Nov 032015
 

First, the good news: Consumers’ demand for organic food is getting recognized by food companies! Chipotle has removed GMOs from its food, so even fast food can be real food. Juice bars abound. Regular supermarkets often have organic produce racks and aisles dedicated to healthier food. That’s awesome! It makes life so much easier.

Now the bad news: More food than ever before sounds healthy and great for you, but isn’t. It’s a war of labeling.

One of the words most often used to make a food sound healthy is “natural.” Food packaging also may use varieties like, “All Natural.”

The truth is, natural means (almost) nothing in the U.S.

The Definition of ‘Natural’ in Food Labeling

To be exact, there is a definition for “Natural,” at least for U.S. meat and poultry products. The USDA states that “Natural” means: “A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as ‘no artificial ingredients; minimally processed’).”

This definition applies only to meat and poultry. It also says nothing about antibiotics, GMO feed (which is not considered an artificial ingredient), or hormones.

Antibiotics, Hormones and Free Range?

So what really means “no antibiotics”? The answer is, “No antibiotics.” Here’s the USDA on that: “The terms ‘no antibiotics added’ may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the Agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.”

Similarly, “no hormones” means no hormones (but only for beef, since hormones are prohibited in pork and chicken). And “free range”? All that means is that the animal had access to the outside. It doesn’t necessarily mean happy cows wandering around a pasture.

“Natural” doesn’t mean any of these things. To cut through the jargon, essentially, natural means very little.

It’s Not Just Meat and Poultry

The FDA, too, tap-dances around the issue: “….FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

So, all “natural” seems to mean is a lack of artificial colors and flavors — and I’m not sure who enforces that stricture. An animal product labeled “natural” can be treated routinely with antibiotics and hormones, caged indoors for most of its life, and given genetically modified feed. A processed food product can contain byproducts from these animals or genetically modified ingredients that were originally sprayed with dangerous pesticides.

That doesn’t sound very natural, does it?

Organic for the Win: Definitions, Standards, Inspections

What does mean something?

Organic.

Organic means:

  • A lack of most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers
  • Animals raised in more humane conditions and often allowed to graze
  • Animals that ate 100% organic feed (which is not genetically modified)
  • No antibiotics or hormones
  • Documented processes and annual inspections to confirm compliance (actual enforcement!)

More detail is available from the USDA. Notably, they state that products labeled as “made with organic” ingredients can contain about 30% non-organic ingredients — but can’t carry the USDA organic seal. So the USDA organic seal is really the quality marker that means a product is truly organic. (For fruits and vegetables, look for a “9” in front of the four-digit product ID number on the sticker.)

(Note: There’s a controversy about whether sick animals should be permitted to receive antibiotics. I believe they should be permitted to receive them, although under current organic guidelines, they are not. But I do NOT believe routine antibiotic use should be permitted, in either conventional or organic animals. I do buy organic animal products, because I believe it’s the lesser of two evils.)

So keep an eye out when shopping, and remember that “natural” food can be pretty far from the idyllic image that word evokes.

Go organic!

Sep 182015
 

I’ve tried a lot of different things in my journey through the crazy world of health and wellness. It’s hard to capture all of them in my 10 Steps, so here are 10 specific things that I believe were game-changers in my success:

1. I learned how to relax and enjoy life in the least relaxing situation ever. Not easy, but until I figured this out, the rest was just slapping Band-Aids on a seeping wound. Life is risk, we’re all here to learn, and I reached out for help when I needed it. Find what works for you to neutralize emotional chaos.

2. I juice vegetables, not fruits. I want to EAT my fruits to get all the good fiber they bring to the table. Fiber also helps slow down my body’s absorption of fructose, so I can avoid insulin spikes.

In contrast, vegetables usually pack less fructose and more anti-cancer nutrients into every square centimeter, so I juice them to make that goodness even more concentrated. (Note: I only juice organic vegetables, which have less pesticide on them. Why would I want to concentrate pesticides in a cup?)

Side note: When I juice vegetables, I add beets and carrots to my green juice. I believe in a rainbow of flavors — and colors. I believe adding a beet is a huge benefit for me, because it kicks up my liver and helps it work better.

3. I eat a pack of organic red raspberries whenever I can. I used to be a pack-a-day eater. Red raspberries can shut down the type of cancer I had, so I viewed it as cheap insurance, not expensive berries.

4. I eat watercress whenever and wherever I find it. Watercress is hard to find where I live. But whenever I see it, organic or not, at a supermarket or a restaurant, I snap it up and eat it, because I believe it’s the healthiest vegetable on the entire planet.

5. I take organic dandelion root powder. I want to help my liver be the best it can be. So I take half a teaspoon of this wonderful herb daily.

6. I eat flaxseeds. They pack a punch against cancer in different ways than the other foods I eat.

7. I ate button mushrooms and drank green tea almost every day for two years. I read about this trick in Patrick Quillin’s book Beating Cancer with Nutrition. He’s a registered dietician (there are good ones out there! A few…), and he wrote that eating both foods in a single day could reduce the risk of breast cancer by about 90%. I followed this advice religiously for a long time.

8. I filter my water. I didn’t go crazy with a whole-house filter system, because I was renting a New York apartment when first diagnosed with cancer. Instead, I bought an Aquasana countertop water filter for the sink (which I installed in the bathroom since it wouldn’t fit on my kitchen sink – you do what you have to do!) and an Aquasana shower filter. I also bought a Waterwise water distiller and used it for the first year of my recovery.

Travel tip: When traveling, I use a portable filter bottle, and I drink venti green and herbal teas at Starbucks since they triple-filter their water, sometimes with reverse osmosis!

9. I take a great probiotic. After much research, I settled on Garden of Life RAW Probiotics. I love that they use a wild kefir culture to provide a huge variety of different probiotic strains. These probiotics require refrigeration, so I’m careful about where I buy them.

10. I rebound for exercise. I bought a Pure Fun rebounder from Amazon for about $38 and started bouncing. I love trying to touch the ceiling as I jump, but you don’t have to be an acrobat to use this type of mini-trampoline. When I first started, I did “the health bounce,” which just involves standing on the trampoline on the balls of your feet, with feet shoulder width apart, and bouncing without leaving the surface. Why is rebounding so great? It increases lymphatic flow and gets your whole body moving — much like swimming!

What are your personal game-changers for wellness? I’d love to hear about it- send me a message!

Sep 152015
 

Do you know one of my least favorite words on the planet? DIET.

Why? Because DIET screams UNSUSTAINABLE. It screams TEMPORARY. And a good way of eating is neither.

Sorry for the caps overload. But I feel pretty strongly about this. Sure, extreme diets can produce results fast — but as the unsustainable nature of the diet becomes unavoidable, you can lose many or all of the results you gained.

That’s demoralizing and can create a perception of “dieting” as doomed to fail.

If you went from eating bacon five times a week to drinking nothing but green juice, how long do you think you could keep that up?

Taking massive action to change your lifestyle doesn’t have to mean going on a shock-and-awe diet. What I think is truly super-important is “overdosing on nutrition,” as Chris Wark of ChrisBeatCancer.com puts it. And that can be done in a healthy, sustainable way.

A Gradual Shift

Yes, I did go cold turkey on certain things when I started my food and supplement program — things like refined sugar, cold cuts and factory-farmed meat and dairy. But other than that, a gradual shift helped a lot. Week after week, step by step, I switched to organic, grass-fed animal products and lower-pesticide, organic fruits and vegetables. I ate more vegetables and less protein. I started taking more supplements, doing more exercise, and meditating and giving thanks.

But did I go from slouch to superstar overnight? I certainly didn’t.

It was important for me to accept my mistakes and not let them derail my entire lifestyle by making me feel like a failure. If I messed up, I just had to pick myself up and start eating and living well again the next day. As the great herbalist Dr. Richard Schulze says, “Tomorrow is what you believe and do today!”

To live that mantra is to create a new way of being.

Finding a Sustainable Lifestyle

In my own gradual phase shift, I didn’t go on a crazy 60-day green juice fast; in fact, my test results showed I needed some animal protein to stay alert and strong over the long term. With the exception of short two-day juice fasts, I kept eating fish, eggs and yogurt, though I cut out red meat and poultry.

It was so important for me to view this as a process and find a lifestyle that worked for me – one turned up loud enough to be effective but still containing foods and activities I loved.

One great way to do this was to eat MORE of the healthy foods I already adored.

Some examples: I love avocados, so I made a lot of homemade guacamole with garlic, tomato and Himalayan sea salt. I love nuts, so I ate a lot of almonds, brazil nuts and macadamia nuts. I love berries – good thing they’re super healthy! I ate a pack a day. I love Thai food so I ate fresh-made coconut curry with brown rice and vegetables (There was a takeout restaurant nearby that made homemade coconut curry and used organic ingredients. I got lucky with that!).

Zero Binging Through Abundance

By eating foods I loved, I didn’t binge at all for a year and a half. 18 months of no binging. Zero. When I craved empty calories, I ate something I loved. Because it was a sustainable lifestyle, it didn’t leave me desperate for something enjoyable.

Instead, as I felt better and better, my lifestyle itself became enjoyable. I loved rebounding because it gave me energy and I got to rock out to my favorite songs while soaring through the air. I loved eating well and juicing because I felt amazing. I loved detox baths because my skin looked great. I loved my lifestyle because it made my LIFE more awesome.

That’s not a diet. That’s a massive-action sea change, and it can last for decades.

Decades are what I want. How about you?

Sep 082015
 

I’m lazy. Juicing, to me, sounded like a major hassle: washing vegetables, chopping them up, feeding them piece by piece into the juicer, and cleaning the juicer. Doing it multiple times a day sounded awful.

I did buy a juicer when I began my recovery period, after traditional treatment (surgery and radiation) ended. It was a Champion juicer, and I fully endorse it. It’s an awesome juicer.

But I’m lazy. I didn’t like the juicing process.

Profit Calculations

I did some quick calculations in my head. Organic health food stores near me would juice fresh vegetables on-the-spot for approximately $5 to $6 per 12 ounces. On the diet prescribed by my doctor, I was supposed to drink 24 ounces of juice per day.

Buying the vegetables and then juicing them myself would cost less than simply buying juice in the store — but not that much less.

Based on the prices at the store, I calculated I’d save about $1 to $2 per juice by buying vegetables and juicing them. But I’d also spend at least 20 minutes, twice a day, on food preparation and juicer cleanup.

It was a no-brainer. I bought the juice.

The Routine

Every day, for years, I bought two juices from organic health food stores scattered around NYC. Sometimes beet-carrot-ginger, sometimes beet-carrot-celery, sometimes green juice with a beet added, sometimes celery juice for a little bit of a change. It was all organic, freshly made and not that expensive. It was part of my routine, something I’d do while walking between meetings or home from the subway.

(Note: This was before the huge popularity of cold-pressed, bottled juice that’s shipped from a processing plant and stored in a refrigerator case. That type of juice often costs $8 or more. Now several of the organic stores where I bought juice have gone out of business — this makes me sad.)

I still buy fresh-made juice whenever possible (though with traveling, it’s harder to do it every day). If I can’t get fresh-made juice, I’ll buy bottled juice, but I prefer the taste of fresh-made juice. Occasionally, I break out the Champion juicer, but it’s a rare event.

Defeating Guilt

At first, I felt guilty about buying all my juice instead of making it — like I was not a “real” juicing superstar, or not really committed to my health.

Then I realized IT DOESN’T MATTER.

What the heck is a juicing superstar anyway? I got well buying juice at the health food store, and that’s as legitimate as getting well by juicing at home.

I did what worked for me and my lifestyle, and that’s my philosophy: Do what works for you. It doesn’t matter how you do it — just DO it. Get it done and move on and kick ass.

Aug 312015
 

I took supplements 15 minutes ago. Sixteen pancreatic enzyme capsules, along with magnesium and bromelain.

I’ve taken these supplements thousands of times in the past four years. Sometimes I’m religious in taking them, and sometimes (especially lately) I’m lax. But I always return to the path. Because if I don’t, I’m toast.

That’s a fairly sobering thought. It might not be entirely true — I’m confident I could find another solution to stay well, because I don’t give up — but having found something that works for me, I’m reluctant to deviate from it. I’m happy to adjust, to dial up or dial down depending on how my body is responding, but the idea of discontinuing my supplement program never crosses my mind.

I’m dedicating the next two weeks to getting entirely back on track.

So this will be my schedule:

Upon arising: 2 beta glucan capsules.
Five times per day: 16 enzyme capsules with magnesium and bromelain.
Once per day at bedtime: RNA/DNA capsules with magnesium.
With meals: “Regular” vitamins and minerals, plus two RM-10 caplets with breakfast and dinner.
Once per day before breakfast: Garden of Life Women’s RAW Probiotics.
Once per day: Half a teaspoon of organic dandelion root powder.

In addition, I’ll be doing some detox procedures (a.k.a. my home spa-time). These will include:
Once per day: Lymph stimulation with a natural bristle brush (this is a nice skin massage!).
Once per day: Foot soak with mustard and cayenne.
Twice per week: Baking soda and sea salt bath (fantastic for skin!).

For food, I’ll eat organic, relying primarily on the following staples:
Organic raw almonds
Organic raw brazil nuts
Organic yogurt with flaxseeds
Organic raw multi-grain cereal with honey
Organic apples and berries
Organic pasture-raised eggs
Organic black rice
Organic whole wheat pasta with olive oil and butter
Organic garlic
Wild-caught fish (twice per week) or organic grass-fed beef (once per week)
Organic carrots, yams, salad and other veggies (beets if I can find them)
Organic green tea
Purified water: 8-10 glasses per day

I’ll report on how I feel after following this “reset program” and sleeping at least 7 hours per night.

It’s a trek. Time to keep trekking.

Jun 112015
 

It’s time for my 2015 self-assessment. To be honest, I’ve slipped in the past year. If I’d written this self-assessment last year, in spring 2014, I’d have given myself stellar marks almost across the board.

In the past year, I quit my job, began traveling a lot more, went through a breakup, and let my diet and nutritional program fall by the wayside a bit. I gave in to my sugar cravings more, even if that means organic ice cream instead of Hostess Cupcakes. In other words, I was human.

This doesn’t mean I feel like an awful person — I’m a little anxious about not being on track, but I know that any day is the day I can turn it up full-volume again. Health is the sum of 100 little decisions we make each day, plus luck. This year, I’m making about 70 right decisions and 30 wrong decisions per day, instead of holding a 98-2 record. I need to step it up.

Enough excuses, here’s my self-assessment:

1. Neutralize emotional chaos.
Assessment: Fair to good. After completely mastering my emotions and embracing life for its awesomeness in the present, I got knocked back by two breakups (with the same boyfriend) and all the accompanying worries and insecurities. I found myself wallowing a bit, especially the second time, and failing to see the good all around me. I’m still able to feel and focus on my inner light, but it’s harder than before, and I hope this cloud passes soon. I also spend some time stressed about the future, even though I know I’m working toward my long-term goals and this requires a step back from “conventional” measures of success.

2. Sleep early and well.
Assessment: Fairly awful. The same thing I wrote in 2013 applies. I sleep well when I go to sleep early. I still stay up later than I should, often till 1 or 1:30 a.m. My goal should be to go to sleep around 11 p.m. This rarely happens, and it’s an obvious place to try for improvement.

3. Avoid alcohol and artificial hormones.
Assessment: Good until recently, then fairly awful. I don’t drink alcohol much, usually once a month or less. I also try to avoid conventional dairy. But I often drink tap water when traveling, and it contains hormone residues. None of this is the elephant in the room: I froze my eggs in April, so I endured a short-term bombardment of hormone shots. The shots contained recombinant FSH and human LH, not estrogen or progesterone, but the FSH and LH stimulated my body to produce more estrogen than normal. (Edit: I told my doctor about this in advance, and he okay’ed it as a short-term procedure. I didn’t just go rogue!) I accepted this as a short-term hit to my health, but its effects lasted longer than I expected, stretching through the next cycle (hello, heart palpitations!) and even beyond. I feel like my body is still getting back to normal. If I could do it over, I’d make the same decision, but I knew when I started the process that I was only doing it once. And I’m sticking with that call: It’s too risky for me to do it more than once. On the other hand, I feel much calmer and more in control of my own destiny as I head toward forty.

4. Eat organic whenever possible.
Assessment: Good. I eat organic at home and buy organic groceries when traveling. I try to buy organic vegetable juice whenever possible (i.e., at a health food store) and minimize organic fruit juice, since I prefer eating whole fruit to get the benefit of fiber and minimize sugar. I also seek out organic restaurants as much as I can. When I go out with other people, I eat more conventionally, though I try to stick with vegetarian or fish entrees. My biggest weakness is pasta with cheese, technically a “vegetarian” entree (doesn’t mean it’s healthy!). I do best when I can talk my dinner companion into sushi. I’ve been eating way too many sweets. Even if they’re organic, they’re not good for me.

5. Get moving.
Assessment: Pretty good. I walk a lot, especially when traveling in cities. I wish I had my rebounder, but I got rid of it when I started traveling. If I needed to, I could order a rebounder fairly cheaply in the places I visit for a month or more, but I haven’t done it yet.

6. Get adequate iodine and vitamin D.
Assessment: Good. I take 2000-4000 IU of vitamin D daily, plus iodine in the form of Atlantic kelp. I’m taking more iodine than I used to (up to twice as much), which is a tweak to my supplement program.

7. Invest in a good drinking water filter and shower filter.
Assessment: Fair. At home, I have an Aquasana countertop filter for drinking water (I got rid of the distiller when I moved) and an Aquasana shower filter. On the road, it’s a different story: I often end up drinking Brita-filtered water, and there’s rarely a shower filter. One thing that helps is getting tea from Starbucks (Starbucks uses triple-filtered water that sometimes includes a reverse osmosis process), but I’ve stopped lugging around glass bottles of water.

8. Reduce xenoestrogens and toxins in your environment.
Assessment: Fair. At home, I’ve replaced my own cleaning products, toiletries and cosmetics with organic and/or green versions. However, I’ve slipped back to using regular deodorant (I just couldn’t find an alternative deodorant that was truly effective), and when traveling, I often pack my own soap and shampoo but sometimes skip it for short trips. I think the worst thing is that I’ve slipped back to using regular laundry detergent. I’d like to try to use more “green” laundry detergent like 7th Generation, which makes individual-size packets that I could bring along on trips.

9. Take a good multivitamin, probiotics, and at least one great supplement.
Assessment: Very good. I still take most of my prescribed enzyme supplements and about half of my meal-time supplements (I’ve gotten less strict about taking vitamins while eating out — I used to step into the restroom and take them before the meal). I could do better with this but am still doing reasonably well.

10. Get outside during the day.
Assessment: Good. I spend a lot more time outside since I left my job. One thing I could improve is to remove my contacts and use glasses more when I go outside, since allowing sunlight to reach my eye directly could help me produce more melatonin at night and balance my hormones (source: John Ott has a great book about Health and Light). As we head into summer again, I’m going to try to do a better job of this.

May 132013
 

Two years ago, I wrote about 10 Changes I was making in my life. Here is my 2013 self-assessment:

1. Neutralize emotional chaos.
Assessment: I’ve done astonishingly well on this front. At first, I used The Healing Code. This helped significantly with some old traumas, less significantly with others. I did the program spottily, a couple of weeks here, a couple of weeks there, one memory at a time. I also gained a great deal from hypnosis — at a time when I was desperate and searching for anything that might help, I did a past-life regression and a life-between-lives session. I was shocked to find that these two sessions put to rest some uneasiness I’d never understood and helped me become comfortable with letting my inner light shine. (I realize this sounds new-agey — I don’t care.) I feel comfortable in my own skin now, in my own soul. I’ve learned not to question why certain things work, but to accept and be happy that they do. On a similar note, I went to see a man named Braco, an energy worker from Croatia. Once again, I don’t understand why this worked, but it did. Before seeing Braco, I was an extreme Type A and could not relax. After seeing Braco, I am still Type A, but I found I was able to relax and really do nothing for the first time in my life. To just sit on my couch and breathe. To feel the flow of the universe and the many creatures in it.

Only when I was truly able to love myself, did the ultrasound nodule they wanted to biopsy disappear. Yes, it disappeared. I’ll talk about it more later.

2. Sleep early and well.
Assessment: Fairly awful. I do sleep well — when I go to sleep early. I made significant progress (no more 3am work binges) but still go to bed much later than I probably should. If I needed to “turn up the volume” in my wellness program, this would be one obvious place to do it. I aim to go to sleep around 11 — it’s usually more like midnight or 1. This is bad because the adrenals re-charge mainly between 11pm and 1am.

3. Avoid alcohol and artificial hormones.
Assessment: Very good. I had champagne on New Year’s Eve and it was the first drink I’d had in years. I may now begin enjoying a rare glass of very good red wine. But alcohol is essentially out of my life. So are artificial hormones — no more birth control pills, ever. I probably still get a little hormone residue when I drink green tea made with unfiltered tap water at work, or when I don’t realize there’s conventional dairy 1 in something I order at a restaurant. But I’m doing well overall in this area.

4. Eat organic whenever possible.
Assessment: Very good. I eat organic at home. I juice organic vegetables only — why concentrate pesticides in a cup and then drink them? I strive to eat organic at restaurants, and I choose my restaurants carefully. I eat as-organic-as-possible at other people’s houses, without being ridiculous.

5. Get moving.
Assessment: Good but not great. I walk a lot — probably at least a mile per day, often two miles. I use a rebounder (mini-trampoline), but not consistently. If I could consistently use the rebounder for about 15 minutes per day, I’d meet all of my exercise goals. This is a goal for 2013.

6. Get adequate iodine and vitamin D.
Assessment: Excellent. My doctor determined my optimal vitamin D intake (it was lower than I expected — about 3000 IU. I wasn’t absorbing higher amounts before, because other nutrients/minerals were out of balance) and iodine intake (again, lower than expected). I have normal levels of iodine and vitamin D now.

7. Invest in a good drinking water filter and shower filter.
Assessment: Very good. I use a distiller at home and drink truly pure water whenever possible. I also have an Aquasana countertop water filter for cooking water and for times when I don’t have time to make distilled water. However, I need to change the filter frequently because of high sediment levels, and I’m not sure of the quality at all times. I use an Aquasana shower filter and it works great. When I’m not home, I try to drink tea made with filtered water (Starbucks uses triple-filtered water that includes a reverse osmosis process!) or bottled water in glass — but I only succeed about half the time. The other half, I confess I’m drinking Brita-filtered water (not as good) or tap water.

8. Reduce xenoestrogens and toxins in your environment.
Assessment: Good but not great. I’ve replaced my own cleaning products, toiletries and cosmetics with organic and/or green versions. However, at work and when traveling, I use what’s available for soap, shampoo, etc.

9. Take a good multivitamin, probiotics, and at least one great supplement.
Assessment: Excellent. After stumbling on this front initially, I found a great doctor-ally and got great results. All of my deficiencies are now corrected, my toxicities are under control, and my body is getting healthier and healthier. My one great supplement is pancreatic enzymes, and I also use beta 1,3 d-glucan.

10. Get outside during the day.
Assessment: Fair. I do a better job in summer than in winter, because there’s more benefit from being outside during summer months (from a vitamin D perspective). But I still spend too much time inside, tied to a computer, in all seasons.

Jun 062011
 

Some tempered good news: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last month that the USDA must produce an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for genetically modified sugar beets, prior to granting them permanent approval for commercial use. A full press release is posted at the Center for Food Safety website.

However, GM sugar beets planted last winter are still in the ground. Moreover, the USDA on April 7 announced a pilot program that could allow agribusiness firms to directly influence the content of Environmental Impact Statements. The Federal Register notice states:

“The pilot project will explore two voluntary mechanisms: (1) A petitioner-submitted environmental report based upon which APHIS would develop an EA or an EIS; and (2) an EA or EIS prepared by a contractor, funded by a cooperative services agreement between the petitioner and APHIS.”

(Note: The “petitioner” is the firm seeking approval for a product.)

So, although the court ruling mandating an EIS seems like progress, the independence of the EIS itself does not seem assured.

In the meantime, until full, independent, objective safety studies are available that counter the limited animal studies showing negative outcomes such as liver and kidney damage, I strongly believe that the best defense against GM foods is to avoid them whenever possible. Buying organic is one way to avoid GM foods, but if that’s not possible, avoidance of processed foods or careful label-reading can help.

No, GM foods are not specifically labeled as such. But the main GM components of the food supply — what I like to call the Four Horsemen of GMOs — are:

  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Cottonseed
  • Canola

That damns a lot of processed foods right there, because they may contain all sorts of derivative products: high-fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, soy lecithin, soybean oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil are among the most common. If a food package lists any of these ingredients and doesn’t say non-GMO, chances are that it contains GM ingredients.

Other GM products may include papayas, alfalfa sprouts, and, yes, sugar beets. It’s a jungle out there. But there are ways to make a difference.

Apr 122011
 

Worthwhile reading today on page 1 of USA Today. The cover story is titled ‘Girls hit puberty earlier than ever, and doctors aren’t sure why.’

Here’s a brief excerpt with the grim stats:

About 15% of American girls now begin puberty by age 7, according to a study of 1,239 girls published last year in Pediatrics. One in 10 white girls begin developing breasts by that age — twice the rate seen in a 1997 study. Among black girls, such as Laila, 23% hit puberty by age 7.

“Over the last 30 years, we’ve shortened the childhood of girls by about a year and a half,” says Sandra Steingraber, author of a 2007 report on early puberty for the Breast Cancer Fund, an advocacy group. “That’s not good.”

I give this article credit for hinting at the reasons why puberty is starting earlier. It addresses rising rates of childhood obesity; endocrine disruptors such as pesticides, phthalates in water bottles, and BPA in cans; and reduction of melatonin levels triggered by overexposure to computer and TV screens. It also mentions stress and premature birth rates (up 18% since 1990, according to the article) as possible causes. What it doesn’t mention — and what I rarely see in articles of this type — is an acknowledgment that many of the problems and diseases of modern life are interlinked, so early puberty cannot really be viewed in isolation.

One indication that the problem is modern life and not genetics is mentioned in the article:

Studies consistently show that black girls in the USA go into puberty earlier than whites, suggesting a possible genetic difference. Yet Steingraber notes that, 100 years ago, black girls actually matured later than whites. And she notes that black girls in Africa enter puberty much later than those in the USA, even when their nutrition and family incomes are comparable.

Since we can’t turn back the clock to the year 1900, how can we fight back against the onslaught of contaminated food, water, and environmental surroundings? I discuss some ideas in the 10 Changes section in relation to general health, but this is what I would do if I had a daughter:

1. Choose organic dairy. Conventional dairy products may contain recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and/or recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). These hormones stimulate increased milk production by cows, but that milk also contains higher than normal levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). What is IGF-1? A trigger of puberty in mice, according to recent research from Johns Hopkins. 1 I look forward to the human studies — in the meantime, organic milk is unlikely to contain such high levels of IGF-1. Plus, it is free of antibiotic residues, and the cows cannot be fed genetically modified corn. Honestly, I might go easy on dairy in general, since most mammals in nature don’t consume it after they’re weaned.

2. Banish high-fructose corn syrup. Since obesity is a possible contributor to early puberty, I would seek out products unlikely to promote obesity. That means real, unrefined food — organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats and eggs, beans, and whole grains, ideally speaking. If that were not entirely possible, I would at least avoid likely contributors to the obesity epidemic, such as HFCS. 2

3. Dump the plastic water bottles and canned foods. I would use stainless steel water bottles (less breakable than glass) and fill them with filtered tap water, using a high-quality reverse osmosis or combination filtration system (such as Aquasana). And I would seek out food packaged in BPA-free cans, glass jars, or bags.

4. Encourage outdoors time. I would make sure the day included some active time outside in real sunlight. Humans aren’t built to live indoors 24/7.

5. Enforce screen-off time. I would install Flux on all computers. I would set the computer to shut down automatically about an hour before bedtime. I would turn off the television about an hour before bedtime. I would encourage the reading of old-fashioned paper books — not on-screen books — in that last hour before sleep.

Mar 132011
 

This post is in initial build-out status and may change.

General Information: Wikipedia entry

Cardiovascular

Studied Uses: Stroke

Studied Risks: Heart attack; high blood pressure

Coffee - Cardiovascular Evidence Summary - http://sheet.zoho.com

Overall Cardiovascular Score: -1.39

Behind the Score: The score is more complex than it appears at first glance. Case-control studies show increased risk for heart attack and ischemic stroke, particularly in the hour after consumption, among infrequent drinkers of coffee 1, and among those with risk factors for heart disease 2 3 or who are carriers of the “slow *1F allele” of the CYP1A2 gene, which produces slow caffeine metabolism. 4 Other negative effects on the score stem from studies showing a modest increase in blood pressure among coffee drinkers 5 and an increased risk of developing high blood pressure for those with the slow *1F allele. 6

On the other hand, large prospective cohort studies that spanned many years identified health benefits as well, mainly related to reduced relative risk for stroke 7, especially cerebral infarction 8 but also possibly subarachnoid hemorrhage 9. These benefits accrued over the long term among regular drinkers of more than 1 cup per day. Benefits seemed to attenuate at more than 2 cups per day, with other risks — such as risk for heart attack — possibly increasing at 3 cups per day. 10 It is important to note that prospective cohort studies are not randomized clinical trials, and some may rely on participants’ self-reported intake of coffee.

Notably, at least one prospective cohort study showed that tea appeared similarly effective at lower intake levels (2 cups a day). 11 Also, tea did not appear to raise stroke risk in the hour after consumption. 12

A 2008 prospective study of more than 120,000 people identified 13 a small reduction in all-cause mortality due to coffee consumption; however, this appears to be due to a “moderate” reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease. Further study would be required to confirm this association.

Warnings and Special Notes: Based on study results, people with existing risk factors for heart disease may want to consult their doctor about the right level of coffee consumption for them.

What Now? An overarching review of coffee’s short- and long-term studied effects states that, “…. longer-term trials on the effects of coffee on biological risk factors are needed to bridge the gap in the data between short-term trials and cohort studies.” 14

What Can I Do? Coffee is readily available, if you choose to drink it. Because of pesticide use on conventional coffee crops 15, organic coffee may be worth the extra cost. Buying Fair Trade may reduce the risk of supporting exploitative producers.

Notes:

  1. Coffee and acute ischemic stroke onset: the Stroke Onset Study. Neurology, 2010.
  2. Transient Exposure to Coffee as a Trigger of a First Nonfatal Myocardial Infarction. Epidemiology, 2006.
  3. Coffee and alcohol consumption as triggering factors for sudden cardiac death: case-crossover study. Croatian Medical Journal, 2005.
  4. Coffee, CYP1A2 genotype, and risk of myocardial infarction. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2006.
  5. Blood pressure response to chronic intake of coffee and caffeine: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Hypertension, 2005.
  6. CYP1A2 genotype modifies the association between coffee intake and the risk of hypertension. Clinica Medica, University of Padova, 2009.
  7. Coffee consumption and risk of stroke in women. Circulation, 2009.
  8. Coffee and tea consumption and risk of stroke subtypes in male smokers. Stroke, 2008.
  9. Coffee Consumption and Risk of Stroke in Women. Stroke, 2011.
  10. Alcohol, smoking, coffee and risk of non-fatal acute myocardial infarction in Italy, European Journal of Epidemiology, 2001.
  11. Coffee and tea consumption and risk of stroke subtypes in male smokers. Stroke, 2008.
  12. Coffee and acute ischemic stroke onset: the Stroke Onset Study. Neurology, 2010.
  13. The relationship of coffee consumption with mortality, Annals of Internal Medicine, 2008.
  14. Coffee Consumption and Coronary Heart Disease: Paradoxical Effects on Biological Risk Factors versus Disease Incidence, Clinical Chemistry, 2008.
  15. Coffee, Conservation, and Commerce in the Western Hemisphere, Natural Resources Defense Council
Mar 082011
 

Headlines in January covered the USDA’s unrestricted approval of GM alfalfa.

Dr. Joseph Mercola now has a scathing analysis on his site about potential long-term implications of the decision. He interviewed representatives from the Institute for Responsible Technology, Organic Valley, Whole Foods and the Organic Consumers Association — and then made some good points. The key highlight: Most alfalfa is not sprayed with pesticides now, so why would any need arise for a Roundup-resistant version?

Mercola (via his sources’ interviews) analyzes a possible ulterior motive as follows:

“‘The interesting thing about the way alfalfa has been grown up until now is that, according to Michael Pollan and other experts, 93 percent of the alfalfa grown in the United States right now is not sprayed with herbicides… alfalfa is pretty much an herbicide free crop!’ Cummins says.

“‘Now, what’s going to happen is that Monsanto is going to sell their alfalfa seeds all over the country which make this alfalfa roundup resistant. This means they’re going to spray the heck out of these 23 million acres of alfalfa fields.’

“How can anyone justify the planting of Roundup-resistant alfalfa when there’s apparently no need for it, and when emerging evidence shows that weeds are rapidly becoming increasingly resistant to Roundup as well, creating superweeds that are near impossible to get rid of?

“That seemingly nonsensical decision becomes clearer if you look at alfalfa’s role on a much grander scale, and helps explain why Monsanto appears to have pulled out all the stops to get it approved, despite the fervent opposition of the organic industry and hundreds of thousands of vocal consumers.

Alfalfa is the Perfect Choice if You Want to Contaminate a Wide Variety of Organic Foods!

“Alfalfa is a perennial crop, meaning it comes back year after year. In the case of alfalfa, farmers only need to re-seed about every seventh year. And as stated earlier, it’s a powerful pollinator.

“‘Basically, any organic alfalfa or non-genetically engineered alfalfa within a five mile radius will immediately get contaminated,’ Cummins says.

“‘Given the fact that alfalfa is a major food source for dairy cows across the United States, and organic alfalfa is a major food source for organic dairy cows, we’re going to see widespread contamination getting worse every year… by this GM alfalfa.

“‘So this is outrageous. It totally flies in the face of campaign promises that Obama made in 2008 when he was running for president. It totally flies in the face of what Hillary Clinton, who was also running for president at the time, made, which was that they would support mandatory labeling and safety testing of GMOs. They have gone back on their word…'”

What now? I highlighted this article mainly because Mercola outlines several ways to take action at the end of it. If you really care about this issue, take a few minutes to sign up to help stop GM food’s pervasive spread. This is one of those battles that can be won, because it’s not too late. Time is growing short, though.

Mar 052011
 

I do not advocate any particular diet — the “right” diet seems to vary widely based on ethnic origin, lifestyle, and individual biochemistry. As an extreme example, “The China Study” makes a compelling argument for a vegetarian diet, yet the Inuits historically ate almost entirely meat and remained free of most degenerative diseases.

What can be said, almost with certainty, is the following: Eat real food, organic when possible. By “real” food, I mean food that is recognizable as food. I have a strong opinion about this: If an ingredient list reads like a chemistry experiment, perhaps it is one, and perhaps you are the test subject. Put it back on the shelf. In sending this simple message with your food choices, you encourage food producers to provide more real-food options.

On the organic front, it is true that organic food may not be more nutritious than conventional food, and it is almost always more expensive. But what it does not include — pesticides — can make a big difference in your health. Even grains and beans, if they are conventional, were likely sprayed with pesticides. And standards for pesticides on imported products are more lax than for U.S.-grown produce…. If you can’t afford to buy all-organic, this list identifies the most contaminated fruits and vegetables (aka worth buying organic) and the less contaminated (save your money and go conventional).

Another reason to buy organic is that, due to labeling laws, it remains one of the only ways to avoid genetically modified (GM) foods. These foods have slight differences from the natural foods that your body recognizes — and initial animal studies show significant 1 effects 2 as a result. Yet, these GM ingredients permeate nearly all processed foods and even some conventionally grown, apparently “real” foods, such as corn. The “four horsemen” of GM foods are corn, soy, cottonseed, and canola (EDIT: plus sugar beets and alfalfa). If you look at ingredient lists, you will see these offenders in many forms, such as high-fructose corn syrup, canola oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, cornstarch, and even lecithin (an emulsifier that is usually soy-based). Other GM foods include some Hawaiian papayas and, soon to come, alfalfa.