It has been known for a while that eating fermented foods and high fiber foods is healthy for us. A recent study confirms this view. Researchers at the Stanford Univ. of Medicine found that eating fermented foods actually reduces inflammation and increases the diversity of gut microbes (gut microbiome).
Researchers randomly assigned volunteers to one of 2 groups for 10 weeks: the fermentation foods group, and the high fiber group. Surprisingly, the group eating the high fiber diet for 10 weeks did not have changes in microbial diversity or changes in the 19 inflammatory markers studied. Instead, the researchers reported that the high-fiber diet "changes microbiome function and elicits personalized immune responses".
The fermented foods group ate a diet rich in yogurt, kefir, fermented cottage cheese, kimchi and other fermented vegetables (e.g. sauerkraut, traditional dill pickles), vegetable brine drinks, and kombucha tea. The high fiber diet was rich in legumes, seeds, whole grains, nuts, vegetables, and fruits.
High-fiber diets are associated with numerous health benefits such as lower rates of numerous chronic diseases and mortality. The consumption of fermented foods can help with weight maintenance and may decrease the risk of diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Once again it is summer – the weather is hot, flowers are blooming, and pesticide application signs appear on lawns throughout the United States.
Americans love their lawns, and there seems to be a national obsession for one that looks like a lush weed-free carpet. Lawns can be thought of as the largest crop in the country, since they cover more area than any irrigated crop, even more than corn.
This has led to Americans applying nearly 80 million pounds of lawn care pesticides each year. One of the most common weed-killers is 2,4-D, a chemical used in Agent Orange, and linked to several types of cancers. It is found in many weed and feed products.
There are different types of pesticides. Harmless sounding “weed-killers” are actually herbicides, and “bug-killers” and “bug sprays” are insecticides. The purpose of pesticides is to kill or repel whatever is viewed as a pest, whether insects or weeds. Lawn care pesticides are considered to be “cosmetic” or non-essential use pesticides – meaning they are only used for aesthetic purposes.
There is a dark side to pesticides
Unfortunately, pesticides have effects beyond whatever was targeted. We may not see or smell pesticides after they have dried, whether applied to our lawns, gardens, crops, or homes, but they are still there and getting into our bodies.
We can breathe them in, absorb them through our skin and eyes, and ingest them in food, water, and dust. When children and pets are walking or rolling around on the grass after a pesticide application, they are absorbing those chemicals into their bodies. As far back as the early 1990s, studies showed that pesticides such as 2,4-D get into people and pets walking on treated lawns, especially on the first day they are sprayed (applied).
Pesticides are found in our air, water, soil, “drift” from neighboring properties and farms, and even in rain and fog. We track pesticides into our homes from the outside, where they linger in house dust and carpets. Scary, isn’t it?
Every year more evidence accumulates that pesticide exposures have harmful effects on humans, pets, wildlife, birds, bees, and other beneficial insects. Even on microbes in the soil, as well as microbes in the human gut microbiome!
Exposure to pesticides can be acute – a big amount at once, such as when a toddler walks over a recently treated lawn and winds up severely ill and possibly hospitalized. Yes, that actually happened to a child in my town. Or exposure to pesticides can be continuous and at low levels (chronic exposure).
Did you know that over 90% of all Americans, including pregnant women, have pesticide residues in their bodies? Pesticides can be measured in our blood and urine, breast milk, and even meconium (an infant's first feces). Studies show that while we are being exposed less to some now banned pesticides, other pesticide levels, such as glyphosate (which is used in Roundup), are rapidly increasing in human bodies.
The bad news is that we don’t really know what all the chronic low-level pesticide mixtures that we are exposed to are doing to us. Studies are finding health problems such as cancers, endocrine (hormone) disruption, reproductive problems, effects on mental development and behavior, and even effects on semen quality. Being exposed to pesticides at certain times of development can have the biggest effects, especially during pregnancy when the fetus is developing and during childhood.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in December 2012 warning of the dangers of pesticide exposure (including in the home) to children and during pregnancy. They stated that this includes common pesticides considered by many as “safe”, such as pyrethroids.
The results of a large study adds more evidence to what we have long suspected: eating a Southern-style diet (fried foods and sugary drinks!) increases the risk for sudden cardiac death (up to 46% higher risk), while eating a plant-based or Mediterranean style diet appears to lower that risk.
Sudden cardiac death (SCD) occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating, and death occurs within one hour from the onset of symptoms. Heart disease (coronary artery disease) is the most common underlying cause of SCD (75 to 80% of cases), but it can also have other causes (e.g. heart failure, valve disease). Sudden cardiac death is quite common in the US - about 1 in every 7.5 deaths (or nearly 367,000 deaths in 2016).
Univ. of Alabama researchers looked at 5 dietary patterns that people ate over a 10 year period: plant-based (Mediterranean), Southern, convenience food, alcohol & salad, and sweets. People generally eat foods from all 5 groups, but what is significant is the primary pattern - what the person mostly eats. The Southern diet is most prevalent in the southeastern US, which is also known as the "Stroke Belt", due to the higher stroke death rate there.
A Southern-style dietary pattern is characterized by fried foods, added fats, eggs, organ meats (such as liver or giblets), processed meats (e.g. bacon, hotdogs, cold cuts), and sugar-sweetened beverages. A plant-based or Mediterranean dietary pattern is rich in fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, legumes (beans), and fish, and low in processed meats, added fats, and fried foods.
The bottom line here is that what you eat has an effect on your health, including heart health. Best is a diet rich in plant-based foods - which also happens to be fiber rich and best for feeding beneficial microbes in the gut. Try to eat at least a minimum of 5 to 6 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, but more (up to 8 or 9 servings) might be even better.
The findings of a recent study caught my eye - that eating milk chocolate daily was beneficial for health a number of ways. Consuming a 3.5 oz bar of milk chocolate daily did not cause weight gain, that it actually resulted in reducing hunger and desiring fewer sweets the rest of the day, increased beneficial polyphenols, improved the gut microbiome, and morning consumption decreased fasting glucose (good). Overall, it was best to eat the chocolate in the morning (as compared to the evening before bedtime). Yes!!!
The researchers studied postmenopausal women (48 to 62 years old) in Murcia, Spain who ate milk chocolate daily, or no chocolate for 2 weeks while eating as usual (regular dietary pattern), and then did the opposite for 2 weeks after a one week break. (Thus everyone ate chocolate daily at some point). This meant that the chocolate eaters actually ate slightly more calories during the study than those not eating chocolate.
The researchers state that a 2018 review of chocolate studies (clinical trials) found that overall eating chocolate daily for 2 to 24 weeks (each study lasted a different length) "does not change body weight or body fat distribution". Some studies also find that eating chocolate daily slightly reduces waist size (waist circumference reduction). And this is what they also found in this study.
How much chocolate? The women in this study ate 100 grams per day (3.5 ounces) - a normal sized chocolate bar! Chocolate lovers - rejoice!
Some good news. A recent study found that eating just 2 servings (a cup) of fruit per day is associated with a 36% lower risk for type 2 diabetes after 5 years (as compared to those who eat less than 1/2 a serving) . Doesn't sound like so much fruit, but appears to have a big effect.
However, in this Australian study, the association did not hold for fruit juice. Only for eating whole fruits.
Uh oh... Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide (plant-killer) in the world, and its pervasive use may be harming our gut microbiomes. Glyphosate (which is in Roundup) is used not only as a weed-killer, but also applied to glyphosate resistant genetically engineered (GE) crops such as soy, canola, corn, and also right before harvest (preharvest) on many grain crops. Thus we find glyphosate and glyphosate residues all around us, including in the foods we eat.
Researchers at the University of Turku in Finland developed a bioinformatics tool to examine glyphosate effects on gut bacteria. They found that glyphosate kills many bacterial species found in the human gut, including such important keystone bacteria as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. Their words: "54% of species in the core gut microbiome are sensitive to glyphosate". (A nice way of saying it kills them.) They summarize:
"A large proportion of bacteria in the gut microbiome (Qin et al., 2010) are susceptible to glyphosate (class I); thus, the intake of glyphosate may severely affect the composition of the human gut microbiome. "
Glyphosate has already been linked to a number of health problems (e.g. cancer, endocrine disruption). The gut microbiome or microbiota is the millions of microbes living in our intestines, and they are very important to our health. Imbalance or disruptions to our gut microbiome result in inflammation, chronic conditions, and diseases.
What to do? Try to eat as many organic foods, especially grains, soy, and corn, as possible. Organic farmers are not allowed to use glyphosate. Try to avoid using glyphosate-based herbicides on your property. Unfortunately, our government agencies are not protecting us with regards to glyphosate, and the US allows higher glyphosate residues in food than in the European Union.
Iodine is an essential mineral for health, especially during pregnancy, because it is needed for intellectual development and thyroid functioning. For years people bought iodized table salt at the grocery store in order to make sure that they have enough iodine in the diet. However, the use of other salts (e.g. Himalayan salt) that don't have added iodine, and following a vegan or vegetarian diet can increase the risk of iodine deficiency.
A small study by Australian researchers looked at iodine levels in 2 groups of pregnant women, who were either vegan/plant-based diet participants or omnivores (eating both meat and plants). Both groups had urine with iodine levels below the World Health Organization recommended 100 µg per liter, but the vegan/plant-based group was far lower at 44 µg per liter. Those eating Himalayan salt had severely deficient levels: 23 µg per liter. The study did not look at the intellectual functioning of the infants after they were born.
How to get enough iodine in the diet? Foods containing iodine are seafood, seaweed, bread fortified with iodine, iodized salt, eggs, and dairy foods. Also, iodine supplements. Research indicates that adequate iodine intake before conception is necessary to ensure optimal maternal thyroid function during pregnancy, which is required for fetal intellectual development.
Nowadays many people apply antibiotic ointments on any and all skin wounds, no matter how minor. This is recommended by doctors in an effort to prevent the wound from becoming infected and to promote wound healing. However, surprising results from a recent small study found that applying an antibiotic ointment on skin wounds actually slows down healing.
The John Hopkins Univ. School of Medicine researchers found that our skin microbes (microbiome), including bacteria thought of as pathogenic, are involved in skin wound healing. The skin wound healing was faster in both humans and mice when antibiotic ointments were not applied.
Their recommendation: “...perhaps people may need to reconsider their use of these products (antibiotic ointments)". Of course more research needs to be done to see if the results from the small study (six adults) hold up. Perhaps a good approach would be to let small skin wounds heal on their own, and only apply an antibiotic ointment if the wound looks infected.
Once again a study finds that taking supplements can be problematic. This time it's fish oil supplements for heart health. Researchers found that taking routine daily fish oil supplements was linked to an increased risk of atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder. Atrial fibrillation is linked to higher risk of stroke and death.
The international research team analyzed five studies in which people with high blood lipids (elevated plasma triglycerides) took fish oil supplements hoping that it would improve their heart health. The studies were well done, with people randomly assigned to different groups But the results turned out that instead of helping, fish oil supplements appeared to cause a problem - increased risk of atrial fibrillation.
What to do for heart health? Focus on eating a healthy diet with lots of "real" foods, similar to a Mediterranean diet. That is, a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans), seeds, nuts, and fish. Avoid fast foods and highly processed foods. Get exercise (at least 2 1/2 hours per week - brisk walks count), and try to lose weight if overweight.
Another reason to get more active - a new study finds that being physically inactive (a couch potato) is associated with a higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and ICU admission for COVID-19, and death from COVID-19. The researchers concluded that being consistently inactive should be viewed as a risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes, and that it is a "stronger risk factor than any of the underlying medical conditions and risk factors identified by the CDC except for age and a history of organ transplant". Yikes!
On the other hand, being physically active at least 150 minutes per week, and this includes brisk walking, is linked to lower rates of all of the above. Some activity (but under 150 minutes per week) is also better than none, but 150 minutes or more is better. The researchers state that besides vaccinations, social distancing, and mask wearing - being physically active is the single most important action individuals can take to prevent severe COVID-19 and its complications, including death.
The 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of physical activity per week are the recommended US Physical Activity Guidelines for adults, and include moderate and vigorous physical activity. It includes brisk walking. This can be achieved in less than 1/2 hour per day!
The researchers point out that health benefits of regular physical activity include: improved immune function, lower incidence of viral infections, as well as lower intensity and cases of death from viral infections, lowers the risk of chronic inflammation, improves cardiovascular health, increases lung capacity, muscle strength, and improves mental health. Which is why it is not surprising that persons getting a good amount of physical activity each week also generally have fewer problems with COVID-19 infections.