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.