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Many studies find differences between organic and conventional foods, with more favorable results for organic foods (e.g. better nutritionally, lower pesticide residues). A study by Emory University researchers that analyzed samples of conventional and organic milk from different regions of the US adds to the list. They found  that the samples of conventional milk contained pesticides, antibiotics, and synthetic growth hormones, but none of these were found in organic milk.

The pesticide levels in the conventional milk varied among the samples, but included frequently used pesticides such as atrazine, permethrin, cypermethrin, chloroyrifos, and diazinon. Chlorpyrifos, found in 59% of the conventional milk samples, is the pesticide that scientists absolutely want banned because of its neurotoxic effects, especially on developing babies and children.  They also found that antibiotic residue levels in conventional milk samples surpassed federal limits for amoxicillin (3%), and illegal sulfamethazine (37%) and sulfathiazole (26%). Yikes!

These are important findings because milk is a staple in the diet of many people, especially children. By the way, international milk also can have pesticide and drug residues (e.g. Israel).

But not all organic milk is equal. Unfortunately a number of big so-called organic dairy farms (15,000 to 20,000 cows) are basically factory farms (e.g. Aurora Organic Dairy, Horizon) - they exploit loopholes in organic regulations, as well as deliberately not follow some organic standards. However, even low-quality organic milk has been shown to contain no residues of antibiotics and toxic pesticides - it's just that their milk nutritional profile is different than that of grass-fed organic cows.

Organic milk cows are supposed to be outside grazing during the growing season, at least 120 days a year - thus real organic milk is from "grass-fed" cows. Grass-fed cows (but not conventional and factory-farm organic cows) tend to produce milk with elevated levels of two types of fat: conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3 fat known as alpha-linolenic acid. Both have been associated with health benefits in humans, although the amounts found in milk are relatively small. Another type of fat called linoleic acid, (an omega-6 fat), tends to be lower in milk that is from pasture-fed cows.

The Cornucopia Institute has dairy scorecards and rankings of major organic milk brands, as well as other organic foods (e.g. poultry, cereal, eggs). Cornucopia is an organic agriculture watchdog group - an excellent resource to help you choose organic foods.

Some excerpts from the Jean A. Welsh et al. study in the journal Public Health Nutrition: Production-related contaminants (pesticides, antibiotics and hormones) in organic and conventionally produced milk samples sold in the USA

Conclusions: Current-use antibiotics and pesticides were undetectable in organic but prevalent in conventionally produced milk samples, with multiple samples exceeding federal limits. Higher bGH and IGF-1 levels in conventional milk suggest the presence of synthetic growth hormone. Further research is needed to understand the impact of these differences, if any, on consumers.   ...continue reading "Organic Milk Does Not Contain Toxic Pesticides Found In Conventional Milk"

Humans (slightly) perk up their ears when listening intently to sounds! A recent study found that muscles around the human ear make tiny subtle movements (ear 'perking' movements) when focusing on novel, unusual, or specific sounds. These movements of muscles around the ears also indicate the direction of sounds a person is paying attention to.

It's not the obvious pointing of the ears that dogs and cats do - it's much more subtle and can be seen in the "electrical activity of muscles around the ear". Thus the researchers write: "Our species may nevertheless have retained a vestigial pinna-orienting system that has persisted as a 'neural fossil’ within in the brain for about 25 million years. Consistent with this hypothesis, we demonstrate that the direction of auditory attention is reflected in sustained electrical activity of muscles within the vestigial auriculomotor system. "

From Science Daily: Our animal inheritance: Humans perk up their ears, too, when they hear interesting sounds

Many animals, including dogs, cats and various species of monkeys, will move their ears to better focus their attention on a novel sound.  ...continue reading "Humans Slightly Perk Up Their Ears To Sounds"

Eat dinner earlier, not later. A small study looked at the time dinner was eaten and the interval to bedtime. They found that eating a late dinner affects the metabolism negatively: blood sugar levels were higher, and the amount of ingested fat burned was lower, when compared to those eating an earlier dinner. Dinner was the same foods, just eaten at 2 different times.

The 20 young, healthy participants ate dinner at either 6 pm or 10 pm, and bedtime was at 11 pm. According to the results of the study, eating a late dinner alters metabolic markers during sleep in a way that could lead to obesity or diabetes. "The peak glucose level after late dinner was about 18% higher, and the amount of fat burned overnight decreased by about 10% compared to eating an earlier dinner."

This adds to evidence suggesting that the time meals are eaten can influence the development of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Sleep lowers the metabolic rate. Other studies have also found that eating earlier is better than later: for example, weight loss is greater in those eating the main meal of the day earlier rather than later.

The weird thing was, these effects were found even though the early dinner group was given a 200 calorie snack at 10 pm. So it's not like they had zero calories after their 6 pm dinner. (The late dinner group ate the same snack at 6 pm.) Based on these findings, I wonder how much better the metabolic markers would have been if zero calories were eaten after the 6 pm dinner?

From Science Daily: People who eat a late dinner may gain weight

Eating a late dinner may contribute to weight gain and high blood sugar, according to a small study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.  ...continue reading "Try Not To Eat Dinner Close To Bedtime"

Dogs exposed to lawn pesticides develop similar cancers as humans exposed to lawn pesticides, but in dogs the cancers appear with a much shorter time lag - only a few years. In contrast, human cancers can take decades to appear. This is why dogs can be viewed as "sentinel species" - they show risks or dangers due to chemical exposures in the environment earlier than humans.

This is why this study having both humans and dogs wear silicone monitoring devices to measure chemicals (pesticides, flame retardants, and phthalates) they are exposed to in the environment is so interesting. Both dogs and humans showed similar exposure levels to the chemicals. Think of it - whatever our pet dogs are exposed to in the environment, we also are exposed to it. And if something causes harm, we probably also are being harmed by it.

From Science Daily: Monitoring environmental exposures in dogs could be early warning system for human health

Man's best friend may also be man's best bet for figuring out how environmental chemicals could impact our health. Researchers from North Carolina State University and Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment used silicone dog tags as passive environmental samplers to collect information about everyday chemical exposures, and found that dogs could be an important sentinel species for the long term effects of environmental chemicals ...continue reading "Are Our Dogs Early Warning Systems For Harmful Chemical Exposures?"

More evidence that there are health benefits from physical activity, even minimal amounts. Ohio State University researchers found that physical activity, even 10 minute at a time physical activity or exercise, adds up and is associated with lower amounts of cardiovascular (heart) disease in the next ten years - even for obese and overweight persons.

Being overweight or obese are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. About 40% of Americans are obese and 32% are overweight, so having a way to simply and cheaply lower rates of cardiovascular disease is wonderful. Overweight is body mass index (BMI) of 25.0 to 29.9, obesity is BMI 30 or higher, and normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.8 (see CDC guidelines)

The researchers found that physical activity is more important than weight of a person in determining the risk of cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years. Unfortunately 43% of the overweight participants and 53% of the obese participants reported being sedentary (did not engage in at least 10 minutes of continuous physical activity each week) - and these groups had the highest risk of cardiovascular disease.

What counts as exercise or physical activity? Physical activity should be at least 10 continuous minutes or more, and ideally add up to 150 minutes or more each week. All moderate (e.g. brisk walking, light yard work, vacuuming, dancing) and vigorous (e.g. jogging, swimming laps, aerobics, heavy yard work) recreation activities count. The study found that engaging in less than 150 minutes a week also lowered the risk for cardiovascular disease, just not as much as for those with 150 minutes or more each week.

Government guidelines: The Physical Activity Guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.

Bottom line: Try to move, move, move as much as possible! Yes, a nice 20 minute (1 mile) walk counts!

From Medical Xpress: Not much exercise needed to lower heart disease risk for overweight people

A new study suggests, for obese or overweight adults, that any amount of exercise might lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years.  ...continue reading "Any Amount of Physical Activity Is Good For Overweight Adults"

Evidence is accumulating that engaging in exercise may not only prevent cancer, but that in those who already have cancer - it may prevent progression of the cancer. Fantastic!

A large 2019 review of 9 studies (755,459 individuals) found that 2 1/2 hours per week of "moderate-intensity" physical activity or exercise (e.g. brisk walks) really lowers the risk of 7 cancers: colon, breast, endometrial, kidney, myeloma, liver, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Some (but not all) were lowered in a dose response manner, that is, the more exercise (up to 5 hours per week), the bigger the protective effect.

Another 2019 review article stated that there are hundreds of studies in the field of "exercise oncology" which have examined the effect of exercise on cancer in humans. The studies find that exercise may prevent cancer, control cancer progression, and interact positively with anticancer therapies. (One example: a study found regular moderate or vigorous physical activity is associated with lower rates of death in men diagnosed with prostate cancer.)

In addition, hundreds of animal (mice and rat) and laboratory studies show that the anticancer effects of exercise are causal, not just an association. There is evidence that each exercise session actually has an effect on cancer tumors. And that the more exercise sessions, the bigger the effect!

Bottom line: Get out and move, move, move! Plan to do this every week for years.

An infographic that illustrates how exercise has anticancer effects, from The Scientist:  Infographic: Exercise’s Anticancer Mechanisms

Excerpts from the accompanying April 2020 article by Prof. Bente K. Pedersen (Univ. of Copenhagen) on how regular exercise has anticancer effects. From The Scientist: Regular Exercise Helps Patients Combat Cancer

Physical exercise is increasingly being integrated into the care of cancer patients such as Mathilde, and for good reason. Evidence is accumulating that exercise improves the well being of these patients by combating the physical and mental deterioration that often occur during anticancer treatments. Most remarkably, we are beginning to understand that exercise can directly or indirectly fight the cancer itself.  ...continue reading "Regular Exercise Has Anticancer Effects"

For several years I've noticed that in a number of studies there appear to be beneficial health effects from consumption of dairy products, especially whole milk or full-fat products, and also fermented dairy products (e.g. yogurt, cheese). A recent international study (21 countries on 5 continents) found similar results: higher intake of dairy foods, especially full-fat dairy, is associated with lower incidence of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and early death. Risk factors include increased blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, elevated triglycerides and cholesterol levels, and elevated blood glucose.  Diet plays a role in whether one develops metabolic syndrome and diabetes. [Being overweight and being inactive are also important risk factors.]

What was the higher intake of dairy products that was associated with health benefits? At least 2 servings per day. The study did not look into what kind of dairy people drank and ate - whether cow, sheep, camel, or goat milk dairy. The assumption is: dairy is dairy!

While it was an observational study, it was significant, especially because the 131,481 participants (aged 35 to 70 years) were from world regions not typically studied in dairy consumption studies. They were tracked for about 9 years.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Dairy-rich diet linked to lower risks of diabetes and high blood pressure

Eating at least two daily servings of dairy is linked to lower risks of diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as the cluster of factors that heighten cardiovascular disease risk (metabolic syndrome), finds a large international study published online in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.  ...continue reading "Dairy Products, Hypertension, Diabetes, and Metabolic Syndrome"

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More good news for coffee lovers. A study that looked at a large sample of adults in the US found that there is a dose-response association for daily coffee consumption and body fat (adiposity). Higher coffee intake (both regular and decaf) was associated with lower body fat in women, but not men.

The biggest effects were seen in women aged 20 to 44 years (who drank 2 to 3 cups/day), and in 45 to 69 year old women who drank 4 or more cups of coffee per day - that is, they had lower total body fat and trunk body fat when compared to those who didn't drink coffee.

Coffee has over 1000 bioactive compounds in it, such as caffeine, chlorogenic acids, and diterpenes. Recent studies found that moderate coffee intake (3 to 4 cups/day) lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, (early) death, lower risk of some cancers, and has a beneficial effect on metabolism (increases it) and inflammation. [Note: chronic inflammation is linked to a number of diseases, so want to lower it.]

The researchers suggest that there are compounds in coffee (other than caffeine) that regulate weight and act as "antiobesity compounds". Perhaps view drinking coffee as a healthy diet strategy for women!

Excerpts from Science Daily: Coffee linked to lower body fat in women

Women who drink two or three cups of coffee a day have been found to have lower total body and abdominal fat than those who drink less, according to a new study published in The Journal of Nutrition ...continue reading "Drinking Coffee Associated With Lower Body Fat in Women"

The Scandinavians really love to drink coffee, and of course researchers study the health effects of all that coffee drinking. Two recent studies both found health benefits from drinking filtered coffee (such as drip coffee), but not unfiltered coffee.

A study conducted in Norway found that over a 20 year period drinking filtered coffee daily was associated with lower death rates, when compared to those who did not drink coffee or drank unfiltered coffee. The best health effects (lowest mortality rate) were associated with drinking 1 to 4 cups per day of filtered coffee, and the unhealthiest (highest mortality rate) was drinking 9 or more cups per day of unfiltered coffee.

The researchers thought that unfiltered coffee raised the cholesterol levels, because of the lipid-raising components of coffee - the diterpenes kahweol and cafestol, which are filtered out by coffee filters. This could explain the association between unfiltered coffee and higher death rates from heart disease. Other studies have found that higher consumption of filtered coffee results in lower levels of markers of inflammation.

As was discussed in an earlier post, a recent study from Sweden found that drinking 2 to 3 cups of drip coffee (using a filter) daily lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, while drinking boiled coffee has no health effect. The researchers put it nicely, that habitually drinking filtered coffee has a "protective role" on type 2 diabetes development.

On the other hand, other popular ways of preparing coffee don't use filters - French press, espresso, percolator, and coffee pods, and so may have similar not-so-great health effects to boiled coffee. But still unknown at this time - studies are needed.

From Science Daily: How to make the healthiest coffee

Today scientists announce the healthiest way to make a brew ...continue reading "Drinking Filtered Coffee Is Healthier Than Unfiltered Coffee"

The possibility that rising carbon dioxide levels could eventually result in harmful effects on people's thinking (cognition) is scary. Currently levels are above 400 ppm and rising steadily each year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that outdoor CO2 levels could climb to 930 ppm by 2100, which means urban and indoor levels would be even higher.

Studies suggest that at high levels of carbon dioxide our thinking gets worse. A University of Colorado study reports that a growing body of evidence finds that as CO2 levels increase, there are effects on thinking (cognitive functioning), including decision making, planning, and complex strategic thinking. As carbon dioxide levels rise to 945 ppm and higher, the effects are even more significant, especially with mentally demanding tasks.

Think of the air in stuffy conference rooms or offices, which studies show has a negative effect on different aspects of our thought processes. The stuffy air is from higher levels of CO2. What if in the future this is our regular "fresh air", with no possibility of escape? The best case scenario is that we do not allow carbon dioxide levels to get that high by reducing fossil fuel emissions. Starting now.

From Science Daily: Rising carbon dioxide causes more than a climate crisis -- it may directly harm our ability to think

As the 21st century progresses, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations will cause urban and indoor levels of the gas to increase, and that may significantly reduce our basic decision-making ability and complex strategic thinking, according to a new CU Boulder-led study. By the end of the century, people could be exposed to indoor CO2 levels up to 1400 parts per million -- more than three times today's outdoor levels, and well beyond what humans have ever experienced.  ...continue reading "Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels May Harm Our Thought Processes"