Friday, March 24, 2017

EpiPens And Pharma Bros Are No Accident: How Government Colludes In Big Pharma’s Chicanery

EpiPens And Pharma Bros Are No Accident: How Government Colludes In Big Pharma’s Chicanery
By Kurtis Bright

The Free Market Isn't Really Free: How Big Government And Big Pharma Are in Bed Together

When controversies occur like the disgusting and absurd EpiPen price hike of 600 percent last year, the coverage follows a common pattern: we (led by the media) cycle quickly from horror, to outrage, to disgust, to shrugging our shoulders and moving on to the latest celebrity scandal in quick succession.

Somewhere in the mix, toward the end of the cycle, some corporate talking head or another on some finance program will utter some insightful nugget along the lines of, “Well, that’s capitalism for you. Nothing to be done.”

There’s nothing to see here folks. It’s just the invisible hand of the free market at work. Move along now.

The thing is, that isn’t really true. Things like this don’t happen in a vacuum; there are no accidents, not anymore. Events like these, as can be easily demonstrated, are the end product of years if not decades of meticulous planning, carefully nurtured relationships with elected leaders, and the shameless cultivating of regulators--who often hail from the ranks of the Big Pharma companies in the first place.

And let’s be very clear here: Big Pharma spends big bucks on lobbying not out of a starry-eyed love and admiration for our electoral system and the octogenarian rock stars peopled therein, but rather in order to get laws crafted just the way they want them to be. All together, pharmaceutical companies have spent nearly a billion dollars, about $880 million on lobbying congress over the last decade. That’s more than eight times what the gun lobby has spent over the same time frame.

And when it comes to one of the great health-related tragedies of our times, the opioid crisis, the lobby promoting the approval, sale and use of the drugs has spent 200 times more than have groups calling for stricter prescription guidelines for the drugs. Even seemingly common-sense efforts to slow the tidal wave of the opioid scourge--for instance a New Mexico bill that would have limited initial opioid prescriptions for pain to seven days--have been bitterly fought by companies like Purdue Pharma, makers of Oxycontin.

And consider the case of Mylan, the now-notorious company behind the EpiPen and its appalling price-hike: that company’s deep connections to government read like a how-to guide to crony capitalism. After purchasing another company that created the EpiPen design, Mylan refined it and patented it, swatting down a series of other companies who sought to create their own version via a series of FDA interventions.

The fact that the company’s CEO Heather Bresch is the daughter of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin didn’t hurt the company’s prospects one bit. Nor did it stand in the way of the company’s efforts to get laws passed that required EpiPens to be stocked in every school in the country. Conveniently, these supplies have to be replaced every year, and of course Mylan is the sole company licensed to make them, thus creating an unbelievable and constant revenue stream for the company.

Yet another way Big Pharma manages to tilt the playing field in its favor is through patents. By taking a successful drug and tweaking the formula slightly when its exclusive status is nearing an end, they are able to buy themselves another five to seven years as exclusive manufacturers, with no competition from generic versions available. And regulators--who are often on the boards of Big Pharma companies themselves, or who are former employees--are often the people responsible for granting these renewed patents. Thus another never-ending revenue stream is created.

So next time you hear someone say, “Oh it just how the free market works” in response to the latest Big Pharma scandal--and there will be another and another soon enough--perhaps take a moment to explain to them the difference between cronyism and capitalism. The free market isn’t really free.

At least in pharmaceuticals--everybody pays and the fat cats atop the Big Pharma pyramid get fatter along with their lapdogs in Congress and the regulatory agencies.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Those Bright Oranges and Neon Pink Salmon Are Not What They Seem

More and Less Than Meets The Eye: Those Bright Oranges And Pink Salmon Are Not What They Seem
By Kurtis Bright

Tricks of the Food Trade: From Oranges to Chicken to Salmon, How Food Manufacturers Are Fooling You

If you needed any more proof that food manufacturers don’t want us to know what they’re putting in their products--that is, into our food--the ugliness over Vermont’s failed GMO labeling bill should tell you all you need to know.

Just when it seemed like the White Hats in Bernie Sanders country were going to succeed in taking control of GMO labeling so their citizens could know what they were eating, the bill was scuttled. Big grocery manufacturers and Big Agriculture went crying to their lackeys in Congress and got a new version of the DARK Act passed--so dubbed by opponents as the Denying Americans the Right to Know Act--a bill that actually prevents states from passing labeling laws. (Here's a good explanation of what the SAFE Act--its official name--entails, despite the article having been written before passage.)

So they’ve got secrets. Indeed, never before has an industry fought so hard to obscure its actual product and keep it hidden; selling GMOs requires a weird jujutsu that is essentially the opposite of advertising.

But as with anyone who has secrets and is trying to fool you, its good to know what they are, even if you don’t know exactly what they are hiding. But with these GMO guys there are some things we do know, some tricks of their trade that you can look out for when you’re shopping. Here are a few examples.

  • Neon pink salmon - That neon bright pink-orange color you often find in the salmon at the fish counter in your grocery store is usually not natural. Wild-caught salmon has a healthy pinkish red hue, due to the krill they eat. However, since farmed salmon eat chemical-laden food pellets and never encounter krill in at any point in their short, miserable lives crammed into off-shore pens by the thousands, their color would normally be a dull gray. But as any parent of a toddler knows, bright colors catch the eye. Shoppers unfortunately have been conditioned to expect that unnaturally bright pink-orange color in salmon. Thus, fish farms give the animals pigment pellets to give their meat that color. The practice is so ingrained that food pellet manufacturers have swatches of pinks and oranges and reds for industrial salmon farmers to choose from when ordering their fish feed.
    Pick your poison: It's called a Salmo-Fan and it is appalling. 
  • Oranges that are too orange - Have you ever wondered how those oranges you see in northern stores in winter can possibly all come with such a uniformly bright, vivid color? Well, if you know anything about the trickery of food manufacturers, it is of course no mystery: many Florida oranges are treated with a dye called Citrus Red No. 2 early on in the season to give them a brighter color. Of course, being firmly in the pocket of Big Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration has approved its use. However, despite this, you should know that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has issued multiple warnings over the dye. The non-profit group cites studies demonstrating that the dye can cause cancer in lab animals, among other problems. It is, however, banned in California. So oranges from that state should be free of the chemical. If you do end up buying bags of the Florida oranges, the label should say whether they have been dyed or not. However, buying loose oranges from a bin in a non-organic section of the store, you will never know what you’re getting--or rather, you probably will: dyed, chemically-treated oranges.
  • Other dyed foods - So now it has come down to this: even bread is getting the dye treatment. Often a loaf of supposedly wheat bread has been treated with caramel coloring to make it look...well, wheatier. It is a way in which manufacturers are able to fool us yet again, palming off refined grain breads as the healthier, and more sought-after whole wheat type. Other victims of industry dye jobs are pickles, which are given a shot of yellow coloring to make them look more vibrant and eye-catching, as well as deli meats. As we have witnessed repeatedly, the FDA has rolled over for Big Food (and of course their Big Money) and approved the use of these dyes. Indeed, is there anything they won’t approve, when it comes to pleasing food manufacturers and stuffing consumers full of chemicals and additives? At any rate, be on the lookout for dyes on food labels, as they often indicate a food that is highly processed and loaded with unnecessary and sometimes dangerous additives.
  • That ain’t no chicken soup I’ve ever heard of - Prepare yourself for a really nasty one: the U.S. Department of Agriculture has regulations in place that allow manufacturers to sell chicken that is up to 11 percent water. That doesn’t sound so horrible on the face of it. However what that means in practice this: after the chickens are slaughtered and had their feathers boiled off, they are cooled in a bath that contains bleach or another disinfectant. The reason they have to use bleach is because there is so much chicken feces spraying out of the birds following their gruesome deaths. Thus, up to 11 percent of your “healthy,” boneless, skinless chicken breast is bleach-poop water. Bon appetit!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Apps to Help You Navigate What Is Healthy and What Isn't

How Do We Even Know What Is Healthy Anymore? These Apps Can Help
By Kurtis Bright

The Answers To All Your Food Choice Questions Are a Swipe Away--Just Download These Apps

No one needs to tell you that smart phones are ubiquitous these days. We’ve all been stuck walking behind someone who is hogging the sidewalk while staring at their phone, walking at a snail’s pace, swerving randomly back and forth. And there’s nothing quite as poignantly illustrative of the aloneness-togetherness of modern life than when you see a table full of friends out for dinner together, but silent and not looking at each other--because they are all furiously texting away.

But as annoying as our modern connected life is, it has its benefits: we have more information at our fingertips than 99 percent of humanity ever had available in all the libraries of the world.

This is of course a double-edged sword: there’s tons of information out there, but there is just as much, if not more, misinformation as well.

And misinformation is the order of the day, when it comes to making healthy food choices. Recently, however, some really useful apps have emerged that can help clear up the confusion as to what’s actually healthy and what’s not, even as you do your shopping on the fly.

  • Chemical Cuisine - This is an app that was created under the auspices of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and it has data on a plethora of additives, including descriptions and an evaluation of the relative safety of each. Whenever you come across a product containing on of those multi-syllabic, impossible-to-pronounce names, simply enter it into the Chemical Cuisine database and you’ll get a rating: safe, cut back, caution, avoid, or certain people should avoid.
  • Dirty Dozen - Cataloguing the dozen most chemically compromised fruits and vegetables--that is, those with a thin skin which thus absorb more pesticides, or which can take up chemicals via their root systems--this app advises you which ones you should always buy organic. It is of course daunting to face the prices of organic fresh fruits and veggies these days, so we all appreciate saving a few bucks when possible. That’s why this app is so useful: they also have a list called the Clean 15, which are fruits and vegetables that are least likely to carry chemical contaminants to your table.
  • Seafood Watch - The condition of the world’s life-giving oceans is in dire straits and grows worse every day. Not only is there widespread bleaching of the coral reefs and the massive plastic floating trash island in the Pacific, we are also overfishing several species into extinction. With this app the ecologically and health conscious shopper can buy seafood guilt-free. It gives you a color rating--red means overfished or farmed in harmful ways, yellow is somewhat better, and green is the best option of all. But there is also a Super Green list, giving you seafood options that are best for sustainability, and also those that are most likely to be free of contaminants like PCBs and mercury.
  • Fooducate - An extremely clever app that has a database of over 200,000 food items with a letter grade and nutritional value listing, it will also tell you if the food contains artificial additives. Not only that, it will offer healthier options--all by simply scanning in the UPC code.

Making The Whole Grain Switch: Some Amazing Benefits Of Eating Whole Grains

Making The Whole Grain Switch: Some Amazing Benefits Of Eating Whole Grains
By Kurtis Bright

Everybody’s Talking About Whole Grains--But Why? Here Are Some Amazing Benefits

With so many conflicting dietary recommendations out there, it’s easy to get confused. Every day it seems like there’s some new breakthrough health study, some re-discovery of a long-lost indigenous plant that is the latest miracle cure.

However some things are based on pretty solid evidence that has been accumulated over a long time. One of these that is pretty much universally agreed upon is that we need whole grains in our diet.

However, as with many things in this age of too much information and not enough knowledge, even the term itself can be confusing: what exactly are whole grains?

The difference between refined grains and whole grains may seem a matter of splitting hairs, but it is actually quite important: whole grains include all the parts of the original grain kernel, the bran, germ and endosperm, which give us the fiber we need. Two sliced of dark rye bread contain 5.8 grams of fiber whereas two slices of white bread only contain 1.9 grams of fiber.

And fiber is important because it digests more slowly, and makes us feel fuller and more satiated. What’s more, fiber helps control blood sugar levels, lowers LDL or bad cholesterol, and reduces the risk of colon cancer. For grains with the highest fiber content look for oats, barley and bulgur. So when you eat foods made with whole grains as opposed to refined grains (white bread, pasta, etc.) you are going to not only feel fuller longer, you will avoid the dreaded sugar crash that comes with eating high glycemic-index foods.

These days a random loaf of bread on the supermarket shelves is as likely to tout some sort of “whole wheat/whole grain” notice on the label as not. But as with most food labels, manufacturers are tricksy little Hobbitses: even if it says “made with whole grains” that bread could still contain a majority of refined grains over whole grains.

Another thing to look for is that the grain is listed among the first three ingredients on the label. And another trick from unscrupulous manufacturers seeking to cash in on people’s desire for healthier food: be wary of “healthy” looking bread that is simply refined grain bread that has been dyed brown or mixed with molasses to give it a darker color.

In addition to helping us feel fuller and staving off hunger longer, whole grains also help with digestion. We’ve known this for some time, but recent studies are showing that the benefits of fiber aren’t limited to just keeping you regular.

For one thing, fiber helps prevent diverticulosis, a bowel condition typified by inflammation, constipation and diarrhea. It also helps keep the bacterial balance in the gut healthy. And the lactic acid in whole grains aid digestion and nutrition absorption, and may even benefit the immune system.

What’s more, whole grains also can help lower blood pressure by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. Eating whole grains have even been found to contribute to a 19 percent lower risk of hypertension in men who ate seven or more servings a week.

Perhaps best of all, by replacing refined grains with whole grains, your risk of heart disease is greatly reduced.

Gosh, it’s almost like we evolved to eat whole, natural foods as they grow out of the ground, as opposed to refined, chemical-laden, mass-manufactured “foods” that have been stripped of all nutritive value in the name of profit.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Feces and Fat: Possible Link Between Fecal Bacteria and Obesity

Feces and Fat: Possible Link Between Fecal Bacteria and Obesity
By Kurtis Bright

How Bacteria In Feces Has Been Linked to Inherited Obesity

You’re a big, fat stinkin’ mess. So says a group of British researchers, anyway.

Okay, that’s not exactly true. But what they are saying is that the content of our feces may well play a role in how much fat we store in our bodies--and possibly even tell us who has an inherited propensity for obesity.

An exciting new study out of the U.K. seems to demonstrate that the makeup of the bacteria found in the feces of individual people may be linked to the levels of dangerous types of fat we have in our bodies. Researchers think could lead to breakthroughs on how and why obesity is passed along in families as well.

Carried out by researchers at King’s College in London, the study analyzed stool samples from more than 3,600 sets of twins. What they found was that there is ample evidence that at least some of the composition of this bacteria is heritable, thus offering the beginnings of an explanation for why obesity is an inherited trait.

They compared data culled from the samples provided by the study participants to six different measures of obesity, including body mass index and the composition of a person’s body fat, they distinct types we carry. Thus the researchers were able to find a correlation with visceral fat, an especially dangerous fat type that is stored in the abdomen, giving people not only the “spare tire” look, but also pressing in on surrounding organs like the liver, pancreas and intestines. Having excess visceral fat has also been connected to higher risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Although the study showed a clear link between this particular type of fecal bacteria and fat, lead author Dr. Michelle Beaumont of The Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London was quick to point out that it is not yet possible to explain why there might be such a connection.

“As this was an observational study we cannot say precisely how communities of bacteria in the gut might influence the storage of fat in the body, or whether a different mechanism is involved in weight gain,” she said.

Researchers theorize that perhaps a lack of variety in fecal bacteria could lead to higher levels of the types of gut microbes that specialize in turning carbohydrates into fat.

There is certainly a growing body of evidence that gut bacteria has a much greater influence over many biofunctions: not only obesity, but also our mental health and brain function too.

For some time we’ve known that the composition of at least half of human feces is bacteria that is shed from the gut. Indeed, Dr. Beaumont suggested that eating a wider variety of different types of foods--as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did, long before monocrops and industrial food production had limited our choices the way they are today--could lead to more diversity of microbes in our gut biome.

The research--published in the journal Genome Biology--should if nothing else create new avenues for future research that will help us better understand how gut bacteria, and thus obesity may be passed down in families.

Gluten-Free Myths: Dispelling Misconceptions About the Latest Dietary Scapegoat

Gluten-Free Myths: Dispelling Misconceptions About the Latest Dietary Scapegoat
By Kurtis Bright

The Gluten-Free Fad Doesn’t Seem to Be Going Away, So Here Are Some Facts

If you’re like millions of Americans, you might be thinking about hopping on the gluten-free bandwagon.

Perhaps you’ve read one too many stories about celebrities who have lost dramatic weight by cutting carbs. Or perhaps you’ve simply given up on living a normal life because you have an annoying co-worker who won’t shut up about being gluten-free themselves, and you figure, hey, if you can’t beat them, join them.

Well, before you drink the (gluten-free!) Kool-Aid, here are a few myths surrounding gluten. 

  • Myth #1: Gluten is terrible and it must stamped out before it kills again - It is considered received knowledge among the trendy and the gullible that gluten is a newly discovered deadly substance that ruthlessly seeks to make you fat and possibly stab you to death in your sleep. This is only a slight exaggeration. While gluten can have a negative effect on people with Celiac disease as well as on people with other levels of gluten intolerance, the truth is that the vast majority of people have no such sensitivity. We’re talking less than one percent of Americans. However that isn’t stopping people from self-diagnosing with something that has been termed “non-celiac gluten sensitivity,” which, to all appearances, seems to be little more than a cry for attention from those who have more money than sense. But the dubious nature of the "diagnosis" isn't stopping the marketing behemoth that is the gluten-free sector of the food industry from cashing in. However, here’s the simple truth: gluten is a naturally occurring protein that is found in wheat and other grains like barley and rye that is not threatening at all to 99 percent of people--neither in terms of causing illness, nor in terms of making you fat. As always, weight loss comes with no magic bullet: reducing caloric intake and increasing calories burned is how it works, folks. Always has, always will. Those with Celiac disease experience stomach pain and bloating if they eat even trace amounts of it, but for the rest of us, it’s just another component of food.
  • Myth #2: Gluten-free is not the same as wheat-free - Often people think that by giving up white bread and flour and replacing it with whole-grain versions they have successfully turned away the scourge of gluten. No. Once again, gluten is found in not only wheat and spelt, but also rye and barley. And to review, these grains in their whole, organic form are not inherently bad dietary choices. Whole grains contain more fiber and usually have a lower glycemic index than the refined version, so they help you feel fuller for longer. Switching to whole grains may even contribute to weight loss, in tandem with other dietary changes like reducing caloric intake and getting more exercise. But cutting out wheat products is not the same as “going gluten-free.” And while we’re on the topic:
  • Myth #3: A gluten-free diet alone will lead to dramatic weight loss - The trend-setters and their minions like to tout tales of Hollywood stars who lost eye-popping amounts of weight for upcoming film roles by switching to a gluten-free diet, but there are almost always other factors involved. For starters, you have to keep in mind the collateral effects of giving up gluten: in a gluten-free diet, highly refined carb items like bagels, donuts, crackers, pasta, etc. are gone too. And these are foods that we already recognize are detrimental to maintaining a healthy body weight. By substituting whole grains for refined flour products, along with introducing more vegetables and high protein foods, you automatically reduce the amount of high-glycemic foods you’re eating. Keep in mind too that going on any kind of serious diet--such as those that film stars adopt in pursuit of multi-million dollar roles--automatically implies that you are restricting calories, or at least keeping a strict count of calories consumed. Studies show that simply by being aware of the number of calories in the foods we eat, we tend to reduce how much we eat. A kitchen scale is your best friend in the battle of the bulge, not a pyre made of everything wheat. Thirdly, when we are assessing the miracle weight loss programs of the glitterati, don’t forget that every one of them has at least one dietician if not more, along with at least one personal trainer if not a whole stable of them. High-dollar movie stars also have the luxury of embarking on a three to six-month weight loss and exercise program prior to shooting in which the entirety of their JOB consists of getting in shape. It’s just silly and frankly irresponsible for these folks to go on talk shows and tout fad diets like gluten-free eating when they’ve also been working out with a professional trainer six hours a day, six days a week for three months or more prior to shooting their films, and enjoying meals prepared for them by professional chefs under the auspices of dieticians. It is equally foolish for us to think there is some short cut.

So for people who don’t have Celiac disease or other gluten sensitivity, feel free to eat all the expensive gluten-free products you want--or however much you can afford. But let’s not fool ourselves: eating sensible portions of natural, unrefined, whole foods without a lot of added sugar, along with taking up a sensible exercise program is the only real path to weight loss and health.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What You Eat Could Be Affecting Your Mood

What You Eat Could Be Affecting Your Mood
By Kurtis Bright

Avoiding Sugar Crashes Is Only Half The Battle--Food Strategies That Can Boost Your Mood

At some point or another, everyone has experienced “stress eating,” that is to say, eating from a place of emotional need. Crying into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s after a breakup is a common rom-com trope for good reason.

But the fact is, grabbing a candy bar or other sweet snack when we feel stressed is actually natural on some level, and even based on biological imperatives. The simple truth is that foods like these make us feel good because our ancient wiring has built-in rewards for us for taking in (formerly) desperately needed fats and sugars.
However, that taste of sugar and sense of well-being comes with a price: the inevitable sugar crash. Following the elation of the sugar high comes the morass of low energy, crankiness and even depression--an ugly vicious circle that leads many to seek a quick fix for their low mood in the form of another candy bar, then another and another. So little wonder that people in many developed countries are so depressed, obese and suffering from diabetes.

Lucky for us, there are foods that are better at giving us better moods--moods that last--along with higher energy. Over the long term, foods like these will keep you in a better, more productive mood.

  • Caffeine - Much is made of the notion of coffee addiction, both teasing and periodic alarm. However, the energy and buzz of elation you get following your morning cup of joe is not a joke: a study at Harvard in 2011 showed that women who drank at least two daily cups of coffee showed a 15 percent lower chance of depression than their coffee-deprived counterparts. And depression risk decreased by 20 percent for those who consumed four cups a day. Because caffeine triggers the release of dopamine, it helps you focus and improves outlook. In moderation, virtually all modern studies show that coffee is a fairly benign drug of choice. Just be aware that if you drink coffee too late in the day it can and will affect your sleep, and if you are a coffee-drinker who experiences anxiety--a very real possible result according to studies--you should probably cut back a bit.
  • Fat - We crave fat at a biological, animal level, simple as that. Back when our ancestors were still scavenging on the savannah while trying to avoid lions and other predators, to find a food source containing a lot of fat was something like striking biological gold. The reward centers in our brains are hardwired to release dopamine and other feel-good chemicals when we absorb fat for this reason. Fat slows digestion and our bodies can store it for later use, so when you and your body don’t know where your next meal is coming from, you tend to crave it. What's more, your body is designed to hang onto every molecule you take in, banking that valuable fat for later. It is perhaps because of this physical need that the body has for fat that we experience a calming sense of satisfaction when we eat it. When studies examine people with mood disorders, they find that eating two seafood meals per week high in omega-3 fatty acids is strongly correlated to lower rates of depression. Researchers think this is because these fats help maintain brain function in regions responsible for mood and emotion.
  • Afternoon Carbs - Despite what you’ve been told by your trendy, gluten-free neighbor, carbohydrates are not the devil. The fact of the matter is carbs are vital to our energy levels and brain function. If you are one of the many people who experience a dreaded late afternoon decline in mood and energy, it might well be due to the fact that your brain is running low on serotonin. Have a small serving of carbohydrates, say 25 to 30 grams or so, for instance, three-quarters of a cup of Cheerios or other unsweetened cereal. Even that small amount can give you a surprising boost without a huge caloric cost or a massive sugar crash after.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Just How Bad Is The Opioid Crisis?

Just How Bad Is The Opioid Crisis?
By Kurtis Bright

A Snapshot Of An Epidemic

The U.S. is not at all unique for the numerous drug crises it has suffered over the course of its history, crises both organic and manufactured.

From the blanket outlawing of absinthe at the turn of the last century--the entire case against which was constructed on the flimsy story of one mentally unbalanced man who went on an absinthe bender and subsequently slaughtered his family--to of course Prohibition, to the reefer madness of race-baiting Harry Anslinger’s 1930s reign (which continues to destroy lives to this day) to the separate and unequal crack and powder cocaine laws of the 1980s and 1990s that resulted in such different outcomes for their respective users, Americans are no strangers to drug-related problems stemming from legislative overreach.

And that’s why it's so important to be very clear just how bad the current opioid epidemic really is: this is no mythological epidemic secretly designed to persecute minorities, nor is it yet another shabbily-constructed excuse to impose religion-based temperance on the masses. The opioid crisis in the US is a very real phenomenon, and it is affecting people of all races and socio-economic status.

The current crisis of opioid addiction has been called the worst drug epidemic in American history, which, while it sounds hyperbolic, could well prove to be true. Death rates from opioids are approaching deaths from AIDS during the 1990s, climbing to nearly 30,000 per year. Opioid addiction has affected people from all walks of life, across all regions of the U.S. It has destroyed homes, destroyed families and destroyed millions of lives--and it is perfectly legal.

Not only that, there are a handful of companies making a fortune from all this misery.

This is a new drug war, one that is being waged against the American people, rendering them helpless, addicted, penniless and likely to be devoured by the justice system. Here are a few more alarming facts:

·        Opioids kill more people than cars - Way back in 1999--you know, an ancient, far-off time of 18 years ago--the U.S. suffered more than twice as many motor vehicle deaths as fatal drug overdoses. Fast-forward to 2014 and those numbers have been inverted. Now there are nearly 40 percent more deaths from opioid drug overdoses than result from car crashes. The stark, sad statistics: 29,230 people died in car crashes in the U.S., whereas 47,055 died of drug overdoses.
·        We are dying from our prescriptions - Cocaine and heroin combined killed about 5,700 Americans in 1999, whereas opioids killed 4,030. In 2014 the rate of opioid deaths had skyrocketed 369 percent, while cocaine-related deaths have fallen below even those caused by benzodiazapines, a common sleep aid and anti-anxiety medication.
·        Doctors are writing triple the opioid prescriptions - A factor we cannot ignore in the surge in opioid abuse is the fact that prescriptions written for opioids have tripled over the course of 20 years. Is there really that much more pain out there that needs to be managed? Or is it perhaps that the marketing sections of pharmaceutical companies have done a spectacular job cajoling doctors and convincing the rest of us that opioids are safe, a claim that is demonstrably false? Doctors wrote about 76 million prescriptions for opioids in 1991. By 2011 that number surged to 219 million.
·        Addiction to opioid prescription drugs crosses all racial barriers - Predictably, the media spotlight on increased opioid abuse and its attendant problems is laser-focused on white, middle-class users. However, the rate of abuse has also skyrocketed among African-Americans and Latinos, which goes hand-in-hand with an uptick in heroin abuse among all racial groups as cheap Mexican heroin has flooded the U.S. since about 2005, and presents a more affordable alternative to pill addicts when their prescriptions or money dries up.

The opioid scourge should finally put to bed a couple of tired old stereotypes: one, that the problems of drug abuse and drug addiction are strictly about illicitly manufactured drugs. And the second is the notion that drug addiction only happens to “those people,” meaning black, brown, poor and otherwise marginalized people.

Consider this: there are now 12 states where there are more prescriptions for opioid drugs than there are people. Those aren’t all going to criminals and cartoon street-rat degenerates.

The stark truth is that billion-dollar drug companies are killing us, and smiling all the way to the bank in the process. Given the popularity of the Netflix show “Narcos,” following the life and death of Pablo Escobar, it would behoove us to take a step back and consider who the real drug lords are today.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

There’s More To Ginger Than Meets The Eye

There’s More To Ginger Than Meets The Eye
By Kurtis Bright

Surprising New Study Shows That Ginger Can Help Fight Cancer

When you think about the jumbled mess of contradictions that we humans really are, the mad society we’ve created actually begins to make sense, at least in terms of cause and effect. We just keep on trying, no matter what, and we cobble together societies that are imperfect, ridiculous, absurd, infuriating and delightful, just like people are.

No matter how confused, lost or off-track a person may appear, there is always hope they will find their way, simply due to the stubborn insistence of humans to keep trying, especially when it comes to treating diseases like cancer. And one promising new avenue of research on this front is the humble ginger root.

We’ve known for some time that ginger is effective in treating gastrointestinal distress including motion sickness. And it has long provided relief for pregnant women who suffer nausea and are reluctant to rely on medication.

But ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties in the form of what are called gingerols, a substance that has been demonstrated to help reduce the pain and discomfort of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Ginger has helped countless people regain lost mobility due to these diseases.

But promising new research is now showing that ginger may help in fighting cancer. According to researchers from the University of Minnesota's Hormel Institute, gingerols may inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer cells in lab mice.

Agroup of lab mice were specifically bred lacking an immune system, and were fed half a milligram of gingerol three times a week before being injected with colorectal cancer cells.

In a mere 15 days, 13 tumors were found in the control group. But the exciting finding was that only four tumors were identified in the group that received the gingerol treatments. The study reached its 38th day with one mouse in the gingerol group still showing no measurable tumors at all. On the other hand, all 49 of the mice in the control group had to be euthanized because their tumors had grown to one cubic centimeter in size.

Certainly more research is needed, of course at some point using human subjects, in order to discover if gingerol supplements might have a similar effect on people.

But given all its other proven benefits--many have compared ginger to turmeric, the latest “it” substance, in its abilities to both help with our health as well as spice up our food--it can’t hurt to find some creative ways to use ginger in your every day meals and beverages.

Gingerbread cookies, ginger waffles, ginger in cocktails--there are almost limitless ways to get your daily dose.

And hey, if it can be delicious while it helps prevent colorectal cancer, some sweet desserts and drinks are a nice bonus.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Halo Foods: What Healthy-Sounding Buzz Words Actually Mean--And That They Don’t

Halo Foods: What Healthy-Sounding Buzz Words Actually Mean--And That They Don’t
By Kurtis Bright

Watching Out For Tricky Labels That Make Food Sound Healthy, And What They Really Mean

In these weird times when White House officials identify what has hitherto been known as “utter bullshit” by the much nicer but less descriptive moniker “alternative facts,” and when everyone has their own definition of the phrase “fake news” (generally this seems to mean "anything I disagree with") perhaps it is time to identify some ongoing cases of alternative facts when it comes to food labeling.

There are a number of terms manufacturers employ in order to create a health “halo effect” and fool unsuspecting--and let’s face it, na├»ve--consumers into thinking they are actually eating healthy.

Of course, there is sometimes truth in labeling, but in these times, it is more often a cruel sham. For example, the Senate bill known as the DARK Act by opponents (Denying Americans the Right to Know) that was hastily cobbled together as a fig leaf for big food manufacturers and agrichem businesses that think they should be able to sell the public foods that contain GMOs without telling us, despite the clear evidence that we don’t want them.

It is a bill that allows food manufacturers to “identify” GMO-containing foods by forcing consumers to scan a QR code, visit a website, or call a 1-800 number to find out what’s inside--all this runaround in order to avoid simply putting a label on the package identifying it as something that contains GMOs--again, because consumers don’t want them and the carcinogenic chemicals such crops contain, and to manufacturers, our lack of desire for their products should be no barrier to their ability to sell them.

So with an understanding of the depth of bullshit the food industry will sink to in order to sell us their shitty, unhealthy products that we don't want, here are a few other alternatively factual ways food manufacturers try to con health-conscious consumers.

  • Natural - When I see this word I think of John Denver, playing guitar in a Colorado mountain meadow, sunshine streaming down on the golden grasses blowing gently in the wind. Maybe that’s a bit over the top, but at the very least most of us would probably assume that foods that have this word on their label would have some relation to foods that are, well, natural--that is to say, not synthesized in a lab. The sad truth is that the Food and Drug Administration is as culpable for allowing the level of bullshit that food manufacturers favor: the word “natural” has no formal definition for the FDA. So it can mean whatever manufacturers want it to mean. In other words, don’t stop reading when you hit the word natural. Be sure to read the fine print, keeping an eye out for things like high-fructose corn syrup and other added sugars, as well as chemical preservatives.
  • Organic - Yet another term that on the face of it might appear to be pretty self-explanatory. However, big food equals big money, and manufacturers and their marketers are nothing if not wily creatures--and their pet politicians who make the rules for consumers are nothing if not greedy. So let’s start with the clear-cut: the USDA organic seal signifies that the food in question was produced without using synthetic pesticides, GMOs, petroleum or sewage sludge fertilizers. When it comes to dairy or meat products, it means that the animals in question were fed organic, vegetarian feed and had “access to the outdoors.” (This phrase is especially interesting: for example a tiny one-foot by one-foot doorway for tens of thousands of chickens leading to a three-foot square concrete pad located at one end of a massive factory farming facility qualifies under the USDA definition.)
    However as we’ve seen with other examples of truth-challenged claims, the devil is in the details. The USDA organic definition only applies to foods labeled “100% Organic.” So if a food label says merely “Organic,” it only needs to contain 95 percent organic ingredients. And “Made With Organic Ingredients” means only 70 percent needs to be organic. But hey, what’s five or 30 percent ingredients grown using glyphosate or human waste among friends, right? "Alternative organic,” that’s what.
  • Local - Once again, we see a seemingly straightforward word that has no actual definition from the FDA. Indeed, adding to the deliberate confusion sown by food manufacturers with the aid of the FDA, a recent survey showed that 23 percent of respondents thought that local also meant “organic.” It does not, not even by the weak-ass USDA definition outlined above. Keep in mind too that mom and pop operations such as you might find at farmer’s markets employing a “local” label are often legally able to skirt nutrition facts labeling, so be sure to ask for ingredients when buying jam or pie is unlabeled.
  • Gluten-free - Oh, the popular label du jour for faux-health-conscious hipsters in need of some attention. What with consumers mistakenly thinking that cutting out gluten alone will help them lose weight and get a ripped body just like their favorite TV or movie star, gluten-free nonsense probably still hasn’t peaked. One positive: the FDA actually has a definition for this. Products must have a limit of gluten that is less than 20 parts per million. However, this doesn’t meant that a gluten-free label indicates a bullshit-free label. They also may label a whole raft of foods as gluten-free even if they don’t and never have contained any type of wheat, rye, barley or crossbreeds of these grains. That’s why we see ridiculously absurd things like gluten-free tonic water and gluten-free shampoo. Aside from the less than one percent of people who actually suffer from Celiac disease, this label is expressly designed for people with too much money and too little sense.
  • Grass-fed - Yet another deliberately obtuse label designed to obfuscate rather than enlighten. The “grass-fed” label is often taken to mean organic, though it does not. What it does mean is that the cattle whose meat is so labeled were fed only mother’s milk and forage. However, the cattle’s feed has no requirement to be organic, nor does it mean that the animal is free from antibiotics or hormones.

So good luck avoiding stepping in the fully organic bullshit that seems to be everywhere these days! Hope this helps.

Remember Erin Brockovich? Two-Thirds Of U.S. Tap Water Still Contains Carcinogen From Famous Case

Remember Erin Brockovich? Two-Thirds Of U.S. Tap Water Still Contains Carcinogen From Famous Case
By Kurtis Bright

Alarming New Study Shows that over 60 Percent Of U.S. Tap Water Tainted with Chromium-6

Nothing ever changes, at least that’s what they say. And when it comes to the carcinogen found in U.S. tap water that was made famous in the film “Erin Brockovich,” that sure seems to be the case.

Turns out that a feel-good Hollywood movie depicting the little guy fighting back and winning against big corporate polluters is strictly fiction: nearly two-thirds of Americans still drink tap water tainted with chromium-6. That’s the deadly carcinogen that was at the heart of the lawsuit in the case that made Erin Brockovich famous. In that case, residents of Hinkley, California sued and won against Pacific Gas & Electric for its guilt in poisoning the groundwater in the region.

But film awards and self-congratulation aside, the reality is that in a new study performed by the Environmental Working Group, it turns out that two-thirds of Americans may still be exposed to the dangerous carcinogen through their tap water every day.

In the study, which ran from 2013 to 2016, EWG took over 60,000 water samples from various locations around the U.S., with a result that over 66 percent of them tested positive for the chemical.

And this not a trivial thing, yet another nasty chemical in a plethora of them to which we are subjected every day, something to be ignored with a shrug. In fact, the National Toxicology Program has stated that ingesting chromium-6 is strongly linked to cancer in lab rats and mice. In addition to being identified as a source of lung cancer, it can also cause liver damage, damage to the reproductive system, and problems with brain development.

As of this writing, California is the only state that regulates chromium-6 levels, mandating that there can be no more than ten parts per billion in state drinking water. However, even the state’s own Environmental Health Hazard Assessment says that amount is dangerously high. That study dating from 2008 recommended levels no higher than 0.02 parts per billion, which means that the state’s actual rate of 10 ppb is some 500 times too high.

Chromium is used in the manufacture of metal plating and stainless steel, and it is a key ingredient in wood preservation and textile manufacturing. Some of the cities that tested highest for chromium-6 were Las Vegas, Nevada, and Phoenix, Arizona, as well as Oklahoma City.

And the sad fact is that we’ve known for over 20 years that hexavalent chromium (the six in chromium-6) causes lung cancer when inhaled. However the most recent mice and rat studies have shown conclusively that it is also a source of malignant tumors of the mouth and small intestines when ingested, for instance in water.

“I think it’s resolved, as much as it can be resolved,” said George Alexeeff, deputy director of scientific affairs at California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in an interview with Scientific American.

For its part, the Environmental Protection Agency is moving with the utmost urgency as usual: the EPA has released a statement saying it is studying the matter and may issue national guidelines “soon.”

Meanwhile, millions of children and adults consume a dangerous carcinogen on a daily basis. Thanks, EPA.

The Brockovich case won a record-setting jury award of over $300 million dollars for people living in Hinkley. So one has to wonder what might the consequences be nationwide were the EPA to admits that the current chromium-6 levels allowed are much more dangerous than previously thought.

With so many businesses not to mention the government itself on the brink of losing perhaps billions in the inevitable deluge of lawsuits that would follow, its no wonder they’re slow-rolling any changes.

At least it is crystal clear that they no longer are concerned with protecting the health of the people so much as they care about protecting the fiscal health of business--and covering their own asses.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Depression And The Pill: The Dirty Little Secret Is Out

Depression And The Pill: The Dirty Little Secret Is Out
By Kurtis Bright

How A Danish Study Is Finally Forcing Acknowledgement of a Long-Rumored Secret

Nobody likes to talk about the dirty little secret hiding behind the contraceptive pill, least of all the manufacturers. Not only that, the medical profession has long denied and ridiculed the notion, no matter how many women have reported it.

Even with 4 out of 5 sexually experienced women have used the pill, we nonetheless rarely hear about the depression that is a common side effect.

However a recent study out of the University of Copenhagen is at long last lending credibility what millions of women have already known: hormonal contraceptives often trigger or exacerbate symptoms of depression.

The Danish study, the largest to date on contraceptive pills and depression, uses data culled from over a million Danish participants aged between 15 and 34, tracking them for over 13 years.

Having employed such a long-term, definitive and broad sample of women using the pill, the study is likely to wipe away the smug denial the medical establishment has been hiding behind for decades.

What the researchers found was that women who took the combined oral contraceptive had a 23 percent higher chance to be diagnosed with depression. And those women who took progestin-only pills--the so-called mini-pill--were 34 percent more likely to suffer from depression.

And alarmingly, teen girls were even more likely to be suffer depression if they were on the pill: there was an 80 percent increase in the odds they would experience depression on the combined pill, and a two-fold risk on the progestin-only pill. This is especially disturbing given the well-documented risks teens have for suffering from depression under the best of circumstances.

And switching to different hormone-based contraception methods didn’t reduce the chances of depression either--quite the opposite in fact. Women and girls using the hormonal IUS/coil, the contraceptive patch or the Nuva ring demonstrated a higher chance of experiencing depression--a much higher rate in fact than for those on the pill.

Again, and as the researchers themselves note, this is especially troubling as it pertains to teens. Efforts to steer teens toward alternatives to the pill--so-called long-acting reversible contraceptives or LARCs--have met with some resistance.

Doctors also have recommended these alternatives to the pill because previously it was thought that they have less severe potential side effects. However, armed with this new evidence that people who already suffer depression often find that the pill makes their symptoms worse, and that other hormone-based alternatives are indeed worse, steering depression-prone teens to the alternatives is tantamount to malpractice.

The researchers also noted that given the fact that conscientious doctors already steer women with tendency toward depression away from the pill, the research probably badly underestimates the negative effect.

It is a blockbuster report, one that we can only hope will have repercussions in doctor’s offices around the world. If you know anyone who uses hormone-based contraception and suffers depression, please pass on this information to them. At the very least they should be aware that they are not alone.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

What’s All The Fuss About Kratom, And Why Haven’t I Tried It Yet?

What’s All The Fuss About Kratom, And Why Haven’t I Tried It Yet?
By Kurtis Bright

The Lowdown On The DEA’s Latest Whipping-Boy

If someone you trusted told you there was a plant out there, a plant that is perfectly legal and has been used for centuries not only to make textiles, but also to treat maladies ranging from diarrhea, muscle pain, fever, coughing, hypertension, and fatigue to depression, would you consider trying it?

In case you’re not sold yet, in addition workers used this plant in small doses to provide an extra kick of energy, much like the caffeine in coffee. And counterintuitively, in larger doses it provides a euphoric, sedative effect that works as a legit substitute for opiates--without the nasty addictive qualities, and with no known reported overdoses.

In fact this plant has recently been employed in exponentially growing numbers to treat opiate addiction with great success, as well as to treat chronic pain, PTSD and anxiety. So what do you say, are you interested in learning more about this miracle plant, perhaps even in trying it for yourself?

If you’re the DEA, the answer is a resounding, knee-jerk (just say) No.

Kratom is of course the miracle plant, one that is the Drug Enforcement Agency’s latest whipping-boy du jour, taking a place of honor next to that perennial bane of psychotically myopic drug warriors, marijuana.

In spite all the positive benefits--and let’s be very clear, the utter lack of a known downside, in that there have been no known overdoses on kratom, nor is addiction to the substance an apparent factor--kratom is still being considered for the DEA’s Schedule 1 listing. This is the section of drug regulation where the most dangerous drugs are, those with “no known medical benefit” and a high potential for abuse, drugs like meth and LSD.

The evidence clearly demonstrates that kratom is anything but. However, as most observers realize, logic and evidence have never been in the DEA’s armory of weapons.

With an understanding of the false information you will be exposed to in the mainstream press that is fed to the dutiful stenographers there by the government, here are a few actual facts to keep in mind regarding kratom.

  • It is a native plant in Southeast Asia and has been used there for hundreds of years, if not longer. While some countries in Asia have some light restrictions on its use and sale, it is nonetheless widely accepted, to the point that it is often brought out at family gatherings and other semi-public events.
  • Much like with marijuana, there is no such thing as an overdose on kratom, and certainly no deaths have ever been recorded as a result of using it. Dear Mr. DEA Man: contrast that goose-egg with the 75,000 yearly deaths that are directly related to alcohol alone in the U.S. and get back to us on exactly what you mean by the phrase “high potential for abuse.”
  • Kratom is related to coffee. It’s botanical name is Mitraganya speciosa, and it is a member of the Rubiaceace family. Also, kratom is the only known source of opioid alkaloids aside from the poppy plant. 
  • Kratom can be smoked, chewed, or steeped in tea. As mentioned above, at low doses it is used for its stimulating effect, whereas higher doses have an opiate substitute effect--with one important difference: at high doses it doesn’t impair breathing, as opioids do. This, along with the fact that it has no addictive properties is a vital factor in its use as a way to wean opioid addicts off their poison: recovering addicts can use it with no fear of death nor of simply substituting one addiction for another.
  • The DEA has recently made noises claiming that the proposed designation for kratom on Schedule 1 is only temporary. However, once a drug is listed there, it can “temporarily” remain illegal for years, if not forever. Witness how difficult it has been to pry the DEA’s scaly claws off of marijuana, despite all the advances that have been made in medical uses for the plant. By the way, the rumors that pubic outcry forced the DEA to cancel its proposed schedule change were only rumors: while the original date for rescheduling kratom has come and gone, the proposed prohibition is still very much on the table.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Killing In The Name: How Agri-Business Makes Its Own Rules--And How Thousands Die As A Result

Killing In The Name: How Agri-Business Makes Its Own Rules--And How Thousands Die As A Result
By Kurtis Bright

Death By Big Agriculture

Following yet another salmonella outbreak in the U.S., and in the wake of the Centers for Disease Control’s weirdly heartbreaking warning that people need to stop kissing their chickens, it is high time we take another look at the way we do big agriculture in the U.S. versus how it is done elsewhere.

For one thing, according to CDC estimates, there are around 1.2 million reported illnesses from salmonella every year in the U.S.

Some 450 of those result in death. And of those cases, around 79,000 are caused by salmonella-infected eggs, which alone account for 30 deaths.

But if we take a look at the U.K., we find a very different story: there were almost no illnesses reported associated with salmonella, and zero deaths.

How is that possible? Even if you take into account the U.K.’s population differential with the U.S., statistically you would expect more than a handful of egg-related salmonella cases.

If it weren’t for one thing: in 1997, faced with its own salmonella crisis, the U.K. government ordered that egg farmers must begin inoculating their laying hens with a salmonella vaccine. That year there some 15,000 cases of salmonella related to eggs; by 2010 that number had dropped to around 500.

So, you ask, in a country as populous and wealthy as the U.S. which faces multiple annual salmonella outbreaks, why do we not adopt the U.K.’s model and vaccinate chickens against this potentially deadly disease?

Because big agri-business doesn’t want it that way, and they make the rules now.

Case in point: in 2010 when researchers at the Food and Drug Administration saw the results of the vaccination program in the U.K., they were of course encouraged and excited. The agency was on the verge of mandating a similar program in the U.S.

However, they ran into a massive roadblock: chicken farmers.

The thing is, chicken mega-farmers like Tyson just aren’t that into you. That is to say, they're not into spending money on saving people from contracting salmonella. They would rather pay lobbyists to get them out of such trifling annoyances like preventing disease and death caused by their products and practices.

And people die as a result. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people who could just as well be your neighbors and friends lost their lives between 2010 and today due to this lack of regulation and the FDA’s deference to big agriculture business interests.

All because big agri-business has such a tight grip on our elected “representatives” and the regulations they control. When Tyson and its ilk says jump, Congress and Federal agencies say “how high?”

The example of the chicken farmers and their salmonella-tainted products is just a drop in the bucket. Look at how Monsanto and Bayer and Syngenta have managed to blanket the entire nation and a great deal of the rest of the planet in a multi-billion-ton cloud of carcinogenic glyphosate for the past 20 years. Consider the number of lives and healthy bodies that have been sacrificed, all because big agri-business controls the rules and is constantly seeking to increase its profits uber alles.

So the next time someone wants to spout the tired old line about how “government regulation is always bad,” point out that when government isn’t regulating on behalf of the people, it will by regulate on behalf of big business--often with deadly results.

Go the F*ck to Sleep: Nobody is Getting Enough Rest

Go the F*ck to Sleep: Nobody is Getting Enough Rest
By Kurtis Bright

But Since You’re not Getting Enough Sleep Anyway, Here Are Some Natural Energy Boosters

Don’t you miss nap time like we used to have in kindergarten? It was so nice to lie down on your mat after some juice and a cookie for a luxurious afternoon sleep. It’s not fair that as adults most of us don’t get to enjoy the simple joy and energy boost that comes with a short snooze.

In this era when nobody is getting enough sleep anymore, no matter how much we know about the damage it causes us, more than ever we should be taking the time to sleep more.

But since you’re not going to do that because you’re overworked and overstressed like the rest of us, here are a few natural ways to give yourself an extra boost of energy when you really need it.

  • Eat a healthy snack - Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar has a variety of ugly effects depending on the person: you might get sluggish and foggy, you might get the dreaded “hangry.” It is similar to what happens after a sugar crash: when your blood sugar skyrockets then plummets to earth, it leaves you more tired than you were before. However you can combat this with a small, healthy snack that doesn’t have a high glycemic index, for instance some carrots, or spoonful of peanut butter, maybe some avocado on toast. In short, what you want to go for is something with a bit of fiber, protein, and hopefully some iron and vitamin C to give you that extra energy boost.
  • Drink up - Dehydration is tricky: it often manifests as something else. Symptoms vary: there’s the headache, of course, but another trick many people don’t realize is that a common symptom of dehydration is hunger. And one of the first effects dehydration has on our bodies is it drains our energy. It can even be dangerous: dehydration can lead to fatigue, confusion, and even fainting, so ignore it at your peril. If you’re feeling a little logy or a bit peckish on a long afternoon at the office, grab some water first before firing up the coffee maker or going to the snack vending machine.
  • Get out - Going for a simple walk can have a tremendous energy boosting effect. Counterintuitively, moving around when you’re feeling sluggish--especially when you least feel like moving--can kick you an extra reserve energy boost you didn’t know you had in you. This effect is even more pronounced if you can get outside and expose yourself to the blue light that is naturally visible during the day. It has been shown in numerous studies that the bright light of the outdoors kicks the hypothalamus into high gear. That’s the part of the brain that controls our circadian rhythms, and tells us when to sleep and when to get going, so take advantage of the natural ally you have in the sun.
  • Every breath you take - We all know that breathing pulls oxygen into our bodies. But did you know that deep breaths transport more oxygen to various parts of the body and brain? This has not only a relaxing effect, but also can be tremendously invigorating. Take a moment to remember that you are a living, breathing animal instead of an extension of your computer and smart phone.
  • Rock it out - No matter your musical tastes, kicking out some high-energy jams when you are feeling a little dusty and dreary can really recharge your day. A study in 2011 showed that when people listened to their favorite music even for as little as 15 minutes, it flooded their brains with dopamine, which is the brain chemical associated with reward and pleasure. They also found higher levels of oxytocin and serotonin, both vital components of a sense of well-being and energy. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Here’s Why You’re Fat and Sick: Fattening Western Diet Is Also Killing Your Immune Response

Here’s Why You’re Fat and Sick: Fattening Western Diet Is Also Killing Your Immune Response
By Kurtis Bright

How Your Immune System Is Affected by a Western Diet

There is a video making the rounds that shows what happens to a Big Mac when sulfuric acid is poured over it. It is disturbing, not for what happens to the burger but rather what doesn’t.

Not a lot, is the short answer. The bun starts to turn black, and you keep waiting for the thing to dissolve in a puff of smoke, or melt into a puddle of goo like one of Walter White's unfortunate occupants of the infamous blue barrels. But the effects pretty much stop there.

So a 30-minute bath in acid, rather than melting the bread, meat, and sauce just turns the bun hard and leaves the rest of it pretty much the way it looked when it came out of the box. question: what happens in your stomach when you eat one?

Fast food, as most of us know, is so heavily laden with chemicals and preservatives that even calling it “food” has at times proven something of a stretch. (Recall for instance when Taco Bell was sued because their taco “meat” turned out to be only about 35 percent actual meat.)

Of course it is also proven fact that the western, fast-food heavy diet causes more and more people to become obese and has contributed to a concurrent rise in Type 2 diabetes.

However an Australian study shows that fast food is changing us in many different ways, ways that are more subtle, and indeed more disturbing. The New South Wales study focused on T cells, or T lymphocytes, which power our immune system. And what they found was that these vital cells are strongly affected by fatty, preservative-heavy fast food.

A high-fat diet was fed to mice for nine weeks to determine what other effects might occur aside from weight gain. What they found was not what they anticipated.

“Despite our hypothesis that the T cell response and capacity to eliminate invading pathogens would be weakened we actually saw the opposite: the percentage of overactive T cells increased,” said study lead Abigail Pollock.

And while at first blush that might sound like a desirable effect, perhaps resulting in an ultra-healthy immune system, the truth is that over-stimulated T-cells are not a good thing. In such a state they attack healthy parts of the body, which results in problems like autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

The researchers think that the extra fat in the diet has the effect of changing the rodents on a cellular level. This is because cell membranes are constructed of layers of fatty lipid molecules. In the affected mice, the extra fat actually changed the make-up of the cells themselves.

As pointed out by Pollock, this “ ... changes the structure of the cell, altering the responsiveness of the T cells and changing the immune response.”

So remember, when considering a quick trip to the drive-through on the way home from work for some cheap, easy fast food, remember that the price you pay could be much higher than added inches on your waistline.

Take These Steps Today to Save Your Brain: Preventing Alzheimer’s

Take These Steps Today to Save Yourself From Brain Drain: Study Shows Preventing Alzheimer’s Is Possible
By Kurtis Bright

Five Easy Steps to Prevent Alzheimer’s

We’re all getting older, no two ways about it. But when it comes to aging, there’s good news, more good news, and then there’s bad news: for one thing, if you’re getting older, that means you’re still kicking. And especially in a time when there are seemingly new breakthrough medical discoveries every day, it is now more true than ever that where there’s life, there’s hope.

There's other good news too: prior to age 65, dementia strikes a mere 5 percent of people, only one in 20. Those are pretty good odds, right off the bat.

But as always, there’s bad news too: if and when you cross that 65 year threshold, your odds of getting dementia are going to double every five years.

But fret not; all is not lost. As we learn more about aging, scientists are finding out much more about not only Alzheimer’s and dementia in general, but also about the mechanisms behind it. We are better equipped than ever to not only identify the signs much sooner than ever before, we are also on the road to developing drugs that could treat it within the next few years.

Researchers have identified five specific ways seniors whom they have dubbed “super-agers”--people over 70 who show no sign of dementia and still have the mental vibrancy of people one-third their age--manage to avoid the worst ravages of mental decline. There is lots of excitement in the research community that perhaps they can teach the rest of us how to stave off dementia.

Here are some common factors of these super-agers that we can all adopt in an effort to prevent dementia as we age.

  • Exercise isn’t just for your body - And not those useless “brain-stimulating” game apps. No, what researchers found useful for the super-agers was stimulating their brains through a variety of activities: socializing, learning a new language, taking up new hobbies, etc. It is believed that the key is to constantly challenge the three pounds of goo between our ears to achieve new things. Studies show that a bored brain is a deteriorating brain.
  • Take a pill - Aspirin, that is. Clear this one with your doctor first, but studies have shown that an aspirin a day dramatically reduces the odds of developing Alzheimer’s, and even seems to help people maintain higher cognitive skills and brain function.
  • Go fish - Or find other sources for Omega-3s like flax seed oil. A number of small-scale studies have convincingly illustrated that the omega-3s found in fish oil may retard the progression of Alzheimer’s.
  • Keep the rest of you healthy - There are seven risk factors associated with developing Alzheimer’s: high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, smoking, lack of exercise, low level of education and depression. Notice that the majority, five of them in all, are related to exercising the body and maintaining a healthy heart. It’s all one machine, folks. You can’t keep a healthy brain without a healthy body to run it any more than you can keep your car running well if you only change the tires and ignore all other maintenance.
  • Have a champagne jam - Sorry? That isn’t a typo: you heard it here first: a U.K. study--and let’s all raise a glass to the creative boozers/researchers at the University of Reading who procured funding for this study--found that in rats who consumed the human equivalent of one to three glasses of champagne a week, their spatial memory was improved. This is a huge finding, not only for those who love the bubbly: spatial memory is a key marker in preventing cognitive decline.

Alzheimer’s is by no means inevitable. Taking charge of our own health, life and destiny today is key.

Plus it’s a great excuse to keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge!