kangaroo careSometimes, advances don’t come from looking ahead, but from looking back.

When the Mother and Child Institute in Bogota, Colombia, found itself short on doctors, nurses, and incubators, Dr. Edgar Rey decided to try something new — or rather, something old.

What he came up with is known as “kangaroo care.” In this system, the mother of a premature infant puts the baby on her exposed chest.

The baby is dressed only in a diaper and sometimes a cap, is kept in an upright or semi-upright position, and has all but its head covered by its mother’s shirt.

The baby’s temperature is regulated by the sympathetic biological responses that occur when a mother and infant are in close physical contact — the mother’s breasts actually heat up or cool down.

According to the New York Times:

“Kangaroo care has been widely studied. A trial in a Bogota hospital of 746 low birth weight babies randomly assigned to either kangaroo or conventional incubator care found that the kangaroo babies had shorter hospital stays, better growth of head circumference and fewer severe infections …

A conservative summary of the evidence to date is that kangaroo care is at least as good as conventional treatment — and perhaps better.”

In related news, the FDA has issued a warning against breast milk sharing — breast milk obtained, often over the Internet, from mothers who have a surplus.

Sources:

Dr. Mercola’s Comments:

Kangaroo care is a somewhat new name for a very old tradition, one that has been followed instinctively by women across the globe since the beginning of time. Namely, it refers to holding a newborn, including those born prematurely, close to its mother’s bare chest, like a kangaroo holds its joey in its pouch.

Although it’s been used for centuries, the modern-day method is credited to Dr. Edgar Rey, the chief of the pediatrics department at the Mother and Child Institute in Bogota, Colombia, who began using kangaroo care in the 1970s because of a shortage of incubators.

Since then, such skin-to-skin contact has proven to be incredibly beneficial for newborns, so much so that in hospitals where incubators are in short supply using kangaroo care has increased low birth weight babies’ survival rates from 10 percent to 50 percent, and larger babies’ survival rates from 70 percent to 90 percent.

The Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact for Newborns

Quite simply, skin-to-skin contact is probably one of the most important steps you can take to give your baby a healthy start right after birth. Just take a few minutes to watch the video below and you’ll see that skin-to-skin contact can actually make the difference between life and death.

When a mother holds her newborn against her bare skin:

  • The baby’s temperature is regulated by the close contact — in fact, a woman’s breasts will change in temperature depending on whether the baby needs more or less warmth.
  • The mother’s breathing and heartbeat helps the baby’s heart and respiratory rates to stabilize.
  • The mother produces more milk and the baby breastfeeds earlier, gaining more weight.
  • Emotional bonding is encouraged.

Babies who receive kangaroo care also show:

  • Gains in sleep time
  • Decreased crying
  • More successful breastfeeding
  • Improved oxygen saturation levels
  • More regular breathing patterns
  • More rapid weight gain
  • Earlier hospital discharge

As the New York Times reported, in one trial of nearly 750 low birth weight babies, those who received kangaroo care had shorter hospital stays, better growth of head circumference and fewer severe infections than babies placed in incubators.

A separate study also revealed that when mothers initiated skin-to-skin contact with their newborns 15 to 20 minutes after birth, the infants slept longer and more peacefully, using positions that indicated less stress.

After the contact ended, the effects of the skin-to-skin contact seemed to continue even four hours later, as the babies displayed less stressful body movements after spending several hours in the nursery.

The researchers suggested that the most dangerous and stressful events that occur during the human life cycle take place during the transition from the womb to the real world, therefore mothers who made a point of giving their infants skin-to-skin contact would help their newborn adjust to their new unfamiliar surroundings.

Kangaroo Care Encourages Breastfeeding

Outside of the temperature and breathing regulation, as well as the emotional benefits, one of the best reasons to use kangaroo care is that it increases the likelihood of successful breastfeeding.

This is important as breastfeeding offers your child lifelong health benefits, not only cutting their risk of SIDS in half, but also providing added protection against:

  • Heart disease
  • Bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease
  • Asthma, allergies, and respiratory infections
  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
  • Eczema

Moms who use kangaroo care have increased milk supply and their babies have an easier time nursing, so it’s a simple way to encourage a positive, successful breastfeeding experience.

If Your Hospital Doesn’t Suggest Kangaroo Care, Ask for It

Or rather, demand it. Many U.S. hospitals are now using some form of kangaroo care, even in their NICUs, but it is far from a standard of care. As a new parent, be sure you make it clear that you want to spend as much time as possible engaging in skin-to-skin contact with your newborn, including, and especially, if your baby is born premature.

Whether you are giving birth in a hospital or at home, let your obstetrician or midwife, as well as the nursing staff, know that you want the baby placed on your chest immediately after delivery. And for those who are wondering, dads can take part in kangaroo care, too.

The process is actually incredibly simple. Place the baby, wearing only a diaper and if you like a hat, on your bare chest. Then cover the baby with a blanket or gown, and enjoy the bonding time together.

And that’s all there is to it. A simple and instinctive practice that will give both you and baby a warm, secure start to your new life together.

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amalgam fillingsA U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee has recommended that the agency take a new look at updated data on mercury amalgam dental fillings that may indicate medical problems for patients.

The committee also said that more information on amalgam fillings should be posted for both for patients and dentists.

According to CNN:

“Public pressure prompted the panel’s review, initiated less than 18 months after the agency’s decision. Committee members listened to testimony by consumer and dental groups claiming the FDA used flawed science when it set the current guidelines for mercury safety levels.”

Sources:

Dr. Mercola’s Comments:

Thanks to a massive response from grassroots America to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) abysmal 2009 amalgam rule, the FDA agreed to re-examine its pro-mercury fillings position at a hearing earlier this month.

Well, the hearing was a major success!

A government panel of scientists, after two days of hearings before its Dental Products Panel, has determined that the FDA is failing to protect children, pregnant women, hypersensitive persons — and the rest of us — from the dangers of mercury fillings.

Charlie Brown, the national counsel for Consumers for Dental Choice and the president of the new World Alliance for Mercury Free Dentistry, says:

“[This] decision is a resounding defeat of FDA and its policy of protecting dentists’ profits instead of protecting children’s health.”

We’re Making Progress, but the Fight is Not Over

For the last year we have been working alongside Charlie Brown to help eliminate the use of mercury in U.S. dentistry — and we’ve made some major strides.

Most recently, Costa Mesa, California has set the precedent by becoming the first city in the United States to pass a resolution to immediately ban the use of mercury amalgams in dentistry.

This success story was made possible by a trio of Orange County, California activists who distributed flyers explaining the hazards of amalgam (unfortunately, most people are still not even aware that “silver fillings” contain mercury!). They allied with health professionals and green businesses for support.

They organized an extensive petition drive, collecting signatures from individuals asking city council to ban amalgam — both by asking people directly to sign, and by enlisting friendly health professionals and businesspeople to keep the petitions in their front offices.

They surveyed all the city’s dentists, and presented certificates to dentists who are mercury-free.

Then, they sought out Councilman Gary Monahan, who agreed to sponsor a resolution calling on the federal and state governments to “eliminate the use of mercury in dental practices …immediately,” and, at the local level, requesting that every dentist cease using this poisonous material.

Thanks to the testimony of an array of dentists, a dental hygienist, chiropractors, victims of mercury toxicity, businesspeople, a scientist, a Navy veteran, and a lawyer at the City Council meeting reviewing the Monahan resolution, it passed unanimously — and Costa Mesa became the first locality in the United States to call for a ban on mercury fillings.

The FDA hearing earlier this month also made some favorable strides for this movement.

The scientists told the FDA to tell U.S. dental patients, starting right now, that amalgam is mainly mercury, and to tell U.S. dentists to stop giving amalgam to children. They also recommended that the FDA come up with models that show the effects of mercury vapor exposure from dental fillings, as well as review more data on the impact of these fillings on children and fetuses.

The bad news, however, is that the entire matter will now be returned to FDA’s board for consideration, which, Brown notes, is “notoriously pro-mercury and pro-American Dental Association.”

The FDA does NOT have to follow its committee’s recommendations, and, unfortunately, the FDA has a history of ignoring its panelists’ advice if it doesn’t uphold the pro-industry position — even to the point of disagreeing with their own FDA scientific experts.

This is precisely what happened in 2009 with their disappointing “final rule.”

The FDA is STILL Protecting Industry Over the U.S. Public

The FDA has long been the world’s number one protector of mercury fillings, and the U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the world, and even behind some third world countries, in protecting its citizens from this toxic product:

  • Canada advised dentists to stop placing amalgam in children and pregnant women in 1996!
  • Denmark, Norway and Sweden have essentially banned amalgams.
  • There are 5,636 hospitals in developing countries that are committed to or already mercury-free. The majority of these are in the Philippines, India and Argentina.

Yet, in the United States four out of five dental specialists still use amalgams, and the material is still endorsed by the American Dental Association.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg even has an egregious conflict of interest on amalgam, yet participated in the rule making. Hamburg entered the FDA through the revolving door after making millions as the director of Henry Schein Inc., the largest seller of amalgam.

The FDA is so much in the pocket of corporate America that it not only allows mercury-based dental filling to be implanted in children and pregnant women, but it covers up the very fact that these fillings contain mercury, which is a known toxic substance.

And the FDA’s rule ignores the fact that Americans are getting mercury from so many other sources (vaccines, fish and seafood, household products, paints, pesticides, etc.) that many teenagers and adults are saturated with these neurotoxins.

Another Call to Action: We’re So Close, Help Keep the Momentum Going!

Even the FDA is finally starting to realize it has become a pariah in the world by covering up the massive harm being done by the continued use of mercury fillings.

Now that the tide is turning, pro-mercury dentists, the FDA, and the world need to know that consumers like you will not tolerate dental mercury — a neurotoxin and a pollutant — any longer. Just like Costa Mesans have made it clear that the use of amalgam is no longer acceptable in their community, it’s time to get this substance OUT of U.S. dentistry.

I urge all of you reading this to tell Jeff Shuren, director, FDA Center for Devices (Jeff.shuren@fda.hhs.gov or 301-796-5900), that we have waited long enough — and that it’s time, this month, for FDA to:

  1. Tell Americans amalgam is mainly mercury
  2. Protect Americans from mercury amalgam, starting with a ban on amalgam for children and pregnant women.

Tell Dr. Shuren, too, that Canada gave these warnings 15 years ago — which means that an entire generation of U.S. children has grown up unprotected from amalgam’s mercury, and that we will not stand for any more harm to be done to future generations to come.

You can also ask Dr. Shuren:

  • Why does the FDA approve of dentists telling parents amalgams are “silver fillings”?
  • Why does the FDA ban mercury for treating the legs of race horses but say it’s fine implanted in a human child?
  • Does the FDA say increased amalgam use is a “positive health outcome” in order to pump up the sales for Henry Schein Inc., Commissioner Margaret Hamburg’s company?

Together we are making a real difference and with continued passion and support on your part we can WIN! Let’s protect the health of Americans, including that of future generations, from toxic amalgam by getting “silver fillings” banned from U.S. dentistry once and for all.

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The Daily Beast offers a list of the twenty-five coldest cities in America.  Here are a few of them —

Note that all temperatures are Fahrenheit

alaska#1 — Fairbanks, Alaska

Average winter temperature 2009: -0.6 degrees
Coldest day: -41.1 degrees, January 12
Warmest day: 48.2 degrees, March 29
Days with snow: 38 percent

#2 — Grand Forks, North Dakota

Average winter temperature 2009: 14.8 degrees
Coldest day: -32.8 degrees, January 2
Warmest day: 66.2 degrees, March 30
Days with snow: 47 percent

#3 — Bismarck, North Dakota

Average winter temperature 2009: 16.7 degrees
Coldest day: -33 degrees, January 8
Warmest day: 73.9 degrees, March 30
Days with snow: 51 percent

#4 — Fargo, North Dakota

Average winter temperature 2009: 16.8 degrees
Coldest day: -33 degrees, January 2
Warmest day: 68 degrees, March 30
Days with snow: 36 percent

#5 — Watertown, South Dakota

Average winter temperature 2009:  16.9 degrees
Coldest day: -29.2 degrees, January 2
Warmest day: 70 degrees, March 30
Days with snow: 45 percent

To see if your town is on the list, click the Daily Beast link below!

These cold temps can put a damper on your health and mood in more ways than one. For health advice related to these winter months, please see my comment below.

As for your mood, CNN Health offers several tips for maintaining a sunny outlook, regardless of the weather:

“There are simple things you can do to stay positive,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of “The How of Happiness.”


“It’s important to keep your mood up because it can help you avoid everything from gaining extra pounds to feeling lethargic.”

Try these techniques to stay sunny all winter long — no trip to the Bahamas required!”

Here’s a summary of a few of my favorites. For the rest, please see the original CNN article:

  1. Winterize your workoutconsider braving the elements: Research shows that exercising outside can lift your spirits, but if the weather won’t cooperate, keep a go-to exercise DVD on hand.
  2. Eat mood-boosting foodsresist the call of fatty, sugary comfort fare. Highly refined carbs and sugar can wreak havoc on your blood sugar level, which can leave you feeling cranky. Some comfort foods, however, can double as healthy pick-me-ups, especially if they contain mood-boosting nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, good carbohydrates (think vegetables), protein, and B vitamins.
  3. Socializeset aside some time each day for a “buddy moment,” whether that’s grabbing a quick lunch with a co-worker or meeting your sister for some exercise.
  4. Dress for the weather
  5. See the light — sunlight increases your vitamin D and serotonin levels. In the winter, most northern areas simply do not provide enough natural sunlight to maintain optimal levels, so to get your fill, consider investing in a light box, which can help combat sluggishness. And any day the sun comes out, be sure to pop outside for some rays.
Sources:

Dr. Mercola’s Comments:

Not many of us enjoy the cold temperatures but for those of us that live in the US now realize that there are indeed communities that have worse winters than you do.

Additionally, many people still believe that being exposed to cold temperatures in and of itself will make you catch a cold, but the evidence points to something entirely different being at work, namely vitamin D deficiency, which just happens to be more prevalent during the winter season.

If you’re vitamin D deficient it will not matter much where you live; your chances of coming down with a cold or flu will still increase quite dramatically.

Additionally, your risk for a number of other health problems increases during the winter months as noted by a recent article in Live Science, such as: 

 

 

Interestingly enough, these ailments are ALSO affected by your vitamin D status. For more information about how vitamin D can help alleviate those problems, please follow the links provided in the list above.

That said, many if not most of the coldest cities across the United States also tend to be located further North-areas where the days are short and exposure to natural sunlight is scarce this time of year. And that, more than the temperature, can spell disaster for your health.

Cold and Flu Appear to Be Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency

Dr. John Cannell, founder of the Vitamin D Council, introduced this hypothesis four years ago in his paper Epidemic Influenza and Vitamin D, published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection. He followed this up with a second study published in the Virology Journal in 2008.

His findings were confirmed by another team of researchers last year.

In that study (which was the largest and most nationally representative study of its kind to date, involving about 19,000 Americans over the age of 12) the authors concluded that:

“The findings of our study support an important role for vitamin D in prevention of common respiratory infections, such as colds and the flu. Individuals with common lung diseases, such as asthma or emphysema, may be particularly susceptible to respiratory infections from vitamin D deficiency.”

Several other studies have found an inverse association between lower respiratory tract infections and vitamin D status, meaning, the higher your vitamin D level, the lower your risk of contracting colds, flu, and other respiratory tract infections.

For example:

  1. A 2007 study found that higher vitamin D status enhances your immunity to microbial infections. Subjects with vitamin D deficiency had significantly more days of absence from work due to respiratory infection than did control subjects.
  2. A 2009 study on vitamin D deficiency in newborns with acute lower respiratory infection (ALRI) confirmed a strong, positive correlation between newborns’ and mother’s vitamin D levels. Over 87 percent of all newborns and over 67 percent of all mothers had vitamin D levels lower than 20 ng/ml, which is a severe deficiency state.

    Newborns with vitamin D deficiency appear to have an increased risk of developing ALRI, and since the child’s vitamin D level strongly correlates with its mother’s, the researchers recommend that all mothers optimize their vitamin D levels during pregnancy, especially in the winter months, to safeguard their baby’s health.

  3. A similar Indian study published in 2004 also reported that vitamin D deficiency in infants significantly raised their odds ratio for having severe ALRI.
  4. Another 2009 report in the journal Pediatric Research stated that infants and children appear more susceptible to viral rather than bacterial infections when deficient in vitamin D. And that, based on the available evidence showing a strong connection between vitamin D, infections, and immune function in children, vitamin D supplementation may be a valuable therapy in pediatric medicine.

Beware: IOM’s Latest Vitamin D Recommendations Still FAR Too Conservative

As you may have heard, the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) recently released their updated recommendations for vitamin D and calcium. In their report, they claim the only evidence for the benefit of vitamin D they could document was the improvement of bone health.

This is remarkable considering the fact that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of studies showing that it benefits many dozens of clinical conditions!

As it turns out, the IOM chose to ignore virtually all the vitamin D research showing this wide range of health benefits, including the prevention of colds and seasonal influenza. 

Based on their limited findings, the IOM’s updated recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is a mere 600 IU’s across the board, from one-year old infants to 70-year old seniors, including pregnant women!

Sadly, these recommendations do not take into account the amount of vitamin D needed to prevent influenza, heart- or liver- disease, respiratory infections, cancer, or any of the numerous diseases that have a clearly documented link to vitamin D deficiency.

This means the long-term health ramifications of the population at large could be severe, unless the public becomes educated enough to draw their own conclusions.

According to the Alliance for Natural Health:

“Unless these findings are challenged, the public will accept it as true. Doctors, medical institutions, the media, and governmental agencies will all parrot these ultra-low recommendations on vitamin D dosage, pooh-poohing its important therapeutic benefits, and keeping the American public dangerously deficient in the vitamin.

This will mean more colds, more flu, greater dependence on dangerous flu shots and antibiotics, more illness in general, more weak bones, more cancer, and many more deaths. Some experts calculate that proper vitamin D supplementation could save Americans $4.4 trillion over a decade-about $1,346 per person every year.”

Vitamin D is More than a Vitamin; It’s the “Master Key” to Good Health

Dr. Cannell of the Vitamin D Council and Carole Baggerly, founder of GrassrootsHealth, also expressed their concerns about the updated recommendations in this recent interview.

“What’s shocking to me is that the levels they are recommending will not even approximate what you would get if you were exposed to healthy levels of sunshine,” Dr. Cannell says.

From an evolutionary perspective, evaluating the vitamin D levels early man produced from natural sun exposure would indeed be a more appropriate way to analyze our optimal vitamin D requirements, because the human genome was designed for a certain level of sun exposure.

In fact, vitamin D is the only known substrate for a potent, pleiotropic (meaning it produces multiple effects) repair and maintenance seco-steroid hormone that serves multiple gene-regulatory functions in your body.

As explained by vitamin D expert Dr. Heaney, each cell in your body has its own DNA library that contains information needed to deal with virtually every kind of stimulus it may encounter, and the master key to enter this library is activated vitamin D.  

Hence, without sufficient amounts of vitamin D, your cells cannot access their DNA libraries, and their functions are thereby impaired.  

This is why vitamin D functions in so many different tissues, and affects such a large number of different diseases and health conditions, including at least 16 different types of cancer.

So far, scientists have found about 3,000 genes that are upregulated by vitamin D, and researchers keep finding health benefits from vitamin D in virtually every area they look.

A European meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2007 even found that increased vitamin D levels can lower your risk of dying from any cause!

Vitamin D also acts as a potent natural antibiotic by increasing your body’s production of proteins called antimicrobial peptides. Antimicrobial peptides destroy the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including the influenza virus, which explains why it’s such a potent prevention strategy against cold and flu.

Sadly, none of these findings appear to have been considered by the IOM vitamin D panel.

But why?

The IOM’s “Expert” Vitamin D Panel Did Not Include Vitamin D Experts!

You’d think that the IOM’s vitamin D panel would consist of first-rate vitamin D experts but that’s actually not the case.

According to Carol Baggerly, a number of well-respected vitamin D researchers were recommended to the panel but were explicitly rejected-a fact she calls “disturbing.”

In my recent interview with her, Baggerly also explained that the IOM panel was very selective about the data they chose to review, excluding a wide variety of very important data. For example, they did not review any epidemiological data at all according to Baggerly, despite the fact that there are “decades of research substantiating that people die of all kinds of diseases that are impacted by vitamin D.”

Clearly, had such data been included, it would have been impossible to justify their current position.

One of the Best New Year’s Resolutions You Can Make-Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels!

I would strongly urge you to make it your New Year’s resolution to optimize your vitamin D levels this winter and see if you can’t avoid all colds, coughs, and flus.

I’m willing to bet that once you get into the optimal range-as opposed to the prescribed “normal”- colds and flus will be a thing of the past.

Since it’s winter and sunlight is scarce, the ideal way to optimize your vitamin D levels would be to either use a safe tanning bed or take an oral vitamin D3 supplement. Below are the recommended oral dosages based on the research available (which the IOM chose to ignore).

Vitamin D Dose Recommendations
Age Dosage
Below 5 35 units per pound per day
Age 5 – 10 2500 units
Adults 5000 units
Pregnant Women 5000 units
WARNING:
There is no way to know if the above recommendations are correct for you personally. The ONLY way to know is to test your blood. You might need 4-5 times the amount recommended above. Ideally your blood level of 25 OH D should be 60ng/ml.

Keep in mind, however, that you need to get your vitamin D levels tested prior to taking an oral vitamin D supplement, and regularly recheck it thereafter to ensure your levels are maintained within the optimal range of 50-70 ng/ml.

Both the Vitamin D Council and GrassrootsHealth recommend maintaining a vitamin D level of at least 40 ng/ml, at bare minimum.

This minimum optimal range is a far cry from the IOM’s recommended vitamin D blood serum level of just 20 ng/ml. Based on more appropriate parameters for optimal health, 20 ng/ml actually signifies a state of severe deficiency!

To me, it borders on criminal negligent malpractice to ignore the abundance of scientific evidence that suggest that the deficiency levels are far above 20 ng/ml.

Do Your Own Research

Always remember that you have the freedom to do your own research and are not obligated in any way to adhere to “government sanctioned” nutrient recommendations.

A good place to start is my vitamin D index page, which links to all of the latest vitamin D information posted on my site.

In this case, it’s quite clear that the IOM has flat-out ignored the science available on vitamin D. So, if what the Vitamin D Council and I have been posting about the health benefits of vitamin D and the optimal vitamin D levels make sense to you, then you can choose to ignore the recommendations from the Institute of Medicine.

I’ve been a long-time proponent for safe and sensible sun exposure to optimize vitamin D levels, and I maintain my vitamin D level within the optimal-high range year-round.

I firmly believe it’s one of the most powerful preventive strategies there is for colds and flus. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Try it out for yourself!

Make 2011 the year when you optimize your vitamin D levels to improve your health, and see what happens. I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

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winterLack of sunlight during winter can lead to the condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

This can make you feel lethargic, gloomy, and irritable. However, while daylight as a whole is beneficial to fight off the syndrome, different colors of light seem to affect your body in different ways.

Blue light can affect your mind, including mood. And according to a new study, blue light might play a key role in your brain’s ability to process emotions. The study results suggest that spending more time in blue-enriched light could help prevent SAD.

CNN reports:

“Studies have shown that blue light improves alertness and mental performance … [T]he researchers discovered that blue light, more so than the green light, seemed to stimulate and strengthen connections between areas of the brain involved in processing emotion and language.”

Sources:

Dr. Mercola’s Comments:

Light has a major impact on your health, influencing your vitamin D status, mood, weight, and even your risk of cancer. But now research is showing that different colors of light impact your body in different ways.

Emerging as one of the key players in your body’s ability to process emotions is blue light, which researchers suggest may help stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or the winter blues.

Why You Might Feel Down in the Winter Months

The short days and long nights of fall and winter can trigger feelings of depression, lethargy, fatigue and other problems. About 20 percent of Americans are affected each winter, suffering from the blues and, in some cases, more serious depression as sunlight grows scarce.

Symptoms may include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Getting too much sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Cravings for sugary/starchy foods
  • Weight gain

In the more serious SAD, you may also experience tension, inability to tolerate stress, decreased interest in sex and physical contact, and a loss of self-esteem. But what differentiates SAD from regular depression is that a full remission occurs in the spring and summer months.

The fact that SAD and the winter blues occur when the days begin to darken and sunlight is at a minimum is not a coincidence. This occurs because you simply are not getting enough exposure to natural light and as a result your mood and physical health will suffer.

More specifically, your serotonin levels (the hormone typically associated with elevating your mood) rise when you’re exposed to bright light. You may have experienced this “high” feeling after spending some time on a sunny beach, for example.

Similarly, the sleep hormone melatonin also rises and falls (inversely) with light and darkness. When it’s dark, your melatonin levels increase, which is why you may feel naturally tired when it begins to get dark outside (even when, in the heart of winter, this may be at only 4:00 p.m.).

Light and darkness also control your biological clock, or circadian rhythm, which impacts hormones that regulate your appetite and metabolism.

But the manipulation of hormone levels and your circadian rhythm are only two ways that light impacts your mood; it can also impact your emotions directly.

Blue Light May be Among the Best for Your Emotions

The latest study from researchers of the Light Research Program at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia has shown that blue light strengthens and stimulates connections between areas of your brain that process emotion and language — and it does so better than green light.

The researchers suspect that blue light may, in turn, help people to better handle emotional challenges and regulate mood over time.

Blue light may be even more effective than the bright white light currently used in light boxes to treat SAD and other forms of depression. As CNN reported, a 2006 study found that blue light also worked better than red light in treating SAD symptoms.

Blue light is prevalent in outdoor light, so your body absorbs the most during the summer and much less in the winter. Because of this, the researchers suggested that adding blue light to indoor atmospheres, as opposed to the standard yellow lights typically used, may help boost mood and productivity year-round, and especially during the winter.

How to Use Light to Relieve Winter Blues

If you feel down in the winter months, first try brightening your environment naturally — open your blinds and take a walk in the sun at lunchtime. Spend as much time outdoors in the sun as possible.

If you have the resources, taking a vacation to a tropical or subtropical environment, or even relocating there for the winter, is also an excellent option, but this is unfortunately not a viable option for most.

The next step would be to address the lighting in your home and office environments. Most people use incandescent lighting in their homes, but this is not a high-quality light, nor one that is recommended if you suffer from the winter blues.

Ideally, you’ll want to use only high-quality full-spectrum light bulbs in your home and workspace. This is the type of lighting I personally use at home and in my office. 

Full-spectrum lighting is one of the most cost-effective ways to treat the winter blues, and in my experience patients tend to feel a profound increase in energy and improvement in mood and sense of well-being quite quickly — oftentimes within two to three days after exposure.

There’s some confusion on this issue, but currently full-spectrum light bulbs are only available as fluorescent bulbs. There are some LED’s available – and in time they will likely become the standard – but at the present time full-spectrum LED’s are simply not cost effective for the majority of us.

Please recognize that incandescent neodymium lights are claimed to be full spectrum but they aren’t and they don’t have the important blue wavelengths you need.

A full-spectrum light box can also be used during the winter months, and while most use white light you can find them with blue light instead. While the blue light is thought to be more effective at relieving SAD symptoms, there is some research that shows blue light may have a slightly greater risk of harming your eyes, so avoid looking directly at the light source (with either a blue or white light box).

You can actually get many of the same benefits of a light box by replacing the regular light bulbs in your home and office with full-spectrum lighting. I can honestly say that these lights have provided an enormous boost in my ability to tolerate the often-gloomy days where I live near Chicago.

Full-spectrum lights and blue light are not a replacement for real sunlight, but they are the next best thing when it’s grey and cloudy, or when it’s too cold to spend time outdoors.

Three More Tips for Beating the Winter Blues

Light is a major factor in overcoming SAD, but you can also help boost your mood naturally during the dark, cold winter by:

  1. Exercising: Regular physical activity works better than antidepressant drugs to improve your mood. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful strategies you can take to prevent and treat depression and boost your mood.
  2. Going to sleep early. You were designed to go to sleep when the sun sets and wake up when the sun rises. If you stray too far from this biological pattern you will disrupt delicate hormonal cycles in your body. In the winter, this may mean that you’ll want to go to sleep a couple of hours earlier than in the summer.
  3. Avoiding sugar and increasing high quality animal-based omega-3 fats. Your brain consists of about 60 percent fat, DHA specifically, so you need a constant input of essential omega-3 fats like krill oil for your brain to work properly.

    In fact, one study showed that people with lower blood levels of omega-3s were more likely to have symptoms of depression and a more negative outlook while those with higher blood levels demonstrated the opposite emotional states.

    Sugar (including high fructose corn syrup in soda) also has a seriously detrimental impact on your brain function. There’s a great book on this subject, The Sugar Blues written by William Dufty more than 30 years ago, that delves into this topic in great detail.

In fact, one study showed that people with lower blood levels of omega-3s were more likely to have symptoms of depression and a more negative outlook while those with higher blood levels demonstrated the opposite emotional states.

Sugar (including high fructose corn syrup in soda) also has a seriously detrimental impact on your brain function. There’s a great book on this subject, The Sugar Blues written by William Dufty more than 30 years ago, that delves into this topic in great detail.

Last but certainly not least, the lack of sunlight during the winter months will also take a toll on your vitamin D levels, and vitamin D deficiency is also linked to depression.

So in addition to installing full-spectrum lighting and using the tips above, I can’t stress enough, especially during the dark, cold days of winter, how vitally important it is for you to keep on top of your vitamin D intake.

If you are new to my newsletter or want to learn more about vitamin D and what it means to your health, visit my Vitamin D Resource Page. Here you’ll find a wealth of breaking news on the latest vitamin D studies and the best way to test and optimize your own vitamin D levels.

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The Humane Society of the United States has released an undercover video that shows animal abuse at a Texas farm operated by the largest egg producer in the United States.  The video shows images of dead birds, overcrowding and hens covered in feces.

CNN reports:

“At one point the video shows a dead bird as eggs roll by just inches away on a conveyor belt.”

In the second video above, a report from the Cornucopia Institute’s report, “Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Egg Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture,” empowers consumers who want to give their money to hard-working family farmers instead of factory farms.

Their organic egg scorecard rates companies organic eggs based on 22 criteria that are important to organic consumers. The scorecard showcases ethical family farms and exposes the factory farm producers that are threatening to take over organic livestock agriculture. Some of the factory farm operators keep as many as 85,000 “organic” hens in a single building!

Sources:

Dr. Mercola’s Comments:

Buying a carton of eggs at your grocery store is a task you probably do on a weekly basis or more. For most, the choice of which brand of eggs to buy most likely comes down to price or, maybe, staying loyal to a brand you’ve been using for years.

But what those cartons do not reveal is the story behind the eggs . and the chickens that laid them. And what seems like a good deal, may in reality, be no bargain for your health.

In the vast majority of cases, the eggs in your supermarket come from chickens that have been kept indoors their entire lives, may have been abused and surely suffered, not to mention were raised in filthy conditions that put your health at risk.

This is true not only for conventional eggs but also from many organic brands as well.

Many Eggs Come from Filthy Factories That Put Your Health at Risk

The Humane Society video above came from an undercover worker who obtained footage from Cal-Maine farm in Waelder, Texas. This farm is operated by the largest egg producer in the United States; Cal-Maine alone sold over 778 million eggs last year, 18 percent of the U.S. egg market.

As you can see in the video, the birds being raised at this farm are treated like objects — stuck in cages, overcrowded, covered in feces — which is not only hard to watch, but also hard to stomach.

Just last month, Cal-Maine recalled 288,000 eggs from one of its Ohio plants after they tested positive for Salmonella.

This is not surprising as chickens raised in unsanitary factory farm conditions are far more likely to be contaminated, and lay contaminated eggs.

In fact, one study by the British government found that 23 percent of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella, compared to just over 4 percent in organic flocks and 6.5 percent in pasture-raised flocks.

It may sound incredible, but many conventional egg operations contain as many as half a million chickens. Each cage will hold four or five birds, each with an area no larger than a letter-sized sheet of paper on which to “roam.” The truth is, many of these chickens can barely move around at all, let alone stretch their wings, forage for food or even spend time in the light of day.

Subsequently, these cage-raised chickens have to be given routine doses of antibiotics and other drugs, all of which have serious health implications for you the consumer.

Every time you purchase a dozen of these eggs, you are directly supporting this broken system. But the solution is not as simple as switching over to organic.

Why Organic Supermarket Eggs May be No Better

Health-conscious organic consumers expect organic free-range eggs to be produced by hens that have ample access to the outdoors. But as the Cornucopia Institute’s report shows, many organic brands are misleading consumers.

As Cornucopia says, “A high percentage of the eggs on the market should be labeled ‘produced with organic feed’ rather than bearing the USDA-certified organic logo,” because many of these birds never actually get to set foot outdoors.

Mass-producing organic egg farmers circumvent the free-range criteria by providing tiny enclosed porches with roofs and concrete or wood flooring — a far cry from what most organic consumers would associate with the word “free-range.”

According to Cornucopia:

“Many of the porches represent just 3 to 5 percent of the square footage of the main building housing the birds. That means 95 percent or more of the birds have absolutely no access whatsoever.”

In fact, some leading organic egg producers, including many privately labeled store brands, are actually giant factory farms that raise millions of chickens, both conventional and organic. It’s not unusual for these “organic” factory farms to house 85,000 hens in a single building — which is a far cry from what most people envision when they buy a carton of organic eggs.

Another Reason to Avoid Grocery Store Eggs .

It is standard industry practice to wash chicken eggs, often using a chlorine bath. Depending on the method of washing, the egg’s outer protective cuticle can be easily damaged. This leaves your eggs vulnerable to contamination and faster spoilage.

The egg industry knows this, so to replace the cuticle that Mother Nature put there for good reason, they must coat the egg with something — often mineral oil. It’s akin to adding preservatives to processed foods.

Not all eggs undergo oiling, but many larger producers do, particularly if they are preparing their eggs for long-distance shipment and storage.

Like your skin, what’s put ON your egg goes INTO your egg. Meaning, whatever the eggshell comes into contact with can cross over its semi-permeable shell membrane and end up in your breakfast eggs, from chlorine to mineral oil to dish soap — to salmonella.

I think it is unlikely that an organic farmer would choose to use mineral oil or other harmful substances when cleaning and processing eggs, but the regulations are so variable from state to state, and the national guidelines so nebulous, that there is lots of wiggle room, even for eggs that are certified organic.

The truth is, when you buy your eggs in a grocery store, there’s virtually no way to determine how they were cleaned and processed, unless you can contact the producer and get an honest response directly from them.

Where Can You Get Safe, High-Quality Eggs from Humane Sources?

If you look hard enough you can typically find a local source. I have someone that lives not far from me who has 20 chickens and lets me purchase the pasture-raised, completely cage-free eggs from her. I typically use many raw eggs a day, as they are an important part of my diet.

If you have to purchase your eggs from a commercial grocery store, go with the organic variety, but make sure they come from pasture-raised hens, which are healthier, live longer, and produce eggs with superior flavor and nutritional content than their factory-raised counterparts.

Also, be sure to select a high-rated organic brand from The Cornucopia Institute’s report to ensure you’re actually getting high-quality organic eggs and not a factory-farmed shill.

You can take a pass on the omega-3 fortified eggs, organic or otherwise, as the chickens producing these eggs are fed poor-quality sources of omega-3 fats that are already oxidized.

But again, an even better option all around is to locate a local farmer where the chickens are fed well (they should be allowed to roam free and eat insects) and raised in humane conditions. I have never seen store-bought eggs that compares to the color of the yolk in locally farmed eggs. Typically they are deep orange, where most of the store-bought eggs are light yellow.

In my experience, eggs are one of the easiest foods to find from local farmers, so finding a local egg producer may not be as hard as you think.

To locate a free-range pasture farm near you, try:

By supporting the small farmers in your area not only will you gain access to a superior source of eggs, but also you’ll be one less person to support the factory-farm monstrosities that are quickly destroying the integrity of the U.S. food supply.

Related Articles:

  If You Eat These Eggs, You are Being Ripped Off

  Why You Don’t Want to Buy Organic Eggs at the Grocery Store

  Salmonella Outbreaks Spur Nationwide Egg Recall

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