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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.

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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"

The American Academy of Pediatrics (representing 67,000 pediatricians) has come out with a statement expressing serious health concerns about the Food and Drug Administration's  (FDA) lax regulation of chemicals added to food and food packaging - such as additives, BPA, colors, flavors, nitrates, nitrites, etc. They also list ways that this problem could be fixed (Congress needs to pass legislation!), and also give some steps on how people can lower their exposure to these chemicals.

A panel of experts representing the group issued both a technical report and a statement which talked about the scientific evidence (which grows yearly) against such compounds such as bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs) used in grease-proof paper, certain colors (dyes), and preservatives. These chemicals can enter into the body and cause harm or health problems, for example  by disrupting crucial biological processes such as the endocrine (hormone) system and immune system. A number of these chemicals are thought to mimic or suppress natural hormones - they are endocrine disruptors. Children and developing fetuses are especially vulnerable to long-term effects. They also expressed concern with nonpersistent pesticides.

Many of the chemicals currently in the food supply "have not been tested at all, while others have not been tested for endocrine disruption or their impact on brain development, and their effect on children's health is still unknown," said Trasande, the paper's lead author and an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine in New York. This is because the old required tests are too simplistic, too crude, using old out-dated technology and knowledge.

The American Academy of pediatrics points out in the statement that currently: "more than 10 000 chemicals are allowed to be added to food and food contact materials in the United States, either directly or indirectly, under the 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA)". Many of these were grandfathered in for use by the federal government before the 1958 amendment, and an estimated 1000 chemicals are used under a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) designation process..."  Whew.... so many chemicals...

Is there a problem with GRAS? Of the approximate 1,000 GRAS compounds added to food and food packaging, the large majority were designated as such by either the company that manufactures them or a paid consultant. (Do you see a problem here? The conflicts of interest are huge - the fox is guarding the chickens.)

How can you personally lower your exposure to all these chemicals? 1) Eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, and avoid eating canned foods (the can lining has BPA or other just as worrisome chemicals - bisphenols), 2) Avoid processed meat, especially during pregnancy (nitrates, nitrites, etc), 3) Avoid microwaving food or liquids in plastic containers (chemicals leach out) - including infant formula and breastmilk, 4) Avoid putting plastics in the dishwasher (chemicals leach out), 5) Use alternatives to plastic such as glass and stainless steel, 6) Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols) unless plastics are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware,” indicating that they are made from corn and do not contain bisphenols, 7) Wash  hands before eating, and wash fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled. 8) Also - read the ingredients on all labels, and look for "real" ingredients ...continue reading "Pediatricians Have Health Concerns About All the Additives In Food"

A decades long study (from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) had results that many women may find reassuring - because there may be something they can do to increase their odds of preventing breast cancer. The study found that women who ate more than 5.5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day had an 11% lower risk of breast cancer than those who ate 2.5 or fewer servings daily.

While the findings support eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, they found that cruciferous (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) and yellow/orange vegetables (e.g. winter squash) appear to be especially beneficial in reducing the risk of breast cancer, especially those that are more aggressive tumors. The association between amount of fruits and vegetables eaten daily  and breast cancer appeared to be strongest 8 or more years before cancer diagnosis - meaning fruit and vegetable intake now appears to have effects many years later.

By the way, the researchers found in earlier research that a higher fiber intake (especially during adolescence and early adulthood) was also associated with a lower beast cancer risk. Now let's see if these findings hold up over time in other studies. From Science Daily:

High fruit and vegetable consumption may reduce risk of breast cancer

Women who eat a high amount of fruits and vegetables each day may have a lower risk of breast cancer, especially of aggressive tumors, than those who eat fewer fruits and vegetables, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In their findings, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, and yellow and orange vegetables, had a particularly significant association with lower breast cancer risk.  ...continue reading "Eating Lots of Fruits and Vegetables Associated With a Lower Breast Cancer Risk Years Later"

Once again, recent studies found that eating real food (fish) is associated with health benefits, but taking a supplement (omega-3) isn't. Similar findings about fish versus omega-3 fatty acid supplements have also been found in other studies. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids and many other nutrients - more than are found in supplements.

The first study is a Cochrane review of studies already done. The review provides good evidence that taking long-chain omega 3 (fish oil, EPA or DHA) supplements does not benefit heart health or reduce risk of stroke or death from any cause. In other words, people take the supplements believing it helps heart (cardiovascular) health - but the evidence isn't there.

On the other hand, a large study of people living throughout the US and followed for 16 years found an association with higher fish consumption and lower risk of early death, and death from cardiovascular disease. Additionally, in men - those eating the most fish (as compared to those eating the least) had a lower risk of death from cancer, respiratory disease, and liver disease, and in women - lower risk of death from Alzheimer's disease. However, eating fried fish didn't have those health benefits. The group eating the most fish had 8 oz or more fish per week, while the group having the least had less than 2 oz. per week.

From Science Daily:  Omega 3 supplements have little or no heart or vascular health benefit

New evidence published today shows there is little or no effect of omega 3 supplements on our risk of experiencing heart disease, stroke or death.  ...continue reading "Health Benefits Linked to Eating Fish, Not Supplements"

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People are excited over the possibility that herpes viruses could be behind Alzheimer's disease and whether it could be prevented with the use of antiviral medication. This is because currently there is no way to prevent or treat the disease.The June 22, 218 post discussed the amazing recently published study done in Taiwan. The study looked at more than 33,000 individuals and found that those with herpes simplex infections (HSV) had a 2.56-fold increased risk of developing dementia. But individuals that were treated with anti-herpetic (antiviral) medications for a newly diagnosed HSV outbreak had a decreased risk of dementia - that the risk dropped back down "to baseline". [Note that whether it was the person's initial infection or reactivation of an existing infection is unclear.]

The researchers' conclusion was that the antiviral medication reduced the risk of senile dementia (Alzheimer’s disease) by keeping the herpes infection in check. Now studies need to be done to see if this association holds. But the amazing results, along with studies that also implicate other herpes viruses, led to a commentary being published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease about the tantalizing possibility of a simple treatment or prevention - perhaps even a vaccine. This commentary highlights the excitement among some (many?) researchers. The authors of the commentary mention that currently "over 130 studies, using a variety of approaches, support a major role for HSV1 in Alzheimer's Disease". Even if it's not all cases of Alzheimer's disease, but only a portion - it would still be incredible.

From Science Daily: Herpes linked to Alzheimer's: Antivirals may help

A new commentary by scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Edinburgh on a study by Taiwanese epidemiologists supports the viability of a potential way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. When the Taiwanese authors looked at subjects who suffered severe herpes infection and who were treated aggressively with antiviral drugs, the relative risk of dementia was reduced by a factor of 10. 
...continue reading "Excitement Builds Over Possible Herpes Virus Link to Alzheimer’s disease"