins, long, thin English cucumbers and the heirloom "straight 8," developed to resist disease and bitterness, but cucamelons aren't like any of them. Cucamelons aren't even related to cucumbers, but there are a few similarities, and they have a similar flavor.

For adventurous gardeners who love trying new plants, cute little cucamelons are no larger than a grape when it's ready for harvest. Sliced in half, lengthwise, you'll find two sections with seeds and a texture similar to that of a cucumber with a thin skin. There's no need to peel them.

Like other fruits and veggies, this one has alternate monikers, including mouse melon, Mexican sour gherkins or sandita, which translates to "little watermelon" in Spanish. As for whether cucamelons purchased in supermarkets are genetically engineered, Homestead and Prepper notes:

"That is a difficult one to say for sure, but according to several articles on the web, the plants are not GMO. They are actually native to Central America where they are quite common. They are served as a delicacy in the region. The fruits were part of the Aztec community's diet, but have remained fairly secret until recently. They are not a hybrid."2

As one might expect, cucamelons come with a unique nutritional profile, which one study3 found is high in antioxidants, flavonoids and phenolic compounds. Researchers showed they contain a "significant amount of almost all essential amino acids and important minerals," making them a "valuable nutraceutical supplement."

Ways to enjoy your 'adorable' cucamelons

One of the best ways to describe how cucamelons grow in the garden is the word "abundance," which is true even if you plant them in large pots on your patio or deck. Like many other types of garden produce, as you experiment with the flavor and texture of cucamelons, you'll find several ways to serve them.

The taste of cucamelons has been described as tangy, rather like a cucumber doused in lime juice, or a citrusy, savory fruit, which makes them a great addition to salsa. Pickling them is another popular preparation. Mint is one direction you can take the flavor, or try snipped dill weed to make a pickle preparation that's tasty on sandwiches.

Sliced cucamelons make a crisp, refreshing salad ingredient, or you can leave them whole, somewhat in the same way you serve grape tomatoes. In fact, many of the ways you serve tomatoes can be eaten the same way, such as tossing them with olive oil, with a few choice herbs and sliced (regular) cucumbers, peppers, onions and tomatoes.

Cucamelons are the perfect "traveling fruit," as they can be tossed into kids' lunch boxes, taken in a basket to family get-togethers or just enjoyed while you're standing in your garden, so if you enjoy sharing your produce, you may have to exercise self restraint. One suggestion is to opt for a small cucamelon as a substitute for an olive in a gin and tonic.

Some tips for growing cucamelons

If you're not sure how to grow these tasty little offerings, experts say cucamelons are cultivated in much the same way regular cucumbers are, but easier. They attract very few pests, and other than supplying trellises for the vines to grow on, (not unlike those used to grow peas, even sending out little tendrils that wrap around the trellis), you can plant the seeds and watch them grow without much intervention.

One good reason to use trellising to grow cucamelons is that otherwise, your fruits may drag on the ground and rot before you get to them, or become vulnerable to pests and disease. Without trellises, the plants will also take up a lot more garden space.

While the fruits can be expensive to buy in the store, they can be grown without much more than the price of the seeds. Seeds generally come with about 30 per packet, which experts confidently advise is "more than enough,"4 especially after the first growing season. According to Savvy Gardening:5

"The price alone makes it worth growing cucamelons for yourself. They're an easy crop; the vines are very productive, and they're rarely troubled by the many insects and diseases that plague cucumbers.

Impatient gardeners will find cucamelons slow to start in the garden, with growth not taking off until the summer weather heats up. That said, they will tolerate a cooler spring better than cucumbers do, and once they're established, cucamelons are quite a bit more drought tolerant."

Although your seeds may take up to four weeks to germinate, once they get started, you may be surprised at how prolific the vines are at producing. Attractive trailing creepers are reminiscent of grape vines, just with smaller leaves. Although the vines appear delicate, they do their job. Make sure your supports are good and sturdy, and you may want to build them bigger than you think you'll require.

Growing cucamelons: Things to know

As with any garden crop, preparing the soil in your garden beforehand with compost and organic, seasoned manure6 is a good practice to get the most nutrition out of the fruits and vegetables you'll eventually gather. Carefully mulching the seedlings will help keep weeds at bay and hold moisture.7

If you want a jump on the season or you live in a cold northern climate, you can start your cucamelons in seed boxes six weeks before your gardening zone's last frost. Four-inch pots help the roots form firmly for later transplanting into the garden.8

Once outside, if a surprise cold snap sets in, you can use cloches or a covered hoop system over rows of cucamelon seedlings for frost protection. Open both ends of the tunnels during the day to allow air to circulate around the plants, then close the ends again before the evening chill arrives. Repeat as necessary until the air becomes more conducive for growing healthy produce.9

As an alternative, cucamelon seeds (which you'll most likely need to purchase online10) can be sown directly into your garden once frost is no longer a possibility — usually in April or May.11 Just like cucumbers, find a sunny garden spot and create small mounds in the soil 8 to 12 inches across, with the mounds being about 15 inches apart.12

Place four to six seeds in a circle on the mounds.13 If possible, provide wind protection and keep the ground moist until the seedlings appear, then continue watering until the plants are well established.14 Water weekly as they grow unless the weather is unusually hot and dry, but you'll find cucamelons to be tolerant of drought conditions. If necessary, thin the tiny seedlings not my pulling them, but with scissors.15

Keep in mind that it will take approximately 80 days for your cucamelons to reach maturity after planting your seeds,16 so even cool weather zones have plenty of time to grow without worrying about the season closing on undeveloped fruit.17 Expect your plants to reach 3 to 5 feet in height.18 Before long, you may have the experience these conscientious gardeners reported in BuzzFeed:

"We direct seeded them into well composted soil and were very careful with watering them until they got started. It took a long time to germinate but we ended up with a dozen plants or about 60% germination. Once they started they stayed tiny in the three leaf stage for a week or two. After that they exploded and quickly covered the trellis we had for them. The yields are amazing. We have picked hundred off these plants and they are tasty and fun to eat."19

Harvest time: Sooner than you think

Believe it or not, soon after you notice the first flowers appearing on the vines, you can start looking for fully ripe cucamelons. Because as many as a dozen can fit in a man's hand, you can grab a basket and start plucking the tiny fruits when they're just an inch long. But just like regular cucumbers, they're good at blending into the foliage, so lift the leaves to find fruits that may be hiding.

You may want smaller cucamelons for a few reasons: The larger they are, the more of a tendency they have to take on the citrusy flavor. When they're left on the vine too long, they can become slightly sour. Pass the Pistil notes:

"Cucamelons are tender perennials which means, if you live in a warm climate they may continue to grow year after year from the same root stock. You can test this by insulating the area with mulch after the growing season. I've even heard that some gardeners remove the roots stock, placing it in a controlled environment and planting it back out in spring."20

Homestead and Prepper says it this way:

"After the first season, you will discover your cucamelon plants produce very long, tuberous roots similar to that of a dahlia or iris. You can dig up these roots and store them in a cool, dry place over the winter. Next planting season, put the tubers in the ground. Your will get an earlier crop with twice as much fruit."21

A bit of advice for picking your fruit is that you can do so at almost any time, but if you wait too long, they can become both seedy and firm. Until you know what to look for, try gently squeezing a few of your cucamelons to test their surface skin. You may want to save the more tender cucamelons for eating and the firmer fruits for pickling. Seeds from the fruits that have fall to the ground can be collected and saved. Here's why:

"Just let a few fruits ripen fully on the vines, or collect any fallen fruits at the end of summer. Scoop out the seeds, which will be surrounded by a gel-like coating, and place them in a container, along with a small amount of water. Leave the mixture to ferment for 3 days (expect mold to form on the surface).

The good seeds will sink to the bottom of the container; when this happens, pour off the mold, pulp, and water. Rinse the seeds left at the bottom of the container with fresh water until clean. Spread them on paper towels or a clean dishcloth and let dry for at least a week. Store the fully dried seeds in envelopes."22

Because cucamelons are open-pollinated, which means they can be pollinated via birds, insects, a stiff breeze blowing the seeds, or by humans, new plants will be nearly identical to the originals, aka "true to type."23 The significance of this is that cucamelons can easily self-seed.

Luckily, you don't have to have a green thumb to successfully grow these little fruits. As long as you follow basic rules for gardening, water them regularly and prepare the vines with sturdy trellises, you can expect a bountiful, delicious harvest.

Fingerroot: A flavorful spice bursting with benefits

 

Fingerroot (boesenbergia rotunda) is a type of rhizome from the ginger (Zingiberaceae) family. Many people across Asia consider this a valuable addition to meals and potential remedy for certain sicknesses.1 If you're curious about what this vibrant spice has to offer and how you can grow it at home, read this guide.

What is fingerroot?

Fingerroot is well-known as a spice and therapeutic crop2 that's grown in India, Sri Lanka, southern China and Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. It's also known as Chinese keys, krachai-dang, temu kunci3 or Chinese ginger.4

Yellow and slender fingerroots come from a small plant that's 50 centimeters (20 inches) tall. It features three to four undivided, elongated and oblong-shaped leaves measuring 7 to 11 centimeters (2 to 4 inches) wide and 25 to 50 centimeters (10 to 20 inches) long.5 The plant bears fragrant pink flowers. Most people grow fingerroot from cuttings as an ornamental plant, although the rhizomes and roots can be used for other purposes.6

Health benefits of fingerroot

Fingerroot exhibits the following health-boosting properties:7

  • Antifungal
  • Antibacterial
  • Antimicrobial
  • Antiparasitic (assists with eliminating helminth and round worms in your intestines)
  • Anticancer
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Antimutagenic
  • Carminative
  • Diuretic

Some studies have also highlighted that fingerroot was used in traditional medicine to help address health problems like:8,9

  • Dental caries, and other tooth and gum diseases
  • Dermatitis
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry cough and cold
  • Swelling
  • Wounds
  • Diarrhea
  • Dysentery

Results of a 2012 Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine study showed that the plant may help alleviate rheumatism, muscle pain, febrifuge, gout, flatulence, stomach aches, dyspepsia, peptic ulcers and skin itchiness caused by mite bites. Fingerroot is also a known ingredient in the traditional Indonesian tonic "jamu," often given to women who just gave birth or used by teenage girls for cosmetic purposes.10

Culinary uses of fingerroot

As a spice, fingerroot is mainly used in Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Chinese and Indian cuisines, especially in soups and curries. It can be prepared like typical vegetables, and has an aromatic flavor that can deliver appetite-boosting capabilities.11 The fingerroot plant's leaves, combined with teak tree leaves, may be used to wrap a traditional Indonesian fermented soy bean cake called tempeh. If you have young fingerroots, you can enjoy them raw, too.12

Components of fingerroot

Multiple substances have been discovered in fingerroot. A 2017 Pharmacognosy Reviews article lists the potentially health-boosting components found in the rhizome:13

  • Flavonoids such as alpinetin, boesenbergin, cardamonin, geraniol, krachaizin, panduratin, pinostrobin, pinocembrin, rotundaflavone, silybin, rubranine, sakuranetin and more
  • Polyphenols like caffeic acid, coumaric acid, chlorogenic acid, hesperidin, kaempferol, naringin and quercetin

What can fingerroot essential oil do?

Essential oil made from fingerroot contains beneficial compounds like:14

  • Terpinene
  • Geraniol
  • Camphor
  • 1,8-cineole
  • Ocimene
  • Myrcene
  • Borneol
  • Camphene
  • Methyl cinnamate
  • Terpineol
  • Geranial
  • Neral
  • Nerolidol
  • Citral
  • Limonene
  • 11-dodecen-1-ol

Additional research noted that essential oil15 and extracts16,17,18 derived from fingerroot exhibited antibacterial properties against bacteria strains.

What do studies say about fingerroot?

Fingerroot possesses antimicrobial properties. One 2006 study found that turmeric and fingerroot extracts worked as a treatment for Mongolian gerbils with gastric lesions caused by a Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection.19

Another study published in the same year found that compounds extracted from the fingerroot plant's roots, namely pinostrobin and red oil, together with dihydroguaiaretic acid from Myristica fragrans (responsible for producing the spices nutmeg and mace20) were effective against the same bacteria.21 Researchers discovered that fingerroot may also exhibit the following health-boosting abilities:

  • Aphrodisiac22 In this 2011 animal study, mature rats that ingested fingerroot juice exhibited better sperm quality, which may be linked to improved fertility.23
  • Anticancer ⁠— Fingerroot extract assisted in inhibiting development of breast, colon, cervical and ovarian cancer cells.24
  • Antimicrobial ⁠— Extracts from ginger, turmeric, fingerroot and galangal (Thai or Siamese ginger25) may combat pathogens that cause spoilage, and potentially work as natural preservative agents.26

How is fingerroot grown?

According to Useful Tropical Plants, fingerroot can be grown in areas where daytime temperatures fall either between 64.4 and 86 degrees F (18 to 30 degrees C) or between 53.6 and 95 degrees F (12 to 35 degrees C). However, if you live somewhere with temperatures that reach 10.4 degrees F (-12 degrees C) to 30.2 degrees F (-1 degrees C), it's probably best not to try to grow this plant, as it may be prone to severe damage or death.

Fingerroot is best grown in moist, well-drained soil with high amounts of organic matter, ideally with pH levels between 6 and 7, or 5.5 and 7.5 if conditions permit.27 A study published in 2015 also highlighted that fingerroot plants may thrive well in a growing medium composed of high amounts of red soil and black soil, with little quantities of sand.28

Cultimate fingerroot in places where annual rainfall falls between 1,200 and 3,000 millimeters (47 to 118 inches), or in some cases, 1,000 and 5,000 millimeters (39 to 197 inches). Grow your plants under full sun or a light shade. Propagating the plants in shady areas may decrease the amount of cineole in fingerroots.

Always make sure to prune your plants, as they can grow through their roots and form into a massive community that you may find difficulty maintaining.

As the plant grows, it will bear long, straight and carrot-like rhizomes. Fingerroot plants may live for five months, producing young shoots and rhizomes you can use in the coming years. You may start harvesting mature roots at least four to five months after planting. If you want to use young fingerroots, wait for around one to two months after planting to harvest them.

What are the possible side effects of fingerroot?

A study conducted on male rats found that fingerroot extracts were safe and didn't trigger side effects.29 However, it's best to stay safe and talk to your doctor before consuming, handling or growing fingerroot. You may have allergies to it or some of its components, or have conditions that may prevent you from reaping its health benefits.

Why it's time to try the vibrant fingerroot

Just like people from Asian countries who have been using it for many years, you may count on fingerroot for potential health benefits. Although it may not be as popular as other members of the ginger family, some studies have proven it may be as beneficial. It's never too late to try adding fingerroot to your dishes to see how you like it.

How exercise treats depression

 

In this short video, Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D., a biomedical scientist and researcher with the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California, discusses the science behind the mood-lifting effects of exercise.1 Indeed, many experts agree that exercise is one of the most powerful tools available for the prevention and management of depression.

For example, a meta-analysis2 published in 2016, which looked at 23 randomized controlled trials in which exercise was used as treatment for unipolar depression, found that, compared to no intervention, exercise “yielded a large and significant effect size,” which led them to conclude, “Physical exercise is an effective intervention for depression.”

How exercise ameliorates depression

One of the ways exercise promotes mental health is by normalizing insulin resistance. Mechanistic studies, several of which are highlighted in Patrick’s video, have also linked the antidepressant effects of exercise to molecular mechanisms involving:

  • Kynurenine, a neurotoxic stress chemical produced from the amino acid tryptophan
  • Myokines
  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a growth factor that regulates neuroplasticity and new growth of neurons
  • The endocannabinoid system
  • Beta endorphin, an endogenous opioid neuropeptide and peptide hormone

Exercise boosts metabolism of kynurenine

As explained by Patrick, tryptophan is an essential amino acid required for the synthesis of serotonin, melatonin, vitamin B3 and kynurenine. While kynurenine is associated with stress and depression at higher levels, higher levels of serotonin are associated with improved mood.

To a degree, exercise will allow you to control what the tryptophan will be synthesized into. By allowing for more tryptophan to be transported into your brain, exercise raises your serotonin and inhibits conversion into kynurenine, thereby boosting mood and preventing depression.

Conversely, chronic stress and low-grade inflammation makes more tryptophan available for conversion into kynurenine and less into serotonin, which has a depressive effect.

Kynurenine, in turn, is a precursor to a neurotoxic compound called quinolinic acid, as well as a neuroprotective compound called kynurenic acid. Here too, exercise — and especially endurance exercise — activates a gene that prevents kynurenine from forming quinolinic acid, and makes it form kynurenic acid instead.

Animal research3 has also shown that well-trained muscles have higher levels of an enzyme that helps metabolize kynurenine, thereby ridding the body of it. As noted by the authors:4

 “Our initial research hypothesis was that trained muscle would produce a substance with beneficial effects on the brain. We actually found the opposite: well-trained muscle produces an enzyme that purges the body of harmful substances. So in this context the muscle’s function is reminiscent of that of the kidney or the liver.”

Endurance training promotes anti-inflammatory myokines

Myokines are a type of a chemical messenger in a class called cytokines. Many of the cytokines we already know about are the kind liberated from adipose tissue, your body fat, particularly the truncal fat mass that gives you that apple-shape.

Many of these are inflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin-1 family (IL-1), which are involved in a variety of disease states, including cancer. Interestingly, the cytokines produced by muscle tissue, which are known as myokines (“myo” being the Latin root for muscles), have anti-inflammatory effects.

Myokines also increase your insulin sensitivity by improving glucose utilization inside your muscles and, acting as chemical messengers, myokines help inhibit the release of inflammatory cytokines produced by body fat.

Transient inflammation has beneficial effects

As explained by Patrick, microglia in your brain secrete neurotropic substances such as BDNF in response to exercise. Interestingly, it is inflammatory cytokines that are responsible for this beneficial effect.

So, while chronic release of inflammatory cytokines can cause grave harm — and is associated with depression — the transient inflammation caused by vigorous exercise actually has beneficial impact.

According to research cited by Patrick, low BDNF levels have been implicated as a central component of depression, as depressed patients typically have lower levels than healthy controls. As noted in a 2013 study5 on the interactions between exercise, depression and BDNF levels:

“[T]here is strong evidence that decreased BDNF is associated with … increased risk for depression, whereas increasing BDNF by aerobic exercise appears to … reduce depression.” 

Exercise is known to enhance BDNF secretion, while chronic stress reduces it. In one study,6 moderate and vigorous intensity cycling raised BDNF levels by an average of 32% compared to baseline.

As you might expect, duration plays an important role in how much BDNF is produced. Moderate to vigorous intensity for 40 minutes produced a more significant increase than those exercising at the same intensity for just 20 minutes.

The endocannabinoid connection

Cannabinoid receptors in the human body were discovered in the 1990s, which in turn led to the realization that we make compounds in our body — endogenous cannabinoids — that influence these receptors.

It was also discovered that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) orchestrates communication between other bodily systems, such as your respiratory, digestive, immune and cardiovascular systems.

One of the cannabinoids your body produces is called anandamide — a nod to the word “ananda,” the Sanskrit word for “bliss,” as it attaches to the same CB1 receptors that the psychoactive THC in cannabis attaches to.

While runner’s high is typically attributed to the release of endorphins, running also dramatically increases anandamide in the body, and anandamide not only targets the CB1 receptor, but it also influences opioid and endorphin receptors. Not surprisingly, then, the higher an individual’s anandamide level, the better they report feeling.

Research cited by Patrick shows people engaging in moderate intensity running or cycling increase their anandamide levels, and that the greatest increase occurs when you’re exercising at 70% to 80% of your maximum heart rate.7

Exercise boosts feel-good hormones

Exercise also triggers the release of beta endorphin, an endogenous (meaning it’s made by your body) opioid neuropeptide and peptide hormone produced in specific neurons located in your central and peripheral nervous systems. As noted in the 2008 paper,8 “The Runner’s High: Opiodergic Mechanisms in the Human Brain”:

Reductions in opioid receptor availability were identified preferentially in prefrontal and limbic/paralimbic brain structures. The level of euphoria was significantly increased after running and was inversely correlated with opioid binding in prefrontal/orbitofrontal cortices, the anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral insula, parainsular cortex, and temporoparietal regions.

These findings support the ‘opioid theory’ of the runner's high and suggest region-specific effects in frontolimbic brain areas that are involved in the processing of affective states and mood.”

Other studies showing exercise can treat depression

As noted by Patrick, there’s a solid and ever-growing body of scientific evidence showing physical exercise is a major key in the successful treatment of depression. Aside from the mechanistic studies highlighted in her video, here’s a short-list of studies and scientific review articles that have investigated this oft-ignored prescription:

JAMA Psychiatry 20189,10 (a study funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health) concluded exercise “may have greater efficacy than current approaches that target depressed mood.”

Contrary to popular belief, they found that while physical activity affected the participants’ mood afterward, their mood did not affect the amount of physical activity they engaged in. This defies the common assumption that depression causes physical inactivity. In fact, the results suggest it’s largely the other way around.

Frontiers in Pharmacology 201711 addressed the question of whether a comparison between exercise and drug treatment is evidence based, noting that:

The literature on the benefits of exercise for depression is extensive. Nevertheless, two recent reviews focusing on antidepressants vs. other therapies as a basis for clinical practice guidelines recommended mainly antidepressants, excluding exercise as a viable choice for treatment of depression. The aim of this perspective is to analyze the literature exploring the reasons for this discrepancy …

[I]t is possible that academics and health care practitioners are skeptical of viewing exercise as medicine. Maybe, there is a reluctance to accept that changes in lifestyle as opposed to pharmacological treatment can alter biological mechanisms.”

In conclusion, they found three randomized controlled trials comparing four months of exercise to the use of antidepressants (two of which involved patients with major depression and one recruited those with minor depression). All of them found that exercise and antidepressant treatment were equally effective.

Of 11 randomized controlled trials comparing exercise as an adjunctive treatment to antidepressants (combination comparisons) against a wide variety of controls, 10 of them found “a significant depressive improvement after the exercise period, and/or that the proportion of patients with a clinical response was larger for the exercise group than the control.”

The paper reviews a variety of biological mechanisms by which exercise can benefit those with depression, including boosting BDNF and serotonin and lowering inflammation biomarkers. The authors also point out that:

“Two meta-analyses examining the efficacy of exercise as a treatment for major depression concluded that exercise as a treatment for depression can be recommended as a stand-alone treatment or as an adjunct to antidepressant medication, and that exercise can be considered an evidence-based treatment for the management of depression …

Almost all reviews examining exercise vs. other treatments of depression, including antidepressants, support the use of exercise in the treatment of depression, at least as an add-on therapy …

Based on the present review, which examined most or all RCTs published in 1999–2016, and most or all meta-analyses/systematic reviews published in 2009–2016, it can be stated that exercise is an evidenced-based medicine for depression — at least as an add-on to antidepressants.”

Current Opinion in Psychology 201512 highlighted the role of inflammation in depression, and how biological markers can help explain how exercise reduces depressive symptoms. As explained in this review:

There is growing support for the efficacy of exercise interventions for the treatment of individuals who present with mild-to-moderate depression … The present article reviews contemporary theoretical accounts and recent empirical data pointing to neuroinflammatory states and neurotrophin production as possible biomarkers of the antidepressant response to exercise …

Recent research suggests that depressed patients have elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, with the most reliably observed elevations in Interleukin-6 (IL-6) and Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)

Along with the elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines among depressed individuals, several studies show lower than average levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines such as Interleukin-10 (IL-10) and a lack of correlation between IL-10 and IL-6 that typically is present, suggesting there is a dysregulation of the inflammatory system among depressed patients

Exercise has emerged as an effective strategy to target inflammatory deregulation ... For example, acting as a stressor, acute bouts of exercise result in the release of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-6 from muscles.

This release of IL-6, in turn, activates the synthesis of anti-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-10 and inhibits release of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-alpha, suggesting that exercise promotes, in this way, an anti-inflammatory environment.

Similarly, when occurring chronically, exercise (training) reduces the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6 and TNF-alpha and increases the production of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10.”

Many other studies support the view that depression is mediated, and perhaps directly caused,13 by inflammation, especially gastrointestinal inflammation.14 Cytokines15 in your blood, and/or inflammatory messengers such as CRP, interleukin-1, interleukin-6 and TNF-alpha are all predictive of16 and correlate17 to depression.

In melancholic depression, bipolar disorder and postpartum depression, white blood cells called monocytes express proinflammatory genes that provoke secretion of cytokines.18

At the same time, cortisol sensitivity goes down, and cortisol is a stress hormone that buffers against inflammation. Together, these inflammatory agents transfer information to your nervous system, typically by stimulating your vagus nerve, which connects your gut and brain.

In one study,19 the researchers suggested “depression may be a neuropsychiatric manifestation of a chronic inflammatory syndrome,” and that “these findings justify an assumption that treating gastrointestinal inflammations may improve the efficacy of the currently used treatment modalities of depression …”

In this model, depression is the result of your body’s attempts to protect itself from an inflammatory response, and involves hormones and neurotransmitters. Depressive symptoms most strongly associated with chronic inflammation include:20

  • Flat mood
  • Slowed thinking
  • Avoidance
  • Alterations in perception
  • Metabolic changes

Asian Journal of Sports Medicine 201521 looked at “systematic reviews, meta-analyses and large-scale randomized control trials on effects of exercise on depression” to devise recommendations for doctors “who plan to use exercise protocols in depression.”

Here, they highlighted 10 different biological effects of exercise known to have a beneficial effect on people with depression. These effects include22 upregulation or increase in the levels of norepinephrine, serotonin, BDNF, endorphins and endocannabinoids, and a downregulation or decrease in the levels of cortisol, TNF-alpha, IL-1beta, IL-6 and ACTH.

They also note psychosocial effects that have a beneficial impact, such as self-mastery, social interaction and distraction from rumination. According to this evaluation, depressed patients most likely to benefit from exercise are: Between 20 and 40 years old, have higher education status, are untrained and have mild to moderate depression.

Characteristics of an exercise program most likely to benefit people with depression include: Supervised and/or structured exercise; individually tailored exercise consisting of aerobic exercise and resistance training (or a mix); low to moderate intensity; 45 to 60 minutes per session at least three to four times per week for a minimum of 10 weeks. The authors also encourage physicians to employ a multidisciplinary team, noting that:

“It is very beneficial to encourage physicians and exercise specialists to work in collaboration on depression and exercise treatments. It seems that most medical professionals have little or no training in exercise programs and exercise specialists are not familiar with the clinical population particularly depressed patients.

Physicians’ recommendation is often limited to ‘get more exercise’ while the exercise specialist may advise physical activities that are not actually useful for patients with depression.

However, with a multidisciplinary team, it is possible to prescribe an exercise program more safely, efficiently, operatively, objectively and realistic. Such a multidisciplinary team may include a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist, sports medicine specialist and exercise trainer.”

Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 201123 concluded 12 weeks of high-intensity exercise led to a 28.3% remission rate in patients who had previously failed to get any relief from SSRIs.

Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 2006.24 This meta-analysis of 11 studies concluded doctors would be well advised to recommend exercise to patients suffering from depression, anxiety and eating disorders, as the evidence showed “substantial benefit.”

Archives of Internal Medicine 199925 reported 16 weeks of aerobic exercise was just as effective as Zoloft for the treatment of major depression in older patients.

Consider lifestyle changes before resorting to drugs

While there’s strong evidence to support moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise and strength training for the treatment of depression, I would also urge you to reassess your diet.

Foods have an immense impact on your brain, and eating whole foods as described in my nutrition plan will best support your mental and physical health. Avoiding processed foods, sugar and grains is particularly important as it will help normalize your insulin and leptin levels, which is an important contributing factor to depression.

Certain nutrients are also known to cause symptoms of depression when lacking, and specific herbs and nutritional supplements may also help counteract symptoms.

For a list of nutrients, herbs and supplements that have been shown to be particularly helpful for depression, as well as a long list of studies showing just how ineffective antidepressants are, and guidelines for safe drug withdrawal, please see “What Does the ‘Best Evidence’ Say About Antidepressants?

You can also learn more about depression and its contributing causes on Patrick’s website26 and in her full-length interview with Dr. Charles Raison27 (who is only briefly featured in the video above), in which he expounds on the links between depression and inflammation, and the use of heat stress as a therapeutic intervention for depression.

Do optimistic people sleep better?

 

Optimism is associated with greater physical and mental health, and one reason why could be linked to its role in promoting better sleep. In a study of 3,548 people, those who were the most optimistic enjoyed higher quality sleep, hinting at the importance of a positive outlook in getting a good night’s rest.1

While the reason why optimism leads to better sleep wasn’t revealed by this study, the researchers, from the University of Illinois, suggested it could be due to buffering the effects of stress, leading to better coping mechanisms. In other words, optimists may spend less time lying in bed with their mind racing, allowing them to drift off easier.

“Optimists are more likely to engage in active problem-focused coping and to interpret stressful events in more positive ways, reducing worry and ruminative thoughts when they’re falling asleep and throughout their sleep cycle,” study author Rosalba Hernandez said in a news release.2

Optimists sleep better

The study began by measuring participants’ level of optimism using a 10-item survey, which included statements such as “I’m always optimistic about my future” and “I hardly expect things to go my way.” Participants then rated how much they agreed with the statements, using a five-point scale.

The participants’ sleep quality and duration was also tracked, using self-reported data, including the number of hours slept at night, difficulty falling asleep and symptoms of insomnia (a subset of participants wore activity monitors to track sleep data).

Optimism was significantly associated with better sleep, with each standard deviation increase in optimism score linked to a 78% increased likelihood of reporting very good sleep quality.3

Those with greater optimism scores were also 74% more likely to have no symptoms of insomnia, had less daytime sleepiness and were more likely to get adequate sleep — sleeping for six to nine hours a night. Hernandez explained in a news release:4

“The lack of healthy sleep is a public health concern, as poor sleep quality is associated with multiple health problems, including higher risks of obesity, hypertension and all-cause mortality. Dispositional optimism — the belief that positive things will occur in the future — has emerged as a psychological asset of particular salience for disease-free survival and superior health.”

Positive personality characteristics linked to better sleep

A number of previous studies have also linked positive personality characteristics, including optimism and self-esteem, with better sleep. In one study of 1,805 adults, ranging in age from 30 to 84 years, those with insomnia symptoms scored lower on measures of optimism and self-esteem.5

Further, those with lower optimism and self-esteem were more likely to sleep for six hours or less each night (defined as short sleep duration) or for more than nine hours each night (long sleep duration).

The relationship between positive personality characteristics and sufficient sleep occurred even after the association between poor sleep and depression was accounted for. Results were similar in a study involving children, which found healthy sleep duration was linked to optimism. The researchers explained:6

“The relation resembled a reverse J-shaped curve, such that children whose sleep duration was in the middle of the distribution scored higher on optimism compared to children who slept relatively little. Further, children with shorter sleep latency scored higher on optimism and tended to have higher scores on self-esteem.”

Another study on college students looked at the relationship of sleep, optimism and mood, revealing “complex relationships” among them. People who tended to be pessimistic also tended to be more anxious and have more symptoms of stress, which had adverse effects on sleep. Poor sleep was, in turn, damaging to optimism, yet, being a morning person seemed to counter some of this damage. 

“In conclusion, optimism and sleep quality were both cause and effect of each other. Depressive mood partially explained the effect of sleep quality on optimism, whereas anxiety and stress symptoms were mechanisms bridging optimism to sleep quality,” according to the study.7

Benefits of optimism beyond sleep

The ability to be optimistic, which is defined as the “generalized expectation that good things will happen”8 is protective against cardiovascular disease (CVD),9 such that it reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.10 Lead author Julia Boehm noted in a news release that being positive is about more than the absence of negative:11

“The absence of the negative is not the same thing as the presence of the positive. We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction, and happiness are associated with reduced risk of CVD regardless of such factors as a person’s age, socioeconomic status, smoking status, or body weight.

For example, the most optimistic individuals had an approximately 50% reduced risk of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers.”

Being optimistic is also linked to a longer life span, with increasing levels of optimism associated with lower risk of mortality. In fact, optimism was associated with a lower risk of death from chronic disease, including cancer, heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease, as well as infection.12 Further, optimism is also linked to following health benefits:13

Healthier lipid profile

Lower levels of inflammatory markers

Higher levels of serum antioxidants

Better immune responsiveness

Healthier autonomic function

Higher levels of heart rate variability

Experiencing emotional well-being, positive mood, joy, happiness, vigor, energy and other measures of “positive affect,” along with positive dispositions like life satisfaction, hopefulness, optimism and a sense of humor, is also associated with increased survival in healthy people, including reduced cardiovascular mortality.14

Further, people with diseases, including renal failure and HIV, and positive psychological well-being also had reduced death rates, suggesting once again that happiness may indeed be protective over your physical health.15

You can learn to be more optimistic

It’s thought that a person’s tendency to be optimistic may be partially due to genes (one study suggested optimism is about 25% heritable16), but it’s also possible to become more optimistic. In one example, researchers asked study participants to write about their best possible self for 15 minutes, then use mental imagery of the positive future expectancies for five minutes.

Compared to a control scenario, the positive future thinking manipulation led to a larger increase in positive affect and future expectancies, showing that “imagining a positive future can indeed increase expectancies for a positive future.”17

Another simple optimism intervention is to think of three things you’re looking forward to tomorrow. When you do this regularly, say before bed, it may lead to reduced pessimism and emotional exhaustion.18

Mindfulness is another tool to increase optimism. Practicing "mindfulness" means you're actively paying attention to the moment you're in right now. Rather than letting your mind wander, when you're mindful, you're living in the moment and letting distracting or negative thoughts pass through your mind without getting caught up in their emotional implications.

One study showed that practicing mindfulness helped workers in high-stress jobs alter their brain activity to be more left-sided (which is associated with positive moods).19 “[M]indfulness meditation produces demonstrable effects on brain and immune function,” the researchers noted. “These findings suggest that meditation may change brain and immune function in positive ways.”20 Tips for being mindful include:21

When you’re walking, tune into how your weight shifts and the sensations in the bottom of your feet. Focus less on where you are headed.

Don't feel that you need to fill up all your time with doing. Take some time to simply be.

When your mind wanders to thinking, gently bring it back to your breath.

Notice how the mind likes to constantly judge. Don't take it seriously. It's not who you are.

Practice listening without making judgments.

Notice where you tend to zone out (i.e., driving, emailing or texting, web surfing, feeding the dog, doing dishes, brushing teeth). Practice bringing more awareness to that activity.

Spend time in nature.

The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), a psychological acupressure technique, is another tool you can use to increase optimism. It’s excellent for working through negative emotions and limiting beliefs that may be stifling your positive outlook on life.

Why sleep issues should be addressed right away

If you’re having trouble sleeping, whether you consider yourself an optimist or not, it’s important to get to the bottom of it sooner rather than later. Lack of sleep is linked to numerous health problems, including depression,22 diabetes, obesity23 and heart problems.

Sleep is even connected with subclinical atherosclerosis, the early stages of hardening and narrowing of the arteries. In one study, those who slept for less than six hours a night were 27% more likely to have subclinical atherosclerosis than those who slept for seven or eight hours a night.24,25

If you have trouble achieving this duration, or you wake frequently during the night, it’s time to take steps to improve your sleep. If you’d describe yourself as a pessimist, making a concerted effort to be more optimistic may help, however you should also pay attention to proper sleep hygiene.

Be sure you’re sleeping in complete darkness, as light (even that from a night light or alarm clock) can disrupt your internal clock and your production of melatonin and serotonin, thereby interfering with your sleep.

In the morning, bright, blue light-rich sunlight signals to your body that it's time to wake up. At night, as the sun sets, darkness should signal to your body that it's time to sleep. Keep the temperature cool, between 60 and 68 degrees F, and eliminate electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Ideally, shut down the electricity to your bedroom by pulling your circuit breaker before bed and turning off your Wi-Fi at night.

Other practical solutions include going to bed earlier and considering a separate bedroom if your partner is interfering with your sleep. For more tips, my 33 healthy sleep secrets provides a comprehensive list of strategies for a better night’s rest.

The second silent spring has sprung

 

The renowned biologist, writer and ecologist Rachel Carson called for humanity's responsible action as stewards of the earth, warning that the federal government was part of a problem that may lead to environmental failure. Her book, "Silent Spring," became a best seller in 1962 and inspired a grassroots movement to protect the environment.1

Carson warned of the deadly impact that a certain insecticide, DDT, would have on insects and wildlife. She contended that its use may result in the death of a vast number of birds and wildlife and ultimately lead to a silent spring devoid of the typical calls of nature. Today, neonicotinoids have become the second silent spring.

Neonicotinoids are a relatively new type of insecticide. Unlike contact pesticides, these chemicals are systemic and water soluble.2 Plants absorb the pesticide into the foliage, flower and sap.3 Commonly called neonics, the toxin works on the central nervous system of the insect,4 causing death and impairing the ability to forage in pollinators.5

Sublethal exposure negatively affects the reproductive capacity of the male insect and may be a possible explanation for the failing honey bee population.6 In addition, only 5% of the active ingredient is absorbed by the plant.7

The remainder of the toxin is dispersed into the environment. Further research8 found this exposure in white-tailed deer resulted in an increased death rate in fawns and a lower reproductive capacity in females.

Neonics responsible for majority of toxicity load

A recent study9 demonstrated America's agricultural lands are now 48 times more toxic than they were a quarter-century ago. In an assessment of the toxicity load, comparing 1992 through 2014, the researchers found that synthetic insecticide use has shifted from mostly organophosphorus pesticides to a mix of neonicotinoids and pyrethroids.

The rise in toxicity of the agricultural lands was attributed primarily to neonics, representing up to 99% of the total load in 2014.10 While the plants only absorb 5% of the toxin,11 researchers found oral exposure of concern since the toxicity level is relatively high.12

Exposure may occur from the pollen, nectar and guttation water secreted by the plant. Not all the drops of water found on the leaves of plants in the morning is dew. Dew is the formation of droplets of water when cold air meets the warmer plant.

Guttation is the result of physics as the plant moves nutrients and moisture throughout the system. Since the leaves of a plant absorb only a specific amount of water, the extra water evaporates during the daytime. At night, pressure in the root cells forces the excess water out of the leaves.13

One study author points out this rise in environmental toxins matches the decline in pollinator populations, such as bees and butterflies.14 For years scientists have been warning of the dangers of these pesticides; this new study provides a more complete picture of the threat to insect life and wildlife as a whole.

Compounding toxic burden is persistent

The same writer warns neonics stay in the environment for up to 1,000 days,15 which is significantly different than other pesticides that dissipate more quickly.16 National Geographic reports that neonics are used in more than 140 crops in more than 120 countries.17

The combination of widespread use and slow breakdown of neonics contributes to the compounding toxic burden experienced by multiple levels of the environment. As the number of insects have declined, so have the number of birds relying on the insect population for food.

But, as the American Bird Conservancy reports, exposure to contaminated insects is not the only factor reducing the bird population. The organization commissioned a report to review 200 studies on neonics in the industry, evaluating the risk to birds and aquatic systems. Cynthia Palmer, ABC Pesticides program manager, said the results were frightening:18

"A single corn kernel coated with a neonicotinoid can kill a songbird. Even a tiny grain of wheat or canola treated with the oldest neonicotinoid — called imidacloprid — can fatally poison a bird. And as little as 1/10th of a neonicotinoid-coated corn seed per day during egg-laying season is all that is needed to affect reproduction."

High risk, but little reward

Despite years of documenting the effects on the environment and the long-term effects this will have on humanity, the use of damaging insecticides has continued. Not only that, farmers are not experiencing great benefits from the practice. Researchers who conducted a study published in 201819 compared the results of those using traditional regenerative farming to those of current monoculture practices.

They reviewed pest management, soil conservation and farmer profitability and found that pests were 10 times more abundant in corn fields treated with insecticides than on regenerative farms that did not use insecticides or pesticides. Although regenerative fields had 29% lower production, they yielded 78% higher profits, which appeared to be correlated with organic matter in the soil.

A 2016 review of seed coating by the Center for Food Safety explains that20 "coating crop seeds with these insecticides does not provide economic benefits to the farmers in many crop planting contexts." When the European Union prohibited use of the insecticides in 2013, there was no production decline. In 2014 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found:21

"The Biological and Economic Analysis Division (BEAD) analyzed the use of the nitroguanidine neonicotinoid seed treatments for insect control in United States soybean production. Imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin are applied to seeds at mostly downstream seed treating facilities prior to distribution to growers prior to planting.

BEAD concludes that these seed treatments provide negligible overall benefits to soybean production in most situations. Published data indicate that in most cases there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus not receiving any insect control treatment."

The U.S. government has failed to take action against the use of these toxins and has stalled a review of neonics. In addition, the Fish and Wildlife Service reversed a ban placed on the use of neonics in wildlife refuges that was enacted during Obama's presidency.22

The Guardian reports that although there is some support in Congress for change, one of the top contributors to the chairman of the House agriculture committee is Bayer, maker of one of the most popular neonics.23

As the insects go, so goes humanity

One recent study reported that more than 40% of all insect species are threatened with extinction within the next few decades.24 Another reports25 that 322 species of vertebrates have become extinct since 1500, and 67% of invertebrates show a 45% decline in population.

The loss of insect populations comes at a high cost. While the loss of mosquitoes and fleas may not bother many people, it's important to remember that 80% of plant life requires the physical transfer of pollen in order to reproduce.26 Without insects, most plants on the planet would die off, directly affecting your diet and nutrition.

This has a domino effect since many mammals and birds also require plant pollination for food, or for the insects to be available for food. Insects also are part of the decomposition of organic material, which means that without insects the world would slowly fill up with dead plants and animals.

Two entomologists from Cornell University tallied how much insects mean to the U.S. economy, and found that insects help deliver $57 billion a year. Native insects are food for wildlife, supporting a $50 billion recreational industry, in addition to crop pollination and saving ranchers $380 million a year. They believe these are extremely conservative estimates and comment:27

"A lot of value is added to the economy by insects, but most people just don't realize it. When considering the allocation of conservation resources or the management of natural habitat, we must think about this value to make sure that insects can continue to do their beneficial work.

We know how to repair roads and other components of our physical infrastructure, but our biological infrastructure is vulnerable to degradation, too. If we do not take care of it, it will break down and could seriously impact the economy. In fact, in many places -- crop pollination, for example -- the cracks in the infrastructure are already showing."

In one study28 researchers report their belief that the reason monocultures attract a higher number of insect pests is because plant diversity naturally provides sustainable pest control. When an insect has a large food supply from which to draw in one place, it doesn't leave. Monoculture crops are like a buffet, whereas plant diversity does not offer a large amount of food in one place for one type of insect.

Treated seeds increase insecticides and boost business

Despite mounting data over the past decade that agricultural practices are decimating the insect population and neonics are not beneficial to farmers, many of the soybean, corn, canola and sunflower seeds planted in the U.S. are pre-coated with neonics.29

Laboratory analysis has found neonics in 91% of foods tested, with the highest residues on cherry tomatoes, yellow squash and honeydew melons.30 Since the insecticide is water soluble, it's not surprising researchers31 have found neonics are affecting the insect population not only in agriculture but also in the wildflowers growing on the margin of agricultural fields.

The original argument for genetically-engineered, insect-resistant crops was to dramatically reduce the use of insecticides. However, the use of insecticides has in fact risen since the introduction of GE crops. Concentrations of the insecticide in the pollen and nectar of wildflowers are sometimes higher than those found in the crops.32

In a study published in 2012,33 researchers found the use of GE crops increased the overall use of pesticides by 404 million pounds since the first GE corn seed was introduced in 1996.

The report produced by Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., then a research professor at Washington State University, showed insecticide use dropped 28% in the initial years but once again is on the rise. Benbrook said in an interview:34

"Things are getting worse, fast. In order to deal with rapidly spreading resistant weeds, farmers are being forced to expand use of older, higher-risk herbicides. To stop corn and cotton insects from developing resistance to Bt, farmers planting Bt crops are being asked to spray the insecticides that Bt corn and cotton were designed to displace."

In spite of continued evidence that pesticides and insecticides are harming human health and the environment, large agribusinesses continue to profit from the sale of toxic chemicals and toxic coated seeds.

Regenerative farmers profit the land and their pocketbooks

As research has demonstrated, regenerative farming improves biodiversity of the soil, does not harm the environment and increases farmers' net profits. Farmers who use regenerative practices are rebuilding the topsoil, protecting water sources and offering you optimal nutrition.

Food produced and raised on regenerative farms minimizes your risk of foodborne illnesses and helps restore local ecology. Consider converting part of your yard into an edible landscape using organic and regenerative methods.

If you're not into growing your own food, choose fresh organic produce from local growers and seek out farmers who can provide organic, grass fed beef, poultry and dairy products.

Certifications to look for that indicate you're purchasing the highest quality foods grown according to regenerative principles include Demeter (biodynamic certification) and the American Grassfed Association (AGA) certification.

Corrupted data on gene therapy approved to treat babies

 

The exposure of medical fraud is not new. In the past, drugs have been brought to market before clinical trials revealed a deadly list of side effects, including heart attacks and deaths, as in the case of Vioxx.1 ProCon.org published a list in 2014 of 35 drugs pulled from the market after research revealed they caused more damage than benefit to users.2

You need only take a cursory glance at the epidemic that opioid manufacturers have caused in their search for profit, sometimes boasting they could become an “end-to-end” provider by supplying both the addictive drug and the cure for the addiction.3

In 2015 Dr. Anil Potti from Duke University was found guilty of research misconduct,4 and Duke faced lawsuits filed by patients in his clinical trials.5 Potti’s research was first heralded as a groundbreaking game changer, but is now an example of how fraud can occur anywhere.

Had Duke University paid attention to reports from a medical student in 2008, they could have avoided the ensuing public and political challenges. Instead, Potti’s protectors pressured the student to be silent, in a move to protect their own interests.6

Recently, it was revealed that scientists at Novartis hid manipulated data from animal studies while seeking approval from the FDA for a gene therapy drug meant to treat babies with an inherited disease, spinal muscular atrophy.7

Big Pharma corrupts data but keeps profits

AveXis, a subsidiary of Novartis, is aimed at developing and commercializing gene therapy.8 May 24, 2019, the company received approval to release Zolgensma, which was considered a major milestone. However, it is also the most expensive treatment ever offered on the market, at a whopping price of $2.1 million for a single dose.9,10

AveXis knew of the data manipulation in March,11 a full two months before the drug was officially approved by the FDA. Dr. Wilson Bryon, director of the FDA division reviewing the drug, commented to STAT12 that had the agency been told of the data manipulation, approval of the drug would have been delayed.

In what appears to be an opposing statement, Dr. Peters Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research,13 was quoted in a press release saying,14 “The FDA is carefully assessing this situation and remains confident that Zolgensma should remain on the market.” In the same statement Marks also said,15 “The agency will use its full authorities to take action, if appropriate, which may include civil or criminal penalties.”

In a letter to Ned Sharpless, acting head of the FDA, five senators wrote,16 "This scandal smacks of the pharmaceutical industry's privilege and greed, and Americans are sick of it.” The senators urged the FDA to take action:17

" … to use your full authorities to hold AveXis accountable for its malfeasance. Anything short of a forceful response would signal a green light to future pharmaceutical misbehavior."

Business Insider18 reports Novartis declined to comment on the content of the letter from the senators. In a Twitter conversation19 between Dr. Peter Bach20 of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and past FDA Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb,21,22 the problem was clearly acknowledged:

Bach: “I don’t know the rules in detail, but presumably Nvs could have told the FDA to pause its review to ensure the approval was not based on data suspected to be (or known to be) fabricated. This whole thing has the ‘wrongs were committed but there were no wrongdoers’ feel.”

Gottlieb: “Based on the tone and substance of the FDA statement today, Peter, I suspect there will be wrongdoers here. And consequences.”

Drugmakers not required to report suspected data corruption

In their letter to Sharpless, the five senators described how taxpayers had funded benefits to Novartis in order to speed the regulatory and approval processes for their new drug. They wrote:23

“What makes this unscrupulous action even more appalling is the fact that AveXis was the beneficiary of numerous federal taxpayer-funded benefits and incentives, including obtaining Fast Track, Breakthrough Therapy, and Priority Review designations — ensuring that Zolgensma would be sped through the regulatory approval process. All the while, AveXis breaks records, and budgets, with its staggering $2.1 million price.”

In the same letter, the senators requested that the FDA answer questions about how it plans to deal with cases of data manipulation from drug companies. Additionally, they wanted an explanation about why the FDA had decided to drop a regulation requiring pharmaceutical companies to report any suspected data manipulation.24

Dr. Vasant Narasimhan became the chief executive officer of Novartis on February 1, 2018.25 Narasimhan defended the company's decision to delay release of the information about manipulated data and said the company “thoroughly, aggressively”26 investigated the issue.

The New York Times27 reports that when Narasimhan assumed this role, his mission was to restore the reputation of Novartis following several allegations of price-fixing, past data manipulation and the decision to hire Michael Cohen, President Trump’s ex-lawyer who pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress.28

Narasimhan said they waited before releasing information about data manipulation in order to perform their own internal investigation and not in an effort to hasten the approval process.29 Novartis continues to assert the falsified data were limited to the early phases of research involving animals; this was discontinued in the summer of 2018.

Insurance companies picking up $2.1 million bill

While Zolgensma is the second gene therapy drug to be approved by the FDA, the government agency expects to be approving between 10 and 20 cell and gene therapy products each year by 2025.30 Zolgensma is a $2.1 million one-time drug for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy in children under 2.

Spinal muscular atrophy is a muscle wasting disease, affecting about 400 children each year. In the most severe form, children die before age 2. At one point, UnitedHealthcare refused payment for several cases. Later, they reversed their decision after pressure from families and intense media coverage.31

The FDA released an inspection report from the mice used in the early phases of the research and found how long the mice lived was different from the actual value in some cases. While the FDA reported the data were manipulated, they would not say if they believed the information was deliberately falsified.32

Novartis concerned regulations may impact business

The high cost of prescriptions has become a political issue, with most calling for change. Bausch Health, possibly best known for their eye care products, is led by CEO Joseph Papa. In an interview with CNBC, Papa said pharmaceuticals are the most cost-effective way to treat and improve health care.33

Also under the Bausch Health umbrella is a dermatology business, Ortho Dermatologics, which received approval in early 2019 for a lotion to treat psoriasis. In two clinical trials, the drugmaker posted a success rate of 36% in the first study and 45% in the second.

Despite pledges from Congress to help regulate prescription prices, Papa remains unconcerned.34 However, Novartis is not quite as unruffled by movements in Congress toward greater regulation.

The company is standing behind their newest gene therapy drug, and defends the massive price tag that nearly all families would find impossible to pay without full coverage insurance. At the same time, Novartis’ annual report cites concern for transparency in the way their company may be forced to do business:35

“For example, we are faced with increasing pressures, including new laws and regulations from around the world, to be more transparent with respect to how we do business, including with respect to our interactions with healthcare professionals and organizations.

These laws and regulations include requirements that we disclose payments or other transfers of value made to healthcare professionals and organizations, as well as information relating to the prices for our products. Such measures, including any additional such measures that may be put in place, could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition, or results of operations.”

Novartis dumped vaccine program and more

Novartis’s headquarters are in Switzerland and the company has offices in multiple countries.36 If their name sounds familiar it might be from years of manufacturing and supplying vaccines, including flu vaccines and those for meningitis B. Their vaccine division was formed in 2006 but began posting losses in 2013.37

In 2015, Novartis sold the flu vaccine business for $275 million to Australia's CSL. This placed CSL as the world's second largest flu vaccine supplier.38 The acquisition also included the cell-based manufacturing facility in North Carolina.

This was a win for CSL as it was the first of its kind in the U.S. The cost of $487 million was in part paid by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This was a part of the organization’s pandemic preparedness efforts.39 In other words, U.S. taxpayers funded the facility, which was later sold to Australia.

GlaxoSmithKline acquired the remaining vaccine business from Novartis in 2015 for $7.1 billion, which included nearly 20 vaccines the company had in development.40 In addition, GSK divested its oncology portfolio to Novartis for cash consideration of $16 billion.41

Novartis began their companywide restructure with the divestment of their vaccine portfolio, over-the-counter drugs and animal health sections.42 In another deal closed December 2015, Novartis sold Kayersberg Pharmaceuticals from their Alcon unit in a bid to improve financial margins and focus their attention in a different direction.43

By June 2018, Novartis had announced the sale of the entire Alcon eye-care unit44 as Narasimhan continued to focus the attention of the company on prescription drugs. In 2018, Novartis bought AveXis for $8.7 billion to acquire the then experimental Zolgensma.45

As the pharmaceutical industry jockeys for position in an ever-changing political environment, it is the consumer who ultimately loses the battle. Although Papa believes pharmaceutical treatments are the answer to health and wellness, it has been my assertion for decades your life choices have a significant effect on your health, including nutrition, sleep, hydration and exercise.

Warning: Biodegradable bowls contain toxic chemicals

 

Per- and polyfluoroalykyl substances1,2 (PFAS) are widely used chemicals that make products water-, oil-, grease- and stain-resistant. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) are associated with a wide array of health problems — even at very low exposure levels — including:

Immune dysfunction3

Low birth weight4

Thyroid dysfunction5

High cholesterol6

Ulcerative colitis7

Pregnancy-induced hypertension8

Testicular cancer9

Kidney cancer10

In May 2015, 200 scientists from 38 countries signed the so-called Madrid Statement on PFASs,11,12 which warns about the harms of all PFAS chemicals, both old and new. According to the Madrid Statement, health effects associated with the older, long-chain PFAS’s such as PFOA, include:13

Liver toxicity

Disruption of lipid metabolism, and the immune- and endocrine systems

Adverse neurobehavioral effects

Neonatal toxicity and death

Tumors in multiple organ systems

Testicular and kidney cancers

Liver malfunction

Hypothyroidism

High cholesterol

Ulcerative colitis

Reduced birth weight and size

Obesity

Decreased immune response to vaccines

Reduced hormone levels and delayed puberty

PFAS are ‘everywhere’

PFAS chemicals take thousands of years to degrade, which is why many refer to them as “forever chemicals.” Disturbingly, these toxic chemicals have become ubiquitous in our environment, including groundwater.14,15

PFAS are also found in the U.S. food supply — and at levels far exceeding the advisory limit for PFOA and PFAS in drinking water (there’s currently no limits in food).

Of the 91 foods tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2017 as part of its Total Diet Study16 (presented17 at the 2019 meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry), 10 were found to contain PFAS.18,19,20,21 How do they get there?

Food wrappers — A significant source of PFAS

Industrial production is just one route by which PFAS enter our environment and food supply. Another is through everyday waste, such as fast food wrappers and containers that end up in landfills, from where they continue to contaminate soil and water.

Disturbingly, recent findings reveal that even so-called “biodegradable” food containers contain these “forever chemicals,” which may create an even greater problem.

Thinking the containers are biodegradable and safe, people will place them in their compost, creating a vicious circle where the chemicals contaminate and ruin the compost, which is then mixed into the soil, where they contaminate the food grown in it. Ultimately, the chemicals end up on your plate again, now inside the food.

Research22 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in 2007 found PFAS chemicals in the blood of more than 98% of Americans tested. Considering their current prevalence in our food supply, it seems reasonable to assume everyone is exposed to some degree, and that blood levels have likely increased in the years since the CDC’s testing.

Biodegradable bowls contain PFAS

Concerns over mounting plastic waste pushed fast food companies to invest in safer wrappers and containers, but recent findings reveal a truly remarkable lack of understanding on behalf of some manufacturers. Writing for New Food Economy, Joe Fassler reports the disappointing news:23

“The biggest culinary star of the past five years isn’t a chef, or a restaurant group, or the author of a cookbook. It’s a bowl, a humble piece of take-out packaging that’s taken the world of commercial foodservice by storm, rising so quickly that few have noted its troubling secret …

If molded fiber bowls have become a kind of status symbol in the restaurant world … it’s probably because they’ve been positioned as an antidote to the industry’s alarming take-out waste problem.

Many varieties are explicitly pitched to food-service buyers as compostable, certified by third-party assessors like the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). Unlike styrofoam clamshells or wax-lined soup cups, fiber products feel like they’d turn into mush on a leaf pile …

But these products … are instead contributing to a growing environmental crisis. According to experts consulted for this story, all molded fiber bowls contain PFAS …

This means that the bowls used at restaurants like Chipotle and Sweetgreen aren’t truly compostable, as has been claimed. Instead, they are likely making compost more toxic, adding to the chemical load of the very soil and water they were supposed to help improve.”

All compostable bowls found to contain PFAS

For its report, New Food Economy tested 18 biodegradable fiber bowls from eight restaurants at 14 locations in New York City, including Chipotle, Sweetgreen and Dig — three restaurants that claim to compost its waste.

All were found to contain high levels of fluorine,24 which is indicative of PFAS being used. The inside (food contact side) of the bowls averaged 1,599 parts per million (ppm) of fluorine, a level far higher than what you’d find in an accidentally contaminated sample.

Now, the test used only measures total fluorine, not individual PFAS chemicals, and the total level of any given PFAS is likely to be higher than the total fluorine level. Fassler explains:25

“… [A] bowl containing 1,670 ppm fluorine will contain more total PFAS, since every molecule of the chemical compound contains multiple atoms — not just of fluorine, but of carbon, and other elements.

Though it’s impossible to say for sure due to the wide variety of PFAS chemicals … according to a rough calculation, a bowl with 1,670 ppm fluorine would likely contain about 2,000 ppm total PFAS.

Put another way: A bowl with 2,000 ppm total PFAS might be mostly made from sugarcane fiber, but 0.2 percent of its total material would be made from fluorinated chemicals …

That might not sound like very much. But due to the unique properties of fluorinated chemicals, it turns out to be a significant number, and an alarming one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintain that drinking water can only contain infinitesimal amounts of fluorinated chemicals before health concerns arise.

Do not compost ‘biodegradable’ bowls

Research26,27 published in 2017 found fluorine in 46% of the fast food wrappers and takeout containers tested, and studies28,29,30 have confirmed fluorinated chemicals can migrate from the packaging into the food.

If it’s true that 100% of so-called “biodegradable” fiber bowls contain PFAS, then they would actually be a far more hazardous choice than other “standard” wrappers and containers — at least as far as PFAS exposure is concerned. As noted by Fassler, it is the surface treatment with PFAS that prevents the fiber bowls from falling apart when filled with hot, wet or greasy food.

Using toxic nondegradable chemicals in a biodegradable product is a tremendous oversight. Clearly, restaurants should not advertise these containers as compostable, yet many do just that. It’s not surprising then that the revelation has become a PR nightmare. As noted by Fassler:31

“… [A]ny product that contains PFAS can’t really be compostable, let alone biodegradable, despite restaurants’ claims to the contrary. Though fiber products have benefits from a greenhouse gas emissions standpoint, the bowls we tested are likely making soil and water quality worse.” 

Indeed, recent research confirms this warning. Tipped off about the presence of PFAS in compostable containers, the authors of a 2019 paper32,33 decided to assess the presence of these chemicals in municipal compost. In all, samples from nine commercial compost stations and one backyard compost pile were tested for 17 different PFAS.

Confirming suspicions, compost in which food packaging was included had a toxic load ranging from 28.7 micrograms per kilo to 75.9 mcg/kg. Compost samples that did not include food packaging, on the other hand, had a contamination level ranging between just 2.38 and 7.6 mcg/kg.

While it’s disturbing that all compost samples contained PFOA and PFOS — the older, long-chained PFAS that are no longer in use — compost with food packaging was clearly more heavily contaminated with a variety of PFAS. If there’s any good news here, it’s that some states are starting to take action against PFAS.

As noted by Fassler,34 San Francisco is banning bowls manufactured with PFAS as of January 1, 2020, and Washington’s Healthy Food Packaging Act35 — enacted in 2018 — bans all PFAS in paper food packaging, effective 2022.36 A drawback of the Act is that the ban will not take effect until or unless a safer alternative is commercially available.

Sewage sludge — A major source of PFAS on farms

As reported by The Intercept37 in June 2019, sewage sludge appears to be a major source of PFAS. Documents38 obtained by The Intercept reveal 44 samples of sewage sludge tested by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection all contained at least one PFAS chemical, and “In all but two of the samples, the chemicals exceeded safety thresholds for sludge that Maine set early last year.”

Maine’s tolerance levels for PFAS are set at 2.5 parts per billion (ppb) for PFOA, 5.2 ppb for PFOS, and 1,900 ppb for PFBS. Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center in Portland, told The Intercept these levels are “probably about 10 times weaker than they should be,” adding that “Even low parts-per-billion levels of PFAS in sludge can threaten the health of the food supply.”

You can learn more about the hazards of sewage sludge in the featured documentary, “Biosludged,”39 and the scientific fraud perpetrated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that legalizes the pollution of agricultural soils through the usage of contaminated industrial and human waste as fertilizer.

DuPont shirks cleanup duty

In related news, DuPont, a longtime maker of PFAS chemicals stands accused of creating a fraudulent spinoff, Chemours, in an effort to shirk environmental liabilities caused by its chemical manufacturing. (Chemours is the name of the spinoff company created through DuPont’s merger with Dow Chemical Inc. in 2015.40) Chemours lawyers told Bloomberg:41

“The separation agreement was the product of a one-sided process that lacked any of the hallmarks of arm’s-length bargaining. DuPont unilaterally dictated the terms of the separation agreement and imposed them on Chemours.”

One of DuPont’s environmental liabilities is the cleanup of Pompton Lakes in New Jersey. As reported by NorthJersey.com July 15, 2019:42

The new claims by the state attorney general's office were quietly added as amendments to a lawsuit filed against DuPont and Chemours seeking financial damages for widespread pollution in Pompton Lakes.

This includes a neighborhood where residents have had to endure cancer-causing solvents that migrated for decades beneath their homes from a now-shuttered DuPont explosives factory.

Like dozens of sites across the U.S., the cleanup in Pompton Lakes had long been DuPont's responsibility. That changed in July 2015, when DuPont created Chemours as a spinoff company that took over the bulk of the DuPont's environmental liabilities.

But two separate lawsuits against DuPont — one by New Jersey officials and another by Chemours itself — allege what many in Pompton Lakes feared at the time of the spinoff:

DuPont created Chemours to insulate itself from future cleanup and natural resource damage claims, and left Chemours vulnerable to financial problems that could put cleanup efforts at risk in New Jersey and across the country.” 

Indeed, Chemours’ lawsuit against DuPont claims DuPont set up the company to fail from the start, allowing DuPont to simply walk away from all of its cleanup responsibilities.

Chemours is now asking the court to deny DuPont’s request for unlimited indemnity for its environmental liabilities.43 (Chemours, meanwhile, claims it has now stopped making three PFAS products used in the making of grease-resistant packaging.44)

North Jersey reports that, according to Chemours, the company received only 19% of DuPont’s business lines at the company’s inception, while taking on two-thirds of the environmental liabilities and 90% of all pending litigation against DuPont.

In all, Chemours liabilities exceeded earnings by 5.5-to-1 right from the get-go, yet its management team was not fully informed about the company’s financial situation. Chemours also claims DuPont systematically underestimated the legal and environmental cleanup costs.

“For instance, DuPont estimated that three lawsuits against it over contamination from the toxic chemical PFOA would cost no more than $128 million. They were settled by Chemours for $671 million less than two years later,” North Jersey reports.45

Lawmakers promise to pursue corporate accountability

As attention on PFAS pollution increases, PFAS manufacturers such as DuPont and 3M are ramping up lobbying efforts to prevent tighter regulations. Several recent hearings46,47,48 have been held on PFAS, however, and Democratic lawmakers have promised to “continue pursuing corporate accountability,” Think Progress reports.49 As noted by the Union of Concerned Scientists in a May 15, 2019, press release:50

“Today, the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a widely-used family of chemicals that contaminate the drinking water of millions of Americans.

Representatives also introduced a number of bills to manage the threat of PFAS pollution, including legislation that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate PFAS as hazardous chemicals, as well as bills to expand water testing, improve water infrastructure, assist communities facing PFAS contamination issues and limit the use of these chemicals in the future. This effort to tackle a common and dangerous class of pollutant is long overdue …”

Certain states are also taking matters into their own hands. Michigan, for example, where PFAS is a common water contaminant, says it’s planning to start regulating certain PFAS to protect residents rather than waiting for the EPA to take action.51

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection also has its sights on corporate accountability. Commissioner Catherine McCabe told Think Progress,52 “New Jersey believes that the manufacturers … should be held responsible to the public for the costs and damages of the drinking water contamination and other harmful consequences of their actions and negligence.” 

How to avoid PFAS chemicals

The Madrid Statement recommends avoiding any and all products manufactured using PFASs, noting they include products that are stain-resistant, waterproof or nonstick. Helpful tips can also be found in the EWG’s “Guide to Avoiding PFCS.”53 Other suggestions that will help you avoid these dangerous chemicals include avoiding:

Items that have been pretreated with stain repellants, and opt out of such treatments when buying new furniture and carpets

Water- and/or stain-repellant clothing — One tipoff is when an item made with artificial fibers is described as “breathable.” These are typically treated with polytetrafluoroethylene, a synthetic fluoropolymer

Items treated with flame retardant chemicals54 This includes a wide variety of baby items, padded furniture, mattresses and pillows. Instead, opt for naturally less flammable materials such as leather, wool and cotton

Fast food and carry out foods — The wrappers are typically treated with PFCs

Microwave popcorn — PFCs may not only present in the inner coating of the bag, it also may migrate to the oil from the packaging during heating. Instead, use “old-fashioned” stovetop popcorn

Nonstick cookware and other treated kitchen utensils — Healthier options include ceramic and enameled cast iron cookware, both of which are durable, easy to clean and completely inert, which means they won’t release any harmful chemicals into your home.

A newer type of nonstick cookware called Duralon uses a nonfluoridated nylon polymer for its nonstick coating. While this appears to be safe, your safest bet is still ceramic and enameled cast iron.

While some recommend using aluminum, stainless steel and copper cookware, I don’t for the following reasons: Aluminum is a strongly suspected causal factor in Alzheimer's disease, and stainless steel has alloys containing nickel, chromium, molybdenum and carbon.

For those with nickel allergies, this may be a particularly important consideration. Copper cookware is also not recommended because most copper pans come lined with other metals, creating the same concerns noted above. (Copper cookware must be lined due to the possibility of copper poisoning.)

Oral-B Glide floss and any other personal care products containing PTFE or “fluoro” or “perfluoro” ingredients — The EWG has an excellent database called Skin Deep55 you can peruse to find healthier options

Unfiltered tap water — Unfortunately, your choices are limited when it comes to avoiding PFASs in drinking water. Either you must filter your water or obtain water from a clean source. Both solutions can be problematic and/or costly.

While many opt for bottled water, it’s important to realize that PFASs are not regulated in bottled water, so there’s absolutely no guarantee that it’ll be free of these or other chemicals. Bottled water also increases your risk of exposure to hazardous plastic chemicals such as bisphenol-A, which has its own set of health risks.

Most common water filters available in supermarkets will not remove PFASs. You really need a high-quality carbon filtration system. The New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute recommends using granulated activated carbon “or an equally efficient technology” to remove PFC chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS from your drinking water.56 Activated carbon has been shown to remove about 90% of these chemicals.

Home Depot and Lowes sued over Roundup

 

Pesticide and pharmaceutical giant Bayer is facing approximately 18,400 U.S. lawsuits from individuals alleging that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, caused them to develop cancer.1 The retail giants Home Depot and Lowe’s are also being hit by glyphosate’s health risks, as two proposed class-action lawsuits have been filed over the companies’ lack of warnings to their customers.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate is a "probable carcinogen" in 2015. In August 2018, jurors ruled Monsanto (which was taken over by Bayer in June 2018) must pay $289 million in damages to DeWayne “Lee” Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who claimed the company’s herbicide Roundup caused his terminal cancer.2 

The award was later slashed to $78 million,3 but it signaled the beginning of a running trend in Roundup cancer lawsuits. The next two verdicts also sided with the plaintiffs, including a $2 billion payout in the third case, which was later slashed to $20 million, from $75 million in punitive damages.4 Whether or not retailers can be held liable for not warning consumers about this probable carcinogen may soon be determined by the upcoming class-action suits.

Home Depot, Lowes sued over lack of Roundup warnings

Plaintiff James Weeks filed two proposed class-action lawsuits against Home Depot and Lowes, alleging that the retail outlets did not do their duty to warn consumers about cancer and exposure risks when using glyphosate-based products. Retailers are given a safety data sheet (SDS) regarding glyphosate, which states that exposure can occur via inhalation or skin contact. According to Sustainable Pulse, Weeks’ complaint states:5

“Despite its knowledge of the SDS, defendant does not warn consumers they may be exposed to glyphosate through inhalation and skin contact. Defendant further omits proper use instructions, e.g. advising consumers to use a gas mask respirator when using Roundup.”

The complaint also alleges that, due to glyphosate’s “probable carcinogenic nature,” Home Depot was in violation of California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act by not disclosing the cancer risk on the label.6 The warning label on Roundup is also deemed inadequate because it only warns of “moderate eye irritation.”

This, the complaint notes, gives a false impression that eye irritation is the only risk when using Roundup, when in fact it could potentially cause cancer and other health risks. The suit further alleges:7,8

“Roundup’s labeling provides certain warnings, such as, “Keep Out of Reach of Children” and “Caution.” But the only identified hazard identified is that it may cause “moderate eye irritation …

This warning gives the false impression eye irritation is the only risk posed by Roundup, when in fact, glyphosate is known to have links to cancer … Defendant thus fails to warn consumers of the potential carcinogenic risks of using Roundup …

Defendant’s conduct is especially egregious considering it also fails to include proper use instructions for Roundup … Reasonable consumers, like Plaintiff, who have purchased Roundup would not have done so had they known of its carcinogenic risks, or had Defendant provided a warning on how to minimize these risks.”

The same complaints are echoed in the class-action suit filed against Lowes.9,10 As noted by GM Watch, “This court action seems to open up a whole new potential class of lawsuits involving Bayer's Roundup herbicide. Not only is Bayer being sued by thousands of people who believe Roundup herbicide caused their cancer, but now retailers are being sued for selling Roundup without a cancer warning label.”11

They stopped selling treated plants — How about Roundup?

Amid growing concerns that neonicotinoid pesticides were involved in rising bee deaths, Home Depot and Lowes joined dozens of retailers who pledged to phase out the use of neonicotinoids on plants and products.12

They’ve continued to offer other toxic products containing glyphosate, however, even as petitions have called for them to stop. Meanwhile, Costco Wholesale Corp., the membership-only warehouse, reportedly pulled Roundup from its shelves in early 2019.

Zen Honeycutt, founder of Moms Across America, began a petition several years ago calling for the superstore to stop selling the product — and it reached more than 153,000 signatures before it was closed.13

While no official statement was issued, Honeycutt said she received confirmation by speaking with three people from headquarters. “More than one employee mentioned the lawsuit (Johnson v. Monsanto) for part of the reasoning,” Honeycutt wrote on her blog, referencing the first glyphosate/cancer trial to go to court.

Former NFL player joins 18,400 others suing Monsanto

Merril Hoge, former NFL running back, is one of the plaintiffs suing Bayer, alleging Roundup caused his Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Hoge’s exposure to Roundup began in 1977, when he worked on a farm in Idaho, spraying crops with the chemical.

In addition to causing “physical pain and mental anguish,” Hoge’s suit claims Monsanto was negligent and promoted “false, misleading and untrue” statements regarding Roundup’s safety.14 As a result, “plaintiff is severely and permanently injured," the suit alleges.15 Bayer, meanwhile, continues to defend glyphosate’s safety. On their website, they state:16

“There is an extensive body of research on glyphosate and Bayer’s glyphosate-based herbicides, including more than 800 rigorous studies submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and European and other regulators in connection with the registration process, which confirms these products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.”

In a review published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a team of scientists thoroughly reviewed the research behind the IARC’s glyphosate/cancer ruling and compared it to determinations made by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), which had found “no consistent positive association” between glyphosate and human cancer. Pointing out “serious flaws” in EFSA’s conclusions, reviewers said:17

“The most appropriate and scientifically based evaluation of the cancers reported in humans and laboratory animals as well as supportive mechanistic data is that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen.

On the basis of this conclusion and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to conclude that glyphosate formulations should also be considered likely human carcinogens … Specifically addressing the flaws in EFSA’s work, the reviewers added:

“ … [A]lmost no weight is given to studies from the published literature and there is an over-reliance on non-publicly available industry-provided studies using a limited set of assays that define the minimum data necessary for the marketing of a pesticide.” The reviewers concluded:

“IARC WG evaluation of probably carcinogenic to humans accurately reflects the results of published scientific literature on glyphosate and, on the face of it, unpublished studies to which EFSA refers.”

Associations between the chemical and rare kidney tumors, genotoxicity and oxidative stress and even DNA damage in the blood of exposed humans were also revealed. Glyphosate is also an endocrine disrupter, which may “affect our body at extremely low levels,” Sue Chaing, the pollution prevention director at the Center for Environmental Health, said in a news release.18

But industry is working hard to ensure that any science and other evidence not on their side is overlooked, including allegations that Monsanto has long known glyphosate causes cancer and spent decades covering it up.

Bayer continues to use EPA decision to support glyphosate

Allegations that Monsanto colluded with the EPA to hide glyphosate’s toxicity have been churning for years. In 2015, following IARC’s glyphosate cancer ruling, the EPA, rather than taking immediate steps to protect Americans from this probable cancer-causing agent, decided to reassess its position on the chemical and, after doing so, released a paper in October 2015 stating that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.19

In April 2016, the EPA posted the report online briefly, before pulling it and claiming it was not yet final and posted by mistake. The paper was signed by Jess Rowland (among other EPA officials), who at the time was the EPA’s deputy division director of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and chair of the Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC).

Email correspondence showed Rowland helped stop a glyphosate investigation by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), on Monsanto's behalf.

In an email, Monsanto regulatory affairs manager Dan Jenkins recounts a conversation he'd had with Rowland, in which Rowland said, "If I can kill this I should get a medal,”20 referring to the ATSDR investigation, which was put off for years. The final draft conclusion was finally released in April 2019, stating the chemical “is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”21

Bayer is now using this as a part of its defense, stating the decision "reaffirmed that 'glyphosate is not a carcinogen' and that there are 'no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label.'"22

Could grocery stores be next?

If retailers like Home Depot and Lowes can be held liable for selling toxic chemicals like Roundup, might grocery stores be next in line to be sued for selling glyphosate-laced foods? In addition to residues found in genetically engineered (GE) crops (GE Roundup Ready crops are designed to be doused with Roundup), glyphosate is used as a desiccant, or drying agent, shortly before harvest on many non-GE grains, such as oats.

As a result, popular foods among children, like breakfast cereal and oatmeal, may be among the most glyphosate-contaminated foods on the market, and could be driving up exposures in this vulnerable population.

In testing done by Friends of the Earth (FOE), 100% of oat cereal samples tested positive for residues of glyphosate.23 For the study, 132 samples of house brands were tested from more than 30 U.S. stores in 15 states. Residues of glyphosate and other pesticides — neonicotinoids and organophosphates — were found.

The average level of glyphosate in cereal samples was 360 parts per billion (ppb), which FOE noted is more than twice the level set by Environmental Working Group (EWG) scientists for lifetime cancer risk in children. Some of the cereal samples contained residues as high as 931 ppb.

EWG has also commissioned glyphosate testing on oat-based cereal and snack products and found it in all 21 products tested. All but four of them came in higher than EWG’s benchmark for lifetime cancer risk in children.24

Stop spraying glyphosate in your backyard

Given the escalating legal actions facing glyphosate, and the continued verdicts siding with the plaintiffs that glyphosate is, indeed, implicated in NHL, it may only be a matter of time before stores are forced to take glyphosate-based products off their shelves. But you don’t need to wait until that moment occurs to take action to protect your health. Stop using glyphosate-based chemicals in your backyard and garden immediately.

Further, if you want to avoid glyphosate in your food, choose organic or biodynamically grown foods, which are not genetically engineered nor sprayed with glyphosate as a desiccant. You can help to prompt change by reaching out to the companies that make your food.

Let them know that you prefer foods without glyphosate residues — and are prepared to switch brands if necessary to find them. You can also reach out to stores like Home Depot and Lowes and ask them to remove these probable carcinogens from their store shelves.

If you’re curious how much glyphosate is in your body, the Health Research Institute (HRI) in Iowa developed the glyphosate urine test kit, which will allow you to determine your own exposure to this toxic herbicide.

Ordering this kit automatically allows you to participate in the study and help HRI better understand the extent of glyphosate exposure and contamination. In a few weeks, you will receive your results, along with information on how your results compare with others and what to do to help reduce your exposure.

We are providing these kits to you at no profit in order for you to participate in this environmental study. HRI is also in the process of doing hair testing for glyphosate, which is a better test for long-term exposure.

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