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We tend to think of our beds as a refuge from the outside world, where one can safely relax and sleep. Well... not quite. A recent study conducted in Israel analyzed chemicals released from youth and infant polyurethane mattresses and found that all the mattresses outgassed chemicals of concern (such as formaldehyde, toluene, benzene). These chemicals are called VOCs (volatile organic compounds) - they are chemical compounds released from products (e.g. mattresses) as vapor into the air, which we then breathe in. It is known that some VOCs have harmful health effects (e.g. eye and nose irritation, neurological effects, cancer) at high levels long-term. The researchers also found that a person's body heat on the mattress actually increases release of chemicals.

The one infant mattress tested also released flame retardants into the air. Of course no one really knows what breathing in low levels of these chemicals night after night for years does to us, if anything. But it should concern us. Keep in mind that during sleep our mouths and nostrils are very close to the mattress surface, so we are definitely breathing in whatever chemicals our mattresses emit. Researchers referred to the air around our beds as our sleeping microenvironment. And yes, our bedding (sheets, etc) also emit chemicals that they were treated with during manufacturing, such as formaldehyde in wrinkle-free sheets.

From Science Daily: Mattresses could emit higher levels of VOCs during sleep

Hundreds of household items, including furniture, paint and electronics, emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which at high levels can pose health risks. Now, researchers reporting in ACS' Environmental Science & Technology have measured the emission rates of the gaseous compounds released by several types of polyurethane mattresses under simulated sleeping conditions, finding levels of some VOCs that could be worrisome for children and infants. However, so far there is no evidence of adverse health effects.  ...continue reading "Mattresses Emit Chemicals"

Moderation seems best for so many things in life. And apparently this may also be true for a person's cholesterol levels. In a large study researchers found that having low levels of LDL cholesterol (below 70 mg/dL) significantly increased the risk of hemorrhagic stroke (intracerebral hemorrhage).Typically, lowering LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is recommended as a way to reduce the risk of a heart attack or ischemic stroke, but several studies now confirm this very low LDL cholesterol - hemorrhagic stroke association.

The study was led by Pennsylvania State University researcher Xiang Gao, but conducted over a 9 year period in an industrial area in northern China. The 96,043 participants had their LDL cholesterol levels measured 4 times over that period. The researchers didn't find any increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke when LDL levels were above 70 mg/dL.

From Medical Xpress: Cholesterol that is too low may boost risk for hemorrhagic stroke

Current guidelines recommend lowering cholesterol for heart disease risk reduction. New findings indicate that if cholesterol dips too low, it may boost the risk of hemorrhagic stroke, according to researchers.  ...continue reading "Can Cholesterol Levels Go Too Low?"

For years researchers have been finding links between vitamin D and all sorts of health benefits, including lower incidence of cancer with higher vitamin D levels. A recent study by Michigan State physicians found that taking vitamin D supplements for at least 3 years resulted in cancer patients living longer, that is, "having significant reduction of cancer-related mortality" . However, it did not prevent cancer.

One issue with much of the vitamin D research that has been done is whether vitamin D is really  causing these health benefits or is it just an association? Perhaps people who take vitamin D are also different in some way from those who  don't, or something else is going on, and this may be confusing the results.What was nice about this  study is that it was a review of studies already done, but the researchers only included vitamin D studies  that used randomly controlled trials (RCT).

In the RCTs  included in the study, people were randomly assigned to different groups and either they were 1) given vitamin D supplements for 3 years or more, or 2) they did not take vitamin D supplements (the placebo group). Thus they evaluated 10 RCT studies with 79,055 persons who were followed for 4 years or more. Vitamin D was associated with significant reduction of cancer-related deaths (when compared with the placebo group). But there was no reduction in cancer incidence. Meaning the vitamin D did not prevent cancer (have a protective effect) in the studies they looked at.

The researchers did not say what they thought was an optimal vitamin D supplement dose or optimal levels in the blood. By the way, keep in mind that vitamin D can easily be gotten from exposure to sunshine. After all, it is called the sunshine vitamin.

From Science Daily: Vitamin D could help cancer patients live longer   ...continue reading "Vitamin D and Cancer"

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Do you routinely work more than 10 hours a day at your job? Uh-oh. A large study conducted in France found that individuals working long hours had a 29% greater risk of stroke, and those working long hours for 10 years or more had a 45% greater risk of stroke. What exactly are long working hours? The study defined long working hours (LWH) as working more than 10 hours daily for at least 50 days per year.

The researchers looked at people who had full-time jobs, and did not separate out types of strokes - both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes were lumped together in this study. Another interesting finding was that the risk for stroke was greater among people under the age of 50 who reported long working hours for more than 10 years. And this association had a "lower effect for owners, chief executive officers, professionals, and farmers" - all occupations where people had greater control over decisions during their days.

Studies from other countries found a similar association. For example, in Japan, 60% of death from over-work (called karoshi) cases who received worker compensation died of stroke.

From Science Daily: Long work hours associated with increased risk of stroke  ...continue reading "Long Work Hours Associated With Increased Stroke Risk"

Once again the USA lags behind other countries - this time in banning harmful pesticides. Dr. Nathan Donley at the Center for Biological Diversity in Oregon compared the world's 4 top agricultural producers (USA, Brazil, China, and European Union) in the use of 500 pesticides, and whether they allow or ban pesticides that have the most potential for harm to humans and the environment. He found that the US allows the use of 85 agricultural pesticides that are banned by at least one other nation. [Specifically: the US allows 72 agricultural pesticides that are banned or being phased out in the EU, 17 in Brazil, and 11 in China.]

This means that "Of the pesticides used in USA agriculture in 2016, 322 million pounds were of pesticides banned in the EU, 26 million pounds were of pesticides banned in Brazil, and 40 million pounds were of pesticides banned in China. Pesticides banned in the EU account for more than a quarter of all agricultural pesticide use in the USA." Yikes! These are the most harmful of the bunch and yet they're being used and contaminating our environment, our food, and us. Yes, pesticides are in almost all of us, and there a number of ways they get into us - whether inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or ingested (e.g. in our food or water).

And look at the amount of all pesticides used annually in these 4 top agricultural producers and exporters. In 2016 the USA used 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides, China used 3.9 billion pounds, Brazil used 831 million pounds, and the EU used 827 million pounds. It's a lot!

A disturbing finding was that currently the USA exclusively  uses voluntary cancellation of pesticides - which are initiated by the pesticide industry, while the EU, China, and Brazil mainly have bans that are initiated by their regulatory industries. It's no wonder that dangerous pesticides aren't being banned in the United States. And the one pesticide that was recently scheduled to be banned (chlorpyrifos) wasn't, because an industry-friendly administration took control of the EPA before the ban was enacted.

The study itself is easy to relatively easy to read: The USA lags behind other agricultural nations in banning harmful pesticides

Or here is a nice write-up from Beyond Pesticides: 85 Pesticides Banned Around the World Account For A Quarter of U.S. Use  ...continue reading "The U.S. Lags Behind Other Nations In Banning Harmful Pesticides"

Want to prevent your children from having allergies or asthma? A recent study adds support to increasing evidence that growing up on a farm, or living among multiple pets in the first year of life is protective against developing allergies and asthma. This is because exposure to lots of animal and outdoor soil bacteria in early childhood is good for the developing immune system. The study, which was conducted by Finland's National Institute  of Health and Welfare, carried this line of work further and found that this type of beneficial farm microbial exposure could be duplicated in non-farm homes.

They found that children's risk of developing asthma decreased as the similarity of their home's bacteria became more similar to that of farm homes. The researchers analyzed living room dust from homes and found that certain types of outdoor soil microbes were beneficial for preventing asthma. They found higher levels of these bacteria (and archaea, another microbe) in homes where people wore their outdoor shoes in the house, as well as 3 or more children, and increased moisture in houses. The types of fungi found in the dust of farm and non-farm houses didn't seem to matter. The researchers mention that the same kind of protective (for asthma) results of soil microbes has also been shown in mice.

Additional thoughts reading this: The study results can be interpreted as playing and crawling outdoors is definitely beneficial to children's health, especially young children. Exposure to soil microbes! And, of course, having pets. But wearing outdoor shoes indoors is problematic in areas with high lawn and garden pesticide use (e.g. suburban NY and NJ!) because studies show the pesticides get tracked indoors. This same problem occurs in areas with high lead levels (around older homes) or other heavy metals.

From Science Daily: Farm-like indoor microbiota may protect children from asthma also in urban homes   ...continue reading "Outdoor Soil Microbes In the Home and Asthma"

New research is raising questions about the role of gut bacteria in how people react to medications and whether the medicines are effective, at least some medications such as L-dopa treatment for Parkinson's disease. Why do medicines work for some people and not others? Perhaps the gut microbes are playing a part by interacting with the medicines! The gut microbes may actually be breaking down medicines and preventing them from reaching their target.

Researchers from Harvard University and University of California found that the composition of the gut microbes has an effect on whether the medicine L-dopa is effective or becomes ineffective as a Parkinson's disease treatment. They found that some bacteria can inactivate the medicine. Definitely research that needs following up on. Also, which medications is this true for?

Excerpts from Science Daily: Gut microbes eat our medication    ...continue reading "Gut Bacteria Has An Effect On Some Medicines?"

More bad news about the toxic class of chemicals called PFAS chemicals, which are used in a wide variety of consumer products, such as Teflon non-stick cookware and Scotchgard. The problem is that the chemicals don't stay in the products, but leach out (migrate out) and spread further - even into us. Unfortunately these chemicals persist in the environment. Earlier studies had already detected PFAS  (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals in water, soil, some foods, and in the bodies of almost all Americans. Now some recent research studies and the efforts of investigative journalists have uncovered more disturbing findings about the spread of these chemicals in the environment, in foods, and us.

The site Intercept has done a series of investigative reports highlighting these new findings about PFAS chemicals For example, these chemicals are found in fertilizers that contain sewage sludge (or biosolids) that farmers use on their farms. Farmers have been been doing this for decades. And it's in milk from dairy farms that spread this compost (fertilizer) made from sewage sludge on their fields. Of course! What is spread on the fields gets into food and which humans then ingest. The chemicals are also found in breastmilk from women in every country that has been studied.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) also has a series of articles on these chemicals, including the results of a recent FDA study of foods. The FDA found PFAS in many foods, including meat, seafood, dairy products, sweet potatoes, pineapples, leafy greens, and chocolate cake with icing. But the FDA has not publicly disclosed the results. Why not? Especially since the EPA has already said that "dietary exposure" (what we eat) is a main way that people get these chemicals into their bodies.

Why should we be concerned? PFAS chemicals are called  by some as "persistant chemicals" because of their persistence in the environment and humans. PFAS chemicals are linked to all sorts of serious health risks, including reproductive harm (e.g.poorer semen quality), cancers, lowered sex and growth hormones in children, immune effects,  thyroid disease, liver and kidney damage, and high cholesterol.

PFAS chemicals (such as PFOA, PFOS, PFBS) are used in a wide variety of consumer products because they have stain, water, and grease repellent properties. They are used in nonstick cookware, in food packaging (especially the paper wrappers and cardboard containers), stain-resistant carpets, furniture, floor waxes, textiles, water-proof and stain-resistant clothing (such as Gore-tex fabric), and performance gear. Remember Teflon? That's one. Some have been banned, phased out of use because of their dangers, but the replacements appear to be just as bad. The chemicals migrate out of food packaging into food, or can be released into the air and dust from carpets and upholstery treated with stain-resistant coatings.

I want to point out that sewage sludge (also called biosolids), are found in many commonly available fertilizers, such as Milorganite fertilizer.  It's not just farmers who've been using the stuff for years. Note that organic fertilizers and organic farmers can NOT use sewage sludge (biosolids). It turns out that even compostable food containers contain PFAS chemicals that leach out. Yikes!

What can you do to lower exposure to PFCs? These are chemicals that are hard to totally avoid, but one can lower exposure to them. And some have been phased out. The good news is that research shows that after a while levels in blood and breast milk should drop. What to do?? First of all, don't use non-stick pots and pans, and definitely not older Teflon ones. Use stainless steel or cast iron instead. Avoid the use of non-stick smooth dental floss made with a "non-stick" coating such as Oral-B Glide dental floss (use plain waxed or unwaxed floss instead). Try to not eat prepared foods in coated containers frequently. Avoid Scotchgard or other stain-proofing or stain-resistant treatments on upholstered furniture or rugs. Avoid water-proof treated fabric. It's also best to avoid drinking PFAS-contaminated water (which may be hard to do in places such as NJ where so much of the water supply is contaminated by PFAS chemicals).

From the Intercept - TOXIC PFAS CHEMICALS FOUND IN MAINE FARMS FERTILIZED WITH SEWAGE SLUDGE ...continue reading "Why Are We Still Using These Dangerous Substances In Consumer Products?"

Do you trust food labels? This past month several people have expressed doubts to me over the organic label found on many foods.  But actually the organic label on American grown foods is one that people can trust, and it means that a government agency (the US Department of Agriculture) has certified that the food was grown organically. Yes, there are standards for organic food.

The worst label on a food is "natural' - it is totally meaningless. View it as a marketing term and nothing more. I personally look for the organic label on all foods whenever possible, and I like meat and dairy products also labeled grass fed.

Here is a great article about some of the terms now used on food labels and what they mean. The food labels discussed are: organic, non-GMO, cage free, free range, pasture raised, grass-fed, and Fair Trade. I would add that I trust food labeled as organic from the USA, Canada, and Europe the most. Unfortunately many (most? almost all?) organic foods from China and Turkey may not really be organic.

Excerpts from the Washington Post: Why Food Reformers Have Mixed Feelings About Eco-Labels  ...continue reading "Can You Trust Organic and Other Food Labels?"

Did you know that you are eating teeny tiny bits of plastic in your food every day? And inhaling the pieces floating in the air? These tiny bits of plastic are called microplastics, and are from all the plastic breaking down (degrading) in the environment. They have entered the food chain (e.g. from fish and other animals ingesting bits of plastic, food preparation, or from plastic packaging), and in this way we are also ingesting microplastics. They vary in shape and size, but some pieces can be so small that they can only be seen with a microscope. The problem is that microplastics can enter our body several ways (through ingestion get into the gut and so get into human tissues, or through inhalation into the lungs). They could trigger an immune response, or the plastic could release chemicals, such as carcinogens or endocrine disruptors. Unfortunately, the health effects from microsplastic ingestion are unknown.

A study by Canadian researchers looked at all available evidence from 26 studies to try to get some idea of how many microparticles of plastic Americans ingest over one year. The researchers estimate that annual consumption of microplastics ranges from 39,000 to 52,000 particles (depending on age and sex). When they added in inhalation of microplastic particles, the numbers increased to 74,000 to 121,000. And those who only drink bottled water may be getting an additional 90,000 microplastics (versus about 4000 microplastics from tap water).

These numbers are for about microplastics found only in certain foods (fish, shellfish, sugars, salts, honey, alcohol) that add up to about 15% of the diet. But the number of microplastics in other foods (such as fruits, vegetables, meats, grains) have not been studied. The researchers point out that we ingest microplastics that are in the air and settle on our food during meal preparation and during meals. So the actual numbers of microplastics that are ingested each year are certain to be much higher! [Microplastics are even in our house dust.]

What can one do to lower the number of microplastics that we eat? Number one, drink tap water or bottled water in glass bottles, and less water from plastic bottles. Since no one knows about how many plastic particles are in other foods, one possibility may be to eat more foods and beverages that come in glass containers, rather than plastic containers. As the researchers point out, microplastic research is still in its infancy. They also felt that since this study only looked at certain foods, then they really underestimated how many microplastics Americans ingest each year.

From Science Daily: Americans consumer 70,000 particles of microplastics per year    ...continue reading "Americans Ingest More Than 74,000 Microplastic Particles Each Year"