30 Tips in 30 Days Designed to Help You Take Control of Your Health
This article is included in Dr. Mercola's All-Time Top 30 Health Tips series. Every day during the month of January, a new tip will be added that will help you take control of your health. Want to see the full list? Click here.
Keeping a written record of the things you're thankful for is good for your health. That's the conclusion reached by an ever-growing number of published studies showing a wide range of physical benefits. According to Laurie Santos, a psychologist who teaches a science of well-being and happiness course at Yale, focusing on gratitude has become a growing trend in recent years,1 and for good reason.
There's an awful lot of stress and unhappiness in the world, and gratitude is an effective remedy that costs nothing. According to the Harris Poll Happiness Index, just 1 in 3 Americans reports being "very happy."2 Other research suggests nearly 1 in 4 experiences no life enjoyment at all.3
If your joy quotient could use a boost, commit to cultivating gratitude this year. A simple and proven way of doing this is to keep a gratitude journal, in which you document the things you're grateful for each day.
One 2015 study4 found participants who kept a gratitude diary and reflected on what they were grateful for four times a week for three weeks improved their depression, stress and happiness scores. In a more recent study,5 high school students asked to keep gratitude journals over the course of a month also exhibited healthier eating patterns.
Definition of Gratitude
According to Robert Emmons, one of the leading scientific experts on gratitude6 featured in the video above, gratitude has two key components.7 First of all, it's an "affirmation of goodness."
When you feel gratitude, you affirm that you live in a benevolent world. Second, it's a recognition that the source of benevolence comes from outside of yourself; that other people (or higher powers, if you so like) have provided you with "gifts." In Emmons' view, gratitude is "a relationship-strengthening emotion, because it requires us to see how we've been supported and affirmed by other people." If you've decided to keep a gratitude journal, keep the following guidelines in mind:
- Focus on the benevolence of other people — Doing so will increase your sense of being supported by life and decrease unnecessary anxiety
- Focus on what you have received rather than what's been withheld
- Avoid comparing yourself to people you perceive to have more advantages, more things or "better luck," as doing so will erode your sense of security. If you're going to slip into comparisons, contemplate what your life would be like if you didn't have something you currently enjoy
Health Benefits of Gratitude
As noted by Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy,8 an expert in brain and mind health, gratitude has "a health maintenance indication for every major organ system" in your body.9 For example, research shows that gratitude:10,11
Alters your brain in a number of beneficial ways — Examples include triggering release of mood-regulating neurotransmitters12 such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and oxytocin; inhibiting the stress hormone cortisol; and stimulating your hypothalamus (a brain area involved in the regulation of stress) and your ventral tegmental area (part of your brain's reward circuitry that produces pleasurable feelings)13
Increases happiness and life satisfaction14,15
Lowers stress and emotional distress
Improves emotional resiliency16
Reduces symptoms of depression17 — According to one study,18 "Correlation analysis showed that gratitude, depression, peace of mind and rumination were interrelated … Results … suggested that gratitude may … counteract the symptoms of depression by enhancing a state of peace of mind and reducing ruminative thinking"
Lowers inflammation by inhibiting inflammatory cytokines
Lowers blood sugar
Improves immune function19
Lowers risk for heart disease21,22 — According to the authors, "Efforts to increase gratitude may be a treatment for improving well-being in heart failure patients' lives and may be of potential clinical value"
Improves general health by encouraging self-care — In one study,23,24 people who kept a gratitude journal reported exercising more and had fewer visits to the doctor
Improves interpersonal relationships
Boosts productivity — In one study,26 managers who expressed gratitude saw a 50 percent increase in the employees' performance
Science and Practice of Gratitude
In 2011, the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California, in collaboration with Emmons, launched a project called Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude. This project aims to:29
- Expand the scientific database of gratitude, particularly in the key areas of human health, personal and relational well-being, and developmental science
- Raise awareness and engage the public in a larger cultural conversation about the meaning and significance of gratitude
- Promote evidence-based practices of gratitude in educational, medical and organizational settings
The organization has a number of resources you can peruse at your leisure, including The Science of Happiness blog and newsletter,30 and Thnx4, a digital gratitude journal31 where you can record and share the things you're grateful for year-round. There are also many other gratitude journal apps you can download. Last year, Positive Routines rated 11 of the best apps to track your happiness.32 Remember Emmons words:
"Neuroscientist Rick Hanson has said that the brain takes the shape the mind rests upon. Rest your mind upon worry, sadness, annoyance and irritability and it will begin to take the shape neurally of anxiety, depression and anger. Ask your brain to give thanks and it will get better at finding things to be grateful for, and begin to take the shape of gratitude.
Everything we do creates connections within networks of the brain, and the more you repeat something, the stronger those connections get. The mind can change the brain in lasting ways. In other words, what flows through the mind sculpts the brain."
Blocks to Gratitude
Depending on circumstances, gratitude can sometimes be a struggle. However, according to Emmons and the GGSC, materialism is frequently the greatest stumbling block, and it really need not be. As noted in one of the GGSC's newsletters:33
"Seen through the lens of buying and selling, relationships as well as things are viewed as disposable, and gratitude cannot survive this materialistic onslaught … Research has proven that gratitude is essential for happiness, but modern times have regressed gratitude into a mere feeling instead of retaining its historic value, a virtue that leads to action …
[G]ratitude is an action of returning a favor and is not just a sentiment. By the same token, ingratitude is the failure to both acknowledge receiving a favor and refusing to return or repay the favor. Just as gratitude is the queen of the virtues, ingratitude is the king of the vices …
If we fail to choose [gratitude], by default we choose ingratitude. Millions make this choice every day. Why? Provision, whether supernatural or natural, becomes so commonplace that it is easily accepted for granted.
We believe the universe owes us a living. We do not want to be beholden. Losing sight of protection, favors, benefits and blessings renders a person spiritually and morally bankrupt … People who are ungrateful tend to be characterized by an excessive sense of self-importance, arrogance, vanity and an unquenchable need for admiration and approval.
Narcissists reject the ties that bind people into relationships of reciprocity. They expect special favors and feel no need to pay back or pay forward … Without empathy, they cannot appreciate an altruistic gift because they cannot identify with the mental state of the gift-giver."
If entitlement is the hallmark of narcissism, then humility is the antidote and the answer when you struggle with gratitude. As noted by Emmons, "The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed. Humility ushers in a grateful response to life."34
So, gratitude isn't a response to receiving "your due," but rather the recognition that life owes you nothing, yet provided you with everything you have anyway — a place to live, family, friends, work, your eyesight, your breath, indeed your very life. When you start seeing everything as a gift, opposed to things you've deserved (for better or worse), your sense of gratitude will begin to swell.
Another way to flex your gratitude muscle when life events leave you uninspired is to identify and express gratitude for seemingly "useless" or insignificant things. It could be a certain smell in the air, the color of a flower, your child's freckles or the curvature of a stone. Over time, you'll find that doing this will really home your ability to identify "good" things in your life.
10 Other Practical Strategies to Build and Strengthen Gratitude
Aside from keeping a daily gratitude journal and being grateful for the simple, insignificant things around you, there are many other ways to practice gratitude. I've compiled 10 additional suggestions from various experts below. The key is to stay consistent. Find a way to incorporate your chosen method into each week, ideally each day, and stick with it. Place a reminder note on your bathroom mirror if you need to, or schedule it into your calendar along with all of your other important to-do's.
1. Write thank-you notes35 — When thanking someone, be specific and acknowledge the effort and/or cost involved.
This year, make it a point to write thank-you notes or letters in response to each gift or kind act — or simply as a show of gratitude for someone being in your life. To get you started, consider practicing mindful thank yous for seven days straight.
2. Say grace at each meal — Adopting the ritual of saying grace at each meal is a great way to flex your gratitude muscle on a daily basis,36 and will also foster a deeper connection to your food.
While this can be a perfect opportunity to honor a spiritual connection with the divine, you don't have to turn it into a religious speech if you don't want to. You could simply say, "I am grateful for this food, and appreciate all the time and hard work that went into its production, transportation and preparation."
3. Let go of negativity by changing your perception — Disappointment can be a major source of stress, which is known to have far-reaching effects on your health and longevity. In fact, centenarians overwhelmingly cite stress as the most important thing to avoid if you want to live a long and healthy life. Since stress is virtually unavoidable, the key is to develop and strengthen your ability to manage your stress so that it doesn't wear you down over time.
Rather than dwelling on negative events, most centenarians figured out how to let things go, and you can do that too. It takes practice, though. It's a skill that must be honed daily, or however often you're triggered.
A foundational principle to let go of negativity is the realization that the way you feel has little to do with the event itself, and everything to do with your perception of it. Wisdom of the ancients dictate that events are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. It is your belief about the event that upsets you, not the fact that it happened.
As noted by Ryan Holiday, author of "The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living,"37 "The Stoics are saying, 'This happened to me,' is not the same as, 'This happened to me and that's bad.' They're saying if you stop at the first part, you will be much more resilient and much more able to make some good out of anything that happens." And, once you can see the good, you're more apt to feel gratitude.
4. Be mindful of your nonverbal actions — Smiling and hugging are both ways of expressing gratitude, encouragement, excitement, empathy and support. These physical actions also help strengthen your inner experience of positive emotions of all kinds.
5. Give praise — Research38 shows using "other-praising" phrases are far more effective than "self-beneficial" phrases. For example, praising a partner saying, "thank you for going out of your way to do this," is more powerful than a compliment framed in terms of how you benefited, such as "it makes me happy when you do that."
The former resulted in the partner feeling happier and more loving toward the person giving the praise. Also, be mindful of your delivery — say it like you mean it. Establishing eye contact is another tactic that helps you show your sincerity.
6. Prayer and/or mindfulness meditation — Expressing thanks during prayer or meditation is another way to cultivate gratitude. Practicing "mindfulness" means that you're actively paying attention to the moment you're in right now. A mantra is sometimes used to help maintain focus, but you can also focus on something that you're grateful for, such as a pleasant smell, a cool breeze or a lovely memory.
7. Create a nightly gratitude ritual — One suggestion is to create a gratitude jar,39 into which the entire family can add notes of gratitude on a daily basis. Any jar or container will do. Simply write a quick note on a small slip of paper and put it into the jar.
Some make an annual (or biannual or even monthly) event out of going through the whole jar, reading each slip out loud. If you have young children, a lovely ritual suggested by Dr. Alison Chen in a Huffington Post article40 is to create a bedtime routine that involves stating what you're grateful for out loud.
8. Spend money on activities instead of things — According to recent research,41 spending money on experiences not only generates more gratitude than material consumption, it also motivates greater generosity. As noted by co-author Amit Kumar, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Chicago, "People feel fortunate, and because it's a diffuse, untargeted type of gratitude, they're motivated to give back to people in general."42
9. Embrace the idea of having "enough" — According to many who have embraced a more minimalist lifestyle, the key to happiness is learning to appreciate and be grateful for having "enough."
Financial hardship and work stress are two significant contributors to depression and anxiety. The answer is to buy less and appreciate more. Instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses, practice being grateful for the things you already have, and release yourself from the iron grip of advertising, which tells you there's lack in your life.
Many who have adopted the minimalist lifestyle claim they've been able to reduce the amount of time they have to work to pay their bills, freeing up time for volunteer work, creative pursuits and taking care of their personal health, thereby dramatically raising their happiness and life satisfaction. The key here is deciding what "enough" is. Consumption itself is not the problem; unchecked and unnecessary shopping is.
Many times, accumulation of material goods is a symptom that you may be trying to fill a void in your life, yet that void can never be filled by material things. More often than not, the void is silently asking for more love, personal connection, or experiences that bring purpose and passionate engagement. So, make an effort to identify your real, authentic emotional and spiritual needs, and then focus on fulfilling them in ways that does not involve shopping.
10. Try tapping — The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is a helpful tool for a number of emotional challenges, including lack of gratitude. EFT is a form of psychological acupressure based on the energy meridians used in acupuncture that can quickly restore inner balance and healing, and helps rid your mind of negative thoughts and emotions. In the video below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for gratitude.
The leaves of the West Indian bay tree, called "the spice tree" in some areas of the Caribbean, are known for their culinary uses, such as for cooking stews, soups and porridge.1 But did you know that the essential oil derived from these leaves is valuable as well?
Bay essential oil is known to contain antimicrobial compounds and other beneficial properties.2 It also has a spicy and smoky masculine aroma that make it appealing to men. Discover more about this herbal oil by reading the information below.
Bay essential oil is obtained from the bay tree (Pimenta racemosa), an evergreen tree that originated in the West Indies,3 but is now harvested in Morocco, Spain and the U.S.4 The bay tree is related to the allspice plant family, and grows up to 12 meters (a little over 39 feet) tall. It possesses long-pointed leaves, with small yellow or white flowers and black nonedible berries.5
Bay oil is often confused with bay laurel essential oil, which comes from the Laurus nobilis plant, native to the Mediterranean region.6 While these two oils share similar qualities, the important thing to remember is they come from two different plants. The bay tree is also different from the bayberry shrub, from which early American settlers produced candles.7
Bay oil is extracted from the fresh leaves of the bay tree through steam distillation. It has a yellow to dark brown color and a strong spicy fragrance, which resembles that of clove oil.8,9
West Indies bay oil is frequently used in cosmetics and perfumery.10 In the 20th century, the oil was distilled with rum and water to produce a cologne called "Bay Rum," which became popular among men for its spicy, smoky and woody tones. Unlike other plant oils like rose or geranium oils (which are more feminine), its spicy, smoky and woody tones and masculine aroma makes it a good choice for men.11
Bay oil is also considered an analgesic in aromatherapy, and it helps in relieving rheumatic muscle and joint pain and nerve pain (neuralgia). It may also be used as a massage oil or added to bathwater along with citrus or spice oils to induce a relaxing effect.12 It is added to hair products like shampoos for its ability to promote healthy hair growth and help boost scalp circulation.13 Bay oil, as well as fresh bay leaves, may serve as an insect repellent and air freshener too.14
The essential oil of bay owes its analgesic properties to three chemical constituents: eugenol, chavicol (estragole) and myrcene. Because of the presence of eugenol, the oil can cause irritations and should be used under the guidance of an aromatherapy practitioner.15
One of the main benefits of bay oil is its ability to help ease pain brought on by neuralgia, which is severe pain that occurs due to a damaged nerve. It can also assist in stimulating blood vessel contraction, and in alleviating poor circulation.16
Bay oil can help reduce pain from joint and muscle problems (including sprains and arthritis), and alleviate coughs and colds, viral infections and flu. It also functions as a decongestant and can be used to help ease respiratory problems when inhaled.17
Bay oil, along with thyme oil, also shows antifungal activity. In a 2008 study, out of 26 plant species tested, thyme and bay oils were the most effective against Phytophthora cactorum and Cryphonectria parasitica.18
Further research19 has demonstrated the antibacterial effects of bay essential oil, along with nine other essential oils — cinnamon, grapefruit, lemongrass, thyme, clary sage, wintergreen, clove, allspice and camphor. These oils were tested on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA).
Researchers found that these oils were more efficient in eliminating the bacterial strains than vancomycin, the primary drug used for MRSA and MSSA treatment. West Indies bay oil, as well as bay laurel oil, exhibited bacteria-fighting properties against other pathogenic species, such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli, and listeria.20
Bay essential oil is obtained when the fresh leaves of the bay tree are steam-distilled. The leaves are gathered from a tree aged at least 5 years old. Salt or seawater is often added in the distillation water, which increases the rate of distillation. However, freshwater produces a higher yield.21
Bay oil is primarily used topically. It can be used as a massage oil, or added to burners and vaporizers. Its effects may vary depending on the amount you use, though. High amounts of bay oil may produce a sedative effect, while smaller amounts can serve as a stimulant.22
Undiluted essential oils can cause skin irritations, and bay essential oil is no different. Prior to use, it must first be mixed with a carrier oil, such as almond oil, coconut oil or olive oil. Bay oil blends well with several essential oils, including ylang ylang, lavender, black pepper, lemon, grapefruit, geranium and lime oils.23
Any essential oil must first be tested to determine if you're allergic to it, so I recommend doing a skin patch test. Apply a drop of the diluted bay oil on a small portion of your skin, and observe for any adverse effects.
Due to the compound eugenol, it is advisable to use very minute amounts of bay oil. It was found that the oil is not irritating to human skin at 10 percent, but it is still recommended to use topically a maximum concentration of 3 percent.24
Although bay oil works as an antiseptic and decongestant for respiratory ailments, the oil's eugenol content can irritate your mucous membranes and skin.25 It should be used in moderation or upon the advice of a physician or professional aromatherapist.
The chemical's presence also suggests that the oil may be hepatoxic and may affect blood clotting.26 It should not be used by people suffering from kidney and liver diseases, or those using anticoagulants. It is strictly advised not to apply the pure oil onto sensitive or damaged skin, as it can cause further harm.27
Pregnant or nursing women should avoid using bay oil, even if it's diluted, to prevent any sensitizations. Children and infants should also refrain from using bay oil due to their delicate nature. For more information on bay essential oil or any other plant oils, I would advise you to consult your doctor or a qualified aromatherapist.
When you look around your home, is your mind sidelined by stacks of papers, piles of toys, heaps of laundry and an array of random stuff cluttering up your countertops, desk, dressers and virtually any other flat surface? Clutter is not just an eyesore but something that can have a significant effect on your mind, mood and even your productivity.
You may intrinsically feel the weight of clutter when it surrounds you, but research also bears this out, putting into more concrete terms an otherwise subjective matter. The recent popularity of Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant, and other decluttering methods is a testimony to the number of people who are affected by too much stuff — and desire to do away with it.
"Clutter is an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces," Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago, told The New York Times.1
The truth is, though, that not everyone is affected by clutter in the same way, which is why Ferrari and colleagues questioned three groups of adults in different stages of their life to find out clutter's effects across generations.2
Clutter Linked to Procrastination, Life Dissatisfaction
Ferrari's study involved college students, young adults in their 20s and 30s, and older adults in their 50s. In particular, the researchers were looking at how chronic procrastination may lead to clutter, as putting off getting rid of things you no longer need or want inevitably leads to clutter.
A strong association was found between procrastination and clutter problems in all of the groups, and clutter problems also led to a significant decrease in satisfaction with life among older adults.
The results suggest that having a tendency to procrastinate enables a "lifelong pattern of responses to one's environment that become increasingly maladaptive throughout the life cycle," while at the same time contributes to people putting off the decision to dispose of unnecessary items. According to the study, which is published in Current Psychology:3
"Procrastination and clutter are remarkably common problems for many people. Virtually all adults have spaces in their homes filled with unused, unwanted, or neglected possessions waiting for the possessor to find an opportune time to take action, whether that action is to keep, sell, donate, give away or dispose of those objects.
Disposition of possessions can be an unpleasant task, one that if left undone can create a distressing amount of clutter."
Clutter May Increase Stress Hormones, Especially in Women
Your home can be a peaceful sanctuary or a source of stress. Which one is dictated, in part, by perceived levels of clutter.
Researchers at University of Southern California analyzed 60 dual-income spouses' self-guided home tours for the frequency of words describing clutter, an unfinished home, restfulness or nature.4 Those who spoke of their home more frequently as cluttered or unfinished had higher stressful home scores.
In turn, women with higher stressful home scores tended to be stressed at the start of the day, and stress levels persisted throughout the day, as evidenced by cortisol (stress hormone) levels. On the other hand, women who perceived their homes to be more restorative had cortisol levels that declined throughout the day.
What's more, women living in cluttered homes had increased depressed mood over the course of the day. The opposite held true for women with restorative homes. Overall, women who described their homes as disorderly were more likely to suffer from depressed mood, fatigue in the evening, poor coping skills and difficulty transitioning from work to home.
Men didn't seem to be as stressed out by clutter as women, but this could be because they didn't spend as much time on housework after work as women did. Among men who did more housework, cortisol levels tended to be raised similarly to the women's.5
Clutter Disrupts Your Focus, Contributes to Unhealthy Eating
Entering an environment that's cluttered is like entering a state of chaos. The fact is, your visual system's ability to process information from multiple objects at the same time is limited.
As researchers wrote in the Journal of Neuroscience, "Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system."6
In other words, when you're in an organized, uncluttered space, your brain has an easier time processing everything that's there, which frees up space to focus on other things.
A cluttered kitchen can also make you more vulnerable to making unhealthy food choices, particularly if you're also in a chaotic frame of mind.7 People with extremely cluttered homes are also 77 percent more likely to be overweight or obese.8
Why Do People Accumulate so Much Stuff?
Getting to the bottom of clutter requires looking into why people have so much stuff in the first place. Most experts on the topic will agree that half the battle lies in accumulating less to begin with, so make a conscious decision about whether you really need to bring a new item into your home.
Not only does buying stuff you don't need have environmental consequences, but it will also end up stored somewhere in your home, where you'll need to expend mental and physical energy cleaning it, moving it and deciding what to do with it. The latter part is harder than it sounds, and people tend to avoid making decisions about getting rid of their stuff for a variety of reasons, including:9
- A desire to avoid wastefulness
- Loss of self-identity associated with disposal of the item, especially those associated with personal meaning or attachment
- Overattachment to items
"Even disposal contemplations that involve seemingly ordinary, mundane possessions can induce feelings of uncertainty and ambivalence. As adults age, they typically amass more possessions, making clutter more problematic for individuals who don't routinely take time to purge," Ferrari and colleagues wrote.10
Digital Clutter Is Similar to Physical Clutter
Is your email inbox in the six figures? Do you have digital files, photos and folders stored in so many different places that you'd be hard pressed to find something important when you need it?
This type of digital clutter creates much of the same anxiety and stress as physical clutter. An unorganized inbox or online photo album, for instance, drains your mental energy and time. And you may feel anxious about how to deal with all of your digital files — what should you keep? Where should you store it? What's safe to delete?
While digital clutter doesn't take up the same physical space as other clutter, and may be easier to detach from, since you can turn off your computer or phone and ignore it if you so choose, you should still make a point to minimize digital clutter in your life.
For starters, be very choosy about giving out your email and try to deal with emails as they come in, responding right away and then deleting. If it's something you need to save for later, move the email to a folder you've created for that purpose.
Overwhelmed by Clutter? Start Small
Clutter can be overwhelming, causing you to avoid going through it and making matters worse as piles get ever larger. There are many ways to get started that will break up the monotonous task into manageable bits:
- Set a timer for 10 minutes and declutter until the timer goes off, putting items into bags to donate or trash/recycle — if you do this daily, you'll notice a tremendous difference
- Choose one room, drawer, closet or cabinet and tackle that first
- Designate several bins for the purpose, labeling them "donate," "trash," "put away" and "recycle" — as you see items out of place in your home, put them in the appropriate bin
- Start by getting rid of trash
- Give away one item each day, or fill one trash bag with items to donate once a week or month
If you tend to hold on to items because of a sentimental attachment, Ferrari recommends using a hands-off approach. "If you're going to declutter, don't touch the item. Don't pick it up," he told the Times, "Have somebody else hold the pair of black pants and say, 'Do you need this?' Once you touch the item, you are less likely to get rid of it."11
Get Your Mind in the Right Place
Often, we fail to declutter out of fear that we will miss an item or find a use for it later. You may also feel like you should keep items out of obligation because you paid money for them or received them as a gift. Changing your mindset here is important, because ultimately those items are keeping you from mental peace and calm.
Let go of any items that bring you down mentally or emotionally. Using the one-year rule can help — if you haven't used it in a year, get rid of it. It can help to visualize what you want your space to look like.
Then schedule time to declutter on your calendar so you'll commit to the "appointment." You may want to start with the worst, most stress-inducing spot in your home, because once it's done, you'll feel like you can tackle anything.
Starting with items in plain sight works well. Once you've cleared off countertops, nightstands and dressers, you can move to decluttering your cabinets and drawers. Be sure to designate a spot to handle incoming papers, and anything you don't need (like junk mail) should be recycled immediately.
If you have significant clutter, hiring a professional organizer can help, but resist the urge to start out by buying a bunch of organizational bins and containers. Do the decluttering first, and then choose storage options that fit the items you have remaining. Further, it's not necessary to have professional help — if you tackle clutter one object at a time, you'll still reap great rewards.
For times when you feel resistant to parting with an item, and you can't figure out why, try using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to tap away any anxiety, fear or other negative emotions that come up when you think about clearing clutter, and live by these basic ground rules:
• Handle an item only once — Once you pick it up, either put it away, give it away or throw it away. Do not simply put it back down again in the same cluttered pile.
• If you buy something new, get rid of something old — If you buy a new set of glassware, donate the old set you no longer need. Likewise for new items of clothing, shoes or bedding and even computers, toys and electronics.
• You only need one — You probably have multiples of many objects unnecessarily. You only need one wine opener, one set of barbecue tools, one hair dryer and so on. If you have multiple items of the same object that you don't need, be ruthless in getting it down to one.
This applies to items you may need multiples of too, like bedsheets or towels. You may need two or three sets, but do you really need 10?
The more you tend to and remove physical and digital clutter in your life, the more space you'll clear up to focus on what makes you happy. Removing the distracting clutter is a first and necessary step to achieving inner peace, focus and, ultimately, a more satisfying existence.
Seafood include both finned fish and shellfish. Finned fish most commonly associated with allergic reactions include salmon, tuna and halibut.1 Finned fish and shellfish allergies are not related, so being allergic to one doesn’t necessarily mean you are allergic to the other.
A true Immunoglobulin-E (IgE) mediated allergic reaction to finned fish may be life-threatening, as it can trigger anaphylactic shock. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology,2 symptoms of finned fish allergies don’t usually appear until adulthood, and include hives, nausea and vomiting, headaches, wheezing and upper respiratory congestion.
However, a recent review of fish allergies in Emergency Medicine News3 reveals many of the same symptoms result from a different process taking place in the fish, and relates to how it was handled and processed after being caught.
Process of Preserving Fish May Increase Your Risk of Reaction
Not every report of abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, headache and hives 20 to 30 minutes after eating fish are the result of a classic diagnosis of seafood allergy. Although the symptoms may resolve with basic treatment commonly used for an acute allergic reaction, they instead may have been caused by an excess amount of histamine in the fish,4 known as scombroid poisoning.
Fish known to suffer scombroid poisoning include mackerel, albacore tuna, skipjack, blue fish and occasionally salmon. The highest incidence is attributed to tuna and mahi-mahi.
As fish consumption has increased over the past three to four decades, so has the number of histamine fish poisonings. Scombroid poisoning is reported throughout the world and outbreaks occur when a number of individuals are affected from the same source. Although the illness is uncomfortable, to date, no deaths have been reported in the U.S.5
The poisoning is the result of histamine in the flesh of the fish, and is usually self-limited and of short duration. Although many of the symptoms are very similar to an allergic reaction, occasionally sufferers may also experience hypotension (low blood pressure), bronchospasms and respiratory distress.
Since the symptoms are similar to those of an allergic reaction, it is often misdiagnosed as a true IgE-mediated allergy. Interestingly, the review estimates scombroid poisoning may be responsible for up to 40 percent of finned fish seafood allergic reactions occurring in clusters.6
In some cases, the sufferer reports the fish tasted peppery, or that there was a burning sensation in the mouth. Otherwise, the fish will smell or appear fresh and there are no reliable outward signs the fish is not safe to eat.
True Allergy or Bacterial Enzyme Reaction?
Reports of scombroid poisoning started in 1968, but histamine was not proven to be the culprit until 1991. Previously, it was believed histamine ingested orally could not be absorbed through the gut in sufficient amounts to trigger symptoms.
In a true allergic reaction, your immune system overreacts to a protein by producing IgE antibodies. These travel to mast cells causing them to release chemicals that trigger symptoms in the nose, lungs, throat or on the skin. One of these chemicals is histamine.
During scombroid poisoning, your body is not producing the histamine, but is rather poisoned by the amount of histamine in the flesh of the fish. Bacteria normally inside of these fish, including Escherichia coli, Proteus, Klebsiella, Clostridium and Salmonella, contain an enzyme that converts histidine to histamine.
Histidine is an amino acid and part of most proteins. It is also the source from which histamine is derived in the body. The exact type and composition of the bacteria found in the fish will depend upon the geographic location, feeding habits and the handling process once the fish is caught.
The bacteria are unable to convert histidine to histamine when the fish is kept at a temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celcius) or lower. The enzyme, histidine decarboxylase, is inactivated at these temperatures.
However, when the fish is stored at temperatures above 68 F (20 C), it only takes a few hours for enough histamine to be created to cause problems. The histamine is resistant to cooking, smoking, freezing, canning and any subsequent refrigeration.
The Role Histamine Plays In Your Symptoms
One of the common ways of stopping symptoms of scombroid poisoning is to administer antihistamines, which block the action of histamines in the body. Normally histamines are released by mast cells as part of your immune response. Your body also has a system to degrade histamine once it has done its job.
However, some experience a lack of degradation of histamine. This may be the result of a genetic single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) — pronounced “snip.” These are small genetic variations occurring in more than 1 percent of the population.7
An SNP in the AOC1 gene results in a reduction in the enzyme responsible for degrading histamine, thereby making you histamine intolerant. Eating histamine-rich foods — such as in scombroid poisoning — trigger stronger reactions in those who have an SNP in the AOC1 gene. Chronic symptoms you may experience if you have this genetic condition include:8
Difficulty regulating body temperature
Chronic headaches or migraines
Abnormal menstrual cycle
Difficulty falling asleep
Ciguatera Poisoning Associated With Larger Fish
Another type of food poisoning from fish that looks and smells fresh is ciguatera poisoning. Contaminated algae blooms located along a coral reef are eaten by smaller herbivorous fish, and the poisoning then accumulates up the food chain.9
While scombroid poisoning is short-lived and leaves no long-term effects, ciguatera causes additional symptoms, including muscle weakness, joint aches, headaches and low blood pressure. Symptoms can begin within 15 minutes to 24 hours after eating infected fish.10
Most get better in a few days, but some experience symptoms lasting for months or even years.11 It is one of the most commonly reported marine toxins in the world, and is associated with contaminated reef fish such as Barracuda, grouper and snapper. Since contaminated fish have no specific odor, color or taste, it makes identification of potential contamination extremely difficult.12
Clinical diagnosis is often based on a constellation of symptoms related to ingestion of specific products. Symptoms increase in frequency and severity over the first six hours following the initial symptom. Affected major organ systems are the gastrointestinal tract (GI), nervous system and cardiovascular system. GI symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea vomiting and diarrhea.
Neurologically, sufferers may experience loss of sensation near their mouth or on their tongue, and painful sensation in the extremities. One of the most common neurological symptom is paradoxical temperature reversal in which the sufferer experiences cold objects as feeling hot and hot objects as feeling cold.13
Cardiovascular symptoms may include a slower heart rate and pulmonary edema. Management is largely supportive and driven by symptoms as there is no specific treatment for the toxin itself. Although many of the poisonings occur in tropical and subtropical areas, it occurs anywhere these fish are shipped for food.
There's no specific prevention except to limit tropical fish consumption, such as grouper, barracuda, snapper, mackerel and triggerfish, to those that are 4 to 6 pounds, as it is believed they are not large enough to have accumulated enough toxins to make you sick.14
Farmed Fish Not the Answer
In your pursuit of healthy omega-3 fats and in an effort to avoid scombroid poisoning from fish improperly stored after fishing, you may be tempted to eat farmed fish such as salmon, renowned for its high omega-3 content. However you might be surprised to find farmed salmon has more in common with junk food than health food.
In a global assessment of farmed salmon, researchers found 13 persistent organic pollutants.15 Farmed salmon also does not have the nutritional profile of wild-caught Alaskan salmon.
Half a fillet of wild Atlantic salmon contains about 3,996 milligrams (mg) of omega-3 and 341 mg of omega-6.16 Half a fillet of farmed salmon from the Atlantic contains just a bit more omega-3 — 4,961 mg — but an astounding 1,944 mg of omega-6;17 more than 5.5 times more than wild salmon, which further skews rather than corrects most people’s omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
Aquaculture (fish farms) is promoted as a sustainable solution to overfishing, but in reality creates more problems. For instance, 20 percent of wild-caught fish are ground into fish meal to feed farmed fish, so the industry is contributing heavily to the depletion of wild fish rather than saving it.18
Overcrowded conditions on a salmon farm also leads to fish plagued with rapidly spreading diseases. Kurt Oddekalv, a respected Norwegian environmental activist, warns a number of dangerous pesticides are used to prevent disease-causing pests, one of which is known to have neurotoxic effects on the workers who apply it. Yet it is dumped directly into the water.
These pesticides have an effect on fish DNA, causing genetic mutations and morphological changes.19 Estimates suggest well over half of all farmed cod are deformed20 from the application of these pesticides. As farmed fish deplete resources, escaped female cod are known to mate with wild cod and spread genetic mutations and deformities in wild populations.
Farmed salmon suffer equally disturbing mutations, although less visible. The flesh of farm salmon is brittle and easily breaks apart, a highly abnormal feature. Farmed salmon also contain higher levels of contaminants than those fish found in the wild, in part because of their elevated fat content.21
How to Reduce Your Risk of Poisoning
Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, herring and anchovies are generally safer fish options than others as they contain less pollutants, contaminants and are less likely to carry scombroid or ciguatera poisoning, while still delivering animal-based omega-3 fats necessary for optimal health. The following suggestions may also help you make your choices:
• Prevent scombroid — The best way to protect yourself against the production of histamine in finned seafood is to ensure it was processed appropriately after being caught. This is especially important when eating mahi-mahi, salmon or tuna. Histidine conversion to histamine through bacterial enzymatic action occurs if the fish are not immediately frozen at 32 F (0 C) or below.
Report any reaction to seafood you’ve eaten at a restaurant or purchased from the store to your local health department and the facility you purchased it from. When multiple people experience reactions, the seafood should be pulled from public consumption.
• Prevent ciguatera — This toxin bioaccumulates up the food chain, originating in smaller herbivorous fish feeding along a coral reef, as they are eaten by larger carnivorous fish.
The toxin occurs in fish found in the tropics and subtropics, some of which may be shipped around the world, including barracuda, grouper and snapper. It’s not possible to determine which fish are contaminated, but eating fish smaller than 6 pounds may reduce your risk of getting sick.
• Avoid farmed fish — Wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon have a shorter life span and are less likely to be contaminated with environmental pollutants. Don’t confuse this fish with Atlantic caught salmon as Alaskan salmon are not allowed to be farmed. Canned Alaskan salmon is a less expensive alternative.
Other fish containing lower levels of environmental contaminants are small fish with short life cycles, such as herring, sardines and anchovies. Just be sure these are not fished from the Baltic Sea as it is exceptionally polluted.
Pain is one of the most common reasons people access the health care system. It affects more people than diabetes, heart disease and cancer.1 While it’s the leading cause of disability and a major contributor to rising health care costs, not all pain triggers a doctor’s visit. Some instead choose to use over-the-counter pain killers to treat their pain.
According to an analysis by the National Institutes of Health (NIH),2 more than 25 million American adults suffer from chronic pain lasting three or more months. These are individuals with chronic back pain, headaches or neck pain, and 40 million report severe pain.
According to resent research,3 many are taking dangerously high doses of ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications, and 15 percent are taking more than the maximum dose. According to lead author Dr. David Kaufman from Boston University:4
“These drugs can have serious side effects, including gastrointestinal bleeding and heart attacks, and are often taken without medical oversight because many products are available over-the-counter.
The attitude that users can choose their own dose regardless of label directions, along with poor knowledge of dosing limits, is associated with exceeding the daily limit.”
Common over-the-counter pain relievers are not as safe as you may imagine. Although used frequently, they come with a long list of long- and short-term side effects, including hearing loss, heart attack and now an alteration in male testicular physiology.5
Sperm Quality and Quantity Declining Worldwide
According to several studies, sperm counts are plummeting throughout the Western world. An initial study published in 1992, known as The Carlson study,6 was a meta-analysis of 61 studies done worldwide. It found a trend of decreasing sperm count and volume of seminal fluid over a 50-year period ending in 1991.
However, many did not accept the results, based on some limitations of the study. Since the Carlson study, other analyses have produced mixed results. In this latest study7 published in Human Reproduction Update, Dr. Hagai Levine of Hebrew University in Jerusalem conducted a meta-analysis of 185 studies that included nearly 43,000 male participants who provided samples between 1973 and 2011.
The studies were distributed over 40 years and 50 countries. The results showed a decline in sperm concentration of 1.4 percent per year, with an overall drop of 52.4 percent during the study period for men living in industrialized Western countries.8
Total sperm count also declined 1.6 percent per year, and 59.3 percent overall. However, by comparison, there were no significant declines in count or concentrations in men living in South America, Asia and Africa.
This study did not address why sperm count and concentration are plummeting around the world. However, previous studies have demonstrated exposure in utero and after birth to endocrine disrupting chemicals can harm male reproductive system and fertility potential.9
Other factors that can influence sperm count or concentration include body mass index (BMI), temperature, tight underwear, lifestyle choices and geography — even within the U.S., different states and regions have different counts.10 Levine commented on the results, saying:11
"Given the importance of sperm counts for male fertility and human health, this study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world to investigate the causes of the sharp ongoing drop in sperm count, with the goal of prevention.”
Ibuprofen Responsible for Compensated Hypogonadism
Concerns over evidence showing sperm quality is falling globally has resulted from studies evaluating count and concentration. Here, the main focus was a different measure of the male reproductive system — testosterone production. Researchers began the study with men under the age of 35 in Denmark and France.
The group was split into two; one took 1,200 mg of ibuprofen each day for six weeks, while the second group took a placebo. The Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) recommends 400 mg by mouth every four to six hours as needed, and warns adult doses should not exceed 3,200 mg per day.12
The 1,200 mg dose used in the study may be in the midrange for those using the medication for general aches, pains and fever. However, it is not unusual for those suffering chronic injury to take more than the recommended dose,13 and for doctors to prescribe twice as much for athletes.
Disturbingly, the results showed men who took ibuprofen suffered a condition known as compensated hypogonadism, which occurs when men have normal levels of testosterone in the blood but higher levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), used to regulate the production of testosterone.
The increased levels of LH indicated ibuprofen triggered problems in the testicles, preventing the production of testosterone. Data also showed changes in the pituitary gland, forcing the production of more testosterone.14
The net result were stable levels of testosterone as the body stressed to compensate for the detrimental impact of ibuprofen. The researchers also found compensated hypogonadism triggered a temporary reduction in sperm count.
While this study did not prove an association, the researchers suspect long-term use may lead to primary overt hypogonadism, a condition resulting in reduced libido, changes in mood and decline in muscle mass.15
The researchers wrote ibuprofen appears to affect the hormonal balance in adult men and alters testicular physiology, creating a situation in which the body has to work harder to maintain a normal level of testosterone.16
Low Sperm Counts Are Associated With Increased Risk of Early Death
Compensated hypogonadism and a reduction in fertility may only be the tip of the iceberg when testosterone levels fall. In one study17 performed by a group of Italian researchers, over 4,100 heterosexual men were evaluated for hypogonadism and erectile function.
The data revealed 75 percent of the men appeared to have healthy functioning gonads, 20 percent had overt hypogonadism, and just over 4 percent fell into the category of compensated hypogonadism.
The researchers discovered men in the compensated and overt hypogonadal groups were at higher risk for cardiovascular events than men in the group who had healthy functioning gonads.18
Another study19 from Stanford University School of Medicine found men who had two or more abnormalities in their semen were twice as likely to die over an eight-year period as men who had normal semen. The researchers wrote diabetes also doubles the risk of death. The study's lead author, Michael Eisenberg Ph.D., commented,20 “[H]ere we are seeing the same doubled risk with male infertility, which is relatively understudied.”
Semen Quality Associated With Cardiovascular and Metabolic Changes
A recent study21 from the Endocrine Society shows sperm count is a general marker associated with metabolic alterations, higher cardiovascular risk and low bone mass.
Researchers evaluated semen quality, reproductive function and metabolic risk in over 5,000 men, and found infertile men were likely to have important coexisting health problems or factors impairing quality of life and shortening their lives.
Half of the men with low sperm counts were 1.2 times more likely to have greater body fat, high blood pressure and lipidemia. This group also had a higher frequency of metabolic syndrome, increasing their risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
The data also revealed a 12fold risk of hypogonadism in men with low sperm count. Researchers suggested low sperm count resulting from hypogonadism was associated with poor measures of cardiometabolic health.22
How Testosterone Affects the Whole Body
Testosterone is an androgen hormone produced primarily in the testicles and thought to regulate a number of functions, including bone mass, fat distribution, muscle size and strength, and red cell production.23
In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine,24 researchers tested testosterone supplementation in a group of 400 healthy men, age 20 to 50 years. Participants were seen every four weeks to measure hormone levels and fill out questionnaires to assess physical function, health status, vitality and sexual function.
Body fat and muscle measurements were also taken at the beginning and at the end of the 16-week study. Data revealed the dose of testosterone required to produce different effects in the body varied widely.
As the dose was reduced, participants experienced reductions in lean mass, muscle size and leg press strength. However, increases in body fat were related to declines in estradiol, as small amounts of circulating testosterone are normally converted to estradiol, a form of estrogen.
Both reduced testosterone and estradiol levels were associated with libido and erectile function. The team was led by Dr. Joel Finkelstein from Massachusetts General Hospital, who commented on the results:25
“[T]he biggest surprise was that some of the symptoms routinely attributed to testosterone deficiency are actually partially or almost exclusively caused by the decline in estrogens that is an inseparable result of lower testosterone levels.”
Commonly Used NSAIDs Like Ibuprofen Increase Your Cardiovascular Risk
NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, are prescribed extensively throughout the world. While many consider the medication innocuous, the truth is, by conservative estimates, over 105,000 people are hospitalized each year from the side effects and over 16,000 of those die.26
Side effects from long-term use range from hearing loss to gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding. Unfortunately, there's no specific antidote for NSAIDs poisoning, which may lead to metabolic acidosis, multiple system organ failure and death. Short-term use of NSAIDs also increase your risk of heart attack when you take the medication consistently.
In 2005,27 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned these drugs may increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. In 201528 they took the additional and unusual step of strengthening this warning based on the advice of an expert panel.
The FDA points out heart attack and stroke risk increases even with short-term use, and while the risk is greater for those who already suffer from heart disease, even those without heart disease may be at risk. In one recent study,29 researchers analyzed over 60,000 cases of myocardial infarction (MI) before concluding NSAIDs were significantly associated with a risk of an acute Michigan.
Specifically, ibuprofen exhibited an additional increased risk of MI between Day Eight and Day 30 of consuming the drug. Some NSAIDs show a single wave of increased risk in the first week. The researchers speculated the differences between the drugs may have been related to the drug's effect on the renal system.30
Additional risks include higher rates of miscarriage when taken in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy,31 atrial fibrillation in those who previously had a myocardioal infarction,32 increased risk of upper and lower GI tract bleeding,33 and increased mucosal permeability and inflammation in the lower GI tract.34 Ibuprofen may also trigger:35
Clotting problems so you bruise or bleed easily
Serious (possibly fatal) liver disease
Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
Mental or mood changes
High blood pressure
Drug-Free Pain Control
Pain control without addressing the underlying physical issue may increase your risk of experiencing side effects from medications you're taking, or lead you to resort to even stronger medications with more dangerous side effects. I strongly recommend you exhaust other, safer options before resorting to consistent use of painkillers, even in the short term.
The truth is many drugs used to treat pain may increase your risk of heart attack, change your brain chemistry and possibly your behavior. Your pain experience is affected by several factors, of which sleep may be the most important. Sleep, pain and depression are a strongly interconnected triad where a change in one impacts the other two. Getting eight hours of quality sleep on a nightly basis may help you cope with the discomfort you experience.
If you have trouble getting to sleep, or staying asleep, you'll want to check out my 33 tips to a better night of sleep. You can also read more about the changes medications make to your brain, and find 19 nondrug solutions for pain relief in my previous article, "Drugs for Physical and Emotional Pain Change Your Brain."
30 Tips in 30 Days Designed to Help You Take Control of Your Health
This article is included in Dr. Mercola's All-Time Top 30 Health Tips series. Every day during the month of January, a new tip will be added that will help you take control of your health. Want to see the full list? Click here.
With household cleaner use being as dangerous for your lung health as long-term smoking, clearing out your cleaning cabinet could be a really simple way of safeguarding your family's health. It's true, research1 from the University of Bergen in Norway has demonstrated that once-weekly use of cleaning products for 20 years may be equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day for 10 to 20 years.
The authors postulate the damage could be attributed to the irritation most chemicals cause on the mucous membranes lining your lungs. Over time, this can result in persistent changes and airway remodeling. As noted by senior author Cecilie Svanes, Ph.D., professor at the University of Bergen Center for International Health:2
"[W]hen you think of inhaling small particles from cleaning agents that are meant for cleaning the floor and not your lungs, maybe it is not so surprising …
The take-home message of this study is that in the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs. These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes."
Household cleaning agents and personal care products are also the second and third most frequent cause for calls to poison control in the U.S., beating out both antipsychotics and antidepressants.3
Household Products Create as Much Air Pollution as Cars
Other recent research4 confirmed that many consumer products release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as they evaporate, and once these chemicals migrate outside your home, they react with nitrogen oxides and heat, transforming into ozone. When exposed to sunlight, the VOCs transform into fine particulate matter.
In this way, common household products contribute to air pollution, not just inside the home but also outdoors. In fact, according to an air quality evaluation in the Los Angeles area, the amount of VOCs released by consumer products is two to three times greater than previously estimated.5,6
While the list of VOCs is exceedingly long, study team member Jessica Gilman, a research chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), notes that the easiest way to identify VOC-containing products is to look for the word "fragrances" on the label, as up to 2,000 different VOCs can be listed simply as "fragrance."7
Two popular ones are limonene and beta-Pinene, frequently used in cleaning products and air fresheners as they smell like lemon and pine trees. The investigation was inspired by earlier measurements in Los Angeles demonstrating concentrations of VOCs were higher than could be predicted by burning fossil-fuels alone.8
Previous estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had found 75 percent of VOC emissions were from vehicles, but this study places the split closer to 50 percent, suggesting new air quality models may have to be adopted in order to reduce air pollution originating from consumer products.9
These findings also highlight the importance of addressing your indoor air quality, as VOCs are typically seven times higher indoors than outdoors.10 For a list of strategies you can use to lower and remediate indoor air pollution, see "Reduce Indoor Air Pollution." A key strategy, however, is to stop introducing toxic chemicals into your home, and cleaning products are a major source.
Exposure to Cleaning Agents Has Both Acute and Long-Term Health Ramifications
While exposure to cleaning products in the long term may be equivalent to smoking, you may also suffer more immediate health consequences. A 2015 study11 evaluating exposure to cleaning products against short-term respiratory effects in women with asthma found the use of specific products at work exacerbated the participants' condition. Long-term or chronic exposure to household cleaners and disinfectants has also been linked to:
• An increase in asthmatic symptoms, increasing your risk of long-term effects associated with asthma, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung infections and scarred lung tissue.12 Individuals who suffer from diseases that fall under the umbrella of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may also experience frequent wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and increasing breathlessness13
• Nervous system damage14
• Low sperm count15
• Irregularities in menstruation16
The most acutely dangerous cleaning products are corrosive drain cleaners, acidic toilet bowl cleaners and oven cleaners.18 Corrosive chemicals can cause severe burns, while chlorine bleach and ammonia-containing products produce fumes that are irritating to your eyes, throat and lungs.
Additionally, chlorine and ammonia pose a further threat as they react with other chemicals to form damaging gases. Fragrances added to many cleaning solutions can also trigger headaches and migraines.19
Mixing Cleaning Products Can Have Lethal Effects
Your cleaning products may also have lethal effects if you mix them together. For instance, mixing bleach with an ammonia-based product produces a toxic gas called chloramines, exposure to which may trigger chest pain, wheezing, shortness of breath and pneumonia.20
Ammonia is commonly found in glass and window cleaners or interior and exterior paints, making bleach a poor choice for cleanup after painting.21 Combining bleach with an acid-based cleaner produces chlorine gas, which when combined with water will make hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids.22
Even low levels of exposure for a short time will result in eye, nose and throat irritation. Higher-level exposure will result in chest pain, vomiting, breathing difficulty and chemical-induced pneumonia. Vinegar is a mild acid, and mixing bleach with this common household liquid can result in chemical burns of your eyes and lungs.23 Other acid-based products include drain cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner and automatic dishwasher detergents.24
Bleach will also react with oven cleaners, hydrogen peroxide and some insecticides to produce toxic gas. Mixing bleach with products that contain isopropyl alcohol, such as rubbing alcohol, can produce gasses that have the potential to damage your nervous system, eyes, lungs, kidneys and liver.25
Ultimately, mixing any two commercial cleaners or drain cleaners together is a dangerous proposition, and the hazard inherent in the use of these cleaners is significant enough without the additional risks associated with mixing unknown chemicals.
8 Nontoxic Household Cleaning Products You Can Use
One of the primary reasons for cleaning your home regularly is to clear out many of the toxic chemicals accumulating in your dust. Flame-retardant chemicals and phthalates are among them, along with thousands of species of bacteria and fungi.26
A clean and decluttered home is a sanctuary from the outside world, but if you use rubber gloves and spray harsh chemicals to get the job done, you're likely doing more harm than good. Research shows even products labeled green, natural and organic emit hazardous air pollutants.27
The good news is you really don't need to buy chemical cleansers to keep your home spick-and-span. Keeping a few natural and nontoxic staples on hand will allow you to clean your home from top to bottom, saving you money to boot. Core staples to consider include the following. In the sections that follow, I'll provide guidance on how to use them all.
1. Baking soda
3. Lemons (both juice and peel)
4. Castile soap
5. Coconut oil
6. Essential oils (citrus essential oil being a good overall choice)
7. Hydrogen peroxide
8. Rubbing alcohol or vodka
Baking Soda and White Vinegar — Two Powerful Multiuse Cleaning Agents
In preparation for the Statue of Liberty's 100th anniversary in 1986, 99 years' worth of coal tar had to be removed from its inner copper walls, without causing damage. Baking soda — more than 100 tons — was the cleaner of choice,28 so there's a good chance it can remove dirt and grime around your home too. Here are a few examples of how it can be used:
- Nonscratch scrub for metals and porcelain.
- Nontoxic oven cleaner — Sprinkle 1 cup or more of baking soda over the bottom of the oven, then cover the baking soda with enough water to make a thick paste. Let the mixture set overnight. The next morning, the grease will be easy to wipe off. When you have cleaned up the worst of the mess, dab a bit of liquid detergent or soap on a sponge and wash the remaining residue from the oven.
- Drain cleaner — To unclog a drain, pour one-half to 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, then slowly pour one-half to 1 cup of vinegar in after it. Cover the drain and let sit for 15 minutes. If it bubbles like a volcano, it means it's working as planned. Flush with a gallon of boiling water.
- Carpet deodorizer — Liberally sprinkle baking soda over the carpet. Wait at least 15 minutes, then vacuum thoroughly.
Distilled white vinegar is another cleaning staple that has a long history of use. Depending on your age, you may recall your grandmother washing windows with a mixture of white vinegar and water. Indeed, it makes for a great window cleaner, but it also has disinfectant properties, with research showing white vinegar is useful for disinfection against Escherichia coli (E. coli), provided it's a freshly prepared solution of at least 50 percent vinegar.29
For disinfecting purposes, one study found spraying vinegar, followed by hydrogen peroxide, was effective for killing a variety of bacteria, including E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella.30 You can also spray white vinegar onto a dusting of baking soda to clean your tubs and tile floors.
A vinegar and water mixture makes a great all-purpose countertop cleaner as well, but for stone counters, use rubbing alcohol or vodka with water instead, as the acidity of the vinegar may harm surfaces such as marble and granite. For heavier-duty cleaning, like mildew on your bathroom grout, spray vinegar straight onto the area, let set for 30 minutes, then scrub with a sponge and warm water.
15 Ways to Clean With Lemons
Lemons, both the juice and peel, can be used throughout your home for cleaning and deodorizing. For example, you can use them to clean and freshen your:
Garbage disposal — Freeze lemon slices and vinegar in ice cube trays. Place a few frozen cubes down your disposal for cleaning and freshening. Alternatively, simply run some lemon peel through your disposal.
Refrigerator — Soak a sponge in lemon juice and let it set in your fridge for a few hours; it works better than baking soda to remove odors.
Room freshener — Simmer a pot of water with lemon peels, cloves and cinnamon sticks on your stove.
Humidifier — Add lemon juice to the water in your humidifier, then let the machine run for deodorizing.
Fireplace — Dried citrus peels can act as kindling in your fireplace, adding a wonderful smell and acting as a flame starter. Simply set the peels out to dry for a few days before using.
Trash cans — A few lemon peels added to your garbage can will help with odors.
Cutting boards — Sprinkle coarse salt on your cutting board then rub with a cut lemon to freshen and remove grease. This trick also works for wooden salad bowls and rolling pins.
Coffee maker — Run a cycle with plain water, then add a mixture of lemon juice and water to the water tank. Let it sit for several minutes, then run the cycle through. Repeat this process once more, then run another plain water cycle (you'll want to wash the coffee pot and filter afterward to remove any lemon taste).
Furniture polish — Combine lemon oil, lemon juice and olive or jojoba oil to make a homemade furniture polish. Simply buff with a cloth.
Hardwood floors — Combine lemon and vinegar for a grime-fighting nontoxic floor cleaner.
Cat box — Place lemon slices in a bowl near your cat box to help freshen the air.
Windows — Lemon juice cuts through grease and grime on windows and glass. Try combining it with one-fourth cup white vinegar, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and 2 cups of warm water31 for a phenomenal window cleaner.
All-purpose cleaner — Combine water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and lemon essential oil for a wonderful kitchen or bathroom cleaner.
Hands — Add lemon juice while washing your hands with soap to help remove stubborn odors like garlic.
Breath — Drinking lemon water helps freshen your breath (rinse your mouth with plain water afterward since lemon juice may erode your teeth).
All-Natural Antibacterial Cleaning Suggestions Using Castile Soap, Hydrogen Peroxide and Coconut Oil
Castile soap is natural, biodegradable, chemical-free and incredibly versatile. You can use it for personal care, laundry and cleaning around your home. For instance, mixing baking soda with a small amount of liquid castile soap makes an excellent paste for cleaning your tub and shower.
For a homemade antibacterial solution, mix 2 cups of water with 3 tablespoons of castile soap and 20 to 30 drops of tea tree oil. Spray onto the surface (such as toilet seat or sink), then wipe off. You can even make a homemade dishwasher detergent by mixing equal parts of liquid castile soap and water.
Hydrogen peroxide is another antibacterial option. For general cleaning around the house, simply add 20 to 30 drops of citrus essential oil to a spritzer bottle filled with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. Spray surface and wipe off. It's great on greasy surfaces such as your kitchen counters.
Coconut oil also has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal compounds that have been shown to inactivate microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast and fungi. Around the home, coconut oil is particularly useful for cleaning, sanitizing and conditioning wood items, such as cutting boards and furniture, but you can also use it for lubricating squeaky hinges and sticky mechanisms instead of WD-40.
It also works well for moisturizing and softening leather goods in lieu of leather conditioners and for removing chewing gum from virtually any area, including carpets and hair.
Essential Oils Have Countless Uses
Essential oils deserve a category of their own, as their uses for household cleaning are only limited by your imagination. Many essential oils have antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity and can be added as a boost to your homemade cleaners.
For instance, to make a homemade cleaning scrub with antibacterial activity, simply add a few drops of lavender oil to baking soda. Some of the most popular essential oils for cleaning include lemon, peppermint and tea tree, with tea tree showing antiviral activity against viruses like influenza A.32 Sweet orange is another option, which has been shown to work against E. coli and Salmonella.33
Essential oils can also be diffused around your home for a natural, therapeutic air freshener. Ditch the toxic sprays, candles and plug-ins for an essential oil diffuser instead. They not only smell wonderful but can have beneficial effects on your mood and stress levels.
Unlike synthetic fragrances, which pollute your air, essential oils may actually help to improve indoor air quality. In the case of fungi and mold, for instance, essential oils from heartwood, marjoram, cinnamon, lemon basil, caraway, bay tree, fir, peppermint, pine, cedar leaf and manuka may be helpful, as they all have antifungal properties.34
In addition, you can easily freshen your laundry without risking your family's health simply by spritzing your wet laundry with a mix of water and a few drops of essential oil before placing it in the dryer. Alternatively, add a dozen or so drops to an old wool sock, and put it in the dryer with your laundry. For more information on the properties of individual essential oils, be sure to check out our "Ultimate Guide to Herbal Oils."
Homemade Laundry Detergent and Bleach Alternative
Once you dip your toe into the world of natural cleaning, you'll realize there's virtually no reason to resort to toxic chemical sprays and powders. You can reach a superior level of clean using simple ingredients you probably have in your kitchen right now. And feel free to be creative, as some of the best combinations are found through experimentation.
You can even make your own laundry detergent, adding in any essential oils you like for a natural scent. Here's a recipe from Mommypotamus to get you started.35 Happy natural cleaning!
Homemade Natural Laundry Detergent
- 6 cups washing soda
- 3 bars coconut oil soap (4.5 to 5 ounces each)
- Lemon essential oil (optional)
- Cut soap into small chunks. Add to a food processor along with the washing soda.
- Blend until you have a fine powder. You may want to lay a dish towel over the top of your food processor to prevent a fine mist of powder from floating into the air.
- Also, let it settle a bit before opening the container or the powder will float onto your kitchen counter.
- Pour the powder into a clean container. Keep the essential oil next to the jar and add 5 drops with each load.
For whites, consider this recipe for a bleach alternative, courtesy of Beyond Toxics.36
Bleach Alternative Formula
Basic Liquid Formula
- 2 1/4 cups liquid castile soap
- 1 tablespoon glycerin
- 3/4 cup water
- 10 to 15 drops lemon essential oil (or other essential oil of your choice)
- This recipe makes enough for one load of laundry. Keep lemon juice separate until ready to use. Combine all ingredients into a plastic container, and shake once or twice before adding to the wash.
Most of you reading this have probably used Teflon-coated nonstick cookware. You may even still have a Teflon pan or two in your kitchen. Even if you haven’t, you’ve certainly been exposed to polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a synthetic fluoropolymer and the chemical behind Teflon products, via other sources.
PTFE is one of a large group of fluorinated chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl or perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFASs), which include PFOA and PFOS. Historically, PFASs were once known as fluorocarbons. While the acronyms can get a bit confusing, the important thing to remember is that this family of chemicals (PTFE, PFAS, PFOA, PFOS and PFCs) is toxic to your health.
In fact, the convenience of a nonstick or stain-resistant surface comes at a steep price, as such chemicals persist in the environment, are contaminating water supplies and have been linked to developmental problems, cancer, liver damage, immune effects, thyroid problems and more.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest PFASs are in the blood of more than 98 percent of Americans,1 a disturbing prospect that becomes even more unnerving when you look back at where PFASs came from.
Before they found their way into Americans’ kitchens, clothing, food packaging and the very cells of our bodies, PFASs were broken down elements in a lab, created by happenstance during the race to create an atomic bomb.
The Makings for PFASs Started During the Manhattan Project
In an essay for Aeon, Rebecca Altman, Ph. D., weaves the true tale of the link between Teflon chemicals and the atomic bomb, and how they’ve essentially “time bombed” the future with their toxic legacy. “The story was set in motion by a quirky chemist named Joseph H. Simons, who invented the method that 3M, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, used to make PFASs for more than 50 years,” Altman wrote.2
The Manhattan Project, code name for the U.S.-led effort to develop the world’s first atomic bomb during World War II, required uranium to be converted into uranium hexafluoride, a gas. This process required uranium to be combined with fluorine, a deadly, highly explosive gas. Prior to this, in the 1930s, Simons was already working with fluorine. According to Altman:
“Simons was studying simple fluorocarbons and needed a small sample of one in particular — carbon tetrafluoride (CF4) — to make measurements. The only way to procure CF4 was to make it, and the only way to make it was to react fluorine with carbon, inviting an explosion.
Simons built his own equipment to contain the blast, and hired a former football player — ‘fast and broad-shouldered’ — to run the process, teaching him to flee before the whole apparatus detonated.
Except, for weeks, nothing happened. No explosion. No carbon tetrafluoride in the collection vessel. Just a few drops of a clear, curious liquid. Eventually Simons realized that an old pipe, salvaged from a neighboring lab, had been caked with mercury. The mercury had changed the chemistry so that the reaction yielded a breed of fluorocarbons that seemed inert and unassailable.”3
In 1940, Harold Urey, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist of Columbia University in Manhattan, joined forces with Simons, code naming his discovery “Joe’s stuff,” and it turned out the liquid concoction withstood both fluorine and uranium hexafluoride.
“Chemists soon descended on Columbia to work on ‘Joe’s stuff,’” Altman noted, and Simons continued working on both fluorinated war gases and developing a safer way to produce fluorocarbons. While Simons’ techniques for large-scale production of fluorocarbon weren’t ultimately used to develop the bomb, they were taken up by 3M.
“By 1944, the company had licensed it and readied it for factory production in Hastings, Minnesota, along the upper Mississippi River,” Altman explained.4 By the 1950s, more than 800 compounds made from fluorocarbons were in existence, ranging from refrigerants to waxes and paints.5
Teflon Chemical Also ‘Accidentally’ Came From the Manhattan Project
PTFE was also discovered quite by accident, at the hands of Roy Plunkett, a DuPont chemist working with Freon refrigerants, in 1938.
In its history of Teflon, DuPont spin-off company Chemours, stated, “Upon checking a frozen, compressed sample of tetrafluoroethylene, he and his associates discovered that the sample had polymerized spontaneously into a white, waxy solid to form polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE is inert to virtually all chemicals and is considered the most slippery material in existence.”6
Eventually, and with the help of another chemist by the name of Malcolm Renfrew, PTFE entered the large-scale market and DuPont built a Teflon factory along the Ohio river in West Virginia, an area now heavily polluted with PFAS.
“Though the bomb sped fluorocarbons into development,” Altman wrote, “it was another Manhattan Project-funded technology, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), the then-new fluorinated plastic best-known as Teflon, that helped to broadcast them into the environment.”7
In its Teflon production, DuPont also used a variant of PFOA known as C8, which was widely released into waterways, landfills and the air. Even Renfrew was surprised at its ultimate usage in American cookware, stating, ‘We knew it would be an important chemical, [but] the frying pan thing … I would never have imagined that.”8
Around the same time that PTFE was accidentally discovered, PFOS was also accidentally synthesized by Patsy Sherman, of 3M, which would ultimately use it as a key ingredient in its Scotchgard stain repellant.9
A New, Nonstick World
In addition to nonstick cookware, PFASs have been used in everything from carpet and fabrics to coatings for paper and cardboard packaging to firefighting foams.
Although most companies have stopped making PFOA and PFOS as their serious environmental and health risks have been uncovered, the chemicals are extremely persistent in the environment; they do not break down in water or soil and can be carried over great distances by wind or rain, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.10
PFASs have since been found in air, surface water, groundwater, drinking water, soil and food, and humans can be exposed via all of these sources. And it all started during the quest for an atomic bomb. Marko Filipovic, Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry at Stockholm University, explained:11
“In the early 1940s, during World War II, the Manhattan project required new inert materials for separation of uranium isotopes via gas diffusion from their corrosive hexafluorides. Fluorinated materials were uniquely suited for the task. The Manhattan project gave great momentum to the development of new fluorine based chemicals.
Ever since, the fluorine industry has grown exponentially and a large variety of poly- or per-fluorinated organochemicals have become ingredients in the products of everyday life.
The success story of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) started thus with the accidental synthesis of new chemicals and chemists serendipitously discovering the extraordinary physical-chemical properties of these new materials.”
The Lasting Toxic Legacy of PFAS
From Michigan to Vermont, companies using toxic PFOA and other similar chemicals in the manufacture of Teflon-containing fabrics and waterproof shoes have left behind a toxic legacy: contaminated water and soil that’s been poisoning area residents for decades.
PFOA is already the subject of at least 3,500 personal injury claims against DuPont. One woman who developed kidney cancer after drinking PFOA-contaminated water was awarded $1.6 million in damages.12 During the legal process of suing DuPont, hundreds of internal documents were uncovered showing the company knew about the chemical's danger to the public and employees, likely as early as 1961.
Although this information is only recently reaching the courts, over a decade ago the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined DuPont $16.5 million for withholding decades’ worth of information about health hazards. Although it was the largest fine the EPA had ever assessed, it did not act as a deterrent to the company and DuPont continued to manufacture and release C8 into the environment.
While production of PFOA ended in 2015, DuPont and other companies have only substituted a shorter chain version of C8 in the production of stain-resistant materials and nonstick pans. What's worse, the company has known of the effects on the environment and human health and has repeatedly lied to federal and local regulators, consumers and even their own employees about toxicity from exposure.
If you want to know more details, the film "The Devil We Know," released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018, depicts the struggle employees and residents of the Ohio Valley went through to ensure DuPont chemical company takes responsibility for their actions, which will be experienced for centuries to come.
In May 2015, more than 200 scientists from 40 countries signed the Madrid Statement, which warns about the harms of PFAS chemicals and documents the following potential health effects of exposure:13
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
Reduced birth weight and size
Decreased immune response to vaccines
Reduced hormone levels and delayed puberty
Teflon Chemicals Pollute US Drinking Water
The problem is worst near known chemical plants and dumping grounds, but even if you live in a seemingly “clean” area, there’s a chance your water could be contaminated with these ubiquitous and highly toxic chemicals.
According to a 2016 Harvard study, 16.5 million Americans have detectable levels of at least one kind of PFAS in their drinking water, and about 6 million Americans are drinking water that contains PFAS at or above the EPA safety level.14
While toxic water supplies were found in 33 states, 75 percent of the samples with elevated PFAS came from 13 states: California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Arizona, Massachusetts and Illinois.
Not surprisingly, the highest concentration levels of PFAS were found in watersheds near industrial sites, military fire training areas and wastewater treatment plants. Private wells have also been found to be contaminated. The full extent of PFAS contamination in water supplies is unknown, but there’s a good chance your drinking water could be contaminated to some extent.
The existence of chemicals like PFASs, which have no taste or smell, in drinking water is the reason I recommend virtually everyone filter their water with a high-quality carbon filtration system. To be certain you're getting the purest water you can, filter the water both at the point of entry and at the point of use.
PFAS May Also Be in Your Food Wrappers
In addition to cookware, clothing and cosmetics, another product group where you’re likely to see PFASs include fast food packaging and food wrappers. In one study, about one-third of fast food wrappers and containers were found to contain fluorine, which suggests perfluorinated chemicals were used to give the paper a slick surface, making it oil- and grease-resistant.15
Given these chemicals’ pervasive and persistent use, everyone would be well served by following the Madrid Statement’s recommendation to avoid products containing, or manufactured using, PFASs, which include most that are stain-resistant, waterproof or nonstick. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) further recommends avoiding:16
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 PTFE.
Items treated with flame retardant chemicals, which 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, as the wrappers are typically treated with PFASs
Microwave popcorn. PFOA may not only be 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.
Oral-B Glide floss and any other personal care products containing PTFE or "fluoro" or "perfluoro" ingredients.
Oranges are one of the most popular fruits in the U.S., but be aware that soon you may be sinking your teeth into an orange doused in antibiotics such as streptomycin and oxytetracycline, medications that are medically important to humans.
In December 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the “maximum level” of oxytetracycline for use in citrus fruits1 — just days after approving residues of the drug on fruit.2
The drug acts as a pesticide and is intended to suppress citrus greening disease, a devastating plant condition that’s been damaging citrus crops in Florida and other states. It’s unclear how much of the drugs will migrate to the orange flesh, and what the implications will be for the person who eats them, but on a larger scale it’s clear that spraying antibiotics freely into the environment on this scale is a recipe for disaster.
What Is Citrus Greening?
Citrus greening, also known as huanglongbing (HLB) or yellow dragon disease, is one of the “most serious citrus plant diseases in the world,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).3 It’s spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, which feed on the trees and can infect them with the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, which causes the disease.
Trees affected by citrus greening lose the ability to take in nutrients, causing problems with growth, resulting in smaller fruit, sour fruit and fewer fruits. Oranges, for instance, may remain green even when they’re ripe, and the fruit may be misshapen, bitter and hard. Leaves may become mottled and trees sparsely foliated.
Once infected, there’s no cure for citrus greening and most trees die within a few years. In the U.S., citrus production during the 2017 to 2018 season was expected to fall 24 percent to 3.5 million tons due in part to unfavorable weather, but also because citrus greening disease caused fruit in Florida to drop before it was ripe.4
Citrus growers are understandably desperately searching for a solution, which landed the trees on antibiotics. In 2015, Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services asked the EPA for permission to spray 2.23 million pounds of antibiotics on orange groves to protect against the disease.5 Further, as reported by the Center for Biological Diversity:6
“In 2016 the EPA approved an emergency use of up to 1.6 million pounds of oxytetracycline and streptomycin, another medically important antibiotic, on citrus trees in Florida. This was followed by another emergency approval in 2017 for Florida, and for Florida and California in 2018.”
Antibiotics provide only a temporary band-aid, however, and won’t cure the disease. Instead, the antibiotics merely keep the trees alive and producing fruit a little bit longer, provided they’re repeatedly sprayed. Ultimately, even the antibiotic-treated trees will succumb to citrus greening.
“We’re using more of these antibiotics on fruit trees than to treat disease in humans,” Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center, said in a news release. “Citrus greening disease is a serious issue, but using important antibiotics with limited effectiveness against the disease isn’t the solution.”7
Streptomycin Use May Also Be Expanded on Citrus Groves
The EPA proposed to expand the use of another antibiotic, streptomycin, to treat citrus greening disease and citrus canker, a bacterial disease that causes lesions on the fruit, leaves and stems along with premature leaf and fruit drop.
If approved, the proposal could mean more than 650,000 pounds of streptomycin could be applied to up to 480,000 acres of citrus trees in Florida each year, along with another 23,000 acres of citrus trees in California.8
The use of both oxytetracycline and streptomycin as pesticides on agricultural plants is banned in the European Union and Brazil, amid rising concerns over antibiotic resistance.
“This short-term agricultural fix is a horrible precedent that ignores the dangerous, long-term implications of overusing these medically important antibiotics,” Donley said. “The more we use these medicines in agriculture, the more likely they’ll lose their effectiveness when people fall desperately ill.”9
Oxytetracycline, for instance, is commonly used to treat respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia, along with some sexually transmitted infections. Streptomycin is typically used for serious bacterial infections for which other medicines may not work, such as tuberculosis.
“The … EPA is once again bowing to the pesticide industry’s wishes, with no regard for the consequences to human health, wildlife or the environment,” Donley said.10
Spraying Citrus Groves With Pesticides Could Accelerate Antibiotic Resistance, Harm Wildlife
Antibiotics have been sprayed on fruit orchards for years (streptomycin is registered for use on peaches, pears and apples, for instance), but at levels far lower than those currently approved.11
The nonprofit group Keep Antibiotics Working estimated that the state of Florida could end up using 36 times more streptomycin and four times more oxytetracycline on citrus trees than are used in Americans in a year. Steve Roach, food safety program director for the Food Animal Concerns Trust, told National Geographic:12
“Obviously this is a big problem for the citrus industry. But we are really concerned that they are asking to adopt routine antibiotic use, where they will pretty much have to be regularly spraying the whole industry. These are exactly the conditions we have been fighting against in animal agriculture: industrywide use of antibiotics on a regular basis.”
The antibiotics will also collect in soil and run off into surrounding waterways, and both the EPA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have expressed concerns about the potential risks, the Center for Biological Diversity reported, adding:13
“In addition to increasing the risk of antibiotic-resistance, the EPA’s own analysis also indicated that the widespread use of streptomycin could have negative long-term effects on all mammals that forage in treated fields, including chipmunks and rabbits.”
Antibiotic Resistant Disease Is a Major Public Health Threat
In the U.S., according to CDC data, every year at least 2 million Americans acquire drug-resistant infections and 23,000 die as a result. Many others die from conditions that were complicated by antibiotic-resistant infections.14 Worldwide, 700,000 people die every year due to antibiotic-resistant disease, and it’s estimated that more people will be affected by it than cancer by 2050.15
Agriculture remains a driving force behind the surge in antibiotic-resistant disease, although typically this is talked about in regard to livestock living on concentrated animal feeding operations, rather than citrus groves.
In the former case, in November 2017 the World Health Organization (WHO) called on farmers and the food industry to stop the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention in healthy animals. WHO explained, “The new … recommendations aim to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine by reducing their unnecessary use in animals.”16
They cited a 2017 study published in The Lancet Planetary Health, which found reducing antibiotic use in food-producing animals reduced antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the animals by up to 39 percent and may similarly reduce such bacteria in humans, particularly those who are directly exposed to food-producing animals.17
As it stands, the excessive use of antibiotics among CAFO animals has turned them into veritable “disease factories”18 and, in the U.S., when the FDA tests raw supermarket chicken, they routinely find antibiotic-resistant bacteria to be present.19
According to WHO, use of all classes of medically important antibiotics should be reduced in food-producing animals, while their use for growth promotion and disease prevention without diagnosed illness should be completely restricted. Allowing their use for widespread spraying on citrus trees, then, appears to contradict WHO’s goals in combating the spread of antibiotic resistant disease.
What’s at Stake if Antibiotic Resistance Spreads?
Already, tens of thousands of Americans may be vulnerable to life-threatening infections following surgery or chemotherapy due to antibiotic resistance. One study estimated that up to 50 percent of pathogens that cause surgical site infections, and 25 percent of those that cause infections following chemotherapy, are already resistant to common antibiotics.20
If antibiotic effectiveness drops by even another 10 percent, it could result in 40,000 more infections and 2,100 additional deaths following surgery and chemotherapy each year.
A 30 percent drop in effectiveness could mean another 120,000 infections and 6,300 deaths annually, the researchers concluded.21 Worse still, if antibiotic effectiveness declines by 70 percent, the U.S. could see 280,000 more infections and 15,000 more deaths as a result.
When spraying citrus with antibiotics, there’s also a risk that citrus greening disease could become resistant as well. To combat this, the industry has suggested cycling between oxytetracycline and streptomycin, but in a letter to the EPA, Keep Antibiotics Working suggests it’s not nearly this simple:22
“Florida makes the unsubstantiated claim that cycling between the two antibiotics streptomycin and oxytetracycline will ‘minimize any selection pressure’ and therefore can be considered ‘an effective resistance management program’ that will not only reduce resistance in the target organism but ‘should also help in preventing development of resistance in nontarget bacteria as well.’
The use of cycling of antibiotics as proposed here for the management of resistance is highly controversial even in human medicine and there is no clear evidence that it can be considered ‘an effective resistance management program.’”
What’s more, research from University of Canterbury researchers revealed that agrichemicals and antibiotics in combination increase the evolution of antibiotic resistance. In fact, bacteria may develop antibiotic resistance up to 100,000 times faster when they’re exposed to certain herbicides in the environment.23
The results suggest that herbicides enhance the ability of antibiotics to become antibiotic resistance and that such resistance may be acquired at rates much faster than those predicted in laboratory conditions. Previously, research found that commonly used herbicides promote antibiotic resistance by priming pathogens to more readily become resistant to antibiotics.24
Using antibiotics in another agricultural setting, where other agricultural chemicals are also being used, therefore has the potential to make antibiotic resistance exponentially worse — not to mention being harmful to wildlife and pollinating insects.
A Good Reason to Choose Organic Oranges
Typically, fruits with a thick peel, which you intend to remove before eating, are not the top priority for buying organic. However, it’s unknown whether agricultural antibiotics can be taken into the flesh of the fruit, so it’s better off to choose organic.
Even putting the health risks of consuming antibiotic residues aside, choosing organic means you’re not supporting the agricultural spraying of antibiotics that will only further the spread of antibiotic disease. It also means you’ll avoid exposure to citrus red No. 2, a toxic artificial dye that is sometimes sprayed on Florida oranges.
As Donley stated, the potential risks of this plan outweigh the benefits. “Our issue is that these drugs are a really lousy answer to a complex problem … This is just another example of the pesticide office of the EPA approving a pesticide that’s not been studied well enough for the agency to make a competent decision on its safety.”25
30 Tips in 30 Days Designed to Help You Take Control of Your Health
This article is included in Dr. Mercola's All-Time Top 30 Health Tips series. Every day during the month of January, a new tip will be added that will help you take control of your health. Want to see the full list? Click here.
The potential ramifications of unchecked exposure to electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation are immense. As explained in the featured interview with Martin Pall, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of biochemistry and basic medical sciences at Washington State University, the primary danger of EMFs — and what drives the processes of chronic disease — is the mitochondrial damage triggered by peroxynitrites, one of the most damaging types of reactive nitrogen species.
Devices that continuously emit EMF radiation at levels that damage your mitochondria include your cellphone, cellphone towers, Wi-Fi routers and modems, baby monitors and "smart" devices of all kinds, including smart meters and smart appliances.
Types of Damaging EMFs
EMFs can be broadly divided into three categories:
- Electric fields: AC electric fields at 60 Hz (50 Hz in Europe) from house wiring and corded appliances (especially ungrounded ones: cords that have only two prongs rather than three). Electric fields are the most challenging to measure accurately and significantly contributes to the confusion about EMFs
- Magnetic fields: AC magnetic fields at 60/50Hz Hz from power lines, wiring errors on house wiring, current on grounding paths, and from motors and transformers
- Radio frequencies (RF) from cellphones, smart meters, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other wireless devices
In addition to these three categories, you also have dirty electricity, or EMI (electromagnetic interference) caused by transient voltage spikes. If we go back in time to the end of World War I, around 1918 or so, and use that timeframe as a baseline of EMF exposure among the general public, you come to the astonishing conclusion that EMF exposure has increased about 1 quintillion times over the past 100 years.
You'd have to be irrational to assume that this radical increase — an increase of 1 billion times — couldn't have some adverse effects. The reality is that most people are experiencing biological impacts as a result of EMF exposure, but have no appreciation of the damage it's causing until it's too late. Even then, it's extremely difficult to link the exposure to the symptoms or the disease.
Unrelenting EMF Exposure Can Wreck Your Health
Pall has published research1,2,3,4 showing low-frequency microwave radiation activates voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) — channels in the outer membrane of your cells. Once activated, the VGCCs open, allowing an abnormal influx of calcium ions into the cell, which activates nitric oxide (NO).
NO is the only molecule in your body produced at high enough concentrations to outcompete other molecules for superoxide and is a precursor for peroxynitrite.5 These potent oxidant stressors are associated with an increased level of systemic inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction, and are thought to be a root cause for many of today's chronic diseases.
For an in-depth understanding of peroxynitrites and the harm they inflict, see "Nitric Oxide and Peroxynitrite in Health and Disease"6 — a 140-page paper with 1,500 references by Dr. Pal Pacher, Joseph Beckman and Dr. Lucas Liaudet. It's an epic paper and one of the best reviews I've ever read and best of all it is free to download.
One of its most significant downsides of peroxynitrite is that it damages DNA. Your body has the capacity to repair that damage through a family of 17 different enzymes collectively called poly ADP ribose polymerases (PARP). However, while PARP work well, they require NAD+ for fuel and when they run out of NAD+ they stop repairing your DNA, which can lead to premature cell death.
Heart, Brain and Male Reproductive Organs Are at Greatest Risk
According to Pall's theory, the physical locations where VGCCs are the densest are indicative of the diseases you might expect from chronic excessive exposure to EMFs. As it turns out, the highest density of VGCCs are found in your nervous system, your brain, the pacemaker in your heart and in male testes.
As a result, EMFs are likely to contribute to neurological and neuropsychiatric problems, heart and reproductive problems, including but not limited to cardiac arrhythmias, anxiety, depression, autism, Alzheimer's and infertility. Excessive calcium signaling produced by EMF exposures also has important roles in producing pathophysiological effects of EMFs, including each of the effects listed above.
For the past 25 years, the industry has claimed that nonionizing radiation is harmless and that the only radiation worth worrying about is ionizing radiation. Pall's research unequivocally proves that this assumption is false.
Thanks to Pall's work, we now know that VGCCs are 7.2 million times more sensitive to microwave radiation than the charged particles inside and outside our cells. This means the safety standards for this exposure are off by a factor of 7.2 million. In terms of oxidative damage, research shows 3G creates the same level of cellular stress and oxidative damage as about 1,600 chest X-rays.
Disinformation by Industry Threatens Public Health
Unfortunately, negative health effects from EMFs are usually not immediately noticeable, as the damage accrues over time, similar to that from smoking. It's important to note that researchers are in general agreement that there's a latency period of about 10 years or more before the damage shows up, which places children at greatest risk, since their exposures are earlier in life and longer.
There's no doubt in my mind that cellphones are one of the greatest public health threats of the 21st century. But, like the tobacco industry before it, the telecommunication industry has manipulated federal regulatory agencies, public health authorities and professionals through powerful and sophisticated lobbying efforts, leaving consumers confused about the health risks.
In an investigative report for The Nation, Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie reveals "the disinformation campaign — and massive radiation increase — behind the 5G rollout."7
By early 1999, findings from more than 50 studies were already raising "'serious questions' about cellphone safety," and this evidence was shared with the CTIA8 (the trade association for the wireless industry) board of directors. They ignored it, and have consistently fought to prevent public discussion and knowledge about the possible effects.
5G Rollout Will Significantly Magnify Health Risks
The industry touts 5G, the "5th Generation" wireless network, as a way to create faster internet and streaming services, and better cellphone coverage. The problem is that 5G relies primarily on the bandwidth of the millimeter wave (MMW), which is known to penetrate 1 to 2 millimeters of human skin tissue9 and has been linked to numerous health problems, including:10
- Eye problems such as lens opacity in rats, which is linked to the production of cataracts
- Impacted heart rate variability, an indicator of stress, in rats and heart rate changes (arrhythmias) in frogs
- Suppressed immune function
MMW is actually what's used in crowd control weapons (Active Denial Systems) by the U.S. Department of Defense, as it has the ability to cause a severe burning sensation.11 Unlike the "4th Generation" (4G) technology currently in use, which relies on 90-foot cell towers with about a dozen antenna ports on each, the 5G system uses "small cell" facilities or bases, each with about 100 antenna ports.12
Once it's installed in your neighborhood, you won't have a choice to opt out of continuous 5G exposure, and research13 compiled by EMF coach and author Lloyd Burrell shows the proliferation of 5G for the sake of faster internet could be a public health disaster.
While MMWs have not been widely used before, it's already been suggested that sweat ducts in human skin act as antennae when they come in contact with MMWs.14 In 2017, more than 180 doctors and scientists from 35 countries signed a petition15 to enact a moratorium on the rollout of 5G due to the potential risks to wildlife and human health, which include an increased risk for:
- Cellular stress and increase in harmful free radicals
- Genetic damage
- Reproductive problems16,17,18
- Neurological disorders
Two years earlier, in 2015, more than 230 scientists engaged in the study of biological and health effects of nonionizing EMFs in 41 nations signed an international appeal to the United Nations, calling for protection from nonionizing EMF exposure due to evidence of health effects even at low levels.19
20 Facts About 5G's Impact on Human Health
In this video, Paul Ben Ishai, Ph.D., a senior lecturer with the department of physics at Ariel University in Israel, reviews the potential risks to human health from sub-MM communication systems. The Environmental Health Trust has also published a list20 of 20 facts you need to know about 5G wireless. These include:
5G coverage requires "small cell" antennas to be placed in neighborhoods everywhere.
Millions of small cells must be built into people's front yards.
The radiation from 5G small cells is not minor, and will increase EMF radiation near homes, causing aesthetic deterioration of the environment in addition to health risks.
5G will not replace current wireless technology but add to it, increasing exposure exponentially.
Community authority is being overruled at every level of government in the name of boosting cellphone coverage and internet speeds.
Cellphone companies have confirmed that 5G small cells will work at a distance of 3,000 feet and do not need to be placed every 100 feet, necessitating them being placed near homes.
Scientists worldwide are calling for a halt to the rollout of 5G.
Cumulative daily radiation exposure is associated with serious health effects, including cancer,21,22 altered brain development in children and reproductive damage in men.
Indeed, thousands of studies showing biological effects from low-intensity EMF were summarized in the BioInitiative Report23 (2007 and 2012), demonstrating immune system effects, neurological effects, cognitive effects and much more. Another important study,24 funded by the U.S. government, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2011.
Using a positron emission tomography or PET scan capable of detecting alterations in glucose, the researchers determined that cellphone radiation triggers your brain cells to metabolize glucose at an increased rate.
Glucose metabolism equates to cell activation, so the findings indicate that radiation from your cellphone has a well-defined measureable influence on your brain. Essentially, each time you put a cellphone up to your ear, you're artificially activating your brain cells.
Multiple papers have concluded wireless radiation is a human carcinogen; the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified cellphones as a Group 2B "possible carcinogen" in 2011,25 and two recent studies (one by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP)26 and one by the Ramazzini Institute in Italy27) confirm its carcinogenic potential.
The NTP study found heart tumors (malignant schwannomas) in male rats, "similar to acoustic neuromas, a benign tumor in people involving the nerve that connects the ear to the brain, which some studies have linked to cellphone use."
According to experts, 5G small cell wireless streaming bills do not make financial sense.
Antennas near homes also decrease property values.
Microwave antennas in front yards pose several worker and public safety hazards.
Wireless companies warn investors of risks, but do not inform people living near cellphone towers.
Antennas near homes will cause a deterioration of sleep for the occupants, resulting in decreased performance and health.
Cellphone radiation has been shown to have an adverse impact on birds, bees, trees and plants.
Many U.S. cities and entire countries are voting to halt 5G.
The Federal Communications Commission does not monitor radiation exposures from cell installations and many cell towers already violate radiation limits.
The International Association of Firefighters officially oppose cell towers on fire stations, and have done so since 2004, after research showed firefighters with antennas on their stations suffered neurological damage, including memory problems, intermittent confusion and feelings of weakness.28
The American Academy of Pediatrics and many other medical organizations are calling for federal action to protect children from EMF exposures, citing research showing that living near mobile phone base stations is associated with an increased risk for headaches, memory problems, dizziness, depression and sleep disturbances.
Research29 by Pall published in 2016 detail how, when VGCCs are activated in the brain, they release neurotransmitters and neuroendocrine hormones. Hence, consequences of chronic EMF exposure to the brain also include anxiety, depression, autism and Alzheimer's.
Preliminary results from the largest long-term study30,31,32 of brain development and youth health in the U.S., the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study,33 also reveals the brains of the most prolific users of electronic devices look different compared to those who use smartphones, tablets and video games less frequently.
Children who use electronic devices for seven hours or more each day have premature thinning of the brain cortex, the outer brain layer that processes information from the five physical senses (taste, touch, sight, smell and sound). As little as two hours of screen time per day may impact cognition, resulting in lower scores on thinking and language tests.
Fiber optic connections is the solution and the safe alternative to boost internet speed and reliability.
Learn More About the Health Risks of 5G
You can download a 2-page fact sheet34 on 5G from the Environmental Health Trust. On their website, you can also access a long list of published scientific studies showing cause for concern.35 In "5G Wireless Telecommunications Expansion: Public Health and Environmental Implications," published in Environmental Research in August 2018, Dr. Cindy Russell, executive director of Physicians for Safe Technology,36 writes:37
"Like other common toxic exposures, the effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RF EMR) will be problematic if not impossible to sort out epidemiologically as there no longer remains an unexposed control group. This is especially important considering these effects are likely magnified by synergistic toxic exposures and other common health risk behaviors. Effects can also be nonlinear.
Because this is the first generation to have cradle-to-grave life span exposure to this level of man-made microwave (RF EMR) radiofrequencies, it will be years or decades before the true health consequences are known. Precaution in the roll out of this new technology is strongly indicated."
Protect Yourself and Your Family From Excessive EMF
There's no doubt in my mind that RF-EMF exposure is a significant health hazard that needs to be addressed if you're concerned about your health. The rollout of 5G would certainly make remedial action all the more difficult, which is why we all need to get involved and do what we can to prevent it.
Apart from that, here are several suggestions that will help reduce your EMF exposure and help mitigate damage from unavoidable exposures. For even more do's and don'ts, see the infographics by the Environmental Health Trust below.
1. Identify major sources of EMF, such as your cellphone, cordless phones, Wi-Fi routers, Bluetooth headsets and other Bluetooth-equipped items, wireless mice, keyboards, smart thermostats, baby monitors, smart meters and the microwave in your kitchen. Ideally, address each source and determine how you can best limit their use.
Barring a life-threatening emergency, children should not use a cellphone or a wireless device of any type. Children are far more vulnerable to cellphone radiation than adults due to having thinner skull bones, and developing immune systems and brains.
Research38 also demonstrates that infants under the age of 1 do not effectively learn language from videos, and do not transfer what they learn from the iPad to the real world, so it's a mistake to think electronic devices provide valuable education.
2. Connect your desktop computer to the internet via a wired Ethernet connection and be sure to put your desktop in airplane mode. Also avoid wireless keyboards, trackballs, mice, game systems, printers and portable house phones. Opt for the wired versions.
3. If you must use Wi-Fi, shut it off when not in use, especially at night when you are sleeping. Ideally, work toward hardwiring your house so you can eliminate Wi-Fi altogether. If you have a notebook without any Ethernet ports, a USB Ethernet adapter will allow you to connect to the internet with a wired connection.
4. Avoid using wireless chargers for your cellphone, as they too will increase EMFs throughout your home. Wireless charging is also far less energy efficient than using a dongle attached to a power plug, as it draws continuous power (and emits EMF) whether you're using it or not.
According to Venkat Srinivasan, director of Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science, keeping your cellphone or tablet fully charged at all times will also reduce the life of the battery, which will necessitate the purchase of a brand-new phone.39
As a lithium ion battery charges and discharges, ions pass between a positive electrode and a negative electrode. The higher the battery is charged the faster the ions degrade, so it's better to cycle between 45 percent and 55 percent.
5. Shut off the electricity to your bedroom at night. This typically works to reduce electrical fields from the wires in your wall unless there is an adjoining room next to your bedroom. If that is the case you will need to use a meter to determine if you also need to turn off power in the adjacent room.
6. Use a battery-powered alarm clock, ideally one without any light. I use a talking clock for the visually impaired.40
7. If you still use a microwave oven, consider replacing it with a steam convection oven, which will heat your food as quickly and far more safely.
8. Avoid using "smart" appliances and thermostats that depend on wireless signaling. This would include all new "smart" TVs. They are called smart because they emit a Wi-Fi signal and, unlike your computer, you cannot shut the Wi-Fi signal off. Consider using a large computer monitor as your TV instead, as they don't emit Wi-Fi.
9. Refuse a smart meter on your home as long as you can, or add a shield to an existing smart meter, some of which have been shown to reduce radiation by 98 to 99 percent.41
10. Consider moving your baby's bed into your room instead of using a wireless baby monitor. Alternatively, use a hard-wired monitor.
11. Replace CFL bulbs with incandescent bulbs. Ideally remove all fluorescent lights from your house. Not only do they emit unhealthy light, but more importantly, they will actually transfer current to your body just being close to the bulbs.
12. Avoid carrying your cellphone on your body unless in airplane mode and never sleep with it in your bedroom unless it is in airplane mode. Even in airplane mode it can emit signals, which is why I put my phone in a Faraday bag.42
13. When using your cellphone, use the speaker phone and hold the phone at least 3 feet away from you. Seek to radically decrease your time on the cellphone. Instead, use VoIP software phones that you can use while connected to the internet via a wired connection.
14. Avoid using your cellphone and other electronic devices at least an hour (preferably several) before bed, as the blue light from the screen and EMFs both inhibit melatonin production.43,44
Research clearly shows that heavy computer and cellphone users are more prone to insomnia.45 For example, one 2008 study46 revealed that people exposed to radiation from their mobile phones for three hours before bedtime had more trouble falling asleep and staying in a deep sleep.
15. Since we now know the effects of EMFs are reduced by calcium-channel blockers, make sure you're getting enough magnesium. Most people are deficient in magnesium, which will worsen the impact of EMFs. As noted by Pall in the featured interview:
16. Pall has also published a paper47 suggesting that raising your level of Nrf2 may help ameliorate EMF damage. One simple way to activate Nrf2 is to consume Nrf2-boosting food compounds.
Examples include sulforaphane-containing cruciferous vegetables, foods high in phenolic antioxidants, the long-chained omega-3 fats DHA and EPA, carotenoids (especially lycopene), sulfur compounds from allum vegetables, isothiocyanates from the cabbage group, and terpenoid-rich foods.
Exercise, calorie restriction (such as intermittent fasting) and activating the nitric oxide signaling pathway (one way of doing that is the Nitric Oxide Dump exercise) will also raise Nrf2.
17. Incorporate the Nitric Oxide Dump into your daily fitness routine. According to Pall, the nitric oxide signaling pathway and the peroxynitrite pathways inhibit each other, meaning that as nitric oxide signaling increases, peroxynitrites decrease. As the Nitric Oxide Dump boosts nitric oxide, it may help provide some protection against EMF damage.
18. Molecular hydrogen has been shown to target free radicals produced in response to radiation, such as peroxynitrites. Studies have shown molecular hydrogen can mitigate about 80 percent of this damage.48,49,50,51,52
19. Certain spices may help prevent or repair damage from peroxynitrites. Spices rich in phenolics, specifically cinnamon, cloves, ginger root, rosemary and turmeric, have exhibited some protective effects against peroxynitrite-induced damage.
30 Tips in 30 Days Designed to Help You Take Control of Your Health
If you struggle with high blood pressure and/or less than ideal heart health, you'd be wise to tweak your diet to include more nitrate-rich foods. The devil's in the details, though; it's important to remember that not all dietary nitrates have the same beneficial influence. In fact, nitrates from the wrong source will do far more harm than good.
Dietary nitrates are found both in plant foods such as beets and arugula, and processed meats such as bacon and hotdogs. But while plant-based nitrates confer a number of health benefits, meat-based nitrates are known to be carcinogenic.1,2,3,4,5
So, to harness the heart-healthy benefits of nitrates, remember to get them from plant foods, not processed meats. The reason for this differentiation has to do with how nitrates are processed in your body, based on cofactors found in their source.6
Why Plant- and Animal-Based Nitrates Affect Your Health in Different Ways
Dietary nitrates are converted into nitrites by oral bacteria during chewing. Once the nitrites are swallowed and come into contact with stomach acid, they can be converted into one of two things:
- Beneficial nitric oxide
- Carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds such as nitrosamines
Several factors can influence this conversion:
• Whether or not the nitrites are found in combination with protein and heme (an iron-containing compound that makes up part of the hemoglobin molecule in blood). This is what makes processed meats so detrimental to your health.7
Processed meat — and the key word here is processed — is actually classified as a Group 1 carcinogen.8,9 According to a review of more than 7,000 clinical studies, the World Cancer Research Fund concluded there's no safe lower limit for processed meats10 and that they should be avoided altogether to minimize your cancer risk.
As explained by Gunter Kuhnle, professor of food and nutritional sciences at the University of Reading, U.K.,11 "What makes processed meats so ideal for forming N-nitroso compounds is that they have a combination of nitrite and proteins from the meat. And the meat's heme seems to help convert them into N-nitroso compounds."
• Dietary nitrates are also more prone to converting into carcinogenic nitrosamines when heated, which is what happens during the cooking and processing of meat. Most plant foods are typically not cooked or fried at high temperatures, which minimizes the chances that harmful substances will be produced.
• Plants contain antioxidants (such as vitamin C and polyphenols) that impede the formation of harmful nitrosamines.12 The presence of these compounds help to ensure that the nitrites are converted into beneficial nitric oxide once they reach your stomach rather than harmful N-nitroso compounds.13
• The composition of your gut bacteria may also play a role. Research suggests beneficial bacteria help break down nitrosamines, while bad gut bacteria increase nitrosamine production.14
9 Reasons Why Boosting Nitric Oxide Is Important for Your Health
Nitric oxide is a soluble gas continually produced from the amino acid L-arginine inside your cells. While nitric oxide is a free radical, it's also an important biological signaling molecule that supports normal endothelial function and protects your mitochondria — the little "power stations" in your cells that produce a majority of your body's energy in the form of ATP.
It's a potent vasodilator, helping relax and widen the diameter of your blood vessels, and healthy blood flow allows for efficient oxygenation of tissues and organs, and aids in the removal of waste and carbon dioxide. Importantly, nitric oxide infuses into areas that are hypoxic, meaning in need of oxygen, and both your heart and brain15,16 are heavy oxygen users. Nitric oxide also:
1. Boosts your immune function, making your body better equipped to fight off foreign pathogens17
2. Has powerful antibacterial potential18 in and of itself — In vitro tests show it can kill most enteric pathogens within one hour. Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Salmonella and Shigella are particularly susceptible to nitric oxide
3. Helps maintain physiological homeostasis — For example, in your gut, NO regulates mucosal blood flow,19 intestinal motility and the thickness of mucus
4. Plays an important role in the homeostasis of reactive oxygen species, which can have a significant impact on metabolic pathways20
5. Helps suppress inflammation21
6. Promotes angiogenesis, the formation of new, healthy blood vessels22
7. Helps improve your physical fitness — For example, raw beets have been shown to boost stamina during exercise by as much as 16 percent23 as a result of the increase in nitric oxide production
8. Improves brain neuroplasticity by improving oxygenation of the somatomotor cortex, a brain area that is often affected in the early stages of dementia24,25
9. Helps reverse metabolic syndrome26 and has antidiabetic effects27,28
Nitrate-Rich Foods Help Normalize Blood Pressure and Protect Against Heart Attacks
Research29 confirms you can boost your body's nitric oxide production by eating nitrate-rich plant foods, thereby lowering your blood pressure and safeguarding yourself against heart attacks. As noted by cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra:30
"Adequate nitric oxide production is the first step in a chain reaction that promotes healthy cardiovascular function, while insufficient nitric oxide triggers a cascade of destruction that eventually results in heart disease … Plus, it prevents red blood cells from sticking together to create dangerous clots and blockages."
Nitrates are actually used in conventional medicine to treat angina and congestive heart failure. However, you don't necessarily need a nitrate drug to get the job done. Research shows a glass of beetroot juice can lower blood pressure as well as or better than prescription medication;31,32,33,34 raw beets have been shown to lower blood pressure by an average of four to five points within a few hours.35
In one study,36 drinking 8 ounces of beet juice per day lowered blood pressure by an average of nearly eight points after the first week, which is more than most blood pressure medications. As noted in a systematic review and meta-analysis assessing the value of nitrate salts and beetroot supplementation for high blood pressure (hypertension):37
"Diets including food products rich in inorganic nitrate are associated with lower blood pressure (BP) … Inorganic nitrate and beetroot juice consumption were associated with greater changes in systolic BP [-4.4 mm Hg …] than diastolic BP [-1.1 mm Hg …] …
The meta-regression showed an association between daily dose of inorganic nitrate and changes in systolic BP. Inorganic nitrate and beetroot juice supplementation was associated with a significant reduction in systolic BP …
The daily amount of nitrate in the beetroot juice consumed varied between 5.1 and 45 mmol/dose (321 to 2790 mg). The volume of the beetroot juice drinks ranged from 140 to 500 mL/d and the beetroot juice was given as a concentrated solution in two studies …"
Beets and Arugula, Two Nitric Oxide-Boosting Powerhouses
While raw beets (and the beet greens!) do an excellent job of raising your nitric oxide production, they're actually not the most nitrate-rich of plant foods. What's more, they're high in natural sugars, which is why I recommend them only in limited amounts or in fermented form.
Fermenting your beets rather than eating them raw gives you all the health-boosting benefits of raw beets without the concerns of high sugar content, as the beneficial bacteria created during fermentation consume most of the naturally occurring sugars.
Aside from red beets, you have many other options. Topping the list of nitrate-rich plant foods is arugula, which typically averages 480 milligrams (mg) of nitrates per 100 grams. Compare that to raw red beets, which average only 110 mg of nitrates per 100-gram serving, and beet greens, averaging about 177 mg per 100 grams. Fermented beets, on the other hand, contain 2 to 3 grams of nitrates per 100 grams, making it an ideal source.
As for arugula, it also contains potassium, calcium and magnesium,38 all of which are important for healthy blood pressure. These nutrients also help decrease your risk of a stroke and heart attack, while folate assists in optimal amino acid metabolism. Insufficient folate can promote unwanted homocysteine levels in your blood, which elevates your heart disease risk.
As a cruciferous vegetable, arugula also helps protect against cancer, courtesy of its glucosinolate compounds, which contain sulfur. Loaded with chlorophyll, some small studies have shown it may even have detoxifying properties to counteract the poisoning effects of heavy metals in the system, particularly in the liver.39
Both arugula and beets are easy to grow, and you can easily ferment beets at home, allowing you to have a fresh supply of nitric oxide-boosting foods on hand. Other nitrate-rich plant foods you may want to consider growing and eating — all of which will raise your nitric oxide production — include:40
- Rhubarb, 281 mg
- Cilantro, 247 mg
- Butter leaf lettuce, 200 mg
- Spring greens like mesclun mix, 188 mg
- Basil, 183 mg
- Oak leaf lettuce, 155 mg
- Swiss chard, 151 mg
Probiotics Augment Conversion of Nitrates to Nitric Oxide
While eating nitrate-rich plant foods is a simple way to boost your nitric oxide production, you can augment this beneficial effect even further by combining these foods with probiotics41 — beneficial bacteria found in traditionally fermented foods and probiotic supplements.
The reason for this is because there's an intimate relationship between dietary nitrates and various gut bacteria. The nitrate/nitrite/nitric oxide metabolism chain, and the influence of gut bacteria, can be summarized as follows:
1. In step 1, probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus reduce nitrate to nitrite, the latter of which becomes a substrate for nitric oxide
2. Step 2 is the conversion of nitrite to nitric oxide, which can occur via several different processes — independently of the presence of probiotic bacteria — including the following:
• Acidification in the stomach or localized parts of the intestine
• Other gut bacteria capable of denitrifying nitrite to nitric oxide
• Gut mucosa cells with peroxidase activity
What all of this means is that when you administer a probiotic such as Lactobacillus in conjunction with dietary nitrate, you'll gain an increase in nitric oxide, but only the first step of the process (the reduction of nitrate to nitrite) is a direct result of the probiotic.
Conversely, outside the human body, such as during fermentation, the probiotics can drive the entire process, first reducing nitrate to nitrite, and then generating nitric oxide through the lactic acid produced by the fermentation process itself.
While all of this may sound frustratingly complex, the take-home message is this: If you want to support your nitric oxide pathway and boost nitric oxide production, combining probiotics with nitrate-rich plant food is likely the best way to do that, and supplements that combine both are likely to be more effective.
Alternatively, if you're taking something like fermented beet powder or some other nitric oxide supplement to boost athletic performance and/or heart42 or brain health, consider adding a high-quality probiotic, and take them together.
Nourish and Protect Your Health With Nitrate-Rich Foods
Your body loses about 10 percent of its ability to produce nitric oxide for every decade of life, which is why it's important to take steps to increase your nitric oxide production, especially as you age.
One way to do this is by eating nitrate-rich plant foods such as arugula and fermented beets, as the plant-based nitrates are converted into nitric oxide in your body. Adding probiotics into the mix may optimize the effect even further.
Just remember that nitrates from processed meats will not have this effect. On the contrary, processed meats will encourage the creation of carcinogenic substances — again because of the combination of a lack of antioxidants and the presence of proteins and heme, which triggers the creation of N-nitroso compounds rather than nitric oxide. This is an important distinction, so don't get confused.
Beyond diet, two other strategies that will increase nitric oxide production are high-intensity exercises such as the Nitric Oxide Dump, and getting sensible sun exposure on large portions of your body, as nitric oxide is released into your bloodstream when UVA from sunlight touches your skin.43,44
Together, these lifestyle strategies can go a long way toward protecting your cardiovascular health as you age, and support overall good health, and are especially important if you struggle with high blood pressure.
Fatty liver is the most common liver disease in the world, affecting as many as 40 percent of the U.S. population, according to the National Institutes of Health,1 and continues to rise dramatically. However, a recent clinical study indicates that a compound in green leafy vegetables may help prevent this condition.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, often progresses to other serious diseases, such as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, characterized by inflammation2 fibrosis — which causes lung scarring and stiffness3 — and cirrhosis, an advanced and irreversible stage of liver fibrosis.4
Liver steatosis is the medical term for fatty liver disease and the result of fat building up in your liver, but the bulk of the medical community is straightforward when they advise that reducing the amount of fat in your liver can be accomplished in three simple ways:
- Losing weight
- Making healthy food choices
- Getting more physical exercise
Green Leafy Vegetables May Help Prevent Fatty Liver Disease
Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that identifies green leafy vegetables as a viable "new treatment" for fatty liver disease due to inorganic nitrate, a compound that occurs naturally in green leafy vegetables. According to their report:
"Inorganic nitrate, present in green leafy vegetables, is converted in vivo to nitric oxide (NO) in a process involving symbiotic host bacteria. NO then induces key metabolic regulatory pathways to ultimately reduce oxidative stress and improve cardiometabolic functions."5
Advanced age and unhealthy eating habits contribute to obesity and Type 2 diabetes, (which is projected to affect 640 million people worldwide by 20406), which in turn contribute to the development of fatty liver disease, the study notes. However, simple dietary interventions, like eating more leafy greens, may help.
The featured study showed that the nitrite treatment reduced the degree of both metabolically induced and drug-induced fatty liver disease, but it should be noted that the research was done on mice, which nonetheless responded positively. The scientists concluded that clinical trials with humans would be useful in determining whether dietary nitrate would be helpful in the treatment and prevention of fatty liver disease.
Inorganic Nitrate: 'Key for Liver Health'
Leafy green vegetable consumption is associated with some of the most valuable aspects of health, which could be described as the absence of disease. But what foods are linked to some of the identifiers of poor health and disease?
According to Mattias Carlström, associate professor at Karolinska Institutet's Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and one of the study's senior researchers and authors, it's a Western diet rife with lots of unhealthy fats and lots of sugar, which unfortunately sums up the approach to food by too many Americans.
That said, the study entailed researchers dividing mice into three groups and feeding each group a different diet. The control group received a normal diet; the high-fat diet group was given the equivalent of the Western diet; and the third group was fed the same, only with nitrate supplementation added.
None of the scientists was surprised when the mice eating the Western diet gained both weight and fat mass and tested positive for raised blood sugar levels. Simultaneously and also not surprisingly, the markers of the nitrate-supplemented diet group were significantly lower.
"When we supplemented with dietary nitrate to mice fed with a high-fat and sugar Western diet, we noticed a significantly lower proportion of fat in the liver,"7 Carlström told Medical News Today, which reports:
"The researchers also found that the rodents that received the nitrate had lower blood pressure and better insulin sensitivity than those on a high-fat diet without nitrate. Previous research, the investigators explain, has shown that dietary nitrate boosts cell metabolism."8
Oxidative Stress Compromises Nitric Oxide Signaling and Impacts Heart Function
It's noteworthy that incorporating a higher amount of fruits and vegetables into the diets of the mice was confirmed to have a positive effect on cardiovascular function, according to the study authors. As for what compounds render leafy greens specifically beneficial, Carlström explains that most in the medical community still weren't sure, at least until the featured study. He asserts:
"We think that these diseases are connected by similar mechanisms where oxidative stress causes compromised nitric oxide signaling, which has a detrimental impact on cardiometabolic functions …
No one has yet focused on nitrate, which we think is the key. We now want to conduct clinical studies to investigate the therapeutic value of nitrate supplementation to reduce the risk of liver steatosis. The results could lead to the development of new pharmacological and nutritional approaches."9
While the researchers say more investigation is needed to determine which compounds led to positive turnarounds in the health of study subjects given leafy greens, they confirm that nitrate is "key" for both optimized liver and metabolic health. Further, there's nothing that says people can't conduct their own research by eating more leafy greens until "science" definitively makes the connection.
That said, the vegetables with the highest concentrations of inorganic nitrate include "celery, spinach, lettuce, and rocket," aka arugula, according to a 2016 study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.10 For those wanting to experience the protective effects observed in the study, Carlström's recommendation is that it doesn't take huge amounts — only about 200 grams (or 7 ounces) of these vegetables per day.
Unfortunately, people don't always choose vegetables as a mainstay of their diets. In fact, most of the adult population in the U.S. fails to meet the daily recommendations for vegetable intake. The Healthy People 201011 initiative, designed to increase vegetable consumption and other healthy habits among people in the U.S., revealed that only 27.2 percent ate three or more servings of veggies per day.
Arugula, One of the Best Foods for Your Liver
This attractive leafy green is one of the most popular salad ingredients for one reason: its peppery, zesty flavor. As one of the foods scientists have identified as being excellent for your liver, it's not only readily available in stores and inexpensive for what it does for you nutritionally, but arugula is also easy to grow.
Arugula contains cleansing properties to counteract the poisoning effects of heavy metals in the system, particularly in your liver, and as a cruciferous vegetable, may also help to prevent cancer.12 Additionally, according to the Linus Pauling Institute, it contains 8.2 milligrams of chlorophyll in one cup, which aids in wound healing, and more importantly, helps prevent liver disease.13
One study shows that the compounds in cruciferous vegetables like arugula may have a protective effect against lung, breast, colorectal, lung and other cancers.14 Another study shows that arugula contains quercetin, a dietary flavonoid that can increase your endurance for improved athletic performance.15
Liver Damage, Cirrhosis and Nonalcoholic Liver Disease
Research has revealed that the sharp increase in deaths attributed to cirrhosis is driven by excess alcohol consumption, including binge drinking, by young adults between the ages of 20 and 30, with the greatest increase of the disease between 2001 and 2013.16
As disturbing as the facts are, statistics also indicate that in every county throughout the U.S., death from alcohol-related liver disease nearly tripled between 1999 and 2016.17 The greatest increase was among those between the ages of 25 and 34, where alcoholic cirrhosis has become rampant.
NPR describes the experience of Elliot Tapper, a physician used to treating many different patients, but one patient's chronic symptoms included skin that was markedly jaundiced. He couldn't eat and he had difficulty breathing, but most surprising was that he was only in his mid-30s, which is much younger than most individuals diagnosed with liver disease.
"The patient was suffering from chronic liver disease. After years of alcohol use, his liver had stopped filtering his blood. Bilirubin, a yellowish waste compound, was building up in his body and changing his skin color."18
But excess drinking isn't the only cause of cirrhosis. It can also be caused by NAFLD (which by name identifies it as "nonalcoholic" liver disease), as well as obesity and hepatitis. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) describes cirrhosis as "a viral infection that causes liver inflammation and damage."19 Any of these can also contribute to liver failure and liver cancer, and men are five times more likely to develop NAFLD than women.20
In other words, individual lifestyle choices — including what you eat, your weight and your alcohol and/or tobacco use — will generally have a great impact on whether you will develop fatty liver disease. You may be encouraged to hear that alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver can be reversed if it's caught early enough. Needless to say, your chances of reversing liver damage are far better if you quit drinking.
Low levels of chemical exposures can also wreak havoc on your liver function. Studies reveal that even small amounts of chemicals from food, medications, personal care products and in the environment can cause liver damage,21 and the damage is done through several mechanisms, even to the point of causing cancer.22
Choline to Help Prevent Fatty Liver Disease and Why Some Nitrates Are Harmful
Naturally present in some foods, choline has only been known in recent years as an essential nutrient. Choline is necessary to produce acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter for memory, mood, muscle control, and other brain and nervous system functions, the National Institute of Health (NIH) reports.23
Further, choline is important for metabolism function, and is especially important during fetal development, as well as for DNA synthesis and cleansing your liver. Organic, pastured egg yolks are one of the best food sources of choline, but arugula is also an excellent source.
It's important to know which compounds are good for you and in what amounts. For example, the nitrates noted in leafy greens as being good for your liver are also good for your heart.24 However, the nitrates found in cured and processed meats, such as bacon, bologna and hotdogs, are known to be carcinogenic, and damage can be done by eating just 1.8 ounces of such foods per day.25
The difference involves nitric oxide, or NO, a soluble gas that functions as an important biological signaling molecule that supports normal endothelial function and protects your mitochondria. Gunter Kuhnle, professor of food and nutritional sciences at the University of Reading, U.K., asserts:
"When you eat nitrates, they are converted to nitrites by bacteria in your mouth. Once the nitrites reach the stomach's acid, they can turn into either nitric oxide [NO] or N-nitroso compounds.
N-nitroso compounds like nitrosamines are carcinogenic. What makes processed meats so ideal for forming N-nitroso compounds is that they have a combination of nitrite and proteins from the meat. And the meat's heme seems to help convert them into N-nitroso compounds."26
That liver disease can be averted with a simple dietary approach is excellent news for people who believe the condition is unavoidable because of its genetic predisposition. In fact, The Atlantic27 published an article in 2011, "How Health and Lifestyle Choices Can Change Your Genetic Make-Up," with the summary, "Making healthy decisions may not be foolproof, but it could mean the difference between having a significant health issue and avoiding one."28
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting your salt consumption to no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day, with an ideal intake of 1,500 mg per day for adults.1 The rationale used says salt in your bloodstream draws in more water, creating greater work for your heart and increasing your blood pressure.2
However, this is an overly simplistic answer to a far more complex condition, as I discuss in the video above with James DiNicolantonio, Pharm.D. As with all vitamins, minerals and chemicals in your body, each affects and is affected by several different systems.
Your sodium balance is at least impacted by magnesium, calcium and potassium, which in turn affect several aspects of your health, including blood pressure, bone density and heart and kidney health. Each time you change the level of one, you impact the levels of others.
Sodium restriction has been the cornerstone of heart failure management, but a paper published by researchers at Rush University Medical Center created significant doubt, as it found restriction was associated with an increase in the risk of heart failure and death.3 In a second, more recent study, researchers found the risk of cardiovascular events decreased as potassium levels increased.4
Salt has been vilified in much the same way as fat. But just as there are healthy fats necessary for optimal health and unhealthy fats that trigger health problems, there are healthy and unhealthy types of salt. However, sodium is only half the ratio required to keep your body healthy.
The second half of the equation is potassium. One study demonstrated a balanced ratio of potassium and sodium was more strongly associated with blood pressure changes than either sodium or potassium individually.5
History of Salt Use in Food
Historically, salt has been widely and regularly used. In centuries past, people consumed over 10 times the amount of salt we do today as it was a primary food preservative. Salt has been an important part of society and interwoven into countless civilizations.6 Salt was so highly valued and production legally restricted, it even became used as a method of trade and currency.
Special salt rations were given to early Roman soldiers, known as "salarium argentum," the forerunner to the English word "salary." It has played a vital part in religious rituals, symbolizing purity. Salt motivated the early American pioneers and denying access to salt was part of the strategy used by Great Britain against American rebels during the American Revolution.
It played a key role during the Civil War and has been subjected to governmental monopoly and special taxes throughout history. In the 1600s, it was estimated the average person in Sweden was eating 100 grams of salt per day. Today, most get 10 grams per day or less; the average American consumes about 3.4 grams.
Despite this dramatic reduction in salt intake, rates of hypertension are far higher now than they were then. The rapid increase in blood pressure did not really begin until the early 1900s when low salt intake was recommended for heart health.
DASH Diet Did More Than Lower Salt Intake
The DASH diet is a nutrition plan promoted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute7 as a means of preventing and controlling high blood pressure. The acronym stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and emphasizes portion size, reducing processed foods and eating a wide variety of foods.8
There are two versions of the DASH diet. The standard DASH diet allows up to 2,300 mg of sodium per day, while the lower sodium DASH diet allows 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Both versions recommend consuming a lot of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains. The plan also strongly recommends limiting sugary beverages and sweets.
Although researchers found blood pressure measurements went down with the DASH diet, they also found that better predictors of heart disease, such as ratios of cholesterol levels, got worse. The INTERSALT study, published in 1997, was a worldwide epidemiological study of over 10,000 people from 52 countries.9
While the overall results of the study found habitual high-salt intake triggered unfavorable high blood pressure, in the video DiNicolantonio points out a flaw in these assumptions. Of the populations included in the study, four were primitive cultures who consumed no salt.
When the researchers removed those four tribal populations and looked at the remaining developed countries, there was a reduction in blood pressure with an increase in salt intake. When those for primitive cultures were included, the results were different.
DiNicolantonio believes this occurred because those primitive tribes ate foods high in potassium, were leaner, exercised and did not drink alcohol or consume sugar. He points out that when salt is reduced, your body becomes insulin resistant as it preserves sodium by increasing insulin. Increasing your insulin level in turn increases inflammation and your risk of heart disease.
A better endpoint for the study would have been some type of cardiovascular mortality, but the researchers instead measured a midpoint — reducing blood pressure measurements — without looking at the whole picture.
Low-Salt Diets Affect Bone Health and Have Surprising Metabolic Effects
DiNicolantonio goes on to point out your body strives to maintain an optimal level of sodium regardless of your intake. Your body uses magnesium and calcium levels to control your sodium level. As your intake declines your body begins to pull sodium from the bone, and at the same time pulls out magnesium and calcium.
So, reducing your salt intake results in your body stripping sodium from elsewhere, significantly impacting your bone health. As bones are stripped of magnesium and calcium, your risk of osteoporosis rises. Magnesium is also one of the most important mineral deficiencies from which you can suffer. Nearly half of the U.S. population consume less than required amounts from food.
Low magnesium intake and blood levels have been associated with Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerotic vascular disease and sudden cardiac death.10 There is also evidence suggesting optimal levels of magnesium may mitigate the negative impact of electromagnetic fields (EMF) on human cells through voltage-gated calcium channels.
Research published in BMJ Open Heart calls magnesium deficiency a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis.11 Consuming a low-salt diet only makes magnesium deficiencies worse. In order to conserve sodium, your body will release magnesium and calcium in sweat, reducing your magnesium levels even further.
In 1994, Dr. Jens Titze, a kidney specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, studied the urine output of a crew on the Mir space station and discovered the astronauts complained of being constantly hungry when given higher amounts of salt.12
Follow-up animal testing confirmed that the more salt mice were given, the less water they drank and the more food they required to avoid weight loss. As salt intake increases, the animals produced higher amounts of glucocorticoid hormones, causing an increase in fat and muscle breakdown.
These proteins converted into urea, known to help your body excrete waste through urine. The urea also helps retain water. In other words, a side effect of higher salt consumption is it frees water for your body to use. The process is energy intensive, which is why the animals required more food on a higher salt diet, and why the astronauts complained of hunger.
Impact of Fiber on Your Cardiovascular Health
Most people, Americans in particular, need to eat more fiber. It helps manage your weight, and researchers have discovered short chain fatty acids produced by bacteria feeding on unprocessed plant fiber actually communicate with your DNA and protect against a number of different diseases.
Additionally, unprocessed high-fiber diets reduce your risk of premature death from all causes. An inverse association has been found between fiber intake and the incidence of heart attack.
Research shows those eating a high fiber diet have a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease and it has been associated with beneficial reductions in blood pressure, improved insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation, all of which help lower your risk for heart disease.
Interestingly, researchers13 discovered a receptor (Olfr78) in your kidneys and in your nose that receives messages from gut bacteria to help regulate your blood pressure. The smell is acetate and propionate, which are produced when fiber is fermented. As reported by Scientific American:14
"The researchers have uncovered a direct, molecular-level explanation of how the microbiome conspires with the kidneys and the blood vessels to manipulate the flow of blood …
[M]ore than 99 percent of the acetate and propionate floating through the bloodstream is released by bacteria as they feed … Bacteria are therefore the only meaningful source of what activates Olfr78 — which, further experiments showed, is involved in the regulation of blood pressure."
Potassium-to-Sodium Balance Key to Normalizing Your Blood Pressure
Potassium works in your body to relax the walls of your arteries, keeping your muscles from cramping and lowering your blood pressure. A reduction in blood pressure with potassium has been associated in studies with a reduced incidence of stroke.15
Other research has found women without high blood pressure who consumed the most potassium had a 21 percent reduced risk of stroke; those who consumed the most were also 12 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who consumed the least.16
A better strategy to promote public health would be to forgo strict sodium restriction and focus on a high-quality diet rich in potassium. An imbalance in your potassium-to-sodium ratio may also contribute to a number of other diseases including memory decline, osteoporosis, cataracts, erectile dysfunction and rheumatoid arthritis.
The easiest way to negatively affect this ratio is by consuming a diet of processed foods, notoriously low in potassium and high in sodium. Potassium is used to maintain proper pH levels and plays an integral role in regulating blood pressure. In fact, as indicated in the PURE study, deficiency in potassium may be more responsible for hypertension than an excess of sodium.17
According to a 1985 article in the New England Journal of Medicine,18 our ancestors ate nearly 11,000 mg of potassium a day and 700 mg of sodium. This is nearly 16 times more potassium than sodium. Comparing this to the standard American diet, potassium consumption averages 2,500 mg with 3,600 mg of sodium.
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine19 was one of the first and largest to evaluate the relationship of salt, potassium and heart disease deaths, finding those at greater risk had a combination of too much sodium with too little potassium.
Balance Your Potassium-to-Sodium Ratio With the Right Salt and Fiber
When you're choosing foods to increase your potassium levels, one of the first foods many consider are bananas. One medium banana contains 422 mg of potassium. However, bananas are far from being your only source of potassium and also contain 6 grams of total fructose. So, consider foods20 high in potassium without the added fructose, such as spinach, leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms and grapefruit.
From my perspective, the clear answer is to avoid processed salt and use natural salt in moderation. I believe it is hard for a healthy person to overdo natural salt, as it is a nutritional goldmine — provided you pay attention to your sodium-to-potassium ratio.
The beauty of using Himalayan salt is that, in addition to being naturally lower in sodium, it's much higher in potassium compared to other salts — including other natural salt like sea salt or Celtic salt. Additionally, Himalayan salt is far lower in toxic pollutants, such as plastic microparticles, commonly found in processed salt and sea salt.
Remember, aside from the basic differences in nutritional content, it's processing that makes table salt (and the salt used in processed foods) detrimental to your health. What your body needs is natural, unprocessed salt, without added chemicals or pollutants.
Fiber is another important addition to your nutritional plan to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. There are two main types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Ideally, you need both on a regular basis.
• Soluble fiber — Soluble fiber, found in cucumbers, blueberries, beans and nuts, dissolves into a gel-like texture, helping to slow down your digestion. This helps you to feel full longer, which can help with weight control.
Likewise, it slows down the rate at which other nutrients are digested, including carbs, so they're not as likely to raise your blood sugar. Some foods rich in soluble fiber also help feed good bacteria in your gut.
• Insoluble fiber — Insoluble fiber, found in foods like dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, celery and carrots, does not dissolve and stays basically intact as it moves through your colon. By adding bulk to your stool, it helps food to move through your digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination.
Insoluble fiber is also sometimes called roughage, a term describing one of its functions. As it moves through your colon, it helps move along food particles tending to adhere to the sides. Food remaining stuck to your colon may cause bloating, pain and constipation, as well as other problems.
1 Which of the following cooking oils is harmful and should be avoided to safeguard your health?
2 Which of the following is not a recommended key strategy for easing low back pain?
3 The following populations are at highest risk for iron overload:
4 The following essential oil is known as the King of Oils:
5 The following is the most common hobby among centenarians around the world:
6 The clothing fiber most associated with heavy environmental damage, including its devastating impact on fresh water supplies, is:
7 One of Dr. Dean Ornish's greatest accomplishments is:
30 Tips in 30 Days Designed to Help You Take Control of Your Health
Dr. Dean Ornish, clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), is perhaps best known for his pioneering work in how to use food and simple lifestyle strategies to improve health. This is also the topic of his new book, "Undo It! How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases."
Ornish is well-known for arguing that high-protein and high-fat diets contribute to America's ever-growing waistline and incidence of chronic disease. We obviously share different positions on this issue.
Since critiques of Ornish's diet can be found in various places on the internet,1 I decided to focus on what, in my view, is his major contribution to health, which is facilitating an aggressive lifestyle modification program to lower the risk of disease and have it paid for by insurance companies.
It is virtually impossible for most to have the foundational cause of their disease process reverse in the typical 10- to 15-minutes' doctor visit. So, he took 16 years to get his lifestyle program approved by Medicare and many insurance companies, which allows access to the tools necessary to change the causes of most disease.
Once a person has the foundation in place, it will be easy for them to research the high versus low-fat debate and try it for themselves and let their body tell them which position is correct. But the important point is that most of their destructive health habits will be changed at that point.
For the past four decades, Ornish has directed clinical research showing you can reverse not only Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure but also coronary heart disease — even severe cases — through lifestyle changes that can be boiled down to "Eat well, move more, stress less and love more."
Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Disease
"We found that these same lifestyle changes actually change your genes, turning on the good genes and turning off the bad genes, specifically the genes that promote heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer," he says.
"We did a study with Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., who received the Nobel Prize for her pioneering work with telomeres. We found that these lifestyle changes could actually increase the enzyme telomerase in just three months that repairs and lengthens telomeres. Over a five-year period, we found that these lifestyle changes could actually lengthen telomeres.
When The Lancet sent out a press release announcing this study, they called it 'reversing aging at a cellular level.' We have just begun the first randomized trial to see if this program can reverse the progression of men and women who have early-stage Alzheimer's disease.
The more diseases we study and the more mechanisms we look at, the more reasons we have to explain why these changes are so powerful and how quickly people can often get better in ways we can measure."
Since the early 90s, Ornish, through the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, a nonprofit organization, has been training hospitals, clinics and physician groups around the U.S. Despite the program's early success, many sites ended up closing down due to lack of insurance reimbursement. As noted by Ornish, "If it's not reimbursable, it's not sustainable."
Changing the Reimbursement Paradigm
To address this problem, they started reaching out to insurance companies. A few, including Mutual of Omaha and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield agreed to cover the program but, by and large, it was difficult to get the insurance industry onboard.
"I thought, 'Well, if Medicare would pay for it, then that would really change the whole paradigm. Because doctors do what we get paid to do, and we get trained to do what we get paid to do.' If you change reimbursement, you change not only medical practice but also medical education."
It took 16 years, but Medicare approved and started covering the program in 2010 — officially referred to as "Dr. Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease" under its intensive cardiac rehabilitation (ICR) program2 — which allows for 72 hours of training on how to address the foundational causes of heart disease. According to Ornish, it was one of the most difficult things he's ever done.
"At one point, halfway through this whole process, they said, 'Well, we'll do a demonstration project, but you have to get a letter from the head of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, that your program is safe for older Americans.'
I said, 'Safe compared to having your chest cut open?' They said, 'No. Just [that it's] safe for older people to walk, meditate, eat vegetables, quit smoking and love more.' I said, 'You must be kidding.' They said, 'No. We're not.' So, the Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute actually did a literature review, and concluded, 'Guess what? These are not high-risk behaviors' …
Anyway, after 16 years, we finally did receive Medicare approval … Now that Medicare is paying for it, most of the major insurance companies are covering it as well … I didn't want this to be concierge medicine. I wanted this to be available to everybody. Now, it is."
The program, currently offered in 18 states by Sharecare, is divided into 18 four-hour sessions, which include supervised exercise, meditation and stress management, a support group (which Ornish says is part of why they're getting unprecedented levels of adherence to the program) and more.
Data show 85 to 90 percent of patients going through the program are still adhering to it after one year, and have better clinical outcomes, which results in significant cost savings. According to Ornish, in the first year of the program, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield's costs were 50 percent lower than that of a matched control group, and Mutual Omaha cut their cost by nearly $30,000 per patient in the first year.
What really motivates people to make sustainable changes is not fear of dying; it's the joy of living, Ornish says, and his program acknowledges and in fact leverages this knowledge.
"When they change their lifestyle, most people feel so much better so quickly in ways that really matter to them. For example, people with heart disease often have angina or chest pain … [W]ithin, usually, a few days or a few weeks, they're essentially pain-free. They … say things like, 'Well, I like eating junk food, but not that much. Because what I gain is so much more than what I give up.'
That's really the key. It's that we're always making choices … These are choices worth making. You feel so much better so quickly that it really reframes the reason for making these changes — from fear of dying or fear of a bad thing happening, to joy, pleasure, love and feeling good. The bigger changes in lifestyle are a big part of that.
The support groups we have are not really the classical support group of exchanging recipes and shopping tips and types of running shoes, but rather creating a safe environment where people can connect in a deep and authentic love for each other.
You know, 50 years ago, people had an extended family they saw regularly. They had a job that felt secure. They had a church or synagogue they went to regularly, a club they belonged to, a neighborhood with two or three generations of people. Today most people don't have any of those."
Twenty years ago, Ornish wrote the book "Love and Survival: 8 Pathways to Intimacy and Health," which reviewed evidence from what are now tens of thousands of studies showing that people who are lonely, depressed and isolated are three to 10 times more likely to get sick and die prematurely than those who have a sense of love and connection in community. "I don't know anything in medicine that has that big an impact," Ornish says.
Through his studies, Ornish has also learned that most harmful behaviors and habits are adaptive ways to deal with emotional pain. "I've had patients say things like, 'I've got 20 friends in this pack of cigarettes. They're always there for me, and nobody else is. You want to take away my 20 friends. What are you going to give me?'" Ornish says. So, while information is important, it's not usually enough to motivate people to make permanent changes.
Love — An Oft-Avoided Four-Letter Word in Medicine
As noted by Ornish, "Love is one of those four-letter words that you're not really supposed to talk about as a scientist or as a doctor." Instead, terms like psychosocial support or bonding are used, but regardless of the terms, Ornish's program is a love-based one.
"Forty years ago, when I was a freshman in college at Rice University in Houston, I got suicidally depressed," he says. "That was my doorway into learning about this. Creating an environment that feels nurturing and loving, like the support group, is the part of our work that some people make the most fun of …
That's why in this book, "love more" is the fourth component of, 'Eat well, move more, stress less, love more,' because love is really what enables people to make these other changes. It has healing benefits in its own right. Even the word 'healing' comes from the root 'to make whole.' Yoga comes from the Sanskrit meaning 'to yoke, unite,' 'union.' These are really old ideas that have been rediscovered …
More money is spent on antidepressants, as well as cholesterol-lowering drugs, than pretty much anything else. We need to address this. Because what I learned when I was so depressed when I was in college is that if you tell someone who's lonely and depressed that they're going to live longer if they just change their diet, or move more, or eat well or stress less … it doesn't work for them.
They say, 'I'm just trying to survive. I'm just trying to get through the day. I don't know if I want to live longer' … I think just the act of knowing that we're mortal, and understanding what really brings happiness … choosing not to do something that you otherwise could do imbues those choices with meaning. And if they're meaningful, then they're sustainable."
The Importance of Meditation
Ornish also discusses the benefits of meditation, which is part of the program. Among those benefits is finding your center so that you can empower yourself without adding stress. "My whole approach is really about addressing the underlying cause of why people get sick," he says, and a major part of the problem is that we're doing something to disturb our innate peace and well-being.
The answer then is simply to stop doing that which causes the disturbance. Meditation can give you the direct experience of this part of you that is undisturbed and not stressed, and provide the mental clarity to actually notice what it is that you're doing that's causing you to feel uneasy or "dis-eased."
"I would encourage anyone watching this, when you meditate, at the end of a meditation, when you're feeling more peaceful, just ask yourself a simple question: 'What am I not paying attention to that would be helpful? … Then just listen. You'll be amazed at what comes up," Ornish says.
"If you want to learn how to meditate, we can do it right now. It takes all of 30 seconds. Close your eyes, assuming you're not in a car or some place that you need to be looking, and take a deep breath. Bring your awareness to one of these mantra sounds. Let's use the word 'one,' because it's secular and it wouldn't offend anyone.
[Just intone] 'One' … When you run out of air, do it again. Over and over again. What invariably will happen is your mind will start to wander. You'll start to think about 1,000 things you should be doing or forgot to do or whatever. That's normal. Everybody's mind wanders. If you become aware that you're thinking about something else, just bring it back to the sound. Then your mind really begins to quiet down in a very deep way …
What I find is that the consistency is more important than the duration … Just a few minutes at the beginning of the day or the end of the day can really make a huge difference. If you can do more, even better."
In his book, Ornish also suggests making breakfast and lunch the main meals of your day, and then eating a much smaller dinner or nothing at all, so that you're intermittently fasting for at least 12 to 14 hours every day. This is similar to the kind of meal timing schedule as my peak fasting regimen.
I personally believe a six- to eight-hour eating window is better, and I typically maintain a daily five- to six-hour eating window. The primary reason, from my review of the literature, is the shortened eating window is a more effective activator of autophagy and removal of cellular debris that will contribute to deadly chronic inflammation.
"First of all, you sleep better because your body's not trying to work, process and digest your food while you're trying to rest and sleep. Also, there's a lot of evidence that [intermittent fasting] gives your body a chance to detoxify and clean itself out.
It's one of the reasons why when you eat a healthier diet, not just what you eat but how you eat and when you eat, will make a difference as well. The challenge with that is … that most of us in our culture tend to connect with our family or loved ones over dinner.
When you're pushing back that window to three hours before bed time, that could be a challenge. But, it's just an opportunity for exploring some novel approaches, I guess."
Removing the Distinctions Between Diseases
In his book, Ornish presents what is essentially a unifying theory of chronic disease. He explains:
"We tend to think of heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer and Alzheimer's as being fundamentally different diseases. I'm putting forth a radically new unifying theory, which is that they're really not different diseases.
They're different manifestations of the same underlying biological mechanisms that are disordered, such as chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, changes in the microbiome, immune function, gene expression, telomeres, chronic stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, autophagy and angiogenesis.
Each one of these, in turn, is directly influenced by what we eat, how we respond to stress, how much exercise we get and how much love and support we have. Because these underlying mechanisms are so dynamic, most people feel so much better …"
Indeed, Ornish's work reveals these diseases do not require different sets of diets and lifestyle programs. It's the same for all. According to Ornish, this is also one of the reasons why so many of these diseases are comorbidities. People who have heart disease often also have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and/or other chronic inflammation, for example.
This makes sense if they're all different manifestations of the same underlying cause. What this means too is that by implementing these healthy lifestyle strategies, you're not just preventing or reversing one particular disease, you protect yourself against all of them simultaneously.
For example, Ornish completed a randomized trial with Dr. Peter Carroll, chair of urology at the University of California, San Francisco and a leading urologist, and the late Dr. Bill Fair, then-chair of urology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, showing that the same lifestyle changes that reverse heart disease also can often stop and even reverse the progression of early stage prostate cancer.
And contrary to conventional therapies, there are no serious side effects of these lifestyle strategies. As mentioned earlier, Ornish is now also studying the impact of these lifestyle modifications on Alzheimer's disease.
Where to Find Ornish's Program
If you're interested in Dr. Ornish's program, you can get all the information you need from his book, "Undo It! How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases."
If you would like further guidance, you can find a listing of all the sites that have been trained and certified to teach the program on Ornish.com, along with support groups you can attend free of charge.
At present, there are facilities offering the program in 18 states. Ornish.com also lists about 100 video testimonials, including one by Dr. Robert Treuherz, an internist whose heart disease was so severe he was on the waiting list for a heart transplant. While waiting for a donor to appear, he went through Ornish's program at UCLA.
"After nine weeks, he improved so much he didn't need a heart transplant anymore," Ornish says. "What's the more radical intervention here? A heart transplant, which costs $1.5 million and a lifetime of immunosuppressive drugs, or 'Eat Well, Move More, Stress Less, Love More?' We have over a dozen cases like that."
Become a Certified Ornish Program Provider
If you're a health care provider — be it a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, meditation/yoga teacher, exercise physiologist, registered dietitian or psychologist — his site also provides information on how to become a certified provider of the Ornish program.
"Medicare and many insurance companies will pay the same reimbursement, whether it's offered in a physician's office or in a hospital or in a large academic institution," he says.
"We're creating a new paradigm of health care rather than sick care … Medicare currently only pays for reversing heart disease. Some of the other insurance companies cover it not only for heart disease but also for Type 2 diabetes, or even two or more risk factors like obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and so on. Most people with heart disease will be covered if they can go to one of our programs."
The training, given in the Bay Area, is a combination of didactic and experiential learning where you go through the program from start to finish, just as if you were a patient. In addition to that, you attend lectures by Ornish and others to learn the scientific basis for all of the modalities, and how to incorporate the knowledge into your day-to-day life.
Further ongoing training is provided both on-site and through video technologies. To maintain the quality of the program, providers are required to go through reaccreditation on an annual basis.
"Most people who do it say, 'This is what I've been waiting for. This is why I went into health care.' If we're just a collection of algorithms, we're going to get replaced by artificial intelligence and probably an iPhone app before long … For me, at least, it's part of our conspiracy of love. When you go through this program, you can really experience the difference it can make.
We so often think that advances in medicine have to be something really high-tech or expensive … I think our unique contribution has been to use these very high-tech, expensive state-of-the-art scientific measures to prove how powerful this very simple and low-tech and low-cost program can be …
Even in three and a half days, people often find that they have life-transforming experiences, which make them that much more passionate and committed and effective in training their patients who they ultimately will be working with."
On top of your kidneys sit the adrenal glands — these are two thumb-sized triangular glands that are responsible for the production of several hormones, including adrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone.1
When the glands become physically damaged and cease to function normally, you may have a disorder called Addison's disease. This is a rare but potentially life-threatening illness that can affect people of any age.2 Before going into details about this condition, let's first discuss how the adrenal glands work.
What's the Role of Your Adrenal Glands?
The adrenal glands are a part of your body's endocrine system — an interconnected group of glands working together to secrete hormones that are essential for your body processes.3 Each adrenal gland is made up of two parts: the outer part called the adrenal cortex and the inner part, which is the adrenal medulla.
The interior part of your adrenal glands secretes adrenaline-like hormones, while the outer part produces corticosteroids, which includes the male sex hormones, androgens.4 Together, all these hormones are essential to your body functions, as they are needed for regulating metabolism, blood pressure and your body's response to stress.
Aside from the three hormones mentioned above, the adrenal glands also produce dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which is important in the production of androgens and estrogens,5 also called the sex hormones.6
What Happens When You Have Addison's Disease?
If a person has Addison's disease, which is usually brought on when the immune system mistakenly attacks your adrenal glands,7 the adrenal cortex is destroyed, hampering the production of cortisol and aldosterone.8 This leads to a host of symptoms and, if not managed, can cause complications that may endanger your life.
Some of the common symptoms of Addison's disease, which usually develop slowly over a period of several months, include:
- Extreme chronic fatigue
- Hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin)
- Weight loss and appetite loss
- Low blood pressure, even fainting
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
Because these symptoms are typically vague and may occur with other conditions (they're even sometimes blamed on being overworked or insufficient exercise) Addison's disease is not immediately determined as the culprit. In fact, some people do not contact their physician until another cause, such as surgery, an accident or pregnancy complications,9 exacerbates their symptoms.10
Addison's Disease Is a Difficult yet Manageable Condition
Addison's disease is rare, with only 100 to 140 out of every 1 million11 people suffering from this condition. Examples of notable personalities who had this illness include President John F. Kennedy, his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver and artist Ferdinand Louis Schlemmer. Authors Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were also speculated to have this condition.12
The good news is that Addison's disease is completely manageable, and even if the illness is lifelong, there are ways for people affected with it to live almost normal, active lives. The Addison's Disease Self-Help Group (ADSHG), a support group based in the U.K., is said to have members who have reached age 90 and above.13
Check out these pages to learn all about Addison's disease, such as what causes it, its other hallmark symptoms and effective techniques on how to manage this condition.