Eating fresh vegetables and fruits is all well and good, but there’s a catch. Most of us are not aware of the pesticides and chemicals that go into our food production process. Chances are that what you consider to be healthy might just be killing you. Commonly used pesticides like organophosphates are neurotoxins can be terribly harmful to your body. Other chemicals like phthalates are endocrine disruptors can also cause severe harm to your reproductive, nervous, and other body systems.
Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to eat whole food that has zero exposure to these chemicals in today’s food supply, but a little is much better than a LOT. Researchers have found that eating a completely organic diet can reduce your pesticide exposure by 90%. These pesticides have ghastly effects on your body. Some of which can be hard to shake while others can be managed by an altered diet.
Here are some frequently used pesticides and what they might be doing to your body:
Organophosphates and Carbamates
Exposure to these pesticides causes increased salivation and perspiration. It can also cause narrowing of the pupils, nausea, diarrhea, decrease in blood pressure, muscle weakness and fatigue. The symptoms fade after the exposure to these chemicals decreases. Some pesticides of this variety also have a delayed neurological reaction which causes weakness in muscles and arms.
Created in the 1960s, this pesticide has been around for a while. Once used in home gardening they have now found their way into cotton, almonds, oranges, and even corn crops. This pesticide can cause a number of ill effects in the body. From a mild headache to an increased risk for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to much more serious conditions like respiratory paralysis.
Exposure to these chemicals can cause aggression, uncoordinated behavior, whole-body tremors, and seizures. Skin exposure can also cause allergic responses, cancer or even developmental defects.
The active ingredient in the popular weed killer called RoundUp, glyphosphate is designed by the seed makers for use on genetically modified soy, corn, canola, cotton and in parks. Its residue has become ubiquitous and has even been discovered in the Mississippi basin. Its ill-effects include neurological disorders, birth defects, infertility, and is a known carcinogen. There are some serious issues that one should be worried about when eating foods laden with pesticides. You should be aware of the following:
A review from the University College London concluded that low level of pesticide exposure can cause cognitive impairment. It can affect memory, the speed with which you process information, and higher brain functions like long-term planning.
Tolyfluanid, a fungicide used on crops, can increase insulin resistance in cells. This can accelerate the development of diabetes and may be contributing to the national epidemic that is happening right now. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 people will be diagnosed with diabetes by 2020.
There are more than 260 studies linking pesticides with cancer like lymphoma, leukemia, soft tissue sarcoma in a wide-range of tissues including breast, brain, prostate, bone cancers among others. There are many resources explaining these risks and all of the package inserts of these pesticides have warnings about the potential of cancer from exposure to these chemicals.
Over 60 studies have identified a strong correlation between long-term exposure to herbicides and pesticides with Parkinson’s disease. The only way to avoid this is to eat food that has no traces of pesticides in them at all.
Leading autism researchers believe that there is link between pollutants and genes causing autism. Insecticides usually kill bugs by disrupting their neurological functioning. The same thing seems to be happening in children. A 2010 Harvard study found that children with organophosphate pesticide breakdown materials are more likely to have ADHD.
How is Organic Food Different?
Organically grown vegetables, fruits, and grains do not use pesticides, chemical fertilizers or any other chemicals to support their growth. This means the growing food process utilizes natural fertilizers such as manure and compost. It is important that animal products are also organic as these animals should be reared on organic feed (not treated with growth hormones) and allowed regular access to the outdoors. Organic produce is clearly labeled, and this is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture.
There is emerging research that organic food has a higher percentage of antioxidants. This is because plants produce a large percentage of their antioxidant compounds to fight against pest attacks. Supplementing their growth with chemical pesticides only inhibits their ability to grow the compounds we eat these food items for. Moreover, food grown this way is far safer for the environment while also being safer to consume. Be it plants or animals, organically reared food is undeniably better for the body and keeps you safe from ingesting harmful chemicals. Most would argue that it tastes much better as well.
Eating organic food is the best way for you to limit your exposure to pesticides and dangerous chemicals. While it may seem more costly, it is definitely a cheaper option to the health risks of ingesting chemical-laced food. There are a number of health risks that have been identified as being associated with pesticides as mentioned above. Many Americans are realizing the value of prevention being better than cure and shifting to an organic lifestyle in droves.
Chances are, you’ve spent pretty much all day staring at screens like the one you’re looking at right now. This highly advanced, beautiful display is designed with very powerful electronic lights that allow developers to present images and videos of any quality for your viewing pleasure.
Several studies are underway to determine the effects of the blue light emitted from smartphones, on your health. From the preliminary results, most experts are anticipating serious repercussions on your health.
What is Blue Light?
Without getting too technical, natural light is composed of ultraviolet, infrared, and visible light rays. Blue light has the highest energy wavelength and is a part of the visible spectrum. In fact, blue light is everywhere and the natural blue light that we are exposed to in the daytime is actually beneficial for us.
However, the artificial blue light emitted from digital devices such as smartphones, computers, etc. can be detrimental to health, particularly during nighttime exposure potentially causing damage to your vision, sleep, brain functions, and overall health. The adverse effects appear to be many and is slowly being sorted out in the medical literature.
Adverse Effects of Blue Light
Disturbed sleep schedule
Our bodies follow a natural cycle that allows us to stay awake and alert during the day and helps us sleep at night. However, when you stare at these screens too long and especially before you fall asleep, it affects this natural rhythm, known as the Circadian rhythm.
This leads to a disruption of melatonin production, a hormone that provides your body the cues for when to sleep. This can make it hard to fall asleep and can completely ruin your sleeping patterns. In turn, prolonged sleep deprivation alone can lead to several serious health issues as described next.
If your sleep is disturbed over a long period of time, it leads to the buildup of neurotoxins, which can result in a vicious cycle making your symptoms worse and worse. Poor sleep will eventually affect your cognitive abilities and can affect school/job performance and any situations that require focus.
Sleep rejuvenates and refurbishes brain functions and a repeated disruption of your sleep cycle will lead to impaired memory function during the day. Disruption in the production of melatonin is the root cause of the disturbance of sleep hygiene.
Impaired immune system
Your immune system produces protective, infection-fighting substances like cytokines while sleeping. Sleep deprivation prevents your immune system from building up cytokines, thus leading to an impaired immune system, thereby making you more prone to contracting infections and falling ill.
Increased risk of diabetes
Diabetes is one of our countries most serious epidemics. One out of every three Americans will be diabetic by 2020. A Harvard study has potentially shown a novel connection between blue light exposure and diabetes. The disruption to the Circadian rhythm can result in a reduction of leptin levels that can cause an increase in blood sugar levels.
Disruption in melatonin hormone production can also disrupt the functions of the hormones that control hunger. Coupled with poor dietary habits, consumption of highly-processed food with poor nutritional value will ultimately cause obesity.
Increased risk of cancer
Several studies have linked nighttime smartphones usage to some types of breast and prostate cancer. Again the reduced secretion of melatonin causes lower melatonin levels that have been linked to increasing cancer risk.
Some studies have shown that constant staring into our smartphones can lead to damage in vision by harming the retina over time by contributing to age-related macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is a common and serious cause of permanent vision loss and blindness. Studies are also being conducted to evaluate blue light effect on cataract progression. The thought is that staring too long at your smartphone can result in reduced blinking rates which in turn causes digital eye strain. This kind of strain on the eyes can lead to irritation in the eyes, dry eyes, fuzzy vision, difficulty focusing, headaches, neck and back pain.
Can lead to depression
When your melatonin levels are disrupted or suppressed by blue light, the resultant disruption of your hypothalamo-pituitary axis has been linked to clinical depression.
Summary and Recommendations
Research on the effects of blue light on the human body is emerging and the results are unsettling. Disruption of your melatonin axis appears to be the mechanism of its detrimental effects and poor sleep is the vehicle by which they manifest in your body.
Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to limit these effects. The most obvious is to abstain from looking at screens after sundown. This can be unrealistic for some in which case the use of blue light filtering glasses can significantly reduce its impact. If that’s not stylish enough for you, many smartphones come equipped with a “night-mode” which programmatically turns off the blue light after dark. Enabling this function is generally a pretty easy process and can be found online by a simple web search on the model of your phone with the search terms “blue light filter”. Finally, taking melatonin supplements may also be beneficial in tempering the potentially dangerous effects of blue light.
A plant-based diet is primarily one that is based on plant products, which includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, legumes, nuts, with minimal or no inclusions of animal products. There are many different types of plant-based diets but they all feature foods with great health benefits.
Those who follow this type of diet also avoid plant fragments such as refined flour, sugar, oil or junk food and focus on consuming the whole plant or only minimally processed versions thereof.
Major health benefits
Lowers blood pressure
People following a plant-based diet have better control on their blood pressure as their diet consists of mostly potassium-rich foods. Potassium is an excellent nutrient for good blood pressure health. Almost all whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and all fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of potassium and Vitamin B6, which help lower blood pressure. On the contrary, meat and most animal foods contain little to no potassium and actually raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels when consumed regularly.
Euglycemia- control of blood sugar levels
A plant-based diet incorporates ingredients that are rich in fiber content, and the best and easiest way to fight high blood sugar is to consume more fiber. Fiber in your diet slows down the absorption of sugars in the bloodstream, which in turn helps to control blood sugar. Many dieticians are correct when they counsel patients not to drink fruit juices. However people that make their own fruit juices that include the fibrous portion of the fruit with no added sugar should be encouraged to continue doing so.
Since “bad” cholesterol is primarily due to animal proteins, embracing plant-based foods is the simplest way to control cholesterol levels. Plants contain no cholesterol; not even the saturated sources such as coconut and cacao. If you don’t put it in, you don’t have to control it.
Conventional approaches to weight loss like formal exercise programs and calorie counting are flawed in many ways- they don’t address the root causes of the weight problem. For people that can follow a plant-based diet, losing and managing weight is a cinch. Weight loss occurs naturally when you consume most of your calories more from fiber, vitamins, and minerals than animal fats and proteins. People that follow a plant-based diet can easily lose weight without depriving or starving themselves and don’t have to worry about taking on formal exercising programs if their existing activity level is vigorous enough. As the number of meat-substitutes increase and get tastier, our nation of meat-loving sick people will naturally become plant-loving healthy people!!
Improves heart health
Several studies and emerging research has shown that higher intake of plant-based foods lowers the chances of cardiovascular diseases. For those who are already suffering from heart diseases, switching to a plant-based diet can help reverse or get rid of heart disease completely. Atherosclerotic diseases are most common and there is no more effective treatment than a plant-based diet. Don’t want to take expensive pills anymore? Use the money you’ll save on prescriptions to buy good, clean, organic whole foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts) and watch your coronary artery disease melt away.
Good for your gut
If you follow a fiber-rich plant-based diet, and choose foods high in resistant-starches, which come mostly from whole foods like grains, seeds, and legumes, it facilitates the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut, thus helping you reap the benefits of a harmonious microbiome. If you’re not making nice fluffy, voluminous stool, your gut health is in serious trouble.
It is a well-known fact that the vitamin A in carrots aids vision. Your eyes will definitely thank you for a plant-based diet rich in spinach, kale, corn, squash, kiwi and grapes. The lutein and zeaxanthin pigments present in these foods help to prevent cataract and macular degeneration. In fact, even colorful fruits and vegetables as well as leafy greens are packed with antioxidants that are vital for good eye health.
Excellent skin health
95% of common acne is due to your diet. When you cut back on chemical-rich foods and animal products, you stop clogging the pores that lead to acne. The vitamins, pigments, and phytochemicals present in fruits and vegetables in a plant-based diet leave you no choice but to have healthy skin. For example, the lycopene in tomatoes protects your skin from sun damage and the vitamin C in sweet potatoes helps smoothen wrinkles by stimulating collagen production. Your favorite skin-care companies cannot patent naturally occuring elements that are contained in whole fruits and vegetables.
Helps in cancer treatment
There is strong evidence that whole food and plant-based eating is the best protection and one of the best dietary choices complementing conventional cancer treatment. Your doctors should be strongly recommending plant-based diets as part of your cancer treatment. Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet will give you the best chance to recover from even the rarest cancers.
Improves brain health
Emerging evidence is overwhelmingly showing that diets based on legumes, grains, and healthy oils are associated with better brain health in older adults. Those who favored fruits and vegetables had less brain shrinkage, linked with a reduced risk of cognitive decline. We don’t commonly come across vibrant people in their geriatric years, but the next time you do, ask them what type of food they’ve been eating throughout their life.
Lowers risks of hypothyroidism
Plant-based diets can help lower the risks of hypothyroidism. Depending on the root cause of your condition, a plant-based diet can help control and even CURE this condition while also offering all of the other benefits listed here.
Improves hormone health
A plant-based diet helps improve hormone health and relieves symptoms of the premenstrual syndrome (PMS). This diet is also known to treat infertility naturally and help heal polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Trying to have a baby? Make sure your doctors are giving you proper nutritional counseling.
Protects the environment
What is the most common source of dangerous greenhouse gases that deplete our ozone layer? It’s NOT trains, planes, and automobiles… It’s cattle!!! Furthermore, it takes an incredible 660 gallons of water to produce one hamburger!! We are currently on an unsustainable path to permanently damage our ozone layer and water supply. If you love Earth as much as we do, please reconsider your fast food choices and give veggie burgers and black-bean burgers a try- they’re delicious!!
A plant-based diet presents a host of health and environmental benefits. It also comes packed with nutrients. It can be the most powerful asset in your overall wellbeing and can even help reverse any chronic health issues that may have been troubling you for long. So, reduce your meat intake and choose a delicious plant-based food at your next meal for a healthier you!
We salute Dr. Michael Greger for his tireless work in promoting the medical benefits of a plant-based diet. His non-profit website, nutritionfacts.org, is easily the most plentiful resource on the topic and we encourage you to check out his tremendous entertaining and informative videos on the latest evidence for great nutrition.
Stress is something that nearly everyone is struggling with. Too many people complain of being stressed out, be it at work, in relationships, or with their own health issues. Transcendental meditation (TM) has been found to be one of the most effective ways to relieve stress and calm the mind. It has a myriad of benefits, including enhanced clarity of mind, better concentration and improved communication skills. With regular practice, it is believed that the physiology of our body changes and each cell is filled with more energy. Here are some key benefits of doing TM regularly:
Our immune system is directly related to our brain. This means that the brain transmits our thoughts and moods to the immune system. So, the more positive your brain is, the stronger your immunity. This is helpful for patients dealing with major illnesses like cancer, who are struggling with compromised immunity. Regular TM enhances the body’s ability to fight against disease before it can make you sick.
Lowers blood pressure levels
The two most common stress-related diseases gripping our current generations are high blood pressure and diabetes. TM reduces blood pressure and blood sugar levels among many other beneficial effects not-to-mention it also increases the threshold for anxiety attacks. If not treated properly, high BP and sugar levels can lead to major health issues. It is therefore best to make TM a daily habit to help keep your body in its best state of balance through regular practice. The American Heart Association recommends TM as first-line therapy in controlling pre-hypertension and Stage 1 hypertension (pharmaceuticals should be considered for Stage 2). Very few primary care practitioners and cardiologists are aware of these recommendations, (Hypertension, Beyond Medications and Diet: Alternative Approaches to Lowering Blood Pressure, volume 61, number 6).
Increased stress is known to decrease sperm count and motility. Women who are under intermittent duress are said to produce hormones like cortisol and prolactin, both of which interfere with regular ovulation. Since TM helps alleviate stress, it is beneficial for couples who are looking to conceive.
The incidence of depression is rising higher than ever before American society. Many studies show that TM increases the serotonin levels in the body, which in turn helps to improve mood and behavior. Modern mental health practitioners are using a mindful meditation as treatment for their depressed patients with outstanding results. With the complicated side-effect profiles of conventional pharmaceutical therapy, TM is being recognized as increasingly effective in treating mental illnesses without any side effects. How often can your doctor prescribe a pharmaceutical drug without side effects?
Relieves tension-related aches
TM also helps patients deal with stress-related pain including migraine headaches, ulcers, muscles and joint problems. These conditions can even be cured in many cases by using TM. Emerging research shows that TM improves pain by modulating the parts of the brain that are responsible for pain processing.
Improves sleep patterns
Insomnia has gripped half the population and so many people out there struggle to sleep peacefully. Regular TM helps subside thought waves, which are responsible for sleeplessness. In addition to this, it also helps to relax the body and release tension, thus ensuring a peaceful state of mind in which sleep comes effortlessly.
Helps with inflammation
Stress leads the way to inflammation, a condition associated with heart disease, arthritis, asthma and skin disorders such as psoriasis. Evidence shows that TM can prevent and treat these symptoms by reducing stress. As crazy as it may sound, TM has been shown to reduce inflammation!
Relieves Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
If patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome start to practice TM, their symptoms of diarrhea, bloating, and constipation can improve considerably. Studies show that relaxing the body with the help of meditation is an easy, inexpensive way to improve the clinical outcomes and general well-being of patients suffering from IBS.
Enhances focus and concentration
TM sharpens the mind by improving focus and attention. It is particularly beneficial for school and college-going students. Improvement in concentration and focus helps in reducing age-related memory loss, thereby making it important for the older ones of the population too.
To experience the benefits of transcendental meditation, training and regular practice is a must. Remember, even a few minutes of deep relaxation daily can work wonders for your overall well-being. It’s time to ditch the excuses and get meditating for a healthier and happier you! Visit http://tm.org for more information and to learn about certified training centers near you.
Spring is in the air! While it means an end to dreary, cold weather and being cooped up indoors, for a large number of us it also means a start to seasonal allergies. The number of allergens has been on the rise in the last few years, increasing by nearly 50% every decade since the 1970s according to the World Allergy Organization. Before we get into some of the possible whys for this alarming increase or some of the ways to gain relief from them, let’s take a look at how allergies actually work.
Your Immune System is Overreacting
Although a huge oversimplification of the process, the above statement is essentially why we have allergies. Your immune system reacts to different proteins or molecules on the surface of anything that it perceives as a threat (aka allergens). These molecules and proteins are known as antigens, and most of the time your immune system is justified in activating itself against them. As an example, your immune system should react to surface proteins on viruses or bacteria that are trying to invade your body in an effort to destroy them. However, for a variety of reasons we’ll explore later in this post, sometimes your immune system gets confused and reacts against a normally innocuous substance, like peanut butter, pollen, or cat hair. When your body encounters these antigen, it activates its defense system through specialized cells (called mast cells), which release histamine in an effort to neutralize the perceived threat. This release of histamine causes the inflammation that leads to the symptoms we commonly associate with allergies: runny nose, itchy watery eyes, cough, sneezing, etc. This is also the mechanism for how the common over the counter allergy medications called anti-histamines help you relieve symptoms. They are designed to block histamine receptors on your cells, preventing the inflammation from taking hold and making you sniffle and sneeze all day. But for many, they are not addressing the root cause of your allergy in the first place: the improper recognition of antigens.
So why is my immune system overreacting?
The part of your immune system that activates in response to allergens is called the humoral immune system. This part of your immune system creates specific antibodies against pathogens and is the type of response that is generated by vaccines and protects you from future infection by that pathogen. However, it also creates the response that produces allergy symptoms. Humoral immunity involves two major cell types, B-cells and T-cells. T-cells work by activating the B-cells through a complex network of signaling molecules. Then the B-cells, in turn, secrete antibodies against the pathogen. T-cells can activate two different types of responses, known as Th1 and Th2. Th1 responses are generally directed against viruses or cancerous cells, while Th2 responses work against bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens that exist outside of the cell. The interplay of these two types of responses may explain some of the aggravating or relieving effects that certain vaccines may have for seasonal allergies which will be discussed shortly.
A number of complex factors relating to your environment starting back from even the time before you’re born can be the blamed for why you have seasonal allergies. Studies have found an association between mother’s reported seasonal allergies and the frequency with which their children will suffer from them. This may be due to the mother’s body priming the fetus to produce IgE (the kind of antibody that stimulates histamine release) in utero, making the child more likely to be hyperreactive to allergens that would produce IgE later in life. Studies looking at the prevalence of allergies in children raised on farms compared to children in cities or suburbs found that the children of mothers who worked on a farm had the least number of allergies. This is thought to be due to their exposure to common allergens throughout their pregnancy. This is strong evidence that the conditions the mother’s immune system can affect the function of her child’s immune system. Similar research has been done to review the effect of being around animals, both household pets and livestock. It suggests that children who were exposed to animals from birth were half as likely to develop allergies as children who had no pets. It was also noted that close proximity to metropolitan areas were associated with higher risk of developing asthma and other allergies. This is likely due to higher pollution levels and the fact that pollution creates new allergens that our bodies have not evolved with over the years, making our allergic response to th
em much stronger. The effect of this is most evident
when comparing the prevalence of seasonal allergies and asthma in developed vs developing countries where the population tends to be more rural.
Relationship Between Vaccines, Antibiotics, and Allergies
Since vaccines work by priming your immune system, it’s not surprising that they can have an effect on the development of allergies. There’s some evidence that the BCG vaccine, which is used in many developing countries where tuberculosis is more prevalent, may produce lower rates of asthma and other allergic responses. The researchers believe this may be because tuberculosis falls under the Th1 category of immune responses and by activating that type of response lowers the body’s Th2 responses. Another study found that the vaccine against pertussis was linked with slightly higher rates of seasonal allergy development, this vaccine activates a Th2 response, which may also enhance any responses to allergies. Seasonal allergies are frustrating to deal with and can definitely decrease your quality of life when they are present, but there is much controversy of the growing number of vaccinations and their efficacy causing many countries to eliminate them from their healthcare system. These kinds of studies do definitely show the need for more research into the long-lasting impacts of vaccines.
Exposure to antibiotics early in life also increases the risk of developing allergies. Antibiotics can disrupt the gut microbiome which is just developing in young children and plays an important role in the development of allergies. The human body requires “good” bacteria to help prime a child’s immune system for what is and isn’t an appropriate reaction to antigens. Its collection of “good” and “bad” bacteria is called the human microbiome and is the target of a frenzying amount of research of late. It’s implication on health are tremendous from its effects on digestion and obesity to certain mood disorders to its known impact on allergies. Frequent courses of antibiotics clear out your “good” bacteria (along with the bad) and have been shown to deprive the immune system of this priming when given early in life, causing it to react more violently and frequently to neutral stimuli. If over 99% of the DNA in your body does not belong to you… are you really who you say you are??
Conventional vs Alternative Allergy Therapies
Unfortunately for most allergy sufferers, most of what’s been discussed so far in this post relates to factors we don’t have much control over, how stressed our mother is during pregnancy, where we grew up, whether we were exposed to household pets or livestock from birth, so for those of us who can’t pick up and move to the countryside and start raising goats, how can we get some relief from our already formed seasonal allergies? As previously mentioned, antihistamines are commonly prescribed for allergy relief. Speaking from personal experience though, these do not always alleviate allergy symptoms, especially if you only start taking them once you’re symptomatic and your immune system is already ramped up. Steroid based nasal sprays are another commonly prescribed conventional treatment which work by generally suppressing your immune system. This approach to care is like throwing the baby out with the bath water, especially for people whose immune systems are already suppressed by preexisting conditions like diabetes or cancer. Allergy shots are a different means of treatment which involves injecting a small amount of the allergen into the body over a long period of time to try to desensitize the immune system to the antigen and eventually stop the allergic response altogether. However, studies have shown these work better for year-round allergies than seasonal ones. At best, these treatments can provide symptomatic relief (at least until next year), but almost none of them address the root cause.
Probiotics have been shown to relieve allergy symptoms and even cure allergies altogether! This makes sense as probiotics can also have anti-inflammatory effects by supporting the natural flora of the gut, if you’re interested in learning more about this and haven’t already check out our “Eat Poop and Live!” post which is all about the gut microbiome and its effect on your health. The mechanisms of how gut microbes may effect the immune system are still not completely known, and more study is needed, but they have been definitively shown to provide symptomatic relief and improve quality of life for those who take them.
Bee pollen and local honey are perhaps one of the most potent natural allergy treatments. Bee pollen naturally reduces the amount of histamine in your body, and should be purchased from local vendors so that it contains the pollen from the area you live in. When taken starting in small doses and gradually increasing, it can work in a similar way to the allergy shots mentioned earlier in this post, acclimating your body to the allergen so that it breaks down its response to the pollen. A few cautions go along with the use of bee pollen though, if you have an allergy to bees, it may cause a dangerous allergic reaction, and you should discuss with your doctor before using it. Additionally, women who are pregnant or breast feeding, or anyone on blood thinners should avoid bee pollen or have a conversation with their doctor before starting it.
Acupuncture is a form of Eastern medicine, which works by balancing the flow of “qi” (pronounced “chee”) in the body. Modern hypotheses believe it may work by stimulating the release of certain neurotransmitters by activating specific nerves, or in the context of allergy relief, suppressing proinflammatory molecules, which activate the Th2 response as discussed previously. A recent study showed that when comparing groups of allergy sufferers who were treated with anti-histamines alone, antihistamines and acupuncture at non-meaningful sites, and antihistamines and acupuncture at meaningful sites, the group that was given meaningful acupuncture reported the greatest relief of their symptoms, long-term cure was not studied, but training the body to respond in this way through acupuncture has been suggested to be curative by some experts.
The development and factors that influence the severity of allergies are incredibly complex and often difficult to untangle in the modern world where we’ve deviated so far from how our ancestors lived. Maximizing our exposure to common allergens, dirt, and animals early in life can help minimize the chances of developing allergies later, and even later in life, gradual exposure to allergens such as bee pollen can provide symptomatic relief that rivals or exceeds that of over the counter drugs. While the full interplay of all the factors contributing to allergies will need more time and research to unravel, it’s clear that our modern lifestyles play a huge role in how widespread they have become, and trying as much as possible to get “back to our roots”, so to speak, may help to reduce the prevalence of allergies in future generations.
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When you think of the most important organ in your body, what comes to your mind? Probably the brain, or maybe the heart and lungs. If damaged, these are, after all, the ultra-sensitive organs that allow us to survive not even a few moments without. But what if there was an organ that affected our body in an even more systemic capacity, from the moment you’re born, throughout your life. This organ can change the course of your future health, affect the way you develop acute or chronic diseases, and help or hinder the digestion of every morsel of food you ever eat. And perhaps the most amazing thing about this organ is that it isn’t even human. It is the human microbiome, and it’s made up of the more than 30 trillion bacterial cells living in and on every surface of your body. Your excrement is a by-product of your microbiome and pretty much every time we take a breath or put anything else into our body, we are inserting more bacteria into it. An American’s greatest challenge is to eat healthy bacteria that can strengthen the microbiome.
Functions of the Microbiome
Germaphobic readers might be squirming in their seats right now, but the truth is, your microbiome or natural flora, is incredibly vital to the way your body works. Not only do they synthesize vitamins and break down complex carbohydrates in your gut, they also help train your immune system to recognize pathogens. They take up prime real estate in mucous membranes like your mouth, airways, and even your eyes to help prevent pathogenic bacteria from gaining a foothold and causing infection. A lot of research is now being done to look at the effects that the microbiome can have on our genetics. Increasing evidence is demonstrating that different populations of bacteria can toggle the genes and metabolic pathways that can raise or lower your risk for different diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even more mundane conditions like allergies and heartburn.
One of the things that makes the study of the microbiome very difficult is how individual each person’s microbiome is. The variances in populations and amount of the different species of bacteria from person to person are immense, and beyond the individual variances, the diversity in species varies greatly based on anatomy. This would be expected if you were looking at, say skin vs gut microbes, but studies have shown that even the difference between the microbes colonizing the forearm and elbow is significant. All of this complexity can make setting up experiments and studies extremely difficult. Fortunately, the recent advent of big data processing is helping scientists keep things straight and even the most nascent results of this work are revolutionizing our approach to managing health.
So What is Poop Anyway?
Poop, also known as stool, feces, defecate, manure, muck, poo, kaka and many more colorful names, has a vital role in your body’s function. It is produced primarily from the microbiome of the lower intestinal tract. When normal and healthy it is about 90%+ bacteria with the remainder being partially digested food suspended by water and soluble fibers.* It is an excellent marker of overall health and there are entire professions dedicated to the study of it. Understanding the Bristol Stool Scale can help you keep an eye on your stool health. Problems with defecation can lead to significant discomfort, pain, and even death. Simply stated, the flow of your poop is directly proportional to your very ability to stay alive and healthy, so don’t be too shy to take a look at it every time you go.
Microbiome from Birth
Research is being done, and although we’re only scratching the surface, what has been discovered so far about the effect that the microbiome has on our health and the health of our children, is nothing short of incredible. Starting with our mother’s microbiome this non-human organ has a huge impact on our health. Studies have shown that mothers with a healthier, more robust gut microbiome will pass some of this diversity on to their baby in utero. These children tend to have activation of metabolic pathways in the gut that lead to a healthier life with a lower risk of diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic diseases – this is of course ignoring any future lifestyle choices. Even the method of delivery of a child (C-section vs vaginal) can also have a tremendous impact on this.
A study conducted in Venezuela looked at the microbial populations of newborn babies who were born vaginally vs those born via C-section. The naturally born babies had larger proportions of microbes commonly found in the gut, which they had acquired while moving through their mother’s vaginal tract. The C-section babies were found to have mostly skin associated bacteria on them, since they were removed directly from the uterus and did not get to pass through their mothers’ microbial population. A later study followed children to adulthood and found that the babies born via C-section were more likely to suffer from childhood obesity, Celiac disease (gluten sensitivity), asthma, and allergies. While there are certainly many factors that contribute to this, the study was controlled enough that researchers believe the initial colonization of microbes is a significant part. A great TED talk by Robert Knight elaborates further on this and can be found here.
The Microbiome and Immunity
Not only does the microbiome play a role in chronic illnesses, it’s also essential during acute periods of infection as well. Clostridium difficile (C. diff) has become one of news television’s superstars in recent years. It is a particularly nasty bacteria that are resistant to most antibiotics and take up residence in the gut. When the normal microbiome has been disrupted enough (by antibiotics), they have a huge party in the gut overtaking a chunk of of it and eventually growing out of control. These infections are particularly difficult to eradicate, causing severe diarrhea, fever, nausea, and in severe cases kidney failure and even death. Even after the infection has been treated, it has a high recurrence rate (1 out of every 5 infected patients). For decades, standard treatment for C. diff infection has been antibiotics, however, fecal transplant is becoming increasingly common in the treatment of particularly stubborn infections. Yes, this is pretty much what it sounds like: fecal material is collected from a healthy patient (often a relative of the patient since microbiomes of those who live together tend to share more similarities) and transplanted to the affected patients GI tract by one of several methods (don’t ask). These treatments have had much more dramatic results than standard antibiotic treatment in many patients, relieving months of almost constant diarrhea in days or even hours. This relief is due to the reestablishment of a healthier microbiome, which can bring the out of control C. diff back in check. You should never underestimate the value of poop.
Steps for Good Poop Health
There are tons of articles on the web supporting this topic, but here is our “quick list” of recommendations:
Water- stay hydrated
Fiber- eat whole foods, stay away from processed foods
Activity- ideally exercise, but even simply walking 40 minutes a day and moving around during your routine activities is better than being dormant
Probiotics- are actually good bacteria: yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables
Prebiotics- support the growth of bacteria: kimchee, raw garlic, raw onions, green tea
Organic – eat organic food sources as much as possible and avoid all GMO (genetically modified organisms) products, hormones, and antibiotic-laden food
Magnesium- promotes muscle activity
Take your time- don’t be hasty when defecating, give your body a chance to do it’s business
Position- squatting turns out to be the best position for defecation. Check out the Squatty Potty.
Anxiety and other emotional stress can reduce the nervous function of your gastrointestinal tract
When necessary, use natural laxatives and not chemicals- flaxseeds, whole foods, prunes, psyllium husk, aloe vera, and many, many, many others. Most of which are significantly cheaper than the over-the-counter aisle in the grocery store.
AVOID ANTIBIOTICS!!! Both from your doctor and in the food that you eat (see #6)
How to Help Your Microbes
So since it is apparent that having a healthy microbiome is so incredibly important, what are some of the things we can do to help support it? Good nutrition certainly seems to be a large piece of the puzzle. You’ve probably seen products in the store such as yogurts labeled “probiotic”. These foods contain either cultures of gut microbes, or compounds that help those microbes to grow and flourish in the gut, and are commonly found in fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kimchee, or increasingly popular komboucha and other fermented drinks. The biggest enemy of the microbiome is antibiotics. This is NOT to say that if you have a bacterial infection you should not take antibiotics that are prescribed to you. However, inappropriate use of antibiotics is impacting our microbiomes as a whole. Even in a non-medical sense, livestock are often fed antibiotics, not only to treat illnesses that crop up in populations, but also at very low levels to help fatten them up. Since the antibiotics keep the populations of microbes in the animals guts low, they are competing with less organisms for the nutrients they eat and are able to grow fatter more quickly. Despite guidelines from the FDA about the amount of antibiotics allowed in our food by the time it gets to us, the meat and dairy products we buy in the supermarket often have more than the allowable amounts, exposing us to more antibiotics without our even realizing. Yes antibiotics have been linked to increased obesity in humans too!!
Being cognizant of the effects that the foods we eat have on our microbiome is essential to preserving its function. The bacteria of the microbiome are far more than just a group of hitchhikers, they are an essential component of our body, without which we literally could not survive. We are already beginning to see the effects of the stresses being put on the microbiome in the form of rapidly elevating numbers of people with diabetes, obesity, allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases. As physicians, we often focus on the human factors that contribute to disease, but we have to make sure we don’t ignore the 50 trillion non-human factors as well. Help your doctor remember the importance of the microbiome in your care.
Only 1% of all the DNA in your body is actually yours. So the next time you’re standing at the mirror, take a really close look realize that you may not be who you always thought you were…
* Incidentally, insoluble fibers are not easily digested and often show up whole in your stool.
Blaser, Martin J. Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues. New York City: Henry Holt & LLC, 2014. Print.
Burling, Stacey. “Treatment of Last Resort for C. Difficile Infection.” Philly-archives. N.p., 07 Apr. 2014. Web.
Enriquez, Juan, and Steve Gullans. Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation Are Changing Life on Earth. London: Oneworld Publications, 2016. Print.
Turnbaugh, Peter J., Ruth E. Ley, Michael A. Mahowald, Vincent Magrini, Elaine R. Mardis, and Jeffrey I. Gordon. “An Obesity-associated Gut Microbiome with Increased Capacity for Energy Harvest.” Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group, 21 Dec. 2006. Web.
by Sara Emslie
Rashida Ghauri, MD, ABIHM
Baber Ghauri, MD, ABIHM
The number of food allergies and sensitivities has been on the rise in recent years. Everywhere products are advertised “Soy Free”, “Nut Free”, “Dairy Free”, “Gluten Free”, and the list goes on and on. While some of these allergies are related to inappropriate immune responses or recognized conditions like Celiac or Crohn’s disease, some have a more under-recognized pathophysiology known as Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS).
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky Gut Syndrome has to do with the cells in your small intestine. The job of this tissue is to selectively absorb food particles that are of an appropriate size and nutritional value for circulation in your bloodstream. These particles are absorbed through spaces called tight junctions which are lined with immune cells designed to deal with substances that shouldn’t make it into your body. In individuals with LGS, these tight junctions are not as “tight” as they are supposed to be causing larger food particles to sneak through into the bloodstream. While these particles are innocuous enough on their own, they are seen as invaders by your immune system, which will then launch an assault on them. This causes the hallmark inflammation in your tissues causing the wide array of symptoms ranging from headaches and fatigue, to skin rashes, gas, bloating, and nutritional deficiencies.
Pathophysiology of Leaky Gut Syndrome
So now that you know the basics, you should also know that there isn’t one cut and dry explanation for why people get LGS. Research has shown that upregulation of certain genes in the gut can produce proteins that increase the permeability of these cells, causing the gaps in the tight junctions that can allow foreign particles into the bloodstream. This increase in protein production can be caused by a variety of factors, influenced by an individual’s diet, gut microbiome, lifestyle, and family history among others.
We’re taught from a fairly young age that bacteria are bad. However, bacteria are a necessary part of human (and animal) life. Every surface in our body is covered with different species of commensal bacteria and they can outnumber our cells by about 10 to 1. All the bacteria of a certain area together are called the microbiome and perhaps one of the most important microbiomes is in our gut. Not only do these microbes help us break down our food, produce necessary vitamins, and prevent other pathogenic bacteria from taking up residence, there is also evidence that they can help turn genes in our body on and off. Some of these genes activate metabolic pathways that can predispose an individual to be obese or healthy weight, diabetic or non-diabetic, and among many other factors, they can also influence whether an individual will develop leaky gut. Since diet, lifestyle, and any antibiotics or medications an individual may be on can greatly influence their gut microbiome populations, you can see how quickly changes to these factors can snowball into more helpful or harmful gut microbes.
I don’t want it- what’s up Doc?
Probably the most important way to prevent leaky gut is through a proper diet. Taking common-sense measures like avoiding processed sugars, dyes, and preservatives and trying to incorporate more fiber, fruits, and vegetables into your diet can help promote the growth of a healthy gut microbiome and keep your tight junctions closed. Avoiding meat that is processed or injected with hormones and antibiotics can also prevent irritation of the lining of the intestine that creates ideal circumstances for LGS to progress. Glutamine has also been shown to help promote good gut health, but always be careful when incorporating new supplements into your diet. Increasingly, there are options for intravenous (IV) infusion of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements that can help fortify the various microbiomes of your body.
Leaky Gut, Autoimmune Disease, and Common Pain
Leaky Gut can be a major contributing factor in many autoimmune conditions. For individuals who have these conditions and are struggling to keep their symptoms under control using pharmaceuticals, those who are just having gastrointestinal symptoms, or even just those who want to prevent future problems, careful monitoring of diet, and how different food types make your body respond can make a huge difference in managing and even eventually reversing leaky gut. Most people look to corticosteroids to treat and manage autoimmune diseases, but what if we’ve been looking in the wrong place for the perpatrators of the inappropriate immune response all this time? What if instead of coming from the air, or the joints, or the tissues, it is coming from silent invaders through a leaky gut? And what if these disorders could be not only controlled but reversed? While each individual’s case will be different, more and more evidence is beginning to point to leaky gut as a trigger for autoimmune diseases, and just being aware of this fact is key in the prevention and management of these conditions. Talk to your doctor about LGS.
Leaky Gut Syndrome is an under-recognized condition of the gastrointestinal tract that can cause a wide-range of symptoms including “stomach” pain, discomfort, skin rashes, headache, and even arthritis. The pathophysiology is very interesting and only now being studied and treated by the conventional medical community. If you believe you may be suffering from this condition, eliminate your consumption of meat, dairy, gluten, and processed foods as a trial and/or check in with your doctor to be tested. The good news is that no one has to suffer from Leaky Gut Syndrome as it can be cured with proper nutrition.
Drake, Daniela. “New Research Shows Poorly Understood “Leaky Gut Syndrome” Is Real, May Be the Cause of Several Diseases.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 27 Mar. 2014. Web.
Elkaim, Yuri. “Leaky Gut: What It Is and How to Heal It.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 6 Mar. 2014. Web.
Galland, Leo. “Leaky Gut Syndromes: Breaking the Vicious Cycle.” Foundation for Integrated Medicine. Foundation for Integrated Medicine, n.d. Web.
Michielan, Andrea, and Renata D’Incà. “Intestinal Permeability in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Pathogenesis, Clinical Evaluation, and Therapy of Leaky Gut.” Mediators of Inflammation. Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 25 Oct. 2015. Web.
Mullin, Gerry. “Glutamine Helps You Lose Weight.” The Food MD. Dr. Gerry Mullin, 27 May 2015. Web.
Reasoner, Jordan. “Leaky Gut Syndrome in Plain English – and How to Fix It.”SCD Lifestyle RSS. SCD Lifestyle, 11 May 2016. Web.