Natural Health Blog & News
Root beer may be one of the most popular beverages in the world today, but did you know that its flavor was once literally taken from a plant’s roots? The original taste of root beer was all thanks to the sassafras plant, which was extremely popular in the early 20th century because of its sweet and warm flavor and aroma.1
However, its use was eventually banned because of an animal study showing that it may cause liver damage because of an active compound. Learn more about this plant, its preparation as a tea and potential adverse reactions or you may experience from consuming it.
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a well-known plant in the South because of its unique aroma and taste. You can identify this plant through its leaves, which are 3 to 5 inches long and may be two-lobed or three-lobed. In the fall, the leaves usually take on a bright orange hue. Its young branches are bright green, which explains why the Native Americans referred to it as “green stick.”2
The Cherokee, Chippewa, Creek, Delaware and Iroquois have used this plant for centuries. It is especially popular due to its sweet and spicy taste and aroma, which is one of the reasons it’s used in root beer. It’s especially well-known in the Southeast, with most people remembering the taste and smell of sassafras tea from their childhood.3
But despite its popularity, the plant has been the subject of numerous controversies because of its active components. In 1960, sassafras use was banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an ingredient in all types of food because of safrole, the compound responsible for the scent of sassafras root.4In an animal study, concentrated safrole was found to cause liver damage and liver cancer if taken in large amounts.5 However, other studies suggest that if sassafras is ingested without safrole, it wouldn’t expose people to the risk. Some suggest that you can ingest sassafras tea in small amounts or you can use sassafras products that have undergone the FDA-approved process to remove the safrole content.6
Sassafras use in North America spans hundreds of years, from the Appalachian belief that it can ward off evil to the Creole’s culinary use of its root. But aside from these, sassafras root is filled with nutrients and beneficial components, which include tannins. Some of the benefits of sassafras tea include the following:
• Contains possible diuretic properties. Sassafras has been used to promote urination, sweating and fluid congestion drainage.7 As a diuretic, sassafras may help facilitate detoxification and uric acid flushing.8
• May reduce inflammation. The anti-inflammatory properties of sassafras may assist in inflammatory conditions like arthritis. It may also help alleviate pain and discomfort caused by these conditions.9
• May help alleviate eye infections. The pith of the sassafras plant was originally used as a mucilaginous demulcent for eye infections.10 A demulcent functions as a protective layer for inflamed tissues, easing and combating further irritation.11
In addition to these, sassafras has also been used to help alleviate various skin conditions, mucositis, sprains and urinary tract infections.12 But take note that sassafras tea should not be taken for long periods of time due to the possible side effects posed by safrole. To benefit from this tea and greatly reduce the risk of complications, limit your intake to a maximum of 2 cups per day.
Sassafras contains numerous beneficial active compounds, including asarone, alpha pinene and tannins. Here are the nutrition facts of sassafras tea:13
|Total Fat||0.0 g||0%|
|Saturated Fat||0.0 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||0.0 g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||0.0 g|
|Total Carbohydrates||8.8 g|
|Dietary Fiber||0.0 g|
|Vitamin A 0.0 %||Vitamin C||0.1%|
|Vitamin B12 0.0 %||Vitamin B6||0.1 %|
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
It is unclear whether sassafras tea contains any level of caffeine. However, it was originally consumed due to its stimulant properties.14 In addition to this, safrole, one of the most abundant compounds found in sassafras, is a precursor to methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), a stimulant and known hallucinogen.15However, its apparent lack of caffeine does not mean that you can consume sassafras tea in excessive amounts. Remember that moderation is key, and getting too much of something may lead to other serious repercussions.
Looking forward to your first mug of sassafras tea, but you’re not entirely sure how to brew your first batch? Here’s a recipe from Genius Kitchen you can try out for yourself:16
• 4 pieces of 1/4-inch sassafras roots
• 2 quarts water
• Raw honey, optional
1. Gather or buy sassafras roots. Wash roots and cut the saplings off where the roots end. This part usually has a greenish hue.
2. Bring the water to a boil and add the roots.
3. Simmer until the water becomes a deep brownish red. Note that the darker the color, the stronger the tea will be.
4. Strain the water and add honey to taste. Serve.
If you’ve just harvested plenty of sassafras roots to last the winter, the next question you’ll probably be asking would be on how you’d store them correctly. Here is a step-by-step guide from Cynthia Hoover on prolonging the shelf life of your sassafras roots:17
1. Shake the sassafras roots over the compost bin to get rid of any loose dirt.
2. Put the roots in your kitchen sink and submerge them in lukewarm water. Make sure you sanitize your sink before doing this step to make sure you’re not letting the roots come into contact with any substance.
3. Using a scrub brush, scrub off as much dirt as you can from the roots.
4. Once the roots are clean, make sure the roots are completely dried out before storage. You can dry them out using a dehydrator or simply using an oven.
5. If you plan on using an oven, set it to 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit). Place the roots on a baking sheet and dry them fully.
6. You may also use screens to dry the roots out in case you don’t want to use a dehydrator or an oven. Put the sassafras roots on screens and place in a cool, dry place. Sassafras roots dried using this method usually take about three to 15 days to dry out completely.
If prepared correctly, dried sassafras roots may last up to a year. However, to avoid possible adverse effects, just make sure you don’t overindulge and drink sassafras tea for long stretches of time.
While sassafras has potential health benefits, remember that drinking sassafras tea may also cause a significant amount of damage if taken in excess. Studies on sassafras show that safrole may trigger the development of liver cancer. A 1976 study shows safrole can lead to liver damage and cancer when administered orally or through a stomach tube. While safrole is present in other herbs and spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, it only appears in these other foods in small amounts.18
Other side effects include hot flashes, increased perspiration, vomiting, high blood pressure and hallucinations. Take note that drinking sassafras tea when you’re pregnant is not recommended because of the limited studies that discuss its safety.19
Q: What is sassafras good for?
A: Sassafras root contains numerous beneficial components that may help improve immunity and promote body detoxification.
Q: Is sassafras tea safe?
A: The safety of sassafras tea has been a topic of debate because of the high amounts of safrole in it. However, moderate use of this tea may be beneficial to some people. Just make sure that you don’t drink excessive amounts of it for long periods of time. Limit your intake to 2 cups per day for no longer than a month.
Q: Where can you buy sassafras tea?
A: You can find sassafras teabags and fresh sassafras root at numerous health stores and online shops. Just make sure that you’re getting high-quality sassafras root so you can maximize the nutrients that this root contains.
Q: What is sassafras tea used for?
A: Sassafras tea may be used to help boost the immune system, promote detoxification and increase sweating. It is especially beneficial for people who are suffering from colds and the flu to assist the body in fighting off the infection.
By Dr. Mercola
Thousands of studies spanning many decades show excess sugar damages your health,1 yet the sugar industry successfully buried the evidence and misdirected the public with manipulated science. According to the sugar industry, sugar is a harmless source of energy and may even be an important part of a healthy “balanced” diet.
Dr. Cristin Kearns, a dentist and fellow at the University of California, made headlines when she published a paper2 detailing the sugar industry’s historical influence on dietary recommendations. Evidence also shows how the sugar industry influenced the scientific agenda of the National Institute of Dental Research (now the National Institute of Dental and Cranial Research), which back in 1971 created a national caries program, downplaying any links between sugar consumption and dental caries.3
The documentary, “Sugar Coated” — which features Kearns, investigative journalist Gary Taubes, author of “The Case Against Sugar,” and Dr. Robert Lustig, a leading expert on sugar metabolism and obesity — investigates the sugar industry’s once secret PR campaign, showing how it normalized excessive consumption by deflecting evidence implicating sugar as a cause of ill health. As noted in the film’s summary:4
“In order to continue sweetening the world’s food supply, thus securing continued profits, the sugar industry turned to the very same deceptions and tactics lifted from the tobacco industry. Using big sugar’s own internal documents on this strategy, ‘Sugar Coated’ reveals the well-oiled tricks of the trade to confuse the public about what is really driving the global pandemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.”
In the past three decades, obesity rates have doubled and Type 2 diabetes has tripled. How did this happen? Evidence implicating sugar has steadily mounted, but as noted by Taubes, definitive proof has remained elusive. The lack of indisputable proof — and the manufactured lack of consensus — is what has kept the sugar industry motoring forward, at each turn deflecting suspicions by pointing out conflicting evidence.
Fueling uncertainty has been the primary defense strategy that has allowed the sugar industry to thrive while health statistics plummet. “If the evidence gets definitive, they’re done,” Taubes says. Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, teaches that sugar — when consumed in the excess amounts we’re consuming today — acts as a metabolic poison.
Lustig doesn’t really see himself as the “anti-sugar guy,” stressing he’s really anti-processed food. The thing about processed foods is they contain massive amounts of added sugar. Seventy-four percent of packaged foods contain added sugars, which hide under 61 different names, many of which are unfamiliar. Examples include barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup, just to name a few.
Metabolically, however, there’s no difference between these sugars, Lustig says. Even health foods and baby foods can contain shockingly high amounts of processed sugars.5 Take Krave Jerky, for example. A modest size bag (3.5 ounces) of Krave Chili Lime Jerky contains a whopping 39 grams of sugar.6
Lustig stresses it’s the excessive consumption of sugar that is dangerous, not the sugar in and of itself. But how much is too much? At which point does it become a “poison”? Sugar in “moderation,” he says, would be 6 to 9 teaspoons (25 to 38 grams) of added sugar a day.
This is about the max that your body can safely and effectively process. Europeans consume, on average, 17 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The American average is 19.5 teaspoons a day. For historical perspective, in 1812, people ate approximately 9 grams or just over 2 teaspoons of sugar per day.7
According to a 2014 study,8 10 percent of Americans consume 25 percent or more of their daily calories in the form of added sugars, and those who consume 21 percent or more of their daily calories in the form of sugar are twice as likely to die from heart disease compared to those who get 7 percent or less of their daily calories from added sugar.
The risk was nearly tripled among those who consumed 25 percent or more of their calories from sugar. That means at least 10 percent of the adult population in the U.S. are in this tripled-risk category.
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Type 2 diabetes9 and heart disease are not the only ramifications of a high-sugar diet. By triggering insulin resistance, excessive sugar consumption drives virtually all chronic diseases, including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,10 cancer and dementia.11,12 Research13 shows even mild elevation of blood sugar — a level of around 105 or 110 — is associated with an elevated risk for Alzheimer’s.
Moderating your sugar intake is extremely difficult, if not impossible, if you’re eating processed foods and snacks. The film shines much needed light on the fraud that passes for “healthy snacks,” such as fruit gummies, which contain sugar derived from concentrated fruit juice, water and a few added vitamins. While the sugar is derived from fruit, there’s nothing left of the nutrients in the whole fruit. You might as well just give your child a few sugar cubes. There’s really no difference.
The records unearthed by Kearns reveal that as far back as 1964 — a time when researchers had begun suspecting a relationship between high-sugar diets and heart disease — John Hickson, a sugar industry executive, introduced a plan for how to influence public opinion. Using the same tactics employed by the tobacco industry, Hickson’s plan was to counter adverse findings with industry-funded research, along with directed “information and legislative programs.” “Then we can publish the data and refute our detractors,” he wrote.
One of the strategies used to deflect accusations that sugar caused disease was to shift the blame to saturated fat. In the early 1970s, the sugar industry faced proposed sugar legislation that would impose limits on the sweet stuff.
They also worried about the potential impact of “Pure White and Deadly: How Sugar Is Killing Us and What We Can Do to Stop It,” a book published in 1972 by British nutritionist John Yudkin, in which he presented decades of research pointing at dietary sugar, not fat, as the underlying factor in obesity and diabetes.
As proposed by Hickson, the sugar industry countered Yudkin’s work with a secretly funded white paper called “Sugar in the Diet of Man,” which claimed sugar was not only safe but actually important for health. Again, the key to success laid in preventing a consensus from taking root. As long as there was confusion and uncertainty about sugar’s role in health, regulators were forced to give sugar a free pass.
Dr. Fredrick J. Stare, who chaired the department of nutrition at Harvard, played a key role in defending the sugar industry and disseminating its propaganda, all while hiding his close ties to the industry. Stare spoke out against critics on radio and television, claiming breakfast cereal with milk was a healthier breakfast choice than bacon and eggs, for example.
Another major sugar apologist was Ancel Keyes who, with industry funding, helped destroy Yudkin’s reputation by labeling him a quack. The smear campaign was a huge success, bringing sugar research to a screeching halt.
Another Harvard-based nutrition scientist identified in Kearns' historical analysis as someone paid to produce research for the sugar industry was Mark Hegsted, Ph.D. In 1977, while heading up the nutrition department at the United States Department of Agriculture, Hegsted helped draft an early document that eventually became the U.S. dietary guidelines.
In the decades since, U.S. health officials have urged Americans to adopt a low-fat diet to prevent heart disease; as a result, people switched to processed low-fat, high-sugar foods instead. This, it turns out, is the real recipe for heart disease, yet by taking control of and shaping the scientific discussion, the sugar and processed food industries managed to keep these facts under wraps all these years. The end result is clearly visible in the health statistics of today.
With saturated fat enlisted as the dietary villain, the processed food industry had to figure out how to remove the fat while maintaining taste. The solution was to add sugar. The ill-advised low-fat craze is a major reason why processed foods are loaded with so much added sugar. Another reason has to do with the creation of food addiction.
The food industry goes to great lengths to scientifically calculate the exact combination of ingredients that will make you crave a product, known as the Bliss Point. Howard Moskowitz, Ph.D., a longtime food industry consultant, is known as “Dr. Bliss.” A Harvard-trained mathematician, Moskowitz tests people’s reactions and finds the optimal amount of sugar for a product.14
Moskowitz’s path to mastery began when he was hired by the U.S. Army to research how to get soldiers to consume more rations in the field. Over time, soldiers were not consuming adequate rations, finding their ready-to-eat meals so boring that they’d toss them half-eaten, and not get all the calories they needed. Through this research, Moskowitz discovered “sensory-specific satiety.” What this means is, big flavors tend to overwhelm your brain, which responds by suppressing your desire to eat more.
However, this sensory-specific satiety is overridden by complex flavor profiles that pique your taste buds enough to be alluring, but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells your brain to stop eating. The magic formula gives you “the bliss point,” enabling the processed food industry to make very deliberate efforts to get you to overeat.
While we still have a long way to go, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans include the recommendation to limit sugar to 10 percent of your total daily calories.15 For a 2,000 calorie diet this amounts to 10 to 12 teaspoons, or just over the amount found in one 12-ounce can of regular Coke. Based on the evidence from some studies, even this amount can trigger health problems, but it’s certainly better than no limit at all. Other health organizations have gone even further.
The National Institutes of Health now recommends kids between the ages of 4 and 8 limit their added sugar to a maximum of 3 teaspoons a day (12 grams). Children aged 9 and older should stay below 8 teaspoons. The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily added sugar intake to:16,17
Twenty-five grams of sugar per day is my recommended limit for men and women alike, with the added caveat that if you have insulin or leptin resistance (overweight, diabetic, high blood pressure or taking a statin drug), you’d be wise to restrict your total fructose consumption to as little as 15 grams per day until you’ve normalized your insulin and leptin levels.
Not surprisingly, the sugar industry’s answer to all of these sugar limits was to create yet another study18 to refute the validity of the recommendations and keep the uncertainty going.19,20,21,22 As reported by CBS,23 “The study from McMaster University claims that the evidence for prior knowledge in how sugar intake is proportionate with weight gain, across nine public health guidelines, is ‘low quality.’”
The review was funded by the North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a trade group representing the Coca-Cola Co., Dr Pepper Snapple Group, the Hershey Company, Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo and many others. In conclusion, these industry-funded science reviewers found that:
“Guidelines on dietary sugar do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations and are based on low-quality evidence. Public health officials (when promulgating these recommendations) and their public audience (when considering dietary behavior) should be aware of these limitations …
At present, there seems to be no reliable evidence indicating that any of the recommended daily caloric thresholds for sugar intake are strongly associated with negative health effects. The results from this review should be used to promote improvement in the development of trustworthy guidelines on sugar intake.”
Ironically, the only “limitation” listed for this study24 was that “The authors conducted the study independent of the funding source, which is primarily supported by the food and agriculture industry.” Essentially, what they were saying is that, yes, the study was funded by the food industry, but trust us, we were completely impartial.
A corrected version of the disclosure statement revealed ILSI actually both reviewed and approved the scope of the protocol for the study.25 AP News also discovered that one of the authors, Joanne Slavin, a professor at University of Minnesota, failed to disclose funding in the amount of $25,000 from Coca-Cola in 2014.
Slavin also did not disclose a grant received from Quaker Oats, owned by PepsiCo, nor did she include her work on a 2012 ILSI-funded paper on sugar guidelines. Meanwhile, she did disclose a grant from the Mushroom Council.
If you’re at all inclined to take Slavin and her coauthors on their word, consider the following study published in November 2016: The paper, “Do Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Cause Obesity and Diabetes? Industry and the Manufacture of Scientific Controversy,”26 reviewed 60 studies published between 2001 and 2016 to examine the links between funding and study outcomes.
“We comprehensively surveyed the literature to determine whether experimental studies that found no association between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity- and diabetes-related outcomes (negative studies) are more likely than positive studies to have received financial support from this industry,” they write.
The results? Of the 60 studies, the 26 that found no link between sugary drinks and obesity or diabetes were all funded by the beverage industry; of the 34 that did find a relationship, only one had received industry funding. In conclusion, they noted that: “This industry seems to be manipulating contemporary scientific processes to create controversy and advance their business interests at the expense of the public’s health.”
Some of the studies giving sugar a free pass have industry fingerprints clearly visible all over them. For example, one paper27 came to the highly unlikely conclusion that eating candy may help prevent weight gain. The source of the funding reveals the basis for such a bizarre conclusion: The National Confectioners Association, which represents candy makers like Butterfingers, Hershey and Skittles.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi-backed research has also come to the highly improbable and irresponsible conclusion that drinking diet soda is more helpful for weight loss than pure water.28
When you consider that following the proposed sugar guidelines (restricting sugar to 5 or 10 percent of daily calories) would cut junk food companies’ profits by half,29 it’s easy to see why they’re willing to go to such obnoxious lengths to try to mislead you about the science. Greed is no excuse, however, and it’s high time everyone stopped buying into the sugar industry’s carefully plotted misdirection campaigns.
Sugar causes very real damage to your body and cells, and the addiction to the substance is also very real. There are several strategies you can use to reduce or eliminate your intake of added sugars, while still enjoying your meals and feeling satisfied after eating.
Educate yourself on the health impacts of sugar
Making permanent changes to your lifestyle and nutritional choices is easier when you know the why behind the change. You can see a quick list of the 76 different ways sugar negatively impacts your health in my previous article, “The Truth About Sugar Addiction.”
Reduce net carbs
Your net carbs are calculated by taking the total grams of carbs and subtracting the total grams of fiber. By keeping your net carbs below 100 grams per day, and for a healthier diet as low as 50 grams per day, you will reduce your cravings for sweets. To learn more, including the importance of cycling in higher amounts of net carbs once you’ve become an efficient fat burner, see “Burn Fat for Fuel.”
Eat real food
If a food is boxed, canned or bottled, it’s likely also been processed and may include added sugar. Whole, organic, non-GMO foods provide your body with the nutrition you need to function optimally and natural sugars bound to fiber that reduces your net carbs.
On processed foods you do purchase, scour the label for ingredients that represent sugar to evaluate the total amount. The less sugar you eat, the less you’ll crave.
Use safer sweeteners
Not all sugar substitutes are created equally. Avoid using artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. Safer alternatives include Stevia, Lo Han Guo (also spelled Luo Han Kuo), and pure glucose (dextrose). Contrary to fructose, glucose can be used directly by every cell in your body and as such is a far safer sugar alternative. It will, however, raise your net carb intake.
Reduce the sugar you add gradually
If going cold turkey hasn’t worked for you in the past, try slowly reducing the amount of sugar you add to your drinks. This helps give your taste buds time to adjust to drinking your favorite tea or coffee without the added sweetener.
Increase healthy fat intake
Fat increases satiety, reducing cravings for something sweet afterward. Avocados, coconut oil, nuts and seeds increase your healthy fat content, fill you up and reduce your sweet cravings.
Include fermented foods
Fermented foods support your digestive health and improve your gut microbiome, and the sour taste naturally helps reduce your sweet cravings.
Try Turbo Tapping
Emotional and stress eating is not uncommon. Using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), you can address your stress levels and the discomfort you may feel from giving up junk foods in your diet. Turbo tapping is a form of EFT designed specifically for sugar addiction and is well worth a try if you’re struggling to give up soda and other sweets.
By Dr. Mercola
Jill Redwood is sometimes referred to as Calamity Jill, a reference to Martha Jane Canary, better known as Calamity Jane. An American frontierswoman and professional scout, Calamity Jane was an acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickok and appeared in the Buffalo Bill Wild West show later in her life.1
But this is where the comparison ends. While Calamity Jane2 was known to be an itinerant alcoholic with no formal education, Redwood is a writer and environmental activist who spent her early adult life working in Melbourne, Australia, as a lab technician. Redwood has since been entered into the Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in 20th Century Australia.3
In this short video, Redwood walks through her home and gardens, showing how she has successfully lived relatively independent of supermarkets, manufacturing and electricity for the past 30 years. Although a radical choice for most, Redwood has enjoyed her years living off the grid, is rarely sick and looks forward to remaining on her small farm for years to come.
If you have ever dreamt about selling everything you own and living off the grid, being completely self-sufficient and in harmony with nature, you're not alone. Redwood, a pioneer of this lifestyle, has been happily living for over 30 years on the edge of a forest in East Gippsland in Victoria, Australia. In these years she's had no main power supply, main water supply, mobile reception or television.4
As an environmentalist, she works to protect the forests where she lives. Redwood hates supermarkets and only eats the foods she has grown in her backyard, or makes herself on her 15-acre property. She lived on a number of different properties before settling in 1983 on the land she now owns.
Redwood built the home herself, which she said took eight years.5 During that time she lived in a small dirt-floored bark hut on the property. With no building experience, she researched the type of houses early settlers had built and claims,6 “It's just like baking a cake, you just follow the recipe.” In total, Redwood said the house cost less than $3,000 to build. Most of the money was spent on roofing and floor boards. The cracks in the timber walls were filled with a mixture of cowpats and lime.
The house is solar powered with hot water generated on her wooden stove. Her power use is limited to her computer, scanner and internet modem. She uses lights at night, a food processor and a radio on occasion. She says,7 “… when the sun really shines and there's lots of power coming in, I've got a washing machine. That's a luxury.”
Each of her decisions were made with an aim toward reducing her impact on the environment. She is passionate about preserving the environment and her local forest and believes her lifestyle should reflect her goals.8 While Redwood lives a solitary lifestyle she chose at an early age, off-grid living does not necessitate this choice. She felt her life was pointed in the direction of getting away from society and having her own little patch of land with animals. But, she had always preferred a solitary lifestyle.
Redwood’s home is completely powered by solar panels. This technology had been very expensive for many years but costs have fallen and are now within reach of many homeowners. The consumption of nonrenewable resources such as oil and gas is finite, while solar energy panels harness energy from a completely renewable source, the sun. Using this you can light your home, produce hot water and run your electrical appliances.
The main benefit is it doesn't produce any pollutants and is one of the cleanest sources of energy.9 In the past, a big disadvantage was the inability to use solar energy to power your home at night. Solar storage batteries, to store excess energy produced during the day, were cumbersome and expensive.
Today, many modern units use a process called net metering, a system hooking your home to the city’s power grid. This then measures the difference between the energy you give back to the grid during the day and the energy you use.
Net metering is a means of controlling energy deficits and is an easier and cheaper method of storing the excess power your home generates than batteries. In some areas of the country where it's sunny for long periods of time, you may build up enough power in your home that the energy company pays you for supplying more energy than you use.
The cost of solar panels has dropped by 80 percent since 2008, and experts expect the cost to keep falling. Solar cells are priced per wattage they generate. In 1977, cells cost nearly $77 per watt. Today the cost ranges from $2.87 to $3.85 per watt.10 An installation on your home may cost nearly $17,000, but in the U.S., with tax credits, it can often be reduced to around $12,000.
However, you don't have to buy your own solar panels as you can rent them. If you rent or lease, most companies provide free maintenance. Some states have an incentive program to encourage people to switch to more sustainable energy production, which may help you cover the cost of installing solar panels on your home.11
It takes the average homeowner between six and 15 years to pay off their solar panels. However, if you live in a sunny climate with a good incentive program from your state, you might accomplish it in as little as two years. Since the average life span of solar panels is 25 years, this may mean you save thousands of dollars on your power bill over the course of time.12 While solar power cells are an advantage in the city, they may be essential in remote areas without access to an energy grid.13
Redwood collects rainwater off the roof or from the local river where she installed a water wheel to get it out.14 She uses this to supply her farm with water for the plants, animals and her own needs. You may have the opportunity to discover a clean spring supply in your area by checking out FindASpring.com.15 You may also want to consider other tactics to reduce your water use and ensure a clean supply at home, including:16
• Shower water. Limiting your showers to five minutes may save you up to 1,000 gallons a month. Keep a 5-gallon bucket in the shower to catch the water as you adjust the temperature. You can use this to water your plants or even flush the toilet.
• Conservation. Consider installing water saving shower heads, faucets and toilets to reduce water use. Add a water barrel in your garden to capture rainwater to water your plants. Don’t run the water while you’re washing dishes or brushing your teeth — run it only when you’re using it.
Fix any leaking or dripping faucets or toilets as the water you lose can add up. Run your dishwasher and washing machine with a full load as half-loaded machines add up to gallons of wasted water. When you conserve electricity you are also conserving water since power plants need thousands of gallons to cool.
• Safety. Remember most water sources are severely polluted, so the issue of filtration to achieve a clean supply has become a necessity. If your home or community has older water pipes, or if you live near a military base or other sites using PFC-laced firefighting foam, the risk your water may be contaminated may be further magnified. As a general rule, I recommend using a high quality water filtration system unless you can verify the purity of your water.
To be certain you're getting the purest water you can, filter at both the point of entry and point of use. This means filtering all the water coming into the house, and then filtering again at the kitchen sink and shower. Unfiltered water can also expose you to dangerous chlorine vapors and chloroform gas. The FDA and other U.S. government agencies report most homes in the U.S. have measurable levels of chloroform gas, courtesy of chlorinated tap water.
Unless you have a whole house water filter, chlorine will vaporize from every toilet bowl in your home and every time you wash your clothes, dishes, or take a shower or bath. Chloroform gas, chlorine vapors and the associated detergent byproducts may increase your risk of asthma, airway inflammation and respiratory allergies.
If you get your water from a municipal water supply and don't have a whole house filter, it’s important to open up windows on opposing sides of your home so you get cross ventilation. Keep the windows open for five to 10 minutes a day to remove these gases.
Redwood lives nearly 90 minutes from the nearest grocery store, so it’s no small feat to gather supplies.17 She doesn’t pop out to the store for food during the summer and winter months, but instead lives off the produce and dairy products produced on her farm. Eggs from her free-range chickens, milk from goats and pesticide-free fruits and vegetables sustain her through the summer months. Her garden produces an abundance, so she pickles and preserves to weather the winter months.18
You don't have to live on a farm to grow some of your own vegetables, as many grow quite well in pots. In fact, with a sunny window, you can keep yourself in fresh herbs throughout the winter months.
Growing your own produce has the added advantage of knowing your plants are produced from non-genetically modified seed and grown without pesticides or insecticides, both of which can significantly change your gut microbiome and thus your health. To read more, see my previous article, “Pesticide Treadmill Jeopardizes Food Safety.”
Raising your own chickens for eggs is another opportunity to ensure you are eating safe food. As recently as the 1920s, chickens were raised primarily for eggs and not their meat. Unfortunately, over the past years, eggs were vilified after misconceptions regarding cholesterol content were highly publicized. In reality, eggs provide valuable vitamins, omega-3 fats and antioxidants, and are one of the best sources of choline.
The only better option to getting your eggs and chicken fresh from a local farmer is to raise your own backyard flock. This practice is growing in popularity and many cities in the U.S. are adjusting zoning ordinances to allow this practice. Requirements may vary depending upon your location, so please check with your city before taking the plunge. However, you might be surprised to find they already allow chickens.
You'll immediately be able to tell the difference between eggs you got from your own hens foraging in your yard and those you purchased at the grocery store. Pastured eggs have a bright orange yolk compared to dull, pale, yellow yolks from caged hens.
If raising your own chickens is not appealing, you have other options. High-quality organic, pastured eggs may be grown locally and are becoming easier to find as nearly every rural area has individuals with chickens. If you live in an urban area, visit your local health food store for the quickest route to finding high-quality local egg sources. Look for farmers markets and food co-ops to meet people who produce your food. With face-to-face contact, you can get your questions answered and know exactly what you're buying.
By Dr. Mercola
American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is an herbal plant native to North America that's a member of the mint family. It has a long history of medicinal use, primarily as a mild nerve sedative or nerve tonic. During the 1800s and 1900s, skullcap was sometimes prescribed for nervousness or related symptoms, particularly muscle spasms, irritability, sleeplessness, tremors and restlessness.1
Named for the close-fitting metal skull caps worn during medieval periods, which resembled the plant's flowers, this calming herb has continued to receive praise for its stress- and anxiety-relieving effects, which it's said to exert without some of the side effects, like drowsiness, that other relaxing herbs may cause. Known as a nervine herb, which is one that acts on the nervous system, skullcap has such strong relaxant effects that it's sometimes used to treat barbiturate and tranquilizer withdrawal symptoms.2
Its popularity has been growing in recent years, with harvest and sales increasing 250 percent from 1997 to 2001, perhaps because many herbalists in Europe have taken to prescribing skullcap in lieu of kava kava, which has been linked to liver damage. Whatever the reason, if you're interested in herbal remedies, skullcap is one herb worth knowing, especially since it's easy to grow and has a variety of uses, from tea and tinctures to massage oil and supplements.
In 2003, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study on healthy individuals revealed that skullcap had "noteworthy" effects for anxiety relief.3 Another study of 43 adults who took either skullcap or a placebo three times daily for two weeks revealed skullcap significantly enhanced global mood — without a reduction in energy or cognition.4 Although research into the herb is limited, as it is with many herbal remedies, surveys suggest that herbal medicine practitioners widely use skullcap.
"The results of the survey suggested that S. lateriflora is highly regarded amongst herbal medicine practitioners as an effective intervention for reducing anxiety and stress and is commonly prescribed for these conditions and related comorbidities," researchers wrote in the Journal of Herbal Medicine.5
When the herb was analyzed for its bioactive ingredients, 10 flavonoids and two phenylethanoid glyside compounds were isolated. Further, at least 73 different compounds have been identified in skullcap essential oil.6 Phenolic compounds, particularly flavonoids, are believed to be responsible for many of skullcap's beneficial effects.7 In addition to its uses for anxiety, skullcap has shown promise as an anticonvulsant and has been shown to be effective in rodents with acute seizures.8
It may also have anti-allergy potential, including helping to alleviate food allergy symptoms by regulating systemic immune responses of T helper (TH) cells. "These results indicate that skullcap may be a potential candidate as a preventive agent for food allergy," according to researchers.9
Bioactive compounds in many plants have powerful antioxidant properties known to neutralize or scavenge damaging free radicals, thereby neutralizing oxidative stress that can play a role in diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, depression and anxiety. Skullcap is no exception, and it's been suggested that its antioxidants could be therapeutic against oxidative-stress-associated mental disorders.10
Another compound in skullcap, scutellarein, may have anticancer potential. In fact, the compound was even found to stop the development and spread of fibrosarcoma, an aggressive cancer of connective tissue.11 Traditionally, the herb was used by Native Americans for a variety of anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and antimicrobial purposes, including to treat:12
Nervous disorders of the digestive system
Snake and insect bites
In addition to the traditional uses above, Native Americans, particularly the Cherokees, used skullcap to promote menstruation as well as to help remove the placenta following childbirth. It was also believed to be useful for treating "premenstrual tension" and has been suggested as a remedy for mood changes that occur with menopause.
Little modern-day research has been done to confirm these effects, but skullcap does contain vitexin, an active compound found in the herb Vitex agnus castus, or chasteberry, which is commonly used for menstrual disorders.
It's thought that skullcap's benefits for menstrual conditions could be due to effects on hormone levels or neurochemicals that affect mood.13 Because there is a possibility that skullcap could promote menstruation, it should not be used by pregnant women because it could potentially cause miscarriage.14
American skullcap shouldn't be confused with Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis). Although they belong to the same plant family, Chinese skullcap is native to China and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, most notably in the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, hypertension, hemorrhaging, insomnia, inflammation and respiratory infections.15
Flavones in Chinese skullcap include baicalin, wogonoside and their aglycones baicalein wogonin, which are known to have anticancer, antibacterial and antiviral, antioxidant, anticonvulsant and neuroprotective effects. When Chinese skullcap is prepared using its roots, it's known as Huang-Qin, and has shown antihistamine properties that can help relieve asthma and allergies like hay fever.
It's also an antioxidant that can reduce the risk of heart disease, limit damage after a heart attack and possibly serve as an herbal treatment for hepatitis.16
If you're looking for a calming herb with the benefit of antioxidant properties, skullcap may be for you. But use caution when choosing to use the herb in supplement form, as its been plagued with problems of substitution and adulteration. In particular, American germander, sometimes called wild germander, wood sage and wild basil, which is potentially toxic, has been found to contaminate skullcap supplements since the 1980s, according to botanist Steven Foster.17
In one study of 13 skullcap-containing dietary supplements, four were found to contain American germander, three contained very low skullcap concentrations and one contained Chinese skullcap instead of American skullcap.18 It's unknown whether the adulteration was intentional or a case of mistaken identity. According to the American Botanical Council:19
"There are those who believe that skullcap and germander can look similar because they are both members of the mint family (Lamiaceae or Labiatae). Foster, and various herbal experts, believe that their physical characteristics are distinct enough to warrant an accurate identification with the naked eye, i.e., in the field
… [but] according to an extensive quality control and therapeutic monograph on skullcap … produced by the nonprofit American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), the relatively comparable appearances of skullcap and other herbs can lead to accidental adulteration."
One way to ensure that the skullcap you're consuming is, in fact, skullcap, is to grow it yourself — and it's easy to do so. American skullcap is a perennial herb, which means if you plant it right, it will keep coming back year after year (be sure to plant is in a spot where you don't mind it spreading, which skullcap is known to do, rapidly). Skullcap should be planted in an area with moist soil and full to partial sun (partial sun especially if you live in a hot and dry area).
Keep in mind that many skullcap varieties require stratifying seeds before you put them in the ground. To do so, put the seeds in a sealed plastic bag with moistened sand (about three times as much sand as seeds) or a damp paper towel, then place them in the refrigerator for at least a week.20 The seeds can then be started indoors (germination will take about two weeks) and moved outdoors as seedlings, after the threat of frost has disappeared.
Seedlings can be planted one-inch deep into compost-amended soil. Keep them well watered and continue after the plant grows larger; they do best in moist soil.21 Skullcap can also be grown from cuttings or divided roots, which can be taken from a healthy, mature plant. Mature skullcap can grow to reach 1 to 3 feet tall.
Once the plant blooms, it's ready to harvest for use in teas or tinctures, and can be used fresh or dried. Use a pair of scissors or shears to harvest aerial parts like flowers and leaves. Ensure that there are still plant parts at least 3 inches above the ground.
Skullcap can be used in tincture, tea or essential oil form. As a massage oil, which can be used for muscle relaxation, try the following recipe from the book, "Healing Plants of the Rocky Mountains," by Darcy Williamson:22
Combine ingredients in a quart jar and cover loosely with several layers of cheesecloth. Allow mixture to stand in a warm place for three weeks. Heat jar in a pan of warm water for 15 minutes to liquefy oil, and then strain.
To make a calming tea, which you can enjoy before bedtime or when you need to soothe your nerves, infuse 5 grams of skullcap into 8 ounces of water for 15 minutes. You can also try adding half an ounce of dried skullcap to one-half pint of boiling water to make an infusion, or try the recipe below:23
If you don't happen to have skullcap in your garden but still want to experiment with the herb's beneficial effects, there are many herbal teas available that contain skullcap, often in combination with complementary herbs, but be sure to purchase high-quality leaves or teas from reputable sources.
As always, you may want to start using skullcap under the guidance of a holistic medicine practitioner, and use it in moderation. High doses of this plant's tincture may result in undesirable side effects like giddiness, stupor, mental confusion, twitching, irregular heartbeat and seizures.
By Dr. Mercola
Saffron, which is regarded as the world's most expensive spice by weight, is actually the stigmas of the purple crocus flower (Crocus sativus), which blooms once a year. Due to the fragile stigmas needing to be picked by hand, harvesting saffron is a labor-intensive job. As mentioned in the featured video, given the fact each saffron crocus plant contains just three stigmas it takes about 170,000 flowers to produce a single pound of this costly spice.
Notably, about 90 percent of the world's supply of saffron is grown in arid fields across Iran. Most of the crop is harvested by women who earn about $5 per day picking saffron threads by hand. Other countries producing saffron include Afghanistan, Italy, Morocco, Spain, the Netherlands and the U.S. Saffron gives many rice dishes, including paella, its characteristic taste and golden-yellow color. In addition, this prized herb is featured in bouillabaisse, a traditional French fish stew.
When buying saffron, it's best to choose the thread form over the ground spice because it has a longer shelf life. Beware of look-alike ingredients that may be mixed in including red marigold petals, stigmas from lilies or turmeric. None of these "fakes" will impart the distinctive color or flavor of saffron. To ensure you have access to high-quality saffron, you may want to consider growing your own.
If you are not familiar with this prized spice, which is a member of the iris family of plants, you may wonder what makes the bright orange-red stigmas of the saffron crocus so special. According to National Geographic:1
While it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where the cultivation of saffron began, according to one source2 it can be traced back to the Persian word zarparān, which means "having golden stigmas." Ancient texts, dating back thousands of years, also refer to saffron. The offering of adulterated saffron has been a long-standing problem, so much so that the "Safranschou code" was implemented in the Middle Ages to fine, imprison and sometimes even execute those suspected of putting forth fake saffron.3
For millennia, pharaohs, monks, kings and queens have bathed in saffron-scented water, consumed food and drink laced with saffron, offered prayers and sacrifices involving saffron, slept in beds adorned with saffron threads and wore saffron perfumes and saffron-dyed clothing.4 At various times in history, saffron was in such great demand and so highly prized that various thefts and wars have been noted. According to the Independent:5
Because saffron is famously expensive, you may be shocked at the price of it at your local grocery store. You can often find it somewhat more affordably in halal or Middle Eastern markets. Below are some tips on buying saffron:6
For a longer shelf life, choose saffron threads over the ground spice
Select a high-quality brand, or if purchasing it loose from a spice vendor, always buy from a reputable seller
Beware of the many saffron look-alikes, including red marigold petals, lily stigmas and turmeric
Due to its short shelf life, purchase saffron threads in small quantities and commit to use it within a six-month period
Look for saffron threads of deep-red shades and avoid varieties mixed with the yellow styles; the styles, which are attached to the stigmas, add no value or flavor
Choose threads uniform in appearance — wide and flat on one end and tapered at the other
When buying them loose, select saffron threads with a pleasant, fragrant aroma and avoid any with a musty odor
Pick threads that are dry to the touch and a little brittle; keep in mind moisture will cause the threads to become spongy and less fragrant
Given the fact saffron is consumed in very small quantities, you may not think much of its nutritional benefits. In larger quantities, saffron is, however, a good source of iron, which purifies your blood and also helps your muscles store and use oxygen. It also contains magnesium, a mineral your body needs to maintain nerve and muscle function, regulate your heartbeat and promote bone health.
Saffron is high in manganese, which helps regulate your blood sugar, metabolize carbohydrates and absorb calcium, among other things. This vibrant red-orange spice also contains potassium, which is useful to support your adrenal and kidney function, and vitamins B6 and C. Vitamin B6 ensures your brain and nervous system function properly and helps make the hormones norepinephrine, which helps your body deal with stress and serotonin, which regulates your mood.
The vitamin C in saffron boosts your immune system and acts as a potent antioxidant and infection-fighter. In addition to those important vitamins and minerals, saffron contains more than 150 volatile plant compounds, including, most notably:
One source claims saffron was used historically to treat more than 90 ailments and has been used as a primary ingredient in herbal health remedies for more than 4,000 years.7 According to National Geographic, saffron has many beneficial uses:8
"Saffron has been used historically to treat everything from heartache to hemorrhoids ... Modern studies have shown the high levels of antioxidants found in saffron may help ward off inflammation in the body and it may be helpful in treating sexual dysfunction and depression. The jury's still out on its reported effects on cardiovascular disease and cancer."
While you may think saffron too exotic of a spice to grow in your flower bed or garden, you may not realize you can easily grow the saffron crocus from a bulb. In the U.S., saffron crocus blooms in the fall. Remember, each corm (bulb) produces only a single flower and each flower yields just three saffron threads. As such, you'll need to plant a generous number of bulbs to ensure a measurable amount of threads.
Purchase your saffron crocus bulbs from a reputable online retailer or nursery and expect to wait a year after planting for the flowers to bloom. Saffron crocus bulbs do not store well so plant them soon after receiving them, ideally in the early fall. Gardening experts suggest the following tips for growing this exquisite flower, which is best suited for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardiness zones 5 to 9:9,10,11
Fertilizing: Although not required, you can help your plants thrive by fertilizing them annually
Dividing: As soon as the flowers fade, you can gently dig up your corms, separate them and replant them immediately; while dividing the corms is not required annually, be sure to do it every few years to ensure they do not become overcrowded and therefore less productive
Mulching: Although saffron crocus is hardy to about to minus 15 degrees F (minus 26 degrees C), if you live in a region where temperatures regularly dip lower, you'll want to add a layer of mulch around the plants as soon as they finish blooming
Planting: Place your saffron bulbs in the ground at a depth of 3 to 5 inches with the pointy end of the corm facing up; depending on the variety grown, plants reach 3 to 12 inches in height
Soil: Saffron plants need rich, well-draining silty soil (pH 6.0 to 8.0); they will rot in swampy, poor-draining soil
Spacing: When planting saffron crocus bulbs, ensure at least 6 inches of spacing on all sides
Sun: Plant saffron crocus in an area receiving lots of direct sun
Yield: About 50 to 60 saffron flowers will produce around 1 tablespoon of saffron spice, so plan on a large growing area if you love saffron
Water: Your plants will do fine with minimal water and you need only water them during the blooming season if you live in an area prone to dry weather; the plants are dormant June through August so do not water them at that time
Saffron crocus, as with other bulb-based plants, is prone to damage from bulb-eating critters such as birds, moles, nematodes, rats and squirrels. Rabbits have been known to nibble on the flowers and leaves. The only diseases affecting saffron crocus are rust and corm rot, which is caused by fungal infections such as fusarium, Rhizoctonia crocorum and violet root rot.12
These diseases generally appear in the third or fourth years after planting. Since they do not respond to fungicides (and I would not recommend using fungicides anyway), you can combat these diseases by digging up any remaining healthy bulbs and replanting them in a new location.
As mentioned, harvesting saffron is tedious, time-consuming work. After the crocus flowers bloom, you'll need to handpick the red-orange stigmas from each plant. For best results, use tweezers to carefully extract them. Obviously, harvesting large quantities of this spice will take time and a lot of effort near ground level.
Once picked, you can spread harvested stigmas on a cookie sheet to dry at room temperature until they crumble easily. The yellow stamens and purple petals of the saffron crocus have no use and can be composted.
Given its price point, it's good to know that with saffron, "a little goes a long way." Generally, for most recipes, you'll need just a pinch of saffron threads, which should be soaked, dried and crushed before use. In traditional Moroccan cooking, given the fact saffron needs to stand up to other pungent seasonings, larger quantities are commonly used in certain dishes. When cooking with saffron, it's helpful to know 1 teaspoon of saffron threads equals about one-eighth teaspoon of ground saffron.
Most saffron sold from reputable sources is presented in glass jars, which is the perfect storage container. If you buy saffron loose, you will want to store it in a glass jar and maintain it in a cool, dark place. It will retain its flavor and potency for at least six months. After that, you can still use your saffron, but it will be increasingly less flavorful. Homegrown saffron is said to be more fragrant after it is stored in an airtight container away from light for at least one month before use.13
• Cancer: The anticancer potential of saffron was highlighted in a 2013 study published in the journal Pharmaceutical Biology.16 After reviewing the current research on saffron, the researchers stated, "Saffron possesses free radical-scavenging properties and antitumor activities. Significant cancer chemopreventive effects have been shown … Based on current data, saffron … could be considered as a promising candidate for clinical anticancer trials."17
• Dementia: Saffron contains two chemical plant compounds — crocetin and crocin — both of which are thought to support your brain's learning and memory functions. As noted in the video above, a 2010 study involving 46 patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease found participants taking 15 milligrams of saffron twice a day for 16 weeks demonstrated "significantly better outcomes on cognitive function" than those receiving a placebo.18 The study authors said, "This … study suggests, at least in the short term, saffron is both safe and effective in [cases of] mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease."19
• Depression: A 2014 systematic analysis20 involving six clinical studies on saffron and depression suggests the spice was as effective as antidepressant medications. The study authors stated, "Saffron's antidepressant effects potentially are due to its serotonergic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuroendocrine and neuroprotective effects. Research conducted so far provides initial support for the use of saffron for the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression."21
• Heart disease: Hypertensive lab rats were shown to benefit from an oral, daily dose of saffron in a 2015 Iranian study.22 Specifically, the rats received 200 milligrams of saffron daily per kilogram of body weight during a five-week period. Saffron prevented blood pressure from increasing beginning in the third week. About the outcomes, the researchers said, "Nutritional saffron prevented blood pressure increases and remodeling of the aorta in hypertensive rats. It may be useful for preventing hypertension."23
• Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): A 2008 Iranian clinical trial24 investigating saffron as a treatment for PMS symptoms in women aged 20 to 45 with regular menstrual cycles suggests 15 milligrams of saffron taken twice daily is effective to relieve PMS symptoms.
A 2011 review published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology25 that evaluated several herbal remedies for PMS, as well as the more severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), validated saffron as an effective treatment for addressing bothersome symptoms. The study authors noted, "Single trials also support the use of … Crocus sativus [for PMS]."26
By Dr. Mercola
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50.1 Preliminary data for 2016 reveals the death toll may be as high as 65,0002 — a 19 percent increase in a single year. Opioids, narcotic pain killers, are responsible for nearly two-thirds, about 42,000, of these deaths.3 Between 2002 and 2015, more than 202,600 Americans died from opioid overdoses.4
While such statistics are sobering enough, recent research5 suggests the death toll may still be underestimated due to incomplete drug reporting of overdose deaths. The researchers believe upward of 70,000 opioid overdose deaths were excluded from national estimates between 1999 and 2015, for the simple reasons that coroners routinely fail to specify opioid use as a contributing cause of death. According to lead author Jeanine Buchanich, research associate professor at University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health:6
“Proper allocation of resources for the opioid epidemic depends on understanding the magnitude of the problem. Incomplete death certificate reporting hampers the efforts of lawmakers, treatment specialists and public health officials. And the large differences we found between states in the completeness of opioid-related overdose mortality reporting makes it more difficult to identify geographic regions most at risk.”
The most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths include7 methadone, oxycodone (such as OxyContin®) and hydrocodone (such as Vicodin®). Extremely potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl are also being abused by a rising number of people. Now, researchers warn a particularly powerful combination of commonly prescribed drugs significantly raises your risk of death.
While opioids make the most frequent headlines, another class of drugs — benzodiazepines8 or "benzos,” widely prescribed for anxiety and insomnia — also claims its share of lives. Prescriptions for these drugs, which include Valium, Ativan, Klonopin and Xanax, tripled from 1996 to 2013, but this doesn't fully account for the uptick in overdoses, which quadrupled during that time.9
As for why the rate of overdose deaths rose faster than the rate of prescriptions, Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, one of the study's authors, told STAT News,10 "Our guess is that people are using these prescriptions in a riskier way.” The number of pills prescribed to each adult increased over the study period, for instance, which suggests Americans may be taking higher doses or taking the drugs for longer periods, both of which increase the risk of overdose.
Combining the drugs — which act as sedatives — with alcohol is also risky, as is using the drugs along with opioids. Prescription records also show the use of benzos has risen alongside the use of opioids, and that the sedatives are often used alongside the painkillers to enhance the high.11
According to Dr. David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto,12 "Prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines together is like putting gasoline on a fire,” adding that “Benzodiazepines are grossly overprescribed … and many people don't necessarily benefit from them."
Estimates suggest more than 4 in 10 seniors use benzos for anxiety or insomnia, even though their long-term effectiveness and safety remain unproven, and their use has been linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.13
Older adults who used benzodiazepines for three months or more had a 51 percent greater risk of Alzheimer's disease than those who did not, and the risk increased the longer the drugs were used. According to the authors, “The stronger association observed for long term exposures reinforces the suspicion of a possible direct association …”
A number of studies have already highlighted the deadly risk you take when combining opioids with benzos. Most recently, research14,15 published in JAMA looked at how the risk of overdose changes when you combine the two drugs for a number of days in a row.
As it turns out, during the first 90 days of concurrent use, your risk of a deadly overdose rises fivefold, compared to taking an opioid alone. Between days 91 and 180, the risk remains nearly doubled, after which the risk tapers off, becoming roughly equal to taking an opioid alone. According to the authors:
“Policy interventions should focus on preventing concurrent opioid and benzodiazepine use in the first place instead of reducing the length of concurrent use. Patients using both medications should be closely monitored, particularly during the first days of concurrent use.”
The study also found that the greater number of clinicians were involved in a patient’s care, the greater the risk of overdose — a finding that highlights the lack of communication between doctors prescribing medication to the same patient, and the clear danger thereof. As noted by senior study author Yuting Zhang, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, “These findings demonstrate that fragmented care plays a role in the inappropriate use of opioids.”
Other studies have come to similar conclusions. A 2013 study found the combination of opioids and benzos was the most common drug combination in cases where an overdose death involved two or more drugs.16 According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, more than 30 percent of opioid overdoses involve concurrent use of benzos.17
Remarkably, another 2013 study18 discovered “substantial co-use” of opioids and benzos among pregnant women that led to death, which is doubly tragic. As reported in a third study that year, which stressed the importance of urine drug testing whenever patients are prescribed an opioid, to ensure their safety:19
“[C]oadministration of [opioids and benzodiazepines] produces a defined increase in rates of adverse events, overdose and death, warranting close monitoring and consideration when treating patients with pain. To improve patient outcomes, ongoing screening for aberrant behavior, monitoring of treatment compliance, documentation of medical necessity, and the adjustment of treatment to clinical changes are essential.”
A study20 published in 2017 found the ratio of patients, aged 18 to 64, who used opioids and benzos concurrently rose from 9 percent in 2001 to 17 percent in 2013, a relative increase of 80 percent. Not surprisingly, concurrent use of opioids and benzos for at least one day doubled the odds of an opioid overdose compared to taking just opioids.
In 2014, Ohio ended up using an opioid/benzo mix in a death row execution when the conventionally used drugs were unobtainable.21 That just goes to show this drug combination has an assured lethality at the “right” dosage. The reason these two drugs are so hazardous in combination is because both are potent central nervous system (CNS) depressants.
Your CNS, which includes your brain and spinal cord, coordinates and regulates the activity of automatic functions such as breathing. Respiratory depression, meaning slow and erratic breathing, can occur on both drugs, which leads to a buildup of carbon dioxide. In a sufficiently large dose, breathing can cease altogether, leading to death.
Like opioids, benzodiazepines are not intended for long-term use, yet many chronic pain patients end up staying on them for years, and may even take them with opioids for long periods of time. As noted by Dr. Len Paulozzi, medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, benzos “are prominent fellow travelers with opioids. The problem is, people get on them and they stay on them …"
In related news, the 2018 World Drug Report22 reveals pharmaceutically-produced opioids now account for more than three-quarters of all drug overdose deaths worldwide. Fentanyl abuse is rising in the U.S., while Africa and Asia are struggling with rising overdose deaths from Tramadol. While doctors are still a primary source of opioids, illegal drug traffickers have started cashing in on the opioid abuse trend, manufacturing and selling them illegally.
According to Yury Fedotov, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “We are facing a potential supply-driven expansion of drug markets, with production of opium and manufacture of cocaine at the highest levels ever recorded.” Between 2016 and 2017 alone, the global opium production rose by 65 percent.
In a June 26 address to observe International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, United Nations secretary-general António Guterres said,23 “I urge countries to advance prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration services; ensure access to controlled medicines while preventing diversion and abuse; promote alternatives to illicit drug cultivation; and stop trafficking and organized crime.”
One of the factors suspected of contributing to the burgeoning opioid epidemic is kickbacks to the doctors who prescribe them. According to a 2017 study,24 more than 68,000 physicians received drug company payments totaling more than $46 million between August 2013 and December 2015. This means 1 in 12 U.S. physicians collected kickbacks from drug companies producing prescription opioids.
The top 1 percent of physicians received nearly 83 percent of the payments, and fentanyl prescriptions was associated with the highest payments. Many of the states struggling with the highest rates of overdose deaths, such as Indiana, Ohio and New Jersey, were also those showing the most opioid-related payments to physicians, clearly demonstrating a direct link between doctors’ kickbacks and patient addiction rates and deaths.
Increasing pressure on drug companies — in large part brought to bear by lawsuits over deceptive marketing and charges being filed against executives and sales reps for their role in manufacturing demand — now appears to be paying off. According to a recent ProPublica analysis,25 drug company payments to doctors related to opioids decreased 33 percent between 2015 and 2016, from $23.7 million to $15.8 million.
The most significant decrease was related to Subsys, a fentanyl spray made by Insys. The company’s founder, John Kapoor, was arrested in October 2017, charged with bribing doctors to overprescribe the drug. Other Insys executives and sales reps were arrested on conspiracy and racketeering charges.26 In 2015, the company doled out more than $6 million in Subsys-related payments. In 2016, that amount shrunk to less than $2.4 million.
Purdue Pharma, heavily criticized for its deceptive marketing of OxyContin, no longer pays doctors to speak about the drug, and laid off its last opioid sales reps in June 2018.27 While the cutbacks in payments are a step in the right direction, research shows it doesn’t take huge sums of money to influence a doctor’s prescribing habits. A single free meal received in relation to marketing of an opioid has been shown to result in a greater number of prescriptions for the drug in the following year.28,29
Getting back to the issue of benzodiazepines, it’s important to realize these drugs are every bit as addictive and dangerous as opioids, and when taken together, the risk of death is magnified fivefold. Benzos exert a calming effect by boosting the action of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which in turn activates the gratification hormone, dopamine, in your brain.
Side effects include memory loss, hip fractures, impaired thinking and dizziness. Ironically, symptoms of withdrawal include extreme anxiety — in many cases worse than the original symptoms that justified the treatment in the first place. Other side effects of withdrawal include hallucinations, depersonalization and derealization, formication (skin crawling) and sensory hypersensitivity, perceptual distortions, convulsions and psychosis.
There are far safer ways to address anxiety and insomnia, starting with exercise, optimizing your gut microbiome and omega-3 level. The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is another effective tool that can help reprogram your body's reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life. This includes both real and imagined stressors, both of which can be significant sources of anxiety. It can also help reduce pain.
In the following video, EFT therapist Julie Schiffman discusses EFT for stress and anxiety relief. Please keep in mind that while anyone can learn to do EFT at home, for serious issues like persistent or severe anxiety you should consult with an EFT professional to get the relief you need. Pain can also be safely addressed without opioids. For a list of suggestions, see “15 Natural Remedies for Back Pain.”
By Dr. Mercola
It’s said that your eyes are the window to your soul, but they may also provide a unique window to your brain. As your vision worsens with age, so too may your cognitive abilities, according to research published in JAMA Ophthalmology. By the age of 65, 1 in 3 people have some type of eye disease that reduces vision, and in the U.S., about 70 million Americans will be 65 years or over by 2030.1
While it’s not a given that your eyesight will decline as you get older (a healthy lifestyle can keep your eyesight sharp well into old age), it’s important to understand that changes in vision may correlate with changes in your brain, either as an indirect consequence of changing your behaviors to accommodate them or due to an as-yet undiscovered biological component.
As it stands, both worsening vision and cognitive function are common among elderly people, but you have the ability to take control of your health so your eyes and your mind stay clear and functioning optimally.
Researchers from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine followed 2,520 Americans for eight years.2 Their vision and cognitive status were tested at the start of the study and again four times throughout. Significant associations were found between the two.
For example, those who had worse vision when the study began had lower scores on tests of cognitive function. On average, the participants’ vision declined enough that they lost the ability to read one line on an eye chart, and visual impairment at a distance was found to be associated with declining cognitive function over time.3
The study authors noted, “Worsening vision in older adults may be adversely associated with future cognitive functioning. Maintaining good vision may be an important interventional strategy for mitigating age-related cognitive declines.”4 As for why worsening vision may lead to worsening brain function, it could be that poor vision makes it harder for people to engage in activities known to stimulate the brain, like knitting, crossword puzzles or socializing with others.
It’s also possible that vision changes could alter your brain at the structural level,5 although this needs to be further explored. The study adds more support to previous research also linking poor vision with poor cognition. In an analysis of two U.S. data sets comprised of nearly 3,000 people aged 60 years and older, visual dysfunction at a distance was associated with poor cognitive function.6
Losing your other senses, including your hearing, may also serve as a bellwether for cognitive decline. In a study of nearly 2,000 older adults, individuals with hearing loss had a 24 percent increased risk of cognitive impairment compared to those with normal hearing,7 and their cognitive function declined up to 40 percent faster.
In this case, a causal link is suspected, perhaps because hearing loss is known to affect neural systems, including those necessary for speech comprehension, which involves both working memory and information processing speed.8
People with poor vision have even been found to have a 63 percent greater risk of developing dementia,9 and leaving poor vision untreated appears to be particularly damaging. In research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, those with poorer vision who did not visit an ophthalmologist had a 9.5-fold increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and a fivefold increased risk of being cognitively impaired (without dementia).
“Untreated poor vision is associated with cognitive decline, particularly Alzheimer disease,” the researchers concluded, adding that it’s possible “ocular disturbances may be precursors — not consequences — of cognitive decline.” In addition, lending support to the importance of getting vision problems addressed by a professional, the authors of the featured study suggested simple interventions like updating your eyeglass prescription or removing cataracts could give your brain health a boost.10
As for the somewhat-surprising link between vision and Alzheimer’s, it could have to do with the buildup of amyloid beta, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. The subsequent formation of brain plaque leads to progressive decline in cognitive and social functioning — and research has also linked amyloid beta deposition to neurodegeneration in the retina.11
Amyloid beta has been found in retinal drusen (yellow-colored fatty protein deposits beneath the retina) and is a hallmark of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness among the elderly.
Amyloid beta has been linked with the progression of AMD,12 whereas peripheral drusen has also been linked to a higher risk for Alzheimer's.13 It’s even been suggested that by analyzing the presence of amyloid in the eye, one may be able to predict amyloid buildup in the brain with a fair degree of accuracy.14
Aside from amyloid beta, other markers visible in your eyes may also offer clues to your cognitive health. Diseases that affect your blood vessels, veins and arteries have long been implicated in cognitive impairment, and it appears this may extend to the health of blood vessels in your eyes. Research using data that spanned 20 years and involved more than 12,000 people revealed that people with moderate to severe retinopathy, or damage to blood vessels in the retina, scored significantly lower on tests of cognitive function.15
Dr. Rachel Bishop of the National Eye Institute, who was not involved in the study, told CNN, "If the retinal blood vessels are unhealthy, there's every reason to think that the brain blood vessels are unhealthy as well … The blood vessel supply is essential to all function, the function of all organs, and so if the blood vessels are unable to do their job, there's no way that the brain can be functioning as well as a brain that has a good supply."16
Getting your eyes checked, in fact, can reveal far more than the state of your vision. A skilled practitioner peering into your eyes, or hearing about changes to your vision, may be able to detect other diseases as well, including:17
Sexually transmitted disease like chlamydia, herpes, syphilis and HIV
Systemic inflammation due to lupus or other autoimmune diseases
If you’re experiencing changes to your vision, you should see an eye doctor or ophthalmologist to have them checked out. However, be aware that your lifestyle plays a major role in your vision (and brain) health, and that includes your diet. In particular, antioxidants including lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin are your allies for keeping your vision sharp as you age. Lutein and zeaxanthin, in particular, are notable because they’re located in your eyes. According to the American Optometric Association:18
“Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye … Many studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including AMD and cataracts … Beyond reducing the risk of eye disease, separate studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin improve visual performance in AMD patients, cataract patients and people in good health.”
As an added benefit, those with higher levels of lutein in middle-age have been found to have more youthful neural responses than those with lower levels, which suggests a lutein-rich diet may also keep you cognitively sharp.19 Lutein and zeaxanthin are primarily found in organic pastured egg yolks and green leafy vegetables, with kale and spinach topping the list of lutein- and zeaxanthin-rich foods.
You'll also find it in orange- and yellow-colored fruits and vegetables. Adding dark blue or purplish, almost black-colored berries like black currants and bilberries to your diet is another wise strategy, as they contain high amounts of antioxidant anthocyanins. Research suggests bilberry, in particular, may be effective for preventing cataracts and AMD.20
Astaxanthin is another notable nutrient that has emerged as the best carotenoid for eye health and the prevention of blindness. Research shows it easily crosses into the tissues of your eye and exerts its effects safely and with more potency than any of the other carotenoids, without adverse reactions.
Specifically, astaxanthin has been shown to ameliorate or prevent light-induced damage, photoreceptor cell damage, ganglion cell damage and damage to the neurons of the inner retinal layers. Astaxanthin provides protective benefits against a number of eye-related problems, including:
Age-related macular degeneration
Inflammatory eye diseases such as iritis, keratitis, retinitis and scleritis
Cystoid macular edema
Retinal arterial occlusion
Astaxanthin also helps maintain appropriate eye pressure, energy levels and visual acuity. Krill oil is a great source of astaxanthin that comes with the added benefit of omega-3 fats, which are also protective of healthy vision. People with the highest intake of animal-based omega-3 fats have a 60 percent lower risk of advanced macular degeneration compared to those who consume the least.21
For higher doses of astaxanthin, a supplement works well. If you decide to give astaxanthin a try, I recommend starting with 4 milligrams (mg) per day and working your way up to about 8 mg per day — or more if you're suffering from chronic inflammation. Taking your astaxanthin supplement with a small amount of healthy fat, such as grass fed butter, coconut oil, MCT oil or eggs, will optimize its absorption.
As with lutein, astaxanthin works double duty, also protecting your brain. Researchers found that supplementing with astaxanthin-rich (microalgae) extract led to improvements in cognitive function in older individuals who complained of age-related forgetfulness.22 Another study found it may help prevent neurodegeneration associated with oxidative stress, as well as make a potent natural "brain food."23
It’s even been found to reduce the accumulation of phospholipid hydroperoxidases (PLOOH)24 — compounds known to accumulate in the red blood cells of people who suffer from dementia — and scientists now believe astaxanthin could help prevent dementia, including Alzheimer's. It’s becoming increasingly clear that your vision health and your brain health are intricately linked, and eating right is one of the best ways to protect both as you age.
The Atlas cedar tree, or Cedrus atlantica, has a notable history, as it was closely related to the biblical cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus Libani),1 which was mentioned in the Old Testament.2 It was also believed to have played an important role in the construction of King Solomon's temple, which was said to be made from the wood of these trees.3
As the name implies, Atlas cedar trees are native to North Africa, particularly in the Atlas mountains of Algeria. However, the majority of the essential oil comes from Morocco, and is taken from wood chips and sawdust that come from furniture making.4,5 Ancient Egyptians used the oil in their process of spiritual embalming, more commonly known as mummification.6
Atlas cedar oil is a popular ingredient in fragrance and personal care products, such as deodorants and scented soaps.9 It also works great when used as an insect repellent,10 particularly against mosquitoes, mites and moths.11 It contains antibacterial properties,12 and may help eliminate oiliness, making it an ideal ingredient in facial washes and shampoos.13 Atlas cedar oil also has astringent and antiseptic properties that make it helpful in easing skin conditions like eczema, acne and psoriasis.14
Almost 70 percent of Atlas cedar oil is made up of sesquiterpenes a-, b- and y-himalchenes. This oil also boasts of other components like a- and y-atlantone isomers, which make up 10 to 15 percent of the oil. These compounds are known for the sweet, woody odor that they impart to the essential oil.15
Atlas cedar oil possesses multiple benefits for the entire body, from medicinal to skin care advantages. It plays a key role in the menstrual cycle of women as it provides emmenagogue properties16 that help stimulate blood flow and regulate menstruation.17 Additional benefits include providing positive effects on your respiratory system, such as helping relieve nasal and lung congestion.18 It serves as an expectorant, helping to remove mucus from the lungs and respiratory tract.19
It may also have a gentle and soothing effect on sore muscles and joints when applied topically. One animal study noted its potential against alleviating the severity of arthritis symptoms.20 Atlas cedar oil's antiseptic properties may help protect wounds from infections.21
Being a diuretic is another beneficial property of Atlas cedar oil. According to Organic Facts, it helps eliminate fats, excess water and toxins like uric acid from the body by increasing the frequency of urination. These toxins are known to cause obesity, hypertension, urinary tract infection and accumulation of toxins in the blood.22 Atlas cedar oil may also have emotional and mind-calming benefits, mainly because of its sweet and woody fragrance.23
Atlas cedar oil is extracted from wood chips or shavings from the bark of the tree, ideally from the heartwood, and then processed through steam or hydro distillation.24 Another type of cedarwood oil, Himalayan cedar oil (Cedrus deodara), is made from the stumps, roots and sawdust of the tree, also through steam distillation.25
There are several ways to maximize the use of Atlas cedar oil. It works great when used in tandem with other essential oils. Check out these recommended methods from "Llewellyn's Complete Formulary of Magical Oils:"26
To ease tension, anxiety and insomnia, soak in a bath with three drops of Atlas cedar oil and three drops each of ylang-ylang and rosemary oils for 15 to 20 minutes. This will help promote calmness and deep sleep.
Make a massage oil by blending six drops of Atlas cedar oil, two drops each of lemon and geranium oils, and 1 ounce of sweet almond carrier oil, and then massage it onto affected areas, such as the neck and shoulders.
Ease respiratory congestion by blending seven drops of Atlas cedar oil with three drops of lavender oil, two drops of juniper oil and 1 ounce of olive or sweet almond oil, then apply onto the chest and upper body.
Atlas cedar oil also helps tighten pores and even out your skin tone. Add two to four drops of this essential oil to every 1 tablespoon of your favorite lotion.
It can be used as an insect repellent by applying three to five drops in an aromatherapy lamp or in a spray bottle with water for misting.
Atlas cedar oil is a known aphrodisiac. To create or enhance romance and sensuality, place five to 10 drops in aromatherapy lamp in the bedroom.
To help relax and relieve sore, tight muscles, add four to six drops in a bath water and soak for 20 to 30 minutes. The cooling effect of the oil will help lessen the pain.
There's not sufficient research to confirm that it's safe to take Atlas cedar oil internally, so only use topically, unless approved by a health care expert.27 Always dilute it with a carrier oil before application. It's best to conduct a skin patch test to determine if you are allergic to it. Since Atlas cedar oil stimulates uterine contractions and menstruation, I advise avoiding its use during pregnancy.28
Atlas cedar oil may cause skin irritation when used in high concentrations.29 There's insufficient evidence about its potential interaction with drugs, dietary supplements and other herbs,30 so consult with your physician before using this essential oil, especially if you're dealing with a health condition.
By Dr. Mercola
Most people understand the influence the pharmaceutical industry has had on federal regulatory agencies and physicians. However, less is known about the influence food manufacturers, specifically the American Beverage Association (ABA), has had on your purchase choices and in state legislatures.
Marion Nestle holds a master's degree in public health from the University of California and a Ph.D. in molecular biology. She's written a number of books, including “Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning),” a fascinating expose revealing a wealth of information about the pervasive influence the soda industry has on communities, schools and public perception.
In an unprecedented and calculated move, the beverage industry recently took on the California state legislature to ban a tax on soda throughout the state. A fight between beverage companies and local municipalities against efforts to tax soda has been fought for more than a decade.1 Berkeley, California, first passed a tax on sodas in 2014, followed closely by Philadelphia; Cook County, Illinois; and San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, California.
These taxes severely cut into the industry's profits. In an effort to curtail public momentum without continually fighting battles at the city level, the industry took advantage of a law passed in 2014 called the Ballot Initiative Transparency Act2 and, quite literally, held the California legislature hostage.
Groups have the ability to include a ballot initiative at the state level, which essentially bypasses the legislature and is a healthy demonstration of direct democracy in action. This is especially effective when the legislature is under the thumb of industry. However, by perverting the Ballot Initiative Transparency Act, the beverage industry held the legislation hostage.
The Act gives the legislature input into the ballot process, enabling proponents of an initiative entered on the ballot to withdraw the measure if the legislature finds a satisfactory solution. It was intended to help avoid costly ballot fights by giving the legislature more power. However, in this case, the beverage industry used it to get exactly what they wanted.
In the past, the soda industry has spent a lot of money to rally local businesses and shoot down any move toward enacting a soda tax in individual cities. However, when Berkeley, California, passed the first tax, followed closely by eight other communities, the industry realized it needed a new approach.
Their strategy began by spending $7 million3 to get an initiative on the ballot in November 2018 to prevent local communities from raising taxes without first getting supermajority approval from at least two-thirds of the voters or an elected body.4
This two-thirds supermajority threshold included tax measures passed by city governments and any citywide initiatives.5 This would have damaged local budgeting and cost millions of dollars, making it exceedingly difficult for cities to pay for public services such as police, fire and transit. Next, the industry approached lawmakers and proposed the legislature pass a bill to ban taxes on soda and food for 12 years. In exchange the industry would drop the initiative on the November ballot.
Scott Wiener, state senator representing San Francisco, commented on their tactic, saying,6 “They sent us a ransom note that they would drop this horrible ballot measure if we put a 12-year moratorium on local soda taxes. It's a classic case of picking your poison. The soda industry has gone completely rogue.”
In another interview, Wiener said,7 “[The industry] is aiming basically a nuclear weapon at governing in California and saying if you don’t do what we want, we’re going to pull the trigger and you are not going to be able to fund basic government services.”
Past tax measures added a penny per ounce for each drink sold. Supporters said they took inspiration from the fight against Big Tobacco, which enjoyed success by imposing taxes on cigarettes to curb consumption.8 Soft drink sales were already on the decline as more consumers switched to bottled water. These taxes were seen as a threat by the ABA to their core product, which they took seriously and spent $38 million opposing in ballot proposals. However, they lost each one.
Research from Mexico, where national taxes on sugar drinks and junk foods were enacted in 2013, found sales declined particularly among low-income populations, who tended to drink more soda.9 Research in Berkeley10 found a similar trend after soda taxes were enacted there. With the realization that as more cities enacted soda taxes, revenue would decline further and faster, the beverage industry decided to change venues, moving toward enacting new state laws to protect their profits.
Several lawmakers reported they opposed the measure of banning soft drink taxes but felt obliged to support it since the effects of a broader ballot initiative could have created significant infrastructural problems in California cities. Although this law does not overturn taxes enacted before 2018, it does prevent any new ones.11
Once announced, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society and more than 20 other health groups issued a joint statement asking Governor Jerry Brown to oppose it. Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, commented,12 “We were disappointed that the American Beverage Association and their member companies went to such great lengths to take away the right of Californians to vote for better health.”
Governor Brown had avoided taking a position until he signed the bill into law. However, critics believe a photo13 of him posing with executives from the ABA and executives from several soda companies during a recent private dinner at the governor's mansion was indicative of his position. During the process of fighting taxes on their products the industry has remained adamant drink consumption does not increase obesity or contribute to Type 2 diabetes.
They believe their views simply reflect their desire to protect consumers, as taxes on drinks reportedly represent an unfair burden to their consumers, despite the probability that reduced consumption would positively influence childhood obesity and the development of Type 2 diabetes. The move in California is part of the beverage Industry’s national strategy to fight local soda taxes at a state level, thus reducing their expenditure to protect their profits.
Kelly Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, commented on the beverage industry’s take in the past years on government interference in capitalism that has apparently depended on which side of the line the industry fell, saying,14 “The irony is that the soda companies screamed very loudly about government overreach when soda taxes began to get passed. But now they are looking for the ultimate government overreach when it works in their favor.”
Franco Ripple, spokesman for the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a group founded last year to oppose state laws limiting local autonomy, characterized the movement of the beverage industry in California, saying:15 “It’s a little bit like, instead of playing a game of whack-a-mole, you could just put a sheet of plywood over all the holes.” Although some state legislators have seen soda taxes as a means of increasing revenue to support public services, others have fought for the taxes as a tool to fight obesity.
However, the beverage industry publicly insists these taxes place an unfair burden on poor and minority populations. This single strategy was initially undertaken by the tobacco industry and used successfully in the early years as legislators fought to impose taxes on tobacco products.
A paper published in the American Journal of Public Health16 was led by Dr. Donna Shelley, nicotine addiction specialist and founder and director of the NYU Langone Health Tobacco Cessation Program at Perlmutter Cancer Center. The researchers identified parallels between the tobacco and the beverage industry’s strategies to limit taxation on their products, preventing a reduction in their profits.
Research into documents from the tobacco industry revealed a three-pronged approach used to solidify relationships with minority communities as both consumers and supporters of their policy agenda.17
Information from marketing research was used to identify values and then leveraged to increase the desirability and image of their product in their target groups. They then curried favor using large financial gifts to minority organizations hoping to diffuse opposition and engage the organization to advance and defend the industries policy.
The researchers suggest the lessons learned from tobacco control demonstrate the importance of implementing policy changes that place restrictions on sugary drink sales rather than waiting for a comprehensive solution to the obesity problem. They wrote:18
“Under Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership, NYC has promoted an evidence-based policy agenda to address the threat that the rise in obesity poses to the public’s health, but in a way that has garnered criticism from minority organizations, thus limiting the overall impact.
The key weapons in the battle against smoking, and likely obesity, are public policies. These policies can only advance with the support of organizations whose constituents are most impacted by the health risks these policies are meant to address.”
While state legislators were caving under the pressure of the beverage industry’s ransom demands to pull their ballot initiative, CrossFit was exposing conflicts of interest within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),19 as both organizations failed to disclose sources and amounts of donations they had received tied to the beverage industry.
CrossFit uncovered the evidence as part of an ongoing investigation into the influence the beverage industry has on health sciences and research.
Led by Greg Glassman, founder and sole owner of CrossFit, the investigation uncovered noncompliance creating a conflict of interest between industry partners and the CDC and NIH. Although required by law to produce a report disclosing amounts and sources of the donations they received, each foundation had omitted information uncovered in the investigation. Russ Greene, CrossFit’s director of government relations and research, said:20
"Under his leadership, we've tracked the soda industry's donations and use of proxy groups. We looked over the CDC Foundation and FNIH's disclosures and found they weren't even close to following the law. Annually reporting the sources, amounts and restrictions of each grant they receive — transparency — is the first step in making sure there's no undue influence on government science and policy."
Glassman’s campaign to drive big soda out of the sport and health sciences field began in 2013,21 when a study published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) found greater aerobic and body composition improvements in those using CrossFit. However, it also suggested a higher rate of injury. Glassman fought to get the data supporting the research and found the injury data was flawed.
The journal retracted the paper in 2017 and the lead researcher subsequently resigned his position at Ohio State University. During this process, Glassman noted the NSCA was partly funded by PepsiCo. This prompted him to look deeper, finding soda money was supporting training organizations, health nonprofits, medical organizations, diabetes foundations and even the CDC and NIH.22
Within days of the legislative vote, major health care groups announced they would pursue a statewide soda tax initiative for the 2020 ballot. The revenue generated would pay for public health programs designed to combat and prevent diabetes and obesity. While city taxes had been 1 cent per fluid ounce, the new proposed tax will be 2 cents per fluid ounce, which will mean an additional 24 cents on the cost of a 12-ounce can, or $1.34 for a 2-liter bottle.23
Within minutes after the bill was signed, the initiative requiring a supermajority to pass any newly proposed taxes was pulled from the ballot. While frustrating, it appeared to prod the medical and dental associations in California to respond with a promise of an initiative they hope will raise between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion. While the tax is double what was previously passed, it will not apply to drinks with no added sugar or in which milk is the primary ingredient.
Gov. Brown’s statement after the bill signing lacked specifics:24 “We will be relentless in our work with communities across the state to improve public health through a statewide tax, and to restore the rights of Californians to vote for what they believe best supports health in their state.”
Bill Monning, Senate majority leader who voted against the bill, called the passage “unprecedented.”25 The move also motivated lawmakers to redouble their efforts to curb consumption of sugar drinks, and Monning pointed out the Senate health committee had considered and voted in favor of a bill requiring warning labels on drinks that contributed to various health problems.
Sugar changes your metabolism and hides under many different names in processed foods. The sugar industry has long known consumption leads to poor health but hid incriminating data to protect their profits. However, you may take control of your health by making smart nutritional choices and eliminating or severely limiting processed foods in your diet.
Damage to your metabolism and mitochondria from sugar leads to heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. While eating whole, organic foods is the best thing you can do for your health, when you do pick up package foods, read the labels carefully so you make an informed decision about the amount of sugar you are adding to your diet.
Also remember food labels list ingredients in the order of the amount. In other words, there is more of the first ingredient in the product than the second, and so forth. When looking at the amount of sugar you're considering, remember if sugar is in the fourth, sixth, ninth and 11th positions, the combined total may well put it in the first or second position.
To help you recognize how much sugar you may be purchasing, you'll find a list of some of the more common names of sugar used on product labels in my previous article, “Research Finds Sugar Changes Metabolism in Even the Healthiest of People.”
By Dr. Mercola
Industrial agriculture is one of the most unsustainable practices of modern civilization. The "bigger is better" food system has reached a point where its real costs have become readily apparent. Like water running down an open drain, the earth's natural resources are disappearing quickly, as industrialized farming drives air pollution, water pollution, deforestation, rising carbon emissions and the depletion, erosion and poisoning of soils.1
The long-term answer, however, lies in the transition to sustainable, regenerative, chemical-free farming practices, not in the creation of food manufacturing techniques that replace farms with chemistry labs, which is the "environmentally friendly" alternative envisioned by biotech startups and its chemists.
The conventional meat industry in particular has been shown to have a deleterious influence on our environment and climate, giving rise to a number of efforts to bring animal replacement products to market. Impossible Foods and its meatless, "bleeding" burger2,3,4,5 is one among several such inventions, and it's a perfect example of an answer that may well create more hazards than it solves.
Contrary to lab grown meat,6 the meat substitute created by Impossible Foods contains a mix of wheat, coconut oil, potatoes and "heme," the latter of which is derived from genetically engineered (GE) yeast. Impossible Foods was founded in 2011 by Pat Brown, a Stanford University chemist.
A primary ingredient in the Impossible Burger is GE soy leghemoglobin, which releases a heme-like protein when broken down. This protein is what gives the plant-based patty its meatlike look, taste and texture, and makes the patty "bleed" when cooked.
While the company refers to it as "heme," technically, plants produce non-heme iron.7 Heme iron only occurs in meat and seafood. A main difference between heme and non-heme iron has to do with their absorbability. Plant-based non-heme iron is less readily absorbed.
This is one of the reasons why vegans are at higher risk of iron deficiency anemia than meat eaters. Moreover, while soy leghemoglobin is found in the roots of soybean plants, the company is recreating it using GE yeast. As explained on the company website:8
"Heme is exceptionally abundant in animal muscle — and it's a basic building block of life in all organisms, including plants. We discovered how to take heme from plants and produce it using fermentation … We genetically engineer yeast to make a key ingredient: heme. The process allows us to produce the Impossible Burger at scale with the lowest achievable environmental impact.
We start with the gene for a protein called leghemoglobin, a heme protein that is naturally found in the root nodules of soy plants … We add the soy leghemoglobin gene to a yeast strain, and grow the yeast via fermentation. Then we isolate the leghemoglobin, or heme, from the yeast. We add heme to the Impossible Burger to give it the intense, meaty flavor, aroma and cooking properties of animal meat."
While the meatless patties are now sold in nearly 2,000 restaurants across the U.S., questions remain about its long-term safety for human health. Friends of the Earth, an environmental activism group with an international following, has pointed out that we do not yet know enough about the health effects of eating this kind of fake meat, and that its speedy market release is foolhardy at best.
In its report "From Lab to Fork: Critical Questions on Laboratory-Created Animal Product Alternatives"9 released June 2018, Friends of the Earth calls for more stringent safety assessments, regulations and labeling requirements. Dana Perls, a Friends of the Earth food and agriculture campaigner, told Bloomberg,10 "We need real data. People have been clear that they want real, truly sustainable organic food, as opposed to venture capitalist hype which could lead us down the wrong path."
The report highlights a number of health and safety concerns and environmental impacts hidden beneath "climate-friendly" claims. It also points out the lack of substantiation for "clean meat," "animal-free," "plant-based" and "sustainable" claims. As reported by Bloomberg:11
"Friends of the Earth has raised concerns about 'heme,' the protein derived from genetically engineered yeast that Impossible Foods said gives the burger its faux meatiness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has asked for more "direct" evidence of safety as well as more testing on allergens, as reported by The New York Times12 last summer.
'It needs to be done by a third party,' Perls said of testing heme, with research 'on long-term health implications.' Impossible Foods said a panel of experts it hired has twice determined the substance to be safe, in 2014 and 2017."
To those familiar with how the system works, however, the hiring of "a panel of experts" to confirm safety brings little to no comfort. As explained in my 2015 article, "Flawed GRAS System Lets Novel Chemicals Into Food Supply Without FDA Safety Review," a company can simply hire an industry insider to evaluate a brand-new ingredient, and if that individual determines that the ingredient in question meets federal safety standards, it can be deemed "generally recognized as safe" or GRAS, with no further independent third party evaluation being required.
That's what happened here.13 The fact that Impossible Foods hired and paid for the panel members to do the GRAS evaluation of Impossible Burger's key ingredient, soy leghemoglobin made from GE yeast, is reason enough to take the safety claim with a grain of salt. As noted by U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) reporter Stacy Malkan:14
"The three food researchers who wrote the expert panel report that Impossible Foods submitted to the FDA — Joseph Borzelleca, Michael Pariza and Steve Taylor — are on a short list of scientists the 'food industry turns to over and over again' to obtain GRAS status …
[A]ll three served on the Phillip Morris Scientific Advisory Board, according to a 2015 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity [CPI], 'The Misinformation Industry: Food safety scientists have ties to Big Tobacco'15 … '[C]ritics of the GRAS system say Borzelleca is emblematic of a system that is rife with conflicts of interest,' CPI reported."
According to the FDA, the research included in the company's GRAS notification (which is voluntary) was inadequate and could not, in fact, establish safety. Importantly, the company's assessment of allergenicity was lacking. However, as permitted by GRAS rules, Impossible Foods simply withdrew its voluntary GRAS notification and began marketing its meatless burger without the FDA's official blessing.
According to Friends of the Earth, sustainability claims need to be backed up by a full environmental impact assessment, starting with the product's creation and ending with its disposal. Meat substitutes often require water, chemicals and fossil fuel inputs, and in that respect, differ little from conventional agriculture.
According to an Environmental Science and Technology study16 published in 2015, lab-grown meat where the meat is cultured from stem cells actually requires more energy than conventional agriculture. As explained in the study's abstract:
"Cultured, or in vitro, meat consists of edible biomass grown from animal stem cells in a factory, or carnery. In the coming decades, in vitro biomass cultivation could enable the production of meat without the need to raise livestock.
Using an anticipatory life cycle analysis framework, the study described herein examines the environmental implications of this emerging technology and compares the results with published impacts of beef, pork, poultry, and another speculative analysis of cultured biomass.
While uncertainty ranges are large, the findings suggest that in vitro biomass cultivation could require smaller quantities of agricultural inputs and land than livestock; however, those benefits could come at the expense of more intensive energy use as biological functions such as digestion and nutrient circulation are replaced by industrial equivalents.
From this perspective, large-scale cultivation of in vitro meat and other bioengineered products could represent a new phase of industrialization with inherently complex and challenging trade-offs."
As noted by Perls, "We've had the experience of watching the environmental impacts of some food products, and we really can't afford to create more unsustainable food systems that take us in another wrong direction" — which is precisely what the fake meat industry is doing, and in more ways than one. Aside from the fact that it doesn't appear to have any regenerative capabilities that would benefit the ecosystem, there's also the issue of health effects.
A number of studies have highlighted the risks of ultra-processed foods, showing they raise your risk of cancer, and the more ultra-processed foods you eat, the greater your risk.17,18,19,20 In one, which included nearly 105,000 participants followed for an average of five years, an average of 18 percent of their diet was ultra-processed, and each 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food raised the cancer rate by 12 percent, which worked out to nine additional cancer cases per 10,000 people per year.
The risk of breast cancer specifically went up by 11 percent for every 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food. While sugar and unhealthy fats are key staple ingredients suspected of causing these effects, there's reason to believe fake meat might have a similar impact, for the simple fact that the human body is not designed to process fake meat. Never in the history of mankind has GE yeast been a major part of our diet.
Research21 has also linked poor diet to an increased risk of cardiometabolic mortality (death resulting from Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke). According to the authors, suboptimal intake of key foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and animal-based omega-3, along with excessive consumption of processed foods such as processed meats and sweetened beverages accounted for more than 45 percent of all cardiometabolic deaths in 2012.
If processed meat (as opposed to unprocessed meat like steak) is a well-established contributor to cancer and ill health, what assurances do we have that lab-created GE yeast-derived meat substitutes are going to be any safer, let alone an actual boon to our health?
Angered by the apparent distrust expressed by folks concerned about the introduction of fake meats, Impossible Foods chief communications officer Rachel Konrad accused critics of being "anti-science fundamentalists" spouting "preposterous propaganda,"22 and that Friends of the Earth has a "total disregard for science, facts and reality."23
According to the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), Bloomberg is an example of "corporate science media" that should not be trusted.24 The irony of the situation is extreme, to say the least, considering the ACSH is a toxic industry front group serving masters such as the tobacco and pesticide industries.
ACSH is the "science experts" the fake meat industry is now relying on to spread the gospel of cruelty-free, environmentally sound meatless meat, which alone should set off warning bells among those familiar with tobacco and chemical industry PR tactics.
Inexplicably, ACSH is still being treated as a reputable information source by mainstream media, despite the fact that health, environmental, labor and public-interest groups have urged media outlets to stop publishing ACSH content25 — or at least require that it be identified for what it truly is: a corporate front group.
In an EcoWatch commentary, Malkan points out how Impossible Foods is trying to manipulate the public discussion by redirecting you to its own carefully vetted sources, all of whom are well-recognized spin-masters for toxic industries:26
"Instead of enduring the bias of Bloomberg, Konrad tells us, we should take heart in the rise of Mark Lynas, a promoter of GMOs and pesticides who communicates inaccurate information about science, according to scientists and food experts.
Konrad's article also links to a column by Ted Nordhaus, who sits on the board of the parent organization of Genetic Literacy Project, a chemical industry propaganda group that attacks cancer scientists as part of its role as an 'industry partner' in Monsanto's public relations strategy to protect Roundup weed killer from cancer concerns.
The false and inflammatory messaging these front groups use to promote genetically engineered foods, defend pesticides, ignore health and environmental risks and silence consumer and environmental advocates goes a long way toward explaining why the GMO industry isn't winning consumer trust …
Impossible Foods had the opportunity to write a new story, and build trust with an open, transparent process that respects consumer concerns. They blew it. Impossible Burger's new genetically engineered protein is new to the human food supply, and we are supposed to trust the manufacturer to vouch for its safety. But the company's process hasn't inspired trust."
Creating patented lab-grown meat products is not about feeding the world or eliminating animal suffering. It's about dominating billionaires looking to put patents on the food system. While many view lab-created meat substitutes as the lesser of two evils when comparing it to conventional factory farmed meat that currently dominates the market, taking nature out of the equation altogether is not the answer, especially since holistic herd management is an integral part of the regenerative agriculture equation.
When animals are raised according to regenerative agriculture, a complete ecosystem is created, one that is both healing for the land and productive for the farmers who keep it. Eating meat is not synonymous with harming the environment; it's industrial farming practices that inflict the damage. Some also believe eating meat means ripping out more forests so animals can graze, but I'm certainly not advocating for that.
U.S. cropland is currently dominated by a two-crop planting cycle of corn and soybeans, largely for animal feed. Like concentrated animal feeding operations, these monocrops are devastating the environment, and even though they're plant foods, are part of the problem, not the solution.
Getting rid of these large swaths of corn and soy fields, which, if you've ever visited one, you'll know are chemical-laden and largely devoid of life, is key, as is reverting them back to what they were before, namely grasslands for grazing animals.
Grasslands are key to fixing many environmental problems, and herbivores are a necessary part of this ecosystem. By mimicking the natural behavior of migratory herds of wild grazing animals — meaning allowing livestock to graze freely, and moving the herd around in specific patterns — farmers can support nature's efforts to regenerate and thrive.
This kind of land management system promotes the reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) by sequestering it back into the soil where it can do a lot of good. Once in the earth, the CO2 can be safely stored for hundreds of years and adds to the soil's fertility.
Lab-made meat substitutes do not contribute to the regeneration of our environment. In fact, by being more energy intensive, fake meats continue pushing environmental problems to the brink. If your main concerns are animal welfare and environmental sustainability, your best bet is to support and buy meats that are certified grass fed organic, raised and slaughtered under humane conditions.
The most dependable source is meat certified by the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which ensures animals were born and raised on American family farms, fed only grass and forage from weaning until harvest, have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics, and raised on pasture without confinement to feedlots. In the Midwest, the Kalona SuperNatural brand was the first dairy brand to become AGA-certified.
By Dr. Mercola
We all know people who've struggled to stop smoking. Some have opted to quit "cold turkey" or relied on patches, but when e-cigs came along — electronic nicotine delivery systems or devices that emit doses in a vapor for users to inhale without the smoke — millions lined up to give them a try. The most inviting premise was its original design to help cigarette smokers taper off and eventually quit.
Since 2004, when the Chinese introduced e-cigs, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that by 2016, 3.2 percent of U.S. adults were e-cig users. More than 2 million middle school and high school-aged students had used in the previous 30 days. "Vaping" has overshadowed tobacco use among teenagers in the U.S., escalating by 900 percent between 2011 and 2015. For people 18 to 24 years of age, 40 percent had not been smokers before using the device.1
One of the newest e-cigs, made by Juul Labs Inc., has been making a big dent in the market. According to Bloomberg, the San Francisco-based startup is poised to rank its worth at $16 billion.2 While Israel is the only country where the vape pen is currently available outside the U.S., the company has plans to change that, The Verge notes:
"Since launching in 2015, the Juul has been a runaway success. Vapers appreciate the flat rectangular product design, discreet size and powerful pre-filled nicotine pods. Sucking on a Juul creates a similar sensation to smoking a cigarette.
As of … [June 2018] Juul had captured 68 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market, according to Nielsen data … The company's growth has made it a bright spot in an ailing industry. Since January 2017, cigarettes' share of the smoking and vaping market has fallen by almost 4 percentage points. Juul's market share has jumped by roughly 3.5 percentage points in the same period."3
Morgan Stanley analyst Pamela Kaufman told investors that "Juul's success underscores the potential for disruptive technology to undermine U.S. tobacco's reliable business algorithm."4 Rival companies Philip Morris International Inc. (in the U.S), British American Tobacco Plc and Japan Tobacco Inc. have all seen their shares slump: 23 percent, 24 percent and 15 percent, respectively, just this year.
Business Insider says the product is so popular, its use has become a verb; it's not "smoking" anymore, it's "Juuling." But here's how the company has overtaken their rivals in a very competitive market: The Juul contains somewhere around twice the concentration of nicotine as cigarettes and other vape pens, so they pack an even more powerful nicotine punch.
Presented as the "most satisfying" and "genuine alternative to cigarettes,"5 Juuls are described as delivering "a nicotine hit that's much more like smoking a cigarette than other e-cigs."6 The company's patented JuulSalts approach to nicotine delivery is due to compounds called nicotine salts, which develop in heat-dried tobacco leaves much like most cigarettes.7 Science reporter Rachel Becker explains in The Verge:
"These nicotine salts are less harsh to inhale than the straight-up, 'freebase' nicotine used in most regular nicotine vapes — the same kind of nicotine you get from smoking the air-dried tobacco used for pipes and cigars. Freebase nicotine can be absorbed through your mouth — but it's also much less pleasant to inhale because of its 'greater physiological (throat and chest) impact and toxicity,' according to a report for the tobacco industry from the 70s."8
Vapers who've tried Juuls agree they have a much stronger nicotine "hit" than other e-cigs. One ex-smoker found that once he started on Juuls, the vaping habit became "remarkably difficult to kick." Becker writes about The Verge's video director, Christian Mazza, a 15-year smoker who gave up cigarettes, then started vaping Juuls. His first reaction wasn't necessarily positive as he compared them with the low-nicotine e-cigs he started with, but after a while, he recalls:
"It just sort of took over, and everything else just got put away in a shelf — and the Juul became the daily driver … I don't know what's going on on a molecular level, but it hits smoother and it's a lot more satisfying when you're craving that nicotine."
In fact, the reality is that you could think of regular vapes like smoking a cigar, and the Juul pretty much like smoking a cigarette. JuulSalts make the nicotine easier to access. According to the company website, freebase nicotine is mixed with benzoic acid to make the e-liquid, which has a chemical reaction to produce the nicotine salts. JuulPod e-liquid cartridges contain up to twice the amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, and they're just as easy to inhale.9,10
Making use even easier, The Boston Globe11 notes the Juul's built-in battery is charged via a magnetic USB adapter, takes an hour to charge and lasts for 200 puffs, or one full day of regular use. The fruity-, tobacco-, crème brulee-, mango- and mint-flavored pods contain 50 milligrams of nicotine and emit such a mild fragrance, they've been mistaken for a light perfume.
With the Juul device, the company offers a "starter" kit online for $49.99. It comes complete with a charger, a warranty and four flavored Juul pods. On the resale market, the starter kit might run around $80.
For adults who hope to get over their cigarette addiction by indulging in an occasional nicotine hit via vaping, Juul company spokesperson Victoria Davis says they were created for that purpose: They're "intended for adult smokers only who want to switch from combustible cigarettes." However, University of California San Francisco professor Gideon St. Helen told Becker that while an e-cig may have its place, "You just don't want young people using it."
Davis insists that combating underage vaping is one of the company's highest priorities. "We cannot be more emphatic on this point: No young person or non-nicotine user should ever try Juul." But unfortunately, they do. Anti-smoking advocates say the company targets teens, but The Washington Times maintains it's a moot point because Juuls already have all the necessary elements for any age: They're flavored, their batteries can be recharged on a laptop in an hour and they fulfill the "cool factor."12
One high schooler is quoted as saying that while smoking is "gross … Juuling is really what's up."13 Another student enthuses, "People Juul at parties, Juul when they're driving — it's a social thing. They're Juuling all the time."14 But according to The New Yorker, "Teens have taken a technology that was supposed to help grownups stop smoking and invented a new kind of bad habit, molded in their own image."
What's more, while school personnel across the U.S. have been used to looking for telltale whiffs of cigarette smoke and glimpses of slender white shafts, e-cigs sneaked up on them because they're so easy for users to conceal. Juuls may or may not have been specifically designed look like a USB flash drive at first glance.
Interim superintendent Howard Colter at Cape Elizabeth High School in Maine noted, "They can pin them on to their shirt collar or bra strap and lean over and take a hit every now and then, and who's to know?"15
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has noticed, and in April 2018 issued a report with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb's comprehensive prevention plan to "stop youth use of, and access to, JUUL and other e-cigarettes." Others have similar characteristics to Juul, he notes, but more types of e-cigs are emerging into the marketplace all the time. He asserts:
"In some cases, our kids are trying these products and liking them without even knowing they contain nicotine. And that's a problem, because as we know the nicotine in these products can rewire an adolescent's brain, leading to years of addiction. For this reason, the FDA must — and will — move quickly to reverse these disturbing trends, and, in particular, address the surging youth uptake of JUUL and other products."16
Truth Initiative, a nonprofit youth anti-smoking organization, conducted a survey that revealed several things that should make everyone, including teens, sit up and take notice. Again, a significant number of students say they were unaware before they tried it that Juuls actually contained nicotine. One girl admitted she thought they were healthier than cigarettes and that "it won't give you as much cancer, but finding out that one pod is equivalent to one pack of cigarettes was shocking."17
The New York Times referenced another student's admission after he'd been reprimanded three times: "I can't stop."18 The device's patent includes charts showing how its nicotine salts rival a Pall Mall cigarette in the amount of nicotine absorbed into the bloodstream. That alone is troubling, but Truth Initiative's CEO, Robin Koval, lists a few facts that have been established regarding e-cigs to date:
To a teenager's brain, particularly since it's not fully developed until around age 25, Business Insider notes potential vulnerability of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in decision making, emotional control and impulse regulation. In short, nicotine, like any other drug, impacts developing brains more than those of adults.
"Brain imaging on adolescents suggest that those who begin smoking regularly at a young age have markedly reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex and perform less well on tasks related to memory and attention compared to people who don't smoke."19
Dr. Nicholas Chadi, a clinical pediatrics fellow at Boston Children's Hospital, says brain changes from nicotine include increased sensitivity to other drugs and greater impulsivity. Effects of teen vaping he's run across include intense nicotine cravings after only a few months of use and loss of hope they'll be able to quit. Further, Chadi references a Lancet study ranking nicotine as more addictive than alcohol or barbiturates.20 "Some start showing irritability or shakiness when they stop."21
While they may show less severe withdrawal symptoms compared to adults, teen symptoms may appear after only a few hundred e-cigs. One study shows that 85 percent of those who try to stop either smoking or vaping end up relapsing.22
Dr. John Ross, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and a Harvard Health Blog contributor, says long-term safety information on e-cigs doesn't yet exist, and while they're "almost certainly" less dangerous than smoking, the nicotine itself in e-cigarettes may also have negative health effects.
"Chronic nicotine exposure may lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes … Inhaled nicotine increases heart rate and blood pressure. Nicotine is highly addictive in its own right, and it may lead to changes in the brain that increase the risk of addiction to other drugs, especially in young people."23
It's significant that Juul's labeling includes California's Proposition 65 warning that the product contains chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects and/or other reproductive harm, and the website reiterates that the product contains addictive nicotine.
Perhaps to counter that, company spokesperson Christine Castro says an in-house research team is looking at youth prevention to engage educators and parents, offers its curriculum to schools for free and will even help compensate for costs linked to after-school activities and addiction counselors.
However, Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and pediatrics professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, is of the mind that neither tobacco nor nicotine delivery device companies should be engaged in their own prevention work.24
Research at Portland State University25 "milked" the vapes from 11 different e-cigs with a syringe pump to examine the liquids and the aerosols produced by three of them. The "fruit medley" and "creme brulee" flavors had the most nicotine, but next to the lowest nicotine freebase levels.
Only a liquid called "Placid" had lower freebase nicotine levels, and far lower nicotine overall. In essence, "Juul packs a bigger nicotine punch in a more pleasant package than the other products the team tested."26 One of the chemistry professors involved in the study called Juul use a double-edged sword:
"If you've never smoked, and you try Juul for a few days, this is a recipe for addiction. You could make someone addicted who's never been a smoker — or, for someone who is addicted to nicotine, this could be a way to get off of cigarettes."27
In addition, it's important to understand that if you smoke e-cigarettes you may be exposing yourself to dangerous chemicals and toxic heavy metals with each puff, associated with cancers, heart disease and stroke. Other toxins detected in e-cigarette vapors include diacetyl, formaldehyde, diethylene glycol, tobacco-specific nitrosamine and highly reactive free radicals.28 In traditional cigarette smoke, these highly reactive free radicals are associated with cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease.
Tobacco smoking has been a thing for thousands of years. Native Americans grew tobacco long before Europeans showed up, and smoked pipes for religious and medical purposes as many as 2,000 years ago; the Mayans possibly engaged in it from 600 to 900 A.D., if ancient, stone-chiseled depictions of the practice mean anything.29
It was a cash crop for New World settlers in 1612, and by the 1800s, it was being chewed, smoked in a pipe and hand-rolled for easy inhalation. Cancer Council NSW (conducting and funding world class cancer research), notes:
"In 1602, an anonymous English author published an essay titled Worke of Chimney Sweepers, which stated that illnesses often seen in chimney sweepers were caused by soot, and that tobacco may have similar effects. This was one of the earliest known instances of smoking being linked to ill health."30
It took another 200 years for a German named Sammuel Thomas von Soemmerring to notice that mouth cancers were a hallmark of some pipe smokers. In 1798, an American doctor wrote about the dangers of tobacco, but it wasn't until the 1920s that actual research and medical reports cautioned the public. In the '50s and '60s it was confirmed: Ingesting tobacco can spike a range of serious diseases.
With all that in mind, the medical world has been somewhat dumbfounded by the way e-cigs have completely changed the tobacco industry, which is why the science is absent in regard to what kind of damage, if any, habitual vapers can expect in regard to their health. The Verge observes:
"Needing more independent data is a common theme: vaping is so new that there's a ton we don't know about it yet, which means that people who use these products are mostly left to figure out the risks and benefits on their own. Thanks to a massive study of studies from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, we know vaping probably exposes smokers to fewer toxic chemicals than smoking does and may cut their risk for short-term health problems, too."31
A PLOS One study suggests there's a two- to seven-times greater possibility that vaping teens will move on to the real thing.32 But while experts say vaping can be a gateway to smoking in the traditional sense, one Juul spokesperson maintains that using e-cigs hasn't been proven as "causally related to cigarette use."
Interestingly, the National Academies doesn't comment on whether vaping helps people stop smoking (and a reported 70 percent of adult smokers say they want to quit33) any better than other FDA-approved recommendations, such as using nicotine patches, gum or lozenges.34 On the other hand, the Academies recently revealed incontrovertible evidence that using e-cigs creates a dependence on them.35
Vapers say that when they started, it was supposed to be a "transitional thing," but one couple admits they're still vaping two years later, and ask, "At what point does the transition get us off of nicotine completely?" To simply start vaping less is like telling smokers to smoke less, one Juuls user grouses, because the product, he says, is essentially designed to make you want to use it more. There's talk of the company rolling out lower-dose pods, but the company declined to comment on when or how.
Meanwhile, Juuls are patent protected, and their expanding customer base is flourishing, which is going to make it hard for the powers-that-be at Juul to switch up the status quo in regard to how the product is made, because it's quite profitable. After all, Castro says, "The entire conception, premise, operations, mission of the company is to eliminate cigarettes and get adult smokers to switch to our vapor product."
One could compare it to putting a finger in a leaking dike, but before the first quarter of 2018 was out, 11 U.S. senators sent two letters to Juul Labs Inc., stating that the company's products undermine the fabric of the nation's efforts to curb tobacco use, and calling the company out for putting "an entire new generation of children at risk of nicotine addiction."36 Time will tell whether or not there's a positive response.
By Dr. Mercola
Corn and soybean seeds colored red and blue, respectively, have become an all-too-common sight on U.S. farms. The seeds are given a colorful hue because they’ve been treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, and the coloring is one of the only ways to tell them apart from their untreated, yellow counterparts. In 2018, nearly every field corn seed sown in the U.S. contained the insecticides, along with about half of soybeans and most of the cotton.1
(For clarification, there are three kinds of corn: field, sweet and popcorn. Popcorn is never genetically modified, 2 although some brands may include GMO Ingredients, for example, if you purchase preflavored bags. Sweet corn is that tasty corn you eat right on the cob every summer, and it’s moist when it’s harvested,3 unlike field corn, which is left on the stalk longer so it can dry out in preparation for processing. Field corn is then used to make processed food products and animal feed.)
According to John Tooker, associate professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University, “ … [T]hese insecticides will be used across at least 150 million acres of (field corn) cropland, an area about the size of Texas.”4
While some attention has been given to neonicotinoids’ potential role in bee decline, Tooker believes the chemicals are having an even greater pernicious influence on insects, such that entire ecosystems could be in jeopardy. What’s more, neonicotinoids are only one type of agricultural chemical that’s being used in excess while the environmental consequences begin to unfold all-around us.
In recent years, the acreage of crops treated with neonicotinoids has skyrocketed, as has the volume used. From 2011 to 2014, Tooker says, seed suppliers doubled the amount of insecticide applied to each seed. During that time, the number of pests have stayed largely the same, as they have since the 1990s, when only 35 percent of U.S. corn acres and 5 percent of soybean acres were treated with neonicotinoids.
Even at those levels, “pest populations did not cause economically significant harm very often,” according to Tooker. “This suggests that it is not necessary to treat hundreds of millions of acres of crops with neonicotinoid seed coatings.” Further, while the chemicals are very effective at killing insects, this is part of the problem.
Not every insect is a pest; in fact, many are beneficial. Research by Tooker and colleagues found that planting neonicotinoid seeds kills off insects that prey on slugs — prominent corn and soybean pests — thereby reducing crop yields.5
Other research revealed that planting seeds coated with neonicotinoids reduced predatory insects by up to 20 percent.6 Such insects help to reduce pest infestations on crops from insect pests like black cutworm, giving another example of how using neonicotinoids may actually lead to reduced crop yields for farmers. There are other alarming effects as well, particularly since only about 2 percent of the chemical is taken up by the plants.
“The critical question is where the rest goes,” Tooker says, and it’s known that some of it ends up in nearby waterways where the chemicals are now polluting rivers and streams and killing off aquatic insects that other species depend on for food. Not only can the treated seeds directly kill birds if they pick one up for a snack, but research suggests that declines in insect-eating birds are associated with high usage of neonicotinoids.7
An investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even found that treating soybean seeds with neonicotinoids provides no significant financial or agricultural benefits for farmers.8 The researchers also noted there are several other foliar insecticides available that can combat pests as effectively as neonicotinoid seed treatments, with fewer risks.
Risk assessments for pesticide application often consider only the present time of use and don’t factor in that usage may increase over time or the modes of application may change. In reality, pesticide usage is changing rapidly and non-target species are being exposed to multiple chemical agents for long durations of time, with unknown consequences. Writing in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, researchers tackled the question of how changing pesticide usage over time may affect migrating amphibians such as frogs.9
They looked in particular at glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which has been continuously increasing since it was introduced in the 1970s. “Glyphosate-based herbicides can be used as an appropriate indicator for assessing how changes in pesticide application modes affect wild-living organisms in agricultural landscapes over time,” they reasoned, estimating that the use of glyphosate in German agriculture increased by 5.7-fold from 1992 to 2012.
During this time, amphibians also became more likely to transverse fields treated with the chemical during their travels. Their analysis found that juvenile great crested newts and fire-bellied toads faced the highest likelihood of coming into contact with the herbicides, while moor frogs and spadefoot toads were subjected to moderate increased of exposure ranging up to 3.6-fold higher.
Such exposure could be devastating, as glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic to amphibians, especially during the aquatic life stages, with POEA (polyethoxylated tallow amine), a surfactant commonly added to the chemical formulations, thought to be responsible for many of the adverse effects. Although POEA-free glyphosate-based herbicides were introduced in Germany in 2013, there is still concern that glyphosate-based herbicides could lead to problems with development, malformations, stress and death in amphibians.10
In November 2016, the EPA approved Monsanto’s weedkiller, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology, a dicamba variety that is supposedly less prone to vaporization and drift, designed for use with genetically engineered (GE) dicamba-resistant seeds. The chemical was supposed to solve earlier problems caused by Monsanto’s dicamba-resistant crops, which were released before they received approval for the less drift-prone herbicide.
As a result, illegal dicamba formulations were used, and the resulting dicamba drift caused significant damage to cropland across the U.S. The newer dicamba, however, did not prove to be the panacea that Monsanto had promised, and by November 2017, an estimated 3.6 million acres across the U.S. had been damaged by dicamba drift,11 as had trees in Iowa, Illinois and Tennessee.
In response, the EPA placed some restrictions on dicamba usage, making it more cumbersome for farmers. For instance, special training is required to apply the herbicide, and its application is prohibited when wind speeds are greater than 10 mph. Farmers are also asked to assess the risk that spraying could have on nearby crops, as well.
Despite this, reports of damage from dicamba drift have continued in 2018, including 25,000 acres of soybean damage in one area of Missouri alone. Some farmers feel they’re being forced to buy Monsanto’s GE dicamba-tolerant seeds, just so they can survive their neighbors’ chemical sprays.12 Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri weed specialist, confirmed that this is, indeed, a reality, telling the Delta Farm Press:13
“From what I can tell … if you don’t have Xtend soybean, your crop is going to be cupped up from one end to the other. That’s not a surprise because we’ve seen that for the past two seasons … [It doesn’t take a] super-trained eye to see the tree injury from dicamba. It’s kind of shocking to me to see so much damage to trees … I said it all winter: it’s rarely one thing, but a combination of factors. One of those factors is physical drift …
We also have volatility. All the data in front of me says we still have a problem that hasn’t been addressed. It isn’t all operator error like some claim, no way … drift calls from folks who are incredulous and surprised at what’s happened. I’m not — this is the third year of this and I haven’t seen anything that’s worked to keep these products from moving off-site.”
Monsanto, meanwhile, has continued to downplay the damage reports, sometimes blaming them on farmers’ using the chemicals at wind speeds higher than outlined on the label, changes in wind speed or direction or on other factors entirely.
They have no plans to scale back usage of the environmentally devastating chemical, instead boasting that they intend to sell even more GE Xtend crops (and the dicamba to go along with them) in 2019: “We went from 25 million acres in 2017 to a doubling of 50 million acres this year  and expect that to continue to rise for 2019.”14
Pesticides do not provide a long-term solution, even in the best-case scenarios, as nature typically finds a way around them. Glyphosate-resistant superweeds like pigweed are now driving farmers to seek out dicamba-resistant crops, but dicamba-resistant weeds have already sprouted in Kansas and Nebraska, raising serious doubts that piling more pesticides on crops will help farmers, or the environment, in the long run.
In fact, in one greenhouse study of the weed Palmer amaranth, Jason Norsworthy, a weed scientist with the University of Arkansas, was able to induce dicamba resistance in just three generations by applying dicamba at sublethal doses to the first two generations. “Even though this resistance was recorded in an artificial environment, the research confirms herbicide resistance can develop in just three years if the same weed population is exposed to sublethal chemical doses,” Farm Journal reported.15
The industry’s solution, not surprisingly, has been to create crops tolerant to an ever-increasing mix of toxic chemicals. In 2016, for instance, Monsanto released Roundup Ready Xtend cotton and soybean seeds, designed to tolerate both Roundup and dicamba. Add in the neonicotinoid (neonic) seed coating and you’ve got exposure to three toxic chemicals all from the same seed.
In addition to the environmental risks, exposure to dicamba has been linked to developmental and reproductive problems as well as to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer originating in your lymphatic system.16 Glyphosate has also been linked to a slew of health problems, including being labeled a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
There’s little doubt that the ever-increasing rate of pesticide usage is a ticking time bomb for environmental and human health — but there are other solutions that are far healthier (and productive) for everyone involved. Tooker, among other experts, recommends the use of integrated pest management (IPM) as one tool.
A 2015 study found that IPM techniques reduced pesticide use while boosting crop yields in a meta-analysis of 85 sites in 24 countries.17 Some were even able to eliminate pesticide use entirely using techniques such as crop rotation and pheromone traps to capture insect pests. In order to work, however, seed companies must cooperate and admit to their mistakes. Tooker wrote:18
“To implement IPM in field crops with neonicotinoids, seed companies need to acknowledge that the current approach is overkill and poses serious environmental hazards. Extension entomologists will then need to provide growers with unbiased information on strengths and limitations of neonicotinoids …
Finally, the agricultural industry needs to eliminate practices that encourage unnecessary use of seed coatings, such as bundling together various seed-based pest management products, and provide more uncoated seeds in their catalogs.”
Unfortunately, as it stands, an estimated 7.7 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops each year, and that number is steadily increasing.19 Rather than acknowledging that pesticide usage is overkill, companies like Monsanto incentivize the use of more harmful chemicals to farmers by offering cash back for purchasing more chemicals.
You can get involved by actively seeking out and supporting organic, regenerative farmers, who have decided that avoiding chemical-treated seeds and excessive chemical spraying is essential to nurturing soil health, protecting the environment and growing nutritious food.
By Dr. Mercola
The saga of polluting pigs continues, with both good and bad news. Good news first: The second of 26 nuisance lawsuits filed against Murphy Brown LLC, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, wrapped up in July 2018 with a $25 million verdict against Smithfield.
A federal jury ruled that Smithfield should pay two neighbors living near a North Carolina Smithfield contractor’s pig farm the sizable sum due to bad odors, flies and loud trucks caused by the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).1
The case is particularly noteworthy as it involved parties chosen by Smithfield attorneys — those they believed would be hard-pressed to win the case. The couple had moved into the area after the CAFO was already in operation and did not make any official complaints before the suit was filed.2 Still, the jury ruled in their favor, as they did in the first nuisance case, which involved plaintiffs chosen by the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
In that case, 10 plaintiffs who live near the Kinlaw hog farm, a 14,000-animal facility, in Bladen County, owned their properties prior to the CAFO moving into town, and since operations started in 1995 they’ve been plagued by the stench from pig waste lagoons and dead animals, pestered by flies and had their homes covered with pig feces. In April 2018 a federal jury awarded the plaintiffs a collective $750,000 in compensation plus another $50 million in damages.
The favorable rulings in both cases gave hope to others living near CAFOs, which are known to seriously pollute area waterways and air, and drag down nearby property values while endangering residents’ health. Unfortunately, there’s a downside to the story.
One step forward, two steps back. About a week after the initial April 2018 ruling, a federal judge called upon a North Carolina law that limits punitive damages to no more than three times the amount of compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater.
As a result, damages in the suit were reduced to $3.25 million, which means the plaintiffs, who were set to receive $5 million in compensatory damages, will each receive $325,000 instead — hardly enough to compensate them for the damages and allow them to relocate. The damages awarded in the second case are also expected to be reduced due to the cap.
Worse still, in June 2018, North Carolina legislators passed a law restricting future nuisance lawsuits aimed at pig CAFOs. While those already filed will not be affected, future lawsuits will be nearly impossible for CAFO neighbors to file.
As reported in a news release, industry supporters tried to pass the legislation off as necessary but what it really amounts to is yet another protection for industrial agriculture that comes at the expense of residents’ health and well-being. For the record, WH Group, which owns Smithfield, had profits of about $1 billion in 2017. As reported in a news release:3
“The legislation was needed ‘to save every farmer in this state from frivolous lawsuits,’ said bill sponsor Sen. Brent Jackson, an agribusiness founder and Republican who represents three counties in what is the country's heaviest concentration of industrialized hog lots. Critics billed the legislation as an attack on private property rights in order to protect a well-heeled industry.
The law adopted over a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper will be followed by demands for similar protection by other special interests, said Republican Rep. John Blust, an attorney from suburban Greensboro. ‘This is like the first domino to fall,’ he said.”
Governor Cooper vetoed the new legislation, stating, "while agriculture is vital to North Carolina’s economy," so are “property rights” that “are vital to people’s homes and other businesses.” He continued:4
“North Carolina’s nuisance laws can help allow generations of families to enjoy their homes and land without fear for their health and safety … Those same laws stopped the Tennessee Valley Authority from pumping air pollution into our mountains. Our laws must balance the needs of businesses versus property rights. Giving one industry special treatment at the expense of its neighbors is unfair.”
Unfortunately, the veto was overridden by a 74 to 45 vote by the state’s House. The so-called North Carolina Farm Act, or Senate Bill 711, states a nuisance lawsuit can only be filed within a year of the establishment of the CAFO in question or within a year of a “fundamental change” at the organization, which cannot include changes in size of the operation, ownership, technology used or products produced.
What’s more, even if such a lawsuit is filed, no punitive damages will be awarded unless the operator of the farm was convicted of a crime or received notice that state farm laws were broken. Not surprisingly, the North Carolina Pork Council praised the bill, whereas the North Carolina (NC) Conservation Network slammed it.
“The NC Farm Act is unjust and unnecessary, and it places the financial priorities of a global polluter over community members impacted by the pests, odors and other hazards of industrial agriculture practices," said Jamie Cole, policy advocate at the NC Conservation Network, in a news release. “It’s difficult to believe that many of the lawmakers who voted for an override of Gov. Cooper’s veto are not aware of the negative impacts this law will have."5
North Carolina is the second largest pork producer in the U.S. (second to Iowa) and home to more than 2,500 pig CAFOs.6 The estimated 9 million pigs living in the state produce copious amounts of waste — up to 10 times the amount of an average human7 — for which there is no easy, or environmentally friendly, disposal solution. The industry’s answer is to store the waste in open-air, often unlined “lagoons.”
Such systems were banned in 2007, but older farms were grandfathered in and still continue to use them. Waste from such lagoons can leach into groundwater and wells, run off into waterways and cause all sort of environmental problems. North Carolina alone has an estimated 4,500 active lagoons and 1,700 inactive lagoons.8
The liquefied waste from the lagoons is then sprayed onto nearby fields, leaving neighbors to deal with the aftermath. Says Elsie Herring, who lives in eastern North Carolina next to a field regularly sprayed with CAFO pig manure, “You stand outside and it feels like it’s raining but then you realize it isn’t rain. It’s animal waste. It takes your breath away. You start gagging, coughing, your pulse increases. All you can do is run for cover.”9
Odors aside, air near CAFOs is known to be polluted with ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, residues of veterinary antibiotics and bacteria, and research has found that people living near Iowa CAFOs have elevated rates of respiratory symptoms compared to those not living near the industrial farms. In North Carolina, CAFO neighbors report increased headaches, runny noses, sore throats, coughing, diarrhea and burning eyes,10 while the odors alone are also associated with tension, depression and anger.
Children living near pig CAFOs also have a higher incidence of asthma,11 and these polluting CAFOs are found most often in areas with larger African-American, Latino and Native American populations. CAFOs in North Carolina are far less likely to appear in white communities, especially those low in poverty. “This spatial pattern is generally recognized as environmental racism,” researchers wrote.12
Beyond pollution, CAFOs pose serious threats of spreading diseases to humans, including not only antibiotic-resistant bacteria but also novel viruses. For instance, a pig virus, the porcine deltacoronavirus (PDCoV), first identified in Hong Kong in 2012, has recently been shown to have the potential to leap to humans. The sometimes-fatal virus causes diarrhea and vomiting in pigs, and researchers revealed it has the potential to be transmitted between species, including to humans.13
Another lawsuit filed against Smithfield Foods and eight other pork producers, including Tyson Foods, Hormel and JBS USA, alleges the companies intentionally worked together to inflate prices of pork. The lawsuit was filed by dozens of Minnesotans, and states the companies used benchmark reporting of financial information, slaughter rates and more — not for gauging performance, as it’s intended, but to monitor each other’s production and pricing.
Instead of reducing production costs and thereby reducing prices to consumers, the companies artificially inflated consumer pork prices, the suit alleges. As further reported by the Star Tribune, “The complaint, which lists as plaintiffs a dozen consumers from Minnesota and several other states, alleges defendants broke antitrust laws, unfair competition laws, consumer protection laws and unjust enrichment common laws within 11 states.”14
Meanwhile, U.S. hog inventory is up 3 percent as of June 1, 2018, coming in at 73.5 million, as is the market hog inventory, at 67.1 million. “This is the highest June 1 market hog inventory since estimates began in 1964,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).15 So, while industrial pig producers may have been conspiring to raise consumer pork prices, there’s an excess of hog inventory in the U.S., which means farmer prices will be deflated.
It’s no wonder Murphy-Brown (the Smithfield subsidiary) is a $15 billion company while WH Group, which owns them, brought in $22 billion in revenue in 2017.16 Yet, the people living near their noxious CAFOs are suffering from health complaints, reduced quality of life and a financial inability to sell their properties and move away from their polluting neighbors.
Every time you buy CAFO pork (or any CAFO product), you’re supporting this atrocious industry. I encourage you to avoid CAFO meats and instead either buy your meat direct from a trusted grass fed farm or look for the American Grassfed Association (AGA) logo, a much-needed grass fed standards and certification for American-grown grass fed meat and dairy.17
The AGA standard allows for greater transparency and conformity18 and is intended to ensure the humane treatment of animals and meet consumer expectations about grass fed meat and dairy, while being feasible for small farmers to achieve. The AGA pastured pork standards include a forage-based diet derived from pasture, animal health and welfare, no antibiotics and no added growth hormones.
Whether you do so for ethical, environmental or health reasons — or all of the above — I encourage you to support the small family farms in your area. When you do so, you’re protecting your health and the environment, while indirectly taking a stand for those who are unfortunate enough to live near a North Carolina (or any) CAFO — and finding themselves with little opportunity to fight back.
By Dr. Mercola
For a number of years now, researchers have warned we are headed toward a post-antibiotic world — a world in which infections that used to be easily treatable become death sentences as they can no longer be touched by available drugs. As reported by NPR July 2, 2018:1
”A woman in Nevada dies from a bacterial infection that was resistant to 26 different antibiotics. A U.K. patient contracts a case of multidrug-resistant gonorrhea never seen before. A typhoid superbug kills hundreds in Pakistan. These stories from recent years — and many others — raise fears about the possibility of a post-antibiotic world.”
In the video above, NPR explains how antibiotic resistance develops, and what can be done to stem the swelling tide of drug-resistant infections. Importantly, misuse and overuse must be reined in. Despite strong warnings, about 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are still given to livestock — not to treat acute infections but as a preventive measure, and as a growth promoter. This routine low-dose administration is a most dangerous practice, as it primes bacteria for resistance.
As explained in the video, when antibiotics are given, any bacteria that survive are now stronger and can more readily evade the drug the next time around. This is also why, when you’re given a course of antibiotics for an infection, the instructions will tell you to take the full course and not stop early. It’s important to eradicate all the bacteria before stopping, or else you risk developing an even harder-to-treat infection as surviving bacteria will have developed hardier resistance.
Tests conducted in 2017 on nearly 5,780 antibiotic-resistant bacterial samples collected from hospitals and nursing homes revealed 1 in 4 samples contained genes known to confer drug resistance, and 221 of them, collected from 27 states, contained a particularly rare drug-resistance gene that confers a very high level of resistance.2,3
This hardy resistance gene was found in a number of different types of infections, including pneumonia, bloodstream infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs). Disturbingly, follow-up screening showed nearly 1 in 10 asymptomatic contacts tested positive for drug-resistant bacteria carrying this rare gene, which means it can, and likely has, spread to other patients who have come into contact with an infected individual.
The emergence and rapid spread of this new drug resistance gene is deeply troubling, as it can cause untreatable infections where supportive care is the only option.4 With intravenous fluids, you may recover as long as your immune system is strong enough. If your immune function is weak, the infection could turn lethal. It’s hard to fathom a situation where people are routinely dying from UTIs and pneumonia — both of which have for decades been easily treatable with antibiotics — but that’s where we’re headed.
Drug-resistant sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also on the rise, making STD infection a very serious concern, especially as prevalence has also sharply increased in recent years. In California, STD prevalence has increased by 45 percent in the past five years alone.5,6,7
There’s now evidence showing syphilis and gonorrhea are developing pan-resistance, meaning they’re impervious to several different antibiotics. Drug-resistant UTIs are also on the rise, and the spread of antibiotic-resistant UTIs has been directly linked to the consumption of chicken meat contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria.
• Syphilis has developed resistance against azithromycin, the second drug of choice for this infection,8 and recent research9 shows both of the two main strains of syphilis have developed drug resistance. The Street Strain 14 (SS14), which is a newer strain, appears to be far more drug-resistant than the older Nichols strain.
A whopping 90 percent of the SS14 samples had drug resistance genes. The number of babies born infected with syphilis contracted from their mother has also quadrupled and, with it, stillbirths have spiked as well.10
• Gonorrhea is now resistant to all antibiotics that have been used against it — including penicillin, tetracycline and fluoroquinolone antibiotics — and is rapidly developing resistance against cephalosporins, the drug of last resort. Resistance to cefixime and ceftriaxone has already been reported in more than 50 countries.
As noted by Dr. Teodora Wi, medical officer of human reproduction at the World Health Organization (WHO),11 "The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them.” In 2013, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated about one-third of gonorrhea cases were resistant to at least one antibiotic. Between 2013 and 2014, cases of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea suddenly doubled.12
• A form of E. coli known as extra-intestinal pathogenic E. coli or ExPEC is responsible for over 90 percent of UTIs,13 and DNA matching reveals many are caused by eating contaminated poultry.14,15,16,17 In other words, many UTIs are caused not through sexual contact with an infected partner but by zoonosis, meaning animal to human disease transfer.18,19,20 As early as 2005 papers were published showing drug-resistant E. coli strains from supermarket meat matched strains found in human E. coli infections.21
Of the 8 million UTIs occurring in the U.S. each year, an estimated 10 percent are resistant to antibiotics, making them life-threatening occurrences as the bacteria can travel from the bladder into your kidneys and onward into your bloodstream. Drug resistance has become common enough that doctors are now advised to test for drug resistance before prescribing an antibiotic for a UTI.
For a number of years now, tests have revealed meats are a source of drug-resistant bacteria, with factory farmed meats having the highest levels of contamination. This includes pork, beef and poultry. According to a 2017 report by the CDC, 22 percent of antibiotic-resistant illness in humans is linked to consumption of contaminated foods, and tests have shown ground beef from animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is three times more likely to contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria than grass fed beef.22
This really is no surprise, since overuse of antibiotics in livestock is the primary driver of antibiotic resistance, and CAFOs routinely use antibiotics.23 Most recently, an Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis of food testing done by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2015 reveals 83 percent of supermarket meats were contaminated with enterococcus faecalis (fecal bacteria), and a high percentage of them had antibiotic-resistant bacteria:24,25
• 79 percent of ground turkey samples were contaminated with drug-resistant enterococcus faecalis, 87 percent of which were resistant to tetracyclines, antibiotics deemed “highly important” by WHO, used in human medicine to treat bronchitis, pneumonia and UTIs; 73 percent of the salmonella found on ground turkey was antibiotic-resistant salmonella
• 71 percent of pork chops were contaminated with drug-resistant enterococcus faecalis, 84 percent of which were resistant to tetracyclines
• 62 percent of ground beef samples were contaminated with drug-resistant enterococcus faecalis, 26 percent of which were resistant to tetracyclines. One reason for the high contamination rate of ground beef has to do with the fact that it’s a mix of meat from thousands of animals.26 A single animal with drug-resistant bacteria can therefore contaminate large batches of meat
• 36 percent of chicken breasts, legs, thighs and wings were contaminated with drug-resistant enterococcus faecalis, 71 percent of which were resistant to tetracyclines; 1 in 5 strains of salmonella was resistant to amoxicillin, a type of penicillin, which as a class is designated as “critically important” in human medicine. Amoxicillin is the No. 1 antibiotic prescribed to children in the U.S.
Over the years, food testing has shown that chicken is particularly prone to contamination with not just antibiotic-resistant bacteria but also other dangerous pathogens. Consumer report testing in 2007 found 80 percent of whole chicken broilers harbored salmonella and/or campylobacter,27 two of the leading causes of foodborne illness.
Retesting in 2010 revealed a modest improvement, with “only” two-thirds being contaminated with these disease-causing bacteria. Just 34 percent of the broilers tested clear of these two pathogens. The improvement didn’t last long.
In 2013, Consumer Reports28 found potentially harmful bacteria on 97 percent of the chicken breasts tested, and half of them had at least one type of bacteria that was resistant to three or more antibiotics. Salmonella contamination is of particular concern, as data suggests multidrug-resistant salmonella has become particularly prevalent.
And raw chicken has become a notorious carrier of salmonella, campylobacter, clostridium perfigens and listeria bacteria.29 Contaminated chicken and turkey also cause the most deaths from food poisoning.30
According to the EWG:
“Of the 14 antibiotics the FDA tested in 2014, salmonella had developed resistance genes to 13. E. coli developed resistance to all of them. This is concerning because the gene for resistance to an antibiotic — for example, tetracycline — can be passed from a resistant enterococcus indicator bacteria to a neighboring pathogenic salmonella bacteria, creating a resistant infection.
Currently, the FDA analyzes resistance trends in bacteria only for ‘combinations of medical importance,’ burying its head in the sand when it comes to how resistance spreads among bacteria.
We believe that bacterial resistance to a single antibiotic is superbug enough, and consumers shouldn’t have to wait for widespread, multiple-drug resistance and untreatable bacterial infections for the FDA to protect them. Now is the time for the federal government to get medically important antibiotics out of factory farms.”
In the meantime, what can you do to protect your health and that of your family? One obvious answer is to seek out the safest meat sources you can find. Your best bet is to buy directly from farmers who use antibiotics judiciously or not at all. Other tips include:
A number of poultry producers have taken steps to cut down or eliminate antibiotics from their production, including Perdue, Tyson,32 Pilgrim’s Pride and Foster Farms. Perdue — which started cutting back on antibiotics in 2002 — clearly shows that meat can be profitably mass-produced without the use of antibiotics. The company also demonstrates that eliminating antibiotics can make the meat safer.
Perdue received the highest safety score in the 2010 Consumer Reports test33 mentioned earlier, which checked for the presence of salmonella and campylobacter in commercial chicken meat.
Fifty-six percent of Perdue’s chickens were free of both pathogens at that time, while 80 percent of Tyson and Foster Farms’ chickens tested positive for one or both bacteria. (Organic store brand chickens had no salmonella at all, but 57 percent still harbored campylobacter.) Even back then, Perdue’s exemplary success was attributed to its more stringent policies on antibiotics.
The only company that has refused to take any measures to curb their antibiotic use whatsoever is Sanderson Farms.34 Remarkably, the company decided to go public with its decision to continue using antibiotics instead, calling public health concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria “overblown,”35 claiming the antibiotic-free chicken trend is nothing but a marketing ploy devised to justify higher prices, and that not using antibiotics would be inhumane to the chickens.36
According to Lampkin Butts, president and chief operating officer of Sanderson Farms, “There is not any credible science that leads us to believe we’re causing antibiotic resistance in humans.”37 This stance is not only ignorant but also dangerous, and flies in the face of science. If you cause antibiotic resistance to develop in the animals, you’re inevitably causing it in humans. Literally millions of lives are at stake if we do not put an end to agricultural antibiotics.
Sanderson also tries to confuse people by pointing out that no commercially sold chicken, whether treated with antibiotics or not, will contain antibiotics by the time you buy it since the antibiotics must be stopped in time before slaughter in order to ensure the drugs are no longer in the animals’ system. However, this really doesn’t address the actual concerns about antibiotic use in chickens, because even if the antibiotics are no longer present in the chicken, the resistant bacteria ARE, and they are the primary problem.
The good news is that investors are now starting to apply pressure, urging Sanderson Farms to reconsider their use of antibiotics. According to Reuters,38 a proposal to end the use of medically important antibiotics for disease prevention in chickens “received the support of 43 percent of votes cast at the company’s annual meeting,” held February 15, 2018. That’s 13 percent higher than a similar proposal presented in 2017, when only 30 percent of investors voted to end the company’s use of antibiotics.
While the problem of antibiotic resistance needs to be stemmed through public policy on a nationwide level, the more people who get involved on a personal level, the better. On an individual level, you can help minimize the problem by focusing on:
Infection prevention, with a focus on strengthening your immune system naturally. Avoiding sugars, processed foods and grains, promoting stress reduction and optimizing your sleep and vitamin D level are foundational for this. Adding in traditionally fermented and cultured foods is also important, as this will help optimize your microbiome.
Limiting your use of antibiotics. Any time your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, ask if it’s absolutely necessary, and keep in mind that antibiotics do not work for viral infections. For example, antibiotics are typically unnecessary for most ear infections, and they do not work on the common cold or flu, both of which are caused by viruses.
Avoiding antibiotics in food by purchasing organic or biodynamic grass fed meats and animal products.
Avoiding antibacterial household products such as antibacterial soaps, hand sanitizers and wipes, as these promote antibiotic resistance by allowing the strongest bacteria to survive and thrive in your home.
Properly washing your hands with warm water and plain soap, to prevent the spread of bacteria. Be particularly mindful of washing your hands and kitchen surfaces after handling raw meats, as about half of all meat sold in American grocery stores is likely to be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. Avoid antibiotic soaps that typically have dangerous chemicals like triclosan.
Common-sense precautions in the kitchen: Kitchens are notorious breeding grounds for disease-causing bacteria, courtesy of contaminated meat products, including antibiotic-resistant strains of E-coli. To avoid cross-contamination between foods in your kitchen, adhere to the following recommendations:
• Use a designated cutting board, preferably wood, not plastic, for raw meat and poultry, and never use this board for other food preparation, such as cutting up vegetables. Color coding your cutting boards is a simple way to distinguish between them
• To sanitize your cutting board, use hot water and detergent. Simply wiping it off with a rag will not destroy the bacteria
• For an inexpensive, safe and effective kitchen counter and cutting board sanitizer, use 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Keep each liquid in a separate spray bottle, and then spray the surface with one, followed by the other, and wipe off
• Coconut oil can also be used to clean, treat and sanitize your wooden cutting boards. It's loaded with lauric acid that has potent antimicrobial actions. The fats will also help condition the wood
For most infections, antibiotics are unnecessary. There are a number of different plants and natural remedies you can use to fight infections, and contrary to antibiotic drugs, these do not promote the development of drug resistance. Natural compounds with antimicrobial activity include:
Manuka honey (Clinical trials have found that Manuka honey can effectively eradicate more than 250 clinical strains of bacteria, including some resistant varieties, including MRSA)
Probiotics and fermented foods
By Dr. Mercola
Photosynthesis is the process in which plants absorb light from the sun — along with water and carbon dioxide — and transform it into the food they need for growth.1 Oxygen, the nutrient that virtually all eukaryotic cells require to generate energy in their mitochondria, is a byproduct of photosynthesis.
At the heart of photosynthesis is chlorophyll,2 a pigment that absorbs blue and some red portions of the electromagnetic spectrum and gives the plant its green color. The deeper, darker the green, the more chlorophyll the plant contains.
Chlorophyll is also found in algae and cyanobacteria, both of which also use photosynthesis to create their own nourishment. You probably know that vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, and while plant foods contain a wide variety of plant chemicals that promote health, chlorophyll is an important part of the health equation.
Chlorophyllin, a semi-synthetic sodium copper salt derived from chlorophyll (and the type typically found in chlorophyll supplements), has similar benefits. In addition to inhibiting cancer, it has also been shown to have deodorizing and healing effects. It’s been used topically for foul-smelling and/or slow-healing wounds such as vascular ulcers and pressure ulcers, and taken orally, chlorophyllin supplements have been shown to reduce urine and fecal odor in patients struggling with incontinence.
Topical application may also reduce signs of photoaging,5 in part by inhibiting the breakdown of hyaluronic acid in your skin, which is why chlorophyllin is sometimes found in antiaging remedies. Studies have also shown chlorophyllin-containing creams help reduce acne and minimize large pores. Other health benefits of chlorophyll include:6
A lesser-known effect of chlorophyll is its impact on energy production. As explained in a 2014 study7 published in the Journal of Cell Science:
“Sunlight is the most abundant energy source on this planet. However, the ability to convert sunlight into biological energy in the form of adenosine-5'-triphosphate (ATP) is thought to be limited to chlorophyll-containing chloroplasts in photosynthetic organisms. Here we show that mammalian mitochondria can also capture light and synthesize ATP when mixed with a light-capturing metabolite of chlorophyll.
The same metabolite fed to the worm Caenorhabditis elegans leads to increase in ATP synthesis upon light exposure, along with an increase in life span. We further demonstrate the same potential to convert light into energy exists in mammals, as chlorophyll metabolites accumulate in mice, rats and swine when fed a chlorophyll-rich diet.
Results suggest chlorophyll type molecules modulate mitochondrial ATP by catalyzing the reduction of Coenzyme Q, a slow step in mitochondrial ATP synthesis. We propose that through consumption of plant chlorophyll pigments, animals, too, are able to derive energy directly from sunlight.”
In other words, the way chlorophyll helps modulate mitochondrial ATP is by capturing energy from sunlight and transferring that energy to reduce Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) to its active biological form, ubiquinol — a finding supported by another study8 published in Photochemistry and Photobiology.
Here, they found that dietary chlorophyll, along with its metabolites and sunlight exposure, help maintain a healthy ubiquinol level in your body, which in turn helps regulate your plasma redox status — a factor that plays an important role in the aging process9 and can be used as an indicator of severity of disease in ill patients.10
The only problem I have with these studies is that they used 660 or 670 nm wavelengths, which is red. These wavelengths only penetrate a few millimeters into your body. Longer wavelengths like 850 nm (near-infrared) penetrate many inches into your body and would actually be able to charge the chlorophyll in deeper tissues. My guess is that it is likely the longer wavelengths would also work but they never studied them. As explained by the authors:11
“Ubiquinol is a plasma antioxidant. The mechanisms responsible for maintenance of plasma ubiquinol are poorly understood. Here, we show that metabolites of chlorophyll can be found in blood plasma of animals that are given a chlorophyll-rich diet.
We also show that these metabolites catalyze the reduction of plasma ubiquinone to ubiquinol in the presence of ambient light, in vitro. We propose that dietary chlorophyll or its metabolites, together with light exposure, regulate plasma redox status through maintaining the ubiquinol pool.”
Ubiquinol is the reduced version of CoQ10, one of the most popular supplements known to optimize mitochondrial health. It’s also the No. 1 supplement recommended by cardiologists for heart health. Anyone taking a statin drug really needs to be on this supplement to protect their heart. Ubiquinol is the electron-rich form of CoQ10 that your body produces naturally. In your mitochondria, ubiquinol facilitates the conversion of energy substrates and oxygen into ATP needed by your cells for life, repair and regeneration.
It also helps mop up reactive oxygen species — harmful byproducts of metabolism that can damage mitochondrial cell membranes. For these reasons, ubiquinol helps prevent diseases and conditions rooted in mitochondrial dysfunction, including heart disease and migraines. Low CoQ10 levels have also been detected in people with certain types of cancer,12 including lung, breast and pancreatic cancer, as well as melanoma metastasis.
As mentioned, dark green vegetables are a rich source of chlorophyll. Another excellent source, indeed one of the best, is chlorella, a green alga often recommended as a binder in heavy metal detoxification protocols. Chlorella has a particular affinity for binding and eliminating mercury, and can therefore be useful when eating a lot of fish. It’s also high in plant-based protein.
I typically take 12 of our fermented chlorella tablets twice a day with meals, which is 5 grams or about 150 milligrams (mg) of chlorophyll, equivalent to well over a pound of spinach. Spirulina,13 if you can tolerate it, is another algae, which due to its genetics and biochemical properties has been classified as a cyanobacteria, is also high in chlorophyll.
The following chart details the approximate amount of chlorophyll found in various food sources known to be rich sources.14,15,16,17,18 For ease of comparison, all serving measurements have been converted into grams, with a serving size being 10 grams. By doing this, you can clearly see how chlorella and spirulina are far superior sources to commonly cited chlorophyll-rich foods such as spinach, which contains the highest amounts of any green vegetable, beaten only by parsley, which is used far more sparingly.
|Source||Chlorophyll in milligrams per 10-gram serving|
Klamath (Aphanizomenon flos aquae or AFA) spirulina
Wheatgrass and barley grass are commonly recommended as sources of chlorophyll, and as you can see, they’re certainly among the richest sources. One drawback is that they can contain gluten,19,20 which can be a problem if you have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. Sprouted wheat, barley and other common grains contain gluten, but since wheatgrass and barley grass are made from grasses harvested before the plant has actually seeded, they should theoretically be gluten-free.
The problem originates in cross-contamination that can occur during processing. Overall, the risk of having a gluten reaction from wheatgrass and barley grass is small, but it’s worth being cautious if you’re sensitive.
Processed foods such as bars and premade smoothies advertising wheatgrass or barley grass as an ingredient could potentially contain gluten if they were processed in a facility that also processes the grains. So, if you’re buying a premade product, do your research and make sure the manufacturing process is gluten-free throughout, with no possibility of cross-contamination.
If you’re making your own juice, or buy from a vendor that juices it fresh in front of you, which you can often find at farmers markets, make sure the grass has not started flowering or sprouting seeds. Once wheat starts to flower, it will contain gluten.
Wheatgrass should be no taller than 6 inches, or older than 10 to 14 days when you cut it to ensure its gluten-free status. Also make sure no rogue, unsprouted seeds from the soil accidentally make their way into the juice. A single juiced up wheat seed can actually cause the beverage to exceed the Food and Drug Administration’s limit on gluten for a gluten-free product.