By Dr. Mercola

For many, November and December are a favorite time of year, with major holidays bringing family and friends together. But it can also be an incredibly stressful time, as party planning, extra cooking and shopping, not to mention navigating potentially difficult family dynamics, might stretch you to your limits.

Also, since Thanksgiving and Christmas often stands for family togetherness more so than other holidays, it is the time of year when you may become acutely aware of any such voids in your life, magnifying feelings of grief, isolation, loneliness or loss.

Those who have recently lost a loved one may feel their grief particularly intensely during the holidays. Financial woes, health issues, or having unrealistic expectations of making your holiday "perfect" can also tip the scales from a time of joy to a time of misery.

It's important to remember that you cannot divorce your wellness from your emotions. Every feeling you have affects some part of your body, and stress can wreak havoc on your physical health even if you're doing everything else "right."

The classic definition of stress is "any real or imagined threat, and your body's response to it." Celebrations and tragedies alike can cause a stress response in your body, thereby affecting your immune function, brain chemistry, blood sugar levels, hormonal balance and more. Grief in particular is increasingly being viewed as a cardiovascular risk marker.

Facing Grief During the Holidays

It may be helpful to remember that your grieving process, whether over the loss of a loved one, a relationship or a pet, is a uniquely individual process, and there's no "right" or "wrong" way or length of time to grieve.

Remain open to the idea that whatever you feel is OK. That said, I'd encourage you to do your best to foster a positive attitude, and to focus on the "higher" emotions of love and gratitude.

Research1 has actually shown that "repressive coping" (i.e. directing your attention away from your negative emotions) after a loss tends to strengthen emotional resiliency.

People who focused their attention on other things and didn't dwell on their grief experienced less depression and anxiety, and had fewer health complaints than those who expressed their negative emotions freely.

This doesn't mean you should ignore the situation by any means. It would be unreasonable to think you could somehow eliminate negative emotions or stress entirely. But whether you're dealing with overwhelm, grief, anxiety, anger or any other negative emotions this holiday season, there are effective tools that you can try that can help you get through it.

EFT to the Rescue

If emotional stress, grief, or anger is a burden to you this time of year, I suggest trying the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to help you remove negative emotions and enjoy the season. Energy psychology tools such as EFT can help you reprogram your body's reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life, which tend to become magnified this time of year.

EFT can be used as a do-it-yourself form of emotional acupuncture that balances your body's subtle energy system and resolves unrelenting emotional pain. Instead of using acupuncture needles, you use your fingertips to stimulate specific acupuncture points.

When your energy system is balanced, emotional pain dissolves, allowing you to move past the grief. The basics of EFT can be learned by anyone and can be self-applied, but if you're experiencing complicated grief or want some extra guidance, I recommend using an experienced EFT practitioner.2

Also remember that while grief can feel insurmountable and become all-consuming at times, you can take comfort in the knowledge that virtually everyone is eventually able to move past the dark feelings.

Typically within six months, you'll begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. In the videos below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for stress and anger that may surface during the holidays.

Total Video Length: 24:53

Tending to Your Gut Is Important to Help Combat Stress

Did you know that neurotransmitters like serotonin are found not just in your brain but also in your gut? Indeed, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and suppressing aggression, is found within your intestines, not your brain.

Scientific evidence shows that nourishing your gut flora with the friendly bacteria with fermented foods or probiotics is extremely important for psychological well-being and mood control.

For instance, the probiotic known as Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 has been shown to normalize anxiety-like behavior in mice.3 Research published in 20114 also demonstrated that probiotics can have a direct effect on brain chemistry, thereby improving feelings of anxiety or depression.

So, do make it a point to tend to your gut this holiday season. This may be of particular importance during Thanksgiving and Christmas if stress, anxiety, or grief makes you overeat (not to mention the fact that Thanksgiving as a general rule is centered around eating large amounts of food, period).

Reseeding your gut with healthy probiotics can actually help counteract some of the negative health effects of indulging in too many sweet foods, although taking a probiotics certainly isn't a carte blanche to indulge indiscriminately. (Remember, sugary foods feed detrimental and/or pathogenic bacteria that can quickly disrupt the balance of your microflora.

Taking a probiotics can help ameliorate this to some extent as long as it's not an everyday occurrence.) If stress-related overeating is a problem for you, you can use EFT for this as well. In the following video, Julie demonstrates how to tap to curb stress-related overeating.

Make Stress Management Part of Your Holiday Plan

Besides EFT and tending to your gut, there are many other stress-management strategies you can employ to help you unwind and maintain a healthier equilibrium. The following are, I believe, among the most important basics.

  • Exercise. Studies have shown that during exercise, tranquilizing chemicals (endorphins) are released in your brain. Exercise is a natural way to bring your body pleasurable relaxation and rejuvenation, and has been shown to help protect against the physical effects of daily stress
  • Restorative sleep. You can have the best diet and exercise program possible but if you aren't sleeping well your mental health can suffer and it is difficult to make healing progress. You can find 33 tips to help improve your sleep habits here.
  • Meditation (with or without the additional aid of brain wave synchronization technology) and/or practicing mindfulness daily
  • Schedule time to eat at a leisurely pace, and make sure to maintain optimal gut health by regularly consuming fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, or taking a high-quality probiotic supplement
  • Optimize your vitamin D levels. Low levels of vitamin D in your blood have been correlated with increased risk for depression, so optimizing your vitamin D levels may help by providing you with a stronger foundation for both physical and mental health

More Strategies to Lessen Holiday Stress



Here are a few additional strategies that can help you keep your sense of balance during the holidays when stress threatens to overtake you. For even more stress-management tips and tricks, check out the slideshow above:

Embrace the "NO": Be gentle on yourself, and give yourself permission to say "No"… It really is okay to take special time for yourself. If the holidays have you feeling down for whatever reason, indulge in the things that make you feel happy, whether they're holiday related or not.
Banish the "shoulds": If a certain tradition causes more stress and discomfort than joy, give yourself permission to do things differently! Remind yourself that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Thanksgiving (or Christmas). Ban the word "should."
Cut goals down to size: Regain a sense of control by scheduling no more than one or two manageable goals per day, even if they're as simple as writing a few cards or cleaning a small section of a room. The satisfaction of completing these tasks can add to your sense of well-being and help you get everything done, over a longer period of time.
Seek out positivity: Seek out positive people who make you feel better, and avoid people who add to your stress or contribute to your depression.
Divorce the Jones': Focus on what you and your family want to do for the holidays instead of what other families are doing, and prioritize your time accordingly. In a similar vein, make a concerted effort to realign the focus of the holiday to reflect your spiritual or ethical beliefs rather than commercial values. You may need to discuss how you and your family will do this, as it can take many forms depending on your beliefs.
This Christmas, shop smarter, not harder: Take advantage of online shopping instead of rushing through malls. If you've got more time than money, make homemade gifts, or give gifts of service instead.
Ask for help: If the thought of cooking Thanksgiving dinner gives you a headache, arrange to have friends and family over to help you cook ahead of time or hold a potluck dinner instead.
Lower the bar of expectations. Sometimes, it's your expectations that are the cause of holiday frustration and disappointment. To avoid this pitfall, try setting realistic expectations for how people will behave, how the food will taste, and how everything will look. Simply allowing the holiday to transpire without any real expectations, focusing instead on maintaining a positive and grateful attitude, may be the answer you've been looking for.
Celebrate the memory of loved ones who have passed. Ignoring the void a certain loved one has left may worsen feelings of grief. Instead, try to incorporate the good memories into your celebration.




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 Comments (29)

By Dr. Mercola

In the United States, nearly 80 million people, or one in four, have diabetes or pre-diabetes. What’s worse, diabetes among children and teens has also skyrocketed.

The most recent data1,2 reveals that incidence of type 2 diabetes among children aged 10-19 rose by 30 percent between 2001 and 2009. The same situation exists in other developed nations.

In the UK, more than one-third of adults are now pre-diabetic,3 and British researchers warn that this will lead to a massive avalanche of type 2 diabetics in upcoming years, which will have serious consequences for health care and life expectancy.

Diabetes Linked to Faster Decline in Memory

One of many debilitating health problems associated with type 2 diabetes is a higher risk for dementia. According to one recent study,4,5,6 diabetes ages your brain about five years faster than normal.

People who are diagnosed with diabetes in their 50s are at a significantly heightened risk for mental decline by the time they’re 70.

Previous research7 has also shown that type 2 diabetics lose more brain volume with age than expected—particularly gray matter. This kind of brain atrophy is yet another contributing factor for dementia.

According to lead author Elizabeth Selvin, PhD, MPH, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:8

“The lesson is that to have a healthy brain when you’re 70, you need to eat right and exercise when you’re 50.

There is a substantial cognitive decline associated with diabetes, pre-diabetes and poor glucose control in people with diabetes. And we know how to prevent or delay the diabetes associated with this decline...”

The Importance of Healthy Blood Vessels for Proper Brain Function

A number of different factors play a role in memory decline and dementia. One important factor is the health of your blood vessels, and I’ve previously discussed the links between heart disease and dementia. In fact, the test that predicts your future risk of heart disease is better at predicting your risk of dementia than a specific dementia-risk test.9

In the featured study, diabetics were found to suffer a 19 percent greater decline in mental acuity compared to non-diabetics over the course of 20 years. Those with pre-diabetes were also at a significantly increased risk for memory decline.

The researchers suggest the decline in memory associated with diabetes is due to damage to small blood vessels in the brain. According to co-author A. Richey Sharrett, MD, DrPH:

“There are many ways we can reduce the impact of cerebral blood vessel disease—by prevention or control of diabetes and hypertension, reduction in smoking, increase in exercise and improvements in diet.

Knowing that the risk for cognitive impairments begins with diabetes and other risk factors in mid-life can be a strong motivator for patients and their doctors to adopt and maintain long-term healthy practices.”

The best predictor of type 2 diabetes is being obese or overweight, and in the US one-third of children and teens (aged two to 19), and more than two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese.

Obesity is usually the result of inappropriate lifestyle choices, such as eating too much processed foods (high in carbs and low in healthy fats), and not fasting enough.

It’s interesting to note that the poorest Americans have the highest obesity rate, and they also tend to eat a diet that is very high in processed foods. This is yet another indication that processed foods play a significant role in metabolic dysfunction, weight gain, and associated health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and dementia.

Diabetes Medication May Do More Harm Than Good 

Diabetes is a disease rooted in insulin resistance10 and perhaps more importantly, a malfunction of leptin signaling, caused by chronically elevated insulin and leptin levels.

This is why the medical community’s approach to its treatment is not getting anywhere. Contrary to popular belief, treating type 2 diabetes with insulin is actually one of the worst things you can do, as it only exacerbates the underlying problem.

One recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine11 concluded that insulin therapy in type 2 diabetic patients—especially older diabetics—may indeed do more harm than good. As reported by Medical News Today:12

“In the US, type 2 diabetes is diagnosed when hemoglobin A1c levels reach 6.5 percent or higher. The higher A1c levels are, the greater the risk of other health problems.

Sometimes the condition can be managed through changes in diet, but other patients with type 2 diabetes may need medication - such as insulin or metformin – to help lower their blood sugar levels, and ultimately, reduce the risk of diabetes complications.

But the researchers of this latest study... claim that the benefits of such treatment - particularly for people over the age of 50 – may not always outweigh the negatives.

‘In many cases, insulin treatment may not do anything to add to the person's quality life expectancy,’ says study co-author John S. Yudkin...

‘If people feel that insulin therapy reduces their quality of life by anything more than around 3-4 percent, this will outweigh any potential benefits gained by treatment in almost anyone with type 2 diabetes over around 50 years old.’ ...

For example, they estimate that a person with type 2 diabetes who begins insulin therapy at age 45 and lowers their hemoglobin A1c levels by 1 percent may experience an extra 10 months of healthy life. 

But for a patient who starts treatment for type 2 diabetes at age 75, they estimate the therapy may only gain them an additional 3 weeks of healthy life. The researchers say this prompts the question - is 10-15 years of pills or injections with possible side effects worth it?”

Lifestyle Changes Are as Effective as Medicine for Preventing Type 2 Diabetes

Just like obesity, type 2 diabetes is primarily controlled and prevented through diet and exercise. Avoiding sugar (and processed fructose in particular) is imperative for preventing insulin/leptin resistance. Exercise is also important for normalizing your insulin and leptin sensitivity.

I’ve often said that lifestyle changes can be just as, if not more, effective than drugs, and studies have repeatedly confirmed this view. Most recently, a meta-analysis published in Diabetologia13 found that diet and exercise lowers blood sugar levels and prevents diabetes in pre-diabetics as effectively as diabetic medications in both genders. As reported by MedicineNet.com:14

“The researchers reviewed data from more than 7,400 women and 5,500 men in 12 studies. Men and women with prediabetes who made lifestyle changes were 40 percent less likely to progress to diabetes after one year, and 37 percent less likely to progress after three years, compared to those who did not make lifestyle changes, the study found.

Men and women with prediabetes who made lifestyle changes also lost more weight and had greater reductions in blood sugar levels, the researchers said... ‘Clinically, these findings highlight an important issue.

Despite differences in age of onset, detection and burden of type 2 diabetes between men and women, the effectiveness of preventive interventions in people with prediabetes is not influenced by gender,’ the researchers explained...”

The Importance of Magnesium for Glucose and Insulin Balance

Magnesium deficiency is also worth mentioning, as it plays an important role in glucose and insulin homeostasis.15 Magnesium is also required to activate tyrosine kinase, an enzyme that functions as an “on” or “off” switch in many cellular functions and is required for the proper function of your insulin receptors. Studies,16,17,18 from around the world universally agree that  in order to optimize your metabolism and keep your risk for type 2 diabetes low, you need to consume adequate magnesium.

One 2013 study involving pre-diabetics found that most had inadequate magnesium intake, and those with the highest magnesium intake reduced their risk for blood sugar and metabolic problems by a whopping 71 percent.19 Current government guidelines for magnesium intake among adults call for 300 to 420 mg per day,7 but research suggests many would benefit from a much higher intake—about 700 mg per day or more.

Type 3 Diabetes, or ‘Brain Diabetes,’ May Be Responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease

A growing body of research suggests there’s a powerful connection between your diet and your risk of Alzheimer's disease20 via similar pathways that cause type 2 diabetes. Alzheimer's disease was tentatively dubbed "type 3 diabetes" in early 2005 when researchers learned that, in addition to the pancreas, your brain also produces insulin. This brain insulin is actually necessary for the survival of your brain cells.

A drop in insulin production in your brain may contribute to the degeneration of your brain cells, and studies have found that people with lower levels of insulin and insulin receptors in their brain often have Alzheimer's disease. Researchers have discovered that insulin actually does far more than regulate your blood sugar. It also helps with neuron glucose-uptake, and the regulation of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, which are crucial for memory and learning. This is why reducing the level of insulin in your brain impairs your cognition.

It's becoming increasingly clear that the same pathological process that leads to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes may also hold true for your brain. As you over-indulge on sugar and grains, your brain becomes overwhelmed by the consistently high levels of glucose and insulin that blunts its insulin signaling, leading to impairments in your thinking and memory abilities, eventually causing permanent brain damage.

Additionally, when your liver is busy processing fructose (which your liver turns into fat), it severely hampers its ability to make cholesterol, an essential building block of your brain that is crucial for optimal brain function. Indeed, mounting evidence supports the notion that significantly reducing fructose consumption is a very important step you can take to prevent Alzheimer's disease.

Prevention and Treatment Guidelines

It’s becoming quite clear that to protect your brain and prevent cognitive decline, it’s important to address any underlying insulin/leptin resistance and/or type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, type 2 diabetes is curable, and in the vast majority of cases does not require any form of medication. The following nutrition and lifestyle modifications should be the foundation of your diabetes prevention and treatment plan. 

Also, make sure to monitor your FASTING insulin level. This is every bit as important as monitoring your fasting blood sugar. You'll want your fasting insulin level to be between 2 and 4. The higher your level, the greater your insulin resistance and the more aggressive you need to be in your treatment plan, especially when it comes to altering your diet.

  • Swap out processed foods, all forms of sugar—particularly fructose—as well as all grains, for whole, fresh food. A primary reason for the failure of conventional diabetes treatment over the last 50 years has to do with seriously flawed dietary recommendations. Refined fructose, grains, and other sugar forming starchy carbohydrates are largely responsible for your body's adverse insulin reactions, and all sugars and grains—even "healthful" grains such as whole, organic ones—need to be drastically reduced.
  • If you’re insulin/leptin resistant, have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or are overweight, you’d be wise to limit your total fructose intake to 15 grams per day until your insulin/leptin resistance has resolved. This includes about 80 percent of Americans. For all others, I recommend limiting your daily fructose consumption to 25 grams or less, to maintain optimal health.

    The easiest way to accomplish this is by swapping processed foods for whole, ideally organic foods. This means cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients. Processed foods are the main source of all the primary culprits, including high fructose corn syrup and other sugars, processed grains, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and other synthetic additives that may aggravate metabolic dysfunction.

    Besides fructose, trans fat (NOT saturated fat) increases your risk for diabetes21 by interfering with your insulin receptors. Recent research22,23 also demonstrates that trans fat has a distinct adverse impact on memory, courtesy of the oxidative stress and brain inflammation these fats produce.

    Healthy saturated fats do not have any of these adverse effects on your health. Since you’re cutting out a lot of energy (carbs) from your diet when you reduce sugars and grains, you need to replace them with something. The ideal replacement is a combination of:

  • Low-to-moderate amount of high-quality protein. Substantial amounts of protein can be found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and nuts. When selecting animal-based protein, be sure to opt for organically raised, grass-fed or pastured meats, eggs, and dairy, to avoid potential health complications caused by genetically engineered animal feed and pesticides.
  • Most Americans eat far too much protein, so be mindful of the amount. I believe it is the rare person who really needs more than one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. Those that are aggressively exercising or competing and pregnant women should have about 25 percent more, but most people rarely need more than 40-70 grams of protein a day.

    To determine your lean body mass, find out your percent body fat and subtract from 100. This means that if you have 20 percent body fat, you have 80 percent lean body mass. Just multiply that by your current weight to get your lean body mass in pounds or kilos. To determine whether you’re getting too much protein, simply calculate your lean body mass as described above, then write down everything you’re eating for a few days, and calculate the amount of daily protein from all sources.

    Again, you’re aiming for one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, which would place most people in the range of 40 to 70 grams of protein per day. If you’re currently averaging a lot more than that, adjust downward accordingly. You could use the chart below or simply Google the food you want to know and you will quickly find the grams of protein in the food.

    Red meat, pork, poultry, and seafood average 6-9 grams of protein per ounce.

    An ideal amount for most people would be a 3-ounce serving of meat or seafood (not 9- or 12-ounce steaks!), which will provide about 18-27 grams of protein
    Eggs contain about 6-8 grams of protein per egg. So an omelet made from two eggs would give you about 12-16 grams of protein.

    If you add cheese, you need to calculate that protein in as well (check the label of your cheese)
    Seeds and nuts contain on average 4-8 grams of protein per quarter cupCooked beans average about 7-8 grams per half cup
    Cooked grains average 5-7 grams per cupMost vegetables contain about 1-2 grams of protein per ounce
  • As much high-quality healthy fat as you want (saturated24 and monounsaturated). For optimal health, most people need upwards of 50-85 percent of their daily calories in the form of healthy fats. Good sources include coconut and coconut oil, avocados, butter, nuts, and animal fats. (Remember, fat is high in calories while being small in terms of volume. So when you look at your plate, the largest portion would be vegetables.)
  • As many non-starchy vegetables as you want
  • Exercise regularly and intensely. Studies have shown that exercise, even without weight loss, increases insulin sensitivity.25 High intensity interval training (HIIT), which is a central component of my Peak Fitness program, has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity by as much as 24 percent in just four weeks. Exercise also prompts nerve cells to release brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which triggers other chemicals that promote neural health, and directly benefits cognitive functions, including learning. A number of studies have also shown that exercise can promote growth of new brain cells, enlarge your memory center, improve IQ scores, and help prevent brain deterioration associated with aging.
  • Improve your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Today’s Western diet has far too many processed and damaged omega-6 fats, and is far too little omega-3 fats.26 The main sources of omega-6 fats are corn, soy, canola, safflower, peanut, and sunflower oil (the first two of which are typically genetically engineered as well, which further complicates matters). Our bodies evolved for an optimal of approximately 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. 
  • However, our ratio has deteriorated to between 20:1 and 50:1 in favor of omega-6. This lopsided ratio has seriously adverse health consequences.  To remedy this, reduce your consumption of vegetable oils (this means not cooking with them, and avoiding processed foods), and increase your intake of animal-based omega-3, such as krill oil. Vegetable-based omega-3 is also found in flaxseed oil and walnut oil, and it’s good to include these in your diet as well. Just know they cannot take the place of animal-based omega-3s.

  • Maintain optimal vitamin D levels year-round. New evidence strongly supports the notion that vitamin D is highly beneficial for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Recent research has also confirmed the link between vitamin D deficiency and dementia. The ideal way to optimize your vitamin D level is by getting regular sun exposure, or by using a tanning bed. As a last resort, consider oral supplementation with regular vitamin D monitoring, to confirm that you are taking enough vitamin D to get your blood levels into the therapeutic range of 50-70 ng/ml. Also please note that if you take supplemental vitamin D, you create an increased demand for vitamin K2 and magnesium.
  • Get adequate high-quality sleep every night. Insufficient sleep appears to raise stress and blood sugar, encouraging insulin and leptin resistance and weight gain. In one 10-year-long study27 of 70,000 diabetes-free women, researchers found that women who slept less than five hours or more than nine hours each night were 34 percent more likely to develop diabetes symptoms than women who slept seven to eight hours each night.
  • Sleep loss has also been linked to severe brain damage. Sleep is actually necessary for maintaining metabolic homeostasis in your brain, and without sufficient sleep, neuron degeneration sets in. Sleep deprivation causes disruption of certain synaptic connections that can impair your brain's ability for learning, memory formation, and other cognitive functions. It also accelerates onset of Alzheimer's disease. If you are having problems with your sleep, try the suggestions in my article “33 Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep.”

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. If you incorporate the diet and lifestyle changes suggested above you will greatly improve your insulin and leptin sensitivity, and a healthy body weight will follow in time. Determining your ideal body weight depends on a variety of factors, including frame size, age, activity level, and genetics. As a general guideline, you might find a hip-to-waist size index chart helpful. This is far better than BMI for evaluating whether or not you may have a weight problem, as BMI fails to factor in both how muscular you are, and your intra-abdominal fat mass (the dangerous visceral fat that accumulates around your inner organs), which is a potent indicator of leptin sensitivity and associated health problems.
  • Incorporate intermittent fasting. If you have carefully followed the diet and exercise guidelines and still aren’t making sufficient progress with your weight or overall health, I strongly recommend incorporating intermittent fasting. It’s by far the most effective way I know of to shed unwanted fat, resolve insulin resistance, and eliminate your sugar cravings. Intermittent fasting has also been identified as a potent ally for the prevention and perhaps even treatment of dementia. Ketones are released as a byproduct of burning fat, and ketones (not glucose) are actually the preferred fuel for your brain. Keep up your intermittent fasting schedule until your insulin/leptin resistance improves (or your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol ratios, or diabetes normalizes). After that, you only need to do it “as needed” to maintain your healthy state.
  • Optimize your gut health. Your gut is a living ecosystem, full of both good bacteria and bad. Multiple studies have shown that obese people have different intestinal bacteria than lean people. The more good bacteria you have, the stronger your immune system will be and the better your body will function overall. Gut bacteria has been found to affect your brain function, and play a role in the development of diabetes as well. Fortunately, optimizing your gut flora is relatively easy. You can reseed your body with good bacteria by regularly eating fermented foods (like natto, raw organic cheese, miso, and cultured vegetables) or by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement.




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    By Dr. Mercola

    The fact that processed foods contain added ingredients that aren't necessarily food isn't secret knowledge. A simple read-through of just about any processed food label will tip you off to this fact with its listing of impossible-to-pronounce chemicals.

    Many of these additives have questionable safety profiles, or none at all, since only a small percentage has ever been properly tested. This situation has become the norm courtesy of a regulatory system that favors industry profitability over public health and safety. This too is a well-known fact by many.

    What may come as a complete shock, however, is that companies are allowed to add chemicals to their food without disclosing what they are to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or having to prove their safety before putting them into use.

    All they have to do is have their expert evaluate it on their terms. There is no independent third party objective evaluation. This is reprehensibly irresponsible on the part of governmental agencies that are assigned the task of looking out for our health. According to EcoWatch:1

    "As long as a company designates a chemical as being 'generally recognized as safe,' or GRAS in regulatory parlance, according to FDA's interpretation of the law, it has no responsibility to inform the agency. FDA doesn't know about the safety of an estimated 1,000 chemicals because they aren't disclosed."

    GRAS: Generally Recognized as Secret

    Crazy as it may seem, food additives are not automatically required to get premarket approval by the FDA.2 Certain items that fall under the "generally recognized as safe" or GRAS designation, are exempt from the approval process.

    According to the GRAS Notification Program, substances that are "generally recognized, among experts qualified by scientific training and experience to evaluate their safety as having been adequately shown... to be safe under the conditions of their intended use," are excluded, and do not require FDA approval. 

    When the 1958 Food Additives Amendment was enacted, the exclusion of GRAS items from the formal FDA approval process for food additives was meant to apply to common food ingredients such as vinegar, i.e. items known through their historical use as being safe. Nowadays, however, countless manufactured ingredients end up slipping through this loophole.

    A company can simply hire an industry insider—a completely conflicted "expert"—to evaluate the chemical, and if that individual determines that the chemical meets federal safety standards, it can be deemed GRAS without any involvement from the FDA. As noted in the NRDC's report,3 "Generally Recognized as Secret: Chemicals Added to Food in the United States:"

    "A chemical additive cannot be 'generally recognized as safe' if its identity, chemical composition, and safety determination are not publicly disclosed. If the FDA does not know the identity of these chemicals and does not have documentation showing that they are safe to use in food, it cannot do its job."

    The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)4 identified 56 food companies that rely on "undisclosed GRAS safety determinations" for 275 chemicals used in their products. Of these companies, 62 percent responded to the NRDC's request for information about the chemicals, but none of them shared their safety information.

    The remainder did not respond at all.

    Loopholes Turn Food Safety Into a House of Cards

    In an effort to stay on top of the situation, the FDA has created a voluntary program that asks food companies to submit their safety assessments for FDA review. If the agency cannot find any major problems with the company's argument for GRAS status, a "no questions" letter is sent to the company.

    However, if questions about safety are raised by FDA scientists, the company can simply withdraw its voluntary submission, and go on using the chemical as if nothing has happened.  

    This legal loophole in the law allows food manufacturers to market novel chemicals in their products based on nothing but their own safety studies, and their own safety assessments—the results of which can be kept a secret.

    The dangers inherent in such an "honor system" are obvious, as the food industry isn't well-recognized for placing consumers' long-term health above profits. As reported by the Washington Post:5

    "The FDA said that although the law allows for food manufacturers to make their own safety determinations, the agency 'encourages companies to consult with the agency when developing new ingredients.' Ultimately, the FDA said, manufacturers 'are responsible for ensuring that their food products are safe and lawful.'

    NRDC said that Food Additives Amendment of 1958 was enacted, the GRAS process was meant to apply to innocuous additives like vinegar. Instead, it is commonly used for chemicals that are potentially dangerous and have never before been in the American food supply.

    For example, until recently, artificial trans fats were considered GRAS but the FDA has now deemed them dangerous, saying they cause as many as 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year."

    Take Action: Tell the FDA to Put an End to Secret GRAS Determinations

    The NRDC has created an action page,6 asking the FDA to take appropriate action to put an end to food companies' right to make chemicals' safety decisions in secret. I encourage you to sign the petition, which will be sent to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

    "It's up to the Food and Drug Administration to protect the public's health from unsafe chemicals added to food. But as long as companies are allowed to make chemicals' safety decisions in secret, the agency cannot ensure food is safe.

    Letting industry decide for themselves that chemicals are 'generally recognized as safe' (GRAS) without notifying FDA or the public is unacceptable, especially for new additives," the NRDC writes."Consumers should demand that their grocery stores and their favorite brands sell only food products with ingredients that the FDA has found safe, and ask the FDA and Congress to make the necessary changes."

    The Dangers of a Processed Food Diet Are Many

    As discussed in the featured video above, the food industry has dramatically altered our diet, and these changes directly affect your weight and overall health. A large part of the problem stems from the processes used to manufacture the food, as food processing destroys valuable nutrients. It also removes much of the food's original flavor.

    One example is pasteurization, which effectively sterilizes the food. Gone are all the beneficial microorganisms naturally found in raw milk, yoghurt, and cheese for example. Food irradiation is another example. Eating what amounts to a sterile diet has dramatic ramifications for your health as it alters your gut flora, allowing potentially pathogenic microorganisms to take over the terrain.

    To counteract the problem of lost nutrients and flavor, synthetic nutrients and flavorings are added back into the processed food. In fact, popular junk foods owe their market shares to the complex flavor science used to optimize the addictive nature and "craveability" of these products.7 Few if any of these added chemicals serve any beneficial function in your body. On the contrary, they oftentimes tend to wreak metabolic havoc, as your body doesn't quite know what to do with them.

    Another factor that makes processed foods the antithesis of a healthy diet is the excessive use of refined sugar and/or processed fructose from corn. If you become an avid label reader, you'll soon realize that virtually every processed food contains sugar—including commercial infant formula and baby food! One 2009 survey of more than 100 foods for babies and toddlers found examples that contained as much as 29 percent sugar! Others contained trans fat.

    Obesity Sets the Stage for Chronic Poor Health

    When your child is raised on sugar, harmful fats, and any number of synthetic chemicals, health problems are sure to follow. Obesity typically comes first, which then sets the stage for a wide variety of chronic diseases, including:

    Diabetes, which can lead to a whole host of other medical issues Congestive heart failure, a condition in which your heart can't pump enough blood to your body's other organs
    Pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal blockage of an artery Fatty liver disease, in which large pockets of fat accumulate in your liver cells
    Osteoarthritis Gout, caused by uric acid accumulation in your blood
    Gallbladder disease, resulting from high blood cholesterol levels, which can cause gall stones Cancer, particularly estrogen-sensitive cancers like breast cancer

    Americans also have to contend with the fact that a vast majority of corn-based fructose is genetically engineered and heavily contaminated with the toxic herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup). Experts like Dr. Don Huber strongly believe that glyphosate is actually more toxic than DDT. Compelling evidence now suggests that glyphosate residues, found in most commonly consumed foods in the Western diet courtesy of GE sugar, corn, and soy, enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease. Glyphosate also severely disrupts your gut flora, thereby further exacerbating metabolic havoc and poor health. 

    Ditching Processed Foods Is the Answer

    Eating fresh, whole foods is the "secret" to getting healthier, losing weight, and really enjoying your food, but many have fallen into the mistaken belief that it's next to impossible to create a meal without falling back on processed foods. Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough tackled this issue head-on in their book Real Food Has Curves: How to Get Off Processed Food, Lose Weight, and Love What You Eat.8 It's a great starting point to relearn the basics of how to prepare real food.

    While you may need to invest in a good cookbook, once you get the hang of it, you'll find you can whip up a healthy meal from scratch in the same amount of time it would have taken you to drive down the street to pick up fast food. Sure, finding the time and the money to make healthy meals for your family can be challenging at first, but please don't use that as an excuse to exist on processed food.

    Your health -- your energy levels, your appearance, your mood, and so many other factors -- will improve when you eat real food. Returning to a diet of locally grown, fresh whole foods is really the only way to reach optimal health. For a step-by-step guide to make this a reality in your own life, simply follow the advice in my optimized nutrition plan.

    Remember, a processed food diet sets the stage for obesity and any number of chronic health issues, including asthma, allergies, and behavioral problems—from hyperactivity to aggression. In fact, many of the top diseases plaguing the United States are diet-related, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The answer to these health problems lies not in a pill, but in what you eat every day.





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     Comments (29)

    By Thomas S. Cowan, MD

    In a previous article in this journal ("What Causes Heart Attacks," Fall 2007), I presented the case that the spectrum of heart disease, which includes angina, unstable angina, and myocardial infarction (heart attack), is better understood from the perspective of events happening in the myocardium (heart) as opposed to events happening in the coronary arteries (the arteries that supply the heart).

    As we all know, the conventional view holds that the central event of heart disease occurs in the arteries, with the buildup of blockage called plaque.

    In this follow-up article I will go into more detail about the conventional theory and why it is largely misleading; then I will describe the precise and well documented events that do lead to MIs (myocardial infarctions or heart attacks).

    This understanding is crucial since during the last fifty years, the pursuit of the coronary artery theory has cost this nation billions of dollars in unnecessary surgical costs, billions in medications that cause as much harm as allow for any positive benefits, and, most seriously, has led many to adopt a low-fat diet, which only worsens the problem.

    Newer twists on this theory only serve to further obscure the real cause. In contrast, by understanding the real patho-physiological events behind the evolution of MIs, we will be led to a proper nourishing traditional style of eating, the use of the safe and inexpensive heart tonic called g-strophanthin.

    Most importantly, we will be forced to look at how heart disease is a true manifestation of the stresses of modern civilized life on the core of the human being.

    To overcome the epidemic of heart disease, we literally need a new medical paradigm, a new economic system, a new ecological consciousness; in short, a new way of life. The coronary theory misses all of this, just as it misinterprets the actual pathological events.

    In writing this article, I am indebted to the work of Dr. Knut Sroka and his website heartattacknew.com. For all interested in this important subject it is advised to read the entire website and watch the video on the website. The video above shows how the collateral circulation nourishes the heart even with a severe blockage of a coronary artery.

    For health professionals and researchers, your understanding of this subject is incomplete without reading and studying the two articles found in the print version of the website.

    The first is by G. Baroldi, "The Etiopathologies of Coronary Heart Disease: A Heretical Theory Based on Morphology," and the second by K. Sroka, "On the Genesis of Myocardial Ischemia." Both articles are reprinted in full on the website.

    Rebuttal of Conventional Theory

    Until recently I believed, along with most physicians, that most heart attacks were caused by the progressive blockage caused by plaque buildup in the four major coronary arteries leading to the heart.

    These plaques were thought to be composed of cholesterol that built up in the arterial lumen (inside of the vessel), which eventually cut off blood supply to a certain area of the heart, resulting in oxygen deficiency in that area, causing first pain (angina), then progressing to ischemia (heart attack).

    The simple solution was to unblock the stenosis (the blockages) with either an angioplasty or stent, or, if that was not possible, then bypass this area with coronary bypass grafting (CABG). Simple problem, simple solution.

    The problems with this approach became apparent to me through a number of avenues. The first emerged in a story related by the head of cardiology during a northern California heart symposium at which I was a speaker. He told us that during his residency he was part of a trial conducted in rural Alabama on black men.

    In this trial, they did angiograms (injecting dye into the coronary arteries to detect blockages) on all the men presenting with chest pains. For the ones who had a single artery blocked, they did no interventions, only noting which part of the heart would have a subsequent heart attack if one occurred.

    Of course, they all predicted it would be in the part of the heart supplied by that particular coronary artery. Then they waited. Eventually, many did return and did have heart attacks, but to the researchers' surprise less than ten percent had a heart attack in the area of the heart supplied by the original blocked artery.

    This means, of course, that had they performed the usual angioplasty, stent, or bypass on that artery, the patient would have received no benefit. The second occurrence that helped change my mind was the publication in 2003 of a large study conducted by the Mayo Clinic on the efficacy of bypass surgeries, stents, and angioplasty.1

    The study concluded that bypass surgery does relieve symptoms (chest pain); that bypass surgery does not prevent further heart attacks; and that only high risk patients benefit from bypass surgery with regard to a better chance of survival. In other words, the gold standard for treating arterial blockages provides at best only minimal benefits.

    If you watch the video on www.heartattacknew.com and go to the FAQ called "The Riddle's Solution," it becomes clear why this is so. Large stable blockages, that is, sites that are over 90 percent blocked, in almost all cases compensate for the blockage by developing collateral or additional new blood vessels.

    In fact, the view that the four coronary arteries supply all the blood to the heart is completely wrong. Starting soon after birth, the normal heart develops an extensive network of small blood vessels called collateral vessels that eventually compensate for the interruption of flow in any one (or more) of the major vessels.

    As Sroka correctly points out in the above video, coronary angiograms fail to show the collateral circulation; furthermore the procedure creates spasms in the coronary arteries through the injection of heavy dye under high pressure. Thus, coronary angiograms are notoriously inaccurate at assessing the amount of stenosis in the vessels as well as the true blood flow in the heart.

    To this day, most of the bypasses, stents, and angioplasties are performed on minimally symptomatic patients who show a greater than 90 percent blockage in one or more coronary artery. These arteries are almost always fully collateralized; it is not the surgery that restores blood flow, because the body has already done its own bypass.

    If tests found a major coronary artery 90 percent blocked, with only 10 percent flow "squeezing through the bottleneck," how could you possibly still be alive if you did not have collateral blood vessels? And are we really to believe that the decisive thing that will cause the eventual heart attack is when the stenosis goes from 93 percent to 98 percent?

    This is an insignificant difference, and the premise that this small increase will cause a heart attack is completely nonsensical. Yet this is what most of the procedures are meant to accomplish, to unblock the stenosis, which as the video on heartattacknew.com shows, does not actually improve blood flow.

    It is no wonder that in study after study, these procedures fail to provide any significant benefit to the patients. For these reasons, conventional cardiology is abandoning the stable plaque model in favor of a different model for the etiology of heart attacks one that, as it turns out, is equally invalid.

    Meet the Unstable Plaque

    We can now all agree that the entire focus of cardiology—upon the stable, progressing calcified plaque: the thing we bypassed and stented for years, the thing we do CT scans of arteries for, the thing they told us is created from cholesterol buildup in arteries, the thing "alternative cardiology" like the Ornish program focused on eliminating—all this is not so important after all.

    Don't worry, though, say the "experts," we know it must be the arteries, so let's introduce another concept—drum roll—that of unstable or friable plaque. This insidious scoundrel can attack at any time in any person, even when there is no large blockage. That's because these soft, "foamy" plaques can, under certain situations (we don't know which situations), rapidly evolve and abruptly close off the involved artery, creating an oxygen deficit downstream, with subsequent angina and then ischemia.

    These soft plaques are thought to be the result of a combination of inflammatory "buildup" and LDL-cholesterol, the exact two components that are targeted by statin drugs. Therefore, since unstable plaque can come loose at any time, everyone should be on statin drugs to prevent this unfortunate occurrence. Some spokesmen have even suggested putting therapeutic doses of statins in the municipal water supplies.

    Defendants of this theory point to angiogram studies that show the changes in these unstable plaques, claiming them as proof that unstable plaque is the true cause of the majority of MIs. As I will show, this acute thrombosis does happen in patients having heart attacks, but it is a consequence, not the cause of the MI. What can pathology reports—as opposed to angiography studies—tell us about the role of unstable plaque in heart attacks?

    After all, pathology reports are the only accurate way of determining what actually happened during a heart attack, as opposed to angiograms, which are misleading and difficult to read. The first major autopsy study of patients dying of heart attack was carried out in Heidelberg in the 1970s.2 The study found that sufficient thrombosis to cause the heart attack was found in only twenty percent of cases.

    The largest such study found sufficient thrombosis in only 41 percent of cases.3 The author, Baroldi, also found that the larger the area of the heart attack, the more often the pathology report found stenosis; in addition, the longer the time between heart attack and the death of the patient, the higher the percentage of stenosis. Some researchers have used these two facts to "cherry-pick" the numbers and make the stenosis rate seem high by studying only those with large MIs and those who live the longest after the heart attack event.

    Another observation that puts into doubt the relevance of the coronary artery theory of heart attack is the fact that the proposed etiological mechanism of how thrombosed arteries cause ischemia is through cutting off the blood supply and thereby the oxygen supply to the tissues. To the enormous surprise of many investigators, the reality is that when careful measurements are done assessing the oxygen level of the myocardial cells, there is no oxygen deficit ever shown in an evolving heart attack I.4 The oxygen levels (measured as pO2) do not change at all throughout the entire event. I will come back to this fact later when I describe what does change in every evolving MI ever studied.

    Again, the question must be asked: if this theory is predicated on the lowering of the oxygen levels in the myocardial cells when in fact the oxygen levels don't change, then what exactly does happen? The conclusion is that while thrombosis associated with MI is a real phenomenon, it does not occur in more than 50 percent of cases—which leads to the question: why do the other 50 percent, those without an occlusion in the coronary arteries, even have an heart attack?

    Second, it is clear from all pathology studies that thromboses of significant degrees evolve after the heart attack occurs, again leading to the question: what causes the heart attack in the first place? The fact that thrombosis does occur after a heart attack also explains why emergency procedures—remember, the only patients who benefit from bypass and stents are critical, acute patients—can be helpful immediately post-heart attack I to restore flow in those patients who do not have adequate collateral circulation to that part of their heart. So again, all the existing theories as to the relevance of the coronary arteries in the evolution of the heart attack are fraught with inconsistencies. If this is so, what then does cause heart attacks?

    The Etiology of Myocardial Ischemia

    Any theory as to what causes myocardial ischemia must account for some consistent observations over the past fifty years. The most consistent risk factors for a person having heart disease are male sex, diabetes, cigarette use and psychological or emotional stress. Interestingly, in none of these is there a direct link to pathology of the coronary arteries—diabetes and cigarette use cause disease in the capillaries, not, as far as we know, in the large arteries. Also, we have learned over the past decades that the four main medicines of modern cardiology—beta-blockers, nitrates, aspirin, and statin drugs—all provide some benefits for heart patients (albeit all with serious drawbacks as well) and this observation must be accounted for in any comprehensive theory of myocardial ischemia.

    Heart Rate Variability

    The real revolution in the prevention and treatment of heart disease will come with increased understanding of the role played by the autonomic nervous system in the genesis of ischemia and its measurement through the tool of heart rate variability (HRV). We have two distinct nervous systems: the first, the central nervous system (CNS), controls conscious functions such as muscle and nerve function; the second nervous system, the autonomic (or unconscious) nervous system (ANS), controls the function of our internal organs.

    The autonomic nervous system is divided into two branches, which in a healthy person are always in a balanced yet ready state. The sympathetic or "fight-or-flight" system is centered in our adrenal medulla; it uses the chemical adrenaline as its chemical transmission device and tells our bodies there is danger afoot; time to activate and run. It does so by activating a series of biochemical responses, the centerpiece of which are the glycolytic pathways, which accelerate the breakdown of glucose to be used as quick energy as we make our escape from the bear chasing us.

    In contrast, the parasympathetic branch, centered in the adrenal cortex, uses the neurotransmitters acetylcholine (ACh), nitric oxide (NO), and cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) as its chemical mediators; this is the "rest-and-digest" arm of the autonomic nervous system. The particular nerve of the parasympathetic chain that supplies the heart with nervous activity is called the vagus nerve; it slows and relaxes the heart, whereas the sympathetic branches accelerate and constrict the heart. I believe it can be shown that an imbalance in these two branches is responsible for the vast majority of heart disease.

    Using the techniques of heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring, which gives a real time accurate depiction of autonomic nervous system status, researchers have shown in multiple studies5 that patients with ischemic heart disease have on average a reduction of parasympathetic activity of over one-third. Typically, the worse the ischemia, the lower the parasympathetic activity.6 Furthermore about 80 percent of ischemic events are preceded by a significant, often drastic, reduction in parasympathetic activity.7

    By contrast, those with normal parasympathetic activity, who experience an abrupt increase in sympathetic activity (such as physical activity or an emotional shock), never suffer from ischemia.

    In other words, without a preceding decrease in parasympathetic activity, activation of the sympathetic nervous system does not lead to MI.8 Presumably we are meant to experience times of excess sympathetic activity; this is normal life, with its challenges and disappointments. These shocks only become dangerous to our health in the face of an ongoing, persistent decrease in our parasympathetic, or life-restoring, activity. The decrease in parasympathetic activity is mediated by the three chemical transmitters of the parasympathetic nervous system: acetylcholine, NO, and cGMP. It is fascinating to note that women have stronger vagal activity than men, probably accounting for the sex difference in the incidence of MI.9

    Hypertension causes a decrease in vagal activity,10 smoking causes a decrease in vagal activity,11 diabetes causes a decrease in vagal activity,12 and physical and emotional stress cause a decrease in parasympathetic activity.13 Thus, all the significant risk factors suppress the regenerative nervous system activity in our heart. On the other hand, the main drugs used in cardiology upregulate the parasympathetic nervous system.

    Nitrates stimulate NO production while aspirin and statin drugs also stimulate the production of ACh along with NO—that is, until they cause a rebound decrease in these substances which then makes the parasympathetic activity even worse. Beta-blockers work by blocking the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, the increase of which is a central factor in the etiology of MI. The bottom line: the risk factors for heart disease and the interventions used all affect the balance in our ANS; whatever effects they may have on plaque and stenosis is of minor relevance.

    How Heart Attacks Occur

    So what is the sequence of events that leads to a heart attack? First comes a decrease in the tonic, healing activity of the parasympathetic nervous system—in the vast majority of cases the pathology for heart attack will not proceed unless this condition is met. Think of the person who is always pushing himself, who never takes time out, who has no hobbies, who constantly stimulates the adrenal cortex with caffeine or sugar, who does not nourish himself with real food and good fats, and who does not incorporate a regular pattern of eating and sleeping into his daily life.

    Then comes an increase in the sympathetic nervous system activity, usually a physical or emotional stressor. This increase in sympathetic activity cannot be balanced because of chronic parasympathetic suppression. The result is an uncontrolled increase of adrenaline, which directs the myocardial cells to break down glucose using aerobic glycolysis. Remember that in a heart attack, there is no change in blood flow as measured by the p02 in the cells. This step shunts the metabolism of the heart away from its preferred and most efficient fuel sources, which are ketones and fatty acids.

    This explains why heart patients often feel tired before their events. This also explains why a diet liberal in fat and low in sugar is crucial for heart health. As a result of the sympathetic increase and resulting glycolysis, a dramatic increase in lactic acid production occurs in the myocardial cells; this happens in virtually one hundred percent of heart attacks, with no coronary artery mechanism required.14, 15 As a result of the increase in lactic acid in the myocardial cells, a localized acidosis occurs. This acidosis prevents calcium from entering the cells,16 making the cells less able to contract.

    This inability to contract causes localized edema (swelling), dysfunction of the walls of the heart (hypokinesis, which is the hallmark of ischemic disease as seen on stress echoes and nuclear thallium stress tests), and eventually necrosis of the tissue—in other words, a heart attack. The localized tissue edema also alters the hemo-dynamics of the arteries embedded in that section of the heart, resulting in shear pressure, which causes the unstable plaques to rupture, further block the artery, and worsen the hemodynamics in that area of the heart.

    Please note that this explanation alone explains why plaques rupture, what their role in the heart attack process is, and why they should indeed be addressed. Notice also that this explanation accounts for all the observable phenomena associated with heart disease and is substantiated by years of research. It could not be clearer as to the true origin of this epidemic of heart disease.

    Nourishing the Parasympathetic Nervous System

    If heart disease is fundamentally caused by a deficiency in the parasympathetic nervous system, then the solution is obviously to nurture and protect that system, which is the same as saying we should nurture and protect ourselves. Nourishing our parasympathetic nervous system is basically the same as dismantling a way of life for which humans are ill-suited. This means avoiding the excesses of industrial civilization. The known things that nourish our parasympathetic nervous system are contact with nature, loving relations, trust, economic security (a hallmark of indigenous peoples the world over) and sex—this is a whole new world of therapy for ailing hearts.

    The medicine that supports all aspects of the parasympathetic nervous system is an extract from the strophanthus plant called ouabain or g-strophanthin. G-strophanthin is an endogenous (made within us) hormone manufactured in our adrenal cortex from cholesterol and therefore inhibited by statin drugs.

    G-strophanthin does two things that are crucial in this process—two actions provided by no other known medicine. First, it stimulates the production and liberation of ACh, the main neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic nervous system; secondly, and crucially, it converts lactic acid—the main metabolic culprit in this process—into pyruvate, one of the main and preferred fuels of the myocardial cells. In other words, it converts the central poison in this process into a nutrient.

    This may be what is meant in Chinese medicine when they say that the kidneys (that is, the adrenal glands, where ouabain is made) nourish the heart. In my many years of using ouabain, I have not had a single patient have an MI while taking it. It is truly a gift to the heart. Of course, I put all my patients on a WAPF-style heart-healthy diet, loaded with healthy fats and fat-soluble nutrients, and low in the processed carbs and sugars that are the hallmark of industrial, civilized life. There are homeopathic versions of strophanthus available, which could be used. Another option that is effective but not ideal is an extract of the plant. The drawback is that the amount of ouabain is unknown.

    Reprinted with kind permission of the Townsend Letter, www.townsendletter.com.

    About the Author

    Dr. Cowan has served as vice president of the Physicians Association for Anthroposophical Medicine and is a founding board member of the Weston A. Price Foundation. He is the principal author of The Fourfold Path to Healing and is co-author of The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care. Dr. Cowan lectures throughout the United States and Canada. Dr. Cowan is completing a book on the human heart that will be published by Chelsea Green Publishing in 2015.





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     Comments (170)

    By Dr. Mercola

    Genetically engineered (GE) crops and confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) go hand-in-hand, and they are not only driving disease statistics into the stratosphere; they’re also destroying communities.

    The promises to contain the waste, disease, and infections that these factory farms create are nothing but wishful thinking. In reality, the toxic waste cannot be contained.

    In a very real sense, we’re committing suicide by way of our unsustainable, polluting, degenerative food and agriculture system—a system that is subsidized and paid for by US tax payers,1 through severely broken federal policies.

    How CAFOs Destroy Communities

    On November 25, the Associated Press2 reported that Missouri approved a new hog-breeding operation near Kingdom City in central Missouri. The farm will be permitted to raise as many as 10,000 hogs on 20 acres.

    Neighbors and environmental activists have filed a petition to appeal the permit, on the grounds that inadequate waste management may affect property value3 and quality of life for residents in the surrounding area. According to the featured report:

    “The opponents questioned the engineering and waste management plans... [Chief of the operating permits section of the state's Water Protection Program, Chris] Weiberg wrote the state's review could consider only whether a document was submitted that showed the project's design met state regulations.

    Under existing regulations, ‘the Department does not examine the adequacy or efficiency of the structural, mechanical or electrical components of the manure system, only adherence to the regulation... [I]ssuance of a permit does not include approval of such features,’ Wieberg wrote.”

    A Minnesota town, where residents have gone to great pains to clean up their lake—Lake Hendricks, which was severely polluted by phosphorus, a chemical in commercial fertilizer and animal waste—is also up in arms over the announcement of a new dairy CAFO.

    Current plans situate the factory farm in such a way that waste run-off would likely destroy all their hard work. According to the Star Tribune:4

    “[T]he operation will produce as much sewage as a city of 657,000 people and operate with less regulation than any similarly sized feedlot in Minnesota. The waste will be held in lagoons situated just 600 feet from Deer Creek, which flows directly into Lake Hendricks, just 4 miles away.

    And while the owner plans to inject the effluent into surrounding cropland as fertilizer, similar livestock confinement operations in South Dakota have experienced spills and field runoff capable of polluting rivers and lakes.”

    The disregard for human health, animal health, and the environment is part and parcel of what is so wrong with the present system, which focuses on efficiency and cost effectiveness at the expense of just about everything else.

    A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

    A recent Business Insider5 article shows aerial photos of factory farms across the US, which reveal, in disgusting detail, how the American countryside is being destroyed by their presence.

    At present, 99 percent of food animals in the US are raised in these large-scale feedlots, yet many Americans still do not realize exactly how their food is raised, and all the “hidden” costs associated with cheap food. As noted in the featured article:

    “For the last several years, British artist Mishka Henner has collected images of the feedlots via satellite, to document a largely hidden phenomenon. Initially, he was searching satellite imagery to look for oil fields.

    When he came across the feedlots, Henner was shocked he didn't know about such a central part of our food production. ‘The feedlots are a brilliant representation of how abstract our food industry has come,’ Henner told Business Insider.

    ‘It’s an efficient system for extracting the maximum yield from animals. That’s the world we live in now. We want to extract the maximum yield from everything, no matter what business you are in.’

    ...Thousands of cattle on a small parcel of land produce an exorbitant amount of waste with nitrogen and phosphorus that would render it useless as a fertilizer. With nowhere for the manure to go, farms must create ‘manure lagoons’ — ponds or reservoirs filled with toxic waste...”

    Factory Farms Are Major Polluters

    All of this toxic waste, which includes antibiotics, pesticides, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, migrates into surrounding lands and groundwater.

    For example, in November, at the annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, researchers reported6 that the 2013 flooding in Colorado resulted in massive waterway contamination, as antibiotics and microbial drug-resistant genes were flushed far and wide from CAFO waste pools.

    In the Netherlands, animal health authorities recently discovered bird flu in samples taken from wild ducks.7 Chicken farms are suspected as the source of the disease and, so far, 300,000 birds at four CAFO locations have been culled to ensure the infection doesn’t spread. 

    CAFO waste also contributes to air pollution, and CAFO workers and neighboring residents alike report higher incidence of asthma, headaches, eye irritation, and nausea. According to the Environmental Protection Agency8 (EPA), US states with high concentrations of CAFOs report 20-30 serious water quality problems annually.

    One of the reasons so few Americans are aware of these issues is because of “ag-gag” laws, which legally prevents people from filming or photographing conditions on factory farms. Ag-gag laws are being heavily promoted by lobbyists for the meat, egg, and dairy industries to essentially prevent anyone from exposing animal cruelty and food-safety issues at CAFOs.

    Industrial food producers are also encouraging their “farmers” to change the terms they use for their horrific practices to less-offensive sounding words, such as swapping “gestation crates” with “individual maternity pens.”

    Five states have ag-gag laws already in place, and another 10 introduced anti-whistleblower laws last year. According to USA Today,9 ag-gag laws in Utah and Idaho are currently being challenged in federal court.

    Industrial Farming Is Destroying Food Quality

    Philip Lymbery, an animal-welfare activist and author of the book Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat, notes that one of the techniques used to perpetuate factory farming is in fact secrecy, and there’s little doubt that that is why ag-gag laws were lobbied for in the first place.

    If you don’t know there’s a problem, you won’t demand change. This is also why the food industry is fighting tooth and nail to prevent labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the US, as well as legislation that would prevent them from fraudulently labeling GMOs as “Natural.”

    In the US, most all conventional meat and poultry (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.) is raised in CAFOs. It’s a corporate-controlled system characterized by large-scale, centralized, low profit-margin production, processing, and distribution systems.

    This is the cheapest way to raise meat, for the largest profits. But the ultimate price is high, as there's a complete disregard for human health, the environment, and ethical treatment of animals and plant workers alike.

    This system depends on keeping consumers in the dark about how the food is produced, and what the hidden costs are, because the reality is unsavory enough that many, if not most, people would change their ways were they to find out the truth...

    Increasing Number of Books Address the State of Our Food System

    Information is power, and now more than ever before, there are plenty of resources for those who want to educate themselves. For example, a series of recent articles, listed on NewAmerica.org,10 delve into the various aspects of the monopoly that is America’s meat market. In one, titled The Meat Racket, Christopher Leonard reveals how the US meat industry has been seized by a mere handful of companies, and how this tightly controlled monopoly drives small livestock farmers out of business.

    Other articles detail the drugs used in CAFO farming, and the risks this drug based farming poses to human health, such as creation of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which I’ve addressed on numerous occasions. A recent book review in the Wall Street Journal11 also discusses a number of books on the state of our food system. Salon Magazine also recently ran an article12 on the subject of factory farming, penned by Lindsay Abrams, in which she discusses journalist Ted Genoways new book, The Chain—an expose of the American pork industry. She writes in part:

    “What journalist Christopher Leonard recently did for Tyson and the chicken industry, Genoways... does for pork, recounting the history of Hormel Foods... as it evolved from humble beginnings to an industrial giant with a nearly myopic focus on expansion and acceleration, regardless of the costs.

    And boy, are there costs... a mysterious neurological disorder linked to a machine that has workers breathing in a fine mist of pork brains... abuse suffered by the animals on whom workers’ frustrations are instead taken out; and a decline in food safety that, unbelievably, is set to become the new industry standard.”

    Genoways book reveals how societal issues “fan out in all directions,” as he puts it, from the way our pork is produced. Not only are there many disturbing safety issues, but according to Genoways, these hazards also end up disproportionally affecting immigrant workers, who are already being exploited by the system.

    We Can Change the System One Family at a Time...

    Part of the problem is that the current farming model is focused on growth; not steady profit, and certainly not sustainability. I believe the movement toward sustainable food and ethical meat is very important, both in terms of human health and animal welfare.

    Organic, grass-fed and finished meat is really the only type of meat that is healthy to eat, in my view. Fortunately, many grocery chains are now responding to customer demand, and will provide at least a small assortment of grass-fed meats. The least expensive way to obtain grass-fed beef and other locally produced organic foods is from your local farmer. The following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area that has been raised in a humane, sustainable manner:

    • Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
    • Eat Wild: With more than 1,400 pasture-based farms, Eat Wild's Directory of Farms is one of the most comprehensive sources for grass-fed meat and dairy products in the United States and Canada.
    • Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
    • Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
    • FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.




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