I miss you SO MUCH, little monkey!
MAY IS ENVIRONMENTAL ILLNESS AWARENESS MONTH!
Many may not consider themselves to have an Environmental Illness, but everyone is affected by chemicals. Moreover, everyone is at risk and millions are affected, but not all make the connection.
When we think of exposures to chemicals, we often think of a hazmat situation or “sick building syndrome.” However, an Environmental Illness such as a Chemical Injury can occur through a large, sudden exposure or a small, gradual exposure to chemicals or mold.
We may be aware of the obvious offenders in our environment, such as smoke, exhaust, paint or even new carpets. Nevertheless, we often don’t realize the affects of every day cleaning products, as well as personal care products that contain synthetic fragrances made up of neuro-toxic chemicals.
For example, these are chemically fragranced products such as perfume, laundry detergent, fabric softener, air fresheners, deodorants, lotions, shampoo’s, etc.
In a 2010 study, in 25 standard products, an average of 17 VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) were emitted; many of which are “regulated as a toxic/hazardous chemical” under 1-7 laws.
About 15% of the population knowing lives with Chemical Sensitivities to the chemical fragrances in these products (1999 Study, Kreutzer). Some of the symptoms reported are difficulty breathing, vertigo, migraines, loss of consciousness, memory loss, seizures and more.
About 38% of the population reports some sort of “adverse health affect” when exposed to fragranced products (Exposure Assessment, Steinemann) and it is suspected that many more are experiencing symptoms, but have not made the connection. Sadly, for millions of people, mild to serious reactions can cause isolation from public, friends, family, special events and more.
I have lived with Chemical Injury due to the use of everyday products such as perfume, air fresheners, body sprays and fragranced laundry products since 1996. I started out having vertigo and migraines from strong perfumes and exposure to the cleaning products isle in the store.
Unfortunately, I continued to use other products I didn’t think I was reacting to. Thus, I became more and more reactive to more products until I ended up isolated in my home, unable to attend church, family dinners or step into a store.
As if that were not bad enough, people cannot come to visit me unless they do not use any chemically fragranced products, nor do they have a newer car or have walked through a store. It has been devastating!
These neuro-toxic chemicals can affect us all, whether we notice immediate reactions or not. My story is not rare. So, I am here to warn people that this could happen to anyone!
Again, Environmental Illness often occurs through exposure and use of every day cleaning and personal products. Therefore, it is vital that we clear our homes and bodies of these offenders, before we develop reactions to them that are debilitating and cause a person to be isolated from the world and those they love.
As a result, I implore everyone to take a look at the products we use in our homes and on our bodies. We can start replacing these products with natural and fragrance free alternatives. After doing this, most experience a moderate or huge change in how they feel, whether they are healthy or whether they are dealing with illness.
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I went to one of the top neurologists in the country a few years ago. Although he prescribes steroids and MS drugs, after talking with me, he admitted I would not be alive today, had I continued to take steroids and started the MS immune depressants. I have heard this many times from Naturopaths and MD’s, but never from a Neurologist, with whom prescribes these things every day.
Unfortunately, I have had a very deadly strain of Lyme Disease since I was 14. It has done a lot of damage to my brain, organs, nervous system, cells and tissues. Also, my immune system no longer sees it as a threat; so, though I have built up my immune system, it doesn’t know it needs to go after the Lyme.
Therefore, I haven’t been able to make progress or reverse my conditions like I have seen thousands do with natural medicines. Nonetheless, I will keep fighting and I have to try to be thankful I am alive!
By Dr. Mercola – August 13, 2014
Americans are finally starting to realize the dangers of soda, with nearly two-thirds (63 percent) saying they actively try to avoid soda in their diet, a new Gallup poll revealed.1
This is a significant increase from 2002, when only 41 percent were trying to avoid soda, and a clear sign that, as TIME reported, “the soda craze is going flat.”2
The soda industry is a $75-billion market,3 an industry that reached its greatest heights in the US during the 1980s and 1990s, when Coca-Cola began pushing larger drink sizes and “upsizing.” Fountain drink sizes grew more than 50 percent by 1990, and in 1994, the 20-ounce plastic bottle was introduced in the US.
As people drank more and more soda, rates of obesity and diabetes soared, and while the soda industry still denies to this day any connection, research suggests otherwise. The “supersized” mentality seems to have backfired for Coca-Cola and other beverage companies, because as the health risks become clear, sales have been on a steady downward spiral.
As Businessweek reported:4
“For decades, soft-drink companies saw consumption rise. During the 1970s, the average person doubled the amount of soda they drank; by the 1980s it had overtaken tap water. In 1998, Americans were downing 56 gallons of the stuff every year—that’s 1.3 oil barrels’ worth of soda for every person in the country.
And then we weren’t as thirsty for soda anymore, and there were so many new drink options that we could easily swap it out for something else. Soft-drink sales stabilized for a few years…
In 2005 they started dropping, and they haven’t stopped. Americans are now drinking about 450 cans of soda a year, according to Beverage Digest, roughly the same amount they did in 1986.”
Part of Coca-Cola’s plan to bring soda back is, ironically, introducing smaller sizes, a strategy they believe might reposition Coke so “people stop feeling guilty when they drink it, or, ideally come to see a Coke as a treat.”
Smaller, 7.5-ounce minicans and 8-ounce glass bottles have been selling well. Even Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North America, says he limits himself to one 8-ounce glass bottle of regular Coke in the morning. Any more would be too many calories, he told Businessweek.
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola decided to target the teen market directly this summer. Teens, while notorious for their soft-drink consumption, have been quickly bailing ship and opting for energy drinks instead.
So Coca-Cola printed the 250 most common teen names on Coke bottles, hoping to entice teens with the “personalized” drinks. It worked. Sales increased by 1 percent in North America in the last three months.5
Beverage consultant Mike Weinstein, former president of A&W Brands, even noted that he goes right into high schools to find out whether teens can identify soda company slogans.
Yet, there seems to be a growing realization within the industry that, as American attitudes about diet change, and more people seek to reduce added sugar and sugary drinks in their diets, appealing to the “healthier” side of their image is needed.
And, here, too, Coca-Cola is quick to respond. They’ve invested heavily in small “healthy” beverage companies like Fuze tea, Zico coconut water, and organic Honest Tea. Coca-Cola also owns Odwalla and Simply Orange juices, Glaceau Vitaminwater, and Core Power sports drinks.
Coca-Cola Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent has no intention of letting Coca-Cola’s brands, and its namesake product Coke, fall by the wayside.
A $1-billion two-year marketing blitz’s sole goal is to drive its “sparkling” division back to its former glory. And in case you were wondering… its healthy-sounding “sparkling” division includes soda, which is completely delusional.
When you drink soda, numerous changes happen in your body, including in your brain. A new animal study, presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, found that sugary beverages may be particularly damaging to the brains of adolescents, one of the key age groups soda companies are trying to “court.”
Both adult and adolescent rats were fed sugary beverages for one month. They then were tested for cognitive function and memory.
While the adult rats did okay, the adolescent rats fed sugary drinks had both impaired memory and trouble learning.6 Next, the researchers plan to study whether soda leads to inflammation in the brain’s hippocampus, which is crucial for memory and learning.
Diet Coke may not contain sugar, but that certainly doesn’t make it a better choice than regular soda. Here, too, Americans are catching on to the risks involved, especially in regard to the artificial sweetener aspartame. Businessweek, reporting on the decline in Coca-Cola’s sales, noted that while carbonated soda sales fell 2 percent in 2013, Diet Coke sales dropped 7 percent.
This, they said, was “almost entirely the result of the growing unpopularity of aspartame amid persistent rumors that it’s a health risk.”7 Rumors? Far from it. Research continues to pour in revealing proven health dangers to aspartame.
Among them, a recent commentary that reviewed the adequacy of the cancer studies submitted by G.D. Searle in the 1970s to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for market approval.8
Their review of the data found that the studies did not prove aspartame’s safety, while other recent research suggests aspartame has potential carcinogenic effects. The researchers noted:
“Taken together, the studies performed by G.D. Searle in the 1970s and other chronic bioassays do not provide adequate scientific support for APM safety.
In contrast, recent results of life-span carcinogenicity bioassays on rats and mice published in peer-reviewed journals, and a prospective epidemiological study, provide consistent evidence of APM’s carcinogenic potential.
On the basis of the evidence of the potential carcinogenic effects of APM herein reported, a re-evaluation of the current position of international regulatory agencies must be considered an urgent matter of public health.”
You may also be surprised to learn that research has repeatedly shown that artificially sweetened no- or low-calorie drinks and other “diet” foods actually tend to stimulate your appetite, increase cravings for carbs, and stimulate fat storage and weight gain.
A report published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism highlighted the fact that diet soda drinkers suffer the same exact health problems as those who opt for regular soda, such as excessive weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.9 For the record, Coca-Cola maintains aspartame is a “safe, high-quality alternative to sugar.” Clearly they’ve not reviewed the hundreds of studies on this artificial sweetener demonstrating its harmful effects…
Soda is on my list of the absolute worst foods and drinks you can consume. Once ingested, your pancreas rapidly begins to create insulin in response to the sugar. A 20-ounce bottle of cola contains the equivalent of 16 teaspoons of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). In addition to contributing to insulin resistance, the rise in blood sugar is quite rapid. Here’s a play-by-play of what happens in your body upon drinking a can of soda:
- Within 20 minutes, your blood sugar spikes, and your liver responds to the resulting insulin burst by turning massive amounts of sugar into fat.
- Within 40 minutes, caffeine absorption is complete; your pupils dilate, your blood pressure rises, and your liver dumps more sugar into your bloodstream.
- Around 45 minutes, your body increases dopamine production, which stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain – a physically identical response to that of heroin, by the way.
- After 60 minutes, you’ll start to have a blood sugar crash, and you may be tempted to reach for another sweet snack or beverage.
As I’ve discussed on numerous occasions, chronically elevated insulin levels (which you would definitely have if you regularly drink soda) and the subsequent insulin resistance is a foundational factor of most chronic disease, from diabetes to cancer. Today, while many Americans are cutting back on sugary drinks, soda remains a dietary mainstay for many. Along with energy drinks and sports drinks, soda is among the top 10 sources of calories in the US diet (number four on the list, to be exact),10 and, in 2012, Gallup found that 48 percent of Americans said they drink at least one glass of soda a day,11with proven detrimental impacts to their health.
Some advice for Coke, plan your budget to include a class-action lawsuit similar to those filed against the tobacco industry. These products are now well linked to the obesity epidemic and chronic disease. Coca-Cola admits to targeting teens (and has previously targeted children through in-school advertising and product placement). Now, they are making attempts to rebrand Coke with a new, healthier image. Their new “Coke Life,” a low-calorie, low-sugar soda in a green can, no less, was designed to “quiet critics,” as it contains less sugar and no aspartame.12 Yet this new green-washed soda is just basically a cigarette with a filter.
Then there is Coca-Cola’s even more insidious side. Investigative journalist Michael Blanding revealed in his book, The Coke Machine — The Dirty Truth Behind the World’s Favorite Soft Drink, that Coca-Cola bottling plants in India have dramatically lowered the water supply, drying up wells for local villagers while also dumping cadmium, chromium, and other carcinogens into the local environment. Similar claims have been made in Mexico. In many third-world countries, they already don’t have access to clean water, making soda their only choice for a non-contaminated beverage. As the demand for soda grows, the bottling plants increase, further taxing the water supplies left, in a vicious and dangerous cycle.
In order to break free of your soda habit, first be sure you address the emotional component of your food cravings using tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). More than any traditional or alternative method I have used or researched, EFT works to overcome food cravings and helps you reach dietary success. Be sure to check out Turbo Tapping in particular, which is an extremely effective and simple tool to get rid of your soda addiction in a short amount of time.
If you still have cravings after trying EFT or Turbo Tapping, you may need to make some changes to your diet. My free nutrition plan can help you do this in a step-by-step fashion. Remember, nothing beats pure water when it comes to serving your body’s needs. If you really feel the urge for a carbonated beverage, try sparkling mineral water with a squirt of lime or lemon juice, or sweetened withstevia or Luo Han, both of which are safe natural sweeteners. Remember, if you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or extra weight, then you have insulin sensitivity issues and would likely benefit from avoiding ALL sweeteners.
Sweetened beverages, whether it’s sweetened with sugar, HFCS, naturally occurring fructose, or artificial sweeteners like aspartame, are among the worst culprits in the fight against obesity and related health problems, including diabetes and heart and liver disease, just to name a few. Ditching ALL of these types of beverages can go a long way toward reducing your risk for chronic health problems and weight gain, not to mention your exposure to potentially cancer-causing additives like caramel coloringand aspartame.
Insights from Sherri!
For many years, I loved drinking diet cola! However, as soon as I read about the chemical artificial sweetener used, I realized I was getting migraines when I drank it. Some people may not experience immediate symptoms, but in my opinion should still heed the warnings of what these chemicals are doing to their bodies! Anyhow, that is a topic to be discussed at another time.
After I quit drinking diet sodas, I started drinking regular ones now and then. But let’s be honest. Those aren’t good either! I realize people like to throw up their arms and say they don’t have a choice or why bother trying to be healthy; but these are our bodies, friends! We only have one and putting stuff in it that is harmful is a choice and it is not a good one!
I began looking for alternatives. Of course there is water and I do drink a ton of water all day long. Nevertheless, I admit; there is nothing like a cold glass of bubbling, wet flavor from time to time! So, without going on and on about what I have tried, I would like to share with you some great alternatives that I came up. These are so delicious and refreshing that I can’t even stand a sip of soda anymore! All I taste is the gobs of sugar and grossness!
1) Sherri’s Bubbly Soda Yum:
Crystal Geyser Sparkling Mineral Water. These come plain or with light flavors. I like the plain, then I add my own flavors. I use Wisdom Natural Sweet Leave Sweet Drops. They have flavors like Valencia Orange, Berry, Vanilla Cream, Root Beer and Toffee. I tested this out on my great niece and she LOVES them! … OK at first, they taste just a little bitter (though my great niece didn’t notice). But have no worries, after a couple of weeks, you don’t notice. You see, a diet on sugar makes us insensitive to sweets. Get rid of the sugary sodas and you need less sweetness to satisfy you!
2) Sherri’s Refreshing Infusions:
For this, you can use the sparkling mineral water or just clean, filtered water. It’s going to sound so simple, cuz it is! Just put fruit, cucumber and/or herbs into a mason jar and fill it with filtered water. Put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. Remove and pour into a glass for an amazingly refreshing treat! With our processed diets today, most people are way to acidic. Not only does it taste good, but it can also be alkalizing to your body and blood! If it is not flavorful enough for you, squeeze the fruits into the water as well and infuse over night.
Here are some recipe ideas:
Cucumber, lemon, ginger and mint.
Ditch the soda and get healthy!
By Dr. Mercola – February 2, 2015
Herbs and cooking spices contain a wide variety of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, and help maximize the nutrient density of your meals. Every time you flavor your meals with herbs or spices you are literally “upgrading” your food without adding a single calorie.
In fact, on a per gram fresh weight basis, herbs rank even higher in antioxidant activity than fruits and vegetables, which are known to be high in antioxidants. Many studies have also shown that most spices tend to have unique medicinal qualities.
In the featured study,1 researchers from three Universities devised an experiment to evaluate the “true world” benefits of herbs and spices, by feeding them to people in quantities that are typically consumed simply by spicing up your meals. As noted by Dr. Michael Greger MD, who produced the video above:2
“The researchers could have taken the easy route and just measured the change in antioxidant level in one’s bloodstream before and after consumption, but the assumption that the appearance of antioxidant activity in the blood is an indication of bioavailability has a weakness.
Maybe more gets absorbed than we think but doesn’t show up on antioxidant tests because it gets bound up to proteins or cells. So the researchers attempted to measure physiological changes in the blood.
They were interested in whether absorbed compounds would be able to protect white blood cells from an oxidative or inflammatory injury—whether herb and spice consumption would protect the strands of our DNA from breaking when attacked by free radicals.”
For one week, 10 to 12 subjects in each of 13 groups consumed a small amount of a particular spice each day. For example, those in the oregano group ate just half a teaspoon of oregano daily for seven days. Blood samples were drawn one hour prior to consumption, and at the very end of the experiment.
The participants’ blood was then analyzed for antioxidant capacity. The researchers also analyzed how well the blood could dampen an induced inflammatory response in white blood cells.
This was done by placing the participants’ blood onto white blood cells that had been damaged by oxidized cholesterol (commonly found in fried foods). Even at the “everyday” dosage amounts given, four spices were found to be significantly effective at quelling the inflammatory response:
As noted in the featured article: “[T]he results represents what might happen when cells in our body are exposed to the levels of spices that circulate in our bloodstream after normal daily consumption—not megadoses in some pill. Just the amount that makes our spaghetti sauce, pumpkin pie, or curry sauce taste good.”
An earlier study published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods3 found a direct correlation between the antioxidant phenol content of spice and herb extracts and their ability to inhibit glycation and block the formation of AGE compounds (advanced glycation end products), making them potent preventers of heart disease and premature aging.
Here, cloves were ranked as the most potent of 24 common herbs and spices found in your spice rack. In all, the following were found to be the top 10 most potent anti-inflammatory herbs and spices:
- Jamaican allspice
- Apple pie spice mixture
- Pumpkin pie spice mixture
- Gourmet Italian spice
It’s important to realize that chronic inflammation is the source of many if not most diseases, including cancer, obesity, and heart disease, which essentially makes it the leading cause of death in the US.
While inflammation is a perfectly normal and beneficial process that occurs when your body’s white blood cells and chemicals protect you from foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses, it leads to trouble when the inflammatory response gets out of hand. Your diet has a lot to do with this chain of events.
While among the most potent, ounce for ounce, herbs and spices are certainly not the only anti-inflammatory ingredients available. A number of foods are well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties, and making sure you’re eating a wide variety of them on a regular basis can go a long way toward preventing chronic illness.
The following foods and nutrients deserve special mention for their ability to quell inflammatory responses in your body:
1. Animal-based omega-3 fat Animal-based omega-3 fats—found in fatty fish like wild Alaskan salmon and fish- or krill oil—help fight inflammation throughout your body. It’s particularly important for brain health. Research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology4 in 2012 confirmed that dietary supplementation with krill oil effectively reduced inflammation and oxidative stress. 2. Leafy greens Dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens and Swiss chard contain powerful antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C—all of which help protect against cellular damage. Ideally, opt for organic locally grown veggies that are in season, and consider eating a fair amount of them raw. Juicing is an excellent way to get more greens into your diet. 3. Blueberries Blueberries rate very high in antioxidant capacity compared to other fruits and vegetables. They are also lower in sugar than many other fruits. 4. Tea Matcha tea is the most nutrient-rich green tea and comes in the form of a stone-ground unfermented powder. The best Matcha comes from Japan and has up to 17 times the antioxidants of wild blueberries, and seven times more than dark chocolate.Tulsi is another tea loaded with anti-inflammatory antioxidants and other micronutrients that support immune function and heart health. 5. Fermented vegetables and traditionally cultured foods Optimizing your gut flora is important for a well-functioning immune system, and helps ward off chronic inflammation. In fact, the majority of inflammatory diseases start in your gut, as the result of an imbalanced microbiome. Fermented foods such as kefir, natto, kimchee, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, olives, and other fermented vegetables, will help ‘reseed’ your gut with beneficial bacteria.Fermented foods can also help your body rid itself of harmful toxins such as heavy metals andpesticides that promote inflammation. 6. Shiitake mushrooms Shiitake mushrooms contain strong compounds with the natural ability to discourage inflammation, such as Ergothioneine, which inhibits oxidative stress.They also contain a number of unique nutrients that many do not get enough of in their diet. One is copper, which is one of the few metallic elements accompanied by amino and fatty acids that are essential to human health. Since your body can’t synthesize copper, your diet must supply it regularly. Copper deficiency can be a factor in the development of coronary heart disease. 7. Garlic Garlic has been treasured for its medicinal properties for centuries. It’s also one of the most heavily researched plant foods around. Over 170 studies5 show it benefitting more than 150 different conditions. Garlic exerts its benefits on multiple levels, offering anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and antioxidant properties.It’s thought that much of garlic’s therapeutic effect comes from its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin. Research6 has revealed that as allicin digests in your body it produces sulfenic acid, a compound that reacts faster with dangerous free radicals than any other known compound.
The running thread linking a wide variety of common health problems—from obesity and diabetes to heart disease and cancer—is chronic inflammation. The key to reducing chronic inflammation in your body starts with your diet, and being liberal in your use of high-quality herbs and spices is one simple way to boost the quality of your food. They’re an inexpensive “secret weapon” that just about everyone can take advantage of. Spicing up your meals is not enough, however, if processed foods comprise the bulk of your diet.
It’s important to realize that dietary components can either prevent or trigger inflammation from taking root in your body, and processed foods do the latter, courtesy of pro-inflammatory ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, soy, processed vegetable oils (trans fats), and other chemical additives. Besides adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, you’ll also want to avoid the following pro-inflammatory dietary culprits as much as possible:
- Refined sugar, processed fructose, and grains. If your fasting insulin level is three or above, consider dramatically reducing or eliminating grains and sugars until you optimize your insulin level, as insulin resistance this is a primary driver of chronic inflammation. As a general guideline, I recommend restricting your total fructose intake to 25 grams per day. If you’re insulin or leptin resistant (have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, or are overweight), consider cutting that down to 15 grams per day until your insulin/leptin resistance has normalized
- Oxidized cholesterol (cholesterol that has gone rancid, such as that from overcooked, scrambled eggs)
- Foods cooked at high temperatures, especially if cooked with vegetable oil (such as peanut, corn, and soy oil)
- Trans fats
Replacing processed foods with whole, ideally organic foods will automatically address most of these factors, especially if you eat a large portion of your food raw. Equally important is making sure you’re regularly reseeding your gut with beneficial bacteria, as mentioned above. To help you get started on a healthier diet, I suggest following my free Optimized Nutrition Plan, which starts at the beginner phase and systematically guides you step-by-step to the advanced level.
By Dr. Mercola
Avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that is easily burned for energy, while being low in fructose. Not surprisingly, improved weight management1,2 is one of the health benefits of avocado consumption, and its high-fat, low-sugar content is likely a key factor contributing to this effect.
Research3 has also found that avocados are helpful for regulating your blood sugar levels. This is an important benefit for most people, considering that one in four American are either diabetic or pre-diabetic.
According to the California Avocado Commission, a medium Hass avocado contains about 22.5 grams of fat, two-thirds of which is monounsaturated. They also provide close to 20 essential health-boosting nutrients, including:
- Vitamin E
- Folic acid
- Potassium (more than twice the amount found in a banana), which can help balance your vitally important potassium to sodium ratio
Due to its beneficial raw fat content, avocado enables your body to more efficiently absorb fat-soluble nutrients (such as alpha- and beta-carotene and lutein) in other foods eaten in conjunction.
One 2005 study4 found that adding avocado to salad allowed the volunteers to absorb three to five times more carotenoids antioxidant molecules, which help protect your body against free radical damage.
Previous research has suggested that avocados might help improve lipid profiles, both in healthy individuals and in those with mild hypercholesterolemia (elevated cholesterol levels).
In one such study,5 healthy individuals saw a 16 percent decrease of serum total cholesterol level following a one-week long diet high in monounsaturated fat from avocados.
In those with elevated cholesterol levels, the avocado diet resulted in a 17 percent decrease of serum total cholesterol, and a 22 percent decrease of both LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides, along with an 11 percent increase of the so-called “good” HDL cholesterol.
More recently, researchers at Pennsylvania State University tested three different cholesterol-reducing diets, to assess and compare their effectiveness.6,7,8 Forty-five overweight participants were enrolled in the study, and were assigned to follow one of the tree diets:
- Low-fat diet, where saturated fats were substituted for more carbohydrates, including plenty of fruit and whole grains
- Moderate-fat diet (without avocado), where saturated fats were substituted with monounsaturated fats in the form of canola and sunflower oil. About 34 percent of daily calories came from fat, but aside from that, it was very similar to the low-fat diet, which included poultry and low amounts of red meat
- Moderate-fat diet with avocado. Aside from including one whole Hass avocado per day, this diet was identical to the other moderate-fat diet, and the overall fat ratio was the same
The results, reported by the NPR,9 “surprised” the researchers:
“At the end of the study, the researchers found that the avocado diet led to significant reductions in LDL cholesterol, compared with the other two diets.
To put the difference in perspective, the avocado diet decreased LDL cholesterol about 14 milligrams per deciliter of blood. Compare that with a decrease of about 7 mg/dL for the low-fat diet, and about a 8 mg/dl drop from the moderate-fat diet.
“I was surprised to see the added benefit [of the avocado],” Penny Kris-Etherton, a nutrition scientist at Penn State and the lead author of the study, tells us.” It’s something in the avocado” other than just the fat composition, she says.”
It’s worth noting that canola and other vegetable oils (used in the moderate-fat diets in the featured study) are typically hydrogenated, which means they contain trans fats, and trans fats wreak havoc on your heart and cardiovascular health. So I for one am not surprised at the results of this study.
Previous research10 has actually shown that replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (found in soybean, corn, and safflower oil) leads to increased small, high-density LDL particles, increased oxidized LDL, and reduced HDL.
Research has confirmed that large LDL particles do not contribute to heart disease. The small, dense LDL particles, however, do contribute to the build-up of plaque in your arteries, and trans fat increases small, dense LDL. (Saturated fat, on the other hand, increases large, fluffy—and benign—LDL.)
Research has also shown that small, dense LDL particles are increased by eatingrefined sugar and carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, and most processed foods. Together, trans fats and refined carbs do far more harm than saturated fat ever possibly could. One tool designed to help you eliminate trans fats are the Naturally Savvy Get Healthy Challenges that I helped create.
On a brief side note: In the CBS video above, they also make mention of the DASH diet, which has been found to lower blood pressure by as much as five points, rivaling the effects of blood pressure lowering medications.
The DASH diet is quite similar to the Mediterranean diet, promoting the consumption of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, and recommends avoiding sugars, red meat, and salt.
Many believe that the low-sodium is responsible for its success. However, there’s compelling evidence suggesting that the real reasons it works so well for both hypertension and weight loss is because it increases potassium and restricts your intake of fructose—as does the Mediterranean diet.
Fructose is actually a far more important factor than salt when it comes to hypertension. The connecting link between fructose consumption and hypertension lies in the uric acid produced. Uric acid is a byproduct of fructose metabolism, and increased uric acid levels drive up your blood pressure.
Now, when you reduce sugar in your diet (from sources such as added sugars, processed fructose, grains of all kinds, and processed foods), you need to increase the amount of healthy fat. And avocado is an excellent choice to bolster your fat consumption and overall nutrition.
I have been consuming an avocado daily for the last several years. On most days, I will add a whole avocado to my salad, which I eat for lunch. This increases my healthy fat and calorie intake without seriously increasing my protein or carbohydrate intake. You can also add about ¼ to 1/3 of an avocado as a healthy banana substitute when making smoothies or your protein shake.
Besides its beneficial influence on your cholesterol, avocados have also been found to provide other heart-healthy benefits. For example, one interesting 2012 study11found that eating one-half of a fresh medium Hass avocado with a hamburger significantly inhibited the production of the inflammatory compound Interleukin-6 (IL-6), compared to eating a burger without fresh avocado.
Also, just like avocado does not raise your blood sugar levels, fresh avocado did not increase triglyceride levels beyond what was observed when eating the burger alone, despite the avocado supplying extra fat and calories. According to lead author David Heber, MD, PhD, the findings offer “promising clues” about avocado’s ability to benefit vascular function and heart health. Healthy fats are also vital for optimal brain function, and for the prevention of degenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer’s. As noted in a recent issue of Scientific American:12
“The brain thrives on a fat-rich, low carbohydrate diet, which unfortunately is relatively uncommon in human populations today,” reports David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain. “Mayo Clinic researchers showed that individuals favoring carbohydrates in their diets had a remarkable 89 percent increased risk for developing dementia as contrasted to those whose diets contained the most fat.
Having the highest levels of fat consumption was actually found to be associated with an incredible 44 percent reduction in risk for developing dementia.” …‘Good’ fats include monounsaturated fats, found abundantly in olive oil, peanut oil, hazelnuts, avocados and pumpkin seeds, and polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 and omega 6), which are found in flaxseed oil, chia seeds, marine algae oil and walnuts.”
Interestingly, the manner in which you de-skin your avocado can affect how much of its valuable phytonutrients you get out of it. UCLA research has shown that the greatest concentration of beneficial carotenoids, for example, is located in the dark green fruit closest to the inside of the peel. In 2010, the California Avocado Commission issued guidelines for getting the most out of your avocado by peeling it the right way.13 To preserve the area with the greatest concentration of antioxidants, you’re best off peeling the avocado with your hands, as you would a banana:
- First, cut the avocado length-wise, around the seed
- Holding each half, twist them in the opposite directions to separate them from the seed
- Remove the seed
- Cut each half, lengthwise
- Next, using your thumb and index finger, simply peel the skin off each piece
While avocado is commonly eaten raw, on salad or alone, there are many other ways to include avocado in your diet. Its creamy, mild flavor tends to go well with many foods, making it a refreshing and nutritious addition to various recipes. For example, you can use avocado:
- As a fat replacement in baking. Simply replace the fat called for (such as oil, butter, or shortening) with an equal amount of avocado
- As a first food for babies, in lieu of processed baby food
- In soups. For examples, see Lucy Lock’s Chilled Mediterranean Soup, or herRaw Creamy Carrot Soup
- As a banana substitute in smoothies or your protein shake
The California Avocado Commission’s website14 contains hundreds of unique recipes that include avocado. All in all, avocado may be one of the most beneficial superfoods out there, and may be particularly valuable if you’re struggling with insulin and leptin resistance, diabetes, or any other risk factors for heart disease. Last but not least, avocados are also one of the safest fruits you can buy conventionally-grown, as their thick skin protects the inner fruit from pesticides.
On top of that, avocados have been rated as one of the safest commercial crops in terms of pesticide application,15 so there’s no real need to spend extra money on organic avocados. I’ve had my own team test avocados from a variety of growers in different countries, sold in several major grocery stores, and they all tested free and clear of harmful chemicals. For more fun and interesting avocado facts, check out the following infographic.
Discover interesting facts about avocado, including its uses and benefits, through the infographic “Avocado Uses and Health Benefits.” infographic. Use the embed code to share it on your website.
<img src="https://media.mercola.com/assets/images/infographic/avocado-uses-health-benefits.jpg" alt="Avocado Uses and Health Benefits" border="0" style="max-width:100%; min-width:300px; margin: 0 auto 20px auto; display:block;"><p style="max-width:800px; min-width:300px; margin:0 auto; text-align:center;">Discover interesting facts about avocado, including its uses and benefits, through the infographic <a href="http://www.mercola.com/infographics/avocado-uses-health-benefits.htm"><strong>Avocado Uses and Health Benefits: Facts About This Food.</strong></a> infographic.</p>
By Dr. Mercola
Every year, 230 million prescriptions for antidepressants are filled, making them one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States. The psychiatric industry itself is a $330 billion industry—not bad for an enterprise that offers little in the way of cures.
Despite all of these prescriptions, more than one in 20 Americans are depressed, according to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those depressed Americans, 80 percent say they have some level of functional impairment, and 27 percent say their condition makes it extremely difficult to do everyday tasks like work, activities of daily living, and getting along with others.
The use of antidepressant drugs—medicine’s answer for depression—doubled in just one decade, from 13.3 million in 1996 to 27 million in 2005.
If these drugs are so extensively prescribed, then why are so many people feeling so low?
Because they don’t work at addressing the cause.
Unfortunately, research has confirmed that antidepressant drugs are no more effective than sugar pills. Some studies have even found that sugar pills may produce BETTER results than antidepressants! Personally, I believe the reason for this astounding finding is that both pills work via the placebo effect, but the sugar pills produce far fewer adverse effects.
Many people forget that antidepressants come with a slew of side effects, some of which are deadly. Approximately 750,000 people attempt suicide each year in the US, and about 30,000 of those succeed. Taking a drug that is unlikely to relieve your symptoms and may actually increase your risk of killing yourself certainly does not seem like a good choice.
In addition, since most of the treatment focus is on drugs, many safe and natural treatment options that DO work are being completely ignored. No wonder so many people are suffering.
Unfortunately, about two-thirds of people with depression go undiagnosed. Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide, which is a sad testament to the clinical astuteness of most physicians. The diagnostic clues provided in this past article are telling indicators that you or someone you love might be suffering from this illness, so please review them now.
Depression is much more than just feeling blue once in a while.
One set of diagnostic criteria used to assess depression is known as “SIGECAPS,” which stands for sleep, interest, guilt, energy, concentration, appetite, psychomotor and suicide. If four or more of these items are a concern, it strongly suggests major depression.
However, it is important to watch for symptoms besides mood changes, considering relevant information from family and friends as well.
If you have been feeling down for two weeks or more and have lost interest in activities you once enjoyed, I’d encourage you to consider the treatment options for healing depression suggested later in this article, as opposed to immediately leaping into potentially dangerous drugs.
Most suicide attempts are expressions of extreme distress, not harmless bids for attention. A person who appears suicidal needs immediate professional help.
If you think someone is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone.
Help the person to seek immediate assistance from heir doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room, or call 911. Eliminate access to firearms or other potential suicide aids, including unsupervised access to medications.
Besides straightforward or “sideways” comments about not wanting to live any longer, some of the red flags that a person has a high risk for self-harm include:
- Acquiring a weapon
- Hoarding medication
- No plan for the future
- Putting affairs in order
- Making or changing a will
- Giving away personal belongings
- Mending grievances
- Checking on insurance policies
- Withdrawing from people
Your suicide risk is higher if you have recently experienced any of the following extremely stressful life situations (this is certainly not a comprehensive list):
- Loss of a significant relationship or death of a loved one
- Diagnosis of a terminal illness
- Loss of financial security or livelihood
- Loss of home or employment
- Abuse, rape or other serious emotional trauma
People sometimes become more suicidal as they begin the climb up out of depression, which is one means by which antidepressant drugs can increase suicide risk.
One of the reasons for this is, as lethargy (which is common in depression) lifts, you can more easily find the energy to carry out a suicide plan. Another possible reason is that you might feel more in control and therefore at peace with your situation once you’ve made a decision to end your own life.
This is important to keep in mind because people may appear as if they are feeling better, when in fact, they are more at risk.
Remember that these are only general guidelines, and often your own intuition is the best indicator that someone you love is really in trouble.
If you are feeling desperate or have any thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a toll-free number 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911, or simply go to your nearest Hospital Emergency Department. You can’t make long-term plans for lifestyle changes when you are in a crisis!
First let someone help you through the crisis—then you can deal with your depression later, when you’re feeling more resourceful.
Every time a new study about the efficacy of antidepressants hits the journals, we see antidepressants plunge further into the abyss.
A recent study in the January 2010 issue of JAMA concludes that there is little evidence that SSRIs (a popular group of antidepressants that includes Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and others) have any benefit to people with mild to moderate depression, andthey work no better than a placebo.
That means that SSRIs are 33 percent effectiveas a placebo. And a study presented at the Neuroscience conference in 2009 tells a similar story. Researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine shared two major findings:
- Antidepressant drugs were not invented for depression. Researchers used certain drugs to manipulate the behavior of stressed animals, and then concluded (erroneously) that the drugs would be “good antidepressants.” But chronic stress does not cause the same molecular changes that depression does, making the hypothesis incorrect.So, antidepressants were actually designed to treat stress, rather than depression—which is one reason they are so ineffective.
- An imbalance of neurotransmitters in your brain may not trigger depressive symptoms in the way that has long been believed. Instead, the biochemical events that lead to depression appear to start in the development and functioning of neurons. This means antidepressants focus on the effect of depression and completely miss the cause… yet another reason why they are so ineffective for most people.
Unfortunately, the lead researcher is hoping the research will “open up new routes to develop new antidepressants,” when in reality a drug solution is not the answer.
Similarly, in 2008, a meta-analysis published in PLoS Medicine concluded that the difference between antidepressants and placebo pills is very small—and that both are ineffective for most depressed patients. Only the most severely depressed showed any response to antidepressants at all, and that response was quite minimal.
In an interview, Pulitzer Prize nominee Robert Whitaker explained that research suggests the use of antidepressant drugs may actually result in more relapses back into depression in the long run. In other words, these drugs may be turning depression into a more chronic condition.
The other worrisome effect is that antidepressant drugs appear to be converting people from unipolar depression into bipolar—meaning, fluctuating between mania and depression—and this disorder has much poorer long-term outcomes.
These are not new revelations.
Back in 2002, a meta-analysis of published clinical trials indicated that 75 percent of the response to antidepressants could be duplicated by placebo. Many antidepressants may actually make your “mental illness” worse. When your body doesn’t feel good, your mood crashes along with it.
Depression—or described another way, “unrepaired emotional short-circuiting”— can cause far more profound negative health consequences than all the damaged food and toxins you expose yourself to daily.
Psychiatric drugs kill 42,000 people every year—that’s 12,000 MORE people than successfully commit suicide due to depression! And the death count continues to rise.
Antidepressants are the largest category of psychiatric drugs. It wouldn’t be so bad if antidepressants were harmless sugar pills, occasionally showing benefit simply because you believe they will work.
But in addition to being ineffective, they are far from harmless and are now associated with many serious health problems:
- Diabetes: Your risk for type 2 diabetes is two to three times higher if you take antidepressants, according to one study.
- Problems with your immune system: SSRIs cause serotonin to remain in your nerve junctions longer, interfering with immune cell signaling and T cell growth.
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings and violent behavior: Your risk for suicide may be twice as high if you take SSRIs; seven out of twelve school shootings were by children who were either on antidepressants or withdrawing from them.
- Stillbirths: A Canadian study of almost 5,000 mothers found that women on SSRIs were twice as likely to have a stillbirth, and almost twice as likely to have a premature or low birth weight baby; another study showed a 40 percent increased risk for birth defects, such as cleft palate.
- Brittle bones: One study showed women on antidepressants have a 30 percent higher risk of spinal fracture and a 20 percent high risk for all other fractures.
- Stroke: Your risk for stroke may be 45 percent higher if you are on antidepressants, possibly related to how the drugs affect blood clotting
- Death: Overall death rates have been found to be 32 percent higher in women on antidepressants.
Diabetes or stroke will kill you, but suicide is much quicker. The link between suicide and antidepressants is so strong that these drugs have been mandated to havesuicide warnings. Let’s consider one of the newer psychotropic medications that is now being given to people for depression: Abilify (also called aripiprazole).
Abilify is licensed for the treatment of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, and major depression (when taken with antidepressants). It is used to augment the effects of the antidepressants—because, of course, they work so poorly!
But did you know that Abilify has 75 different side effects associated with it?
How absurd is it to take a drug that works about as well as a sugar pill but exposes you to this minefield of ills?
Andy Behrman, a former spokesman for Abilify and Bristol Myers Squibb, which manufactures Abilify, stopped taking the drug in order to avoid the final side effects—coma and death. He made a short video warning you about the drug.
If a former spokesman for the company is sticking his neck out to warn you, how warm and fuzzy does that make you feel about what the pharmaceutical companies are telling you?
Professor of Medicine Lennard J. Davis wrote an excellent article about SSRIs for the January 2010 issue of Psychology Today. He points out that physicians routinely prescribe not one, but two or three SSRIs and other psychopharmacological drugs in combination—with really no studies to back them up.
Physicians who engage in what is known as “polypharmacy” are hoping that if one didn’t work, maybe two or three will.
“Doctors are in essence performing uncontrolled experiments on their patients, hoping that in some scattershot way they might hit on a solution. But of course drugs have dangerous interactions and most physicians are shooting in the dark with all the dangers that attend such bad marksmanship.”
In fact, the entire serotonin hypothesis for depression should be given a serious review.
You have heard for years that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance of your neurotransmitters, mainly serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, but there’s a serious lack of research to prove it.
This theory has become so indoctrinated into our culture and media that most people just accept it as fact, simply because they’ve heard it so often. Even mental health practitioners!
But there is no way to measure your serotonin or your dopamine without cutting open your head. Scientists can’t even decide on what a “normal” serotonin level is, much less an abnormal one.
Why do some depressed folks have high serotonin levels, while many happy folks have low ones?
Your brain is far too complex for this overly simplistic explanation to work. More and more “psychiatric diseases” are appearing in the literature all the time, and many could be considered “lifestyle disorders”:
- Do you shop too much? You might have Compulsive Shipping Disorder.
- Do you have a difficult time with multiplication? You could be suffering fromDyscalculia.
- Spending too much time surfing the Web? It might be Internet Addiction Disorder.
- Spending too much time at the gym? You’d better see someone for yourBigorexia or Muscle Dysmorphia.
- And my favorite—are your terrified by the number 13? You could haveTriskaidekaphobia!
You get the idea.
The point is, each of these new “diseases” gets added to the next edition of the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) if enough people show up with those traits. And increasingly, the criteria for inclusion involves whether or not the disorder responds to a category of drugs.
If it does, the phenomenon is dubbed a disease.
Of the 297 mental disorders described in the DSM, none can be objectively measured by empirical tests. In other words, they’re completely subjective. Mental illness symptoms within this manual are arbitrarily assigned by a subjective voting system by a psychiatric panel.
So, they’re making up diseases to fit the drugs—not the other way around.
It’s almost impossible to see a psychiatrist today without being diagnosed with a mental disorder because so many behavior variations are described as pathology. And you have a 99 percent chance of emerging from your psychiatrist’s office with a prescription in hand.
Why so much reliance on popping a pill for every emotional ill?
Because writing a prescription is much faster and lucrative approach for the conventional model. Additionally most practitioners have yet to accept the far more effective energetic psychological approaches.
There are five important strategies to consider if you are facing depression. These strategies have nothing but positive effects and are generally very inexpensive to implement.
1. Do a Bit of Emotional Housekeeping
It is helpful to view depression as a sign that your body and life are out of balance, rather than as a disease. What you need to do is regain your balance.
One of the key ways to do this involves addressing negative emotions that may be trapped beneath your level of awareness. My favorite method of emotional cleansing is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a form of psychological acupressure.
If you have severe depression, it would be best to consult with a mental health professional who is also an EFT practitioner. But for most of you with depression symptoms, this is a technique you can learn to do effectively on your own. In fact, it’s so easy that children are learning it.
There are other effective stress-management methods you could try as well, such as meditation, journaling, breathing exercises, yoga, or simply sharing your feelings with a close friend.
Experiment with a number of approaches, and then pick the methods you find most helpful but please remember that although it is very easy to learn EFT and far less expensive to use it yourself, it is nearly always better to seek a professional to perform EFT with you as it truly is an art that takes many years of refined practice to maximize its effectiveness.
2. Get Regular Exercise
Regular exercise is one of the “secret weapons” to overcoming depression. It works by helping to normalize your insulin levels while boosting the “feel good” hormones in your brain.
As Dr. James S. Gordon, MD, a world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression, said:
“What we’re finding in the research on physical exercise is that exercise is at least as good as antidepressants for helping people who are depressed… physical exercise changes the level of serotonin in your brain. And it increases your endorphin levels, your “feel good hormones.”
And also—and these are amazing studies—exercise can increase the number of cells in your brain, in the region of the brain called the hippocampus. These studies were first done on animals, and they’re very important because sometimes in depression, there are fewer of those cells in the hippocampus.
But you can actually change your brain with exercise. So it’s got to be part of everybody’s treatment, everybody’s plan.”
For more information, please review my article about the many ways exercise can benefit your brain.
3. Improve Your General Nutrition
Another factor that cannot be overlooked is your diet. Foods have an immense impact on your body and your brain, and eating whole foods as described in my nutrition planwill best support your mental and physical health.
Avoiding sugar (particularly fructose) and grains will help normalize your insulin and leptin levels, which is another important aspect of depression. Sugar causes chronic inflammation, which disrupts your body’s normal immune function and can wreak havoc on your brain.
Sugar also suppresses a key growth hormone called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which promotes healthy brain neurons and plays a vital role in memory. BDNF levels are critically low in people with depression, which animal models suggest may actually be causative.
4. Supplement Your Diet with Omega-3 Fatty Acids
I strongly recommend taking a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat, like krill oil. This may be the single most important nutrient for optimal brain function, thereby preventing depression.
DHA is one of the Omega-3 fatty acids in fish and krill oil, and your brain is highly dependent on it. Low DHA levels have been linked to depression, memory loss, Schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
5. Let the Sun Shine Down on You
Have you ever noticed how great it can feel to spend time outdoors on a sunny day? Well, it turns out that getting safe sun exposure, which allows your body to produce vitamin D, is great for your mood.
One study even found that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to depression than those who received adequate vitamin D. You canoptimize your vitamin D either by sunlight exposure or by using a safe tanning bed, or by taking a high-quality vitamin D3 supplement.
6. Think Twice Before Filling that Prescription
As Davis suggests in his article, “Think twice, be skeptical, and question a simplistic diagnosis you might receive after discussing your condition for a short time with a rushed practitioner.”
This is sound advice indeed.
It is easy to become seduced into thinking a pill might relieve your pain, especially when it comes with the endorsement of your physician. Feeling depressed is never pleasant, and you naturally want to escape it as quickly as possible.
But drugs should always be your last choice, and antidepressants are no exception.
There is a better way! You wouldn’t want to expose yourself to the enormous risks these drugs present, especially for so little gain. Hang in there, and if you implement the healthy strategies above, I bet you’ll soon find yourself feeling better.
By Dr. Mercola
As time goes by, science provides more and more evidence that your brain is malleable and continually changing in response to your lifestyle, physiology, and environment.
This concept is called neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity—meaning, you are literally reforming your brain with each passing day. It used to be thought that your brain was static, except during some critical developmental periods, but today, we know this isn’t true.
Your brain possesses the remarkable ability to reorganize pathways, create new connections and, in some cases, even create new neurons throughout your entire lifetime.
Our views of the nature of the brain have changed in a similar way as our views of DNA. It used to be thought that DNA did not change—in other words, you’re stuck with what you’re born with.
This, too, has been disproven by researchers like Bruce Lipton, who have introduced an entirely new branch of biological science called epigenetics. Your DNA changes continuously based on your experiences, emotions, and environment.
The point is, you have much more control over your body, mind, and brain than you might think. If you can mold and shape your brain, you are not entirely at the mercy of your genetics or the neural pathways you brought into this world or formed as a child—and this is great news!
A recent study1 discussed in Scientific American2 illuminates your brain’s remarkable ability to rewire itself in response to experience. Mice with amblyopia or “lazy eye” (partial blindness caused by visual deprivation early in life) improved faster if they were exposed to visual stimuli while running on a treadmill.
Amblyopia can happen to someone born with a droopy eyelid, cataract, or other defect not corrected early in life. If the eye is opened in adulthood, recovery is usually slow and incomplete.
In this experiment, researchers induced amblyopia in mice by suturing one eye shut for several months. After the sutures were removed, the mice were shown a “noisy” visual pattern while running on a treadmill for four hours a day for three weeks.
The pattern was chosen to activate nearly all the cells in the animals’ primary visual cortex. After two weeks, the animals’ responses were comparable to those of normal mice that had never been visually deprived. Neither running nor visual stimulation alone had this effect.
The researchers believe the impressive response has something to do with built in mechanisms that allow animals to keep track of environmental stimuli from a distance:
“It makes sense to put the visual system in a high-gain state when you’re moving through the environment, because vision tells you about far away things, whereas touch only tells you about things that are close.”
The scientists do not know whether or not their findings apply to humans but are planning further studies. The current thinking is that “activity stimulates plasticity”—and this applies to your brain as well as other parts of your body. Plasticity is what allows tissues to heal.3
Neuroplasticity is, in simple terms, the ability of your brain to change and adapt in response to experience.4 You can think of those neurological changes as your brain’s way of tuning itself to meet your needs.
There are two types of brain plasticity—functional plasticity (your brain’s ability to move functions from a damaged area to undamaged areas) and structural plasticity (its ability to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning).5
Think about what happens when you’re learning a new skill. The more you focus and practice something, the better you become, and this is a result of new neural pathways that form in response to your learning efforts. At the same time, your brain is undergoing “synaptic pruning”—elimination of the pathways you no longer need.
Until recently, it was believed that the human brain, which consists of approximately 100 billion neural cells, could not generate new ones. The old model assumed that you were born with a finite number of brain cells, and when a cell died, no new cell grew in its place.
This old model is no longer relevant, as it’s been proven that certain areas of your brain can generate new cells (neurogenesis), as well as creating new neural pathways.
Environment plays an essential role in the process, but genetics can also have an influence. These neural processes have been well documented in people recovering from stroke-related brain damage.
This phenomenon even applies to emotional states. For example, if you have a history of anxiety, your neural pathways become wired for anxiety. If you develop tools to feel calm and peaceful more of the time, those anxiety pathways are pruned away from lack of activity—“use it it or lose it” really applies here.
According to “What is Neuroplasticity:”6
“It was once believed that the human brain had a relatively small window to develop new pathways in our life span, then after that the pathways became immutable.
This old theory thought our ability to generate new pathways dropped off sharply around the age of 20, and then became permanently fixed around the age of 40.
New studies have shown through the use PET, and MRI brain scanning technology, that new neural cells are generated throughout life as well as new neural pathways. Even the elderly are capable of creating measurable changes in brain organization. These changes are not always easy but can happen through concerted focus on a defect area.”
Your brain’s plasticity is also controlled by your diet and lifestyle choices, including exercise. Despite what the media tells you, your brain is not “programmed” to shrink and fail as you age. The foods you eat, exercise, emotional states, sleep patterns, and your level of stress—all of these factors influence your brain from one moment to the next.
Any given gene is not in a static “on” or “off” position. You may be a carrier of a gene that never gets expressed, simply because you never supply the required environment to turn it on. As neurologist David Perlmutter explains:
“We interact with our genome every moment of our lives, and we can do so very, very positively. Keeping your blood sugar low is very positive in terms of allowing the genes to express reduced inflammation, which increase the production of life-giving antioxidants. So that’s rule number one: You can change your genetic destiny. Rule number two: you can change your genetic destiny to grow new brain cells, specifically in the hippocampus…
Your brain’s memory center regenerates. You are constantly growing new brain cells into your 50s, 60s, 80s, and 90s – throughout your lifetime – through a process called neurogenesis. That said, these two ideas come together because you can turn on your genes through lifestyle choices that enhance neurogenesis and that enhance regrowth of cells and expansion of your brain’s memory center. This was proven by researchers recently. They demonstrated that there are factors under our control that can make that happen.”
The blind mice study is just one more piece of evidence for how important exercise is for your brain. Recent science has shown that physical exercise is as important as mental exercise when it comes to keeping your mind fit.7, 8 A number of studies show that exercise can promote growth of new brain cells, enlarge your memory center, improve IQ scores, and help prevent brain deterioration as you age.
One study found that one 20-minute weight training session improved memory. In a year-long study, individuals who exercised were actually growing and expanding their brain’s memory center one to two percent per year, whereas typically that center would have continued to decline in size. Strength training, especially high-intensity interval training (HIIT), is especially beneficial for boosting long-term memory and reducing your risk for dementia.
Exercise prompts nerve cells to release one growth factor in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health and directly benefit cognitive functions, including learning. Fasting also triggers BDNF, andexercising while fasting can go a long way toward keeping your brain and muscles biologically young.
According to brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich (interviewed in the video above), engaging in challenging new activities throughout your life, staying socially active, and practicing “mindfulness” are other ways to boost your brain function. He also stresses the importance of having a genuine interest in your chosen activities. Just going through the motions is not enough to build these neural pathways—you have to really care about what you’re learning.
Lifestyle strategies proven to promote neurogenesis and target BDNF include the following:
- Exercise, especially high-intensity interval training
- Reducing overall calorie consumption
- Reducing carbohydrate consumption (especially grains and sugars)
- Enough healthy fat consumption to eliminate insulin resistance
- Enough high-quality omega-3 fats and eliminating damaged omega-6 fats (processed vegetable oils) will improve your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. I prefer krill oil to fish oil, as krill oil also contains astaxanthin, which is particularly beneficial for your brain. Astaxanthin is a carotenoid that’s very good for reducing free radical-mediated damage to fat—and your brain is 60 or 70 percent fat
There are three other important considerations for brain health:
- Vitamin D: This vitamin/hormone plays a fundamental role in brain health, inflammation, and immune function. Vitamin D influences the expression of 2000-3000 genes. Researchers have located metabolic pathways for vitamin D in the brain’s hippocampus and cerebellum, areas that are involved in planning, information processing, and memory formation. In older adults, research has shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with poorer brain function. Appropriate sun exposure is all it takes to keep your levels where they need to be. If this is not an option, a tanning bed that uses electronic ballasts is the next best alternative, followed by a vitamin D3 supplement.
- Gut Health: Your gut is your “second brain;” gut bacteria transmit information from your GI tract to your brain via your vagus nerve. Just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut—including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is linked to mood. Abnormal gut flora has been associated with abnormal brain development. In addition to avoiding sugar, one of the best ways to support gut health is to consume beneficial bacteria. You can take a probiotic supplement, but I’m particularly fond of using fermented vegetables, as they can deliver extraordinarily high levels of beneficial bacteria for minimal cost.
- Choline: Choline reduces inflammation, plays a roll in nerve communications, and prevents the buildup of homocysteine in your blood (elevated homocysteine is linked to heart disease). Eggs and meat are two of the best dietary sources of choline. If you do not consume animal foods, you may be at risk of a deficiency and want to consider supplementation. If you’re pregnant, make sure your diet includes plenty of choline-rich foods, as research shows higher choline intake leads to changes in epigenetic markers in the fetus.
Research shows that how you respond to stress may be a key factor in how your brain ages. An animal study9 showed how elevated stress hormones may speed up short-term memory loss in older adults. Previous research has also linked chronic stress with working memory impairment.10Chronic stress can actually trigger a genetic switch that results in loss of brain volume, and this in turn contributes to both emotional and cognitive impairment.11 Given this, it makes sense why a recent study12 showed that your daily stress responses have long-term implications for your mental health.
Researchers found that people with increased stress have increased risk for mental disorders a decade later, especially anxiety and depression. The message is clear: managing daily stress is a key factor in keeping your brain healthy as you age, and this has implications for everything from depression to dementia. My favorite tool for stress management is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), an energy psychology tool that can help reprogram your body’s reactions to everyday stress.
Recent research has shown that EFT (or “tapping”) significantly increases positive emotions, such as hope and enjoyment, and decreases negative emotional states, such as anger and shame. EFT has been shown to lower cortisol levels13 (one of your major stress hormones) and is actually an epigenetic intervention that can alter gene expression.14 EFT is a powerful tool for transforming your stress reactions into more adaptive ones, and replacing old dysfunctional patterns with new. For more information, I invite you to visit my EFT page.
Again, the good news is that you’re not at the mercy of your genes or the dysfunctional neural pathways you might have developed in childhood. Your brain can literally be rewired, and you are doing so already—every day of your life! Old neural patterns are continuously being overwritten by new ones. Diet, exercise, sleep, stress, and other lifestyle choices all impact your brain’s structure and function, and how “gracefully” it ages. You are in the driver’s seat, so pay attention to the choices you make today, as they are forming the brain you’ll have tomorrow.
I LOVE Colorado!! Just went outside for a visit with my girls (Pumpkin and Cookie), in my jammies and t-shirt! And it was only 40 degrees!
There is way too much hype about avoiding the sun. The truth is, sunshine is imperative for our brain and immune health!
Sunshine in the morning helps the metabolism and brain chemistry to kick into gear for the day. It can re-balance your sleep cycle when you stand in a window and look out into the lit up world for about 10 minutes. This tells your brain it is time to wake up, therefore making it easier to rise earlier and possibly fall asleep better, too!
Daylight is essential for your metabolic health, so step outside for a jog or walk first thing in the a.m. In fact, people who soak up the most sunlight early in the day have a lower body mass index (BMI) compared to those who are out in the sun later in the day. Northwestern University researchers speculate that early morning sunlight may help regulate your circadian rhythm, which controls countless functions in your body including how well you sleep, how much food you consume, and how much energy you burn—all essential components of a healthy metabolic rate (8 Surprising Ways You’re Slowing Your Metabolism, Prevention.com, November 2014).
Sunshine contains a powerful pack of healing rays and vitamins, including vitamin D.
A robust and growing body of research clearly shows that vitamin D is absolutely critical for good health and disease prevention. Vitamin D affects your DNA through vitamin D receptors (VDRs), which bind to specific locations of the human genome. Scientists have identified nearly 3,000 genes that are influenced by vitamin D levels, and vitamin D receptors have been found throughout the human body (How Much Sunshine Does it Take to Make Enough Vitamin D?, Mercola.com, October 2009).
Lack of sunshine can lower your levels of D vitamins, immunity, brain function and raises your risk for cancer. Vitamin D deficiencies are found in people with immune and inflammatory disorders, cancer, Autism, ADD and more. Sunshine is the best way to get vitamin D. If it is not possible, taking a high quality supplement of D3 is best way to absorb and assimilate this precious vitamin.
Using sunglasses blocks the rays from getting into the pineal gland and sunscreen not only has toxic chemicals, but blocks the production of D vitamins. In fact, there is a lot of data about sunscreen actually causing vitamin D deficiencies and many other secondary health issues.
Following the advise of health officials to slather on sunscreen may increase your melanoma risk instead of decreasing it, which is certainly not what you want. Indeed, you never want to let yourself burn. However, if you practice safe sunning, you will avail yourself of all of the sun’s health benefits with none of the risk (Sensible Sun Exposure Can Help Prevent Melanoma, Breast Cancer and Hundreds of Other Health Problems, Mercola.com, July 01, 2013).
But make sure you practice safe doses of sunshine! Don’t burn and never look directly into the sun! If I am going to be outside for a long period of time, I use a natural, chemical free, mineral based sun block to avoid getting burned. If you take medicine or have a condition in which you are supposed to avoid the sunshine, please talk to your doctor!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Check with your doctor before changing any health regiment.
Enjoying my Spaghetti Squash Boat. A new recipe I put together. Normally eat chicken, but used some left over, organic, grass-fed beef and mushrooms. Considering my diet has been so strict, it was nice to eat something different!