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The controversy over the pesticide Roundup and glyphosate (which is the active ingredient in Roundup) rages on. This week the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published results of independent laboratory tests (commissioned by them) that looked at glyphosate levels in common oat based foods (cereals, oatmeal, granola, and snack bars). Not surprisingly, they found glyphosate in almost all conventional cereals and at much higher levels than the little they found in some organic cereals (it was felt this was from cross-contamination or "pesticide drift" from conventional farms onto organic farms). The main questions are: Why is this pesticide found in foods? What, if anything, does this mean for our health? Are these levels safe?

The main thing to know: Glyphosate is the most heavily used herbicide (a type of pesticide) in the world. Over 250 million pounds were applied in the U.S. in 2015, with much of the application in the Midwest. Incredibly huge amounts of glyphosate are used in the midwest on farmland - greater than 88.6 pounds per square mile! Top crops it's used on are corn, soybeans, canola - especially genetically modified Roundup Ready crops. It is also used as a dessicant right before harvest ("preharvest") on many crops, such as wheat and oats (see Monsanto's guide for preharvest use). This is why harvested crops have glyphosate residues on them, and the foods we eat. Note that glyphosate (Roundup) can not be used on organic crops.

The herbicide has been linked to a number of health problems, including cancer, birth defects, endocrine disruption, and reproductive problems. (Posts on glyphosate.)  There are currently hundreds of lawsuits from farmers and others claiming that Roundup gave them cancer. This past week a California jury awarded $289. millions dollars to a man who said his cancer was due to repeated glyphosate weed killer (including Roundup) exposure as part of his job. A new concern is that glyphosate has an effect on our gut bacteria - that it messes with the human gut microbiome. Also, that Roundup has more of an effect than glyphosate alone (what's in all those hiddden inert ingredients?) At this point we just don't have all the answers, but there is cause for concern.

Whether these government allowed levels of pesticide residue in our foods are "safe" is also being hotly debated. The chemical industry and EPA say it's safe, while a number of researchers are saying no. It has been pointed out by many that the chemical industry (Monsanto - the makers of Roundup) and the EPA have worked hand in hand to make sure that Roundup is considered "safe".

Also, government allowable levels of glyphosate in foods (called tolerance for pesticide residue) were raised when the pesticide industry lobbied for that (which happened when Roundup Ready crops were introduced and as preharvest use increased). The EPA for years deliberately did not look at how much glyphosate residue is in our foods - if you don't know, how can you be concerned? And research now shows that MOST people have detectable glyphosate residues in them, including most pregnant women. [See all glyphosate posts.]

Both Quaker Foods and General Mills (their product Cheerios was among those with higher levels of glyphosate residues) responded to the EWG report by saying that their products are safe because the glyphosate residue levels in their products are within the EPA’s acceptable levels. Yes, but are these levels really safe? Especially if a person eats many foods with multiple pesticide residues daily.

Bottom line: We just don't know what these small, but increasing levels of glyphosate residues in our food and our bodies means for our health. If you are concerned, and I am, then try to eat organic foods when possible, especially organic corn, soybean, canola, wheat, and oats in order to try to minimize glyphosate levels in your body. Glyphosate and Roundup is not allowed to be used on organic crops. 

Two recent studies caught my eye – both reviews of scientific research that looked at the issue of diet and whether it contributes to the development of Intestinal Bowel Disease (IBD), specifically Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These are chronic inflammatory disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, and which are rapidly increasing in developed countries (over 1 million individuals in the US). The main question is: Does a person’s diet contribute to the development of IBD?

Both articles (one in the journal Nature Reviews and one in Immunology) said: YES, there is growing evidence that a person’s diet has a role in the development of IBD. Both articles stated that the current view is that some individuals may be genetically susceptible, and their diet (which feeds the microbes in the gut) then makes them more prone to the disease due to the mucosal lining becoming permeable and inflamed. Studies have shown that people with IBD have gut microbial communities that are imbalanced or out of whack (dysbiosis).

What does this mean? A person’s diet has a key role in what microbes live in the gut (human gut microbiome) – what one eats feeds the microbes in the gut, and a person’s general dietary pattern feeds some types of microbes and not others. So what one eats determines what lives in the gut microbial community. Unfortunately a fiber-deficient diet (typical Western diet) is both linked to increased mucosal inflammation (the mucus layer of the intestines) and it makes it leaky. In other words, a fiber deficient diet impairs the mucus layer of the intestines. Animal studies also support this (that the diet regulates mucosal barrier function).

People in developed countries such as the US typically eat a Western style diet. A Western diet is characterized by high amounts of red meat, processed food, high-fat foods, refined grains, sugary desserts, and low intakes of dietary fiber. However, the Western style diet has been linked to increased mucosal inflammation of the intestines, and to a higher incidence of a number of diseases, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

What diet is best? A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes (beans), and fish. Low in red meat, but moderate amounts of poultry. High in vitamin D, and high in omega-3 fatty acids. High in dietary potassium and zinc. Eat the foods, not supplements. One good example to follow is the Mediterranean diet. Think of it this way: high fiber diets lower inflammation in the gut, low fiber diets increase inflammation.

Both articles had similar diagrams showing that diet has an effect on the microbes in the gut (the microbiome), which results in either 1) a healthy mucosal lining of the intestines, or 2) a disturbed mucosal lining, disturbed permeability, and inflammation. The one article calls it the “mucinous layer” and the other calls it the gut “barrier” in the diagrams, but both are talking about the mucosal lining of the intestines.

The following image contrasts the effects on the intestines of the two types of diet - the intestines on the left have "homeostasis" (balance) from a healthy dietary pattern (lots of fiber, fruits& vegetables, etc) , and the one on the right has inflammation from a Western dietary pattern.  To see it more clearly, go to the original Figure 1. in the article by L. Celiberto et al: Inflammatory bowel disease and immunonutrition: novel therapeutic approaches through modulation of diet and the gut microbiome

The other review:  The role of diet in the aetiopathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease

Another study finds that substantial weight loss can frequently reverse type 2 diabetes -  in 46% of people who had the disease 6 years or less. In the study (which was conducted in the United Kingdom) individuals were randomly assigned to different groups - either standard medical care for diabetes group or intense weight loss group (intense dieting in the first 4 months of the study), and then all were followed for 8 months (maintenance period). Those whose diabetes was reversed were all in the weight loss group and lost an average of 35 pounds during the weight loss (dieting) phase.

According to the researchers some of the non-responders (their diabetes did not reverse itself) just hadn't lost enough weight, but also tended to have diabetes a little longer (3.8 years) than the responder group (2.7 years).

Another similar earlier study also found that type 2 diabetes can be reversed in many after losing weight of about 31 pounds (600 to 700 calories a day) during an 8 week period. 40% of study participants overall reversed their diabetes, but 60% of those with short-duration of diabetes (under 10 years) reversed their diabetes. IN SUMMARY: Both of these studies had fantastic results in reversing type 2 diabetes after a large weight loss, which may lead to doctors suggesting weight loss as the number one thing to do after a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. From Science Daily:

Why weight loss produces remission of type 2 diabetes in some patients

A clinical trial recently showed that nearly half of individuals with type 2 diabetes achieved remission to a non-diabetic state after a weight-loss intervention delivered within 6 years of diagnosis. Now a study published August 2nd in the journal Cell Metabolism reveals that this successful response to weight loss is associated with the early and sustained improvement in the functioning of pancreatic beta cells. This finding challenges the previous paradigm that beta-cell function is irreversibly lost in patients with type 2 diabetes.  ...continue reading "Type 2 Diabetes May Be Reversed With Weight Loss"

This latest research about the type of men's underwear (boxers vs briefs or other tight underwear) and sperm quantity was surprising. Didn't we all learn this years, even decades, ago? A  recent study of 656 men in Massachusetts found that boxers are  associated with better sperm concentrations and sperm counts than briefs or other tight underwear. The researchers pointed out that tight, skinny jeans or even fabric type - anything that has an effect on "scrotal heat" (increasing scrotal temperatures is viewed as having a negative effect) could also lower sperm numbers. From Science Daily:

Largest study yet shows type of underwear is linked to men's semen quality

Men who wear boxer shorts have higher sperm concentrations than men who wear tighter fitting underwear, according to new research published today (Wednesday) in Human Reproduction. The researchers also found that boxer shorts-wearing men had lower levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), compared to men who most frequently wore briefs, "bikinis" (very brief briefs), "jockeys" (underwear that finishes just above the knee) or other tight-fitting underwear. FSH stimulates sperm production and the researchers say that these findings suggest that it kicks into gear when it needs to compensate for testicular damage from increasing scrotal temperatures and decreasing sperm counts and concentration.  ...continue reading "Briefs, Boxers, and Sperm Counts"

This is a topic that is totally neglected: What will it feel like when the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere (the air) increase as our climate changes? What kinds of effects will it have on our thought processes (our cognition)? The reason I mention this is because research shows that as carbon dioxide (CO2) levels increase in rooms with people in them, it feels "stuffy" and people's thinking (cognitive processes) deteriorate. They don't think and work as effectively. Air starts to feel "stuffy" at about 600 ppm (parts per million). Our current CO2 levels in outside air are already above 400 ppm, and the levels are forecast to keep rising.

Indoor air typically has much higher CO2 concentrations than outdoor air because people are exhaling CO2 with every breath. (Note that research shows that urban city centers can already have outdoor CO2 levels above 500 ppm due to the “urban CO2 dome” effect, and elementary school classrooms are frequently above 1000 ppm, with some going as high as 3000 ppm at times). So as CO2 levels rise in the atmosphere with climate change, it will lead to even higher indoor CO2 levels in our workplaces, homes, and schools.

So... with increases in CO2 levels, what if it feels "stuffy" all the time? We won't be able to escape the "stuffiness" by going outside or opening a window. And remember, it will be worse in rooms with people in it, or in cars and aircraft. The research shows increasing CO2 levels make it harder to work and think effectively - think of it as an indoor air pollutant. Holy mackerel! This scary aspect of the effects of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere needs to be widely discussed and addressed.

The following 2 articles discuss the research showing the negative effects on cognition with increases in CO2 levels (what happens to people's mental processes in crowded classrooms, offices, etc.).  ...continue reading "What Do High Carbon Dioxide Levels In The Air Do To Thought Processes?"

All the seasons are beautiful here in the northeast US, but there is a dark side to  nature - ticks. Tick numbers, types of ticks, and diseases (including Lyme disease) that people are getting from tick bites are all increasing. Nothing seems to stop their spread and their increasing numbers. While deer ticks have been a huge problem for years, now two new tick species are concerning us here in the northeast: the longhorned tick and the lone star tick.

The scary species of longhorned tick (or Haemaphysalis longicornis) was discovered in NJ in 2017, and now it appears that it is spreading rapidly (Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, NY). This tick is a native of east Asia (japan, New Zealand, Australia, etc.), and transmits a number of diseases and infests livestock in eastern Asia. It is especially worrisome because females can clone themselves - so they can appear on animals in really large numbers in varying stages. (The photos are horrifying.) The lone star tick is an aggressive tick that can march across the lawn and up onto the deck to get to humans. And its bite is linked to red meat allergies!

How are ticks spreading so rapidly in the US? Many researchers say that with a warming climate ticks are more active for longer periods of the year and can now live in places long thought that they couldn't live (e.g. at higher elevations). But there's more to it. Yes, tick species and tick-borne diseases are now spreading across the US due to warmer winters (climate change!), but research also shows that they spread  due to migratory birds carrying (and depositing) ticks along migratory paths. The huge, huge increase of deer populations in suburban areas is also spreading ticks. As well as small mammals (especially mice!). And on and on.

What to do? There are many pesticides available that can reduce tick populations (spray or apply to lawns and vegetation), but it is questionable whether it really helps. One good 2 year study found that pesticide treatments reduced the number of ticks, but not the number of human-tick encounters and it didn't reduce the number of tick-borne diseases (e.g. Lyme disease). Also, ticks like to live in "leaf litter" at the edges of the lawn and under bushes, in woods - all places hard to treat. Plus, animals and birds visiting the yard are constantly bringing more ticks to the property.

Basically the advice has generally been that it is up to the individual to prevent tick bites by applying an insecticide, or wearing clothes that have the insecticide permethrin on them, checking yourself after going outside and removing any ticks, showering after going outside (even if it's at the end of the day), changing and washing clothes (and put into the dryer to kill the little suckers) after going outside. But there is some concern about some insect repellents (e.g. DEET), especially if used frequently, and many people don't want to apply pesticides such as DEET daily on their children or themselves.

The one question that I hear the most is - are there nontoxic insecticides that are safe to use daily, especially for children? The answer is YES - a good one is Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE). My absolute favorite non-toxic insect repellent that I think is fabulous and also highly recommended by Consumer Reports as being effective against ticks (and mosquitoes) for at least 6 hours is: Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent (comes in a pump spray). We found that it also repels other biting insects such as black flies, and washes well out of clothes, so a total win! My understanding is that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) does not recommend it for children under the age of 3 at this time because studies on this age group have not been done.

Others also suggest some non-toxic possibilities for the yard: raise free range chickens (they eat ticks!) or guinea fowl (eat ticks, but very noisy), encourage the presence of foxes (they eat the mice, and a study found they really reduce tick populations), can throw tick tubes such as Damminix (contain cotton balls with permethrin that mice carry back to nests) into the bushes or woods around your property. And a large study in NY state is investigating a new possibility for non-toxic tick control (as described in the last post) - whether tick bait boxes (The Tick Control System) and/or applying a non-toxic tick killing fungus (the product Met52) will lower tick numbers and tick diseases. The researchers are hoping tick reductions of at least 90%! Finally some encouraging news.

Summer is a wonderful season here in the northeast US, but there is a dark side - ticks. Tick numbers, types of ticks, and diseases (including Lyme disease) that people are getting from tick bites are all increasing. Nothing seems to stop their spread and their increasing numbers. But what if a fungus that kills ticks is the answer? The fungus is Metarhizium anisopliae, which occurs naturally in forest soils. It is sold as Met52 - a non-toxic to humans and pets product that anyone can now purchase.

The product is now being tested in a multiyear study (led by R. Ostfeld & F. Keesing) in 24 neighborhoods with a high incidence of Lyme disease in New York state. Studies show that ticks die within 3 to 7 days after being exposed to Met52 (a spray made up of the fungal spores and water). Personally, I am very excited by this natural product and hope that it works well. The researchers are hoping for a 90% reduction of ticks (or more!) in areas and yards where it is applied! That is better control than the insecticides typically used. The researchers feel that if this works well, then municipalities or neighborhoods could do it on a large scale for tick control.

I first read about the study in this July 2018 article by M. Molteni in Wired: WE HAVE NO IDEA HOW BAD THE US TICK PROBLEM IS

Together, these efforts are helping to change the way people and government agencies think about ticks as a public health threat. ...The trouble is that scientists also know very little about which interventions actually reduce those risks. “There’s no shortage of products to control ticks,” says Ostfeld. “But it’s never been demonstrated that they do a good enough job, deployed in the right places, to prevent any cases of tick-borne disease.” In a double-blind trial published in 2016, CDC researchers treated some yards with insecticides and others with a placebo. The treated yards knocked back tick numbers by 63 percent, but families living in the treated homes were still just as likely to be diagnosed with Lyme.

Ostfeld and his wife and research partner Felicia Keesing are in the middle of a four-year study to evaluate the efficacy of two tick-control methods in their home territory of Dutchess County, an area with one of the country’s highest rates of Lyme disease. It’s a private-public partnership between their academic institutions, the CDC, and the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation, which provided a $5 million grant.  ...continue reading "Is A Tick Killing Fungus The Answer to Tick Control?"

Chronic low-grade inflammation in humans is drawing a lot of interest because it is linked to so many diseases (diabetes, cancer, etc). Key ways to lower this inflammation appear to be losing weight (if overweight), exercising, not smoking, and eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds (thus lots of fiber). Research also shows that the type of diet a person generally eats has an effect on the composition of gut microbes (you want to feed beneficial microbes!). But which is more important for health and lowering inflammation - whole grains or fruits and vegetables or neither?

A recent study attempted to answer this question. They put 49 overweight or obese individuals, who typically ate low amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (less than 1 serving per day), into 1 of the following 3 groups for 6 weeks: 1) Whole grains (WG), 2) Fruits and vegetables (FV), and 3) a Control group (who ate refined grains). All persons were given 3 servings per day of "treatment" foods to eat at home, but the rest of their Western style diets stayed the same. The individuals did not all consume the same foods, but rather consumed their choice of foods from their group's food category.

The researchers collected blood and stool samples (both at the beginning of the study and after 6 weeks) to measure inflammation levels, and types of microbes and fatty acids in the gut. Inflammatory markers that they measured were: tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin-6 (IL-6), lipopolysaccharide binding protein (LBP), and high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP).

The researchers found an increase in microbial diversity in the FV group (perhaps due to the new variety of fibers in the fruits and vegetables), but otherwise there were no significant changes in gut microbiome composition among the groups. [Note: but each group had only some dietary changes, not drastic changes]

The researchers found that whole grains and fruits and vegetables lowered markers of inflammation - but each treatment (FV or WG) lowered different types of inflammation markers. And note that for the fruit/vegetable group - the 3 servings per day, was still below government recommendations of 5 servings per day for adults. And the rest of their diet was the same Western diet that they normally ate. So the whole grains or fruits and vegetables were not major dietary changes. And yet there were positive changes - lowering of inflammation.

So the final answer is that it is best for your health  (and gut microbes) to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and also whole grains. And they didn't even mention legumes, nuts, and seeds - all high fiber foods with lots of micronutrients, and known to be good for beneficial gut microbes. So yes, eat them also. What was a serving in this study? 1 serving = 1 cup fruits or vegetables, and 1 serving = 1 oz of whole or refined grains...continue reading "Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains Lower Inflammation"

It will be great if more studies support a recent study finding that eating a Mediterranean style diet is associated with fewer psoriasis symptoms. The large study, which was conducted in France, found an inverse association with the Mediterranean diet - the more closely a person ate a Mediterranean diet, the less severe their psoriasis symptoms and the lower their serum C-reactive protein levels (which measures chronic systemic inflammation). Key things to remember are that psoriasis is an inflammatory condition and the Mediterranean diet is anti-inflammatory, and the typical Western diet is inflammatory (low in fiber, lots of highly processed foods, few fruits and vegetables, high in sugar, and red meat) .

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, legumes (beans), fish, and light on red meat. Research finds that micronutrients, fiber, antioxidants, and polyphenols that are present in the Mediterranean diet reduce chronic systemic inflammation.  The Mediterranean diet has other health benefits - for example, it's good for the heart, is good for gut microbes, and linked to lower rates of several cancers. From Medical Xpress:

Could psoriasis patients eat their way to fewer symptoms?

A study of more than 3,500 French psoriasis patients found that the healthier their diet, the less severe their symptomsSpecifically, the closer an individual adhered to the nutritious "Mediterranean" diet, the less onerous their psoriasis became. This was true regardless of whether or not the patient was obese, the French researchers noted. 

...continue reading "Could the Mediterranean Diet Help With Psoriasis Symptoms?"

The reality is that we are exposed to thousands of industrial chemicals in our daily lives - in our foods, products, even in dust. Chemicals can get into us through ingestion (food and contaminated water), through inhalation (in dust and contaminated air), and can even be absorbed through the skin. Blood and urine tests can measure the chemicals that we have been exposed to - this is called biomonitoring. Of course, each of us has different levels of these unwanted chemicals - but yes, even those living off the grid and eating all organic foods will have some unwanted chemicals in their bodies. Studies are finding that these chemicals have negative health effects - some effects we know about, but many, many are still unknown.

Of big concern is a pregnant woman's exposure to chemicals because they can have health effects on the developing baby, including life-long effects (e.g. neurological effects, endocrine disrupting effects, immunological effects). Yes, this is scary stuff, especially because we know so little about their effects.

A group of University of California researchers figured out a new way to measure these chemicals in the blood (it's called liquid chromatography-quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry), and looked for the presence of 696 chemicals in a group of 75 pregnant women in California. They found an average of 56 chemicals in each woman (the number of chemicals ranged from 32 to 73 chemicals per woman), and also found a number of chemicals never monitored before. Yikes.

What to do? We can't totally avoid unwanted chemical exposure, but we can lower our exposure to some chemicals. Look at the last post for ideas on how to minimize exposures in our foods. Try to avoid pesticides - both in your home, yard, and in food (eat organic food as much as possible). Avoid fragrances and products containing fragrances. Avoid dryer sheets, air fresheners, and scented candles. Read labels and avoid products with fragrances, parabens, stain protectors, flame retardants, and antibacterials , anti-odor, or anti-mildew products.  Avoid non-stick or Teflon cookware. Avoid BPA and also the replacement chemicals (yes, they're as bad). Don't microwave plastic containers (glass dishes are OK). Glass & stainless steel for foods is fine. Wash hands before eating. Yes, it's a lifestyle change, but one worth doing.

From Medical Xpress: Study finds 56 suspect chemicals in average pregnant woman

Each year, tens of thousands of chemicals are manufactured in or imported into the United States—more than 30,000 pounds of industrial chemicals for every American—yet experts know very little about which chemicals may enter people's bodies, or how these substances affect human health. Now, scientists at UC San Francisco have found a way to screen people's blood for hundreds of chemicals at once, a method that will improve our ability to better assess chemical exposures in pregnant women, and to identify those exposures that may pose a health risk. 

...continue reading "Study Finds An Average of 56 Suspect Chemicals In Pregnant Women"