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Something a little different today. For years I've posted studies showing that eating organic foods lowers pesticide levels in the body quickly, eating organic foods is the only way to avoid the presence of the controversial pesticide glyphosate (Roundup) in food, the nutritional profile (especially fatty acids) of meat and milk from grass-fed, pasture raised animals is different and healthier than conventionally raised animals (and even organic animals not raised on pasture), and on and on. In other words, eating organic foods has health benefits. All good.

But meanwhile, the National Organic Program and National Organic Standards Board (which controls the national organic foods certification program) is being influenced by big agriculture lobbying - to the dismay of real organic farmers. Yes - real organic farmers, who farm the way we expect our organic meat and crops to be raised. You know - cows grazing outside, chickens pecking away for insects outside, crops being raised in real soil (and not hydroponics). But ... Big Agriculture with the mega-farms and lots of chemicals, and animals confined by the thousands indoors, have decided they want a piece of the organic action, and have now influenced the National Organic Program and National Organic Standards Board with the result of weakening of organic standards. But there are other problems too with the organic program as it currently exists.

The Washington Post did a series of articles last year about a huge issue of fraud -  about how so-called organic food from other countries may really not be organic (esp. corn and soybeans), and this mega-influx of fake organic food with lower prices is something real organic farmers in the US can't compete with. Also, how "larger agricultural companies have sought to loosen organic rules in the name of efficiency and affordability". The organic market is a big one, and growing bigger every year (billions of $$). It benefits large corporations and huge mono-crop farms financially to have watered down standards.

Another example: the organic milk that one buys may not really be organic (and the same issue with organic chickens). Organic dairies are supposed to have their dairy cows out grazing in the pasture for a minumum of 120 days per year - it is a requirement. But big dairies that are only organic in name ignore that requirement - such as the huge Aurora Dairy. Yup, they lie. And in September 2017, the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) didn't punish the 15,000 cow Aurora Dairy - instead they "exonerated the enormous Aurora Dairy CAFO (Confinement Animal Feeding Operation) of any wrongdoing at their Colorado “farm.” This dairy operation was described in detail in one Washington Post article, along with compelling test results to prove the cattle weren’t on pasture." So of course now they and other mega-dairies will just ignore the organic regulations, because they can without any penalty...continue reading "Is A New Organic Label Needed For Farmers Following Traditional Organic Practices?"

Once again, a study finds that consumption of nuts is beneficial to health - this time by impacting the gut microbiome (community of microbes) in a beneficial way. This was a nicely done study -18 healthy adults randomly assigned first to either eating about a handful of walnuts daily (42 g) or zero nuts daily for 3 weeks, and then assigned to the other group for 3 weeks, with a "washout period" of 1 week in-between. Walnut consumption resulted in higher amounts of beneficial gut bacteria (Faecalibacterium, Clostridium, Dialister, and Roseburia) which are butyrate producing (beneficial!), and lowering of proinflammatory secondary bile acids and LDL cholesterol (both beneficial).

As seen in this walnut study from the University of Illinois, adding walnuts to the diet has quick effects on the gut microbiome. Other studies find that diets rich in nuts (which are a source of dietary fiber and unsaturated fatty acids) are associated with a reduced risk of death from cancer and heart disease. Bottom line: eating some nuts daily feeds beneficial bacteria in the gut, and so has beneficial health effects. This walnut study had everyone eating about a handful of walnut halves a day (42 g, which is a little less than 1/2 cup walnut halves).

From Science Daily: Walnuts impact gut microbiome and improve health

Diets rich in nuts, such as walnuts, have been shown to play a role in heart health and in reducing colorectal cancer. According to a new study from the University of Illinois, the way walnuts impact the gut microbiome -- the collection of trillions of microbes or bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract -- may be behind some of those health benefits.  ...continue reading "Walnuts Feed Beneficial Gut Bacteria and Other Health Benefits"

Researchers measured chemicals in the air in 2 cities (Boulder, CO and Toronto, Canada) and found equally high levels of 2 chemicals in the air during morning commute times - benzene (from vehicle exhaust) and a type of siloxane (from personal care products). What? This study's results make a strong case for reading ingredient lists of personal care products (especially lotions, shampoos, deodorants, antiperspirants) - and avoiding those containing siloxane (which emits volatile organic compounds or VOCs!).

If you consider siloxane and fragrances (which can contain a long, long list of chemicals, including VOCs) as significant sources of air pollution, you might not want to breathe it in or put in on your skin to be absorbed.  Bottom line: Read labels! From Science Daily:

Personal care products contribute to a pollution 'rush hour'

When people are out and about, they leave plumes of chemicals behind them -from both car tailpipes and the products they put on their skin and hair. In fact, emissions of siloxane, a common ingredient in shampoos, lotions, and deodorants, are comparable in magnitude to the emissions of major components of vehicle exhaust, such as benzene, from rush-hour traffic in Boulder, Colorado, according to a new CIRES and NOAA study.  ...continue reading "Personal Care Products and Air Pollution"

A wacky study in some ways, but the results give another great reason to eat dark chocolate ("It's for my vision") if the results hold up with more research. Unfortunately the milk chocolate used did not have the same beneficial effects for vision (it just had no effect). But still to be determined is how long does the small increase in vision acuity and contrast sensitivity last after eating dark chocolate, and does it really mean anything in the real world? The beneficial results in vision were found about 2 hours after eating the dark chocolate, so it is unknown how long the beneficial effect lasted.

The good news is that in the study 30 healthy adults were randomly assigned to different groups, it was "double blind" (no one knew who got what to eliminate bias), it was rigorously done, they used real chocolate available to everyone (72% Cacao Dark Chocolate bar vs Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate bar - both from Trader Joe's), and the researchers had no ties to industry. The researchers concluded eating a "dark chocolate bar improves the ability to see low- and high-contrast targets, possibly owing to increased blood flow", but they don't know what this means for real life.

As the researchers point out -  there were 8 times more flavanols in the dark (316.3 mg) vs milk chocolate bar (40 mg). Their thinking was clear in the study's introduction: "Several studies suggest that dark chocolate from favanol-rich cacao beans may enhance blood flow to central and peripheral nervous systems, improve cardiovascular function, and retard memory loss and other signs and symptoms of degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases. The cacao flavanols in dark chocolate have antioxidant effects that retard and partially reverse degenerative changes in various diseases. Dark chocolate consumption also has been associated with enhanced mood and cognition."  Wow.

The big question: How much dark chocolate did they eat to get these beneficial effects?  Answer: 47 grams (or 1 serving, 280 calories) of the 72% cacao dark chocolate. From Medical Xpress:

A bit of dark chocolate might sweeten your vision

It may not replace prescription glasses, but a few bites of dark chocolate might offer a slight and temporary bump up in vision quality, new research suggests. Heart-healthy compounds in chocolate called flavanols appeared to sharpen eyesight for a group of 30 healthy young adults in the new study. The observed change in vision was small, but significant. However, the study authors stressed that it's too early for ophthalmologists to recommend chocolate as medicine for the eyes. 

...continue reading "Eating Dark Chocolate Benefits Vision?"

An interesting study about frequency of chemical sensitivities in the general population. The study, conducted by Prof. Anne Steinemann (at the Univ. of Melbourne) is observational, and based on self-reports by 1137 people. But it's amazing that so many people (1 in 4 Americans in the study or 25.9%) report some chemical sensitivities, and also that 12.8%  report that they have medically diagnosed Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS).

But it makes sense when you think about all the chemicals we are bombarded with daily, many with known negative health effects. Perhaps you have a physical reaction or feel allergic to certain products - such as household cleaning products, paints, perfumes, insect spray, or other scented products? That could be a chemical sensitivity.

People especially reported health problems from scented consumer products (with added fragrances), such as air fresheners, scented laundry products, cleaning supplies, scented candles, perfume, and personal care products. Yes - those are products to avoid for many reasons, but especially health reasons (see here, here,  and here). Not only do we breathe in the chemicals, but our skin absorbs them! They are indoor air pollutants (some are endocrine disruptors, some are carcinogenic), and should be avoided. [See here for in-depth discussion.]

Instead, buy unscented products, and totally avoid some unnecessary products such as air fresheners and dryer sheets (it's advertising that says they're needed, but they're really not). From Science Daily:

One in four Americans suffer when exposed to common chemicals

University of Melbourne research reveals that one in four Americans report chemical sensitivity, with nearly half this group medically diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), suffering health problems from exposure to common chemical products and pollutants such as insect spray, paint, cleaning supplies, fragrances and petrochemical fumes.  ...continue reading "Do You Have Chemical Sensitivities?"

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The last post was about several reviews of vitamin D studies, and how when people are put randomly into different groups and then followed for a while - that the studies generally are not finding the same wonderful effects of higher levels of vitamin D in the blood that observational studies are finding - instead finding no effect or mixed results. Some issues with observational studies: the groups are self-selected, some are a one time snapshot of a person (thus one can't tell what happens over time); and can't prove cause and effect (can only say there is an association or link). [See all posts about vitamin D.]

But anyway, today's post is about some more vitamin D studies, all published in 2018. All of them find health benefits from higher blood levels of vitamin D. What is an ideal level of vitamin D varies from study to study, and some are observational - thus can only say "find an association with" in the findings. The fifth study finds beneficial effects from higher doses of vitamin D, and the participants were randomly assigned to the groups (good!). Click on links to read details. All excerpts are from Science Daily:

Vitamin D deficiency linked to greater risk of diabetes

An epidemiological study conducted by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Seoul National University suggests that persons deficient in vitamin D may be at much greater risk of developing diabetes. The findings are reported in the April 19, 2018 online issue of PLOS One ...continue reading "Five Studies Looking at Vitamin D and Health"

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The controversy over whether people should be supplementing with vitamin D or not, and whether there are health benefits or harms from vitamin D supplementation is heating up. While observational studies have found health benefits with higher vitamin D blood levels, the beneficial results have generally not held up (or mixed findings) when people were randomly assigned to groups (randomized clinical trials). Most agree that blood levels of under 20 ng per mL is too low, but an issue is what is a desirable blood level? Should healthy people routinely supplement?

Having higher blood levels of vitamin D from sunshine appears to be good (it's the sunshine vitamin, after all). It's the taking of a vitamin D supplement that is now controversial and being debated. By the way, if one decides to take a vitamin D supplement, then the D3 form is desirable (rather than D2).

It was pointed out that a number of negative health effects can occur in those taking more than 4000 IU daily of vitamin D. For example, it may cause toxic effects such as renal impairment, hypercalcemia, or vascular calcification. In  2014, 3% of all U.S. adults and 6.6% of adults older than 60 years reported taking a vitamin D supplement of 4,000 or more IU per day. [See all vitamin D posts - most discuss observational studies finding benefits.]

The following are articles from Medscape (the medical site) and American Family Physician discussing recent research that is not finding health benefits with vitamin D supplementation, or mixed findings (e.g. one review found it may be protective in lowering death from any reason or from cancer; also reduce the number of upper respiratory infections)Therefore, some medical groups suggest that vitamin D screening is an unnecessary test, a waste of money,  and shouldn't be routinely done in healthy individuals. Note that many, many trials are going on right now to try to settle the vitamin D supplement issue (whether there are health benefits or not). ...continue reading "Mixed Findings In Vitamin D Supplement Studies"

Does the type of iron in supplements and additives matter for your health? OK, this was a preliminary study and done in a lab using human cells, which means much more research needs to be done, but... It may be that different forms of iron in supplements and additives have slightly different effects in the human body, specifically the intestines. Ferrous sulphate so far looks good (had no effect on the cancer cells studied), while 2 other forms of iron - ferric citrate and ferric EDTA - may actually promote the formation of colon cancer. That is, they may be considered carcinogenic.

Ferric EDTA and ferric citrate have been observed to promote colon cancer in studies using mice. Bottom line: When buying supplements and foods, check labels to make sure the iron is in the form of ferrous sulphate, and not ferric citrate or ferric EDTA. From Science Daily:

Certain iron supplements may influence the development of colon cancer ...continue reading "Perhaps The Type Of Iron Supplement Matters"

New research published in The Lancet estimates that lead exposure results in about 400,000 deaths every year in the USA - which includes about 250,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease. The study looked at "historical exposure" to lead, which means they looked at a person's lead exposure years ago (which could have been from many sources, such as breathing lead contaminated dust, drinking water from leaded pipes, from lead paint, leaded gas, or eating from cans that have been soldered with lead). What was noteworthy in this study following over 14,000 adults was that there were increased death rates even from low lead blood levels (concentrations of lead in blood lower than 5 μg/dL).

Lead exposure has been declining since the 1970s after lead was eliminated (banned) from paint and gasoline, but this study looked at adults born in the years when lead exposure was higher during childhood and adulthood. Baseline data (blood lead levels) was collected between 1988 and 1994 and then individuals were followed for the next 2 decades. The researchers found that there was a dose response curve - the higher the blood lead level, the higher the death rate from any cause (all-cause mortality), from cardiovascular disease, and from ischaemic heart disease in the next two decades.

Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal, but it's also a poisonous substance for humans, and accumulates in teeth and bones. Lead can pass through the blood-brain barrier in children and fetuses and kill brain cells (and cause neurological damage). Lead can enter blood vessels and harm the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. This process hardens arteries and causes plaque to form in blood vessels, increasing blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Lead can damage the kidneys, which play an important role in regulating blood pressure, and so increase a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have stated that there are no safe blood levels of lead for children (zero is best), and the researchers of this study believe the same is true for adults. From Science Daily:

Historical lead exposure may be linked to 256,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease in adults in United States each year

New estimates suggest that 256,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease -- including 185,000 deaths from ischemic heart disease -- in the USA may be linked to historical lead exposure in middle-aged and older adults (people currently aged 44 years or over), according to an observational study following 14,300 people for almost 20 years, published in The Lancet Public Health journal.  ...continue reading "Even Low Level Lead Exposure Is Linked to Later Health Problems"

Of course! The results of this study made perfect sense to me - that losing your wealth or savings in late middle-age is such a mental shock ("negative wealth shock") that it increases the risk of death for any reason ("all cause mortality") tremendously over the next 20 years. About 50% increased risk of death. For example, if you have to live off your savings after you get laid off or can't work due to illness, and perhaps even lose your house to foreclosure, is STRESSFUL beyond belief. Almost incomprehensible to anyone who has not personally gone through it.

On top of that, a person may then not be able to afford to go to the doctor, even if there is a problem, once they're financially stressed. And of course they may never financially recover because the "negative wealth shock" happened at an older age (the people were 51 to 61 at the start of the study).

Other research conducted at time of the Great Recession showed significant associations between negative wealth shocks and short-term health changes - including increased risk of depression, anxiety, suicide, impaired cardiovascular function, and substance abuse. And now we know that long-term there is an increased risk of death. From Science Daily:

Losing your nest egg can kill you

A sudden loss of net worth in middle or older age is associated with a significantly higher risk of death, reports a new Northwestern Medicine and University of Michigan studyWhen people lose 75 percent or more of their total wealth during a two-year period, they are 50 percent more likely to die in the next 20 years, the study found.  ...continue reading "Losing Your Wealth In Late Middle-Age and Increased Risk of Death"