Natural Health Blog & News
When you think about environmental pollution, your clothing is likely not the first thing to come to mind. However, the clothing industry nears the top of the list of toxic industries that pollute water and expose you to dangerous chemicals used to dye and treat the textiles.
According to Rita Kant of the University Institute of Fashion Technology, color is one of the main reasons people choose specific pieces of clothing.1 While there are safe ways to dye clothing, the toxic nature of what is currently used has caused concern.
Other chemicals used for a variety of reasons pollute the environment, too, with heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury as well as sulfur, nitrates and naphthol. In 2018, Delta Airlines released new uniforms to their employees. Not long afterward the company began receiving reports of allergic and toxic reactions that the employees believed were due to chemicals in the uniforms.
The uniforms are “ultra-stretchy, brightly colored, designed for flying, and dizzyingly high-tech,” according to Quartz, which reported on the attendants’ complaints.2 In addition, the material used for the uniforms was designed to resist water stains, wrinkles and static. In what sounds like a science fiction movie, it is also self-deodorizing. But these features apparently come at a high cost, if it turns out that the attendants’ illnesses can be definitively linked to them.
The uniforms were first unveiled in May 2018, having been designed by Zac Posen and manufactured by Lands’ End. They were issued to 64,000 Delta Airline employees3 who began reporting a number of health concerns, including skin rashes, headaches and fatigue soon after they started using them.
The problems were first made public in a report by The Guardian4 in which several flight attendants spoke with the promise of anonymity, as they feared retaliation by the company. The Guardian published some pictures of the complainants’ skin conditions. One attendant reported:
“I noticed right away after I put the uniforms on that I had shortness of breath and I have been a runner my whole life. I don’t smoke or anything like that, so when I couldn’t get up the stairs without being extremely winded, I know there was some sort of problem.”
Another found it impossible to sleep, commenting:
“I don’t even want to call them rashes because it’s worse than that. Some of them look like chemical burns, some of them look like chemical bites, but they don’t go away for weeks at an end. I had a huge patch that got infected and I had to take an antibiotic, even, to get rid of it.”
One of the first class-action lawsuits was filed in May 2019 against Lands’ End by two Delta flight attendants seeking $5 million in damages. As 2019 progressed, the number of employees filing complaints rose to 943.5 Delta Airlines engaged an independent laboratory to test the garments, which found they are not linked “to any attributable health risk.”
The newest suit was filed in the Western District of Wisconsin court against Lands’ End, whose operations are based in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. Of the 525 Delta employees listed in the current lawsuit, 90% are flight attendants.6
The lead attorney for the suit was allowed access to a closed Facebook page devoted to discussions of the uniform issue at Delta Airlines. He remarked there were 6,000 registered users. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), commented on the clothing concerns:
“This issue is real. It affects different people in different ways, and the reactions can vary in severity with symptoms such as rashes, headaches, hair loss and breathing problems when wearing the uniform to becoming so sensitized to the chemicals that it's impossible to even be in the same space without getting extremely sick.”
It wasn’t until November 2019 that the airlines began allowing some employees to wear non-uniform clothing they purchased independently.7 Many of the complaints have centered on inconsistent and unfair treatment. After 18 months of mystery illnesses and symptoms, Delta employees are no closer to an answer or resolution.
Many have fears for their health and job security, resulting in a heavy financial burden. One attendant was seen by a dermatologist in Atlanta, who told her she had been exposed to a toxin causing her reactions. Most of the employees agree the company’s response has been disjointed.
Several spoke anonymously to Business Insider, who reported attendants were not logically granted permission to wear an alternative uniform. Some were threatened with job loss if they refused and others were given permission only after telling the company they wouldn't return to work unless they were allowed to wear a different uniform.
Judith Anderson, a 20-year industrial hygienist for AFA, explained that the dye is a suspicious target as it has rubbed off on airplane seats and flight attendants' skin. Anderson believes a lack of oversight in the supply chain, combined with poor testing before distribution, resulted in inconsistent chemical application.
She believes this may partially explain why a higher percentage of employees have not had health complaints since the uniforms may not have had equal chemical treatments applied.
Delta Airlines is not the first airline that flight attendants have had trouble with, due to health issues resulting from their uniforms. Historically, only legal actions have triggered policy changes by affected airlines.8 In 2010 new uniforms were issued to Alaska Airlines attendants. Not long afterward the company received reports of rashes and eye irritation, as well as scaly skin patches, hives and blisters.
The uniforms were manufactured by Twin Hill, which subsequently won a lawsuit filed by the attendants, with the court ruling “there was no reliable evidence that the injuries were caused by the uniforms.” Shortly afterward, the airline received more new uniforms manufactured by Twin Hill and flight attendants again began to report symptoms.
In 2018, a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report noted that there were no complaints in 2015 before the new uniforms were issued. However, by 2016, the airline’s OSHA logs showed 87 skin disorders, 83 of which employees claimed were related to the new uniforms.
Skin symptoms were most common, but employees also reported migraines, shortness of breath, vomiting and hair loss. Employees filed a lawsuit against Twin Hill in 2017 following more than 3,500 complaints.
The case against Alaska Airlines interested researchers from Harvard University9 who were studying the health effects of working in an airplane cabin environment.
Using survey data from 684 flight attendants working for Alaska Airlines before and after the uniforms were issued, they found that respiratory, allergic and dermatological symptoms began to rise after flight attendants started wearing the new uniforms.
Eileen McNeely is a lead researcher in the study from Harvard University, and she believes flight attendants may be inadvertently testing the toxic chemicals that are in their clothing. She describes an ideal laboratory environment for researchers in which the attendants are wearing the same articles of clothing in the same environmental conditions on a consistent basis.
The textile industry is also a major source of environmental pollution. During the dying process, 80% of the dye remains on the fabric while the rest is flushed down the drain. In the case of the uniforms from Delta Airlines, flight attendants said the dye was rubbing off on their skin and airline jump seats.
The dyes cause problems, but so do the chemicals used to fix the color into the fabric. According to Kant,10 the industry uses more than 1,000 chemicals that are directly or indirectly poisonous and damaging to human health.
In addition to using a massive amount of water, producing clothing also pollutes it. A textile mill that produces 8,000 kg (17,637 pounds) of fabric each day can use 1.6 million liters (422,675 gallons) of water to do so. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the fast fashion industry encourages consumers to continually buy the latest fashions, which are sold cheaply.11
Americans buy more and more clothing every year, with the average consumer purchasing more than 65 articles in 2016. At the same time, 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles are thrown out each year.
As Green America wrote in their 2019 Toxic Textiles report, even when recycled, “less than 1% of the resources required to make clothing is recaptured and reused to create new clothing.”
Much of donated clothing ends up being sold to textile recyclers and exported to other countries, all contributing to a growing global waste problem. While speaking to The Guardian, one flight attendant voiced a concern regarding the airline industry, which may potentially identify a challenge in the general population:12
“Image is one of the five metrics that we are rated on by customers that contribute towards our overall profile as employees. As a largely female workforce, it feels as though our general appearance takes priority over our health.”
Irina Mordukhovich, an epidemiologist from Harvard University, said Delta Airlines did not allow the research team access to study the concern. In discussing the issue with The Guardian, she said she saw parallels in how other airline companies historically responded to uniform health concerns:
“The airlines always deny there is a problem. The airlines are very risk averse when it comes to any health research studies. They don’t tend to cooperate.”
On attendant wrote in an email:
“I flew a two-day trip and have been coughing and clearing fluid from my throat all day today. And my voice went last night. But the only way this will change is when the traveling public demands it.”
Realistically, the only way most industries change is when you vote with your pocketbook. Moving forward, consider giving serious thought to cleaning up and “greening” your wardrobe.
Remember, being a conscious consumer does not stop at food and household products. Your clothing can be a source of hazardous chemicals, and cheaply made fast fashion items take a tremendous toll on the environment and the people working in the industry.
Over the past decade, I've written many articles discussing the evidence of biological harm from nonionizing electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation.
While the wireless industry is built on the premise that the only type of radiation capable of causing harm is ionizing — X-rays being one example — researchers have for a long time warned that even nonionizing and non-heating radiation can jeopardize your health. This includes not only human health, but also that of plants and animals.
Over time, I became so convinced of the deleterious effects of EMF, I took three years to write "EMF*D," which is slated to be released in February 2020. In it, I review the now overwhelming evidence showing EMFs are a hidden health hazard that simply cannot be ignored any longer, especially seeing how the rollout of 5G will exponentially increase exposures.
Over the years, I've interviewed several experts who have shared their in-depth knowledge about the poorly understood mechanisms behind EMF harm. Among them:
• Martin Pall, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of biochemistry and basic medical sciences at Washington State University, has published research1,2,3,4 showing that the primary danger of EMFs — and what drives the processes of chronic disease — is the mitochondrial damage triggered by peroxynitrites, one of the most damaging types of reactive nitrogen species.
Low-frequency microwave radiation activates the voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) in the outer membrane of your cells, causing them to open, thus allowing an abnormal influx of calcium ions. This activates nitric oxide, which is a precursor for peroxynitrite.5
These potent reactive nitrogen species are associated with an increased level of systemic inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction, and are thought to be a root cause for many of today's chronic diseases.
For an in-depth understanding of peroxynitrites and the harm they inflict, see "Nitric Oxide and Peroxynitrite in Health and Disease"6 by Dr. Pal Pacher, Joseph Beckman and Dr. Lucas Liaudet. It's one of the best reviews I've ever read and free to download.
One of its most significant downsides of peroxynitrite is that it damages DNA. While your body has the capacity to repair that damage through a family of enzymes collectively known as poly ADP ribose polymerases (PARP), PARP require NAD+ for fuel, and when they run out of NAD+ they stop repairing your DNA, which can lead to premature cell death.
• Dr. Sam Milham, a physician and epidemiologist, wrote the book, "Dirty Electricity: Electrification and the Diseases of Civilization." In his interview, he explains the biological mechanisms of high-frequency electric transients (electromagnetic interference patterns), and details some of the lesser-known household sources of this "dirty electricity."
• Magda Havas, Ph.D., associate professor at Trent University in Canada, has written research including the effects dirty electricity can have on children's behavior, and helpful remediation techniques.
The problem with EMF radiation is that you cannot see it, hear it or smell it, and most do not feel it. Still, researchers assure us that biological effects are taking place whether you're able to sense it or not. For most, it's simply a matter of time and overall exposure load.
Here, it's important to realize that we're not just talking about radiation from your cellphone. The electromagnetic frequencies emitted from your Wi-Fi router, computer, home appliances, all manner of wireless "smart" technology, and even the wiring inside your walls are all capable of inflicting serious biological harm to your body and mind. And with 5G, it's bound to get far worse.
For some, the effects of EMFs are unmistakable and undeniable, and the number of people reporting pathological hypersensitivity to EMFs is rising. In 2008, an Austrian study7 noted that actual prevalence of electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome in Austria had risen by 1.5% since 1994, from 2% to 3.5%.
In 2006, Germany had an electrosensitivity incidence rate of 9%, and Taiwan reported an incidence rate of 13.3% in 2011.8 The RT documentary "Wi-Fi Refugees," featured in "Documentary Explore Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome," investigates the struggles reported by these "canaries in the coal mine."
While symptoms may vary from one individual to another, commonly reported symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome include:
Other reported symptoms include:
Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Feeling a vibration in the body
One 2015 study9 pointed out that electromagnetic hypersensitivity is becoming an increasing challenge to the medical profession, which has yet to fully understand its implications, let alone its remedies.
Still, the complaints of modern-day hypersensitivities match those reported in the 1970s and '80s by those working with radio and radar equipment and cathode ray tube monitors, which tells us that this is not a brand-new phenomenon. According to the authors:10
"In population-based surveys, the prevalence of EHS has ranged from 1.5% in Sweden to 13.3% in Taiwan. Provocation studies on EMF have yielded different results, ranging from where people with EHS cannot discriminate between an active RF signal and placebo, to objectively observed changes following exposure in reactions of the pupil, changes in heart rhythm, damage to erythrocytes, and disturbed glucose metabolism in the brain."
As early as 2005, the World Health Organization warned that people have "for some time" reported health problems attributed to EMF exposure, and that some are "so severely affected that they cease work and change their entire lifestyle."11
The possibility of large portions of the population being unable to work or live as free individuals due to incessant, elevated exposure to EMF is a very real threat to society as we know it. The reality is that there are very few EMF-free zones left on the planet, and such zones will further shrink with the global implementation of 5G.
I believe EMF exposure is one of the greatest challenges to public health facing us today. If we go back in time to the end of World War I, around 1918 or so, and use that timeframe as a baseline of EMF exposure among the general public, you come to the astonishing conclusion that EMF exposure has increased about 1 quintillion times over the past 100 years.
Knowing the impact EMFs can have, it's completely irrational to assume that this radical increase won't have adverse effects. My new book, "EMF*D," is an attempt to inform you about the hidden harms of EMF and what you need to do to protect yourself and those you love. In it, you'll learn:
In my book, I also reveal the reasons why you've been left in the dark about this serious health threat. "EMF*D" comes out February 18, 2020, but you don't need to wait. Preorder your copy today and receive these five bonus gifts immediately:
While a number of studies have shown that cellphone radiation can trigger brain cancer this is not the greatest cause for concern. Your brain does have a far greater density of VGCCs than other organs, but so does your nervous system and heart, as well as male testes.
As a result of the elevated density of VGCCs in these areas, EMFs are likely to contribute to neurological and neuropsychiatric problems,12 as well as heart and reproductive problems, including but not limited to cardiac arrhythmias, anxiety, depression, autism, Alzheimer's and infertility13,14 and miscarriage15,16,17,18 — and these conditions are far more prevalent than brain cancer.
That said, studies have also linked radiofrequency radiation equivalent to that emitted by 2G and 3G cellphones to other forms of cancer, including heart tumors. This includes U.S. government-funded animal studies19 published in 2018 that were further corroborated by the Ramazzini Institute that same year.20
As early as 2011, the evidence was strong enough for the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer research arm of the WHO, to declare cellphones a Group 2B "possible carcinogen."21
I've already mentioned one of the primary mechanisms by which EMFs harm your biology — i.e., the creation of peroxynitrites, which are potent oxidant stressors — but EMFs also damage your health in other ways.
For example, the enzyme ATP synthase — which passes currents of protons into the mitochondrial intermembrane space, similar to current passing through a wire — powers the generation energy of the creation of ATP from ADP, using this flow of protons.
Magnetic fields can change the transparency of the flow of protons to the mitochondrial intermembrane space, thereby reducing the current. As a result, you get less ATP, which can have system wide consequences, from promoting chronic disease and infertility to lowering intelligence.
EMFs may also alter your microbiome, turning what might otherwise be beneficial microbes pathogenic or toxic. This too can have far-ranging health effects, since we now know your microbiome plays an important role in health.
Any and all health ramifications attributed to previous generations of wireless technologies will be exponentially magnified with the rollout of 5G, which is simply being added on top of the already existing wireless infrastructure. This 5th generation technology may also present additional health risks.
A main concern with 5G is that it relies primarily on the bandwidth of the millimeter wave (MMW), which is known to penetrate 1 to 2 millimeters of human skin tissue.22 There's also evidence suggesting sweat ducts in human skin act as antennae when they come in contact with MMWs.23
Many can feel the impact of MMWs as a burning sensation and/or pain, which is precisely why it's used in nonlethal crowd control weapons.24 MMW has also been linked to eye problems, suppressed immune function and altered heart rate variability (an indicator of stress) and arrhythmias.25
In 2015, more than 230 scientists engaged in the study of biological and health effects of nonionizing EMFs in 41 nations signed an international appeal to the United Nations, calling for protection from nonionizing EMF exposure due to evidence of health effects even at low levels.26
Two years later, more than 180 doctors and scientists from 35 countries signed a petition27 to enact a moratorium on the rollout of 5G due to the potential risks to wildlife and human health.
I believe that the risk of EMFs is so important that I’ve decided to answer your questions on this topic in an upcoming video. Please submit any EMF questions you may have by clicking on the button below.
The earlier I get the questions, the greater the likelihood I will have a chance to include them in my response. Looking forward to answering your questions!
There's no doubt in my mind that EMF exposure is an important lifestyle component that needs to be addressed if you're concerned about your health, which is why I spent three years writing "EMF*D."
My aim was to create a comprehensive and informative guide, detailing not only the risks, but also what you can do to mitigate unavoidable exposures. To get you started, see the tips listed in my previous article, "Top 19 Tips to Reduce Your EMF Exposure."
If you know or suspect you might already be developing a sensitivity to EMFs (full-blown hypersensitivity can often strike seemingly overnight), mitigating your exposures will be particularly paramount. Many sufferers become obsessed with finding solutions, as the effects can be severely crippling. My book can be a valuable resource in your quest for relief.
The EMF Experts website28 also lists EMF groups worldwide, to which you can turn with questions, concerns and support, and EMFsafehome.com29 lists a number of publications where you can learn more about the dangers of EMFs.
Should you need help remediating your home, consider hiring a trained building biologist to get it done right. A listing can be found on the International Institute for Building-Biology & Ecology's website.30
BPA was created in 1891; by the 1930s scientists had discovered that the chemical mimics the hormone estrogen in the body. In the 1950s BPA was being used by industry as a chemical to produce strong and often transparent plastic; it’s now known as an endocrine disruptor.1
It took until 2011, however, for the European Union to ban BPA in baby bottles and 2012 before the FDA followed suit.2 According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the chemical is widely used in polycarbonate plastics that are integrated into nearly every industry, including the food industry.
Citizen watchdog groups have petitioned the FDA to remove BPA from packaging that comes in contact with food, but their efforts have been thwarted.3 On its website the FDA states that it believes4 “the available information continues to support the safety of BPA for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging.”
Contrary to the FDA’s approach, the EPA5 believes BPA is a “reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant in animal studies and is weakly estrogenic, there are questions about its potential impact particularly on children's health and the environment.”
Researchers noted in a study published in Environmental Health Sciences that, previously, it was believed that exposure to BPA not only occurs mostly through food, but is quickly cleared from the body. But, when they studied BPA in urine from fasting subjects, they discovered the half-life of BPA, or the time it takes for half the amount ingested to be metabolized, is much longer than they’ve thought.6
Since the levels of BPA did not drop as quickly as expected, they theorized that either BPA builds up in body tissue or there is significant nonfood exposure — or both.
New information also shows that traditional testing used by governmental agencies may have underestimated your exposure to BPA. One group of researchers7 developed a new test to measure BPA metabolites present after the body begins breaking down the chemical.
Following analysis of the data, the authors argued traditional tests used to measure BPA in the body are inaccurate.8 The tests in current use by the FDA indirectly measure the presence of BPA by converting metabolites back to BPA through an enzyme pathway. In their background research, the scientists found:
“Experimental and epidemiological studies provide compelling evidence of a causal link between increasing exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (environmental contaminants with the potential to perturb the development and function of the endocrine system) and increases in non-communicable diseases, including most aspects of metabolic syndrome.”
An expert at Washington State University told Gizmodo the assumption had always been that the original method would be accurate. However, the research team consistently found higher levels of BPA using their testing method. Some levels were measured 44 times higher than estimated by government tests of the same samples.
One of the researchers spoke with Gizmodo and said the implications are especially troubling in those with potentially high exposure, as it’s possible current screening programs are completely missing those at high risk.
This could make it even more difficult to uncover the extensive health impacts of BPA. While the impact of higher levels is still under investigation, the FDA’s assurances that there is little to worry about is questionable since the scale of exposure may be drastically underestimated.
BPA may be the poster child for toxic chemicals in mainstream media, but the new testing method reveals there could be further implications for other chemicals. After a one-year investigation, Environmental Health News (EHN) found a “willful blindness”9 on the part of the FDA in handling the science behind BPA.
They concluded10 regulators could be “operating at the fringes of scientific integrity, possibly with the intent to keep the current testing and regulatory regime intact and to avoid scrutiny.” EHN read hundreds of emails under the Freedom of Information Act. After analyzing the data, they wrote:
The investigative journalists at EHN believe the analysis in the feature study uphold their arguments the FDA testing is woefully inadequate. Laura Vandenberg is a health researcher at the School of Public Health at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She was not involved in the study, but discussed the results with EHN.
As she describes, chemical evaluation may include an assessment of how much of the chemical could be found in consumer products or food that drives exposure. A laboratory assessment is then done based on measurements of human exposure.
Vandenberg points out that when exposure assessments are not accurate, it can throw off the entire result. This study highlights the need to standardize the direct measurement of metabolites and may have a significant impact on measurement of other toxic chemicals in the environment.
In the 1930s after it was discovered that BPA mimics the activity of estrogen, it was in the running to be developed into a pharmacological hormone by Big Pharma.11 Instead they chose another synthetic estrogen, diethylstilbestrol (DES), that was prescribed to millions of pregnant women over the next 30 years before its health risks were discovered.
BPA was then used in the chemical industry. In 1963 it was approved for food and beverage containers and classified is “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS). The argument was the chemical had been used in consumer products for years without obviously causing damage.
Thirty years later in 1993 — the length of time it took the damaging effects of DES to be documented — scientists at Stanford discovered BPA was seeping from lab flasks. It took until 1997, though, for the first studies documenting health damage to be published, after scientists conducted an animal study that demonstrated exposure to tiny amounts of BPA changed the reproductive system and prostate in mice.
By 2008 Canada decided enough evidence had been presented to demonstrate that BPA is toxic; it wasn’t long before manufacturers removed it from baby bottles and sippy cups. However, many of the BPA substitutes currently used in products have a similar chemistry to BPA and present similar risks.12
In one comprehensive review of the literature,13 a Colorado researcher found that 75 of 91 studies pointed to a link between BPA and human health. These had to do with negative effects on perinatal and childhood health as well as that of adults.
The FDA co-led a multimillion-dollar project called Consortium Linking Academic and Regulatory Insights on BPA Toxicity, or CLARITY. Launched in 2012, the project ostensibly was to link data from independent researchers with toxicological information held by the government.
It took aim at settling the dispute between independent scientists and the government over how BPA affects human health. EHN describes the argument between the two camps as:14
“Academics with modern methods and a sophisticated understanding of human physiology versus government and industry scientists who lean on decades-old established science in their evaluation of industrial chemicals.”
Despite all the evidence and a long list of manufacturing chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors, the FDA still appears reluctant to change its testing methodology, clinging to the idea that BPA poses no health risk, and ignoring the mounting peer-reviewed studies showing the opposite.
The truth is FDA’s stance on BPA ignores the results of their own scientific committee established in 1982, which warned of the potential that low concentrations of endocrine-disrupting chemicals were binding to hormone receptors, and that future technology could reveal interference in the endocrine system would have a significant effect on human health.
The CLARITY project was a collaborative effort among the FDA and 14 participating academic scientists. It’s a document that was to be used to decide on any changes that might occur to U.S. regulations on BPA.
But when a draft report from the results was issued in February 2018, the FDA jumped the gun with a public statement saying BPA is still safe to use — a claim that didn’t go down well with the other collaborators, who were busy putting together an independent review of the data.
Cheryl Rosenfeld, University of Missouri biologist and a CLARITY investigator told EHN, “Many of us are not happy with the FDA.”
BPA is just one toxic endocrine-disrupting chemical found in food packaging and leaching from plastics into your food. As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, you may reduce your BPA exposure and potentially the health risks by considering these suggestions:
Eat mostly fresh whole foods. Processed and packaged foods are a common source of BPA and phthalates — particularly cans, but also foods packaged in plastic wrap. Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic and avoid using plastic wrap.
Never use plastic in a microwave as it increases the release of chemicals in the plastic.
Be aware that even "BPA-free" plastics typically leach other endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are just as bad as BPA.
Look for products made by companies that are Earth-friendly, animal-friendly, sustainable, certified organic and GMO-free.
Buy products in glass bottles rather than plastic or cans.
Check your home's tap water for contaminants and filter the water if necessary.
Teach your children not to drink water from the garden hose to avoid plastic chemicals.
Be careful with cash register receipts. In stores you visit regularly, encourage the management to switch to BPA-free receipts.
Breastfeed your baby exclusively if possible, for at least the first year (to avoid endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure from infant formula packaging and plastic bottles/nipples). If bottle-feeding, use glass baby bottles rather than plastic ones.
Choose toys made from natural materials to avoid plastic chemicals, particularly items your child may be prone to suck or chew on.
As discussed in my November 5, 2019, article, “Trojan Horse of Measles — More Vaccines With the Mandate,” while most state legislation targeting vaccination mandates have focused on measles, what tends to get lost in the debate is that these mandatory vaccination laws are likely to be extended to all vaccines, including the influenza vaccine, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and any number of vaccines licensed and recommended by the federal government in the future.
In other words, measles outbreaks and the fear-mongering by exaggerating disease risks and minimizing vaccine risks are being cleverly used to create propaganda to eliminate the legal right to make vaccine choices across the board. As just one example, in “Trojan Horse of Measles,” I discuss how a bill has been introduced in New York that requires children to be vaccinated against HPV in order to attend day care and public school.
This, despite the incredible health risks associated with the HPV vaccine and its low benefit-to-risk ratio,1 not to mention the fact that it has never been proven to lower cancer rates. On the contrary, emerging data suggest the incidence of cervical cancer increased in Sweden after HPV vaccine was recommended for all girls and women aged 9 to 26 years.
Scientific evidence of an increase in the incidence of HPV-related cervical cancer in Sweden between 2006 and 20152 was published in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics in 2018. The study raised questions about whether women are at increased risk for cervical cancer if they are vaccinated after they have been infected with HPV, which is an asymptomatic viral infection that is cleared from the body within two years by more than 90 percent of women and men.3
The study was retracted a few weeks after it was published. The retraction was not due to falsification of data, but because the scientist who wrote the study used a pseudonym and false affiliation due to fear he would be harmed for publishing his findings. As explained in the retraction statement by the publisher:4
“On inquiry, the author informed us that he had used a pseudonym besides a false affiliation. He later made his identity known to IJME’s editor on the promise of strict confidentiality.
On verification of his identity, the editor confirmed that (a) the author had the necessary qualifications, expertise and research experience on the subject of the article; and (b) the author did face a credible threat of harm, making it necessary not to be named publicly.
Further we reconfirmed the reviewers’ conclusions: that the article used publicly available data with a simple statistical method; made a fair attempt to report a possible association of the increased incidence of carcinoma cervix with HPV vaccination …
We felt that the data and analysis could be scientifically appreciated and critiqued without reference to the author … Following our decision, we received valuable advice from our editorial board and other well-wishers, emphasizing that there should be zero tolerance to the author’s deception, irrespective of the content of the paper.
While our assessment of the science of the article may be correct, we have concluded that tolerating the author’s deception and retaining the article was an error of judgment. … We hope that the hypothesis of possible harm of vaccinating women previously exposed to HPV is carefully explored in future studies.”
Chairman and chief legal counsel for Children's Health Defense Robert F. Kennedy Jr. stated in “The Plaintiff’s Science Day Presentation on Gardasil,” that Merck’s HPV vaccine Gardasil “has distinguished itself as the most dangerous vaccine ever invented."
In his presentation, Kennedy reveals Merck data showing Gardasil increases the overall risk of death by 370%, risk of autoimmune disease by 2.3% and risk of a serious medical condition by 50%.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health5 found that women who received HPV vaccinations suffered higher rates of infertility. According to this study, “if 100% of females in this study had received the HPV vaccine, data suggest the number of women having ever conceived would have fallen by 2 million."
After “skeptic” critics of scientific evidence that vaccines have significant health risks publicly attacked the study, the paper was withdrawn by the publisher.6
A 2014 case report paper7 described cases of three adolescent girls who suffered premature ovarian insufficiency after their HPV vaccinations — a condition that can render them incapable of bearing children in the future. Conveniently, Merck, maker of Gardasil, is also “the world market leader in fertility treatments,” according to the European Pharmaceutical Review.8
Unfortunately, our media no longer fulfill their public duty. Rather than presenting both sides of an argument, most mainstream media now act as mouthpieces for pharmaceutical industry propaganda, and this is particularly true where vaccines are concerned.
Public health agencies are also falling short of their duty, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention included, which for years has lied about accepting funds from corporations making and selling drugs and vaccines.
Several watchdog groups are now petitioning the CDC to cease making false disclaimers about not accepting commercial support, and to retroactively acknowledge conflicts of interest.
Another lawsuit, filed by the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN) in 2018 against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, revealed the HHS — in violation of federal law — has not provided a single required biannual vaccine safety report to Congress since 1988.9 As noted by ICAN founder Del Bigtree:10
"It is apparent that HHS doesn't have a clue as to the actual safety profile of the now 39 doses, and growing, of vaccines given by one year of age, including in utero. In 1986, a one-year old child received 11 doses.
HHS spends billions annually promoting vaccines and generates a steady stream of reports promoting vaccines. Yet, when, despite federal law, HHS cannot bother to complete the simple task of preparing a biennial report on vaccine safety, there is little hope HHS is tackling the much harder job of improving vaccine safety."
A 2018 article11 in The BMJ highlights the media’s influence over vaccine policy and how journalists are misleading the public about vaccine safety and effectiveness. The article, “Reporting Flu Vaccine Science,” written by freelance journalist Rob Wipond, notes:
“When reporting on medical studies, the popular press has a habit of sensationalizing. So the muted response to a recent research paper12 reporting increased risk of miscarriage with influenza vaccines was at first sight surprising.
The study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that women who had received an influenza vaccine containing the 2009 pandemic strain pH1N1 and who were also vaccinated in the next flu season had a statistically significant, 7.7-fold higher odds of spontaneous abortion within 28 days of the second vaccination …
The concerning odds ratio fostered extensive discussion in the paper. But the news media projected an air of calm, highlighting the observational study’s many limitations.”
Among the “muted” press coverage cited by Wipond is The Washington Post’s report13 on the study, written by Lena Sun, which significantly downplayed the findings and urged pregnant women to continue getting their annual flu shot.
This isn’t surprising considering Sun was one of three journalists hand-selected by the CDC to get exclusive early access to the findings, knowing she could be trusted to report on the study in a way that would minimize influenza vaccine risks so pregnant women would be persuaded to get a flu shot during every pregnancy.14,15
In a reply to Wipond’s article, retired pediatrician Allan S. Cunningham seconds many of Wipond’s concerns, stating:16
“After weeks of brooding about the Donahue article linking flu shots to miscarriages … it was with a sense of relief that I read Rob Wipond’s narrative of media attempts to sweep a serious vaccine safety issue under the rug.
He points out the hypocrisy (his words were ‘double standard’) of authorities who dismissed the Donahue paper because it was an ‘observational study.’ Year after year they have quoted observational studies to announce, ‘ … 80% vaccine effectiveness … 60% effectiveness … 40% effectiveness …’
They do not mention that these studies make no effort to look for adverse vaccine effects (e.g. narcolepsy, seizures, high fever, oculorespiratory syndrome). They do not mention ‘negative vaccine effectiveness,’ the increase in risk of illness from influenza and non-influenza viruses associated with (or caused by) the vaccines …
They do not mention that a vaccine ‘effective’ in one season may increase influenza risk in a subsequent season … They do not mention that the observational studies they refer to are likely to exaggerate vaccine effectiveness in the first place because of the ‘healthy user effect’ well known to epidemiologists …
Wipond does not mention another technique used to dismiss legitimate vaccine safety concerns, having to do with ‘statistical significance.’ Recently, a large cohort study17 found that flu shots given during the first trimester of pregnancy were associated with a 20% increase in autism spectrum disorder in the offspring.
P for the association was 0.01, and the authors acknowledged that, if it was causal, would mean four (4) additional autism cases for every 1,000 mothers vaccinated.
However, they incorrectly used a statistical manipulation to adjust the finding into ‘non-significance’ … One typical media headline about the study was, ‘Flu vaccine during pregnancy not linked to autism’ … This kind of thing goes on all the time with news releases for vaccine research.”
Washington Post reporter Lena Sun has published a number of patently false claims about vaccines,18 and has attacked me personally for making fully referenced and scientifically provable statements about vaccine risks and the fact that maintaining adequate vitamin D levels has been shown to be effective in preventing respiratory infections, even more effective than the flu vaccine.
In a November 21, 2019, article,19 journalist Jeremy Hammond details four instances that exemplify how Sun has lied about vaccine safety. To repeat but one, Sun has stated that:20
“The effectiveness of the vaccine schedule is tested extensively to ensure that the vaccines in the combination don’t interfere with one another and can be easily handled by the infant and the child’s immune system. No new immunization is added to the schedule until it has been evaluated both alone and when given with the other current immunizations.”
As noted by Hammond, this is “a brazen lie,” as published papers21 and even committees at the Institute of Medicine22 (which the CDC considers an authoritative source) have warned about the complete lack of such testing, and the fact that there not only is inadequate scientific evidence to prove safety of the CDC’s birth to age 6 childhood vaccination schedule, but that the synergistic effects of giving multiple vaccines to infants and children has not been adequately studied.
New York, New Jersey and other states have introduced bills to mandate Influenza vaccines for children and adults,23 while the mainstream media continues to ignore evidence that routine flu vaccination increases risks for influenza infections during pandemic outbreaks. A study24 published in the Journal of Virology in 2011 pointed out that:
“Infection with seasonal influenza A viruses induces immunity to potentially pandemic influenza A viruses of other subtypes (heterosubtypic immunity).”
And that “long-term annual vaccination using inactivated vaccines may hamper the induction of cross-reactive CD8+ T cell responses by natural infections and thus may affect the induction of heterosubtypic immunity.”
The study’s authors note that long-term annual vaccination, in turn, “may render young children who have not previously been infected with an influenza virus more susceptible to infection with a pandemic influenza virus of a novel subtype.”
In simpler terms, while naturally experiencing and recovering from type A influenza can provide immunity against other subtypes of the influenza virus, it appears that vaccination does not do that, making previously vaccinated children more susceptible to pandemic flu strains. (Pandemic influenza is when a new influenza A virus appears that spreads easily among individuals and spreads globally.25)
Other studies linking annual flu vaccination with increased risk of illness are listed in my March 2019 article “Is the Flu Vaccine Really ‘Working Well’ This Year?”
Mainstream media outlets also will not admit that Pharma bias compromises the results of most vaccine studies. Yet the presence of such bias was clearly highlighted in a 2010 study26 by the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews, in which they assessed the effectiveness of flu vaccines in preventing influenza and complications in healthy adults and included a clear warning:
“Influenza vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission.
WARNING: This review includes 15 out of 36 trials funded by industry (four had no funding declaration). An earlier systematic review of 274 influenza vaccine studies published up to 2007 found industry funded studies were published in more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size.
Studies funded from public sources were significantly less likely to report conclusions favorable to the vaccines. The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies. The content and conclusions of this review should be interpreted in light of this finding.”
According to reporter Sun of The Washington Post, I lie when I say that maintaining adequate vitamin D levels outperforms the flu vaccine, yet published studies have come to this exact conclusion and the results have been published by other mainstream reporters.
For example, in 2017, BBC News reported27 the findings of a systematic review28 published in The BMJ, which concluded that vitamin D supplementation protected against acute respiratory tract infection.
The number needed to treat (NNT) was 33, meaning 33 people had to take the supplement in order to prevent a single case of infection. Among those with severe vitamin D deficiency at baseline, the NNT was 4.
As reported by BBC News,29 “That is more effective than flu vaccination, which needs to treat 40 to prevent one case,30 although flu is far more serious than the common cold.”
The BBC actually downplays the findings when it says “flu is far more serious than the common cold,” because the NNT of 40 that BBC News cites refers to the overall effectiveness of inactivated vaccine against influenza-like illness (ILI), which the World Health Organization defines31 as “an acute respiratory infection.” (About 80 percent of all lab tested ILI cases do not test positive for A or B influenza but are caused by other types of viral and bacterial infections.)32
In other words, comparing the NNT of 33 for vitamin D with 40 for the flu vaccine is entirely accurate and appropriate as far as ILI or acute respiratory infection is concerned.
According to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews cited by the BBC, to prevent one case of confirmed influenza, the NNT for inactivated vaccines was 71.33 The Harvard Gazette also published the findings of that BMJ study under the headline, “Study Confirms Vitamin D Protects Against Colds and Flu.”34
The association between low vitamin D levels and influenza has been recognized for some time (although low vitamin D levels may not be the sole factor responsible for the seasonality increases of influenza and ILI35). As noted in “Epidemic Influenza and Vitamin D,” published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection in 2006:36
“An interventional study showed that vitamin D reduces the incidence of respiratory infections in children. We conclude that vitamin D, or lack of it, may be Hope-Simpson's ‘seasonal stimulus.’”
Similarly, a 2010 study37 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that “vitamin D3 supplementation during the winter may reduce the incidence of influenza A” in schoolchildren, especially those “who had not been taking other vitamin D supplements and who started nursery school after age 3.”
A 2009 systematic review38 of randomized controlled trials in which supplemental vitamin D was assessed for its ability to prevent or treat various infectious diseases found that the strongest evidence supporting the use of vitamin D existed for tuberculosis, influenza and viral upper respiratory tract illnesses.
In 2018, a randomized, controlled clinical trial39 published in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal found that infants receiving high doses of vitamin D who went on to develop influenza had significantly shorter duration of illness compared to those who received a lower dosage.
According to the authors, “High-dose vitamin D (1200 IU) is suitable for the prevention of seasonal influenza as evidenced by rapid relief from symptoms, rapid decrease in viral loads and disease recovery.”
A shortcoming of many (if not most) studies looking at vitamin D’s effects on preventing ILI and/or influenza is that they focus on dosage rather than blood levels, and we now know that it’s achieving a certain blood level that matters, not how much vitamin D it takes to get there. Most studies also use dosages around 1,000 or 2,000 IU’s a day, which are unlikely to raise blood levels of vitamin D to any significant degree.
If you've never heard of sewage sludge — a term often used interchangeably with biosolids — you're in for a surprise, as this waste product, which is every bit as unappealing as it sounds, is applied to farmland, gardens, schoolyards, lawns and more across the U.S. The food you eat may very well have come from land treated with sewage sludge, which could have implications for human health and the environment.
What exactly is sewage sludge? When wastewater and stormwater enter wastewater treatment facilities, the solid and liquid waste are separated. The solids are "digested" using bacteria, treated, dried and then sent to landfills or used for agricultural purposes as "fertilizer."
It may sound shocking, but this practice is allowed and endorsed by the U.S. EPA. It's not only legal but routine to grow food on sewage sludge-treated land, even though the sludge, by definition, can contain any number of toxic chemicals that may not be removed via treatment. The Center for Food Safety explained:1
"These separated processed solids — sewage sludge — contain numerous known and unknown hazardous materials.
This includes everything that is flushed into the sewer system, including: household, medical, chemical, and industrial waste; chemicals and metals that leach from the sewer pipes themselves; and novel materials that are created in the wastewater treatment plant as a result of the combination of chemicals and organic compounds present."
In the U.S., 54% of sewage sludge biosolids are used for so-called "beneficial" purposes. Most often this means they're applied to agricultural sites, although small amounts are also applied to forestry sites and reclamation sites, including Superfund and Brownfield lands and urban areas, including park land.
Broken down, it's estimated that 36% of biosolids are used for agricultural purposes while 28% end up in landfills and 15% are incinerated.2
The fact is, humans produce a healthy amount of waste — an estimated 300 million pounds of feces are produced daily by Americans alone, for instance. How to dispose of this biosolid sludge is a vexing problem worldwide, so theoretically, turning the waste product into a beneficial product like fertilizer makes sense, assuming it could be thoroughly purified.
Therein lies the problem, however. The Guardian quoted former EPA scientist David Lewis, who opposed the use of sewage sludge on cropland. Lewis noted, "Spending billions of dollars to remove hazardous chemicals and biological wastes from water, only to spread them on soil everywhere we live, work and play defies common sense."3
While it's true that sewage sludge contains similar ingredients to synthetic fertilizer, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, it also contains countless other pollutants that are byproducts of modern-day life. As noted by The Guardian:4
" … [T]he excrement from which sludge derives has mixed with any number of 80,000 manmade chemicals that are discharged from industry's pipes or otherwise pumped into the sewer system.
By the time the mix lands in treatment plants, it can teem with pharmaceuticals, hormones, pathogens, bacteria, viruses, protozoa and parasitic worms, as well as heavy metals like lead, cadmium, arsenic or mercury. It often includes PCBs, PFAS, dioxins, BPAs and dozens of other harmful substances ranging from flame retardants to hospital waste."
It's worth noting that while sewage sludge used to be disposed of primarily by burning it or releasing it into the ocean, this practice was banned over concerns that it would pollute the air and water. But spreading it onto soil has somehow received a safety approval from regulatory agencies,5 including the EPA, which describes them as purely beneficial:6
"They [biosolids] are nutrient-rich organic materials resulting from the treatment of domestic sewage in a treatment facility. When treated and processed, these residuals can be recycled and applied as fertilizer to improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth."
As part of the Clean Water Act, the EPA must review biosolids standards every two years. Technically speaking, the EPA refers to sewage sludge that has gone through treatment and meets EPA standards for land application as "biosolids."
Part of the review includes identifying pollutants that are present. Based on these biennial reviews and three national sewage sludge surveys, the EPA identified 352 pollutants in biosolids,7 including the following:8
Dioxins and dioxin-like compounds
Certain organics (i.e., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, semivolatiles)
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants)
Steroids and hormones
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances
In a report from the U.S. Office of Inspector General (OIG) released November 2018, it's concluded that the EPA is unable to assess the impact of the hundreds of unregulated pollutants applied to land via biosolids on human health and the environment.9
The report was the result of an audit conducted by OIG to determine whether the EPA has controls over the application of biosolids to land in order to protect human and environmental health.
OIG concluded that the EPA "lacked the data or risk assessment tools needed to make a determination on the safety of 352 pollutants found in biosolids" and noted that 61 of the identified pollutants are "acutely hazardous, hazardous or priority pollutants in other programs."10
Further, while the EPA could conduct full risk assessments to gauge biosolids risks, it is not required to do so. Overall, OIG found that the EPA biosolids program was likely not protecting public health and the environment:11
"The EPA has reduced staff and resources in the biosolids program over time, creating barriers to addressing control weaknesses identified in the program.
Past reviews showed that the EPA needed more information to fully examine the health effects and ecological impacts of land-applied biosolids. Although the EPA could obtain additional data to complete biosolids risk assessments, it is not required to do so.
Without such data, the agency cannot determine whether biosolids pollutants with incomplete risk assessments are safe. The EPA's website, public documents and biosolids labels do not explain the full spectrum of pollutants in biosolids and the uncertainty regarding their safety.
Consequently, the biosolids program is at risk of not achieving its goal to protect public health and the environment."
Research from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has also shown household chemicals and drugs are found in biosolids originating from wastewater treatment plants.12 The researchers purchased or obtained nine different biosolids and analyzed them for 87 organic chemicals, finding 55 were detected in measurable amounts and as many as 45 were found in a single sample.
Researchers have also looked into how polyester microfibers may be affecting microorganisms in the soil, especially since sewage sludge is loaded with microfibers.13 They found that the microplastics did, indeed, lead to changes in the soil, including altering the bulk density, water-holding capacity and microbial activity.
Writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers noted that wastewater treatment plants act as receptors for the "cumulative loading of microplastics." The solids and liquids are separated using a settlement process, which results in the majority of microplastics (MP ending up in sewage sludge.
Different methods of treatment affected the end number of particles found in the sludge, but the study found microplastic amounts ranging from 4,196 to 15,385 particles kg–1 (dry weight) in sludge samples.14
The researchers noted, "This study highlights the potential for sewage sludge treatment processes to affect the risk of MP pollution prior to land spreading and may have implications for legislation governing the application of biosolids to agricultural land."
Microplastics may act like sponges for contaminants including heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or pathogens, for instance, and may cause harm on a cellular or subcellular level,15 raising serious questions about the risks of exposing soil to them.
Indeed, wastewater treatment plants are efficient at removing microplastics from sewage, but they become trapped in the sludge. This helps keep them out of waterways, unless they're applied to agricultural soils (which may run off into waterways).
When researchers evaluated 31 fields that had applications of sewage sludge, microplastics were found in the samples at levels ranging from 18 to 41 particles g−1, with a median of 34 particles g−1.16 What's more, the microplastic levels increased on fields with higher rates of sludge applications.
"Our results indicate that microplastic counts increase over time where successive sludge applications are performed," the researchers noted, adding, "Sludge is proposed as a primal driver of soil microplastic pollution."17
Sewage sludge is passed off as a cost-effective fertilizer for farmers, but some have lost their livelihoods after the toxic waste contaminated their farms. One such farmer is Fred Stone in Maine, who applied biosolids to his hayfields intended to feed his dairy cattle for decades, not knowing it could be contaminated with PFAS, chemicals associated with cancer, liver damage, low birth weight and hypothyroidism.
Milk from Stone's cows later tested positive for PFAS, forcing him to dump hundreds of gallons of milk a day.18 In March 2019, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection added a requirement to test sewage sludge for PFAS before it's applied to land.19
This is just the tip of the iceberg, as long-term application of sewage sludge also increases the abundance and diversity of antibiotic resistance genes in soil.20 In a study from the University of York in the United Kingdom, data even revealed plants suffer when biosolids are applied to the soil.21
Even with low-level exposure, the drugs studied interfered with plant hormones that support defense against predators and diseases. The drugs also damaged the plants' ability to make energy from sunlight, and at higher concentrations the research team saw a drop in the leaves' levels of chlorophyll. At high concentrations, the plants experienced stunted roots and burnt edges on the leaves.
Foods grown on biosolid-treated soil are not labeled as such, so your best bet for avoiding them is to support sustainable agriculture movements in your area. Make it a point to only buy food from a source you know and trust — one using safe, nontoxic organic or biodynamic farming methods.
If you grow your own food, also be aware that companies do not have to disclose when biosolids are used, so there's really no way of knowing what's in your bag of potting soil or compost. Composted products can have the USDA organic label on them and still be loaded with toxic biosolids.
If you see "milogranite" on the label, it contains biosolids from the City of Milwaukee — a national distributor. Your best bet is to buy organic potting soil and/or compost from a local nursery you know and trust, that can guarantee no biosolids have been added.
Just as important for your health as what you eat is what you drink. Hopefully, everyone who reads my newsletters is drinking plenty of pure water a day and completely abstaining from soda.
Around the world, coffee and tea are, after water, the most common beverages people consume and that is a good thing. Unlike soda, which has many negative health effects, both organic coffee and tea are leading sources of antioxidant polyphenols, which are beneficial substances.
Scientific research has linked coffee to a lower risk of heart failure and stroke,1 as well as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, diabetes and some types of cancer.2 Another study showed that it may be associated with a lower risk of cognitive disorders.3 Tea is also a healthy beverage linked to impressive benefits.
Writing in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology,4 researchers found that drinking tea at least three times a week is linked with lower risks of cardiovascular disease and all-cause death.
"The favorable health effects are the most robust for green tea and for long-term habitual tea drinkers," added Xinyan Wang of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, China, the study's first author, about the research.5
Cardiovascular disease is the world's leading cause of premature death, write the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology researchers, and tea is one of the world's most widely consumed beverages, especially in Asia. The aim of the study was to examine the association between atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) and all-cause mortality and tea drinking.6
Results from observing 100,902 participants in the study over a period of years found that habitual tea drinkers lived 1.26 years longer than their counterparts. They were also free from ASCVD for 1.41 years longer than their non-tea drinking counterparts.7
To ensure scientific validity, 1,896 study participants were excluded because they had a history of ASCVD or cancer and 2,465 were excluded because information about their tea drinking habits was lacking. While there have been medical studies about tea drinking and cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD), this study added new information to what is known, say the scientists:8
"Several previous studies assessed the association between tea consumption and CVD and all-cause mortality, but the results remained inconsistent. Studies among Welsh men and US adults did not observe significant inverse associations of tea consumption (mainly as black tea) with CHD or CVD risks.
In the Japanese population, green tea consumption could reduce the risk of CVD while there was no unanimous conclusion on all-cause mortality. Previous Chinese studies found inverse association between tea consumption and CHD incidence but the reports for stroke and cause-specific mortality were only based on men.
According to our study, habitual tea consumption is associated with a lower risk of ASCVD incidence (including CHD and stroke), ASCVD mortality (especially for stroke), and all-cause mortality and these inverse associations were persistent across subgroups.
… The observed inverse associations were strengthened among participants who stuck to their habit all along. Similarly, previous studies in the USA and in China also reported more evident health effects with longer years of tea consumption."
In the study, not all participants drank the same kind of tea. Forty-nine percent of habitual tea drinkers who participated consumed green tea, while only 8% drank black tea and the remainder, 43%, drank scented or other types of tea.9 Green tea, it turns out, was the most healthful of the tested teas.
"Habitual green tea consumption was inversely associated with the risks of all study outcomes except CHD mortality, as compared with those never or non-habitual tea drinkers. No significant association was observed for black tea …
Tea, especially green tea, is a rich source of flavonoids including mainly epicatechin, catechin, and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), etc. Mechanism studies have revealed that these bioactive compounds could attenuate oxidative stress, relieve inflammation, enhance endothelial and cardiomyocyte function …
Tea polyphenols might be oxidized into pigments and inactivated during fermentation, which might be partly the reason why black tea was prone to be less associated with health benefits in many studies."10
There are other reasons black tea may not be as beneficial, speculates SciTech Today:11
"Black tea is fully fermented and during this process polyphenols are oxidized into pigments and may lose their antioxidant effects. Second, black tea is often served with milk, which previous research has shown may counteract the favorable health effects of tea on vascular function."
Black tea also has almost five times the caffeine content of green tea, which is important for those seeking to reduce their caffeine consumption to realize (although in some cases, caffeine may be beneficial). It is also known to stain the teeth.12
Tea, particularly green tea, has been linked with other health benefits. In one study of prostate cancer (PCa), the second most frequently diagnosed cancer, the journal Medicine, Baltimore, wrote that "there was a trend of reduced incidence of PCa with each 1 cup/day increase of green tea."13
"Our dose-response meta-analysis further demonstrated that higher green tea consumption was linearly associated with a reduced risk of PCa with more than 7 cups/day. In addition, green tea catechins were effective for preventing PCa.
In conclusion, our dose-response meta-analysis evaluated the association of green tea intake with PCa risk systematically and quantitatively. And this is the first meta-analysis of green tea catechins consumption and PCa incidence.
Our novel data demonstrated that higher green tea consumption was linearly reduced PCa risk with more than 7cups/day and green tea catechins were effective for preventing PCa."
A 2017 study in the journal Nutrition and Cancer14 found a significant inverse dose-response association between green tea drinking and liver cancer risk. That inverse association increased with years of green tea drinking and when four cups a day of green tea were consumed.
Studies have also associated green tea with reduced risk of depression,15 obesity,16 stroke17 and bone thinning,18 and improvements to vision.19 A central reason for green tea's benefits is its catechin epigallocatechin-3-gallate, which helps your arteries relax and improves blood fIow.20
To receive more benefits from the catechins found in teas, which are natural phenol and antioxidant compounds, you can add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, which will help absorption.21 However, beware of nonorganic teas that are grown in polluted environments — they can contain heavy metals or fluoride, which could lead to skeletal fluorosis. Instant tea may also contain excessive fluoride.22
An epidemiological project called Blue Zones seeks to document and analyze the lifestyle particulars found in communities that have the highest number of people who live past 100. Here is what National Public Radio reported:23
"The people in these five regions in Europe, Latin America, Asia and the U.S. that live to be 100 have a lot going for them. Genes probably play a small role, but these folks also have strong social ties, tightly-knit families and lots of opportunity to exercise.
As we were parsing through the dietary secrets of the Blue Zones, as described in author Dan Buettner's latest book, The Blues Zones Solution, we were struck by how essential tea drinking is in these regions.
In fact, Buettner's Blue Zones Beverage Rule — a kind of guideline distilled from his 15 or so years of studying these places — is: 'Drink coffee for breakfast, tea in the afternoon, wine at 5 p.m.'
In Okinawa, Japan, for example, Buettner watched one 104-year-old 'make jasmine tea, squatting in the corner and pouring hot water over tea leaves as the room filled with a delicate, floral aroma.' Indeed, Okinawans call their tea shan-pien, or 'tea with a bit of scent,' which combines green tea leaves, jasmine flowers and a bit of turmeric."
Black and green tea are probably the teas that are studied the most frequently, but oolong, dark and white teas also have benefits. Like black and green tea, they come from the plant known as Camellia sinensis, although hibiscus tea, described below, does not.
• Oolong tea — This tea is great for weight management and heart health: The polyphenols in oolong tea help control fat metabolism in your body by activating certain enzymes. A 2001 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that participants who ingested either full-strength or diluted oolong tea burned 2.9% to 3.4% more total calories daily.24
• Hibiscus tea — High in vitamin C, minerals and antioxidants, tea made from hibiscus sabdariffa (also called Sudan tea, sour tea and roselle) has benefits for overall health. Studies suggest it may improve blood pressure, help prevent metabolic syndrome, protect your liver and even provide anticancer effects.25
In a study in the journal ARYA Atherosclerosis, consumption of tea made from hibiscus sabdariffa led to a decrease in systolic blood pressure in healthy men compared with the placebo.26
• Matcha — Matcha is a type of green tea, but unlike regular green tea, in which you steep and discard the leaves, when you drink matcha you consume the entire leaves, which are ground micron fine. Studies indicate that 1 cup of matcha may provide the antioxidant equivalent of 3 cups of regular green tea and as much as 137 times more antioxidants than low-grade green tea.27
• Darjeeling — Made from the Chinese variety of Camellia sinensis, darjeeling tea contains two complex antioxidants called theaflavins and thearubigins that help neutralize harmful free radicals, and potentially reduce free radical damage that can target cell membranes and DNA, and raise your risk for chronic illness.
There are more coffee drinkers than tea drinkers in the U.S., yet the varieties and benefits of tea are worth exploring and making part of your diet. People who drink tea are enjoying many health benefits as they also partake of an enjoyable and comforting beverage.
1 Which of the following spices is a gum resin with an offensive rotten smell that gives a lovely umami taste to many Indian and other savory dishes?
2 Which of the following U.S. agencies is responsible for regulating cannabidiol (CBD) and dictates its legal status on the federal level?
3 Just as nutritional deficiencies can cause severe problems, so can certain excesses. Which of the following has been shown to encourage cancer, heart disease, diabetes, neurodegeneration and more, when your levels are too high?
4 Which of the following has been identified as contributing to the opioid crisis in the U.S.?
5 Which of the following exercise strategies has been shown to effectively lower stress and anxiety, improve cognition and reduce body image dissatisfaction?
6 Which of the following health benefits have been linked to regular sauna use?
7 Lactic acid tolerance refers to your body's ability to:
When it comes to heart health, one of the most influential nutrients is magnesium. While required for the healthy function of most cells in your body, magnesium is particularly important for your heart, kidneys and muscles.
As far back as 1937, researchers warned that low magnesium levels pose serious risks to the heart, and that it may actually be the most significant predictor of heart disease.1 More recent research suggests even subclinical magnesium deficiency can compromise your cardiovascular health.2
Importantly, your mitochondria require magnesium to produce ATP. It's also required for the metabolic function of your cells and the activation of vitamin D.3,4 All of these are important for healthy heart function.
It also supports heart health by relaxing your blood vessels, normalizing blood pressure, lowering inflammation and supporting endothelial function (the cells' lining the interior of your blood vessels).5
To celebrate its 175th anniversary, Scientific American recently took a look back into its archives, publishing a short summary of research presented in its June 1969 issue:6
"Several studies in the past decade have suggested that the death rate from coronary disease is inversely correlated with the hardness of the local water supply: the harder the water, the lower the coronary rate.
A study7 recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports evidence that the excess coronary deaths in soft-water areas are almost entirely sudden deaths …"
By reviewing the death certificates of 55,000 individuals who died from heart-related issues in Ontario during 1967, and then correlating the deaths according to the hardness of the local water supply, the Canadian researchers were able to conclude that people drinking soft water on a regular basis were more susceptible to lethal arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat). What might explain this curious correlation?
One theory has focused on the magnesium level found in the water.8 Soft water is lower in magnesium than hard water, thus making you more prone to magnesium deficiency. (The very definition of hard water is that it contains a high concentration of dissolved metals — calcium and magnesium in particular.9,10)
According to a 2002 study,11 magnesium-rich mineral water can contribute between 6% and 17% of your total daily magnesium intake. That said, a 2013 paper12 in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine points out that the exact mechanisms responsible for the relationship often found between harder water and lower cardiovascular risk has yet to be ascertained.
The higher magnesium level in hard water appears to be a promising hypothesis, though, and several studies point to magnesium-rich water being an important factor. As noted in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, which cites a number of such studies (as well as some in which this relationship was not found):13
"In a Swedish study, the skeletal muscle magnesium levels were a significantly higher in persons living in an area with a higher water magnesium."
As mentioned, magnesium supports heart health through a number of different mechanisms.14 For starters, it combats inflammation, which helps prevent high blood pressure and hardening of your arteries. It also improves blood flow by relaxing your arteries and preventing your blood from thickening.
Magnesium also plays a role in the creation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of your body.15,16 Needless to say, without sufficient energy, cellular functions throughout your body will suffer, creating a cascade of dysfunction. Your heart in particular, being a very heavy energy user, needs sufficient amounts of ATP to function properly.
Magnesium also affects your mitochondrial function and health, as it's required both for increasing the number of mitochondria in your cells and for increasing mitochondrial efficiency.
Basic effects such as these can account for why magnesium insufficiency has been linked to a higher risk for high blood pressure,17 cardiovascular disease, arrhythmias, stroke18 and sudden cardiac death.19
A 2018 paper20 in the Open Heart journal also warns that even subclinical deficiency can result in heart problems, and that most people need at least 300 milligrams more magnesium per day than the current recommended dietary allowance prescribes. According to the authors:
"… While the recommended … dietary allowance for magnesium (between 300 and 420 mg /day for most people) may prevent frank magnesium deficiency, it is unlikely to provide optimal health and longevity, which should be the ultimate goal."
The theory that we may need more magnesium than is currently recognized is also supported by a 2016 meta-analysis,21 in which all-cause mortality was lowered by 10% simply by increasing magnesium intake by 100 mg per day.
Magnesium is also important for brain health and the prevention of dementia. Memory impairment occurs when the connections (synapses) between brain cells diminish. While many factors can come into play, magnesium is an important one. As noted by Dr. David Perlmutter, a neurologist and fellow of the American College of Nutrition:22
"It has now been discovered that magnesium is a critical player in the activation of nerve channels that are involved in synaptic plasticity. That means that magnesium is critical for the physiological events that are fundamental to the processes of learning and memory.
As it turns out, one form of magnesium, magnesium threonate, has the unique ability to permeate the brain and enhance the receptors that are involved in this process."
The specific brain benefits of magnesium threonate were demonstrated in a 2010 study23 published in the journal Neuron, which found this form of magnesium enhanced "learning abilities, working memory, and short- and long-term memory in rats." According to the authors:24
"Our findings suggest that an increase in brain magnesium enhances both short-term synaptic facilitation and long-term potentiation and improves learning and memory functions."
Magnesium is also a well-recognized stress reliever,25 and by catalyzing mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin, it helps prevent anxiety and depression.26
Research27 published in 2015 found a significant association between very low magnesium intake and depression, especially in younger adults. A study28 published in PLOS ONE demonstrated magnesium supplementation improved mild-to-moderate depression in adults, with beneficial effects occurring within two weeks of treatment.
When it comes to measuring your magnesium level, your best bet is an RBC magnesium test, which measures the amount of magnesium in your red blood cells. Tracking any symptoms of magnesium deficiency is also recommended, as your need may be higher or lower depending on your lifestyle and health status.
Common signs and symptoms of magnesium insufficiency include but are not limited to the following.29,30 A more exhaustive symptom's list can be found in Dr. Carolyn Dean's blog post, "Gauging Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms."31
The "Trousseau sign"32 can also be used to assess your magnesium status. To check for this sign, a blood pressure cuff is inflated around your arm. The pressure should be greater than your systolic blood pressure and maintained for three minutes.
By occluding the brachial artery in your arm, spasms in your hand and forearm muscles are induced. If you are magnesium deficient, the lack of blood flow will cause your wrist and metacarpophalangeal joint to flex and your fingers to adduct. For a picture of this hand/wrist position, see Figure 1 in the paper "Trousseau Sign in Hypocalcemia."33
A number of studies suggest magnesium insufficiency or deficiency are extremely common, both among adults34 and teens,35 in part due to the fact that most people eat a plant-deficient diet. Magnesium is actually part of the chlorophyll molecule responsible for the plant's green color.
However, even if you eat plenty of greens, you may still not get enough, thanks to most soils being so depleted of minerals. Your body's ability to absorb magnesium is also dependent on having sufficient amounts of selenium, parathyroid hormone and vitamins B6 and D.
Absorption is further hindered by excess ethanol, salt, coffee and phosphoric acid in soda, and things like sweating, stress, lack of sleep, excessive menstruation, certain drugs (especially diuretics and proton-pump inhibitors), insulin resistance and intense exercise can deplete your body of magnesium.36,37
Research shows just six to 12 weeks of strenuous physical activity can result in magnesium deficiency,38 likely due to increased magnesium demand in your skeletal muscle.
For all of these reasons, most people probably need to take supplemental magnesium. The RDA for magnesium is around 310 to 420 mg per day depending on your age and sex,39 but many experts believe you may need a minimum of 600 mg per day.40
I suspect many may benefit from amounts as high as 1 to 2 grams (1,000 to 2,000 mg) of elemental magnesium per day, as the extra magnesium may also help mitigate unavoidable exposures to electromagnetic fields (thanks to its calcium channel blocking effect). To learn more about this, see my previous article on how to reduce EMF exposure.
You can easily improve your magnesium status with an oral magnesium supplement. My personal preference is magnesium threonate, as it appears to be the most efficient at penetrating cell membranes, including your mitochondria and blood-brain barrier. You can learn more about this in "Cognitive Benefits of Magnesium L-Threonate."
Considering the importance of magnesium for good health — including cognition and heart health — it's a good idea to measure your level. GrassrootsHealth Nutrient Research Institute, which has spearheaded research into vitamin D and omega-3, now also offers low-cost testing for magnesium.
Like its vitamin D and omega-3 projects, the Magnesium*PLUS Focus Project41 aims to identify the ideal dosage and level, the specific health outcomes associated with magnesium deficiency and sufficiency, the dose-response relationships and much more. As noted by GrassrootsHealth:42
"Measuring your nutrient status, adjusting intake as needed, and re-testing is the only way to tell if your nutrient intake is helping you achieve sufficient or desired nutrient status which is tied to particular health outcomes.
We will analyze the collected data and give participants feedback on how the magnesium could be working for them; we will publish scientific papers on key results, the first after meeting an enrollment target of 1,000 participants. There will be preliminary analyses and interim newsletters available for all during the enrollment phase."
Adding the "Plus Elements" test to this magnesium test will also measure your selenium, zinc and copper levels, important trace elements that interact with magnesium, as well as three toxic heavy metals (lead, cadmium and mercury) that can interfere with and block availability of these essential elements.
Dietary fats are essential to good health. Although it’s harmful to eat too many of some or not enough of others, without healthy fats your body won’t work properly.1 Fat is used to keep your skin and hair healthy, absorb certain vitamins and insulate your body to keep you warm. Certain types of fats are called “essential” since your body can’t make them.
There are two major categories of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). These are omega-3 (n-3) and omega-6 (n-6), which are essential fatty acids your body needs for a wide variety of cellular functions, including cell division, cognition, heart health and normal growth and development. Much of your dietary N-6 comes from vegetable oils like linoleic acid (LA), which converts to gamma linoleic acid during metabolism.2
Most related research has been focused on three important types of n-3: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA); docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).3 ALA is commonly found in plants and plant-based oils, while EPA and DHA are produced by microalgae, which are then eaten by fish.
Thus, fatty fish, such as mackerel, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, herring and krill oils are rich sources. N-6 is associated with higher rates of inflammation in the body, while n-3 has an anti-inflammatory effect. However, neither n-6 nor LA is the underlying issue in the proliferation of disease but, rather, the oxidized form of the fatty acid found in processed vegetable oils.
The ratio of n-6 to n-3 in the diet began changing in the U.S. during the industrial revolution nearly 150 years ago.4 The onset of vegetable oil production and an increase in feeding cereal grains to livestock increased the ratio from what had been close to 1-to-1 to 10.3-to-1 and higher. Some estimate the current average ratio in the U.S. is 25-to-1.5
Where sources of n-6 used to come from whole foods, such as nuts and seeds, the modern intake of processed foods and oxidized vegetable oils has unbalanced the ratio for those eating a Western diet. This fatty acid imbalance is one root of inflammatory diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
A primary source of n-6 in the American diet is soybean oil, which accounts for 60% of all vegetable oils found in processed foods, salad dressings, snacks and margarine.6 Researchers link diets high in soybean oil with obesity and Type 2 diabetes; both of those are associated with heart disease, neuropathy, impaired cognition7 and early death.
One of the challenges in finding the balance is that n-3 and n-6 compete for the same enzymes. With so much n-6 in the body, the conversion of n-3 ALA (found in plants) to EPA and DHA is significantly impacted. This is something we have to be mindful of because EPA and DHA are both responsible for protecting the body against disease.8 The good news is that with a greater intake of n-3 there is a reduction in the buildup of n-6, effectively reducing inflammation.
Balancing your n-3 to n-6 ratio helps protect your body against chronic degenerative diseases such as metabolic syndrome, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmunity. This is a point I have stressed for many years, as it also reduces your risk for heart disease.
As I’ve written in past articles, consuming oxidized LA in vegetable oils leads to a cascade of events promoting inflammation and creating atherosclerotic plaques; all of this leads to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
Unfortunately, health authorities have insisted that vegetable oils are healthier than saturated animal fats such as those found in butter and lard, despite research evidence to the contrary.
A study published in the BMJ in 20139 demonstrated that men with a history of coronary events, such as heart attack or angina, had a higher risk of dying from heart disease when advised to reduce saturated fats and increase their intake of LA from safflower oil and safflower oil polyunsaturated margarine.
It is important to remember that LA is also found in nuts, seeds and eggs. But the sheer volume of intake from processed foods creates a severe imbalance in the ratio. The combination of increased intake with the oxidized fats in vegetable oils is a significant factor in the rising number of those who develop heart disease.
Exposure to air pollution also increases the risk of inflammation. In one study,10 researchers found that children who had a higher intake of n-3 had a lower response to particulate matter and appeared to be more resilient.
This study has added to the growing body of evidence that suggests dietary intake has an influence on the body's response to air pollution, a known cause of inflammation. The authors of another study11 conducted in Mexico City found that for children with asthma, supplementation with antioxidants helps with the impact of air pollution on their small airways.
N-3 fats are present in plant and marine animals like fish and krill. However, the types of n-3 are different and they are not interchangeable. Plant-based n-3 contains alpha linoleic acid (ALA), which is a short chain and must be converted to long chain EPA and DHA for use in the body.
Since the enzyme needed for conversion is not highly active in most people, the conversion rate is low. This information is particularly relevant for strict vegans and vegetarians who may believe their body converts plant-based ALA to EPA and DHA in sufficient amounts. It is nearly impossible to get enough this way, and the minor amount theoretically taking place is hindered when the diet contains excessive amounts of n-6 from vegetable oils and processed foods.
As I’ve written before, omega-3 fatty acid testing is needed to determine if you're deficient. The n-3 index test provides the most accurate measurement in the body and should ideally be above 8%. The index measures the amount of n-3 in the red blood cells as a reflection of how much is found in the rest of the body.
Since the test measures the average of your intake based on the lifespan of a red blood cell over 120 days, it is not influenced by recent meals and is expressed as a percent of all fatty acids found in the red blood cell membrane. Researchers find the index to be accurate and they use it analyze data, including that of the Framingham Study and the Women's Health Initiative.
Maintaining the level in a range associated with low risk reduces your chance of heart disease. Those with an index below 4% have a high risk; those with an index from 4% to 8% have an intermediate risk and those with an index greater than 8% have a lower risk for coronary heart disease.12
In a follow-up study13 using a randomized control trial to assess the effects of supplementation on telomere length and oxidative stress, researchers found telomere length increased with a decreasing ratio of n-6 to n-3. They suggest that even over a short time, the ratio has an impact on cell aging and may influence asthma symptoms, the risk of Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis symptoms and depression.
After being tested, if it turns out you need more n-3, consider ways to raise it without adding toxins to the mix. These are great sources of omega-3:
• Fish — Small, cold-water fatty fish such as anchovies and sardines are excellent sources of n-3 that have a low risk of hazardous contamination. Wild Alaskan salmon is also low in mercury and other environmental toxins.
Since much of the fish supply is heavily polluted with industrial waste, including heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and radioactive poisons, it is extremely important to be selective, choosing fish high in healthy fats and low in contaminants, such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon, mackerel, herring and anchovies.
• Krill oil — Krill oil is my preferred choice as an n-3 supplement because it has the indispensable animal-based DHA and EPA n-3s your body needs, and in a form that’s less prone to oxidation.
With the help of phospholipids, the nutrients in krill oil are carried directly to your cell membranes where they are more readily absorbed. Additionally, they may cross your blood-brain barrier to reach important brain structures.
While the following sources may be tempting because they are readily available and less costly than the ones mentioned above, I strongly advise avoiding:
• Farmed salmon — It contains about half the n-3 levels of wild salmon, is often fed a genetically engineered diet of corn and soy products and may contain antibiotics, pesticides and other chemical toxins.
• Large carnivorous fish — Marlin, swordfish and tuna (including canned tuna), for example, tend to contain some of the highest concentrations of mercury, a known neurotoxin.
• Fish oil — While fish oil may appear to be a convenient and relatively inexpensive way to increase your intake of n-3 fats, it typically delivers insufficient antioxidant support. It is also highly prone to oxidation, leading to the formation of harmful free radicals.
In his new book, "Boundless: Upgrade Your Brain, Optimize Your Body & Defying Aging," Ben Greenfield details his best longevity hacks. "Boundless" is a great title, as the object of longevity isn't just about tacking on years of life, but finding ways to remain healthy and vibrant for as long as possible. In other words, it's about quality and not just quantity of life.
Greenfield's goal with this book was to share his best tips for how to improve your energy in every sense of the word. At 640 pages, it's a hefty book with a higher price to match. For those looking for true and tested advice, though, it's a treasure trove well worth the price tag.
As Greenfield notes on his website,1 it's "a complete guide to optimizing the human body, mind and spirit — written with no stone unturned, no fluff, no 'watered down' drivel — just pure, hardcore, practical, from-the-trenches content."
The original manuscript was 1,200 pages, and deleted sections can be accessed on Greenfield's website (access details for each chapter are included in the book), where you'll also find all of the references (about 3,000 of them), which also didn't make it into the printed book due to the sheer volume of information included.
"I wanted to write the kind of book that I like to read, a big, meaty book that you don't just read and toss aside, but that you use as a reference for a long time, maybe keep on your coffee table," Greenfield says.
"I wanted it to be pretty, have good illustrations, be fun to thumb through. And also, unlike previous books I've written, not just focus on things like athletic performance or six-pack abs, muscle or fats, but a lot of the stuff that I think is more important: your relationships, anti-aging and longevity tactics, spirituality and purpose in life.
I kind of snuck in and tried to dump some of the woo-woo stuff onto the whole fitness, wellness crowd as well, because sometimes I think we're striving to feel good and to look good, we think that that's what's going to bring us happiness, when in fact … it's relationships and big family dinners and optimizing your purpose in life — things that, I think, sometimes get neglected in this whole chatter about wellness."
One of the best features Greenfield brings to the table is his commitment to staying fit and the strategies to achieve that. Having reserve muscle mass is a widely-underappreciated benefit in case you get sick or hospitalized, and the risk of that certainly increases with age. Greater muscle mass actually improves your chances of survival. Greenfield notes:
"Yes, muscle is important … We know that, for example, grip strength is associated with longevity and other elements of fitness, such as walking speed or maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) … Staving off sarcopenia and staving off the osteopenia or osteoporosis that might come with sarcopenia is absolutely important as well.
It is something that is much easier to accomplish before you begin to get into your senior years, although research has since kind of dispelled the notion that you can't build muscle as you age. You can maintain muscle as you age and can actually increase muscle ...
The main elements you want to focus on that I explore in more detail in the book, are mitochondrial density and biogenesis, which we know are best achieved through very brief spurts of exercise … followed by long rest periods, or like a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 rest-to-work ratio.
We're talking about one single session a week where you might do 30 seconds all out, followed by four minutes of recovery. You could do that for several rounds. Another [target], in addition to the mitochondria, would be [lactic acid] tolerance, which is often in physiology called muscle endurance.
This would be your ability to buffer lactic acid … Probably one of the better examples of [exercises that improve your endurance] would be the classic Tabata set, a 2-to-1 work-to-rest ratio. This is something that, unlike mitochondrial workout, would be something you would need to do about two to three times a week.
You could use it as an introduction or as a finisher to a strength training workout, for example, if you want to really prioritize your time. But a Tabata set is just about four minutes in length. It is eight rounds of 20 seconds as hard as you can go with 10 seconds of recovery, preferably using a full-body modality, like an Airdyne bicycle, burpees or one of the elliptical trainers, where you're using both your arms and legs …"
A third parameter, in addition to mitochondrial capacity and lactate tolerance is your VO2 max. To target and improve your VO2 max, you'll want your training sessions to be longer, about four to six minutes in duration with four to six minutes of recovery in between, for a 1-to-1 work-to-rest ratio.
"In my opinion, this is the hardest of them all," Greenfield says. "Going hard for four to six minutes then recovering for four to six minutes, then going hard for four to six minutes. You do that about four to six times.
You're talking about exercising for at least 30 minutes and sometimes for 45 to 50 minutes for your VO2 max session. But if you really want to improve it, that's the way that you get your maximum oxygen utilization up.
We've got those three parameters of your physiological fitness. And then you also have a few others. One would be your power. The power is going to be different than the muscle mass because if you're looking at your fast twitch muscle fibers, mass is not necessarily synonymous with power.
Mass is good for bone density. It's good for strength. It's good for being a glycogen container. But you also want functional power.
The best way to do that in my opinion, if you want to stay injury-free for life, is … bodyweight training done in a very fast explosive manner or with a very light medicine ball [or] sandbag a couple of times a week. Kettle bells are wonderful for this as well. A perfect example would be The New York Times seven-minute workout.2"
Two additional fitness parameters that need to be addressed in a targeted manner are strength and stamina. Stamina basically refers to your fat-burning efficiency: your ability to exert yourself for long periods of time.
For stamina, Greenfield recommends taking a 1.5- to three hour-long walk, bike ride or paddle session — anything where your body is engaged in chronic repetitive motion for a long period of time — preferably in a fasted state, once a week. Alternatively, do 20 to 30 minutes of fasted cardio followed by a cold shower.
To improve muscle strength, Greenfield favors super-slow weight training, advocated by Dr. Doug McGuff. Alternatives include elastic band training systems and blood flow restriction (BFR) training, which is my personal favorite. Greenfield likes to combine BFR with super-slow training once or twice a week. More recently, McGuff has also embraced BFR in combination with super-slow training.
"When you add all that stuff up — [the exercises for] mitochondrial density, lactic tolerance, the VO2 max, the stamina, the power and the muscle building, it sounds like a lot. But really, you can do all that with the time commitment of about 45 to 50 minutes a day, plus that one longer session on the weekend.
It's a sustainable scenario for life, for busy people, that hits all those different physiological parameters. You're not leaving something off the table, whether it's your VO2 max or mitochondrial density or what have you. And then … if you really want to put on muscle, I found … a lot of nutrients that I think help quite a bit.
In the evenings, I always do a 12- to 16-hour fast so I get the autophagy. And then I do other things for [to trigger] hormesis or autophagy, like a lot of sauna, a lot of cold [exposure], those long-fasted walks in the morning."
As for nutrients, three supplements Greenfield recommends for optimizing muscle growth are:
• Colostrum — Colostrum is found in the initial discharge of the mother's milk in all mammals. It's chockful of growth factors and peptides that encourage the baby's growth. It's also very healing for your gut.
If using capsules, Greenfield recommends breaking the capsules open. You want to roll it around in your mouth before swallowing, as the amylase in your saliva is what activates the growth factors in the colostrum.
It is important to understand though that colostrum is highly anabolic and will shut off autophagy. So, if you are fasting, it is not good to take. Ideally it is best taken just after a time-restricted eating fast and workout, at your first meal, to get an mTOR boost.
• Grass fed organ meats or organ meat capsules.
• Injectable tesamorelin peptide.
While these may sound like supplements a pro athlete might use, aging individuals who want to put on muscle can reap equal benefits. The same goes for the exercise routines described above. Greenfield notes:
"That entire workout routine that I just described is in no way something I'll give to a professional athlete. I've trained marathoners and triathletes and they're out on two-hour hardcore bike rides and crushing track repeat workouts that last an hour or so. What I just described is actually very close to what you would want as a stay-fit-for-life-type of routine."
In the interview, Greenfield also expounds on the benefits of breath work and breath holding. For all the details, please listen to the interview in its entirety. Why would you want to practice holding your breath? Greenfield explains:
"I do holotropic breath work, similar to what Stanislav Grof developed as an alternative to LSD for merging left and right hemispheres of the brain and taking you to a very cool place, the highest you can get without psychedelics really … I can hold my breath forever. It used to be about three to three and a half minutes on the exhale during holotropic breath work.
I'm up around six minutes now. Same thing when I do my breath hold walks. I'm walking and every time I pass a telephone pole, I see how long I can hold my breath.
I play with all these different breath devices when I'm walking. I have one called the Relaxator, which is based on Patrick McKeown's work in 'The Oxygen Advantage.' It trains you to retain simultaneously elevated levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Based on the Bohr effect, you get more oxygen delivered in the tissue when you do that. Essentially, all it means is that you exhale for a far longer period of time than you inhale.
The Relaxator [device] that you put in your mouth is basically like a resistance device where you breathe in through your nose, and then as you breathe out through your mouth, it's almost like you're breathing out through a straw or through very pursed lips.
You can go for a whole walk where you have this thing in your mouth … Your breathing just feels clear, crisp, clean and full when you're using that thing on a regular basis. I certainly noticed a dramatic effect from that."
Certain technologies and wearable devices can be quite helpful and motivating when you're changing or trying to improve your lifestyle and health. Greenfield was one of the first to adopt the Oura ring, which he purchased at a biohacking conference in Finland.
"I was looking for something that would track my sleep cycles and also be able to be put in airplane mode," he says. "I wound up buying one there at the conference and travelling with it back to the States. It was shortly after that that I wore it to some conference … where a lot of people asked me about it …
I like it. It gives me good data. What I use the most is the sleep data, and I find the step count data to be very motivating … I take at least 15,000 steps a day, because that's my marker for myself and it's very easy for me now to check at the end of the day.
If I'm at dinner and I look at my ring, which I do, and I haven't had my 15,000 steps, I go for a walk after dinner. I find it highly motivating. It sounds silly, but for step counts and for sleep tracking, I find it to be very useful.
For heart rate variability (HRV), it gives you decent data, although I still like to get my HRV measurement in the morning using the gold standard Bluetooth-enabled chest strap, lying in my back. I use an app called NatureBeat. It sends both my low-frequency and high-frequency, my sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system scores to the app.
It allows me to track [my HRV) in real time for about five minutes as I breathe. Since I wake up in the morning and lay there and do a little bit of journaling and breathing anyways, it's a much more accurate way for me to check my HRV.
But the Oura ring does take a multitude of five-minute readings, when you're prone in bed overnight. It's not electrical, so the accuracy is somewhat questionable, but it will give you a ballpark."
Another strategy Greenfield advocates is cold therapy, which stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis.
"I'm a big fan of cold thermogenesis, especially in a fasted state so that you're able to maximize the conversion of white adipose tissue to brown fat," Greenfield says. "A little bit of caffeine, capsaicin or green tea in the system beforehand can upregulate that process even more. I'm using cold for two to five minutes almost every day …
I always jump in [cold water] after a workout. Everybody says, 'You're going to blunt the hormetic response to exercise.' But research has shown you've got up to 10 plus minutes to do that in order to decrease muscle temperature to the extent where you actually blunt that hormetic effect.
Most of my workouts, because I do a cyclic carbohydrate diet, where I save all my carbohydrates for the evening and my workouts typically occur between about 4 and 7 p.m. … so I'm very insulin-sensitive going into that evening carbohydrate feed where I'll have my pumpkin, sweet potato, yam, dark chocolate, red wine or what have you.
But when I finish that workout, of course I am aware that working out close to bedtime, the increased core temperature decreases deep sleep cycles, so I always go jump in that cold pool when I finish the evening workout."
Greenfield details hundreds of biohacks in "Boundless: Upgrade Your Brain, Optimize Your Body & Defying Aging," so there's no shortage of alternatives to pick and choose from. It's bound to become a staple reference you can go back to again and again in years to come.
We also cover far more ground in the interview than I've summarized here, such as his views on stem cell therapy and how he uses hyperbaric oxygen treatment, so to hear more about Greenfield's personal longevity routine, be sure to listen to it in its entirety.
Greenfield's website, BenGreenfieldFitness.com, is also an excellent resource for all things health-related, as is his cutting edge podcast, where he interviews a wide variety of leaders in the health and fitness fields.
Dr. Mercola Interviews the Experts
This article is part of a weekly series in which Dr. Mercola interviews various experts on a variety of health issues. To see more expert interviews, click here.
Marc Sorenson, who has a doctorate in education, and who is the founder of the Sunlight Institute,1 has written an excellent book, “Embrace the Sun,” in which he reveals why sunlight is foundational for optimal health and longevity.2 While vitamin D supplements clearly have their place, you cannot obtain all the benefits you get from the sun when you swallow it.
For example, many of the benefits of sunlight, such as a decreased risk of heart disease, have to do with its ability to increase nitric oxide (NO) production in your body.3 Ultraviolet A (UVA) and the near-infrared light spectrum both increase NO, so you’re getting that benefit from both ends of the light spectrum. Fifty percent of sunlight is near-infrared.4
Near-infrared also increases cytochrome c oxidase (COO),5 the fourth cytochrome in the mitochondria, and neither of these benefits can be had from swallowing a pill. It’s really important to realize that your body is designed to benefit from sun exposure, and if you’re diabetic or have heart disease, it may well be one of the missing factors. As noted by Sorenson:
“When we get out in the sun, the research is incredible. The risk of heart disease and the risk of myocardial infarction drop dramatically in the summertime, and go up dramatically in the wintertime.
Meaning, there’s something there that has to be beyond vitamin D, because the vitamin D supplement studies with heart disease haven’t worked out well. What we know now is the main mover to prevent heart disease is probably NO, which is a potent vasodilator. It opens them up.
Blood pressure can go down dramatically with regular sun exposure, which it does. Among people who are getting sunlight on a regular basis, the risk of dropping dead of a heart attack goes down rather dramatically ...
You can produce 20,000 international units (IU) in 20 minutes of ideal unobstructed sun exposure on both sides of the body …”
Importantly, for every death caused by diseases related to excessive sun exposure — such as common skin cancers (basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas) as well as some other uncommon diseases — there are 328 deaths caused by diseases related to sunlight deprivation,6 according to Sorenson’s data.
According to a 2013 study,7 for every skin cancer death in northern Europe, between 60 and 100 people die from stroke or heart disease related to hypertension alone. Knowing your risk of dying from heart disease or stroke is 80 times greater on average than from skin cancer should really put things into perspective.8 Clearly, sun avoidance is hardly the lifesaving strategy dermatologists make it out to be.
I’d always wondered why there was such an avid aversion of sun exposure within the dermatology community. It just doesn’t make any sense — until I read Sorensen’s book, in which he dissects the motivation behind this illogical stance. He explains:
“The powers of darkness, as I call them, are very highly invested in the sunscreen industry. About 70 percent of the funding comes from the sunscreen industry. Of course, with a dermatological society, they back those who produce sunscreens.
We’ve got a vast conspiracy with the sunscreen industry. That’s one of the main things. Besides … medicine in general is not that interested in keeping people well, because if they do get people well — and sunlight will do that to a great extent — they’re out of business. There is a conspiracy out there. I’ve written a very large chapter about that and how they used their anti-sun [propaganda] to keep people sick.”
There are two basic types of skin cancer: melanoma and nonmelanoma. Importantly, 75 percent of all melanoma occurs on areas of the body that never see the sun, Sorenson notes, and indoor workers have double the rate of lethal melanoma skin cancer than outdoor workers.9 A primary risk factor for melanoma appears to be intermittent sun exposure and sunburn, especially when you’re young.
According to data presented in his book, in 1935 about 1 in 1,500 people contracted melanoma. As of 2002/2003, that rate was 1 in 50. Between 2006 and 2015, melanoma rates increased 3 percent per year,10 so rates just keep going up.
“The more we use sunscreen, the more melanoma we get. Australia’s proven that for many, many years,” Sorenson says. “They use more sunscreen than any people on Earth, yet they have the highest prevalence of melanoma …
Melanoma increased by 3,000 percent between 1935 and, let’s say, 2002 to 2003. That’s a tremendous increase. Sun exposure during that time, by my government figures, has gone down by over 90 percent. We have a 90-percent decrease in sun exposure and a 3,000-percent increase in melanoma.
How does that add up for their theory? It doesn’t add up at all. They’re now beginning to realize that, I think, little by little. But still, they’re in that hip pocket of the medical schools that promote sunscreens and such.”
As noted by Sorenson, the sun actually protects you from melanoma. It does not protect again the more common skin cancers, though. However, protection from those can be had from a diet high in antioxidants.
Nonmelanoma skin cancers are primarily divided into basal cell and squamous cell cancer, and sun exposure does increase your risk of those cancers. The thing to remember is that these are typically nonlethal. The relative safety of skin cancer is craftily hidden, however, by combining statistics for nonfatal and fatal skin cancers.
Most of the deaths attributed to nonmelanoma skin cancers (basal and squamous cell), which number around 4,420 per year, according to cancer.net,11 are in those who have severely compromised immune systems. Melanoma, meanwhile, kills an estimated 7,230 people per year in the U.S.12,13 It’s also important to realize that common skin cancer does not turn into the deadlier melanoma.
When you consider the statistics, it seems clear that sun avoidance is actually increasing your risk of deadly skin cancer, and that by exposing your skin to the sun, you will decrease your risk of melanoma.
What’s more, sun avoidance will also raise your risk of internal cancers, along with a long list of chronic diseases, the mortality rates of which are far more alarming than melanoma. As mentioned earlier, for every sun-related death there are 328 deaths from sun-deficiency-related diseases.
Sorenson’s book also cites Iranian research showing women who cover themselves completely have a 10-times higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who don’t cover themselves completely. That’s a 1,000-percent greater risk of breast cancer. Yet women are being told to avoid sun exposure at all costs to protect their health.
During wintertime at latitudes above 22 degrees you’re not going to be able to get enough ultraviolet B (UVB) exposure on your skin to significantly raise your vitamin D level, unless you are at high altitudes in the mountains.
However, you’re still getting other photoproducts such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), NO and others. They will be produced even in the winter when the sunlight is too weak to trigger vitamin D production.
“I tan every day in St. George, Utah,” Sorenson says. “It may be 40 degrees F. outside; I step into the garage, so I’m protected from the breezes. I get out in the sun every day. It’s not doing me a bit of good for vitamin D, but I do have my own tanning bed. I can go into that tanning bed and it produces a dramatic amount of vitamin D.
So will a good vitamin D sunlamp … Sometimes I fudge and take a vitamin D pill, but I would rather [use my tanning bed] because it’s a lot more natural than taking a vitamin D pill, in my opinion. That’s the way that I do it …
Of course, tanning beds have been much maligned, [yet it] dramatically increases bone strength. It dramatically increases vitamin D levels. It reduces the risk of psoriasis and eczema. It does many other things that they never give any credit for …
I was just thinking about the new study on Parkinson’s disease, [which] showed people who are out in the bright sun daily, regularly have 1/50th the risk of ever getting Parkinson’s. That’s fairly new research. I was stunned by that research.”
Naturally, regardless of the season, you want to make sure you do not get sunburn. Once your skin turns the lightest shade of pink, move into the shade or put on clothing and a hat to cover up your skin. Beyond that point, there’s no benefit, only the risk of skin damage. As noted by Sorenson:
“Your body shuts it down at that point. In fact, your body will shut down your vitamin D production, along with anything else, that it doesn’t want. There is a very interesting piece of research … that shows people who use sunscreen have anywhere from three to six times the risk of sunburn.
Another one was a big meta-analysis, which showed there was no benefit whatsoever in using sunscreens. None at all. In fact, there was a slight increase in the risk of all skin cancers together.”
Aside from lowering your risk for a variety of cancers, including melanoma, sun exposure also radically decreases your risk of autoimmune diseases. (Diseases in which your body identifies proteins and other structures made by the body as foreign and destroys them.) Two classic examples are multiple sclerosis (MS) and Type 1 diabetes.
Sorenson cites research from Finland showing vitamin D supplementation decreased the risk of Type 1 diabetes by five- to sixfold. When compared to Venezuelan children, who get ample sun exposure, Finnish children had 400 times the risk of Type 1 diabetes.
Researchers have also found an inverse risk between vitamin D status and MS risk,14 and studies have confirmed MS is far less prevalent in areas near the equator, such as Ecuador, where prevalence ranges from a low of 0.75 per 100,000 inhabitants in the South, to a high of 5.05 per 100,000 in the capital city of Quito.15
Science has shown 20 ng/mL (50 nmol/L), which is typically considered the cutoff for vitamin D sufficiency, is still grossly inadequate and dangerous to health. For optimal disease protection, you need a vitamin D blood level between 60 and 80 ng/mL16 (150 to 200 nmol/L).
Once you get above 60 ng/mL, the risk for cancer and other chronic illness declines dramatically — in the case of breast cancer by more than 80 percent.17
There appears to be variations in the ideal level, however, depending on the condition in question. Sorenson cites research showing that athletic performance, and the risk of injury due to falling among nonathletes, improved until they reached a level of about 63 ng/mL (158 nmol/L), at which point performance and risk of falling started to slightly decline again.
On the other hand, in the case of breast cancer, which is a major concern for women, levels upward of 80 ng/mL (200 nmol/L) appear to be the most protective. When aiming for those higher levels, though, I believe getting your vitamin D from sunlight becomes all the more important, especially if you’re seeking protection from diseases such as heart disease.
Because, remember, swallowing a vitamin D pill will not trigger NO production like sun exposure does, and increasing NO appears to be a significant way by which sun exposure lowers your heart disease risk. Sunlight also boosts your serotonin level, a neurotransmitter thought to play an important role in depression.
In his book, Sorenson cites research showing that spending the entire day in bright sunlight increases your serotonin level by 800 percent. A precursor to serotonin — melatonin — is also crucial for sleep and cancer prevention.
Myopia, with people needing glasses at an early age, and presbyopia, which is when you need reading glasses, are also on the rise, and this too may be a side effect of insufficient sun exposure. Sorenson explains:
“One of the studies was done comparing people in Singapore to people who grew up in Australia. They had the same ethnic background, basically Oriental-Asian background. Those who were playing in the sun in Australia had about one-sixth the risk of getting myopia.
It is so important. If we don’t get out and we don’t focus [our eyes] in the sun, [if] we don’t look into the distance — that may be one of the reasons we don’t get enough vitamin D, we don’t get enough serotonin, NO and any of the other photoproducts produced by the sun.
There is a pandemic of myopia. We’re seeing it here in the United States with the Asian kids. In many cases, as they get older, it will lead to blindness. Of course, they always talk about macular degeneration and so forth, but there’s a dichotomy here, because if you have macular degeneration, they tell you to totally stay out of the sun.
It does tend to relate to sun exposure. At the same time, vitamin D levels that are high tend to reduce the risk. So, what do you do? Stop getting your sun and take a vitamin D pill? I don’t think so. I think if we’re in the sun the way we ought to be and eat the polyphenols and so forth … that’s probably the way to prevent most of the older-age diseases.
Now, as far as presbyopia … I’ve had it since I was about 40. I just take some reading glasses and I can get along with reading my fine print. I wasn’t able to escape it. It runs in my family. I think there must be some genetic component there, because I was out in the sun and I never had any myopia.”
As for age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), which is the leading cause of blindness among the elderly, research by Dr. Chris Knobbe, an ophthalmologist who wrote a book on the risk factors of ARMD, whom I’ll be interviewing on this topic, has compiled massive amounts of data showing that ARMD did not exist before 1930 and this appears largely due to the consumption of processed foods, especially processed vegetable oils.
Sugar, of course, does not help either. That combination causes massive degeneration of your vision, which is very difficult to reverse in its advanced stages. But if you catch it at an early stage, you can reverse it using dietary changes.
For presbyopia, I recommend not wearing sunglasses and avoiding reading glasses. As you age, there’s a tendency to want to make that font bigger to see text better, but I recommend resisting that temptation, as it’s only going to make matters worse.
Also, avoid squinting and simply blink instead. Blink multiple times until the text becomes clear, then relax your eyes to refocus. Brighter light may also help you read without increasing the font size on your tablet or computer, or using reading glasses.
Sorenson also recounts some of the historical data supporting the idea that sun exposure benefits health in important ways and boosts athletic performance. Aside from breast health, research shows sun exposure also helps prevent osteoporosis, which is yet another significant concern for women in particular. Sorenson says:
“In Spain, women who were sun seekers, those who were always outside, trying to tan … as much as possible, those women had 1/11th the risk of ever having a hip fracture as women who were avoiding the sun. That one point alone should get every woman out in the sun, because all women are afraid not only of breast cancer but also of osteoporosis.
Women need sunlight to prevent it. Whether vitamin D pills will work, I am not convinced. They don’t give them enough vitamin D so they can’t really tell in the research. But we know that sunlight works to prevent hip fractures. Boy, that’s a big one to me …
[Higher] vitamin D levels also dramatically help your brain … People think better … You are 3.5 times more likely to end up in a rest home [assisted care facility] if you do not have a good vitamin D level … [If] you’ve got a mom, dad, uncle or whoever is in danger of going there, I think it can be prevented … They can stay at home, maybe with a son or daughter, and they wouldn’t need to worry about them injuring themselves every other second.”
To learn more, I strongly recommend picking up a copy of Sorenson’s book, “Embrace the Sun.” Strongly emphasized in the book is the importance of sunlight for the prevention of cardiovascular disease — again, by way of boosting NO, which lowers your blood pressure and increases blood flow, more so than raising your vitamin D.
Sorenson believes erectile dysfunction (ED), for men, may be a related problem that could be addressed through improved sun exposure, as one of the major reasons for ED is lack of NO. Cialis or Viagra is not the answer. Sunlight is.
“I think … we have to have holistic sun [exposure] again,” Sorenson says. “We need to have every single photoproduct produced. I have written down about five more photoproducts I haven’t even had the time to study. We don’t know what they do yet.
But why would you go for a vitamin D pill when you could get out in the sun and get all of the available [photoproducts] that we don’t even know [the benefits of] yet? For optimal human health, we need to be in the sunlight.”
When it comes to improving your health, some of the simplest strategies can have a tremendous impact. Sweating in a sauna, for example, has many great health benefits, including expelling of toxins, improving blood circulation, killing disease-causing microbes and improving mitochondrial function.
The key word here is sweating. Just because you are in the sauna doesn’t mean you get the benefits. The sauna has to heat your core temperature up a few degrees, your heart rate needs to increase and you need to have a river of sweat, otherwise you simply will not get these benefits. This is important as many infrared saunas fail to heat you sufficiently to achieve these benefits.
Research has even shown that regular sauna use correlates with a reduced risk of death from any cause, including lethal cardiovascular events, and may help stave off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
For example, researchers in Finland — a country where most homes come equipped with a sauna — found that men who used a sauna four to seven times a week for an average of 15 minutes had a 66% lower risk of developing dementia, and 65% lower risk of Alzheimer’s, compared to men who used the sauna just once a week.1,2
Another long-term study3,4 by the same Finnish research team, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015, revealed that men who used the Finnish-style, dry heat sauna seven times per week also cut their risk of death from fatal heart problems in half, compared to those who used it only once a week.
This held true even after confounding factors such as smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels were factored in. In regard to time, the greatest benefits were found among those who sweated it out for 19 minutes or more each session.
Both the duration and the frequency had dose dependent effects, so the longer the exposure time of each session and the more frequent the sessions, the better the outcome.
One mechanism for this effect is thought to be related to the fact that heat stresses your heart and body similar to that of exercise, thus prompting similar effects. This includes increased blood flow to your heart and muscles (which increases athletic endurance) and increased muscle mass due to greater levels of heat-shock proteins and human growth hormone (HGH).
In the video lecture5,6 above, Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D., reviews how sauna bathing can be used as an exercise mimetic (i.e., an exercise-mimicking tool) to increase your longevity and health span. As noted by Patrick:7
“Several studies have shown that frequent sauna bathing (4-7 times per week, 174°F for 20 min.) is associated with a 50% lower risk for fatal heart disease, 60% lower risk for sudden cardiac death, 51% lower risk for stroke, and 46% lower risk for hypertension.
Just a single sauna session has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve heart rate variability, and improve arterial compliance. Some of the positive benefits of the sauna on heart health may have to do with similar physiological changes that also occur during physical exercise.
For example, there is a 50-70% redistribution of blood flow away from the core to the skin to facilitate sweating. You start to sweat. Heart rate increases up to 150 beats per minute which correspond to moderate-intensity physical exercise.
Cardiac output (which is a measure of the amount of work the heart performs in response to the body’s need for oxygen) increases by 60-70%. Immediately after sauna use, blood pressure and resting heart rate are lower than baseline similar to physical activity.”
Patrick reviews several studies in her lecture. In addition to those already mentioned, a study8 published in 2018, using the same Finnish cohort, looked specifically at stroke risk over a follow-up period of 14.9 years. As in previous studies, benefits were dose dependent.
Compared to once-a-week sauna use, those who had four to seven sessions per week had a 61% lower risk for stroke. A similar association was found for ischemic stroke but not for hemorrhagic stroke. As noted by the authors:
“This long-term follow-up study shows that middle-aged to elderly men and women who take frequent sauna baths have a substantially reduced risk of new-onset stroke.”
Heat stress from sauna bathing has also been shown to lower your risk of high blood pressure. In one such study,9 which had a median follow-up of 24.7 years, the hazard ratio for high blood pressure in those using the sauna two to three times a week was 0.76, compared to 0.54 for those using it four to seven times a week.
In other words, using it two to three times a week may lower your risk of high blood pressure by 24%, while using it four to seven times a week can push your risk down by 46%, and this is likely one of the mechanisms by which sauna bathing helps lower your cardiovascular mortality risk.
Even a single sauna session has been shown to reduce pulse wave velocity, blood pressure, mean arterial pressure and left ventricular ejection time.10 Here, systolic blood pressure decreased from an average of 137 mm Hg before sauna bathing to 130 mm Hg afterward. Diastolic blood pressure decreased from 82 to 75 mm Hg, mean arterial pressure from 99.4 to 93.6 mm Hg and left ventricular ejection time from 307 to 278 m/s.
Most studies on sauna use involve wet Finnish saunas. Traditionally, rocks are heated to a temperature of about 174 degrees Fahrenheit in a wood burning stove, and water is then poured on the rocks to create steam.
But there are several other types of saunas to choose from as well, including far-infrared saunas and near-infrared emitters and lamps.11 Most sauna makers would have you believe that the difference between an infrared sauna and the traditional Finnish-style saunas (whether wet or dry) is that the Finnish-style sauna heats you up from the outside in, like an oven.
But this is simply untrue. The wavelengths of a far-infrared sauna only penetrate a few millimeters, so if you have a far-infrared sauna, unless the temperature in the sauna is around 170 degrees F, it is unlikely you will be getting many benefits.
That said, near-infrared saunas have several additional benefits over other types of saunas, including far-infrared saunas. For starters, it penetrates your tissue more effectively than far-infrared because wavelengths under 900 nanometers (nm) in the near-infrared are not absorbed by water like the higher wavelengths in mid- and far-infrared, and thus can penetrate tissues more deeply.
When you look at the rainbow spectrum, the visible part of light ends in red. Infrared-A (near-infrared) is the beginning of the invisible light spectrum following red. This in turn is followed by infrared-B (mid-infrared) and infrared-C (far-infrared).
While they cannot be seen, the mid- and far-infrared range can be felt as heat. This does not apply to near-infrared, however, which has a wavelength between 700 and 1,400 nm. To learn more about this, see my interview with Dr. Alexander Wunsch, a world class expert on photobiology.
My personal sauna preference is the near-infrared, as this range affects your health in a number of important ways,12 primarily through its interaction with chromophores in your body. Chromophores are molecules that absorb light, found in your mitochondria and in water molecules. (To make sure the near-infrared rays can penetrate your skin, avoid wearing clothing when using a near-infrared sauna.)
In your mitochondria, there's a specific light-absorbing molecule called cytochrome c oxidase (CCO), which is part of the mitochondrial electron transport chain and absorbs near-infrared light around 830 nm. CCO is involved in the energy production within the mitochondria. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) — cellular energy — is the end product. ATP is the fuel your cells need for all of their varied functions, including ion transport, synthesizing and metabolism.
Most people don’t realize that light is an important and necessary fuel just like food. When your bare skin is exposed to near-infrared light, CCO will increase ATP production. Near-infrared light is also healing and repairing, and helps optimize many other biological functions. (Its absence in artificial light sources like LEDs and fluorescents is what makes these light sources do dangerous to your health.)
We now know that mitochondrial dysfunction is at the heart of most health problems and chronic diseases, including many signs of aging. For these reasons, I strongly recommend using a sauna that offers a full spectrum of infrared radiation, not just far-infrared.
Just keep in mind that most infrared saunas emit dangerous electromagnetic fields (EMFs), so look for one that emits low or no non-native EMFs. You need to look beyond their claim and measure them, as many state they have no EMF but have only addressed magnetic fields and still generate off the chart electric fields. Ultimately, you need to independently validate any claims, as some of the biggest names in the business are doing this.
The near IR sauna I use and highly recommend is made by Sauna Space and I use every day I am at home. It has lower EMFs than ANY electrically heated far IR sauna. While some far IR saunas do have relatively low magnetic fields around 1 mG, they are still higher than Sauna Space. But any electric heater far IR sauna has very high electric fields while Sauna Space has zero. If you already have a far IR sauna you use it as enclosure and just purchase the Sauna Space bulbs which are far less expensive.
All of that said, in her lecture, Patrick discusses the benefits of Waon Therapy or far-infrared dry sauna, which has been used in some studies. Far-infrared saunas typically have a max temperature of about 140 degrees F (60 degrees Celsius). Because it’s not as hot, the recommended duration is typically around 45 minutes, and the frequency is daily. Two studies looking at Waon Therapy for heart health include:
• A 2016 study13 that found Waon therapy was helpful for the management of chronic heart failure, improving endurance, heart size and overall status in hospitalized patients with advanced heart failure.
Patients used the far-infrared dry sauna, set at 140 degrees F., for 15 minutes a day for 10 days. Each session was followed by bed rest for 30 minutes, covered with a blanket.
• An earlier study,14 published in 2013, found Waon therapy improved myocardial perfusion in patients with chronically occluded coronary artery-related ischemia. Patients used the far-infrared dry sauna, set at 140 degrees F., for 15 minutes a day for three weeks. Each session was followed by bed rest for 30 minutes, covered with a blanket.
The best results were seen in patients with the highest summed stress score and summed difference score at baseline. The improvements were attributed to improved vascular endothelial function, and according to the authors, Waon therapy “could be a complementary and alternative tool in patients with severe coronary lesions not suitable for coronary intervention.”
As mentioned, one of the reasons sauna bathing improves health has to do with the fact that it mimics the stress your body undergoes during exercise. While “stress” is typically perceived as a bad thing, intermittent stressors such as exercise and temporary heat stress actually produces beneficial physiological changes.
As explained by Patrick, once your core temperature reaches 102.2 degrees F. (39 degrees C), blood is redistributed away from your core toward the surface of your skin to facilitate sweating. You can easily get an inexpensive ear thermometer to measure and confirm that your temperature is reaching this level.
Your heart rate increases from about 60 beats per minute to about 150, equivalent to moderate intensity exercise, and your cardiac output increases by 60% to 70%. This process is the same whether your core temperature is raised by exercise or sitting still in a sauna.
As demonstrated in a June 2019 study,15,16 spending 25 relaxing minutes in a sauna has the same physical effects as bicycling on a stationary bike with a load of 100 watts for 25 minutes. Heart rate and blood pressure were found to be identical for both activities, with blood pressure and heart rate increasing during the sessions, followed by a drop below baseline levels afterward.
This prompted the researchers to conclude that “The acute heat exposure in the sauna is a burden comparable to moderate physical exercise,” and that “The sustained decrease in blood pressure after heat exposure suggests that the sauna bath will have a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system.”17
Recent research18 has also demonstrated that sauna bathing helps modulate your autonomic nervous system, which governs your stress responses.19 To examine the acute effects of a sauna session, the researchers looked at the participants’ heart rate variability (HRV), which is an indicator of your body’s capacity to respond to stress.
Your autonomic nervous system has two branches: the parasympathetic branch (“rest and digest”) and the sympathetic branch (“fight or flight”). HRV is an indicator for how these two branches are functioning. Higher HRV means your body is better equipped to handle stress. As reported in the abstract:
“A total of 93 participants … with cardiovascular risk factors were exposed to a single sauna session (duration: 30 min; temperature: 73 °C; humidity: 10-20%) and data on HRV variables were collected before, during and after sauna.
Time and frequency-domain HRV variables were significantly modified by the single sauna session, with most of HRV variables tending to return near to baseline values after 30 min recovery. Resting HR [heart rate] was lower at the end of recovery (68/min) compared to pre-sauna (77/min).
A sauna session transiently diminished the vagal component, whereas the cooling down period after sauna decreased low frequency power and increased high frequency power in HRV, favorably modulating the autonomic nervous system balance.
This study demonstrates that a session of sauna bathing induces an increase in HR. During the cooling down period from sauna bathing, HRV increased which indicates the dominant role of parasympathetic activity and decreased sympathetic activity of cardiac autonomic nervous system.
Future randomized controlled studies are needed to show if HR and HRV changes underpins the long-term cardiovascular effects induced by regular sauna bathing.”
Seeing how sauna bathing protects and improves heart and vascular health and lowers your risk of Alzheimer’s, it’s no major surprise to find that it also increases longevity. In fact, it’s precisely what you’d expect.
The 2015 JAMA Internal Medicine study20 mentioned earlier in this article also looked at all-cause mortality, in addition to sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease and fatal CVD.
Sauna bathing four to seven times a week lowered all-cause mortality by 40% after taking into account confounding factors such as age, blood pressure, smoking and other variables, while two to three sessions per week lowered it by 24%.
As explained by Patrick, the life extending benefits of sauna bathing are related to the workings of heat shock proteins, which respond to stress (be it heat stress, exercise or fasting) by:
Heat shock proteins have also been shown to play an important role in human longevity. Patrick cites a 2010 study21 showing the heat shock protein 70 (Hsp70) gene plays a functional role in human survival and life extension.
This makes sense considering Hsp70 is an anti-inflammatory protein involved in cellular maintenance and repair mechanisms. So, whether you have one copy, two copies or are a non-carrier can influence your longevity.
If you are not one of the lucky carriers of this allele, you can boost your survival range by taking regular saunas, as it increases your heat shock proteins regardless. According to Patrick, heat shock proteins stay elevated for up to 48 hours after you’ve finished your sauna.
Another way by which sauna bathing increases longevity (and health span) is by lowering systemic inflammation, which not only plays a significant role in the aging process but also underpins virtually all chronic diseases that ultimately take a toll on life span. Sauna use has also been shown to increase anti-inflammatory biomarkers, such as IL-10.22
In one 2018 study,23 people who reported more frequent sauna use had lower C-reactive protein levels, which is a blood marker for inflammation. Sauna frequency of use and mean C-reactive protein levels were as follows:
As you can see, sauna bathing can go a long way toward improving your health and increasing your life span. Here, I’ve focused primarily on heart and cardiovascular health, but there are many other health benefits as well, including improved mood, pain reduction, increased metabolism, detoxification, skin rejuvenation, stress reduction and immune support, just to name a few.
To learn more, listen to Patrick’s lecture. You can also find more information in my previous articles, “Sauna Therapy May Reduce Risk of Dementia and Boost Brain Health,” “How to Achieve Superior Detoxification with Near-Infrared Light,” and “Are Saunas the Next Big Performance-Enhancing Drug?"
In 2013, the world produced 299 million tons of plastic, of which polystyrene — one brand name is Styrofoam — is one part. A report by the Worldwatch Institute showed that this number increased by 3.9% from the year before.1 As demonstrated in this short video, polystyrene currently may account for one-third of the contents of landfills; worms may be one answer to the problem.
Expanded polystyrene foam (EPF) was first discovered in 1839,2 becoming popular during World War II in material used to build military aircraft. Production grew at a phenomenal rate during this time; in 1946 Dow Chemical Company began working to make it more flexible. This resulted in the polystyrene product we now know: It’s moisture resistant and light weight because 98% of it is air.
Unfortunately, polystyrene doesn’t decompose. It does degrade somewhat, but not enough to keep marine life from eating it, filling their stomachs with plastic so they essentially starve to death for lack of nourishment. The chemicals in polystyrene harm wildlife on land, too, as they leach out and eventually make their way into the food chain.
Despite this knowledge, some sing the praises of this plastic, citing an overall life cycle assessment that has a lower footprint than other types of packaging material. However, despite the accolades, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio did not agree and, in 2015, he announced a law to ban its use in all five boroughs,3 “removing nearly 30,000 tons of … waste from our landfills, streets and waterways.”
The ban was not enforced until July 1, 2019,4 making New York the largest city to ban the product from use. Miami Beach, Seattle, San Diego and Washington, D.C., also have bans in place, while the states of Connecticut, Maine and Maryland are in various stages of legislation to ban use.
In 2017 Metro New York reported that New York City’s department of sanitation handled 12,000 tons of garbage every day.5 On a nationwide scale, EPA data6 from 2017 showed that the U.S. generated 268 million tons of waste, of which 13% was plastic.
While that doesn’t tell you how much of the city’s or nation’s trash is polystyrene, researchers at Stanford University7 found that Americans dispose of 2.5 billion plastic foam cups every year.
That represents only a small portion of the plates, takeout containers and building materials in which polystyrene is used. But to give you give an idea of how serious this issue is, the Los Angeles Times8 reported in 2017 that, of the 9.1 billion tons of plastics ever produced, 5.4 billion has ended up in landfills or somewhere else in the environment.
The ban on polystyrene in New York was triggered in part by its physical properties: It is easily carried by the wind and difficult to remove because it is brittle. It develops an electrostatic charge causing it to cling to other material. The ban in New York affected 850,000 students served lunches on foam trays.
To give the product other attributes, the foam can be laced with chemicals such as flame retardants and other endocrine disrupting chemicals. But, exposure to flame retardants during pregnancy is associated with a lower IQ in children9 and neurodevelopmental disorders.10 One way this might happen is the influence flame retardants have on thyroid hormones.
In a detailed 45-page report, Styrofoam critics presented evidence rebutting multiple arguments that polystyrene has a smaller carbon footprint and that society could not continue to function without it. The researchers concluded:11
“Though Styrofoam is relatively inexpensive to produce, the social costs of its production involve the use of hazardous chemicals, fossil fuels, and the emission of greenhouse gases.
The lightweight yet durable nature of Styrofoam that makes it good for single-use consumer products also yields it not readily recyclable and leads to its accumulation in landfills and as litter in waterways and highways. Finally, though Styrofoam itself is unreactive, the compounds used in its production have been identified as harmful to human health.”
To say this is a serious issue is an understatement — however, there may be hope in a recent study by Stanford researchers who found that little mealworms may hold part of the answer to the giant plastics problem facing the Earth. In past research,12 data showed mealworms could eat through the foam and other forms of plastic.
In January 201813 a published study revealed the optimal conditions for consuming plastic happened at 77 Fahrenheit (25 Celsius) with 6% to 11% of bran supplementing the polystyrene. This same study found the second generation of mealworms fed a bran and polystyrene mixture could degrade more plastic, faster.
A new team14 looked at whether the same species of mealworms could eat polystyrene laced with toxic chemicals and still be safely consumed by livestock.15 The researchers sought to determine where the toxic chemicals would be deposited after the mealworms consumed the plastic, hoping for a proof of concept to derive some value from the tons of plastic waste littering the planet.16
In this study the worms were fed a steady diet of plastic infused with HBCD, a chemical the EU plans to ban because it is a neurotoxin and an endocrine disruptor. After eating the plastic, the worms excreted 90% of the HBCD in 24 hours and the remaining after 48 hours.
What’s more, the worms appeared as healthy as those fed a normal diet, and the shrimp that ate the experimental worms also appeared to remain healthy. One of team member commented: "This is definitely not what we expected to see. It's amazing that mealworms can eat a chemical additive without it building up in their body over time."
The mealworms were able to degrade the plastic during digestion. They also were able to separate the toxic chemical from the plastic and concentrate it, possibly making it easier to control.17 The researchers note while this may be helpful, it is not nearly as effective as eliminating the use of neurotoxic chemicals.
The mealworms are easy to cultivate and are known as an agricultural pest, as they eat nearly everything in their path. The scientists pointed out that it was the population of bacteria living in the worms’ guts that actually degraded the plastic, not the mechanical digestion in the mealworm — so you can see that, even for a little mealworm, their gut bacteria is important.
The mealworms may be one strategy to help reduce plastic pollution, but the danger of toxic chemicals within the plastic remains. In the mid-1970s, certain household items were required to be treated with flame retardant chemicals, including furniture, carpeting and children’s clothing and toys.
Legislators may have believed they were helping preserve public health, but they failed to account for the damage the chemicals would have on children and adults as they leached out of the products into the environment.
The form of flame retardant currently in use is terribly dangerous, since it may be inhaled, swallowed and absorbed through the skin, accumulating in your fatty tissue.18 The earlier flame retardants were from a family of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which were replaced with organophosphate ester flame retardants (OPFRs) when the PBDEs were phased out.
Scientists have found OPFRs are often at levels 10 to 100 times higher in water, air and dust than were PBDEs.19 Additionally, they were also found in nearly every person who participated in research studies. In several, data showed the OPFRs were at levels high enough to negatively affect healthy brain development in children and fertility in adults.
It was expected OPFRs would be less persistent then PBDEs in the environment. However, predicting their presence is difficult to measure based on the compounds’ physical and chemical properties. You'll find a more in-depth discussion of the dangers related to flame retardant chemicals currently in use at "Experts Fear Flame Retardants Are Triggering a Health Crisis."
As mentioned, the researchers in the most recent study pointed to the bacteria inhabiting the mealworm gut as crucial to the process of degrading the polystyrene based on work published in 2015.20 In this study scientists were able to demonstrate the eradication of specific bacterial species in the mealworms' gut eliminated the ability to degrade polystyrene.
The researchers were able to stop the ability to depolymerize the plastic by feeding them gentamicin. By analyzing excrement, they found a bacterial strain, Exiguobacterium sp. strain YT2, in the gut of the mealworm was essential to the biodegradation of the material.
Evidence from small mealworms more than adequately demonstrates the importance of gut bacteria. The composition of your gut microbiome may be as distinct as your fingerprint and plays an enormous role in your health and disease prevention. It influences your immune system and a variety of internal organs, such as your lungs, breasts and liver.21
One study by the National Institutes of Health showed the gut microbiome could alter immune cells in the liver and trigger tumor growth.22 Your gut microbiome also has a strong influence over the development of intestinal conditions such as celiac disease or food allergies.
However, it also influences obesity,23 depression,24 chronic fatigue25 and Parkinson's disease.26 One factor may be the bidirectional role the gut plays in sleep. Research data show a link between insomnia and depression, that may be altered by the composition of the gut microbiome.27 Alterations in sleep cycles may increase your risk of health damage.
Although it is impossible to determine the exact diversification of an ideal microbiome, researchers have been able to change the composition in some with Type 2 diabetes to reverse the disease.28
While most experienced a short-term improvement, this may have been related to the state of the gut microbiome before transplantation and the care and feeding of the new bacterial species after transplantation.
An effective means of protecting the health of your gut microbiome is to provide a rich source of probiotics by eating fermented foods. You can easily and inexpensively make these at home as I demonstrate in this short video. Fermented foods can be an outstanding source of essential nutrients, such as Vitamin K2.
They help to boost your immune system and may be some of the best chelators available. As potent detoxifiers, fermented foods draw out toxins and heavy metals from the bloodstream. Fermented foods also provide a natural variety of microflora, much wider than you can receive in supplement form.
In addition to adding beneficial microflora to the gut, eating prebiotic foods can help them thrive. Prebiotics are found in fiber rich foods good bacteria prefer. On the other hand, pathogenic disease-causing microbes thrive on sugar and carbohydrates. When you focus on a whole, natural foods diet plan you support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and help keep harmful bacteria in check.
When most people think about the risks associated with air pollution, respiratory issues are the first that come to mind. In fact, in 20161 outdoor and inside air pollution contributed to respiratory infections resulting in 543,000 deaths in children under 5. However, the respiratory system is not the only one affected by this.
The World Health Organization reported on published studies from dozens of top experts, which revealed some of the health risks for children that are associated with air pollution. These included obesity, asthma, childhood cancers, infant mortality and adverse birth outcomes. Evidence also suggests exposure before birth increases the risk of cardiovascular and lung disease later in life.
A study by the American Thoracic Society2 that was presented at the 2017 International Conference suggested air pollution may also reduce sleep quality. There are a number of health repercussions associated with sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep.
These include an increased risk of accidents,3 cardiovascular disease,4 high blood pressure,5 cancer6 and osteoporosis.7 Researchers have also investigated the bidirectional relationship between sleep and depression, finding that when sleep quality improves, it lessens depression symptoms.8
Air pollution is measured by the size of the particulate matter. Fine particulate matter measures less than 2.5 micrograms (PM2.5) in diameter and is a good indicator of outdoor air pollution. PM2.5 is the focus of many studies.
The particles are important as they are small enough to be inhaled into the lungs and absorbed into the bloodstream.9 Once in your body they may deposit in any organ system, including the brain. In recent research, scientists have associated acute exposure to PM2.5 with increased psychiatric emergency room visits for children who are having anxiety and/or have attempted suicide.10
In a meta-analysis of recent studies by a team from Cambridge University11 it was found that elevated exposure to PM2.5 yielded a 19% increase in the risk of depression for children, as well as a small increased risk for suicide. They evaluated results from 14 studies and 684,859 participants and determined that PM10 was not linked to depression or suicide, indicating the particulate matter may be too large to be absorbed into the bloodstream and affect the brain.
However, in a separate analysis of data from 16 countries researchers reported that an increase in PM2.5 and PM10 was associated with depression and increased numbers of suicide.12
The systematic review and meta-analysis13 was published in December 2019 in Environmental Health Perspectives. One study author, Isobel Braithwaite from University College of London, commented on the results:
"We already know that air pollution is bad for people's health, with numerous physical health risks ranging from heart and lung disease to stroke and a higher risk of dementia. Here, we're showing that air pollution could be causing substantial harm to our mental health as well, making the case for cleaning up the air we breathe even more urgent.
We found quite consistent results across the studies we reviewed that analysed the relationship between long-term air pollution exposure and depression, even after adjustment for many other factors which could explain the association. The association seems to be similar in magnitude to those that have been found for some physical health impacts of particulate matter, such as all-cause mortality."
There was also a connection between PM10 particulate matter exposure and the number of suicides reported in the studies. Researchers found the risk was significantly higher on days after a three-day period when levels of PM10 were higher, rather than after less polluted time periods.
In these studies, confounding factors such as weather changes and the day of the week did not account for short-term changes in suicide risk, nor did socioeconomic factors or neighborhoods. The evidence was stronger for suicide with PM10 and less for depression. Another study author, Joseph Hayes, said:
"Our findings correspond with other studies that have come out this year, with further evidence in young people and in other mental health conditions. While we cannot yet say that this relationship is causal, the evidence is highly suggestive that air pollution itself increases the risk of adverse mental health outcomes.
A lot of what we can do to reduce air pollution can also benefit our mental health in other ways, such as enabling people to cycle or walk rather than drive, and enhancing access to parks, so this adds support to the promotion of active travel and urban green spaces."
The scientists hypothesized that if the relationship were causal, the global risk of depression could go down by 15% if exposure was reduced from PM 2.5 from 44 µg/m3 to 25 µg/m3. The global levels of PM 2.5 ranged from 114 µg/m3 in Delhi to 6 µg/m3 in Ottawa, Canada.
Within the U.K., they found the average level was 12.8 µg/m3. The WHO recommends a limit of 10 µg/m3, which the researchers estimated could reduce the risk of depression by about 2.5%. While the goal of the WHO is 10 µg/m3, even meeting the less stringent EU guideline of 25 µg/m3 could have a significant global impact on mental and physical health. Braithwaite went on to say:14
“We know that the finest particulates from dirty air can reach the brain via both the bloodstream and the nose, and that air pollution has been implicated in increased [brain] inflammation, damage to nerve cells and to changes in stress hormone production, which have been linked to poor mental health.”
A second vulnerable population is the elderly. Harvard researchers15 released a study in 2017 in which they described finding long-term exposure to PM 2.5 and ozone increased the risk of early death. This occurred even when air pollution levels were below the National Ambient Air Quality standards set by the EPA.
Lowering the level of PM 2.5 by just 1 µg/m3 was estimated to save 12,000 lives every year. The researchers used Medicare claims of 60 million people in the U.S. over age 65 through a 7-year period. The extensive base of information on which the findings were based resulted in the researchers calling it “a study of unprecedented statistical power because of the massive size of the study population.”
As might be expected, PM2.5 doesn't affect just mood or the cardiovascular system. Data16 collected in China revealed that language and arithmetic skills were affected to such an extent that for each person affected, it was like losing a full year of education.
According to researcher Derek Ho, Ph.D., from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the results of the study are like the results from his study. He believes the effect of air pollution on cognition is important and may occur as it “can potentially be associated with oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, and neurodegeneration of humans.”17
The estimated number dying an early death from exposure to air pollution is nearly double the previous estimate.18 This new data show air pollution caused 8.8 million premature deaths in 2015. Comparatively speaking, WHO19 estimates the global number of premature deaths from smoking is 7 million per year, less than the number killed by air pollution.
There are significant physical and mental health risks associated with exposure to air pollution that may shorten your life and impede your ability to live independently as you age. It is wise to take precautions to limit your exposure to pollution outdoors and inside your home.
Indoor pollution can be just as dangerous as the PM2.5 and PM10 you inhale outdoors. To reduce energy expenditure most new homes are more airtight than ever before, which means you don’t get as much air exchange. Consider these strategies to reduce your exposure:
Install a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter on your furnace and/or air conditioning unit.
Vacuum regularly using a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner. Standard bag or bagless vacuum cleaners are a major contributor to poor indoor air quality. Beware of cheaper knock-offs that profess to have "HEPA-like" filters — get the real deal.
Switch to nontoxic cleaning products (such as baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar) and safer personal care products. Avoid aerosols, commercial air fresheners and scented candles, which can out-gas thousands of different chemicals. Strategies in "Are Household Products Killing Us?" may help reduce your toxic load.
Houseplants can markedly improve the air indoors. For tips and guidelines, see “The 10 Best Pollution-Busting Houseplants.”
Avoid powders, as they float and linger in the air after each use. Many are allergens due to their tiny size and may cause respiratory problems.
Take your shoes off in the house by the door to prevent tracking in toxic particles.
Hang dry-cleaned clothes outside for a day or two to allow the chemicals to dissipate.
Don’t smoke or vape.
Ensure your combustion appliances are properly vented.
Avoid storing paints, adhesives, solvents and other harsh chemicals in your house or in an attached garage.
Eliminate using nonstick cookware, which can release toxins into the air when heated.
Create cross ventilation by opening windows for as little as 15 minutes each day to improve the quality of air you’re breathing. An attic fan may reduce your air conditioning costs and bring in fresh outdoor air.
A high-quality air purifier using photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) is one of the best technologies available. Rather than merely filtering the air, PCO cleans the air using ultraviolet light. PCO transforms the pollutants into nontoxic substances. In addition to using them in your home, portable air purifiers are available to take with you when you work or travel.
Reduce airborne chlorine during a bath or shower with a water filter rated NSF/ANSI 177, which is tested by a third party to for chlorine removal.20
Test for radon, a colorless, odorless gas linked to lung cancer. It can get trapped under your home during construction and may leak into your air system over time. Radon testing kits are a quick and cheap way to determine if you are at risk.
In recent years, the devastating effects of wanton opioid use have become unmistakable, with opioid overdoses killing 47,600 Americans in 2017 alone.1 As of June 2017, opioids became the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50,2 and President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency that year in October.3
I've written many previous articles detailing the background of how the U.S. ended up here. While the opioid crisis was largely manufactured by drug companies hell-bent on maximizing profits, leading to exaggerated and even fraudulent claims about the drugs' safety profile, the increased availability of opioids isn't the sole cause.
As noted in a January 2020 article4 in The Atlantic, "researchers … say opioid addiction looks like the result of a perfect storm of poverty, trauma, availability and pain."
Commenting on some of the research cited in that article, David Powell, senior economist at Rand, told The Atlantic that to produce the most lethal drug epidemic America has ever seen "you need a huge rise in opioid access, in a way that misuse is easy, but you also need demand to misuse the product."5
Poverty and pain, both physical and emotional, fuel misuse. If economic stress or physical pain (or both) is a factor in your own situation, please be mindful that seeking escape through opioid use can easily lead to a lethal overdose. The risk of death is magnified fivefold if you're also using benzodiazepine-containing drugs.
Several investigations seeking to gain insight into the causes fueling the opioid epidemic have been conducted in recent years. The findings reveal common trends where emotional, physical and societal factors have conspired to bring us to the point where we are today.
Among them is a 2019 study6 in the Medical Care Research Review journal, which looked at the effects of state-level economic conditions — unemployment rates, median house prices, median household income, insurance coverage and average hours of weekly work — on drug overdose deaths between 1999 and 2014. According to the authors:7
"Drug overdose deaths significantly declined with higher house prices … by nearly 0.17 deaths per 100,000 (~4%) with a $10,000 increase in median house price. House price effects were more pronounced and only significant among males, non-Hispanic Whites, and individuals younger 45 years.
Other economic indicators had insignificant effects. Our findings suggest that economic downturns that substantially reduce house prices such as the Great Recession can increase opioid-related deaths, suggesting that efforts to control access to such drugs should especially intensify during these periods."
Similarly, an earlier investigation, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy in 2017,8 connected economic recessions and unemployment with rises in illegal drug use among adults.
Twenty-eight studies published between 1990 and 2015 were included in the review, 17 of which found that the psychological distress associated with economic recessions and unemployment was a significant factor. According to the authors:9
"The current evidence is in line with the hypothesis that drug use increases in times of recession because unemployment increases psychological distress which increases drug use. During times of recession, psychological support for those who lost their job and are vulnerable to drug use (relapse) is likely to be important."
Abuse-related trauma is also linked to unemployment and financial stress, and that too can increase your risk of drug use and addiction. As noted in The Atlantic,10 when the coal mining industry in northeastern Pennsylvania collapsed, leaving many locals without job prospects, alcohol use increased, as did child abuse. Many of these traumatized children, in turn, sought relief from the turmoil and ended up becoming addicted to opioids.
Another 2019 study11 published in Population Health reviewed the links between free trade and deaths from opioid use between 1999 and 2015, finding that "Job loss due to international trade is positively associated with opioid overdose mortality at the county level," and that this association was most significant in areas where fentanyl was present in the heroin supply.
Overall, for each 1,000 people who lost their jobs due to international trade — commonly due to factory shutdowns — there was a 2.7% increase in opioid-related deaths. Where fentanyl was available, that percentage rose to 11.3%. The study "contributes to debates in the social sciences concerning the negative consequences of free trade," the authors note, adding:
"Scholars have long focused on the positive effect of international trade on the overall economy, while also noting that it causes layoffs and bankruptcy for some groups.
Recent influential work by Autor, Dorn, and Hanson demonstrates that these negative impacts of trade are actually highly localized, with layoffs, unemployment, and lower wages concentrated in specific labor markets.
This study furthers our understanding of the local consequences of international trade by looking beyond wages and employment levels to the potential impact on opioid-related overdose death."
The National Bureau of Economic Research has also contributed to the discussion with the working paper12 "Origins of the Opioid Crisis and Its Enduring Impacts," issued November 2019.
In it, they highlight "the role of the 1996 introduction and marketing of OxyContin as a potential leading cause of the opioid crisis," showing that in states where triplicate prescription programs were implemented, OxyContin distribution rates were half that of states that did not have such programs.
"Triplicate prescription programs" refers to a drug-monitoring program requiring doctors to use a special prescription pad whenever they prescribed controlled substances. One of the copies of each prescription written had to be submitted to a state monitoring agency.
Since it involved additional work, many doctors avoided prescribing drugs requiring the use of triplicates, and as a consequence, Purdue (the maker of OxyContin), did not market its opioid as aggressively in those states.
The fact that triplicate prescription states had lower rates of lethal overdoses led the authors to conclude "that the introduction and marketing of OxyContin explain a substantial share of overdose deaths over the last two decades."
According to this paper, death rates from opioid overdoses could have been reduced by 44% between 1996 and 2017 had triplicate prescriptions been implemented in nontriplicate states.
Importantly, the relationship between triplicate prescription programs and opioid overdose deaths held true even when economic conditions were taken into account, which shows that poverty alone did not contribute to the opioid crisis — aggressive marketing to doctors and the ease with which patients could get the drugs were an inescapable part of the problem.
Naturally, physical pain is also a driving force behind the opioid epidemic, especially the inappropriate treatment of back pain with opioids and dentists' habit of prescribing narcotics after wisdom tooth extractions.13,14
(While American family doctors prescribe an estimated 15% of all immediate-release opioids — the type most likely to be abused — dentists are not far behind, being responsible for 12% of prescriptions, according to a 2011 paper15 in the Journal of the American Dental Association.)
Statistics16 suggest 8 in 10 American adults will be affected by back pain at some point in their life, and low-back pain is one of the most common reasons for an opioid prescription.17 This despite the fact that there's no evidence supporting their use for this kind of pain. On the contrary, non-opioid treatment for back pain has been shown to be more effective.18
Research19 published in 2018 found opioids (including morphine, Vicodin, oxycodone and fentanyl) fail to control moderate to severe pain any better than over-the-counter (OTC) drugs such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen, yet most insurance companies still favor opioids when it comes to reimbursement, which makes them culpable for sustaining the opioid crisis, even as doctors and patients try to navigate away from them.
As noted by Dave Chase, author of "The Opioid Crisis Wake-Up Call: Health Care Is Stealing the American Dream. Here's How to Take It Back," in an article for Stat:20
"Our entire health care system is built on a vast web of incentives that push patients down the wrong paths. And in most cases it's the entities that manage the money — insurance carriers — that benefit from doing so …
An estimated 700,000 people are likely to die from opioid overdoses between 2015 and 2025,21 making it absolutely essential to understand the connections between insurance carriers, health plans, employers, the public, and the opioid crisis.
We will never get out of this mess unless we stop addiction before it starts … the opioid crisis isn't an anomaly. It's a side effect of our health care system."
According to the American College of Physicians' guidelines,22 heat, massage, acupuncture or chiropractic adjustments should be used as first-line treatments for back pain. Other key treatments for back pain include exercise, multidisciplinary rehabilitation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, tai chi, yoga, relaxation, biofeedback, low-level laser therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
When drugs are desired, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or muscle relaxants should be used. Opioids "should only be considered if other treatments are unsuccessful and when the potential benefits outweigh the risks for an individual patient," according to the American College of Physicians' guideline.23
It's vitally important to realize that opioids are extremely addictive drugs that are not meant for long-term use for nonfatal conditions. Chemically, opioids are similar to heroin, so if you wouldn't consider using heroin for a toothache or backache, seriously reconsider taking an opioid to relieve these types of pain.
If you've been on an opioid for more than two months, or if you find yourself taking a higher dosage, or taking the drug more often, you may already be addicted. Resources where you can find help include the following. You can also learn more in "How to Wean Off Opioids."
The good news is that many types of pain can be treated entirely without drugs. Recommendations by Harvard Medical School25,26 and the British National Health Service27 include the following. You can find more detailed information about most of these techniques in "13 Mind-Body Techniques That Can Help Ease Pain and Depression."
Physical therapy or occupational therapy
Distracting yourself with an enjoyable activity
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule
Mind-body techniques such as controlled breathing, meditation, guided imagery and mindfulness practice that encourage relaxation. One of my personal favorites is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)
Yoga and tai chi
Practicing gratitude and positive thinking
Hot or cold packs
In "Billionaire Opioid Executive Stands to Make Millions More on Patent for Addiction Treatment," I discuss several additional approaches — including helpful supplements and dietary changes — that can be used separately or in combination with the strategies listed above to control both acute and chronic pain.